Sunday, October 30, 2016

Ernest Langdon Tactical Pistol Skills AAR, Take 2

The Kent, WA, Police Department hosted Ernest Langdon for his two-day Tactical Pistol Skills course at their indoor range on October 24th and 25th. (And again on the 26th and 27th.) 

Unusually for a class sponsored by a law enforcement agency, it was open enrollment; after securing authorization from the CFO I signed up. (And almost had to cancel, but the Salt Mines decided they didn't need me to help clean up after Hurricane Matthew after all.)   

There were twelve students in the class: 2 Kent PD officers, 3 Federal Way PD officers, and one each from Auburn, Seattle, and the King County Sheriff's department. Most or all of the cops were firearms instructors, SWAT team members, or both.

Besides myself, the "civilians" included a Microsoft engineer, a heavy equipment operator in the logging industry, and a gun 'riter.

10 of the students were shooting Glock 17s or 19s; Rick (logger) was shooting a 1911 in 9mm, which meant That Guy was the only one shooting a full-size 1911 in .45 ACP.

At least 3 of the SWAT officers had RMRs on their Glocks.

The Kent PD's indoor range is located at the Kent Fire and Emergency training complex; I was surprised, because despite the fact that I had done my CERT training up there, had been a member of the Kent Emergency Communications team which meets up there, and Mrs. Drang and I helped the Kent PD's Public Information Officer teach a Refuse To Be A Victim class there, and I no idea there was a range on the premises.

It is a pretty impressive facility, for all that it's unassuming on the outside; the soundproofing is excellent, so that those who usually double-up on ear protection in an indoor range didn't need to. The air system was also over-built ( I believe they told us to three times what is required) and the filters are changed every three months.

The range is set up with six firing position at the"near" end, but they are built to easily open up and provide minimal obstruction, making one large open bay; the target system seems to use the newer digital controls so that you can precisely control the range. The range is a full 25 yards long, allowing meaningful training with rifles and shotguns.

Unfortunately, health and safety rules completely prohibited food and drink inside the building, which made staying hydrated awkward, to say the least.

Course Description from Langdon Tactical's website:
  • Combat Mindset
  • Training for performance under stress 
  • Grip & Stance 
  • Draw Stroke & Concealed Draw 
  • Reloads, Emergency and Tactical 
  • Clearing Malfunctions 
  • Multiple Target Engagement 
  • Turn and Shoot Techniques 
  • Shooting Positions & Use of cover 
  • Shooting while moving 
  • One handed shooting 
  • One handed malfunction clearing (fighting while wounded)
Class started in the classroom for a short introduction  and discussion of the first two bullet points above.

Combat Mindset is something that, oddly to my way of thinking, rarely gets discussed in these events. Or, maybe it only gets discussed in higher level training, because Mas certainly goes over at least some aspects of it in MAG40. But if we're carrying a gun for defense, whether as part of your duties or as a result of recognition that There Are Wolves Out There, all too many people are reluctant to come out and say "Yes, I carry a gun for self-defense, and I recognize that I may have to use lethal force on some goblin who is threatening me, my loved ones, or an innocent stranger."

There was a brief review of Cooper's Color Code, with an explanation of "Yellow" I don't recall hearing before: "Yellow is a recognition that 'IT' could happen to you!" (Since the quote is attributed to Colonel Cooper I probably heard and forgot it.)

The key point in Combat Mindset lies in the pithy phrase "If you get in a fist fight you're going to get punched." You may not, in fact, get punched if you're good enough or lucky enough, but if you go into the fight with not getting punched as your goal you're probably going to get your ass kicked.

In other words, to use a word that is commonly avoided these days because it has been twisted all out of shape, you must have a Warrior's Mentality: Do what you need to do to win, never give up, and recognize that death is a possibility.

"Winning" may mean killing an assailant. Depending on what "win" looks like, you may win and still wind up in court, in the hospital or dead. If that bothers you, you shouldn't carry a gun. (Of course, you may still wind up in the hospital or dead, without the solace of having tried.)

Ernest's theory of training is to develop sub-conscious performance; that is, the techniques must be so ingrained that they will be performed properly without thinking about them. While he (like Mas) tried to avoid getting hung up on terminology, recognizing that a lot of people advocate similar or the same techniques under different names, and that different techniques might work better for different people, he did make the observation that some terms that are rife in the gun school world (and the "gunternet") are misused and abused. These include "muscle memory" and "fine versus gross motor skills."

Think about it: I'm manipulating the trigger with one finger, I'm operating the magazine release with one finger, I'm inserting a magazine in to a hole just big enough for it... and you're telling me that operating the slide release is a "fine motor skill" and I can't do it under stress? You know why I can't use the slide release under stress? Because other guys trained me not to, that's why!

(Note: YMMV. You may not be able to reach, or to operate, the slide release on your pistol changing your grip.)

He also tells a story about a student with abysmal trigger control, who, when he was told he was "mashing" the trigger, exclaimed "Oh, you want me to mash the trigger?", and started squeezing it and getting all rounds in the black. In other words, sometimes you need other words. Or should use other words.

Which brings me to the point that Ernest emphasized in accuracy, which is trigger control. We tend to obsess on the sight picture, and many firearms instructors make a sort of mantra our of "Front Sight! Press!", but this leads to some shooters fretting about the sights so much they rush the shot, take it early, anticipate it...

Ernest discussed several points regarding trigger pull.

There are four "phases" of trigger movement:
  1. Pre-travel ("Slack")
  2. Firing
  3. Over-travel
  4. Reset
  • The actual pull will vary from model to model, and probably from gun to gun. (The actual "feel" of the trigger pull, not just how many pounds does it take.)(Especially since many guns use a trigger that pivots at the frame, while others use a trigger that basically "slides" back and forth.) 
  • For best accuracy one will "prep" the trigger by taking up pre-travel or slack until one "finds the ledge" just before the shot will go off.
  • Most SA guns have some mechanism to limit over-travel, although YMMV.
  • Reset--is it that important? Some speak of "riding the reset", letting the trigger go just enough forward that everything is ready to go and then starting over again. Sounds great. The trouble is, they're talking about feeling a subtle movement through their trigger finger, in the middle of the recoil impulse, and acting on it. Worse, some actually talk about "hearing the click...!"
Ernest also had some things to say about guns and gun makers in general. 
  • They're all good. (Major brands, at least.)
  • They all break. 
  • They're all bad--that is, the companies are in business to make money, and sometimes do things to make money, regardless of whether the "things" suit your desires.
  • Pick one that suits your needs.
  • Stick with it for "a while". (No "gun rotation"/"gun of the month". Obviously, someone whose job it is to evaluate guns will have to consider this. Also, I hate you, and want your job.)
Generally speaking, Ernest prefers a Double Action only pistol, especially for agency use, because it provide safer, more consistent gun handling. Which, by the way, makes a DA-only1 pistol ideal for the average person who will buy a pistol, go to the range once, shoot minute-of-backstop, and call it good...

When I mentioned transitioning to the Sig P320, Ernest observed that it has, by far, the best trigger of any striker fired pistol out there, which, in his opinion, makes it UNsuitable for agency or causal shooter use.That is, it is such a good trigger, on a pistol with no external safety device, that negligent discharges are pretty much guaranteed to go up among the un- or under-trained.

He also observed that the problem with Single Action pistols with an external hammer is that the gun ignorant will freak out at seeing a pistol carried "cocked and locked". They will probably not accept "This pistol is designed to be carried this way" as an explanation, nor will they believe you if you tell them that a Glock, for example, is always carried this way, it just doesn't have the visual cues.

At this point (more or less) we reviewed the 4 Safety Rules; Bill (the Kent PD officer who arranged the class) went over the emergency plan, including identifying two officers in the class who were trained in trauma aid.

Then we went to the range.

Drills shot the first day were mostly to establish techniques, i.e., we started out with a 10 shot group in a 2 inch circle (9 shots for That Guy), then moved to one shot per second then per half second, etc. The goal was not to establish a cadence or rhythm of firing--and some do teach "rhythm drills"--but to develop the ability to reduce ones "split time", that is, the time between aimed shots. (Note that "split" is a term derived from competition, but it is descriptive enough that why not use it?)

The point here is that simply getting your gun "on target" is not the best way to get off accurate shots quickly;  one needs to begin ones shot while still getting a good sight picture, i.e., operate the safety and begin taking slack out of the trigger while you are still assuming a good stance and getting a sight picture.

(Digression: I don't see it in my notes, but Ernest did say that one way to introduce stress into one's practice is to take up competitive shooting. "A shooting match is not a gun fight, but a gun fight is sure as hell a shooting match", as they say.)(Timed drills will also introduce an element of stress. Since we are training for use of lethal force on the "two way range", getting used to performing under stress is a good idea.)

Day One on the range sort of runs together in my head, and I have forgotten details. Largely for reasons that will become obvious if you read to the end of this mega-post. But at the end of the day Ernest ran a FAST. (Devised by Todd Green, RIP and pbuh, Ernest is now the "Keeper of the F.A.S.T. Flame", so to speak.)

Now, the FAST is widely misunderstood as a "drill"; while you can run it as a drill, in order to be a proper Fundamentals, Accuracy, & Speed Test, it is run cold; depending on the results, it may be run a second time.

The test involves taking two shots at a three inch by five inch target, reloading from slidelock (IOW, you start with two rounds in the gun), reloading, and then taking four shots at an 8 inch circle. If shot clean in under five seconds, twice, one is considered Expert and win a F.A.S.T. Coin. A time of under seven seconds is Advanced, and one wins a F.A.S.T Pin. Either way one is added to the Wall of Fame.

One other student in the class already had a pin, and just missed earning a coin the last time he took a class.

Five out of 12 students earned pins this time, which Ernest said was a record.

The record is in no danger from me...

One drill that stands out in my mind was 10 shots to the bullseye, from the holster, on the clock. It stands out in my mind because I got a little confused, and missed the fact that we were supposed to be shooting it one at a time...

Another useful (and kind of fun)  drill was the X-Drill, which Ernest borrowed from Jerry Barnhart. This drill is to practice transitions from one target to another, and involved two silhouette type targets. One starts out with shot(s) at the head box of one target, moves to the "body" of the other, then back to the body of the first target sheet, and then the head box of the other one. The goal, of course, is to get all shots in the target area.

We also spent a fair amount of time practicing shooting on the move. The problem with this is that many, if not most, people concentrate on either shooting to the point where their movement is actually detrimental to their shooting, or vice versa. The key is to keep the movements smooth and fluid, and use ones knees to absorb the shocks of moving. The feet should be kept close together, i.e., not like you're doing a John Wayne impression; nor should you be bending so far over that you are doing Groucho Marx.

We practiced shooting while moving forward, and back. (Along with the note that shooting while "retreating" is vital since "Fleeing armies get run down and slaughtered"; one must keep up the fire while falling back to cover.)

It is quickly obvious that even perfect technique, moving smoothly and using one's knees as shock absorbers, will cause one's sight picture to deteriorate.

Having practiced shooting moving forward and back, we set up some plastic barrels and moved on to the "Snake" and "Alley Dash" drills.
Snake Drill:
  • Barrels stacked, and set up in line. 
  • One weaves around the barrels while firing at the targets.
  • The keys here: 
    • Keep firing.
    • Don't shoot the barrels. 
    • Don't run into the barrels, or trip over your own feet.
Alley Dash Drill:
  • Not really intended to simulate "dashing" across the mouth of an alley so much as to provide the start and stop points for practicing an adversary lateral to the line of movement.
  • Two stacks of barrels about 10 feet apart.
  • Engage three targets in sequence as one moves quickly across the gap.
Firing From Cover: The barrels were also used to practice shooting from cover. I doubt there was anyone in the class who was not familiar with the definition that "Cover stops incoming rounds, concealment just hides you."

In my experience Ernest is the only one who adds "Depending on what the other guy is shooting, what you think is cover may only be concealment", and that what starts out as cover may be degraded if it takes enough fire.

Points on shooting from cover included that you should avoid crowding your cover, to give you a better field of view while still maximizing the use of cover. (He recommends maintaining "one weapons length" distance.)  Also, when using the kneeling position from cover he prefers having the shooting side knee up rather than down, as taught in other venues. His reason is that it is a better shooting position, and those who use the other technique are mostly teaching SWAT teams and other door-kickers, and having the other leg down for stability can disrupt the guys behind you in the stack.

In addition to shooting drills, some "techniques" were demonstrated on the range, which is, after all, the best place to demonstrate and practice gun handling; even with multiply redundant verification of "this gun is unloaded", it still lets you handle the gun while keeping it pointed in a safe direction.

TACTICAL RELOAD: Replacing a depleted, but not completely empty, magazine with a full one. I got the impression that Ernest thinks that this is an over-rated practice, as it is rarely necessary in "real life", but it can be useful, so he demonstrated a method involving (essentially) pinching the fresh magazine between the first two fingers, releasing the depleted one and taking it between the last two fingers, and switching them out. Not as fast as simply dumping the depleted mag on the ground, but if you have time to "top off" you probably have time to put the magazine in your pocket. In a lull in a gun fight this is a minor concern, but in training or competition saving that magazine is helpful.

We fired several drills Strong Hand Only and Weak Hand Only2, and in conjunction with those drills Ernest demonstrated, and had us practice, one handed pistol manipulation, to include drawing, reloading, and performing malfunction drills on a pistol with only one hand.

This was an eye-opener. After first verifying that everyone's pistol was UNloaded (corrected), and removing all loaded magazines from the training area, we lined up along the sides of the range and faced the wall. It turns out that, if you have a decent belt and holster, and useable sights, you can hook your sights on the edge of your holster and manipulate the slide, lo! even unto slide lock!

It sure is awkward reaching across your body to remove the pistol from the holster and then clamping it behind your knee to get a proper grip or to insert a fresh magazine, but it can be done.

And if you can get your pistol to slide lock, and insert a fresh magazine, you should be able to perform a Tap/Rack/Bang malfunction drill. Granted, "tapping" the pistol on your knee may not be pleasant, but if it gets you back in the fight...

(Ernest occasionally said something to the effect that "I'm not going to tell you anything that will cause the heavens to open and angelic choirs to sing as you achieve enlightenment", but this came close...)

A drill one occasionally hears about, but rarely sees, let alone shoots, is to occlude the sights with tape and shoot for accuracy without them. At MAG40, Mas has a drill for what he calls the Stresspoint Index, which Rob Leatham calls "shooting outside the notch." It may be more effective with the sights covered; essentially, you line up the sides of your pistol slide on the target, and should be able to achieve "combat accuracy". (It is tempting to use phrases like "point" or "instinctive" shooting in conjunction with this technique, but those phrases mean other things, and are, shall we say, controversial...)

The class was closed with two drills: the BFM, and the 9 Shot.

BFM Drill: A combination of the Bill Drill, F.A.S.T., and Mozambique Drill.
  • Bill Drill: 6 shots to the target as fast as possible.
  • F.A.S.T.: Described above
  • Mozambique Drill: Two shots to the "chest box", followed by one to the "head box."
Setup: Three silhouette targets  side by side about 5-6 feet apart.
Method: Pistol starts out loaded with 8 rounds. Fire Bill Drill on center target, transition to target on left for F.A.S.T.; fire last two rounds to the head box, slidelock reload, transition to target on right for Mozambique Drill.
Ernest demonstrates:

We then ran the 9 Shot Close Speed Drill. 
Setup: Three silhouettes, side by side. (Touching, or almost so.) 9 rounds in pistol.
Method:  One shot on "chest box" of each target, left to right and then right to left. One shot at the head box of each target left to right.
Again, Ernest Demonstrates:
We ran the 9 Shot Drill twice. 

To my utter astonishment, I shot both drills clean; both times, for the 9 Shot.

Slower than a bureaucrat admitting an error, but one of the few in the class to do so.

Overall, in the course of the two day class I went through 800-900 rounds, and if I had been shooting a 9mm with a full capacity magazine, the round count could easily have been much higher.

Ernest does not consider this to be an "advanced" class, so there is no prerequisite to take the class, i.e., no "previous training", no qualifier. However, it is certainly not a beginner's or introductory class. The prospective student who shoots IPSC or Three Gun or something like that will probably be OK even if they haven't taken a lot of classes, but I would not recommend it for someone whose sole experience is the Handgun 101 class at their local range, or qualifying with a pistol in the military.

Do not let the word "tactical" in the course title fool you: This class is not just for "operators", door kickers, or face-shooters. It covers skills that any armed citizen or beat cop may someday need to use.

With the caveat that a certain amount of expertise at safely handling a handgun is necessary, including the ability to draw, aim, and fire from the holster, this course is highly recommended for anyone who owns or carries a pistol for defense or for duty.

Another review of the same course, taught in a different venue, is up at  AAR Langdon Gasa Grande Oct 15/16. His notes include some material I did not capture, and I freely confess that he jogged my memory about some things.
Coming Clean: 
If all you wanted was an After Action review of Ernest's class, you can stop here.

About my previous post: The saying is that "If you look around the class and don't see That Guy, then you're That Guy."

In my case it wasn't being unsafe, saying utterly ignorant shit, breaking things, etc., so much as generally being behind the power curve.

Much of this was self-inflicted.

Objectively, I was already behind the curve shooting a heavier pistol that held half as many rounds as the majority of the class, and fewer rounds than most of the drills called for. I spent twice as much time reloading as anyone else, and more time stuffing rounds into magazines. Also, I wound up shooting all of the drills at a slower pace than anyone else, at least in part because of the slower rate of fire.

While I can activate the mag release while the pistol is in the holster, and replace a depleted mag with a full one, a few times I failed to fully seat the mag in the mag well.

Not to mention, at least once I replaced a depleted mag with a completely empty one.

Also also,  the holster I showed up with is a Galco Fletch High Ride with an FBI cant, which worked well enough for me at MAG40, but was causing me fits here. Specifically, the thumb break was making re-holstering a headache, to say the least. The problem being, hardly anyone makes a holster that will accommodate a Colt Rail Gun, even without a weapon mounted light3. Unfortunately, the WML I have is a Surefire 400U, and hardly anyone makes a holster for a 1911 with one of those.

That Guy...

One of my classmates was able to loan me a holster for a 1911 with a Surefire 300U, and another had  a 300U he let me borrow, which helped.4

Not only that... I found the OEM grip panels on the Rail Gun to be uncomfortable, sharp-edged, so I replaced them with Magpul grip panels.  Which have a deep scoop by the magazine release button. Apparently some have a problem reaching the button, so grips with a depression are now a Thing. Me, I found out the hard way that the depression screws my grip all the hell up. My thumbs just didn't know where to go, or how to stay there. I have never, ever, had a problem with my support hand hitting the slide stop before.  Went home Monday and went back to the OEM grips, but the damage was done...

Understand, I'm being brutally honest about my failings here, not defending my performance as being due to unfamiliar equipment: I shouldn't have had unfamiliar equipment!

Subjective, AKA whining, sniveling, "poor, poor, pitiful me" excuses...
My eyesight may be corrected to 20/20, but my visual acuity is not what it once was, and it was never what it should have been, let alone that of, say, a Hall of Fame outfielder, or a sniper. (Have a hard time seeing a baseball in flight, never could see a bullet ditto.)5

I've been battling a low-level sinus infection, which is distracting; the dry, high air flow of the filtration system in the range combined with the no food or drink AT ALL rule inside the building meant I wasn't hydrating often enough which gave me a cough.

I was on my feet for hours and half way through Day 2, I was feeling it in my knees, hips, back and shoulders, more bursitis and arthritis flare-ups (in my hands, too) than muscular pain. 

None of which really explains why I totally screwed up at least one drill through failure to understand the instructions. (I confess to taking a little solace in the fact that others did the same later, despite my example...)

The baffling thing to me is that when we went to shoot groups for accuracy I would be abysmal but I did OK at most of the drills. (Assuming I understood what we were supposed to be doing...)(And for given values of "OK"...) Again, I was one of the very few in the class to clean6 BOTH the BFM Drill AND both of the 9 Shot Drills we closed the class with. Granted, I shot them slower than a bureaucrat admitting a mistake, but I cleaned them.

And I learned a lot.

Some of which was not on the syllabus.

1. AKA "DAO." I mention this because on the gunternet no one thinks they have to explain acronyms...
2. SHO and WHO. Many decline to use the term "Weak Hand Only" because they feel that their non-dominant hand will get it's feelings hurt or something. I can handle it when they say "support hand", except that it makes no sense to say you're firing "Support Hand Only", not to mention that is leads to shooting SHO and SHO. Then you get those who refer to their "Strong Hand" and "Other Strong Hand"...
3. AKA "WML".
4. Kent PD loaned me an old holster they had for a Sig 1911 "GSR", or "Granite State Rail", which was one of the first 1911s with a Picatinny Rail on the dust cover. Unfortunately, the slide on the GSR seems to be just out of spec with that on a Colt, so it wouldn't work either. One assumes that the Colt is to the original GI spec...
5. I'm probably using "acuity" here to mean stuff that is not, technically, part of "visual acuity", i.e., speed of focus and ability to track moving objects,  etc.
6. "Shot it clean": No misses, all shots in the the designated target area.


Tam said...

I feel you on the 1911 thing. My first AFHF with Todd, I nearly wore myself out and was tickled to shoot a clean 10.00 on the last FAST of the class. (With Todd, each class day started and ended with a FAST and your best run of the four went on the certificate.)

So what were your times on the FAST and the Close 9?

D.W. Drang said...

I didn't clean the FAST, so don't remember the time. (Oddly, I made both head shots but missed one of the body shots, high.)

I wan to say time on the BFM was 12 something and on the Close 9 was 8.5, I think? I was so happy to have cleaned them, details like time seemed superfluous. :-)

Old NFO said...

Rick's a good friend of mine, wish I'd known y'all were going to be there together. He's good folks!