Saturday, February 22, 2014

Another Step Forward

So last Sunday, before flying out here to Salt Mines U, I took the Progressive Handgun Fundamentals course at Federal Way Discount Guns & Indoor Range.  (See also One Step Back, Two Steps Forward?, and parts of Random thoughts.)

  • Colt Series 80 MKIV Combat Commander,
  • K Rounds In Waist Band holster, 
  • K Rounds magazine/flashlight pouch, and 
  • A bunch o' magazines of mixed provenance, mostly holding 7 rounds. 
  • 400+/- rounds Federal .45 ACP 230 grain "hardball" rounds, purchased in bulk from Surplus Ammo and Arms of Tacoma. (I probably went through between 300 and 350 rounds.)
  • The belt I was wearing – a significant detail when carrying a gun in a holster, and especially dealing with shooting from the draw – was a 5.11 Tactical Apex Gunners Belt.
I had my Colt Rail Gun (She talked me into it!, Interesting) along as backup, but at this point I do not have a holster for it.

The class is designed for 8-10 students, but there were only two of us that day, so we got 1) much personal attention, and 2) done sooner than scheduled. I would have gladly taken the (offered) opportunity to use the bay to practice what we had just learned, but since I had to get up to catch a flight the next morning when the roosters were still asleep, I decided that prudence demanded I take advantage of the time for preparation.

Class started at 9 AM; after a short safety briefing and introductions, we moved to the tactical bays where we spent the remainder of the day.

My classmate was shooting a Wilson Custom “Nighthawk” 1911, which meant that the instructors could concentrate on a single set of techniques. (There might have been a training advantage, OTOH, if two or more different distinct designs had been present. On the gripping hand, JMB, pbuh.)

All techniques were practiced with dry firing several times before we moved on to actually shooting. In some cases, where there is more than one way to perform the task (i.e., shooting on the move) all alternatives were demonstrated, and the advantages/disadvantages or strengths/weaknesses were discussed.

The class started with shooting from the draw. “Ready” positions were discussed, low, high, retention, etc. Drawing and “presenting” were practiced, many times through the day.1 Grip and stance were reviewed and critiqued as well; even though it had only been a week since the Basics class, there had been some deterioration in my technique.

Once we got going, I was constantly reminding myself that “Slow is smooth, smooth is fast” – when shooting a self-defense-oriented drill, I often cannot tell you afterward if I even tried to use the sights.2

Other techniques and procedures covered in the class included
  • Weapon and Reaction hand shooting (AKA “Strong” and “Weak” or “Support” hands) 
  • Multiple shots on single targets (controlled pair AKA “double taps”, Mozambique Drill AKA "Hammer".) 
  • Engagement of multiple targets 
  • Reloading and malfunction drills – which I really need to practice. Emergency reloads versus tactical reloads versus administrative reloads. I may possess enough manual dexterity and hand-eye-coordination to be able to hit a man-sized target at 25 feet, but juggling magazines can get dicey... 
  • Threat assessment3
  • Shooting from cover 
  • Shooting on the move (AKA "How to hit the target without tripping youself...")
  • Shooting from contact distances ("Oh, look, the target's on fire...!")
We probably could have practiced just about every technique on that list twice as much, and gotten a benefit from it. OTOH, I'm not so certain that it would have been cost effective. On the gripping hand, one could back and forth on this sort of question all day, and the class is intended for 8 to 10 students, under which conditions it would be pretty difficult to do so.

One technique we practiced more was using the overhand method to release the slide when reloading instead of the "slingshot" method.  I mentioned this before, and some interpreted my comments as confusion.

Most semi-automatic pistols have a slide release lever or button, which can successfully be used to release the slide when reloading.  The major (only?) exception seems to be Glocks, which have a slide catch, not usable for this.  The alternatives are the "slingshot" -- pinching the rear of the slide, pulling slide to rear, and releasing -- and the overhand, placing one's hand on top of the slide, grasping it with the fingers of the entire hand, and pushing it to the rear.  (Some may find it easier to use the shooting hand to push the frame forward while simply holding the slide steady.)
  • The advantage of the slingshot method is that it keeps your hand clear of the ejection port.  The disadvantages are that it lends itself to "riding the slide forward", moves the support or "off" hand too far from the grip, and does not lend itself to clear jams or failures to eject.
  • The advantages of the overhand method are that it is easier to release the slide (NOT riding it forward), the support hand does not move that far back, and it simultaneously allows one to clear jams and failures to eject. The disadvantage is that it puts your hand over the ejection port; plus, depending on the rear sights, it may get real uncomfortable...
Only two glitches arose during training:
  • Fellow student had one of his magazines fly to pieces, literally. Spring was down range, follower was found at the base of the backstop. My strategy of buying a metric buttload of cheap GI (marked) magazines seemed pretty smart at that point. 
  • During the “Weak Hand4 Supported” shooting (that is, shooting two handed with the usual support hand) my thumbs got all confused as to where they were supposed to be, and I wound up with the most serious case of slide bite I've seen in years. In fact, this was almost as bad as the time I learned the hard way why the Light Fighter Cadre at Ft Ord was advising us to wear gloves on the bayonet5 course...

Course summary: I would recommend this class for anyone who needs or wants some more advanced instruction in self-defense related shooting, and who is in or near the South King County/Pierce Country area. I am looking forward to taking their “Advanced” or “Urban Tactical” class, which adds techniques like drawing from concealment. I also asked if there were plans to try offering their “Tactical Shotgun” class again. (Apparently there had been little enough interest that it was dropped from the schedule.)

They also offer this as a “Woman's only” course, as well as offering a shortened (4 hour) version of it, also for women.

Equipment reviews:
The Colt Combat Commander continues to do well, as long as I feed it decent ammo, and despite the conventional “wisdom” that says that 1911s in general, and Colts from the early to mid 80s specifically, are inaccurate, unreliable antiques that need thousands of dollars of work to work at all. The only real functional work I've had done on it was the addition of sights I can see.
All those magazines: At last count, I have three Colt branded magazines, one blued 7 rounder and two stainless 8 rounders that came with the Rail Gun. I have two or three “generic” 7 round stainless magazines that came in what appeared to be Government supply system wrappers. I have nine or ten blued 7 rounders that are marked as Government Issue, one or two of which I was given by the company armorer when we transitioned to Berettas and she was told to “dispose of” the .45 magazines.  One of the stainless 7 round mags was giving me problems.  One of the blue steel GI mags got a fed lip bent.  Emergency surgery was performed.  Further testing of both these will determine  whether they can be saved, possibly for emergency action drills, or must be discarded.
K Rounds holster: Good stuff. The only criticism may be that it is tight and stiff enough that I cannot work a finger in there to manipulate the magazine release while the pistol is holstered. That makes it difficult to remove or replace a magazine without drawing. Not sure how serious a failing that is, or even if it is one at all. I will probably replace the belt loops (with “Press The Dot” snap fasteners) with j-hooks.
K Rounds magazine/flashlight pouch: Good stuff, although I may have been better off having them build it with the magazine in front, not the flash. Also, for training that does not involve use of flashlights, I probably need a standard two-mag pouch.
Belt: I purchased the the 5.11 Tactical Apex Gunners belt6 because I wanted a dress-quality belt that was designed with concealed carry in mind. It stays where it is. Stuff that is on it, or tucked into it, stays where it is. I can envision circumstances where this is a disadvantage. Overall, I think I can live with it. After I have used it more, placing everything correctly may be second nature. At the same time, I bought a 5.11 Tactical Double Duty web belt (reversible black/brown) for less formal conditions.

Just as with training, my experience with various pieces of equipment is somewhat limited. As I get more experience, and my equipment choices and philosophy continue to evolve, I plan on sharing them here.

Hopefully there won't be too many embarrassing ones...

1. Plans are under way to purchase a training “dummy” pistol, AKA Blue/Red/Yellow gun, so I can practice at home. An alternative is to purchase a training magazine, to be used with the “real” gun, which has the advantage that I can also practice manipulating the safety. 
2. And with what a set of Novak tritium night sights cost, I really should... 
3. You see this in all those YouTube videos – the shooter rips off a controlled pair and then his head swivels 45 degrees left and right. The points are: 
  • There might be another bad guy 
  • Is everyone else on your team OK?
  • Rarely mentioned: high stress situations, including defensive gun use, often/usually lead to tunnel vision. The “sector scan” can help break that. 
4. Joking aside, apparently some institutions dislike the word “weak” so much that circumlocutions such as “support” or “off” hand really are official, leading to jokes about “strong hand and other strong hand...” 
5. Among the many reasons why the M16 is an inferior bayonet handle, is the fact that the force of driving your blade into the target will drive the charging handle into the web of your hand rather forcefully. Since my battalion commander was the first one on the course that day and hit the first obstacle hard enough to break his elbow, sniveling about a bloody hand seemed unwise... 
6. Two actually, one black and one brown.

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