As of Monday evening, I am fully confident that I could properly ventilate a bad guy...from 25 yards...behind a hostage...with my trusty AR-15. Monday last week I didn't have such confidence. So what changed? Training.
I've always considered myself a gun enthusiast. A son of an avid shooter, I've been shooting a variety of weapons since I was 12 years old (maybe a little younger, but 12 for sure). I've always been partial to long guns myself — rifles are my favorite. My brothers tend to enjoy the pistols, and Dad loved shotgun. But for me, the greatest satisfaction at the range was knowing that I could hit distant targets far away.
Not that I was good at it, but I enjoyed it.
That said, I figured it was about time to get good at it. A few years ago I had the opportunity to purchase, for an extraordinarily good price, a membership to Front Sight Firearms Training Institute. I didn't have time right away, but I promised myself I would use it. A couple of months ago, some of my buddies who purchased memberships at the same time put out an obligatory, “Hey Cazier, you want to come to Front Sight with us?”
They were heartily surprised and more than a little jocular about my decision to finally use my membership. I set about preparing myself for the experience. There was no trouble coming up with a checklist for the trip, but the items on the checklist presented some challenges.
First the gun. I planned to take a 4-day practical rifle course. I needed a rifle. Dad had an AR-15 that hasn't quite found a new place to live just yet. I asked around to see if anyone would be annoyed if I used the weapon for the course. No one objected, and I soon found myself in possession of an AR-15. I've had relatively little experience on the AR platform, but I was excited to learn more.
Next the optics. I'm not talking about scopes here — I don't have enough cash to put a new scope on the AR-15. No, I'm talking about my optics: my glasses. I knew from the Front Sight website that I would need “impact-resistant safety sunglasses.” Not being in possession of prescription sunglasses, and especially not impact-resistant SAFETY sunglasses, I figured I needed to check it out. Having plenty of money left over from not buying a scope, I invested in my sunglasses. As it turns out, impact-resistant safety prescription sunglasses are pretty spendy, and they take for-e-ver to arrive at your door. I ordered them over a month in advance and they showed up the day before I left for Nevada.
After I had something to shoot and uber-spensive style to stare down the barrel, it was time for ammo. The AR-15 fires a .223 round. It can also fire a 5.56mm NATO round IF your gun can accommodate it. Mine can, and a good thing too. I ordered 500 rounds, as indicated, of .223. When I opened the ammunition at the range, I panicked when I discovered that my boxes clearly labeled as .223 actually contained rounds stamped 5.56mm. I quickly consulted one of the instructors who laid my concerns to rest by finding a .223 or 5.56 stamp along my barrel. Crisis averted. He went on to explain that 5.56mm rounds actually use the exact same brass casing as the .223, the bullet's just shaped differently. Crisis more averted.
I needed a few modifications to the AR-15 as well, namely a tactical strap, which Amazon happily shipped to my door. In possession of the tac-strap, I tried to connect it to the gun only to realize that I didn't have the proper tac-strap attachment on the gun. Amazon pulled through again. When I got the attachment, YouTube taught me how to put on the attachment using my nifty AR-15 armorers tool...that I didn't have. Amazon sent me one. As you can imagine, it's a good thing I started a month in advance because it took me about that long to get all my stuff together!
Last Thursday my crew collected me and we set off for Pahrump, Nevada. My crew consisted of Matt McEwen (a good friend and ex-co-worker from DHI); his brother, Gary, James, Colter, and Atilio. Brandon Allen (also good friend and ex-co-worker from DHI) and his brother-in-law, Adam, would meet us in Nevada along with Shaun and Cody. Five ended up in rifle, five were in pistol.
In my life, I have visited — though generally not stayed in — several cities worthy of official “Armpit” status. It took us about eight and a half hours to drive there, and it just wasn't much to say, “Here you are at the destination you drove all that way for.”
After dinner, we hit the hay early because we needed to be on site at Front Sight at 07:00. I didn't know exactly what to expect though I had read several reviews indicating that Front Sight was strict “but not like drill sergeants and boot camp, more like drill sergeants required to attend charm school.” They were strict about safety, but they were very easy to approach and were happy to help beginners and advanced shooters alike. I found them incredibly knowledgeable and highly approachable.
We did tons of technique on the first day — mostly informing me that I've been doing it wrong in virtually every aspect of my shooting for pretty-much my entire life. Them's hard things to come to grips with! My trigger pull was jerky, I didn't trap the trigger, I had poor trigger reset...and that's just my trigger finger! I wasn't standing in a solid shooting position that would absorb recoil and make me more accurate. I was gripping the foregrip of the gun (no pun intended). I was shooting both-eyes open, which hurts your accuracy. I had at high rest in my breath (instead of low rest). I was craning my neck to get a good sight picture, when I should have been adjusting the stock to “bring the gun to my eye.” I had no idea what after engagement action I should be taking and I really hadn't given much thought to how I would methodically work my way through a gunfight. What can I say, it never came up in conversation!
By 14:00 on Day 1, I had undergone a complete overhaul of all my shooting techniques. I figured I'd give them at least a day to improve my accuracy — that's what I came for after all. By 15:00 Day 1 I was shooting BETTER THAN I HAVE EVER SHOT IN MY LIFE. I was faster, cleaner, and more accurate. I was superior in EVERY shooting metric I have ever examined. I was 100%, completely, totally, on board.
By 16:00 I had a nasty burn down my spine from three expended brass casings from Floyd, my shooting-line neighbor from “the communist country of Connecticut.” I don't blame him, of course, but MAN that burns! I did not know that rifle brass leaves the chamber much hotter than pistol brass. I also did not know how quickly it burns human flesh. These lessons are seared into my brain, oh yeah, and my back.
|They guys at Mama's Diner in Pahrump. The food was pretty good and pretty fast.|
Day 2 and 3 brought some interesting practice including properly sighting a rifle (and efficiently since we only used 9 rounds). I learned the Wilson Wall, which was incredibly fun to shoot. We put “effective” shots down range at up to 200 yards. I learned a multitude of shooting platforms including standing (duh), sitting, kneeling, squatting, and prone — and how to get into each one safely, correctly, and quickly. I learned how to properly dry practice and clear type 1, type 2, and type 3 malfunctions. I also learned tactical reloading and emergency reloading. We also learned how to "slice the pie" as we enter a room. We learned this, of course, at Monster's Inc. Yes, they really do call this place "Monster's Inc."
|Day 2 began by sighting our rifles at 25 yards with a simulated 100 yard 0. I ended up sighting my rifle for 50 yards and learning to compensate for distance modifications. I like this kind of math.|
Day 4 brought some competition shooting and timing exercises. One of the guys in our group won the “Man on Man” shoot, which was loads of fun. Day 4 also brought the test, which we were all nervous about. They tested us on accuracy, procedure, time, and knowledge. I kept telling myself to be cool and not worry about it, but I felt like I was back in high school studying for an exam.
Without going into too much detail, the exam is scored in reverse: points are a bad thing. If you hit exactly what you're aiming at, you get zero points. If you are outside the thoracic cavity (chest area where your lungs and heart are), but still inside the gray body outline, you earn yourself 3 points. If you're outside the gray body outline in the white field on the paper, you just earned yourself 5 points. Missing a hole means you missed the paper entirely and that's 5 points.
All but a few shots are taken under time pressure. You can also earn yourself single point procedural points for having your finger on the trigger at the wrong time, or your safety off (or on) at the wrong time. Finally, the malfunctions earn your 3 points for doing wrong or not doing it in time. You can “earn” up to 225 points: 150 from shooting alone, the rest from procedures and malfunctions.
There are three grades in the class: Distinguished Graduate (you have less than 15 points), Graduate (you have less than 45 points), and Completed (anything over 45 points). In order to progress into other courses associated with rifles, you MUST distinguish.
My final score? 22. 7 points off distinguished. I'm not sure how many distinguished from my class, but from our group of 10 guys (5 in rifle, 5 in handgun), only one distinguished. Nice work, Brandon!
|From right to left: Gary, Brandon, Stallion (it says so on my hat), and Matt. The instructors at Front Sight ALL had trouble referring to me as "Stallion." Well, they'll have more time to practice.|
Anyway, after I graduated, the stress off my back, we all piled back into the McEwen Man Van and headed for Utah. 9 hours later, in the middle of the night, McEwen dropped me off at my house and we had a plan for next year to take the shotgun class.
In all, I'm very pleased I went. I learned more than I anticipated, and many of the techniques I learned will serve me well on other weapon systems include pistol and shotgun. I'm excited for next year, and who knows...maybe I'll be back in Nevada before the end of the year.
|The intrepid crew of the McEwen Man Van. Right to left: Atilio (pistol complete) , Colter (pistol graduate), James (pistol complete), Gary (rifle complete owing to an NG — Negligent Discharge), Matt (rifle graduate) and Stallion (rifle graduate).|