Reviews

First Impression: The CZ P-07

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Background

Last year, around January, I was talking about entering the fourth year on this blog. While last year didn’t really go according to plan, for a lot of reasons unrelated to shooting, one of the things I mentioned was my interesting in purchasing a CZ pistol. At the time, I was looking primarily at the P-01 and the P-09.

I ended up not purchasing a pistol at all. In fact, once I left California, the only shooting related stuff I managed to do was finish the Minuteman Rifle, and attend a four day training course at Max Velocity Tactical.

In August of last year, I realized it was time to get my carry permit. The most obvious choice for what to carry was what I already had on hand. The Beretta wasn’t practical to conceal, and my 1911 has had feeding issues for years, that left me with my FNS-9. However, I quickly realized it wasn’t exactly an ideal carry pistol. The grip, with it’s 17 rounds, was ever slightly too long, and the pyramid-shaped grip texture was just a little too rough. I set out to consider my next pistol.

Up until very recently, I always assumed that the pistol I would carry on my load bearing gear for a class would be different than the one I would want to carry inside the waistband while out and about.I’m always willing to reconsider my positions, though. While at the MVT training, my “battle buddy” who I worked with over the course of four days shared a little bit of philosophy with me.

Aaron (not his real name) was a retired prior enlisted USMC Force Recon Lt Col. Since his retirement, he has worked in the private contracting world, in and out of a lot of rough places and bad situations. He takes classes like that one routinely as part of his job, and he was the only one out there for those four days that outshot me in the drills. I suppose having your employer pay for your ammunition and class fees has its perks. As things tend to do, a conversation broke out about gear, and why people made the choices that they did. Aaron was carrying a Sig P320 Compact on his belt throughout the course. I forgot how it came up, but he ended up saying something along the lines of, “Pistols are sidearms that you really don’t want to have to fall back on. If the difference in capability of a full sized and a compact isn’t that much, then it just makes more sense to carry the compact all the time.”

I suddenly felt a little sheepish about the Beretta 92A1 hanging off my belt.

In any case, that was a long way to say that I’ve come to believe in the idea of the “one” pistol. It’s the pistol that you carry concealed, carry openly on your gear, compete with, and practice with.

The Decision

Had I asked the internet about what to buy for my “one pistol,” the answer would have been a Glock 19. To be fair, it’s not a terrible answer. The Glock is reliable, has a track record, and is used for exactly this purpose all around the world. However, I chose not to go that route for two reasons. First, I’ve never really warmed up to Glocks. The grip angle, trigger feel, and other elements were things that I just never enjoyed. Sure, I could get past it if I needed to, but I just didn’t want to. Second, I wanted a hammer fired gun in DA/SA. It’s just a personal preference.

That second requirement ruled out a lot of common options like the P-320, VP9, PPQ, M&P, and others (the APX certainly has my attention, but there is no compact version yet). The remaining options came down to the HK P30, HK P2000, FN FNX-9, Beretta PX4, and three choices from CZ: the P-07, P-01, and 75D PCR. I ruled out the FNX because it is pretty much identical to what I was already carrying, save for being DA/SA, and I would have the same issues with its grip size and texture. The PX4 didn’t come in until later as a dark horse. It has a great reputation as a carry weapon, but I’m not confident in its rotating barrel configuration. I’ve heard stories (granted…they are internet stories) of it having jamming issues, and it wouldn’t work if I ever get a 9mm suppressor down the line. The HKs are…well…HK. Fantastic reputations for reliability, but not so great for tunability. The CZs all have great reputations for tunability, accuracy, and reliability (though not as much as HK). I couldn’t find the P-01 or PCR in stock anywhere.

I would have been willing to wait on them, but my local range happened to have a P-07 available for rent. I checked it out for an hour, and just found it immensely shootable. The double action was light and smooth, and the single action was crisp and predictable. Once I happened to come across a great deal on one, I was sold.

The CZ P-07

The P-07 is CZ’s second generation of its compact polymer DA/SA model. The first was the P-07 Duty, which was released in 2009. It was meant to be CZ’s entry into the polymer-framed pistol market, and included a few new mechanisms that the prior CZ 75 models lacked, like the ability for the end user to swap between a decocker or safety for cocked and locked carry. The first generation was well received, but wasn’t without its growing pains. CZ took the lessons from the P-07 duty and built them into it’s full-sized brother, the P-09. Those changes included swappable backstraps on the grip, revised frame construction and material, and a few mechanical changes. The P-09 was an immediate hit, and CZ went back to update the compact version to a second generation.

Specs
Chambering: 9mm Luger
Magazine Capacity: 15
Trigger Mech: Omega DA/SA
Sights: Fixed Three-Dot
Barrel: Cold Hammer Forged, 3.75 in
Weight: 27.7 oz
Overall Length: 7.2 in
Height: 5.3 in
Width: 1.46

First Impressions

My P-07 came well packaged in a black hard sided case. It included three backstraps. The small size was already installed. The case also included two 15 round magazines. Interestingly, these appear to be the same magazines used in the CZ P-10c. I looked into it, and it is true that P-10c magazines work just fine in the P-07, but mags designed for the P-07 do not work in the P-10c. I would guess that CZ will phase out the dedicated P-07 magazine in favor of the more universal option.

There is, of course, the included manual and warranty cards. There is also a printout showing the target impacts used when zeroing the sights.

I excitedly pulled the pistol out of the case, cleared it, and set of testing the trigger. It did not feel at all like the one I rented two weeks  before. The double action was heavier, with lots of grit. The single action, while light enough, did not feel as distinct as the one I rented. It felt a little more like a rolling break than a distinct wall like I’ve come to expect from my Beretta.

This wasn’t really a surprise. I did my homework ahead of time, and already knew that it takes a few hundred rounds to “wear in” the stamped steel components of the CZ trigger. Parts and smithing services are available that dramatically improve the feel of the trigger, and they are less than half the cost of sending my Beretta off to Wilson Combat.

Putting those concerns aside, I mounted my MantisX to the pic rail and started squeezing off shots in dry fire mode. The MantisX, if you don’t know, use accelerometers to measure movement of the pistol before, during, and after the trigger squeeze and then provides feedback. It’s a useful training tool when I can’t be at a range to see an actual score on paper. To my surprise, I was averaging 94 points on each trigger pull- including double action. That was out of the box. To compare, that is about the same average I generate in single action on my Beretta that I’ve been shooting for years. My double action scores hover around 90.

In short, despite the my initial impressions on the trigger, my actual performance with it seems to be pretty darn good.

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Trace data from MantisX. The blue line represents the hold. Yellow is the trigger pull. Red is the shot break and recoil. This shot was during dry fire, so there isn’t recoil to speak of.

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One of of the signature features of a CZ is that the slide rides inside of the frame. The legendary accuracy and recoil characteristics of CZs are at least partly attributed to arrangement. Because of this, the P-07’s slide is not very tall at all and doesn’t leave much real estate to grab. To help, CZ has machined very nice serrations both at both the front and rear of the slide. While playing with it, I thought it would be more difficult to manipulate. But, in use, I haven’t had any problems with racking or quickly clearing induced malfunctions.

The frame of the pistol is well stippled. The front feels more like traditional checkering, while the sides feel closer to skateboard grip tape (though not quite as rough…just closer to it). There are also stippled portions above the trigger guard on each side of the frame. I assume these are for resting fingers and finding reference points.

I’ve definitely read some complaints about the grips side panels getting irritating after a long period of carry. However, I don’t know those folks’ backgrounds, or what they expect. From my brief time carrying the P-07, I find it much more comfortable than the aggressive pyramid texture on the FNS-9.

Speaking of carry, I will be toting the P-07 in a Vedder Holsters LightTuck. I have been carrying my FNS in one of their RapidTuck holsters, and find it very well made and comfortable. It seems a lot of good holster makers have popped up in the last few years, Vedder just happens to be my go-to these days.

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The P-07 is not fully ambidextrous. The decocker is, but that’s it. The slide stop/release is only on the left side, and the magazine release is reversible. My FNS is fully ambidextrous, which was a selling point for me at the time, but the more I shot it I realized I didn’t value those features. I usually release the slide with a slingshot maneuver, and I sometimes found that my grip on the firing hand would be dangerously close to pressing the magazine release from the palm side (a common complaint on the compact model, actually).

Before taking it out for a test drive, I swapped out the small grip panel for the medium. I quickly found that this was not the quick and easy job. On some guns with modular back panels, I just have to release the panel by inserting a punch or some other narrow device into a hole that moves a catch out of the way. With the P-07, I have to remove the pin that is holding the mainspring in place (seen at the lower rear corner of the grip in the above photo).

I know from installing a ‘D’ spring in my Beretta that moving those pins are a pain in the behind. It took a bit of cursing, and a couple breaks to go find the spring and cap that had flown across the room, but I got the panel installed. I have zero concerns that the backstrap will go anywhere on this one, though I’m probably a whole less inclined to experiment.

The First 100 Rounds

The first chance I had, I took the P-07 out to the range. It was the same range, and even the same lane, that I had rented one before. I loaded up two 15 round mags and had at it. The first mag was done all single action, the second all double action. The first few shots were right through the 10 ring at 7 yards. To my great surprise, the double action shots were even more accurate on average than my single action shots. While the final target was nothing to write home about, I will say that I have not had this good a start with any other pistol I’ve ever shot. That one little guy up at the top right was from losing focus during a double action shot.

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I then took an Appleseed 100 meter target and stuck it out at 25 yards to see what I could do. It wasn’t impressive by any means, but all shots did land on the target. I then brought it back to 10 yards and finished off the first box of ammo, chewing out the middle of the target in the process.

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I kept the MantisX on during this period to get feedback on my trigger pulls. In short, they were pretty good. I was giving a bit too much finger at first, which was pushing the pistol to the left (you can see it on the left trace below). Once I got that figured out, things started going very well.

I finished off the session by attempting Dot Torture. I’ve never done this particular test before, but I know it is deceptively simple. Each dot requires a different method of fire. The goal is to keep all shots (typically 4-5) within each circle at a given range. Once you can do that, move the target further back. The starting point is 3 yards. I was pretty happy with myself until I hit the weak hand shooting portion. I’m going to need some practice there. I also blew two of the double action shots (one on dot 3, which went low and is touching the top of dot 6, and one on dot 9 which ended up inside of dot 6).

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After getting home from the first hundred shots, I noticed that the trigger has already begun smoothing out. The double action already feels lighter than my D-sprung Beretta, which is about 8-9 lbs. The single action break is still more of a roll than a wall, but it is predictable and I found I didn’t have trouble staging it.

Conclusions

So far, I am very happy with this pistol. I went over 2000 rounds without malfunction on the FNS before I considered it “qualified” to be carried. Whether or not I apply the same standard here remains to be seen. I am aware that the trigger return spring is a known weak point, and folks expect to replace them ever 10,000 trigger pulls. Cajun Gun Works (CGW) makes their own higher quality version that has been reported to be much better, and has gone past 70,000 cycles in some places.

I look forward to seeing what I can do here, but the CZ looks like a winner. I have no intention of picking up another pistol at least until one of two conditions: I learn to master this one to the point of cleaning a dot drill at 10 yards, or I find that the pistol is unreliable.

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General, Range Reports, Reviews

AAR: MVT Rifle Skills/Combat Team Tactics, 19-22 October 2017

Introduction

There is a list of rules for gunfighting attributed to Drill Sergeant Joe B. Frick. It is usually passed around the shooting community in jest, but some of the highlights include these nuggets:

  • Bring a gun. Preferably, bring at least two guns. Bring all of your friends who have guns
  • Only hits count. The only thing worse than a miss is a slow miss.
  • If your shooting stance is good, you’re probably not moving fast enough or using cover correctly.
  • Move away from your attacker and go to cover. Distance is your friend. (Bulletproof cover and diagonal or lateral movement are preferred.)
  • If you can choose what to bring to a gunfight, bring a semi or full-automatic long gun and a friend with a long gun.
  • If you are not shooting, you should be communicating, reloading, and running.

Most tactical training courses taken by civilian gun owners focus on quickly and accurately running a carbine. The curriculum usually includes the mechanics and care of the AR-15; fundamentals of marksmanship; malfunction clearance; and maybe some elements of shooting from behind cover. These are important skills to learn, of course, and I’ve always enjoyed the opportunities I’ve had to practice them.

However, these courses only cover some select individual skills. As the rules above indicate, there is more to learn. As I would discover during this four-day course, these other skills are vital- and there isn’t any other way to develop them other than getting out and doing it.

Why Small Team Tactics?

Some years ago, I read an article that talked about the mindset of typical tactical enthusiasts (as well as preppers). In short, these individuals could learn to become very proficient in individual shooting skills, and amass large stores of supplies, but they were still individuals. Eventually, we all need sleep. In the worst case scenarios, individuals will be overrun by mobs attacking when least expected.

At some point, we have to accept that there is safety in numbers, and we will need a team.

I grew up in South Florida. I’ve lived through several powerful hurricanes, including Andrew, Katrina, Wilma, and others. While going without power for two weeks following a storm, someone kicked in my neighbor’s door and stabbed them 17 times. It took hours for the police to respond. We’ve all seen what happened when Katrina hit New Orleans, or what happened recently in Houston. Puerto Rico is still in rough shape from the recent storm season. I’ve lived in places with blizzards, fires, earthquakes, and other natural disasters. My prior profession also gave me unique insight into the “what ifs” of the world. After that, you come to accept that there will be situations where the veil of civility drops and you are on your own. At least for a while.

If one of my underlying goals is to protect my family and community, or at least my “tribe”, then it stands that I should start learning how to fight alongside them.

This is what brought me to Max Velocity Tactical.

I’ve seen Max’s articles on and off for a long time. It was his old posts that first got me rethinking my battle belt configuration. Max shares a similar background to most of the well-known tactical trainers. However, he gained notoriety through the prepper market rather than the tactical. In a way, that makes a lot of people cautious about his courses and writings. There is a negative undercurrent of “militia training” surrounding civilians learning small unit tactics that doesn’t sit well with a lot of people. There is a definite stereotype associated with that idea, and most folks in the tactical market avoid it.

That said, in talking with him during breaks, Max has been distancing himself and his school from that image. He wants to attract a more professionally-minded tactical audience. This group invests in quality equipment, training, and fitness. They aren’t trying to be a bunch of Walter Mittys, just people developing skills. The message I noticed all during class was that this had nothing to do wth politics. In fact, I can’t recall any political comments on the part of the instructors whatsoever. Any discussion of motivation focused on teaching people a more complete tactical skillset. More still, a lot of discussion centered on how to improve the courses and training.

The courses he offers, as well as the supporting events, are part of an ecosystem known as TacGun. This philosophy focuses on developing well-rounded citizens who with not only the ability to shoot, but the ability to function as a team. That also includes demonstrating leadership and work towards the high level of physical fitness.

Those who prove aptitude in these courses sometimes get the opportunity to act as OPFOR when US Army ODA groups come train at the MVT facility. From talking to those who have had this chance, the lessons learned and camaraderie are striking. I, for one, think that would be an awesome opportunity for anyone interested in tactics.

The Training Facility

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A rubber training rifle and selection of “lost magazines” left behind on the ranges and never recovered
Max Velocity Tactical (MVT) is one of the few schools in the country that will teach small unit light infantry tactics to civilians.

Max, the owner and lead instructor, is a life-long infantry soldier who “grew up” in the British Parachute regiment. He also spent time with the British Special Forces Support group. He has six deployments as both an enlisted soldier and officer. Of note, he spent a tour selecting and training recruits for the Parachute Regiment. After leaving the military, he spent five years as a government contractor for both the US and UK in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The main training facility is about 40 miles west of Winchester, VA, occupying a 100 acre wooded section of the Appalachian mountains of West Virginia. It includes a variety of ranges for training a wide breadth of skills from CQB to Combat Patrolling. Dug in pits dot the terrain. These pits include PT-61 pop-up target systems, to which Max fixes 3-D “Ivan” targets.

The terrain in much of the facility is…unforgiving. Once off of the flat ranges, the hills and trails are punishing to those who have a poor level of fitness or have elected to carry too much stuff in their kit. The terrain on the ranges themselves is uneven, with hills, roots, soft soil, and other debris often making correct positions difficult to obtain. On more than a few drills, I found myself shooting into cover in front of me rather than the target due to height over bore issues with the optic. These are the things you don’t get on a groomed 25 yard range.

The Training Course

Rifle Skills/Combat Team Tactics is a combination of two different courses spread over four days. The first two days consists of Combat Rifle Skills. The first day of which is a review of the AR-15 platform, marksmanship fundamentals, zeroing, and basic rifle handling. The second day teaches malfunction drills, reinforces the lessons of day one, and begins to teach movement and cover techniques on a square range. CRS concludes with buddy pair movement and an assault through. Historically, the first day was optional. Students could elect to start on day two, if they thought their skills were up to snuff. However, that will be changing next year. Students will be required to attend both days of CRS prior to Team Tactics. This could all be done in one four-day chunk, or on separate weekends within six months of one another.

I attended the RS day to help knock off some rust from my rifle handling. Four years of being stationed in California meant that I simply didn’t practice a lot of the carbine skills I picked up while living in Montana. The eccentricities of California firearms laws also meant I developed some awkward weapon handling habits.

The second two days, Combat Team Tactics (CTT), leaves the square range and takes place on Tactical Ranges 1 and 2. An outdoor classroom stands at the base of these ranges. CTT builds upon the foundations developed during CRS with a focus on communication, movement, cover, and safety. The end goal is to learn basic fire and movement drills as well as variations of breaking contact. It is these two days that showed me the things I didn’t know. It is one thing to read about these drills in a field manual, Ranger Handbook, or Max’s own manual, “Contact.” It’s another to understand the challenges associated with them.

The CTT course follows a crawl-walk-run method. Students are first provided a lecture and discussion of the drill about to be performed. Sometimes, when appropriate, there will be a demonstration. Then, students perform a rehearsal without weapons. Lastly, they perform the drill with live fire. Tactical Ranges 1 and 2 are essentially “Jungle Walks” where a team advances down a lane until they are “contacted” by pop up targets and the drill begins.

I want to point out that safety was always a paramount focus of the instructors. From the opening drills on a square range to the jungle walk lanes, the student to instructor ratio during live fire never exceeded 2:1. The instructors made sure that safety angles, muzzle discipline, and positioning were enforced at all times. I constantly heard the instructors taking note on whether or not students clicked their weapon safeties on while moving (they all did). On more than one occasion, an instructor would joke with me after a drill about, “What you didn’t see was me standing behind you with a large rock if you had raised your weapon at that moment.” Luckily, I always kept safety angles in mind.

Daily Recap

I wrote a recap of each training day as a way to keep track of the activities performed and lessons learned each day. In hindsight, I found the course material well organized, and effectively built upon itself with each iteration.

Day 1 (CRS)

Day 1 of the whole training event was the optional Rifle Skills day. The class opened with a safety briefing and clarification of expectations provided by Max. Through discussion, Max learned a bit about each student’s background and prior experience. It became clear that the four students (including myself) who arrived for the first RS day were all experienced rifle shooters. Two were multi-class returning alumni of Max’s other training courses, another was a retired USMC infantry officer who continues to do government security contracting work overseas.

The first day’s curriculum was adjusted in light of the students’ experience levels. We skipped over discussion of the AR-15’s history and maintenance, and moved to loading/unloading drills. The focus was on knowing the commands that would be issued on the range.

Once satisfied with load, reload, and unload, we moved on to zeroing and marksmanship. We didn’t spend much time talking about (or demonstrating) marksmanship fundamentals or positions. I would have liked a bit more here, but that’s because I’m a marksmanship nerd. We had a short discussion on preferred zero distances, point blank zero, and practical effects. Shooting positions were briefly covered. The gist of this portion of the course was to explain that there are many ways to skin a cat. It is more important to do what works for you (within reason) than obsess over minutiae of technique.

The rest of the day broke into various weapon handling drills, position transitions, and basic individual movement techniques. A large amount of emphasis was placed on communicating what was happening with you and your weapon. This would become very important later.

Day 2 (CRS)

For the second day of training, four more students arrived. One was an LEO, another was a fire fighter, and another was a father-son duo. Of the eight in attendance, we broke into buddy pairs that persisted through the rest of the course.

The second instructor, Scott, joined us on day 2. Scott is a retired First Sergeant who came up through Army LRSC and deployed everywhere from Gulf War 1 to Afghanistan.

Scott opened with discussing malfunctions, their causes, and how to fix them (as well as inducing them for training value). Corrective actions focused mainly on variations of tap-rack-bang, but also double feeds and bolt overrides. The importance of actually looking into the ejection port to identify the source of any stoppage was emphasized.

My habits from California’s bullet button and my ambidextrous charging handle caused me grief, as I had grown accustomed to using my firing hand to do a lot of things.

The rest of the day continued to build on the basics of individual and buddy pair movement. Other topics included throughout the day were tactical reloads and scanning. The instructors are not fans of the cursory quick scan left and right that has grown popular. Instead, they emphasized a good steady scan of the surrounding terrain (and ejection port of your own rifle). This would be reinforced in the following days on the tactical ranges.

The second day finished with basic fire and movement, with a buddy pair advancing in short successive bounds covering one another.

Day 3 (CTT)

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A view from the outdoor classroom. Pictured is the whiteboard used to discuss drills and examples of the “Ivan” targets used during the course (on the left). Behind the board is the start of Tac Range 2.
The third day started in the outdoor classroom at the base of Tac Ranges 1 and 2. It was chilly, in the high 30’s, and there was a fair bit of shivering during the morning lectures until we actually started moving. The first half of the day built upon the closing drills from Day 2.

Rather than a single buddy pair advancing up a square range behind plywood sheets for cover, the pair would advance up Tac Range 1. The range consisted of uneven wooded terrain on a steady uphill climb. The teams would fire and maneuver while suppressing a pair of pop-up targets. Again, this was demonstrated, rehearsed, and then done with live fire.

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Looking up the trail on Tac Range 1, unseen are the dug in target pits
Every time the drill grew in complexity, the course grew longer. We would “fight through” the first position, only to be contacted again by the next one further up the trail. This is where the importance of scanning began to grow. In the wooded terrain, it was not always obvious that the next “bad guy” had popped up unless you were carefully looking around. Getting “sucked into the target” was a recipe for failure.

Through it all, the instructors stuck right behind each pair. They ensured safety angles were never violated and muzzles were kept in safe directions.

Side note: these drills are the reason for the new fitness requirements (timed ruck and timed lunges) to attend training. Fighting up these hills is no joke, and people’s focus begins to drop off when they are tired. Even more so, if someone is unable to stand up from a kneeling or prone without waving their rifle in every direction, they are a safety hazard. 

In all, these drills were exhausting but extremely fun. I tracked my heart rate through them, and it routinely hit 160-170- even just walking back up the hill to fetch spent magazines. My partner, the perpetually cigar-puffing retired Marine, spoke fondly of the drills. He also admitted that the terrain was humbling.

The back half of the day focused on breaking contact.

Demo, rehearse, perform.

Good stuff.

Day 4

The hardest thing you will ever do in combat is extract a casualty under fire. The second hardest will be to locate the enemy. – MVT Instructors

The final day took place on Tac Range 2, which follows along a curved wooded creek bed. The drills remained the same, but the terrain grew more complicated. This is where the quote above became a factor. Finding targets to shoot at became downright difficult at a times. It was easy to focus on the ones you already knew about, and if the team wasn’t communicating as they spotted more, then we had problems. I often found myself shooting at the same few target because the cover I was behind blocked my left field of view. Had I moved my head a few inches to the right, I would have seen them and engaged.

I came to appreciate my Elcan and ACOG. They are fantastic at this sort of thing. The magnified optics helped peer into the background and hunt for targets. The illuminated reticles helped draw the eye to the aiming point. Since multiple shooters were involved, speed was less important than hits and communication. This is an important takeaway for me.

I don’t want to give too much away, but these were fantastic drills.

Parting Thoughts

This was an excellent training event. I was much more satisfied with the second two days (CTT), but I understand the need to bring everyone up to a basic foundation in the first two days. If anything, I would like to have had more practice on unconventional shooting positions. Staircase barriers were already present on the square range, so it wouldn’t take much effort to cut holes in them (like the VTAC barricades) and teach those lessons. Not super important, but it would be useful to have if there is extra time with a quick-learning class.

The next logical course for me to do is Combat Patrol. That course takes the team tactics drills and expands them into planning and conducting patrols. Beyond that, I am very interested in trying my hand at the Force on Force Team Tactics event. In FoF, students split into competing squads and drill against one another using UTM bolts and rounds. However, my funding does have limits.

I would highly recommend this course for anyone looking to grow beyond just being able to shoot quickly on a square range. Learning to communicate and coordinate with others during a firefight is a skill that isn’t going to be taught by reading a manual or watching a DVD. Until more trainers get past whatever it is that stops them from teaching it to open enrollment courses, Max has a pretty solid lock on this material.

Personal Lessons Learned

  • It’s not about me. Once you start bringing your friends to the fight, it has a whole lot less to do with your individual speed/skill and a lot more to do with coordinating and communicating with those around you. Marksmanship absolutely matters, as only hits count, but a lot of the fancy whiz-bang stuff people attach to their weapons becomes a whole lot less important when you are keeping your rate of fire controlled and avoiding shooting from the standing as much as possible.
  • Communicate, coordinate, communicate- but do it quickly. I had a discussion with Scott at the end of the whole course, and the basic feedback was that my weapon handling and maneuver mechanics were pretty good, but I was simply slow to communicate. This slowed down momentum. I think my careful communication style stems from my prior military background, which required high a lot of verbal coordination and positive “echos” of commands. Still, they would prefer that a team do it correctly a bit slower than attempt to fly through and become a mess. Remembering to communicate and coordinate constantly while also trying to put shots on target is very difficult, and it simply can’t be learned from reading.
  • Lack of practice is killer when combined with even a little stress. Even though I set goals for myself for some weapon handling skills, I hadn’t actually been practicing prior to class. On the very first reload on Day 1, I ended up pulling out two pistol mags before finally grabbing the rifle mag I needed. Oops.
  • The fitter you are, the better you will be able to keep your head in the game. If you’re already sucking wind after a short walk, and then make contact, you are far less effective and may even become a safety hazard.
  • Do the drills to practice the skills, but don’t let them make you stupid. Two moments stick out to me regarding this. The first happened on day three. During the first two days of square range training, the react to contact drill included firing and then taking a kneeling position to simulate getting into cover. On the jungle walk, I went stupid and actually took a knee in the open on the trail rather than darting to the side behind actual cover. The second moment involved correcting a stoppage (reload) and then taking a shot at the last known target’s location (even though it was no longer visible). I did that because the drills we had practiced for the prior two days involving stoppages ended when the rifle was fired and shown to be “back in.”
  • The more you practice correct marksmanship fundamentals, including positions, the better able you are able to improvise when conditions are less than ideal. After we left the square range, I don’t think I ever adopted a fully correct kneeling position again. The terrain just didn’t allow for it. However, I have practiced enough with understanding NPOA and bone-on-bone to make it work anyway. The target was still hit.
  • You don’t need to “hug cover.” I was corrected several times for trying to bound too far ahead of my partner and the other buddy pair. In my mind, I was simply trying to get up to the next reasonable piece of cover, be it a wide enough tree or bundle of fallen logs. The reality was that I didn’t have to be next to it for the cover to do its job. As long as it was between me and them, it was working. By bounding too far ahead, I put safety angles at risk and potentially forced my partner to have to move again. Short aggressive bounds are better.

Notes on Gear

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My “Gear Bomb” of kit prior to packing it up at the end of the course. The bright tape helped prevent losing any magazines in the thick piles of fallen foliage
  • Rifle #1 went down 2/3 of the way through day one with short stroking issues. I have been unable to determine what the root cause was, so I am chalking it up to poor lubrication for now. The TR24 1-4x optic on it worked great for that application, though. However, the rear ocular focus didn’t want to stay put. Until fully diagnosed, this rifle is being moved to backup status.
  • Rifle #2, the LW BCM with Elcan Specter OS4x functioned flawlessly. The light weight was awesome when humping it up and down the trails, and the Elcan was perfect for target ID and engagement. The illumination setting (I used max brightness almost the entire time) was perfect for the shaded wooded terrain. It stood out just enough to draw the eye, but not so much that it was distracting. This rifle has been promoted to primary status.
  • Rifle #3, the 20″ Musket with UBR 2.0 and TA-110, worked great for the afternoon that I used it. The LED ACOG was superb, as expected. However, the extra weight of the entire set up was definitely noticed. The stubby foregrip was very useful for carrying the rifle in the patrol position without inducing wrist strain. All things being equal, I wouldn’t mind having to hump the musket around longer term- but I definitely preferred the lighter weight of rifle #2.
  • The medium battle belt was perfect. Two changes I made right before class was to swap out the HSGI Bleeder pouch for the Chinook MED TMK and I mounted a dump pouch at the center rear. Thankfully, I did not need the med kit, and the dump pouch just wasn’t useful except for gathering mags after drills. I won’t be keeping it there. The medium battle belt made a great layering item for controlling profile. I will have to write more about this.
  • When it comes to hats, short soft brims work better than long stiff ones. I wore a patrol cap for the first couple days, and switched to a short brim boonie hat for the second two. The patrol cap, an Outdoor Research Radar Pocket Cap in Multicam was certainly convenient. I could fold it up and stuff it in a pocket, and it didn’t interfere with my electronic ear pro at all. The boonie, a Tyr Tactical Huron short brim boonie, interfered far less with sight picture through magnified optics. Once I figured out how to make it work with my ear pro, I much preferred the boonie hat.
  • The MVT chest rig I picked up last year did its job well. It was low profile enough to not get in the way of any positions, or become a snag hazard, yet it worked well for reloading. Not being split front, it was a little bit of a chore to get on and off, but was otherwise nearly unnoticeable.
  • I wore my Vertx smock for all four days. While it sometimes grew pretty warm when in the sun, its pocket space was indispensable. On the first two days with the square range, I carried extra magazines inside the pockets (where mag sleeves were sewn in), and replenished my belt from them as needed. At no point did it interfere with movement, and I could easily see it being a trusted piece of kit.
  • I felt like quality eye pro made a big difference in the class as far as vision went. I used a pair of Revision Sawflys through the entire thing, swapping from tinted to clear lenses for the second two days.
  • I didn’t think it would matter, but I happened to wear a pair of TAD Force-10 pants for the whole course, which proved great. Not only were they durable and allowed freedom of movement, but I never realized they had magazine sleeves sewn into the cargo pockets. In all, between the pants and the smock, I could discretely carry eight 30-round magazines in purpose-made pockets.
  • I tested two slings during the course, the FTW multipurpose and my long-standing BFG Padded VCAS. Both worked well, but I ultimately liked using the VCAS more.

Conclusion

This was an awesome way to spend four days and enough money to make my wife a little mad at me. Aside from the training aspect itself, I appreciated the opportunity to vet some of the gear I’ve acquired over the years. To be honest, it all worked pretty well. I suppose that is another mark in the column for buy something good up front and it won’t fail you later.

Thanks for reading!

 

Reviews

First Impression: Magpul UBR 2.0

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After first announcing it around SHOT Show 2016, Magpul finally started shipping the second generation UBR stock. I’ve wanted one since they were first announced, and followed the delays and development with interest. I won’t go into all the snags and changes that led to the delay, but at least Magpul was able to have a sense of humor about it.

Once I found out they were shipping, I placed my order with Brownells and waited patiently. It arrived about two weeks later, and I hastily installed it on the musket.

I’ve installed and used the fist generation UBR on a few rifles for other folks, but never owned it myself. The primary benefit of the design is that the cheek piece fixes in place while the underside slides back and forth to adjust length of pull. That made for a consistent and comfortable cheek weld no matter the length of pull setting. The lockup design also meant that the UBR was also the strongest adjustable stock on the market.

For a long time, the first generation UBR was considered the best all-round stock for a precision AR-15 rifle in the field.

Despite its benefits, there are two reasons I never used the first generation UBR. The first was weight. At 1.63 lbs (26.08 oz), it was one of the heaviest stocks on the market. In contrast, the Vltor EMOD and A5 buffer tube I’ve been using weigh 18.3 oz together. While weight is factor, we can also argue that the stock would be good for counterbalancing a nose-heavy rifle. That brings me to the second, and more important, reason.

The first generation of UBR included an “entry length” buffer tube. That meant it was exclusive to carbine buffers and buffer springs. I was, and continue to be, fully committed to the A5 buffer system, which uses a rifle length spring and intermediate sized buffer. The benefits of the A5 system were important to me than the benefits of the UBR.

Enter Generation 2

UBR 2.0

Magpul stated three goals when the announced the UBR 2.0 project:

  1. Reduce the weight of the stock
  2. Reduce the cost
  3. A5 compatibility

In my opinion, the first two are honestly marginal improvements. The stock now weighs 21.2 oz (1.3 lbs), which is about 5 ounces. I know, I know…ounces equal pounds and pounds equal pain. As far as cost, the original was around $250 and I bought mine for $179. That is a pretty good savings, but the price still puts the UBR on the upper end of the spectrum.

The real benefit is the A5 compatibility.

The install process on the stock is pretty straight forward. There is a cylindrical buffer tube that installs like any other receiver extension. An end plate mounts in the normal spot. After that, a sleeve fits tightly over the tube and locks into the end plate. A nut is then torqued on the back to secure the whole mechanism together. The cheek piece slides over that, and then the bottom half is attached.

It sounds more complicated than it is.

The UBR 2.0 includes five sling mounting options. The first is at the front of the stock on the end plate. There is a QD socket in the plate for ambidextrous sling use. Keep in mind, if a sling is mounted in this spot, the stock will not close all the way.

There are also QD sockets on the left and right sides of the stock.

On the toe of the stock is a more traditional molded sling loop.

The last sling spot is actually inside the storage compartment, and is revealed if you remove the doors from the compartment.

Overall, the UBR 2.0 feels well constructed and sturdy. I definitely see its benefits to precision shooting styles, as the consistent cheek weld and solid lockup are huge bonuses over traditional collapsing AR15 stocks. I look forward to putting it through its paces.

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Reviews

Initial Impression: Trijicon TA-110 3.5×35 LED ACOG

TA110 ACOG Right Side

As a retirement gift of sorts for my leaving the Air Force, my [awesome] wife bought this scope. The TA-110 is essentially a battery powered TA-11, which has been among the most popular ACOG models in the competition world due to its balance of longer eye relief and good field of view. I mentioned the TA-110 briefly in the Spring of last year, but I didn’t have plans to purchase one.

Originally,  I wanted to pick up the dual illuminated fiber optic model, the TA-11. I recommended that optic to a friend, and I was suitably impressed with it on his rifle. However, the more I thought about my real world uses (and not TEOTWAKI zombie apocalypse), I realized that I find more utility in user controllable battery illumination. This allows me to turn off the illumination when I need more precision (as opposed to the notable blooming of the fiber optic in full sun), and also lets me keep good illumination when lighting is poor. This question of battery vs fiber optic illumination was ultimately the deciding factor in why I went with the ELCAN over the TA-11 back in 2015.

I purchased the green horseshoe-dot reticle calibrated for 308. You may wonder why I would buy a 308 calibrated reticle and put it on a 5.56 rifle. The answer is that the 308 BDC is actually a closer match to 77gr SMK and 75gr TAP than the standard 5.56 reticle. That’s not to say that it’s perfect match. Some work will have to be done to determine actual holdover points, but it is closer. Using the 308 reticle also gives me the interesting option of mounting the optic on my M1A or 308 AR.

These are the specs found on Trijicon’s web site:

Magnification 3.5x
Objective Size (mm) 35mm
Bullet Drop Compensator Yes
Length (in) 8.0 in.
Weight (oz) 16.8 oz. w/out Mount
Illumination Source LED
Reticle Pattern Horseshoe Dot
Day Reticle Color Red
Night Reticle Color Red
Calibration .308
Bindon Aiming Concept Yes
Eye Relief (in) 2.4 in. / 61.0mm
Exit Pupil (mm) 0.39 in. / 10.0mm
Field of View (Degrees) 5.5
Field of View @ 100 yards (ft) 28.9
Mount Comes With TA51
Housing Material Forged Aluminum
Batteries Single AA Lithium or Alkaline Battery
Battery Life Over 12,000 hours on setting #4 using supplied alkaline battery at 21ºC (70ºF)
Adjustment Increments (Range to Target) 2 click per in. @ 100m
Adjustment Range 40 MOA Total Travel
Illumination Settings 6
Dimensions (LxWxH) 8.0 x 3.0 x 2.6 in, 203 x 76 x 66mm

With the notable exception of using AA Lithium (or Alkaline) batteries, which last about 12,000 hours (about 500 days) on setting #4, these specs are almost identical to the TA-11. Setting #4, by the way, appears to be a great general purpose illumination level for overcast days and evenings. Setting #6 is extremely bright, as you will see in the photos.

The ACOG arrived in a nice hard sided case with egg crate foam. Upon opening the case, my immediate gut reaction was, “Ooooohhhhh Niiiiiiiicceee.” That instant positive feeling was admittedly lacking when I first received my ELCAN a couple years ago.

The TA-110 weights two ounces more than the TA-11 due to the battery housing. Trijicon supplied an Energizer AA Lithium with the optic. With the TA-51 mount, the total package weights 21.35 ounces. The scope is no lightweight by any means. For comparison, my ELCAN SpecterOS 4x weighs 18.85 ounces. I like that Trijicon saw fit to include retention lanyards on the turrets and battery cap.

Size wise, the TA-110 is a bit larger than my ELCAN.

ELCAN SpecterOS 4x next to Trijicon TA110

With the deletion of the fiber optic housing from the TA-110’s body, Trijicon has added a second forward position for mounting a miniature red dot sight like the RMR.

 

Important to me is eye relief, and the TA-110 delivers. I find it much more comfortable to get behind than my ELCAN, and the sweet spot seems much more forgiving. That’s not to say the SpecterOS is bad by any means, but the TA-110 is just excellent.

ThroughTA110

When it comes to illumination, the TA-110 is very bright. There is an off position between each of its six settings. This allows me to find the setting that I like, click one notch off of it to remove power, and then quickly get back to my preferred illumination level when needed. The illumination knob is large and easy to grab, though not quite as large as the Specter’s. I find the illumination on the TA-110 to be brighter than the ELCAN. The green reticle jumps out at me much better than the smaller red center crosshair of the SpecterOS.

I took some comparison photos at 11:30 AM and 4:45 PM. Unfortunately, the mid day shots were ruined by large amounts of glare (you can see it a bit in the photo above). The evening shots were better. The illumination on both is at full strength, and I used my iPhone 6s for these. It was my perception that the ACOG appeared just a bit clearer and brighter than the ELCAN under these conditions. However, after cleaning dust and debris from the Specter’s lenses, there is much less difference.

You will notice that the field of view on the SpecterOS is slightly wider than the TA-110. That was expected, and the difference probably isn’t enough to worry about. Something I haven’t quite figured out is why the photos through the ACOG to be more magnified than the ones taken through the SpecterOS, since the ACOG is 3.5x and the ELCAN is 4x. It is probably my own lack of skill with taking such pictures.

I mounted the TA-110 on my BCM 20″ upper and moved the SpecterOS to a 16″ BCM lightweight upper and set off for a range day. The TA-110 performed well, though I did run into the rather infamous issue of ACOG adjustments needing to be “knocked in.” I would make adjustments on the turrets and have to fire a few shots to see where they really ended up. I didn’t help matters by forgetting to bring an actual zeroing target with gridlines, so I had to improvise with Appleseed “Red Coat” targets.

I was able to squeeze a good bit of precision out of the horseshoe-dot reticle, especially with the ability to turn illumination off, but I do find the simple crosshair reticle of the SpecterOS to be more useful in that regard. The horseshoe-dot is built for speed more than precision. Against a bright sandy background on a sunny day, I had zero issues picking up the bright green illumination when turned up to max. In comparison, the ELCAN’s red center crosshairs looked red, but certainly not “OMG LOOK AT ME” bright.

I don’t want to talk group sizes, because I simply wasn’t prepared. My lack of practice lately showed in my shooting. I did manage a couple three shot groups in the 1 to 1.5 MOA range off a bipod or backpack, but they weren’t the norm. My positional shooting was poor, and I can tell that my muscles and joints are out of practice (and in need of stretching). I will report more after additional range sessions.

Overall, my initial impression of the TA-110 is very good. The TA-11 has a solid reputation behind it, so I see no reason that it wouldn’t apply to this one as well. It is not a lightweight optic, so I wouldn’t suggest it on any super light builds (maybe a TA-33, though).

 

 

 

General, Reviews

Initial Impression: MVT 3X Special Forces Chest Rig

 

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My awesome wife recently bought me an MVT 3X Special Forces Chest Rig as a gift. This is intended to compliment my belt, which has undergone several changes since I first wrote about it. I’ll talk about those in another post.

I have been eyeballing a chest rig for years. In my time with the military, I’ve noted that wearing gear on the chest, as opposed to the waist, has become the de facto standard procedure. There are a lot of reasons for this, not the least of which is the prevalence of mounted operations where a chest rig (or plate carrier) is much more comfortable than a loaded belt with pouches around the back for sitting in vehicles. Chest rigs also offer less interference with the waist belt on large rucks. In the past, wearing a large ruck meant either removing the load carriage belt, or removing the the ruck. The former option reduced your fighting capability, and the latter created higher risk for injury. Chest rigs offer benefits of mobility as well, since bulky items on the belt line interfere with clearing obstacles and navigating tight spaces.

There are drawbacks, of course. From a weight bearing standpoint, the hips remain the best location to transfer weight to the ground. Chest rigs, and plate carriers, keep the weight high on the chest and can create extra stress on the spine. There are ways to mitigate this through load balancing with a backpack, but putting weight on the chest will always be a “second best” solution compared to the hips when it comes to load bearing. The simplest way around this is to not overload the chest.

A few of the rigs I’ve intended to purchase in the past, but never did, include the VTAC MOLLE Assault Rig, Esstac’s Bush Boar A1, SKD’s PIG Universal Chest Rig, Tactical Tailor MAV, Mayflower UW, and the Haley DC3R. For various reasons, I never committed the money to any of these, though they all appear to be very well made pieces of gear.

I came across posts from MVT (short for Max Velocity Tactical) while researching load bearing methods. In fact, much of the philosophy behind my original battle belt configuration came from his earlier blog posts. Max runs a training facility geared towards teaching the skills to the public beyond the standard weapons handling methods typically seen from well known training outfits. He is a veteran of the British Para Regiment, has done contractor work in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and a veteran of the US Army Reserves. His writings are excellent, and I recommend reading them if you are inclined, but beyond my typical focus areas.

At some point, Max teamed up with Mike “Diz” Dismuke to design gear. Diz is another long-time veteran of the US military, and his work with designing functional load bearing gear for 25 years is rather well known among a few pockets of professional users with the leeway to invest in such small-batch customized stuff. Diz was known for producing the “Diz Rig,” which was fabled among much of the shooting community. He also later built a custom rig that became the basis of the much sought after, but no longer manufactured, BCM 03 Chest Harness.  He was integral to the formation of UW Gear, though it seems he has since moved on. I bring this up in order to show that even though you probably haven’t heard of MVT, they have top notch people designing and building gear.

Max and Diz have gone through several iterations of chest rigs, with each generation building upon lessons learned from running the previous one through Max’s notoriously intense training programs. These programs include land navigation, rucking, small unit tactics, simulated combat in wooded environments against pop-up “Ivan” targets, and CQB. Reading Max’s blog over the years has been a great source of insight in how various gear configurations work (or don’t work). I respect how MVT is willing to change their own product lineups quickly in order to support what they think works best.

The 3X Special Forces Rig is an evolution of Max’s Responder rig, and was done at the request of a professional user group. The main difference is the addition of a integral radio pocket.

The rig is made entirely in the USA of 1000D Cordura, so it is going to put up with abuse. I know 1000D has fallen out of favor compared to 500D, but this rig is minimalist enough that I hardly notice its weight. The rig I received appears to have top notch stitching, with no loose threads in sight and nice straight stitches. In email conversations I’ve had with MVT’s manufacturer in Georgia, I get the sense that they take great pride in being a small shop and want to produce the best gear that they can.

There is ample adjustment range, and you can see in the above photo that I taped down the excess adjustment length. The H-Harness straps are wide and flat. This provides very comfortable load distribution while not getting in the way of also wearing an assault pack or ruck. There is a single row of MOLLE running vertically down the harness strap for lashing items or attaching hydration hoses.The straps can also be removed and the main chest piece attached directly to a plate carrier via fastex buckles, if so desired. If it were me, I’d rather keep the plate carrier slick and wear the rig on top.

The 3X rig is designed to carry four 30rd AR-15 magazines. Each integral magazine pouch includes a formed kydex insert that grabs the magazine for very good retention. The tension is just right in order to create very positive insertion and retrieval of magazines without slowing anything down. The kydex inserts and interior of the pockets are lined with hook and loop in order to keep the inserts in place. Previous iterations of the rig included shock cord pull tabs, but Max and company found that the kydex provided more than enough retention for Average Joe, who isn’t jumping out of airplanes.

Legal Note: I don’t have any 30 rd magazines at home to test this with (thanks, California!), but being active duty, I was able to test it on a military range with a mix of 30 rd PMAGs and USGI 30rd aluminum mags. I just wanted to get that clarification out of the way.

kydexinsert

Behind the magazine pouches, there is a map/notebook pocket and a orienteering compass pocket. The compass pocket includes a small loop of material for dummy cording. Why an orienteering compass as opposed to a lensatic like a Brunton or Cammenga? It’s a matter of experience. The British troops prefers the thinner orienteering style like a Silva Expedition, so that’s what Max built his rig for. Not being a land navigation expert myself, I can’t really comment on one or the other. The map/notebook pocket nicely fits a Rite in the Rain notebook with room to spare.

Mapandcompass.JPG

On each end of the rig, outside the four magazine pouches, there is three rows and four columns of MOLLE.

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Stock photo from MVT’s store of the complete rig
I picked up a few of MVT’s admin pouches as well. Max makes it a point to eliminate noisy items from his gear, such as velcro and zippers. In order to do this, the pouches utilize a “Tuck Tab” or “Tuck Tunnel.” This means that there is a stiff sewn end of material on the flap that inserts into a sewn in tunnel on the pouch. This method appears very secure, almost totally silent, and easy to use. I have seen this same design on pouches from UW gear, so I assume it is a specialty of Diz’s. I have not seen such a design anywhere else, which is a shame. The same method is used for securing the MOLLE straps sewn on the back of the pouch.

The medium pouch is sized to fit a FLIR Scout. It also holds my Vortex Solo R/T 8x monocular very well. I also picked up a small pouch, but am not using it at the moment.

Beneath the outer rows of MOLLE is the radio pouch. This is a special feature of the 3X rig versus its predecessor, the Responder Rig. On each side of the 3X rig is a pancaked pouch sized to fit a PRC-152. It also fits two P-Mags, or just about any other handheld radio. Two loops have been sewn on the bottom of the rig for routing antennas. There are also two more slots on each side for inserting narrower objects like flashlights, markers, ChemLights, multitools, or bottles of weapon lubricant. The two Multicam rig photos below are stock photos from Max’s store.

In wearing the rig, I find it pairs well with my battle belt. The combination offers a lot of flexibility in that i can go from a “bare minimum” fighting capability with the battle belt, and then add the chest rig for more ammunition and options. Also, I found that this chest rig can be comfortably worn under my Vertx smock for a lower profile appearance.

Overall, I am very happy with this rig. It provides all the right capability without creating excess bulk, loose straps to snag, or other things getting in the way. Over the next few months, I will put it through as much use as I can and really get a feel for it. Whatever the result, which I expect will be positive, it is nice to see another well made piece of American gear on the market.

 

 

General, Reviews

Initial Impression: Faxon 18″ Gunner Barrel

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I received this in the mail over the weekend. It is a Faxon Firearms 18″ Gunner barrel. Here are the key stats from Faxon’s web page:

  • Barrel Type: Button Rifled
  • Barrel Caliber: 5.56 NATO
  • Barrel Twist: 1:8
  • Barrel Length: 18″
  • Barrel Profile: GUNNER Light Hybrid
  • Barrel Gas System: Rifle Length
  • Inside Finish: QPQ Nitride
  • Outside Finish: QPQ Nitride
  • Muzzle Thread: 1/2-28 TPI (Threads Per Inch)
  • Gas Block Diameter: .625″
  • Gas Port Diameter: .093″
  • Gas Block Journal Length: 1.9″
  • Barrel Extension: M4
  • Magnetic Particle Inspected!
  • 11-degree Target Crown
  • Weight: 1.44 lbs

This is part of my KISS walk-around rifle concept, which I wrote about a while back. The intent is for a lightweight iron-sighted rifle that would make a great companion for walking around in open areas, or handing off to someone as an introduction to marksmanship. This is my original mockup done through Gunstruction.

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I already have the lower assembly complete, which leaves the upper receiver, operating parts, and final assembly.

This barrel makes a very positive first impression. The QPQ/Melonite/Nitride coating is a nice even black. While not as flat as a parkerized barrel, it is not really shiny, either. The machine work appears very clean, with no sharp edges or burrs in the threading. I don’t have a bore scope or lathe to check for runout or rifling quality, but the buzz on the internet was that both have proven to be good.

The profile is the most interesting part to me, though. Notice that it continuously tapers from chamber to the gas block journal (which is sized to accept a standard .625 FSB), and then continues the taper down to the end. The muzzle end flares out a bit again to allow for solid contact with a muzzle device. The section in front of the gas block journal might be one of the thinnest profiles I’ve seen on an AR.

I happened to have enough spare parts on hand to get a better mockup and play with weight/balance a bit. I grabbed my old Spikes stripped upper, standard barrel nut, Samson/Rainier Evolution rail, and a birdcage flash hider and slapped it together (nothing fully torqued, of course). I borrowed a BCG and charging handle from another rifle.

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I’m not going to lie, this feels pretty damn nice. I’m almost tempted to mount a gas block, torque it all down and call it good. The rifle feels very spright in the hands, with a good rearward balance at about the middle of the magazine well. The Samson/Rainier rail weighs 11 oz, not including the standard barrel nut. The Mapul MOE Rifle handguard I will be using weighs just a bit more, at 12.2 oz. I also have to include another .8 oz for the handguard cap and delta ring assembly, which I don’t have mounted here.

In any case, a bit more forward balance by a few ounces would still leave a very nice handling rifle. I still need to order a few more parts, and then send it off to have the FSB drilled and taper pinned. I will probably have final assembly done at the same time.

The more parts that come in, the more excited I am to have this project complete.

Reviews

Product Review: GORUCK GR1

 

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The GR1 is like one of those mythical objects that people on the internet talk about, but nobody you know actually has. To be fair, paying nearly $300 for a backpack that, from a distance, is nearly indistinguishable from a Jansport might be considered…excessive. As the saying goes, though, you get what you pay for. In this price range, there is a lot of competition from other gear makers like Kifaru, Mystery Ranch, Crye Precision, London Bridge Trading, and more. All of these are considered top notch. Yet, when you search around the web, the GR1 consistently has loyal advocates.

The company was founded by Jason McCarthy, a veteran of the Army 10th SFG. The story goes that he wanted to start a company to be a voice for good and take care of fellow veterans. Furthermore, he wanted to take the best elements from various rucks and packs that he carried and roll them into one exceptionally well-designed pack that would stand up to the abuse of combat. Sales were slow, but Jason slowly built a reputation by partnering with Tough Mudder and using his packs during their races. At the conclusion of each race, he sold his packs off the back of a truck. This partnership eventually led to the creation of the GORUCK challenges that the company has become known for (the above link is actually quite a good read about the origin of the challenges).

GORUCK also makes a variety of packs in different sizes ranging from  the 10L bullet to the 40L GR2. All of them are built to the same “bombproof” standards, but the GR1 remains the flagship of the brand.

I picked up a Ranger Green GR1 several months ago in preparation for the GORUCK Tough (GRT) challenge in Santa Barbara on August 5th. Unfortunately, due to a back injury flaring up, I had to move my registration to a different GRT event in December. I did still use the GR1 in a GORUCK “light” event. I was holding off on finishing the review until I completed at least one GORUCK and traveled a bit with the bag.

IMG_0916.JPGThe GR1 comes in two different sizes: 26L and 21L. Pictured at the top is my Ranger Green 26L GR1. I also purchased a black 21L GR1 for my wife (it has the curved straps to accomodate different anatomy, but it is not a necessity, by any means). The pack is relatively nondescript from the outside, save for three rows of MOLLE on the front and sides, a front slash pocket, and a 2″ x 3″ hook and loop panel on the front. There is no branding on the outside, which helps it comply with Army uniform regulation 670-1. That regulation forbids corporate logos from the exterior of backpacks. From a distance, you are hard pressed to tell the difference between the GR1 and any other simple school backpack. When you pick it up, however, it becomes a very different story.

The GR1 is made entirely out of 1000D Cordura. While 1000D has fallen out of favor as a gear material due to its relative weight compared to 500D, there is no denying that the pack feels tough. As one individual I work with put it when he handled it, “This thing feels like it is going to last forever.”

The stitching is top notch and overbuilt. The YKK zippers are beefy and appear to be easy to maintain. A nice touch is the removal of metal pull tabs from the zippers and replacing them with heat shrunk 550 paracord pulls. This helps cut down on noise as you are moving with the pack and provides a unique look. The zippers run the length of the pack, allowing the front flap to clamshell completely open. The GR1 has one main compartment. Once open, there is a sleeve that works well for laptops, hydration bladders, notebooks, rucking weights, or really any laptop-sized item. This pouch would also make a great host for a mobile transceiver like the Yaesu 817ND or other similar sized module. MOLLE is sewn into the top of the pack for attaching admin pouches, carabiners, or really anything you can tie down.

One of my favorite features is actually pouches sewn into the inside of the pack front. There are two pouches here: one at the top, and a mesh one taking up the rest of the space. The location of these make for easy access to items (cell phones, keys, headphones, whatever). I usually keep a folded up poncho in the mesh pocket, which has been great for impromptu picnics with the family and unexpectedly rainy ruck workouts.

The GR1 also has a zippered sleeve between the main compartment and the back padding. GORUCK calls this the “bombproof laptop compartment.” The 26L can hold a 17″ Macbook Pro, and the 21L holds a 15″ Macbook Pro nicely. Alternatively, I put my 30 lb ruck plate in this spot, or a water bladder. There is a removable polymer frame sheet located inside a discreet sleeve on the padded portion. It feels as though this frame sheet has molded to my back a bit over time, making it very comfortable and distributing loads well. The bottom of the ruck has extra padding to help protect the contents of the pack. Both the main compartment and laptop compartment connect to a hydration tube port at the top of the pack, right under the carry handle. Speaking of which, the top carry handle is extremely strong, likely designed for those moments in the challenges where you lose strap privileges and must carry the weighted pack by that handle for a few miles.

The shoulder straps are beefy, with a good 1/4 inch of padding. The combination of padding and 1000D Cordura is so sturdy, in fact, that it took a month of near daily use (with weight) to break them in. There is a single row of vertically stitched MOLLE running the length of each strap. This works for lashing items, or even attaching accessories. In my case, I simply put an ITW web dominator for controlling the loose end of a hydration tube. The straps are designed to be quickly cinched and carry the load high on the back, which works well for weighted rucking workouts.

Lacking from the package is a sternum or waist strap. Both are available as accessories for relatively low cost. The ones designed by GORUCK weave into the available MOLLE located on the sides of the pack or on the shoulder straps. GORUCK’s explanation for not including them is that they wanted to keep things simple and stripped down (alternatively, I’ve also seen that they didn’t have a good final design for these items until recently). For the amount of money that these packs cost, I would like to have seen the sternum and waist belts included in the package and leave it up to the user to decide if they want to use them or not.

That gets me to usage. To date, I’ve used this pack for EDC at work, picnics, hikes, farmers markets, cycling around town, diaper bag, range bag, laptop bags, a gym bag, a business trip, and a GORUCK event. It has performed flawlessly in every circumstance. I think the real benefit of the GR1 is that it is so generically designed. A lot of “tactical” packs have multiple compartments and sleeves for things like knives, pens, multitools, flashlights, etc. While nifty, a lot of those features end up going unused on a day to day basis. If I load up my SOC Three Day Pass for the range, it is one thing- but using it as a daily pack really doesn’t work well because of all the things I don’t need and the space I then have to do without.

The genericness of the GR1 means that it is not specialized for anything, which makes it pretty useful for just about everything (up to a point, which I’ll get to). The main compartment can be configured and organized as I see fit, rather than being forced into what someone else envisions me using it for. With the MOLLE on the outside, I can choose to add IFAKs, canteen pouches, ammo pouches, cell phone caddies, admin pouches, or leave it slick. Youtube is full of “one baggers” who efficiently pack it for trips up to a week or longer. The only real exception is the slash pocket on the front, which isn’t much good for anything other than flat items once the pack has some bulk. I really only use it for some patches, reflective bands, and maybe a thin Rite in the Rain notebook. If you are going to load up the bag with stuff, do try to keep it organized and compartmentalized. It’s one thing to lay out everything nice and pretty when the bag is laying flat, but unless you have actually organized properly, the contents will “tumble” to the bottom in a messy pile (as seen below).

Now, here is where I’m going to deviate from a lot of what has been said about the pack. As a daily use backpack for a variety of circumstances, the GR1 is awesome. For “tactical” use, I think it makes a great 24 hour assault pack to compete with the likes of LBT, Eagle, and Mystery Ranch. But I hesitate to call it a “Ruck” in the traditional sense. It’s one thing to carry 30-40 lbs in it for a workout, which it does well it. I would NOT want to use it if there was more weight or distance involved. The shoulder straps are good, but the truth is that putting large amounts of weight on your shoulders for extended periods is going to mess with your back. If you plan on rucking with 60+ lbs, you need a sturdy waist belt. I’m not talking about the GORUCK waist belt, either, which is mainly designed to help stabilize the pack during movement. I’m talking serious hip belts that transfer weight to your hips/legs, as you see on large hiking packs.

Realistically, those who have spent time doing serious hikes, backpacking trips, and ruck movements understand this and wouldn’t use the GR1 for that purpose. I’m sure there are some devotees out there who sincerely think that putting 60 lbs in the GR1 and moving long distances on a regular basis is a good idea, though. While it can be done, you really shouldn’t.

The Bottom Line

Pros:

+ Crazy tough construction to withstand nearly any abuse
+ Generic design/size is both discrete and extremely versatile
+ Comfortable for carrying loads (within reason)
+ Just flat out good looking
+ Very high quality

Cons:

– Price is perceived as high for “just a backpack”
– Does not include relatively inexpensive sternum or waist straps
– Takes some time to break in

The Final Verdict, Who Should Buy This:

This is one of those “nice to have” items that probably isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. There are a lot of great packs on the market that fall into roughly the same category. If you were comparing the GR1 to offerings from Mystery Ranch, Kifaru, Camelbak, and other quality manufacturers, I’m not sure there is anything here that definitely makes the GR1 better than all of the others. They are all in roughly the same price point and share high levels of quality. If versatility without being overly tacticool is a priority for you, then the GR1 is a great pick. The GR1, to me, represents the absolute best version of the classic backpack. If you need more built-in organization or the ability to carry heavier loads for long distances, then something else might work better.