Saturday, January 31, 2015

Internet instructor rant...

When Ken Hackathorn penned his piece about modern firearms instructors on Wednesday (you can read it here), I at first thought he was being a little old and crotchety.  Not that I don't respect Mr. Hackathorn - he's probably forgotten more about shooting than I'll ever know - but it seemed like he was just being grumpy.  Then I ran into three videos on the internet in two days that caused me to think that he might just be on to something.  It's pretty easy to spot gross stupidity in a firearm instructor, but it's much harder to spot little issues that can cause training scars.  Two of these videos I'll discuss fall into the little issues, while one falls into borderline stupidity.

The first video featured an individual standing in front of multiple plaques that seemed to indicate he was a former SEAL.  Please don't take this as bashing SEALs, but if he really had that background, he should have known better than to publish what he did, in my opinion.  His video concerned which method of putting the slide forward from a slide lock reload was better: utilizing the slide catch/slide release, or sling-shotting the slide.  His premise, which he backed up with side by side slow motion video, was the the slide release method was faster, and therefore better, because "seconds count."  While it is true that seconds count when you have an empty gun, just because one method is sometimes faster doesn't mean that it is necessarily better or the only way to do things.  There are times when the slingshot method might work better than the slide release method.  First, there are times when the slide lock is hard to hit - you might be wearing gloves in the winter, you might be dead tired coming off a 12-hour shift, you might be amped up in a stressful situation, you might have small hands, or you might be a lefty without ambidextrous controls on your handgun.  Any of those situations might make the slide lock hard to hit, and if you miss the slide lock (especially multiple times), exactly how is it faster and better than sling-shotting the slide?  In any of the above situations, sling-shotting the slide would more than likely be better than using the slide lock.  Second, you might actually be shooting a gun that has a slide lock that wasn't designed to function as a slide release.  I was surprised to learn in my Glock armorer's class that the Glock slide lock was designed to be a lock only. The Glock was actually designed to utilize the slingshot method, which is why their stock slide lock is so small, as opposed to, say, a Sig or Beretta, which both have very easy to hit slide releases.  Keep in mind that I'm not saying not to utilize the slide release, I'm merely saying that both methods are valid, and to tell people to disregard one just because you can do the other one faster is awfully narrow minded.

The second video was supposed to be a tutorial (by a former sniper) on properly executing a tactical versus a slide-lock/emergency reload.  Both of these types of reloads are very important tools, as one allows you to top off during a lull so that you can face the next threat with a full magazine, and the other is an emergency drill to get your empty gun back up and running.  I had (once again) two issues with the instructor's presentation, however.  First, he stated that the main difference is that in one you are keeping your empty magazine, but the other, you are dropping your empty magazine.  Um, no.  Yes, you are keeping your magazine, but you are keeping it because it still has rounds in it.  If your magazine is empty, drop the stupid thing and get a fresh one in there.  You can pick it up later during a lull and still have a useful firearm in the meantime instead of taking your sweet time reloading just in case you need that empty mag later.  Second, he conducted his reload at about waist level instead of at eye level.  You can see his eyes looking towards the ground as he reloads.  If you just ran your gun empty and you need to reload, then there is more than likely a threat in front of you, which may or may not be fully neutralized, and you should probably keep your eyes on it.

I almost wish I had recorded my reaction to the third video.  It would have made a great Mystery Firearms Theater 3000.  I will admit that there may have been some Crown involved in the reaction, but even today I find what was being taught borderline ridiculous.  First was what I can only describe as the High-Ready Hokey Pokey.  After engaging the target, all the students went to high ready and turned completely around, allegedly to scan for threats.  Newsflash - there is a threat right in front of you and you just felt the need to shoot it.  You aren't a doctor, and turning your back on a confirmed threat just because there might be another threat around isn't the best idea.  You can easily bring the firearm to a low or compressed ready while keeping it pointed toward the known threat and still scan with head and eyes.  Even SWAT teams check downed threats with one officer covering and one officer going hands on for one simple reason - just because the threat is lying down doesn't mean it has ceased to be a threat.  I'm not saying that there won't be times when you may have to turn your back on a lower priority threat because a higher priority one has arisen, I'm just saying that making a practice of turning your back on a threat, even a supposedly neutralized one, isn't a great idea.  Immediately after the students completed the Hokey Pokey, the instructor called "Top off," and all of the students unceremoniously dumped the magazines in their guns, with ammo still in them, on the ground and inserted fresh ones.  How do I know they still had ammo in them?  Because if they didn't still have ammo in them, there should have been a slide-lock reload before the Hokey Pokey.  Just as I believe that keeping an empty mag is normally pointless, dumping a mag with rounds is equally ridiculous.  It is far more likely that you will need those rounds than that empty magazine.  The video went on to include such gems as extended periods of shooting while walking backwards (sometimes necessary to create space, but usually not recommended for long distance due to tripping hazards), a student that muzzled multiple people without getting corrected, a cameraman well in front of the firing line, extreme angles of shooting that barely kept it in the berm, and much, much more...

Now the disclaimer: everything you have read (if you made it this far) is my opinion.  I happen to believe it is an informed opinion, but you are free to make your own decision on that.  The bottom line is that there are a lot of people calling themselves instructors out there.  Some are very knowledgeable big names, some are very knowledgeable no-names, and some are not very knowledgeable at all but make slick videos featuring large volumes of gunfire that look really cool.  Please do your research when selecting an instructor.  Most instructors will vary on their techniques, but a lot of the good ones will adhere to a basic set of principles, and will be the first to admit that their principle-driven techniques won't fit every situation, but are to be practiced and adapted to the student's particular needs.

Stay safe and have fun training.  Rant out...

X Echo 1 is a 10 year veteran of the US Coast Guard, where he has served at various units including the International Training Division and Maritime Security Response Team.  He has held qualifications including Deployable Team Leader/Instructor, Direct Action Section Team Leader, and Precision Marksman – Observer.  He has deployed/instructed on five continents and served in quick reaction force roles for multiple National Special Security Events in the US.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Samson Manufacturing 3.5x Magnifier and RAM mount review

The 3.5x magnifier in its case
Magnifiers for red dot sights are like smart phones - you really don't know what you are missing until you get one.  I'm a big fan of magnifiers coupled with red dot optics for a couple of reasons: they help you put shots on target more accurately at medium distances and they provide an increased level of threat identification that is critical when making decisions in a defensive situations.  For law enforcement, military members, or even armed citizens at distances from 75 yds to 300 yds, a 3x or higher magnification behind your red dot could easily be the difference between properly engaging a threat or a case of tragic mistaken identity.

Given that belief, you can imagine my excitement when the very first Samson product I got to test as part of Operation X was their 3.5x magnifier with Rotary Actuated Mount (RAM) base and quick flip mount.  A few key features of the magnifier:
  • 35mm objective lens, bigger than the Aimpoint or EOTech magnifiers.
  • 3.5x magnification, higher than the Aimpoint or EOTech magnifiers.
  • Adjustable for windage and elevation.
  • RAM mount can be adjusted to ensure the tightest fit to your particular rail system, which is great if you have a slightly out of spec rail or you mount it on a Weaver rail.
  • RAM mount features a large, easy to use paddle with catch allowing you to take it on and off your rail easily one-handed.
  • Adjustable diopter to customize the focus to your particular needs.
  • Flip to side feature to easily go from medium range engagement (100-300 yds) to CQB.

A great view of the RAM lever, cutout, and flip to side lever
The first thing I noticed when I received the magnifier was how well it was packaged.  It came in a plastic hard case with a fitted foam interior.  My Aimpoint PRO didn't even come packed that nicely.  Once I got it out and inventoried the parts, I set it up, first without the 7mm spacer, then with.  I tried both configurations, and while they both proved adequate, I preferred the look and feel of the mount + spacer.   I utilized the included screws and blue threadlocker to set it up, then mounted it on my rifle.  The RAM mount locked up nice and tight, and needed no adjustment, even though I personally feel that my top rail is a bit large compared to mil-spec.  The RAM base has two key parts, a steel lever with wide paddle and retention clip (both easily operated with one hand), and an adjustment dial on the opposite side.  The adjustment dial is the piece that allows you to set your base width for your specific rail, and it's very simple.  Just press in a detent and turn the wheel in or out depending on your need. 

Since this is a quick-flip mount, I spent some time toying with the mechanism as well.  Out of the box, it had a great feel - very fast in transition, but tight enough that there was no perceptible wobble when it was flipped out of the way.  The rubber coating on the magnifier has a cut out to allow easier access to the flip to side
Another good view of the RAM, flip lever, lever cutout, spacer, and attachment screws
paddle when mounted in the low position for a right handed individual.  The spring was powerful enough to propel the magnifier out of the way quickly, but not too strong to prevent a quick flip back when needed.

I spent several hours at the range testing out the magnifier on my Faxon Firearms ARAK.  I run an Aimpoint PRO in a Larue mount set up for a lower 1/3 co-witness.  I prefer the 1/3 co-witness because I like having my sights easily accessible, but not interfering with my red dot.  The downside is that mounts from different manufacturers don't always match up perfectly, even when they both claim to be lower 1/3.  Just as an example, a Larue mount for the PRO coupled with a ADM mount for a magnifier may or may not line up exactly right.  This is where the 35mm objective lens shines for me.  As I mentioned earlier, that extra 5mm allowed the magnifier to line up and function even without using the included 7mm spacer, and if it will function with that big of a height difference (absolute versus lower 1/3), it should have no issues dealing with the slight differences between supposedly identical sight heights or between different models of sights. It also allows more light to enter the magnifier and helps eliminate edge distortion.  Also as mentioned, I did end up using the 7mm spacer.  I didn't need it, but it did help the optic and magnifier line up better and it was more aesthetically pleasing.
Shooting my ARAK with the magnifier and my PRO
The windage and elevation adjustment came in handy, as my red dot was sitting to the far right in the magnifier when I originally mounted it.  A few quick turns took care of that.  The magnifier adjustments function just like the Aimpoint adjustments - if the red dot is too far right, turn the windage knob the opposite direction of the arrow marked "R" and you will find your dot centered in short order.  I noticed no shift in the dot as I shot.  The magnifier was crisp and clear, and I really feel that it improved my grouping by allowing me a more precise point of aim.  I shot at both 50 and 100 yards and the target stayed sharp even without messing around with the adjustable diopter.

I have a few critiques, but absolutely nothing that I would consider a deal-breaker.  There are no instructions included with the mount, so you're on your own to figure out how to put it together, and I'm not a huge fan of the included standard screws.  I would like to see them switch to hex screws, but that's a personal preference.  I didn't experience any issues with the included screws when mounting.  The rubber cutout for the flip to side lever only works when it's mounted for a righty (the paddle gets a little snug up to the magnifier if mounted the other way), but you could easily trim it back.  I would also love to see the windage and elevation either adjustable with turrets, or some sort of cover to keep water/dirt/etc out of the adjustment screws.  Once again, none of these are deal-breakers, just enhancements that I think would really make the product shine even more.
The windage screw

As I continue to test the magnifier and mount, my focus will be on two main things that only time will tell: will the flip to side mount loosen up and wobble as it is used, and will the magnifier continue to hold its "zero" through recoil and constant flipping?  My guess is perhaps a little, and yes, it will hold, but only time will tell. I do have to say, this product is off to a great start.

Overall, I think this is a great buy.  While the price is still $389 on Samson's website, that is over $100 cheaper than the EOTech magnifier with mount, and over $200 cheaper than the Aimpoint with no mount, and I think the Samson has more features and is simply more shooter friendly.  If you are looking for a quality, shooter-friendly magnifier to help you whether in defensive or target shooting scenarios, take a hard look at Samson.  You can find the 3.5x magnifier on their website.

 X Echo 1 is a 10 year veteran of the US Coast Guard, where he has served at various units including the International Training Division and Maritime Security Response Team.  He has held qualifications including Deployable Team Leader/Instructor, Direct Action Section Team Leader, and Precision Marksman – Observer.  He has deployed/instructed on five continents and served in quick reaction force roles for multiple National Special Security Events in the US.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Woman killed by two-year-old: a cautionary tale

By now most of you have probably seen the story of the Idaho nuclear scientist, Veronica Rutledge, who was killed on December 30, 2014 when her two-year-old son reached into her purse and gained control of her pistol, discharging a single round into his mother.  A lot of people have different takes on this particular tragedy, such as the usual grandstanding about guns being unsafe and a lot of pro-gun individuals clucking loudly about the dangers of carrying off-body.  Details are still sketchy, at least from what I can find on the internet, but it appears to have been a semi-automatic, 9mm or smaller, and carried in a dedicated concealed carry purse that was left unattended in a shopping cart.

First off, please don't take anything I say as a condemnation of the mother.  Everyone makes mistakes and some mistakes have far more significant consequences.  Probably every one of us has made a mistake at some point that could have turned out like this, whether with a firearm or in some other part of our lives.  What I will say is that this story does illustrate two very important truths: off-body carry requires an even greater level of attention than on-body carry in regards to retention, and even a second of complacency or inattention with a loaded firearm can turn tragic.

To my first point: when you carry off-body, for whatever reason, you are automatically giving up an amount of security in regards to your gun.  Whether or not that compromise is worth it is something only you can decide.  What this means for you is that you must be even more vigilant in regards to the location of your off-body carry.  If you carry in a purse (for a woman), or a man-bag/gym bag/briefcase (for a man), there will be the temptation - or possibly the requirement - to put that bag down at some point.  Once that bag is put down, you have given up even more control.  What can you do?  Stay observant.  If you must put down the bag, think: "Am I placing my firearm into someone else's grab area?" "Is there an alternate way to secure this bag (locked in an office, a trunk, etc)?" "Am I making this bag a tempting target for a snatcher?"  If you have children, this is even more important.  I have two kids, and they get into everything.  Children are naturally curious, and most of the time they have absolutely no idea what is dangerous for them.  As much as possible, secure the firearm within the bag.  If your bag has a purpose-built holster or section, use it.  The biggest downside to some of these carry bags, especially the "tactical" bags, is that they section designated for the firearm cannot be physically secured.  They are usually Velcro closed and are designed for rapid access, not security.  Some of the women's purses have locks, but if you use the lock while you are actively carrying, it essentially negates having the firearm with you because you cannot access it in a timely manner.  If you use a bag that is not purpose built, use a holster within the bag, such as the Raven Vanguard holster to cover the trigger and provide a small guard against prying fingers.  Please keep in mind though, that even a holster will only provide a modest amount of protection once a child or other individual has gotten into the bag.  You and the bag's exterior are the only real security, once someone has defeated those they essentially have control of the firearm.

My second point should go without saying, but even the most experienced shooter is complacent at times.  Even our nation's special operations forces have lost guys due to complacency.  From what I can gather about this story, this lady was raised around guns from a young age, and had a definite comfort level with them.  She was also shopping, something she had done hundreds if not thousands of times before.  This time, however, her complacency resulted in her death.  Once again, I'm not attempting to condemn or vilify her.  My only goal is to look back at what possibly occurred to prevent someone else from making the same mistake.  I can't give you a magic formula to combat complacency.  Vigilance is a mindset, one that you have to practice every day.  You can raise or lower your level of vigilance based on your surroundings, but you can never shut it off if you want to remain safe.  No matter how overwhelming things are around you, you must be able to prioritize risks and needs to ensure not only your safety, but the safety of those around you who may be unaware (whether adult or child).  It's always something seemingly small that you let slip that will come back to bite you.

In summary, this is a tragedy for the woman's family.  Instead of ringing in a joyous new year, they are prepping a funeral.  It could have been avoided.  Hopefully, we as gun owners can learn from her mistakes, and prevent a recurrence.

X Echo 1 is a 10 year veteran of the US Coast Guard, where he has served at various units including the International Training Division and Maritime Security Response Team.  He has held qualifications including Deployable Team Leader/Instructor, Direct Action Section Team Leader, and Precision Marksman – Observer.  He has deployed/instructed on five continents and served in quick reaction force roles for multiple National Special Security Events in the US.