This kind of class is something that everyone should take part in, regardless of intended application. James, our instructor, reiterated that being able to shoot fast and accurately was a net positive for both competition and defensive purposes, and brought a performance-focused mindset to his shooting methodology.
Date: 26 JUNE 2020 Location: Richmond, CA Instructor: James Yeom, lead instructor at T3 – USPSA Master-class and former SWAT officer. Round Count: ~300 pistol Pre-Requisites: Pistol Principles 1, passed MIL/LE qual within last 12 months, certificate of training for PP1 equivalent, or USPSA C Class/IDPA SS or higher classification
Objectives: Most of my handgun coursework in the past couple years has been repeat Pistol 1/Fundamentals (LMS Defense Pistol 1) or accuracy-focused (Presscheck No-Fail Pistol). For Pistol Principles 2, I wanted to focus on pushing my speed both in terms of manipulations (draw, driving the gun) and shooting (faster splits with acceptable hits) – this objective was definitely met throughout the course.
Class Details: 12 students, most shooting striker-fired handguns with a couple 1911s thrown in. Most were graduates of T3 Pros PP1 or equivalent shooting courses. Targets consisted of USPSA Metric targets, with B8 repair centers, 1-inch circles, and 6-inch circles used for certain drills. 8-inch steel targets were utilized for movement portions. Shooting took place from as close as 3 yards to as far as 25 yards.
Summary: I was invited to this class by a friend of mine who wanted to get some training in after taking some time off from shooting. Having been cold myself for a couple of months, I was a little hesitant to show up – especially since the course description seemed a little daunting in terms of pre-reqs and recommended skill level for students – but I decided to take the class to break the rust and see where I stood with my current level of handgun maintenance. PP2 was definitely challenging in all the right ways, with our instructor James providing easy-to-digest lecture and relevant courses of fire to validate what we had learned.
TD1: As every firearms class should, we started off with the safety brief/medical & evac plan then hopped into student and shooter introductions, with James providing a handy cheat sheet for us to answer. I really appreciated the fact that he took notes on all of our responses, and further continued those notes throughout the day by recording the students’ times and scores.
The live-fire portion began with a simple walk-back course of fire, with students shooting three rounds each from 5, 10, 15, 20, and 25 yards at the upper A-zone with no time limit. If a student missed all shots outside of the scoring zone at any yard line, they were asked to step off and this was recorded as a baseline for student ability.
The next course of fire was similar, but in reverse: from the 25 back to the 5, students were to fire two rounds from each distance with the goal being A-zone hits. James assessed the hits at each distance, and let our impacts tell us what we needed to do: namely, both hits stacked too close together meant that our marksmanship fundamentals were good and we should be pushing our speed instead. I learned that I could get away with being fast at farther distances than I originally thought.
After this initial assessment we hit the ground running, mostly working from 15 yards and in, on different paper targets meant to isolate specific shooting mechanics. These included target transitions, quicker follow up shots, acceptable sight picture at varying distances, etc. After letting students get used to the concepts via live fire warmups, James had us run a variety of drills to test those concepts.
Throughout each string of fire, James would spend time with each student in order to provide personal guidance and remind us of some of the key concepts learned during class – namely, to push ourselves out of our comfort zone and to break our preconceived notion of what “good hits” were in the name of balancing speed and accuracy. As a final validation before lunch, we all shot the Advanced Super Test for score. This course of fire required proper application of the mechanics we had worked on in the morning in order to get a passing score.
The last part of the day dealt with a small classroom block on the proper techniques for shooting on the move, followed by live fire while advancing on, and while moving laterally, to the targets. The final course of fire was a single-elimination competition involving lateral movement and multiple-target engagement on steel targets.
After that, we brassed the range, broke down targets, and got together for a short AAR and James handed out certs, along with a “goodest shooter award” that came with a stocked IFAK as a prize.
Key Takeaways: My biggest takeaway from this class was “throttle control” and its proper application dependent on the distance to – and difficulty of – the target. Getting too sucked into “tactical” marksmanship has led to some less-than-stellar times at matches, and a lot of the tips and tricks that James passed on has definitely led to a lightbulb moment for me.
Equipment wise, the Glock 34/RMR combo continues to allow me to be an absolute asshole about dry practice (aka, not do it). This is not an endorsement of skipping out on your dry fire, but more of a testament to how the equipment you choose can definitely be a factor in your shooting performance. I was able to pull off a 280/300 on the Advanced Super Test and win the final competition, both without having touched a handgun in months – I attribute this to both the shootability of the G34 and the ease of use of the RMR.
Closing Thoughts: I got a ton of Frank Proctor-style vibes from T3 Pro’s coursework/James’ teaching style, and it was a great change of pace from the pistol instruction I’ve had recently. This kind of class is something that everyone should take part in, regardless of intended application. James reiterated that being able to shoot fast and accurately was a net positive for both competition and defensive purposes, and brought a performance-focused mindset to his shooting methodology. While I’m still a fan of taking a shitload of Pistol 1s and refining through practice, competition and more accuracy-based coursework, I’ve been sorely lacking in the “let it do” side of the house and it was cool to see what I could pull off in that sweet gray zone between no-fail accuracy and letting the wheels fall off.
The tuition spent was well worth it, and I have since taken PP1 multiple times in the past year – James is a great instructor and you can expect an AAR for that course as well.
“Soon” is the keyword: The “sooner” I see my target, the “sooner” my dot gets where I want the hits to be, the “sooner” I shoot, the “sooner” I get to the next position, the “sooner” I finish up this stage. One leads to another, and paired with an acceptance to push the envelope just a tick each time, all of a sudden I develop a weird sense of calm…and a weird sense of comfortably aggressive flow.
As a disclaimer, this blog post only serves to highlight noted observations I have as a novice level USPSA shooter. You, the reader, may be at a different skill level or different stage of your shooting journey. Thus, the lessons learned I will present should be taken with a grain of salt.
When I started shooting, my only exposure to competency was found through level 1 and 2 classes of instructors I found off of Instagram, and the local community I’ve had the pleasure of meeting through these instructors. One thing led to another and I found myself getting mixed up in an intro to competitive shooting class taught by Sean Burrows, a 3-gun shooter. After this class, I was able to get a feel for competitions in the outlaw matches hosted at a local range; however, I suffered a period of burnout where shooting was simply not as enjoyable as I once found it to be.
After some much needed self-assessment, I decided to bite the bullet and give USPSA (United States Practical Shooting Association) a try. My so-far 9 month journey has led me from being classified as a D-Class to a C-Class shooter. This progression is not necessarily amazing – maybe even slow, for some – but that is where I currently am. During that time frame, however, I have found a much better understanding of shooting competency and marksmanship I only dreamed of previously.
The decision to learn more about match mentality was mainly because these “self-fulfilling prophecies” have hampered my performance at some of the local club matches I have shot; not only can they potentially set back skill advancement, but may also accelerate burnout. Other local shooters, also new to competition, have expressed that they encountered these same roadblocks, so I feel there is cause for concern for these as things that would turn someone away from the sport or prevent them from trying altogether.
What is Match Mentality
The term “match mentality” is something I encountered browsing through Ben Stoeger’s collection of practical shooting books. Ben, a world-renowned IPSC shooter, explains match mentality through an analogy where he equates the mental game to a computer’s operating system (OS):
The mental game is the OS through which we apply everything we know and do in practical shooting. Everything is tied into and runs through this mental matrix, including our technical skills and abilities, our learning style and practice methodologies, our memories, our emotions, our decisions, our motor skills, and our judgments. You can’t stop it and you can’t “solve” it. Everything in life affects it. But you can manage it, and you can use it to your benefit.
For those that may have come from a sports background, this OS mentality concept may seem familiar. Practical shooting is a sport and the shooters that participate are varying levels of athlete depending on their investment in the sport. In the USPSA-specific sense, facets of match mentality include the mental aspects that Ben described above, and other factors like equipment and weather.
I will focus primarily on the emotional and judgment aspects of my mentality that I have experienced, and how they manifested themselves in a match. While I have not been in this game long enough, some of the sentiments I have stem from these aspects and have been observed to be reflected among some other newer shooters I have shot with.
I define these “prophecies” as thoughts, feelings, or comments that I’ve heard or said myself at one point in my USPSA journey, and have had a subtle influence on my overall performance as a shooter. This is not an encompassing list, but rather highlights of ones that stuck out the most or others have said as well. I will divide them into three categories: pre-stage (coming to a new stage/walkthrough/before a run), mid-stage (during the run), and post-stage (after the run/walking to the next stage).
“Wow, I hope I don’t get DQ’d (get disqualified) on this stage”
“Oh man, I hope I suck less on this stage”
“I’m just here to help tape targets and run the tablet”
“Gotta go fast because others are fast” or “Gotta go slow and get my hits”
“*slide locks back* Oh shit, I forgot to reload earlier”
“Messed up the plan, got nothing to lose now”
“Well, that went worse than I thought it would”
“I totally bombed that partial/no shoot, damn I suck”
“Oh man, I hope I suck less on the next stage”
Over time, I identified some of these prophecies and how they connect to an underlying problem in regards to my confidence and my attitude in shooting a match. They bring unnecessary baggage to a stage and occupy precious mental bandwidth when it’s time to perform. The following cues have helped reduce the white noise and keep my head in the game:
Experience breeds confidence. New experiences take time to learn and understand. The more you shoot matches, the more you understand what your capability as a shooter is. That does not mean signing up and shooting literally every match on Practiscore, but participating in matches along with supplemental dryfire/live fire can help develop a deeper understanding of what you can/cannot do and what to work on. This feeds into a cycle that would help cultivate a healthy learning mindset and better deal with adversity.
Each stage is a fresh start. Not one stage in a match is ever the same. To me, this helps address the issue of carrying baggage into a stage. Let us say that a match is a whole pizza. Yes, each stage is a piece of the whole pie; subsequently, your match standing does depend on your performance on a cumulative score of all stages. However, it is extremely difficult to eat the whole pizza pie in one go. Rather, taking it piece by piece is the more logical and viable route. In comparison, treating each stage separately can help keep your focus in the present, not the past or future.
“It’s not the plane. It’s the pilot.” This is a quote that comes up regularly when you watch Top Gun: Maverick or see the promos for it. However, it is true to a certain degree. When I started out, I was worried about everyone else’s performances, no matter their skill level. I placed an exacerbated amount of pressure to prove myself because someone was a certain class and/or ran certain equipment. No matter the equipment, the class, the stage plan – it is all up to the shooter to make their hits.
This seems like an oxymoron, but this phrase was something that came up when I was talking to Matt Chua, a local Carry Optics Grandmaster (GM), after I registered for my first Level II major match (which is in late September, write up to follow). I was throwing out some self-deprecating jokes and said something along the lines of “as long as I’m in the top 50%, I’ll be happy.” However, Matt brought it back to the ground quickly, stating that my goal should be “…to perform the best you can get, with hits as accurately as you can make them while being comfortably aggressive.”
At first I didn’t understand what he meant, and that last part sounded especially weird. Then the realization hit me when I was reviewing some of my match footage: because of a bad experience of “outrunning my headlights” in an Outlaw match, I was afraid of pushing the pace. Mentally, I had been equating a faster pace to crashing and burning. If I didn’t get a hit or miss a reload, I froze up; I found myself walking to positions to hit things on the move to minimize red dot movement. I was overthinking way too much because I was afraid of messing up and not getting my hits.
My interpretation, which reflects my current mindset, is that I want to hit these targets as soon as I can see them. “Soon” is the keyword: The “sooner” I see my target, the “sooner” my dot gets where I want the hits to be, the “sooner” I shoot, the “sooner” I get to the next position, the “sooner” I finish up this stage. One leads to another, and paired with an acceptance to push the envelope just a tick each time, all of a sudden I develop a weird sense of calm…and a weird sense of comfortably aggressive flow.
Load and make ready!
Hopefully, I have provided some value to anyone that is looking into the practical shooting scene or to those such as myself that may decide they want to invest a bit more into the sport. It must be reiterated that your mileage may vary. Match mentality weighs an individual’s qualities heavily, so it is up to yourself as a shooter to know yourself and your equipment. You will probably be at a higher skill level, utilize different equipment, or some combination in the future that will force your match mentality to grow with you. Welcome the growing pains, don’t try to fight them.
Of course there is a lot more that goes into the practical shooting sport aside from mindset. I hope to share more of my journey with you all and am eager to hear more about everyone’s experiences in this pretty fun sport. See you all out on the range.
Here is a short list of podcasts, books, and other resources that have helped me in my USPSA journey so far. It’s not a complete list, but it’s a start:
I imagine where I’d be today if in 2016 I would’ve just bought a fucking G19. It’s cool to have fun and cool guns. I love my 1911, my Makarov, and even my S&W Model 64 revolver. Just try not to get caught up in your own meme. At the end of the day, irrefutably, fun things are fun.
Seems like it was a really long time ago.
I was sworn in as a Reserve Officer in a very small town in the PNW on July 8th. This was the day after an active shooter in Dallas, Texas shot fourteen Dallas PD officers, killing five, before being BTFO’d by a resourceful Dallas PD Bomb Tech and half an M112 brick. This doesn’t have much to do with the rest of the article, but I feel that it is an important detail in how I perceived the very start of my career.
Jumping back a bit, I had been working at a local FFL/indoor gun range for a couple years, with a friend, Doc, who was already a reserve officer at this same agency. I was in school for a Criminal Justice degree (lol) and the FFL job left me decent amount of time to study, but also work in a field I had already long considered a hobby since I had been a teenager.
This led to me being exposed to just about every type of commercially available firearm out there. Prior to being employed there, the only handguns in my possession were a Rock Island Armory 1911 and a Bulgarian Makarov. Both of these were gifts, as I was only about 20 years old. A week or two before landing the FFL gig, Doc sold me a S&W M&P9 privately for a really good deal. I asked him why he was getting rid of it and he told me he had just bought a Glock 17.
I started carrying the M&P at work, and shot it whenever I got the chance. I liked that Doc had already installed an Apex flat-faced trigger, as I was already a big 1911 fan. I was never very confident in my M&P as time went on, and I felt like I had a higher-than-acceptable rate of light primer strikes. This ended up unfairly coloring how I viewed striker guns for a longer-than-acceptable period of time. A single sample: a well used, modified M&P.
Not too long after, on my 21st birthday, I bought myself an Israeli police surplus Jericho 941F. I had just watched all of Cowboy Bebop for the first time, and I was ecstatic to have a blaster close to the one Spike carried.
As time went on, I carried and shot the M&P less and less. I also ended up buying a Springfield Milspec 1911 to replace my RIA, and sold off my M&P not too long after, as I viewed it as untrustworthy. My main rotation was my new 1911 and my Jericho. These I viewed as “good” and “based”, unlike the M&P which I thought was “lame” and “cringe”. Thus began my true fudd arc.
At some point, Doc introduced me to the Chief of his agency, who I’ll simply refer to as “Chief”. I was encouraged to apply, so I did. After a testing and interview process, not terribly long later I was offered the position of Reserve Police Officer. I would say I was “hired” but in most places, Reserve Officers are entirely volunteer.
Chief sat me down and told me how the start of the process would go, when I would attend a regional reserve academy, provided me with policy material, and so-on. Eventually the conversation turned to equipment. It was up to me to provide my own firearm. Chief saw I was a “gun guy”, and informed me the choice was mine as long as the gun was from a reputable manufacturer, and retention holsters were readily available for it…
Which was just enough rope for me to strangle myself with.
I knew that I liked the single-action trigger that the 1911 provided, and I didn’t mind the cock-and-lock carry method. I did not like the idea of having 8-round magazines in a duty gun. The choice was obvious.
Hi-Power, Hi-Class, Hi-Drag
Yeah, this isn’t a joke. In the year 2016 of our Lord, my first service pistol was a fucking Browning Hi-Power. I had clearly taken the 90’s FBI HRT and SAS videos to heart. I even asked Larry Vickers in a livestream he did if it was a good idea and he said “It doesn’t do anything a Glock can’t do.”
Weird. Let’s go over the BHP a bit.
Pretty simply, you can think of the BHP essentially as an “improved” 1911 design. It’s a single-action-only setup with a frame mounted safety, just like any 1911. The BHP does not use a 1911 trigger, however, and this is an important distinction. Rather than the flat-moving trigger iconic to the 1911 with a roughly 5lb. pull, it has a more traditional hinge-type trigger, with about an 8lb. pull. The trigger has a gritty feel to it due to the presence of a magazine safety. The BHP also has a much more modern and painless takedown process, doing away with the fiddling about with bushings and barrel links. The slide and barrel fitment feels smooth and glassy.
The standard magazine capacity is 13 rounds, but Mec-Gar makes 15-round magazines for it that don’t really drop free, since they omit the springy bit on the genuine magazines which throws them out so hard its like they never wanted to be there in the first place – then again, maybe they didn’t. A full-size steel gun with 13-round mags is basically like polishing the brass on the Titanic. Looks real nice, but how much use is it?
Issues arose immediately that I willfully ignored. Right out the gate, this gun cost me $1100. Yeah. That was before adding Trijicon HD tritium sights since there’s no way to mount a weapon light. At this time, for some reason, I was super fucked-up about the concept of a weapon light and using said light in a manner that may be unsafe due to it being attached to a firearm. Naturally, since I was so smart and all, instead of actually seeking out knowledge and training, I made the decision to deprive myself of the option altogether.
The Mec-Gar 15-round magazines had a tendency to not lock the slide open on the last round, so much so that the Range Officer at my initial quals asked me if my gun “was okay”.
The MkIII version of the Hi-Power has a painted-on black finish on the slide and frame, and a stainless steel barrel. On one of my first nights on patrol, I remember looking for a fleeing suspect in a heavy rain. I had forgotten my Gore-Tex at home (rookie mistake) and was thoroughly soaked. When I got home, I stripped my gear and didn’t think much of it. The next morning, my BHP’s barrel was absolutely dusted in rust. To this day I can point out imperfections from this one lax maintenance moment.
Browning Hi-Power Mk III
PROS 1. It’s a 9-mil 2. Reliable 3. Very well manufactured
CONS 1. Weight 2. Capacity 3. Magazine Disconnect safety (also affects trigger) 4. No way to mount accessories such as WML 5. Stainless is not a good option for certain climates
I moved on from the BHP maybe six months later. I saw the value in being able to mount a light, and realized the trigger was not good enough to excuse any of its other shortcomings. Let’s see what’s behind Door #2.
Guns Of The Patriots
You ever play Metal Gear Solid 4?
I fully regressed and went back to the 1911, but realized I needed one with modern features and the Springfield MC Operator fit that bill for me. The Operator ships with Trijicon HD sights, and distinctly was the first 1911 design I came across that featured a railed dust cover back in the day: Now THIS was a gun. I also got myself a Surefire X300 and a grip of Wilson Combat 87D magazines for it. I remember I had a triple mag pouch on my duty belt and a double mag pouch on my vest, for a total of six magazines with the one riding in the gun. This totals to a whopping 49 total rounds carried. But hey, the 230-grain Winchester Ranger T .45ACP expanded to 1″ in ballistic gel! What choice did I have, really? I don’t wanna mention how many guns I traded in just to afford this one.
At this point, I was the only person in my academy class not carrying a Glock or M&P; I also ended up winning the Top Shooter award for that year, which further cemented me in this ego buy. I did shoot this gun very well, but so does anyone who shoots a 1911. What this gun did is hide my lack in practical shooting skill by way of throwing money at the problem. I carried this for most of my remaining time at that agency. Guys from other agencies would see me on calls, and I can remember them pointing out and saying stuff like “Dude, he’s carrying a 1911” and that made me feel like a cool guy. Sheeeeeesh.
Springfield is my go-to for anything 1911, as I’m not in the realm of buying “custom-shop” pistols. The Operators have hand-fit slides to barrels and frames, which is a good value add considering these guns hover around the $1000 mark. The triggers are as good as you’d expect, and the guns are very accurate. I had some initial reliability hiccups in the first 200 or so rounds, but after that it was mostly smooth sailing, even with a regular diet of Federal or Winchester JHPs.
I never fired this gun “in harms way”, but it instilled a confidence in me. It was nice at the time, but moving on I realized that’s not how the weapon/wielder relationship is supposed to work.
This gun also made me VERY familiar with its inner workings, as maintenance with any regularly-run duty or competition 1911 is a constant. This doesn’t just mean keeping it clean and lubed, this means checking and replacing several different springs, extractors, etc. I simply cannot recommend a 1911 as a patrol officer/deputy’s sidearm due to this reason alone.
The much more egregious reason is the limited capacity. 8 rounds is not enough, and it cannot be argued against in good faith. I’ve heard the 1911 described as a “Two bad-guy gun in a three bad-guy world.”
Running a 1911 will get you pretty good at mandatory reloads, though.
Springfield MC Operator 1911
1911 Trigger/”Buying Accuracy”
High-demand maintenance cycle
I’d be remiss if I didn’t say this is still one of my favorite guns, and even moreso if I didn’t mention this is still in my off-duty rotation. It’s a very nice-shooting gun, and the slim profile means I can carry it IWB very comfortably. Still, I eventually realized I needed to make a change. Carrying five spare mags and field stripping my gun after every shift got super fucking old. I’m not gonna get into another decades-old internet argument but .45 ACP and 9×19 are about as good as getting dudes to buy the 6×3 farm as any other service pistol caliber (Yeah, even .40 S&W) so it makes sense to run the one that holds more ammo and shoots softer.
Third gun just might be the charm.
James Reeves Moment
I remember the day I got this gun in my hands. I felt like I had committed some great sin. This was one of the “FS” models that came with metal iron sights and slide serrations on the front end of the slide. I distinctly remember shooting this gun low-left for a good bit, and I could not figure out why. I had been carrying a gun for a few years at this point, and I was shooting low and left with a Glock 19 at fifteen yards.
What was my excuse? I didn’t have one. I let my 1911 carry me through my bad habits with its super short traveling trigger. The G19 made me take a step back and really re-assess where I thought I was in development of my handgun skills. No gimmicks, no steel frames, no slick trigger to carry me.
I started forcing myself to carry this off-duty before it became my duty gun, but it was easily scalable for both uses. I sorted mine with a set of Haley Strategic TH1RTE3N sights, a MagPul magwell, and the X300 I bought with my Operator.
Managing this gun was a breeze. 15 rounds of 9×19 in a standard capacity mag, with 19-round mags in reserve was a game-changer compared to what I had been doing. In three magazines I carried 54 rounds, more than I carried in twice as many 1911 magazines. 147gr. JHP was very pleasantly recoiling and easy to manage, and ball ammo was cheaper to buy to make sure I could keep practicing. This was essential to my growth with this gun. I ended up taking refresher private instruction, and re-committing to range time. The Glock, practically, is no less accurate than your 1911, it just doesn’t let you cheat.
All of these benefits over my past guns and you’d think there’d be a trade-off; some kind of “equalizer” that brought the sum of its parts in line with the other guns. This simply isn’t the case. This gun can do all of this, all while running for literally thousands of rounds without a cleaning or re-application of lubricant. As Todoki Hawado likes to put it, “It just works, desu ne.” Even when it does need a cleaning or a parts swap, it’s unlikely it will be more than a five minute affair. This is what you should expect out of any gun you select for a duty role.
Oh yeah, and this gun cost me $550.
It is literally insane to me to think that instead of buying a Glock 19 in 2016, I went through about $2500 in suboptimal guns due to my ego and willful ignorance rather than just give the “boring, soulless” Glock a fair shake. I let a bad experience with one gun color my view for years. I shittalked Glock dudes for ages from behind the FFL counter. Would you believe I even shoot Glocks for fun now? Holy shit.
What else is there to be said? As of now, Glocks (particularly in 9×19) still absolutely dominate the handgun market in the civilian and LE spheres. I can’t think of any other family of pistols that has even half of the aftermarket support, and economy of scale benefits as the 9mm Glock does. You will never go to a gun store and not see Glock magazines, holsters, and other gear. There are entire companies who purely make their living by selling aftermarket Glock mods.
PROS 1. Capacity (15 rounds being the lowest) 2. Weight 3. Absolute reliability 4. Market share / components and accessory availability 5. User-level customization 6. Value
CONS 1. MuH gRiP aNgLe shut the fuck up
Touch Grass, Go Shoot
This was a bit of a mess, as it’s literally the first time I’ve ever written anything with the intention of it to actually be read by others. The root point of this article is to dump your ego and emotional attachment when it comes to running your guns. I’m not saying you HAVE to run a 9-mil Glock for duty/defense, but if you haven’t at least taken a hard look at it, you are only limiting yourself. There are great duty gun options from other companies like H&K, Sig-Sauer, and Smith & Wesson. I guess you could even carry a CZ or a Walther, but I’d keep that to yourself.
I found myself caught up in the over-analyzing of everything from behind the counter without much in the way of actual experience. I find many internet folk tend to have a similar issue depending on their tenure as a shooter. I imagine where I’d be today if in 2016 I would’ve just bought a fucking G19.
It’s cool to have fun and cool guns. I love my 1911, my Makarov, and even my S&W Model 64 revolver. Just try not to get caught up in your own meme. At the end of the day, irrefutably, fun things are fun.
It’s worth mentioning that a few years ago when I got hired on at a new agency as a full-time LEO, I was issued a stock G17 Gen 4 with TLR-1, and this simple setup has been my main workhorse ever since. My off-duty Glock is a G45 with slidework from Jagerwerks to mount a Trijicon RMR. In the future, I hope to be able to implement pistol optics for my guys at an agency level, but that’s a topic for another day.
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.
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.