General

Everyday Marksman is Back Online

Good day, everyone!

It’s been a bit of a journey, but the marksman family is finally settling into a new home and routine. The drive across the country took seven days, and unpacking into our new house is slow-going. One of the downsides of living in a more populated area is that you get significantly less square footage for your dollar, so we’ve got an ongoing effort to

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The Everyday Marksman’s road trip kit while stopping along Route 66; full of “just in case stuff” for seven days

organize and eliminate things from our lives. We are also having to look at spending priorities. My new career ‘s gross compensation starts off at only slightly less than I was making as a military officer (which is expected, given the dramatic shift in industry I’m undertaking), but our expenses are significantly higher (health insurance, rent, etc.). It’s going to take a while to equalize and figure out how to allocate funds.

That said, I listened to several audiobooks and podcasts while on the road and thought a lot about my goals and the direction I want to take my training and writings. Chief among the books I listened to was the work of Jack Donovan in The Way of Men. It was recommended to me by another shooter and instructor I follow. While the the political and personal drama that surrounds the author is a bit of a turn off, and may very well taint his message among many, I do find his core philosophy to be of value. So much so that I’m working hard to incorporate much of it into my life.

What is that message? Essentially, it boils down to finding a core tribe, or “gang,” to belong to and making yourself a useful and important part of it. For a long time, I’ve felt relatively isolated among many of my peers. Surely, I had good friendly working relationships and a positive reputation with them, but I had very few who I would consider the kind of friend I could call at two o’clock in the morning with an emergency and know they would come through. If much of what I’ve read and listened to over the last two months is any indication, this is a very common problem these days.

I’ve also been spending a lot of time considering my weaknesses, both physically and emotionally, and how they have affected my professional, personal, and marksmanship lives. If I am to find and belong to a new tribe in a a new area, then I must demonstrate my worthiness of such a group. With that in mind, these are my new(ish) priorities for the coming year(s):

  • Physical capabilities: For a lot of reasons, I am placing my own physical fitness and capability at the top of my priority list. Without the military standing over my shoulder and forcing me to maintain at least a minimum level of fitness, it would be easy to let this one drop off. I want to be stronger and more capable so that I can better take care of my family and set an example for my son. I want to be more reliable when it comes to moving over distance with a load on my back so that we can do more when we get to the other side. I want to be harder to kill in a fight. I would be lying if I didn’t say the political tension and grim outlook of the country isn’t weighing on my mind. Physical preparedness is hugely important.
  • Skillset: To this point, I have focused primarily on the raw fundamentals of marksmanship. To be fair, that is the name of this blog and was my impetus for starting it in the first place. But I’ve come to consider that there are other equally important elements that coincide with being a well-rounded armed citizen. I’ve often written that my view of an Everyday Marksman is one who is engaged with their communities and looking out for the the safety and security of them and theirs. Message boards are full of armchair warriors who think that they will make it by sitting on their front porch (or roof) and guarding their stash from three hundred yards. That is simply not a realistic scenario. For me, it’s about fighting and surviving. I want to increase my skillsets in those other areas that help with the surviving portion. I do not plan on changing the focus of this blog onto these subjects, but they are a priority for me in the coming years.
  • Tactical Know-how: As I laid out in my old “about me” section, I may have been a military officer, but my specialty had nothing to do with small arms tactics and planning. In fact, in 10 years, I never even qualified with a weapon. My specialty was in nuclear weapons and strategic warfare planning. While those skills are useful in a grand campaign sense, I want to learn more about applying my marksmanship skills in a useful tactical manner beyond a square range. That means training, research, and practice. I do plan on writing about what I learn, though such training will not be a regular thing since its cost (in both tuition, travel, and ammunition) bumps up against my more limited financial resources.
  • Mindset: All the the practice and technical knowledge in the world is scarcely helpful if I don’t have the ability to apply it at the right time in the right way. Another book I listened to while on the road, Van Horne & Riley’s Left of Bang, was an outstanding discussion of the type of awareness mindset that is sorely lacking these days. I’ve been working as a civilian for only three weeks, and I’ve already been jarred by the general lack of thought given towards “what if” scenarios. I want to consciously foster a mindset that is actively engaged in my surroundings, and prepared to prevail against any threat.

Aside from living an overall more engaged and masterful lifestyle, my underlying motivation for these things is to be the kind of man that others seek out in times of hardship. Strength, Courage, Mastery, & Honor are the tenants of Donovan’s work, and I sincerely believe they provide a strong foundation to work from.

So where does that leave me in the near future?

Shortly before I left California, I got a screaming deal on some new load bearing gear that allows me to have multiple configurations. My old heavy battle belt setup has migrated to a lighter configuration combined with the MVT chest rig I received late last year. The other configuration is a more traditional H Harness setup from First Spear. I am super excited to see what it can do and will be writing about it here.

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A small representative sample of my estranged magazines

In addition, I am happy to be reunited with my box of standard capacity magazines. They were in exile while I lived in California. Now that I’ve moved back to freedom, they have been brought back into service. Oddly enough, I’ve now been without them for longer than I’ve been with them. On an interesting personal note, when I pulled the mags out of the storage box and looked at some of the decoration I had spray painted on them before moving to Cali, I was reminded how much my own mindset and approach to shooting has evolved. The decoration, which was minimal in its own right, was from a time where shooting was more about fun and image than any real practical skill.

I am proud of that evolution, and I will endeavor to keep it going.

Range Reports

Notes for Training Others

I don’t bill myself as a firearms instructor by any means. I do love learning and practicing marksmanship, and I am a very capable instructor (and have credentials to back it up), but I’ve never formally put the two together. That said, I do get asked to take people out and teach them how to shoot. This was the case last week, when a coworker wanted me to help them improve their pistol skills in preparation for deployment. I made it clear up front that I specialize more in rifle shooting, but would be happy to help them in any way I could.

In this particular case, it turned out that I had a lot to offer them. They were, more or less, uninitiated into the fundamentals of marksmanship. The bits I have learned over the years from my own competition history and practice were more than enough to “firehose” this person with more information than they could really process in a 90 minute range session. They made significant progress, but I could tell that this person wanted more. What follows are some of my takeaways for both future training sessions and for others who might be informally teaching friends or family.

Notes for Myself

The number one issue this person had is a significant flinch. His shots were centered on the paper from left to right, but coming in very low at only 7 yards. I brought three pistols with me to represent various types of actions (a 1911 for single action only, my Beretta for DA/SA, and the FNS-9 for a striker). I noticed that each time I presented a new pistol, the first couple shots were fairly good, but would steadily march down the target as the shooter learned to anticipate the shot. On two occasions, the shooter attempted to fire from slide lock (they didn’t detect that they were out of ammunition) and I noted a significant anticipatory flinch.

The best ways I know how to deal with flinching is dry fire, which we didn’t have time for, and a ball-and-dummy drill whereby I randomly add snap caps into the magazine. This latter drill will make flinching very obvious to both the instructor and to the student when the student unknowingly squeezes the trigger on a dummy round . Unfortunately, I failed to bring snap caps with me, even though I looked at them and considered bringing them. The best I ended up being able to do was teaching trigger control by balancing a quarter on the Beretta’s barrel and having the student practice dry firing without the quarter falling.

I also failed to bring a holster with me, which prevented any instruction on firing from a draw. In the short time we had, I didn’t think there would be enough room to practice those techniques. Still, it would have made for a more complete training session.

General Notes on Teaching Others

If my many years as an Air Force instructor have taught me anything, it’s that all lessons have three primary elements: an objective, a plan, and a measurement. The objective is written first, as it is difficult to teach anything unless you know what it is you should be teaching. Measurements and tests are created next. These measurements should demonstrate successful completion of the objective. Lesson plans, the real meat of the instruction, are created last.

From the outside, this may appear backwards. Most of the time, people create objectives first, build the lessons, and then create the measurements from material taught in the lesson. This makes sense to the uninitiated because it follows the order of presentation. However, this pattern creates a high risk of lesson material wandering off-topic. Furthermore, it often results in measurements that cherry-pick bits of information from the lesson that may or may not be relevant to completing the actual objective. I’ve taken many courses built this way, and it’s always a frustrating experience because the information seems too broad, the questions too random, and the material not really supporting the measurement or objective. Creating the measurements before the lesson keeps information focused on what is really needed for success. If you find the lesson wandering too far outside the scope of the measurement and objective, then you need to either eliminate the information, adjust your measurement/objective to include it, or create a new objective to measure. This last bit, identifying and constructing supporting objectives, is an art of itself and well outside the scope of this blog.

As far as objectives go, they have three parts: Condition, behavior, and standard. The condition states the circumstances under which the objective is carried out. If academic, it will state whether the test is to be taken open-book or without reference. If practical, it will state the materials provided for the measurement. The behavior identifies what the student will perform. The behavior uses direct action words that can be measured like recall, execute, identify, build, and score. The standard details the required level of performance. For academic objectives, it might be a minimum test score. For practical objectives, it might be a threshold on the number of mistakes or successful completion of the behavior within a set timing standard.

A poor objective might only have the behavior element and read something like this:

  • Place five shots within the 10 ring of the target

Better objectives look like these, which were some of my personal shooting goals:

  • Given a duty belt, holster, and loaded handgun from the standing position; place ten shots from a Beretta 92A1 within an eight inch circle at 25 meters within 15 seconds from the draw.
  • Using factory ammunition, AR-15 rifle, magnified optic, and shooting sling; place 10 shots within a 3 MOA circle at any range up to three hundred yards from prone position within 60 seconds

I’ve spent a lot of time talking about just setting up the lesson via good objectives and measurements. Prior planning is just that important. This process does not necessarily need to be formally written every time, as you probably don’t do this for a living. But at least having a general framework mapped out will help you be more organized when you improvise.

Now that we’ve got an idea how to prepare a lesson, I want to talk about content. My general pattern when I take others to the range to teach them looks like this:

Objectives:

  1. Without reference, recall the four basic safety rules of firearms handling without error
  2. Given an unloaded handgun, demonstrate safe firearm handling practices without error
  3. Given unlimited time, a loaded 10 round magazine, handgun, and starting from a low ready; place at least 7 out of 10 shots in a 4 inch circle from 7 yards
  4. Given unlimited time, 10 rounds of loose ammunition, an empty magazine, and handgun; load and fire pistol at a four inch circle from 25 yards with at least 50% of shots falling within the circle and all shots on the paper

The Plan:

  • Brief small talk to ‘break the ice;’ tell a story or joke relating to the day
  • Discuss the day’s objective(s) to prepare the student to learn
  • Safety briefing including Cooper’s four rules, proper wear of shooting glasses, demonstration of ear protection
    • Have student recite rules from memory (objective 1)
  • Basic nomenclature and demonstration of the weapons to be fired
  • Dry fire practice to familiarize student with weapon operation
    • Have student perform demonstration of basic operation (objective 2)
  • Discussion of marksmanship fundamentals
    • Position and grip
    • Sight Picture
    • Breathing
    • Trigger Control and Squeeze
  • Have student practice each element with dry fire
    • Correct any obvious mistakes or safety violations
    • Offer helpful advice for minor mistakes, but don’t appear to nag
  • With live ammunition, demonstrate how incorrect execution of fundamentals affects shot placement and recoil control
  • Have student practice with live ammunition (correct blatant mistakes on the spot)
    • Debrief student after each magazine (every 5-10 shots for me), have student self-diagnose as much as possible in order to keep them engaged and paying attention
    • Discuss what went well
    • Discuss how to improve the things that did not go well
  • After sufficient practice, post a new target and perform measurement
    • Debrief the measurement (objectives 3 and 4)
  • Repeat as needed for more learning points, objectives, and measurements
  • Review fundamentals and discuss how great shooting is merely the great application of fundamentals and poor shooting is the poor execution of fundamentals; it’s the Indian and not the Arrow
  • Ask student to recount what they’ve learned and any positive experiences of the day

That seems like a long list, but it can actually go pretty fast once you get used to it. The above pattern is geared towards those with very little shooting experience, and is designed to illustrate that shooting is a very safe and enjoyable practice when done correctly. Obviously, you can tailor the message to the student if they have more experience and you are teaching them a particular skill.

Teaching others to shoot is an awesome opportunity to both introduce new people to the sport and improve upon your own skills in the process. Prior planning and preparation, even if informal, will dramatically improve the quality experience for everyone involved. The individual I took to the range last week came away not only with a higher level of ability than when they started, but also a much greater appreciation for what they didn’t know. I gave them a glimpse down the rabbit hole and showed them a wide world they might not have previously considered. Even if they don’t become avid shooters themselves, they come away appreciating how much work goes into becoming a great marksman.

That appreciation can be turned into action.

General

Your Gear Buying Philosophy is Probably Wrong, Here’s Why

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As a community, we often lose sight of the important stuff. One of the reasons I started this blog was the realization that I was spending far more time purchasing gear than I was actually working on becoming a better marksman. Since then, I’ve slightly returned to more gear buying than practicing, but for an entirely different purpose and under a very different philosophy. I’ll get to that later.

John Buol Jr. recently put up an article about the Lie Against Competition shooting. He relays a story from a police department that I found illuminating:

Not long ago, I supervised a standoff situation where our officers were placed in positions to engage a dangerous suspect. Several officers were armed with M4s. Bystanders were thickly mixed-in! Range to suspect was between 10 and 30m. Happily, our situation was resolved without our officers having to shoot.

As a precaution, I asked all officers to report, with their red-dot-equipped M4s, to the range the following week. I set-up a situation with paper targets that exactly duplicated the situation with which were confronted a week earlier.

Given generous time, stable, braced firing positions, and stationary targets, not one of our officers was able to deliver required shots, even after several attempts! When asked about sight settings and zeros, most officers were not prepared to answer definitively. Some didn’t even understand the question! An examination of the M4s present revealed that, in most cases, the red dot and the back-up iron sights did not agree. Some were not even close!

Similarly, Ned Christensen of Michiguns posted a thread on M4Carbine.net whereby he shows some of the “Sub Awesome” sling setups that he comes across while training law enforcement. The point of the thread is not to make fun of anyone, but to show that even the “pros” are not necessarily doing things right, either. John Buol Jr. shares that he has seen this repeatedly in the military as well, as have I. The underlying message of these articles is that competition has a valuable place in training, since you will simply not see these kinds of issues concerning zero distances and equipment configuration among competitive shooters. It’s a valid point, but not what I’m driving at.

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Identifying the Problem

All the Gucci gear in the world will not amount to a hill of beans if the person wielding it is not competent in the fundamentals. I sincerely believe that 95% of gun owners are better served by purchasing a basic (but quality) weapon and investing the rest of their time and money into training and focused practice. Hardware is not a substitute for software, even if the gun-owning community tries to prove otherwise every day.

Consider my thoughts on barrel selection as an example of how this gets out of hand. It’s probably the most popular post on this blog, which means there are a lot of people searching for information about what the “best” barrel is. In the real world, barrel configuration just isn’t that important. I was recently in a discussion with someone who absolutely believed that they needed a heavier SOCOM profile barrel for their first AR because it was the most “combat ready” of all the configurations out there. This individual could not speak to why the SOCOM profile was developed, and what made it particularly more worthy than any of the other profiles that have existed in the last 50 years (hint: it’s not), but he just knew it was what he needed.

Different types of barrel profiles and materials only matter when comparing two equally skilled shooters doing the same activity. It’s one thing to take two career door-kickers from an elite military unit and compare who performs at clearing a building using a 10.5″ barrel versus a 20″ barrel. But simply owning the “high speed” configuration doesn’t automatically make Average Joe perform like a career door-kicker. In fact, Average Joe may actually be hindering his growth as a shooter by limiting his future potential.

In the firearms community, we have developed this obsession with weapon capability. Instead, we should be focused on our own personal capabilities.

  • If you are unable to hold your rifle steady enough in field conditions to hit a target, is the solution for you to spend thousands of dollars on new gear to help you see the target better? No, it is not. You should be spending hundreds of dollars on some training and practice ammunition.
  • If you have never been trained to tactically clear a building, but think you might need to, then you are better spending money on seeking that training and putting in the practice with what you have. You are not well served by spending the money on NFA hardware when you don’t even really know how to use it right (or what its limitations are).
  • If you plan on getting involved in three gun, immediately purchasing $5K in “gaming hardware” is not in your interest. Instead, show up to a match with what you already own and learn how to push your current equipment to its limits. Burn out your barrel in the process and then figure out what will better serve your needs and techniques.

These things sound perfectly reasonable, but many of us don’t follow it. Our behavior as a shooting community still trends towards the things we shouldn’t be doing.

Why is this? My guess is that we inherently understand two things: First, it is difficult to admit where our skills are weak. Either because we lack enough experience to determine what we need to work on, or because we view admitting fault as weakness, we don’t talk about it. Secondly, we recognize that actually investing the time and money into improving ourselves is harder than buying “stuff.” It’s not as if the temptation isn’t always there. In the first hour after starting to write this post, I’ve received three emails from companies telling me that I need to purchase stuff from them to trick out my gear and “give me an edge.”

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How do we fix it?

This is a difficult challenge to overcome. It goes back to the death of mastery in our culture. Collectively, we want the easy fix so that we can go on experiencing a continuous series of “climaxes” when it comes to shooting. We reject the idea of riding the plateau. We don’t want to put in the work, because have been led to believe that work is for suckers.

Suggesting that everyone get involved in training and competition is certainly one path, but I don’t necessarily think it’s a realistic one. Not everyone lives where it is easy for them to do. For instance, my living in California means that the opportunity to use my ARs in any real training is extraordinarily limited and there just isn’t much of a competition scene. Sure, I could compete/train in another state- but then I have to factor in not only the cost of traveling, but also the cost of a different set of equipment (non-neutered rifles, 30 rd magazines, etc.) I’m not saying this is insurmountable, but it reduces the likelihood of participation for much of the population.

If I had my way, we would be establishing a culture that puts more emphasis on simply being good marksmen. Our language would shift away from what kind of gear we own to how we practice with it and, more importantly, what we are capable of doing without it. We would spend more time teaching others how to perform well, rather than telling them what they should buy.

At some point, we all need to realize that the idea of the “best” gear is fleeting. For example, I’ve been following the military’s strategic pivot to the Pacific theater, and I’m seeing some pretty interesting trends. We, as well as the Brits, have been renewing our emphasis on jungle warfare and I’ve been reading training reports and looking at pictures of the guys who are doing this training. Many of the advancements in gear and optics we’ve seen over the last 15 years of desert warfare are being reversed. Chest rigs are getting ditched in favor of belt rigs. Optics are being removed in favor of irons because the environments simply aren’t conducive to magnification, electronics, or really anything that has lenses. All of the things we decided were “the way to do things now” aren’t necessarily true anymore.

Do you know what hasn’t changed? The importance of knowing your own capabilities, working within them, and working to improve them. The one constant in all this evolution is the importance of the user.

When I said in the beginning that my gear buying philosophy has changed, I wasn’t lying. Whereas I used to buy “stuff” because I thought that’s what I was supposed to want (and the internet told me so), I now buy things based upon my needs. I don’t look to expand a particular weapon’s capability, I look to support mine. I realize that this distinction may not look significant from the outside, but it is a distinction. It’s taken me a lot of time and potentially wasted money to get here, and I want to help prevent others from making the same mistakes.

Don’t get me wrong, I still want some things just because. There isn’t a practical need for the new rifle I’ve been working on, it’s just something I would like to have. But I’m not telling myself that if only I had a lightweight 18″ rifle-gassed iron sight rifle, I could finally be comfortable carrying a rifle in the field and still be able to land hits at targets past 300 yards.

Where are your priorities? Do you desire to “look the part” and buy things to make it happen? Or do you buy things based upon careful analysis of your capabilities and analyze the most appropriate way to fill any gaps?

 

General

Looking into Formal Training

I’ve been seriously considering signing up for some more formalized training. I’ve learned a lot on my own by experimenting, but there just isn’t really a substitute for having a knowledgable coach looking over your shoulder and helping you with the little things. Since I don’t know anyone who I would place into such a category personally, I’m going to have to look elsewhere. There are two options before me, and I may just do both of them if finances allow.

There is an Appleseed shoot in August about an hour from where I live. The commute there and back for two days isn’t that big of a deal, as I’m already used to waking up at early hours (thanks, Air Force!). I already happened to have requested the required days off from work, and the $60 entry fee (plus ammo) is very affordable. I think this would offer great exposure to exactly the kind of shooting I’ve been doing.

Additionally, I noticed that rifles only is going to hold their five day Precision Rifle 1 & 2 combo course in the Sacramento area in October. If I really wanted to bear down into the brass tacks of precision shooting with extremely knowledgable and capable instructors, this would be the event. But, at $1550 registration, plus 500 rounds of .308, plus hotel and food, this would be stretching my ability to pay. I have to carefully consider the cost/benefit here. I’m not a sniper in some high speed military or LE unit. Such a course would really end up being little more than [expensive] fun. I have to wonder if I took all of that money and applied it to ammunition or a few performance upgrades to Gungnir (bedding job, barrel work, magazine, optic, etc.), would it be better spent?

In other news, Rifleslinger put up a target for his uses that I think I’m going to appropriate for mine. Its size and scoring system actually work out very well for my stated accuracy requirements. It also allows me an easy, and objective, way to score my shooting for any given range session.