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.