Rifle 1: Noveske/Daniel Defense/BCM lightweight franken-AR with Aimpoint T1
Rifle 2: Colt LE6940 with Aimpoint CompM4S, Aimpoint 3x magnifier, SureFire P3X Fury EAG Model in a Haley Strategic Thorntail mount, with a hodge-podge of furniture (my issued duty rifle)
Pistol: Robar Glock Gen4 17 (my duty pistol) with SureFire X300U and DG grip switch
Mayflower UW Gen-5 Split-front chest rig (my duty active shooter response rig)
VTAC Brokos war belt and Safariland ALS holster, mag pouches, and EMDOM-MM dump pouch. This belt is set up to mimic my duty belt setup, as I prefer not to use my duty belt for training.
1000rds Freedom Munitions .223Rem 55gr FMJ Reman
400rds Federal XM193
300rds Magtech M193
500rds Freedom Munitions 9mm 115gr FMJ
Total round count:
Rifle: approximately 1500rds
Pistol: approximately 50rds
I had no issues with ammunition. The course was originally listed for 1000rds rifle, 250rds pistol. Seeing that this was a three day course, I figured that bringing 1700rds would provide a substantial buffer in case we went over. The total round count wound up going far higher than I expected, and I actually wound up doing some ammo management on TD3 to ensure I didn’t run out.
WX: 56F and cloudy with sprinkles in afternoon
This course was hosted by Dave and Mike of Learning Firearms. The day started at 0830hrs at Breezy Point Police Department, which is the usual place where they start TD1 of all their original and hosted courses. The classroom and building have sufficient amenities to support the morning classroom portion of any class. Dave started out by introducing Mike and himself, and then introducing Steve Fisher. Dave gave a safety brief and went over the amenities provided for the class. The course range fee for this course tends to be slightly higher than what some might consider the “industry standard”, but there is a reason for this. The range is located in an aggregate quarry (gravel pit), and has no facilities, running water or shelter. Mike and Dave bring in two clean port-a-johns, and have set up two jerry cans of water with water spouts and Gojo hand cleaner. They also set up two large canopies, several picnic tables, a couple regular tables, and portable rifle racks. They also provide large coolers filled with ice cold bottled water and Gatorade, which is available to all students. Having shade, water and electrolytic drinks available to the students adds safeguards against people dropping out due to poor hydration and heat injuries. When you consider that very few hosts out there go to this extent, spending another $10 or $20 for the range fee really becomes a non-issue and makes a good bit of sense.
Steve Fisher made a point by stating first and foremost that he was a teacher, not instructor. His objective to was to help us learn, and not just proctor shooting drills. He gave an introduction of his background. This course was among the first of his new three day courses that expanded out the curriculum from what was previously covered over two days. Steve explained that the benefit of a three day course was that it allowed for a slower pace that facilitated a better learning environment. When you’re training, it’s often referred to as “drinking from a fire hose”. When you have more time to absorb the information, that hose goes from a fire hose to a…slightly smaller fire hose.
Steve gave an outline of the course content, and explained that his tempo on TD1 would be slower than on TD2 and TD3. The days would consistently ramp-up in tempo to induce stress. Additionally, Steve made it known that he runs a “big boy range”, which is a hot range that puts the responsibility on the students to maintain their own safety and weapon status. Steve did note that constantly unloading and loading firearms as you got off the line increases probabilities of unintended discharges. Hot guns make the shooter more aware of safety.
Steve then had students introduce themselves, and the class makeup was heavily civilian oriented. There were a total of 12 students, with only four being LE. There were a couple students in the course that were regularly attendees of high level training. Overall, there was a pretty significant amount of skill at this course.
In the morning classroom portion, Steve went over the use of the carbine, and a brief history of modern carbine use. Part of this introduction was a breakdown of distances in the real world, and why carbines are necessary. Steve is well-known for his love of the shotgun, but experience and knowledge with the carbine is substantial. He did a phenomenal job at breaking down the four primary zones that you would encounter and function in with a carbine. The four zones are EXTERIOR, PERIMETER, FUNCTIONAL and CRITICAL. He gave a description of the distances, but it sank in when he broke it down to a big box store like a Wally World or Target. The Exterior perimeter could be your yard in suburbia or your farm, but in the realm of the big box store or school, it is the surrounding area like the parking lots. With the Perimeter, you are looking at the immediate exterior of the building. The Functional range is the interior space that you would encounter someone in. Steve points out that it’s important to understand the full ranges that you may actually encounter. In the big box stores, you may have longer distances that go beyond 100yds, and potentially even 200yds in the main aisles. The final zone is the critical space, which is closer range and may be open or confined. This could be the check out line or short aisle or changing room.
This breakdown was a good way to provide the key factor to learning – CONTEXT. It put everything into perspective and allowed all students to have something to relate to. For me, this was something that I have previously had to incorporate into my work life. I helped work on an active shooter response plan for a large high school, and I was heavily involved in a suburban agency rifle program. I was always a big advocate of teaching marksmanship skills to fellow cops, as it was important for them to be able to respond to threats at all possible distances.
Steve also was big on students coming to class to learn the fundamentals. He doesn’t run Tactical Fantasy Band Camp. He was also not a fan of people coming to class kitted up with tons of gear. During the whole course, he ran rifle with a spare mag in a back pocket, and another attached to the rifle sling of one of his rifles. He was more focused in the foundations of shooting than the tactics of it for this level.
A big theme to Steve’s curriculum was “seeing a problem” before it becomes a problem. There are ways to open up your situational awareness and process information that allow you to predict and either avoid or work through problems that could arise. The big thing relating to this was developing CONTROL. The big one he hit on was emotional control, which was more far-reaching than I had previously considered. This doesn’t necessarily mean being afraid or being sad. It could mean getting mad because you missed a shot, or losing your cool and giving in to anxiety or stress when you get overwhelmed with information. The ultimate goal at the end of it all is to remain functional and prevent vapor lock, and to be able to work through problems. You have to know what triggers your emotional responses, and how to control the responses and prevent them from ruining your day.
The topic of context then came up, and Steve wanted students to say what they wanted to glean from the course. For me, I wanted to continue learning to problem solve with a rifle. I am one of a select number of people in my agency that is issued a rifle, so I have to be able to function at a much higher capacity.
Steve touched on zeroing, and did not really go into any detail about preferred zero or exterior ballistics. He did infer that the mission should drive the zero, and that people had the responsibility to have their rifles zeroed. I have not taken a level 1 course from Steve, so I don’t know if this is part of his curriculum in a lower level course. As if by some alignment of the cosmos, I received a text message around that time from an armorer at my former police agency in the suburbs. When we got new optics (Aimpoint PRO), I established the BZO at 50yds to provide a very long and flexibly point blank range. Since I had left, someone had been visited by the Good Idea Fairy and zeroed half the rifles at 25yds. So you have pool rifles at an agency, with half the rifles having different BZO than the other half. What’s more, nobody knows which rifles are which. Does this sound like a trainwreck to you? It does to me. My friend and fellow armorer wanted me to send him info on what is the optimal BZO and why, so that he could make the pitch to the administration. Sadly enough, he and I did exactly that 4 years ago. Apparently peoples’ memories are very short. I later sent him an email with ballistic app data charts pointing out why the 25yd BZO for a Colt M4 is not an ideal BZO, and why 50yd is more optimal. I haven’t heard back, but one can only hope that someone listens.
We ditched the classroom and hauled off to the range. We started by shooting at 50yds to get our zeroes dialed in. I ran my Aimpoint Micro T1, which has a 4moa dot. I ran it with the Aimpoint 3x magnifier. During this process, I noticed that the oblong tilted “figure 8” of the 4moa dot was becoming more of a problem for me. I had a difficult time determining which aiming point to use, as the dot picture changed on me as my head adjusted. My vision is 20/30, and I don’t know if this has contributed to the dot getting more difficult to use. On TD3 I used my 2moa CompM4S with the 3x, and the dot was clearer with less distortion. I’ve tested this magnifier with an Aimpoint T2, which has a crisper dot, and I really haven’t noticed a marked difference.
This was a stark juxtaposition from the Leupold Mark6 1-6x scope that I used all of last year, which I had no problems with regarding pin-point accuracy. I didn’t like the FFP reflected illumination design, so I sold the scope. I wish I had replaced it before this course. Steve is a big proponent of magnification and variable low power riflescopes, and talked extensively about the virtues of the variable magnification scopes. Steve ran magnified Trijicon scopes during the entire course on his rifles, with the exception of one rifle equipped with an MRO. Looking at everything together, I know that from here on out, I’m only buying riflescopes for my rifles. I have found that I am just as fast with a scope on 1x with daylight visible illumination as I am with an Aimpoint. This was a major eye-opener for me because I was definitely on the fence about this issue for a while.
One thing that Steve does after every training evolution is turn the questions on to the students and have them explain what they learned, or what they noticed about themselves during that training evolution. This really helped with self-analysis and I think it greatly aided the learning process.
The next phase was demonstrating mechanical offset of an optic, and we did a walk-back drill from 5-25yds to see what the round does. Steve was somewhat open, if not vague, about when to adjust your point of aim (POA) to account for mechanical offset. This was a theme that subtly reappeared throughout the course, and I think this was in line with Steve’s premise that he wanted us to learn. While I have spent extensive time working on offset adjustment, it never hurts to have a refresher. From the perspective of a student not intimately familiar with offset, this is an effective way to learn for yourself when to adjust your POA. I think this works far better than an instructor who just says “at X distance and in, hold high”.
Information was given on recoil and muzzle control, with how to position the stock and body to control the muzzle. Steve did touch on the fact that certain muzzle devices affect your muzzle climb rate and direction. When we looked at shooting at increasing speed, it was noted that speed only comes from control. When you shoot fast without control, you are wasting ammunition and losing accountability of your rounds downrange. A factor of control is shooting with a cadence. Consistency is key in control. When you look at this from a physiological perspective, you learn that your body can compensate more effectively and efficiently when there is consistent recoil. Another way to look at this is to look at the steps inside the old Metrodome in Minneapolis. The steps were not even heights all the way up due to mistakes during construction, so it was not uncommon for people to trip when walking up the stairs in the stadium. The reason for this was because the human mind develops a subconscious response pattern, and automatically sets the step height as you avert your attention away from the stairs and look forward. When you disrupt the consistency with external changes, it throws you off. In much the same way, I believe that you see the same issues arise with muzzle control when you don’t utilize consistent cadence when you engage a target. You are essentially making it harder for your body to automatically compensate, and you have to manually do it, which requires greater effort.
One thing that I have noticed throughout the years is that I am losing my ability to control the rifle from the shouldering position I’ve used in the past. When I first started getting serious about shooting and taking professional shooting courses in 2010, I had a 43” chest measurement. Now I am at 50” chest measurement, which results from both a larger chest and thicker and wider back. For those who don’t know me, I am a serious weight lifter and I spend about 2-2.5hrs a day in the gym, 5 days per week. As I have shot over the years, I have noticed that I am having more difficulty controlling recoil using my same grip, stance and rifle stock placement. As I shot, I experimented with placement of the stock. In an upright position, I found that I best control the rifle on the outer right edge of my chest going into my shoulder pocket. If I want to bring the rifle closer to the centerline of my body, I have to hunch forward to present a flatter surface for the stock to recoil against. If I am upright and put the stock up to my chest, the top of the stock does not contact my chest without physically pulling the rifle to the rear. As I played with the stock, I was able to diagnose what I needed to in order to control the recoil better.
Another common sticking point to this course for me was bringing the optic to my eye, and not vise-versa. I have a habit of pulling the eye down to the optic. With the Aimpoint T1, the smaller tube diameter offers a problem with target acquisition speed. I have a harder time locating the dot. While this is a training issue, I have noticed that the gear side of the equation offers mitigation. With my CompM4S on my duty rifle, the larger housing allowed me to get on the dot faster. Oddly enough, I never had problem locating the reticle in my Leupold Mark6 1-6x, nor the Leupold Vari-X II 1-4x on my hunting shotgun.
Steve is another guy that supports the high-port variation of the high ready, as opposed to the rifle pointed forward or down with the more traditional “high ready”. This muzzle-up positioning has served me well in various roles, and has on occasion been a very effective tool for me on the street responding to shootings in crowded areas and in clearing buildings, apartments and houses.
Another thing Steve is big on is running the safety, which we are seeing more and more now from trainers and law enforcement rifle programs. My agency requires using the safety at all times, and running whenever you come off the trigger. For me, this was not a difficult task to perform. For some students, this was a task that took some getting used to, and Steve regularly called people out for not running the safety and reminded them of such.
As part of the curriculum, there was emphasis on breaking out of the typical 2-shot routine. When we fired, we were instructed to fire 3-5 shots. For the failure drills, it was instructed to do 4 shots to the chest and 2 to the head. The premise behind this made a lot of sense, in that under high stress, the head is hard target to hit. There is a chance you will miss, so sending a second shot downrange is advantageous.
During the course, Steve mentioned that there would be minimal pistol use. He also said that he is considering eliminating pistol work completely from the rifle courses. This is a novel idea, and when you are concentrating on rifle skills, perhaps this is a beneficial approach.
Sling use is heavily stressed, with numerous rapid adjustments being necessary throughout the drills to either tighten or loosen the rifle to the body. In the past, I have attached the slings to the receiver end plate. This causes problems for me when charge the rifle, and it has gotten more pervasive and problematic. I wound up switching the rear connection point back to the buttstock. This is where I have my sling mounted on my duty rifle. Having tested both methods over the years, the stock attachment point is where I will finally leave it set.
One major issue I noticed was with my sling of choice. For years I have used the Viking Tactics VTAC padded sling. A major downside to my strength training has been the gradual decrease in mobility and flexibility. I am at the point where I am unable to reach to the side and back far enough to access the quick adjust hinge on the VTAC sling without pulling the rifle up and away from me to pull the hinge forward within my reach. Having looked at the Magpul sling that Steve ran with that slider, I saw that its adjustment would be far more usable for me. I will subsequently be switching out my slings.
The day ended with some sprinkles coming down, and the rain picked up as all students helped pack up the canopies and amenities. As we left the range, the rain picked up to the point where it was heavy driving rain that would have drowned us like rats on the range.
WX: 61F and light rain, with rains going all night the previous night
We started TD2 at the aggregate pit, and reconfirmed zeroes. Once we completed this, we moved on to reloads. The tactical reload was addressed first, with explanations on when and where they are appropriate. The premise to the tactical reload is that it’s purpose is to top off the gun when you have the time, or the cover to do so. If you don’t, it’s not an ideal option. The key to the tactical reload is to not lose situational awareness, as it is counter-productive to the purpose of it. We touched on speed reloads, which occur when you dump the mag with a round still in the chamber and top off the gun with a new mag. The key here is that you want the mags passing each other in motion, so that the gun is down for as little time as possible. The final reload was the emergency reload, which is where you are changing mags on an empty gun. The recurrent theme to these mag changes was running the safety at all times.
Malfunction clearance was demonstrated, with students then being put through the paces to clear simple malfunctions, as well as double-feeds. The brass over bolt/Type 8 malfunction was also touched on, and Steve gave us the option to perform it. Everyone wanted to do it, so Steve showed us how it was done and let us go at it. Steve’s methods for malfunction clearance are pretty similar to everyone else, but he has made changes to simplify the process as much as possible. The biggest change I had seen was a trick that Steve credited to Mike Pannone. With this method, you clear a double-feed by engaging the safety, stripping the mag, and racking back the charging handle hard. I found that if I pulled back the bolt and paused for a half second, that gave the rounds enough time to fall loose and clear out of the receiver. If I pulled back the bolt and released it right away, it was far less effective. This simplified clearance process worked for at least 90% of the malfunctions that were set up during this drill.
The next evolution was multiple target engagement. We started at 5yds, but then moved back to 15yds to see the difference in engagement speed and what you gained in situational awareness. The process Steve used was new to me. He teaches to shift the eyes to the next target first, keeping the head on the gun and looking through the optic. Once you locate the next target, you then shift the hips to face the next target and your upper body will move much smoother and faster. This also reduces the over-steer you tend to get when you are driving the gun between targets.
We closed out the day and everyone made their way to a nearby Italian eatery for a group dinner. There was plenty of camaraderie with the students, and this was an enjoyable dinner. I always encourage students to attend group dinners during training, as you can wind up learning a lot. It’s also always a fun time.
WX: 64F cloudy to start, but it got sunny and climbed to the high 70’s by the end of the day
We started by again reconfirming zero. I opted to shoot my issued Colt LE6940 for TD3, so I made no adjustments to my zero since I was not using duty ammo to zero.
The big theme for the day was shooting on the move. Steve is not a huge fan of walking backward and shooting, so that was not touched on. We did cover forward movement, and I saw that I was rather rusty with my movement and adherence to the first best sight picture/first acceptable sight picture. Steve gave good advice on how to stabilize the gun to shoot, and what he pointed out is something that I have seen become more popular. The days of duckwalking are over, and using a slower, more natural gait pays dividends. It is also more realistic to me in the conditions that I often deploy my rifle. We tried doing both short and long strides, and the longer stride slowed us down and settled the rifle better for faster shots on target.
In training, I am a big proponent of skill set building. When you take a skill, add in another learned skill, and put them together with another, you start developing these skill sets that you will be able to use in real life. This is where the most learning occurs. In the case of this course, we were shooting on the move, doing reloads, shooting failure drills, and attempting to maintain our situational awareness. This was further expanded when we incorporated lateral movement and multiple target engagement that ranged from 4-7 targets.
With respect to lateral movement, it requires that you pay a lot more attention to your surroundings. When we picked up the tempo, we were basically moving in a line and had to be aware of the guy in front of us. This presented another major learning opportunity because it highlighted how much you tend to get sucked into one specific task. When we were reloading while moving, you really had to fight the urge to get sucked in and lose your situational awareness.
A major revelation to lateral movement shooting was shooting to the strong side instead of cross-body. Instead of shifting your body to face the target, which can cause you to slow and side-step, you shift the rifle. Changing shoulders is feasible, but not ideal. Steve was a much bigger fan of making it work on your strong shoulder. We were walking right to left, engaging targets from the right shoulder, and with Steve’s method, I was moving just as fast and just as accurate as I was shooting cross-body when moving left to right. This shooting method involves rotating the rifle outboard to a 45 degree cant, which then allows you to the rotate the rifle to the right and engage targets while overcoming the physiological impediments that you get when you have the rifle shouldered upright. It makes it far easier to rotate and drive the rifle from the awkward positions.
The latter part of the day went to a drill that kicked our lungs around pretty good. The drill was a ladder drill where you start at the 50yd and start running to the yard markers, engage your target with two shots, and then run back to the previous yard maker, shoot, then keep moving back to the 50yd line. Once there, you ran to the next point you had not shot at yet, progressively getting closer to the target, and then shooting your way back to the 50.
The final portion of the class was a barricade steel drill where you got the guy out in front of you by catching up to them as they progressed along the barricades while shooting at steel at 50yds. This was an elimination drill, and the final heat came down to Mike versus Dave. They battled it out for 13 minutes until Mike finally won. Both of them shot incredibly well, and they battled through the fatigue. It was impressive to see them fight to keep moving.
Steve capped off the day by doing a review of the course and what he wanted us to take away from it. He stressed that he wanted us to teach others what we had LEARNED, and not what we were taught. This is a legitimate premise, because far too often I see people teaching things that I know they don’t understand, or that are being used out of context and lack feasibility or applicability.
With that, the course concluded and all the students helped tear down the range and police brass. Dave did his video AAR with Steve, and hopefully that video surfaces soon. I heard that there were some hijinks during the interview.
As far as mechanical issues, I first saw one student running a Huldra upper on a DPMS lower who had the occasional stoppage. This student was next to me, and his rifle wasn’t terrible in the malfunction department. He did have several stoppages, and they were stoppages that should not have happened. The exact causes of the malfunctions were unknown.
A second student was running a Del-Ton rifle, which is sort of a “blast from the past” with relation to the economy rifles. Del-Ton has been a budget option that seems to have fallen by the wayside with the surge in better quality options. The student was farther down the line, so I did not get much info on the stoppages other than he had several and that they were rifle-related.
A third student had significant issues. This student had a high speed, low drag precision race gun made by Salient Arms topped with a Vortex Razor HD Gen2 1-6x scope and good sized brake. This rifle was extremely flat shooting and fast, and I saw that the barrel profile was pretty thick. Given the heavy barrel and brake, it is no wonder why this rifle was so fast and shot so flat. Unfortunately, this rifle was very problematic. I initially saw this surface when the student inserted a magazine on an open bolt, and the top round kicked out of the mag into the receiver. The bolt release was hit, and the rifle induced a double-feed. When the student ditched the mag on the ground, I saw that it was marked with his personal markings, but that it was not numbered. This highlights a very important issue that people need to understand: NUMBER YOUR MAGS! If you do not number your mags, you cannot identify problem magazines and remove them from service.
The problem wound up not being the mags, as they were newer PMAGs. I saw this double-feed occur numerous times, with the it being more prevalent under stress when the mag was being slammed into the lower receiver. In the end, it was determined that the rifle receivers were out of spec.
You can spend a lot of money on custom guns, but when are dealing with a company that does not have to adhere to the same standards as a top tier manufacturer like BCM or Daniel Defense, you have room for a lot of mistakes. In this case, I think that there were significant mistakes made that need to be rectified by Salient. As tempting as it is to buy a full custom gun, it is often times better to do your research first and learn the real world reliability history of a manufacturer or customizer. If you can’t find real world reviews, it might often be best to pass on the product. I generally do not like to be a beta-tester for companies, be it guns, cars or otherwise. This also means looking at the design and purpose of the rifles, and questioning whether they align with what you plan to do with them. In this case, the gun was set up like a competition rifle. I have seen various competition firearms fail in tactical training courses, because they are generally built with different tolerances and components to meet a different mission/goal. It would be wise for people to match what they plan to shoot with how they plan to shoot it.
The highlight of my experience was seeing Steve accidentally drop a mag out of his magwell. Being a four-time student of the late great Pat Rogers, I was pretty sure I had a working theory as to why a magazine would drop out of a magwell without hitting the mag release. I conveyed my analysis of this to Steve through the use of the Call of the Moosecock. There may or may not be a photo of this popping up online shortly.
To Steve’s credit, he had some mag issues that were recurrent and may or may not have been mechanical or mag-related. There is a possibility that it was not shooter error, but I’m still not retracting that Moosecock.
Critical Carbine Employment by Steve Fisher - After Action Review by Andy