AAR: Vickers Tactical 2 Day Carbine Course 12-13 SEP 2015
Location: Hosted by Learning Firearms at their Breezy Point/Pequot Lake area range, which is located in an aggregate pit. The range was a 50yd square range with sand/dirt ground. This area provides unique benefits to training, which I will cover later.
Wx: Both days were amazing for weather. TD1 was high 60s and sunny with clear skies and a light breeze. TD2 was into the mid 70s with some breeze and that picked up into mild 5-10mph wind gusts.
Instructor: Larry Vickers (aka LAV) was the instructor for this course. He is former US Army SFOD-D, aka Delta/Delta Force. Most people in the gun community are very familiar with him at this point, so no further explanation is really necessary.
Students: This was an open enrollment class hosted by Learning Firearms training group. The class was primarily average earth citizens. Many of the students were participants of previous training hosted by Mike and Dave at Learning Firearms. There were a couple Canadian LE officers, and myself who is a MN LE officer. A total of 16 students, and including Mike and Dave, there were 6 who were LE. This shows a very good representation from the civilian populace, which is a great thing to see with people trying to get better educated and trained, which then progresses onward since good training begets good training passed on.
Gear: I used a new UW Gen-V Split Front chest rig from Mayflower R&C. The rig was originally backordered, but I sent an email and Mayflower/Velocity Systems stepped up in a huge way by hurrying my order and getting it to me before the course. This chest rig is my new LE active shooter response rig, and I wanted to get some repetitions with it on the range to break it in and get used to it. I have other gear by Mayflower R&C and it's all outstanding quality. This new chest rig exceeded all of my expectations.
Everyone else's gear was pretty much good to go for the course, and I did not see anyone with any major gear issues. One student did have a single point sling attached to the rear metal sling loop on his milspec style CAR stock. LAV saw this and commented on how it was a poor mounting point, and this came to fruition later when the screw came loose and the sling loop detached.
Weapons: I brought my Robar Gen4 Glock 17, which is going to be replacing my M&P9 as my duty weapon in the not-too-distant future. I have very small hands, so I had the grip reduction done. I don't have a lot of ammo down the pipe of this gun, so I used this course as a way to get more familiar with this new grip angle. I carried Glock at my previous agency, so I've used to the normal Glock grip angle. This newer grip fits me much better. LAV gave me crap for my pistol sights, and rightfully so: I had the stock plastic Glock sights on the pistol. I have had Trijicon HD sights on order for almost two months for this pistol and they're still backordered. I was not able to get them on the gun before this course, but it's not the end of the world. My holster was a Safariland ALS, which is what I use on duty. The holstering process during pistol work chewed up the plastic front sight pretty bad, but that's not surprising.
I also had an old Streamlight TLR-1 that I pulled out of retirement from by parts bin. I run a SureFire X300U for duty, so I wanted to have something on the gun to simulate the weight and size without beating up my duty light.
For the belt setup I run a VTAC Brokos belt with ITW FastMag pistol mags, an EMDOM-MM dump pouch, Safariland ALS, and a CTOMS IFAK kit with CAT TQ. This setup is configured nearly the same as a my duty belt, so I can use it for training and have all the same reference points on the belt without actually beating up my duty belt.
For the rifle, I decided to break convention and I ran my LMT 308MWS with 16" chrome-lined barrel. I have been trying to develop DMR/Battle Rifle doctrine and policy for law enforcement for several years, and I wanted to keep this process rolling despite a change of agencies. I wanted a quality rifle that had a reputation for reliability and durability, and LMT was certainly on the shortlist as it managed to beat out the competition to be selected as the British Army L129A1 DMR. Additionally, the rifle is a known shooter with sub-MOA accuracy capability.
When an opportunity presented itself to get a used MWS for a very affordable price, I jumped on the opportunity. I topped the rifle with a Leupold Mark6 1-6x CMR-W 7.62 scope in an American Defense Mfg AD-RECON mount. For modifications, I took out the LMT two-stage and replaced it with a Geissele SD-C trigger that I already had. I replaced the SOPMOD stock with a Magpul STR (the SOPMOD is black and sits on my duty Colt 6940), put on a BCM Gunfighter grip, and slapped on a spare TangoDown stubby VFG I had in the parts bin. I also used a padded VTAC sling I already had.
For the muzzle device, I wanted a brake or comp to mitigate recoil for precision shooting. The issue is that comps and brakes have substantial concussion and side-blast, and running a 16" .308 on the line with a brake or comp would be pretty inconsiderate to the other shooters next to me. The problem was finding a happy medium, and at the time suppressors were not yet legal in MN (just legalized). I did some research and found that a couple companies who make suppressors have comps and brakes that have detachable blast shields. Griffin Armament stood out as an option, and after doing some research I settled on a Griffin brake taper mount brake with a removable blast shield that directs the blast forward. While my rifle was loud on the line, it was not concussive to me as the shooter, and it was not blasting my neighbors and blowing out their sinus cavities.
For ammo, I bought Federal XM80CS 149gr FMJ ammo. This ammo has a mild steel in the bullet, so I also brought some extra Magtech 150gr FMJ ammo from my inventory in case we busted out some steel plates to shoot. We did shoot some steel, so I was happy I planned ahead. Students who bring penetrator or magnetic bullets need to be cognizant of what they will be shooting in a course. This ammo performed flawlessly. Our total ammo count was somewhere around 525-550rds. One thing that I did notice was that the ammo was recoiling harder and I suspected that it was over-gassing my rifle, despite the rifle functioning fine. My brass was landing at the 1:00-2:00 position at about 6-8 feet out, so this confirmed that the rifle was running with high gas. When I ran the Magtech, the brass was still at the 2:00 position. For future use, I am going to invest in a JP Silent Capture Spring and up the weight/resistance to reduce the bolt speed a little bit.
The start of the class was at the Breezy Point Police Department. The class started at 0830 and Dave Timm of Learning Firearms started with the usual paperwork and then went on to introductions of the staff and a review of firearms safety. Dave also identified students with medical training, including a surgeon (and solid shooter), which was a good contingency in the event that a medical emergency arose. Dave then introduced Larry. Larry then said "hi" and reiterated the need for safety, and directed us to the range. That officially made it the shortest classroom portion of any shooting course I've ever been to. This was somewhat surprising, but a pleasant surprise.
We convoyed to the range and helped set up a couple large shade canopies before Dave Timm gave a quick safety brief. Dave and Mike Davis have written down the address and GPS coordinates to the range on a large placard and placed it next to the canopies in the event that EMS had to be called for any medical emergencies.
We started with zeroing. Larry discussed zeroing briefly and recommended that people set their zeros for whatever is their real world maximum engagement distance. He did note that zeroing rifles at very short distances like 7yds turned a rifle into a "5.56 submachinegun", which conveyed the message that you will lose the ability to engage targets at distance due to the limitations that that zero has.
We went down to prone at the 50yd line and zeroed our optics on a B8 pistol target pasted on an IPSC cardboard target backer. This target was what we used throughout the whole course. The black center was the primary target zone placed over the "A" zone of the IPSC backer. The B8 was printed on 8.5x11 printer paper, and the white zone was a "-1" score when we did scoring. The cardboard backer was "-3" points. Larry uses this target because it is small enough to simulate head shots based on the size. This was sort of confusing since it was mounted on the chest of the target, and we were never directed to make actual head shots on the IPSC target backer during the course. I understand the logic of being able to hit a smaller target zone, but I think it could have been better executed since missing wide still resulted in a body hit. That obviously would not happen if you missed wide or high on a head shot. For targets used in carbine courses, this was probably the least useful target I've shot at. It strikes me as more useful to use silhouette targets for tactics/gunfighting training.
To start, we began with a modification of a test that Larry uses. The test has you shoot 10 rounds at every point. You start at 100yds firing 10rds from prone in 60 seconds. Next you move to seated at 75yds and shoot 10rds in 45 seconds. The third point is 10 shots from 50yds from the kneeling position in 30 seconds, and finally you shoot 10rds from standing at 25yds in 15 seconds. The modification was that we shot the first three strings from 50yds, as this was a 50yd range. This test portion was somewhat of a learning point on its own, as the recoil of my rifle knocked me off balance on the kneeling portion since I didn't have my right leg in a solid position. I realized that I needed to change my mentality about the rifle I was running, and remember that this isn't a 5.56 rifle. The mechanics of the 7.62/.308 were a constant theme in my training over the weekend.
LAV mentioned that there is no set round count for gunfights, so he varied the number of rounds needed to engage the target to reinforce this. This led to what he called a "presentation drill". We started at 7rds and on command, we fired 2 rounds. The next string was 3rds, then 4, then 5. We moved back and repeated this process at 15 and 25yds. When doing this, Larry did not cover anything on mag changes or other skills, and explained that he functions on a "sponge theory". He explained that teaching too much at one time causes overload, much like dumping water on a sponge too quickly. The sponge can only absorb so much at one time.
We broke up into teams of four with some rather humorous names, and then repeated this 2/3/4/5 drill. When we did this, I was positioned between two shooters with muzzle brakes. One to my left had a SureFire brake, and one to the right had an SJC Titan. The SureFire had a lot of concussion, but it at least tolerable to some degree since the shooter was using Hornady Steel Match, which is not a particularly hot load. The SJC Titan on the other side was downright inhospitable. The concussion was ample, but the design of the brake directs gas outward and to the rear. This causes heavy puffs of gas to get blasted directly into my face. I could feel the gas blasting around my eye pro and going into my right eye. I threw numerous shots because of this gassing. I would be pulling the trigger and heavy blast of gas to the face and right eye would make me wince and jerk my head, and the rounds would throw wide on the target.
Students attending courses should be cognizant of how their rifles are configured. This is something that should be standard operating procedure for everyone taking training courses like this. If you are attending a course that teaches competition/gamer techniques and skills, you can bring a comp/gamer rifle. If you are attending a marksmanship or offensive/defensive firearms tactics course, you should equip a rifle that meets that need. The problem is that when you take a course like this, you are in close proximity to other people, and you have to be considerate of them. The SureFire was tolerable, though still annoying. It also occasionally shot tiny metal fragments from the brake at me, which I could feel hitting my left arm and face. The SJC Titan was downright bad. It is quite possibly the most inappropriate muzzle device I've ever seen at a shooting course. I am fully aware of how effective of a brake the SJC Titan is, but it is a 3-Gun/competition brake that is not meant to be shot next to other people. It's sole goal is recoil mitigation. I could only imagine the blast and flash that it would emit if used in low light or in a confined space. I was so tempted to take off my blast shroud and start pumping 16" .308 muzzle brake concussion off just to get revenge, but I thought better of it. These shooters were good guys, and they were solid shooters. They just didn't understand that there are certain social mores in shooting courses, and using obnoxious brakes is considered bad form. They may also have not known that their brakes were really that bad.
The Titan especially was by far the most atrocious, and I regularly gave the shooter crap for it. He understood that I was being good-natured about it, and I think he got the hint that maybe next time he needs to rethink his equipment selection.
We continued to shoot in teams of four, making it a sort of competition theme throughout the weekend. This included taking turns shooting in sequence and to differing targets. We then broke for lunch.
Following lunch, we started some pistol work. Larry had us shoot a full mag at our own pace at the target. We got snapped back to basics and emptied our pistols. We partnered up and ran dry fire drills with casings balanced on our front sights. This was a good way to make us slow down and concentrate on fundamentals. Once we did this, we went back to live ammo and began command fire drills. When the shot timer beeped, we had to fire one round immediately. We had to be on target with the slack out of the trigger, and we were expected to break the shot the instant we heard the beep. I noticed that as I did this, I was hyper-aware of my trigger press and I started to consciously pay attention to pulling the trigger straight back. This drill was a very effective drill that put me back on track for some better pistol shooting during the rest of the course.
LAV touched on transitions with a brief explanation again of keeping the process simple. There was no in-depth discussion or step-by-step process, it was simply a quick description and demonstration, and on to business. He did explain the concept behind why transitions occur and where they should occur. We went right into it and started shooting and doing transitions to pistol.
LAV did explain that he doesn't engage the rifle safety when doing a transition to pistol, with the logic that there is a stoppage so it doesn't matter. This is logical, I can't disagree. That said, my agency SOP requires engaging the safety any time the rifle is off target, no matter what the reason. All of our training requires this. As such, I continued to engage my safety with all drills since that is what I'm expected to do at my agency. This is not a foreign concept, as other national trainers like Jeff Gonzales are big on working the safety. Throughout the course, Larry was not a huge stickler for safety use when you were doing transitions to pistol, mag changes, or moving. This is one of those areas where you have "6 of one, half dozen of another", as I see more and more instructors pushing for the use of the safety selector. Ultimately, I that it really is gray area left to comfort and/or professional SOP. With all that being said, there most certainly was an expectation to have your safety on once you were done shooting the designated sequence and finished your followthrough.
The next subject of discussion was mag changes, and again the discussion was simple with a quick demonstration, and we were off to the races and running by having a round in the chamber with an empty mag, and then loading a new mag from our gear. We were instructed to only use the bolt lock/release lever, and Larry explained the pitfalls of running the charging handle as an alternative. Overall, Larry kept this portion pretty simple, and we only worked on emergency/speed reloads. There was no coverage of tactical reloads or administrative loads with press checks. The goal appeared to be geared more towards a basic approach to this skill set. As stated above, there was no safety lever manipulation during mag changes in the curriculum. I still ran the safety due to continuity of training with my agency's SOP.
Our next evolution was transitioning the rifle the weak side. Larry explained and demonstrated how to adjust slings and manipulate the rifles. We then went through numerous dry repetitions before putting it into live fire practice.
It is worth noting that Larry operates by a principle of "3:00pm or 300rds", and whichever comes first is when he likes to stop. He asserts that students tend to have diminishing returns due to loss of attention and ability to think due to fatigue. Larry had some unexpected issues pop up that were going to cause him to have to leave early on TD2/final day, so he would run longer on TD1.
We ran drills like before, but from both the strong and weak side. We then shot team competition drills again, to include shooting at steel from 50yds. This was why I brought the non-magnetic/ferrous ammo in addition to the XM80CS that would have chewed up the steel.
The final training evolution was positional shooting from 50yds. We started with prone and shot 5 rounds slow fire at our own pace. We then went to command fire and had to fire one round at the sound of the shot timer beep until we shot 5 rounds. This was then repeated with seated and kneeling positions. The procedure was to take up the slack on the rifle with the safety off, and break the shot at the sound of the beep. There were lots of people popping off rounds before the buzzer, and there were a number of reasons for it. I did this twice, as I was putting too much pressure on the second stage of my trigger waiting for the beep. The trick was to find the sweet spot on the trigger, which I did.
After this, we called it a day and all went to dinner together. Total round count was estimated at just over 400 rounds for TD1.
There was a couple major take-aways from TD1 that I noted along the way:
This shooting site will get your rifle dirty with sand and dust very quickly. If you do not have good lube, you will be punished. If you do not have enough lube, you will be punished. A couple rifles fell victim to this, as all students were running quality rifles.
To the shock of nobody who is an Aimpoint user, one guy with an EOTech lost his zero with a substantial shift. This has happened before several times at this range, and it has in the past been attributed to the dust and sand that can work its way into the threads of the external windage and elevation adjustment screws. Because EOTechs do not have capped or sealed windage or elevation adjustments, they can get detritus in the threads. I suspect that this is what happened on TD1.
Very few students had numbered magazines. It's important to number your magazines so that you can keep track of problems and single out problematic magazines. Additionally, it helps you identify your magazines when dropped on the deck. Shooters should invest in paint pens and make use of them at every opportunity.
Another thing I noticed near the end of TD1 was that my bolt was slowing down. Before this course, I cleaned my rifle and stripped off all the lube that was in it. I degreased and cleaned, and applied FIREClean. I have decided to test FIREClean for my own reference. This was obviously before the most recent cooking oil controversy. The lube was applied on all surfaces I would need lubricant, and on all of the bolt and carrier. I then lubed the rifle again the morning of TD1, so there was definitely a good amount on the rifle. By the end of TD1, I saw that there was a lot less lube left than I was expecting. I did not know if this was burn-off, as we didn't get the rifles too terribly hot and never really ran the rifles that hard, or if it was just lube migration to other parts of the rifle. More on this later.
We started at 0830 on the range, as it was the earliest we could shoot without bothering the neighbors. We started with the presentation drill like TD1, which afforded a good warmup. Targets were once again B8 pistol targets printed on 8.5x11 printer paper on IPSC backers. We worked on walk-back drills with 2 shot strings moving from 7yds back to 21yds. From there we went back to the 50yd line for positional shooting like the day before, with 5 rounds slow fire and 5 rounds command fire.
While at the 50yd line, we practiced magazine changes again. Larry wanted us to get repetitions on the drill, and mentioned that we could shoot the target or just shoot at the dirt backstop. The purpose of the drill wasn't for marksmanship. To me this seemed like wasted repetitions for accuracy, so I shot at my target.
For our next evolution, Larry explained malfunction drills to us. The first was clearing basic malfunctions relating to failure to feed or fire. Larry subscribes to a push/pull/rack/fire methodology, which is a proven concept that I've seen taught in a lot of places by a lot of trainers. The next phase was correcting double feeds. The technique taught was again a relatively standard sequence of movements with minor variations to what a lot of other national level instructors teach.
Shooting on the move was the next order of business, and we started with walking at the target from the 15yd line to the 5yd line with four rounds fired. We did this individually and then as a team. We changed it to walking backward, and as expected student shot better walking backward. Quick explanations were given by LAV on both methods, and demonstrated by him as well. The next portion of movement was forward and backward movement, again done with your teams. Cones were then placed on the ground and we had to walk in figure-eights back and forward facing the target while engaging the target with 4 shots. In these drills, I learned that I could not run my rifle at the same speed as a lighter 5.56. When I tried to speed up too much, my shots started wandering away from the black target zone. When I slowed down, I dialed the shots back in. Shooting on the move weakens your foundation and throws your body mechanics out of wack, and with this rifle, you need to have a solid shooting platform with good body mechanics to control the rifle.
As we started moving, I noticed that several students who were shooting well from standing started throwing rounds around the paper. As we continued with a couple repetitions, you could see people putting the pieces together and dialing their rounds in to tighter groups. Despite the lack of explanation on the concept of First Best Sight Picture, I think the caliber of students made it so that students were able to put this concept together pretty well on their own.
The day ended with team shooting at 50 and 35 yards shooting at steel. The final drills included handing your rifle off to the guy to your left in your team, and shooting the drill with a "battlefield pickup".
The time was around 12:30pm when we wrapped it up, as Larry had to leave for the airport to catch a flight. A couple students had to take off, but most stayed to help police brass and take down the range. This was not something that was mandatory, but I know it was much appreciated by Mike and Dave.
By chance, I happened to just feel around my rifle and grabbed the castle nut on a break, and it was loose. The staking on the receiver end plate had broken and the nut was backed off of it. Nobody had a castle nut wrench, so I scrounged up a hammer and flathead screwdriver, put the screwdriver in a notch and pounded the castle nut tight. I then used the screwdriver to restake the end plate in a different location with a much more substantial staking. This reiterated a belief that I have that you need to constantly go over your rifle. I took this opportunity to check all of my accessories, and make sure that the paint pen witness marks on the screws were still aligned.
Another student was running an out-of-the-box Burris AR-536 5x fixed power optic on his rifle. This optic was slower than a red dot or riflescope with 1x capability. The student still ran the optic well and he was a good shooter. On TD1, the base of the optic came loose from the picatinny rail mounting plate it was attached to. The screws had loosened, likely due to vibration and recoil impulse. This was an important lesson learned about why threadlocker/Loctite is a necessity on EVERY SCREW of EVERY ACCESSORY you put on your rifle.
At the start of TD2, I added more FIREClean lube to my rifle. At the end of the class, I pulled the BCG out and saw that the carbon was congealed into a sludge that was very thick and grainy. The bolt itself had a substantial amount of carbon caked on, and it was pretty thick. The carbon was not very well emulsified compared to what I was used to with Slip2000 EWL, which I have used with great success for years. I also noticed that the lubricant on the rifle had either burned off or migrated away, and parts of the BCG that were wet at the start of the day were nearly bone dry after only a half day of shooting.
What does this all come down to? I'm going to stay away from the "crisco" debate and say that FIREClean has an expiration date on it, which is concerning to me. It also freezes in the Minnesota winter, which some trusted friends have tested and proven. It is also not a rust inhibitor. The performance for lubrication was not better than my go-to Slip2000 EWL. Does FIREClean lubricate? Yes. Does it do a decent job? Yes, I think so. Will I continue to use it? No. I am sticking with my Slip2000 EWL.
The Mark6 optic was very good, and the optical quality is excellent. The illumination in the reticle is very finicky and you do have to be directly behind the optic to see the illuminated center. It is daylight visible in bright sunlight, but when you have your head out of alignment, you don't see the illumination. I debated getting a Leupold VX-6 FireDot for this rifle, and I think that in the future I will probably go to that since the illumination is visible in the entire eye box.
A factor that played into my experience was using a 7.62/.308 rifle for the course. The main thing I learned was that body mechanics played a huge factor in how the rifle performed. The rifle itself is just shy of 10lbs, and with all accessories and a full 25rd PMAG-LR, the rifle weighs about 14lbs. Add to that high pressure FMJ and you have a rifle that can present unique challenges. I realized that I had to slow myself down from what I normally was used to with a 5.56 rifle. The gun settled nicely when it was held tight to the shoulder and I had an aggressive stance. The gun went off target quickly when I slacked on my body mechanics. The accuracy was there on the part of the rifle, and it was up to me to do my part. I was able to dial it in throughout the course, but I still have a little ways to go.
I chose this course to do this because LAV has extensive experience with battle rifles, so I figured that he would be the guy to train with. Ultimately, I did not get any 7.62/.308-specific feedback or guidance by Larry on ways to run the rifle. In the end, I felt like it was decent course with some useful drills. I took away some concepts for improving marksmanship that I had previously not considered. There were positives and negatives to this course for me, but in the end I felt like it ended on an overall neutral note. By my perception, TD1 was lighter on substance, and TD2 was much more up-tempo and beneficial to me. It evened out into a course that I felt would be more beneficial to people with lower levels of training. I think that at this course level, more experienced students may be asking for more from the course.
Larry is a solid guy and very personable. Yes, he has his opinions. His engagement with the course added to the experience and quality. Ultimately I did not get out of this course what I wanted, which may have been me having expectations that were too high for this level of course. I always support going back to basics once in a while to re-learn fundamentals, but this course did not have the depth I was looking for. If it were college biology, It would be like Biology 101 in that you get a taste of what it's all about, but you don't get much depth or specifics due to so many topics needing to be covered in such a small amount of time (realistically, 2 days is not a lot for rifle training).
I would consider a pistol course with Larry, but in the future I don't think that the carbine portion offers what I am looking for with depth of instruction. I am a more scientific person, so tend to want to know HOW and WHY something works, and not just that it works and that's it. Take from this what you will. This is not meant to be a negative review and I'm not blasting Larry. This is simply a very pragmatic evaluation based on my expectations and previous training. I really don't have a problem with anything LAV taught. Instead, I think that I had expectations that differed from what was actually being offered by the course material, and those expectations were not met. I didn't walk away feeling like I was a better shooter, but instead walked away with some new drills to try.
I know that other students were happy with the course and got out of it what they wanted, so to them I am happy they had that experience. I would encourage them to continue to train with Larry if they felt it was congruous with what they wanted out of their training. Understand that my evalution is highly subjective and by no means meant to imply that it is going to be universal for anyone else.
Once everyone left, I stuck around with Dave Timm and the Learning Firearms film crew, as well as Clint from CapArms Ammunition out of Iowa. The crew did some filming for the Learning Firearms full30.com channel. After that, we set up steel targets in the pit at 200yds, 275yds, and 550yds for more filming for reviews. Dave shot at the targets with his .308 Remington in KRG chassis with a Vortex Razor Gen1 5-20x50 scope using CapArms 168gr AMAX loads. I spotted for him using my Leupold Mark6. The resolution on the Leupold was so good that I could see clear splashes on the 550yd target at the maximum 6x magnification. We took turns shooting the bolt gun, and then I went at the steel with my LMT. I had to account for a crosswind, and W hold dots in the reticle helped immensely. I wound up having to hold at the 450 mark for elevation due to the Magtech ammo being pretty fast. My StrelokPro iPhone app had the impact lower down at the 500 mark, but that wasn't accurate for this particular load. Once we got the holds down, I was ringing steel with nearly every shot. Others jumped on and took turns on the LMT, and all had a good time. 6x is certainly workable at 550yds, and I was impressed with how accurate the LMT was. Even when it got hot, it kept ringing steel. I was very impressed with the LMT.
After Action Review by user UnaStamus