An Exploration of LMS Defense’s Practical Carbine Course
DISCLAIMER: I consider the folks at LMS Defense to be good friends of mine. While I have been compensated on several occasions with course credit in exchange for gathering and organizing students as the class host, they have never offered me range time in exchange for positive reviews. Of the (5) class iterations mentioned in this article, I have paid for (3) of them and been comp’d a seat for organizing (2).
Many shooting schools, both at the local and national level, typically have a variety of “speciality” classes in addition to basic weapons manipulation curriculum. Depending on the experience and qualifications of the instructors, these courses can range from CQB, to working around vehicles, to force-on-force and night vision employment.
FUDDs and the uninitiated will typically brush this training off as “mall ninja” or “fantasy camp,” but what they’re not getting is that many of these classes help to break the square range programming while introducing and reinforcing valuable skills. These apply to common environments – for example, regular civilians live in structures and drive cars every day, which is where CQB- and vehicle-oriented classes come into play.
In 2014, LMS Defense debuted a specialty course of their own titled “Practical Carbine,” held at their “Ranch” location in the hills of Central California. It was billed as a rural experience involving a lot of foot movement and distance shooting – a little fantasy camp-ish to me at the time, since austere foot patrols were (and still are) a little outside of my wheelhouse, but I was new to the AR game with a couple of flat-range classes under my belt. I was excited to see what Practical Carbine could offer.
Since then, I’ve been to Practical Carbine on five separate occasions. While initially intended to be structured roughly the same, each iteration has played out with small differences based on the skill level and desired focus of the students present. Since no Practical Carbine has been exactly the same, this will be a little different than a typical AAR you’ll find on this blog: I’ll be exploring the common curriculum that drives each Practical Carbine to give an idea of what the course hopes to accomplish.
Right off the bat, lead instructor Josh Jackson usually makes clear during each introductory brief: this is not a learning course in the traditional sense. Sure, you might learn what holds to use at a certain distance with your chosen optic and ammo, or that maybe walking around for a couple miles with Level IV plates isn’t really as cool as you thought it would be …but if you’re expecting somebody to tell you how to solve each problem presented to you? Yeah, that ain’t happening.
Thinking of Practical Carbine as more of a skills lab than a “class” would be accurate – it’s an opportunity to apply skills you already have in situations that aren’t possible on the flat range. The instructor-to-student knowledge transfer comes through courses-of-fire that are carefully designed to teach specific concepts, along with real-time advice from a cadre with actual experience in austere environments.
Students are advised to run the class with the same guns, and in the same gear, that they would use “for real.” Through this experiential approach, students gain a more complete understanding of their current, on-demand capabilities in a safe and structured environment.
Ballistic Problem Solving
I believe the the biggest focus of Practical Carbine is non-standard shooting. The prescribed round count is low – somewhere in the ballpark of 300-400 rounds – but each course of fire is set up to make you work for each hit. With the exception of a small flat-range skill check at the beginning of the weekend, most shots are taken against the natural backdrop of the Ranch’s many hills, valleys, creeks and plateaus… and the considerations that come with them.
Have you ever seen a twig or blade of grass deflect a 5.56 round enough to miss a reduced C-zone at 50 yards? If not, you probably will at Practical Carbine. From having to go into rollover prone to shoot through a gap created by crisscrossing fallen trees, to breaking shots while in defilade, stretching up in order to see above the tall grass – students can expect to problem solve constantly. High-angle and low-angle shots are also not uncommon, and supported shooting is encouraged. In many cases, it’s necessary, forcing students to use whatever terrain they can – I’ve had to dump my hydration pack to use as a rest for my rifle, just to hit the targets we were shooting at.
Targets are positioned anywhere from muzzle distance out to 500 yards, with the majority of most shots being in the 100-150 yard envelope… if you can identify them. Visual processing and target discrimination at all distances are required for the class – is that a gun in the target’s hand? Is that even a target? You can’t shoot what you can’t see, and during Practical Carbine seeing is half the battle. LPVO’s and magnified optics are easy money for longer range ID and engagement, but I recommend taking the course with a red dot to really see where you’re at. Being able to tag targets at 550+ yards with an Aimpoint was an eye-opening experience for me.
Throughout all of this, the only instructions are to “Make your hits!” Josh and the other cadre won’t say how, though – that’s on you to figure out, which is a huge part of the curriculum. Problem solving and “making it work” are the primary focuses of the class: Do whatever you need to do to get the desired results.
Night Time is the Right Time, or Something
Additionally, Practical Carbine always has a dedicated night time block held on the evening of TD1. Shooting at night is a rarity for most ranges, and especially so in California – the opportunity to run low-/no-light gear is always good to have. When the sun goes down at the Ranch, weapon lights and NODs come out to play. Students are given the choice to run the courses of fire in either the visible or IR spectrum and, like the day time, these consist of both longer engagements and ones closer than you’ll expect.
At the Ranch, the vastness of the property and the totality of the darkness work together to make even a 1,000 lumen weapon light feel underpowered. Beneath heavy tree cover, NODs become useless without a supplemental IR illuminator; the thick shrubbery closer to the ground teaches lessons in candela, mockingly refracting lights with less ass and obscuring targets positioned only a few yards behind. While it may be an interesting experimental process for us city-dwellers, putting low-/no-light equipment to the test is an absolute must for those living or working out in the sticks.
You Can Shoot, but Can You Get There?
Every shooter has to get into position to make the shot, and I don’t mean dropping to the kneeling or prone – I mean physically being in the right place at the right time in order to put rounds on target. The network of roads, walking paths and game trails on The Ranch provides a unique opportunity to include extended movement both during and before shooting.
Jungle lanes have been an integral part of Practical Carbine since the first time I took the class – they involve moving along a set path while scanning for and engaging targets. This kind of exercise introduces discomfort regardless of experience, forcing students to balance safe weapons handling and target identification while negotiating unfamiliar – and at times treacherous – terrain. Practical Carbine alumni are well acquainted with the slippery rocks and thick brush of The Creek, which is an obstacle that is presented both during the day and when the sun has gone down.
While jungle lanes are relatively short in most cases, the size of the property also allows for more extended movements to reach firing points. One of the more memorable moments from my first Practical Carbine was a mile-long hike to reach a 440 yard high angle shot – at the most recent iteration, we covered the same distance in complete darkness before a multi-position no-light shooting lane, with a simulated casualty treatment and extraction at the end. The physical exertion is an equalizer – students unfamiliar with applying the fundamentals under physical activity will find it much more difficult to hit the target than those with better fitness, better shooting ability, or both.
Physical ability and gear setup become important thinking points both during and after a weekend of Practical Carbine. What sounds good on paper – or looks good on Instagram – suddenly becomes much less sexy after some hard movement, forcing students to reevaluate their load and their physical training regimen.
Make Holes, Plug Holes
LMS Defense draws from a cadre pool of varying military, law enforcement, and first responder backgrounds. Depending on the assistant instructor (AI) that Josh has with him, different bonus instruction blocks are offered with each Practical Carbine class that aren’t necessarily shooting-focused; from a former 18D sharing hard-earned medical knowledge to a Recon Marine teaching how to move in and visually process your environment, these are valuable tools for the box no matter the application.
Most of the Practical Carbine courses that I’ve been to have allotted a few hours to a small block of basic trauma care instruction. Baseline topics included the MARCH-E algorithm, wound packing and proper tourniquet staging and application, with more sensitive subjects like improvised medical touched on for the more experienced groups. Both self and buddy aid were covered, and students were expected to be able to apply a tourniquet within seconds.
After the initial medical block was given, the instructors would “TQ check” us at random throughout the rest of the weekend, where a notionally-injured limb was specified during a course of fire. We had to treat it as a real-world wound as best we could – specifically, seek proper cover or concealment, apply a tourniquet to their “wounded” limb, and finish the drill without the use of that limb. This circles right back around to the shooting aspect of the course: 100-200 yard shots are easy money on the flat range, but with one arm down and shooting from the side of a small creek, you are forced out of your comfort zone in order to make your hits.
It’s a little hard to really convey just how much you can get out of this class. On the surface Practical Carbine seems like only a “fun” experience – the kind that shooters who are too poor to afford tuition or ammo will say is “not needed for an ordinary citizen,” or LARPing. While the environment and courses of fire may have an immediate benefit for a more specific set of professional applications, the concepts relayed and lessons-learned can be brought back to all walks of life – civilian, military or law enforcement. It has become one of my favorite course offerings from LMS Defense not only for its challenging and insightful curriculum, but also simply because it’s a damn good time and an opportunity to connect with like-minded shooters.