D-Boys And Their Toys

So what’s the big deal? A 14.5″ with a red dot and a light? I have three of those in my safe right now, and a 13.7″, and a Recce Rifle with the latest peepeepoopoo LPVO. This rifle doesn’t even have an ambi controls or a BAD Lever!

PART ONE – A historical primer on the “CAR-15

Hey gang.

Today, I want to talk to you guys about a particular military M16 variant with an understated, yet pivotal role in the development of the modern infantry carbine as we know it today, over 30 years later. Hitting the scene in the late 1980’s was the Colt Model 723, otherwise known simply as the CAR-15 by the men who wielded them.

The Colt Model 723 is known today by several names. Commando, 723, SCUD Hunter, Delta Carbine, the list goes on. For consistency in today’s conversation, and attention to various idiosyncrasies, I will be referring to the 723 and related rifles as the “CAR-15”. I’ll probably use “rifle” and “carbine” interchangeably because the distinction is pedantic at best, fuck you.

I’ll do my best to keep this informative and concise but please bear with me, as I am not Mr. McCollum, nor anywhere near his caliber in matters such as these.

If you’re around my age or older, and you are reading this article, you’ve probably seen the films Black Hawk Down and Blood Diamond, or played Half Life, all of which introduced me to this particular family of carbines back in the day. This carbine can be mostly boiled down to three major features:

  • Fixed carry handle
  • Aimpoint optic
  • Weapon light

So what’s the big deal? A 14.5″ with a red dot and a light? I have three of those in my safe right now, and a 13.7″, and a Recce Rifle with the latest peepeepoopoo LPVO. This rifle doesn’t even have an ambi controls or a BAD Lever!

Yeah, I get it, just bear with me. The end result is incredibly similar to what we’d now consider a bog-standard M4, but that’s kinda the point.

Modelo Time

In the 1980’s, the most modern service rifle issued to the fighting men of the US military was the Colt and/or FN M16A2 rifle. This rifle featured a 20″ barrel, fixed carry handle rear with updated rear sight, featured semi and burst fire modes, and weighed a little over 8 lbs. The only accessory of note would be the basic two-point sling issued with the rifle.

In 1988, a 25-year old Larry Vickers checked in to the Operator Training Course, one of the newest members of 1st SFOD-D, or “Delta Force”. Vickers was issued a brand new Colt rifle, fresh in the cardboard box , with a cardboard dowel still in the barrel. It, too, had “M16A2″ rollmarked on the lower receiver, but it was… different. This model had a 14.5” barrel with an M203 cut, a two-position collapsing stock, and the old-style M16A1 carry handle. It also featured a safe-semi-auto selector, instead of the A2’s derided burst fire mode. The Colt catalogue referred to this configuration as the “Model 723”; the D-Boys called it “CAR-15”.

This compact M16 sibling was able to bring the majority of the M16’s firepower and accuracy into a smaller footprint, while still maintaining its reliability, something earlier M16-based carbines were not well-known for. The majority of US SOF at the time were using the H&K MP5 submachine gun for CQB/assaulter duties. While the MP5 has been a highly-effective and respected weapon since it was introduced, it is chambered in the 9×19 Parabellum handgun cartridge. This inherently limits its effective range and lethality in a modern conflict zone, where most of the bad guys are likely rolling with AKM variants, H&K G3s, FN FALs, and so on. The CAR-15 bridged the gap between the “musket” and the 9-mil subgun, and Delta was quick to embrace it.

As far as I am aware, the earliest high-profile use of the CAR-15 by Delta Operators was in 1989 during Operation Acid Gambit, in Panama. This mission resulted in the rescue of American intelligence asset Kurt Muse from the Cárcel Modelo prison in Panama City. Shortly after this, in the Desert Shield/Storm days, Delta would find themselves hunting Iraqi SCUD missiles behind enemy lines while carrying these same carbines.

Oddly enough, however the most iconic portrayal of this rifle doesn’t come from the Gulf War, Iraq, WMD hunting or counter-terrorist action.

The Five-Yard Line

On October 3rd, 1993, a humanitarian mission in Somalia punctuated with low-intensity conflict between Coalition forces and local militia members erupted into what is now known as “The Battle Of Mogadishu” to westerners, and “The Day Of The Rangers” to others. As part of the still-ongoing Somali Civil War, this battle featured the most intense close-quarters fighting seen by US Forces since the Vietnam War. The main US troops involved in the fight were the men of the 75th Ranger Regiment, 1st SFOD-D, and the 160th SOAR.

A one-hour snatch and grab turned into an extremely bloody day-long gunfight in the streets of Mogadishu. By the end of the day, 100 Americans had been wounded, 16 were killed in action, and one was taken as a prisoner. The violent firefight and heroic deeds of of the Rangers, Delta, and UN personnel were later documented in the novel Black Hawk Down by journalist Mark Bowden, which was famously adapted into a film of the same name in 2001 by director Ridley Scott.

Reality vs Film

The CAR-15 in actual Delta service at this time was less of a set-in-stone spec, and more of a proof of concept that grew over time. Minor differences have been seen from one issued CAR-15 to another. A good example is the fact that many of them came with standard Government-Profile barrels (with M203 cut) and some came with “pencil” profile barrels. Either of these configurations could be considered to be the same catalogue item, the Model 723. The 723 was considered an “M16A2 Carbine”, but it featured a transitional upper receiver setup between the A1 and A2 we now colloquially refer to as the “C7” upper, first made by Diemaco/Colt Canada. It’s basically an A1 upper with a brass deflector and forward assist.

The optics at the time would usually be either the Aimpoint models 2000 and 3000 which were, at the time, mainly considered “sporting” optics with 1″ tubes and 4 MOA dots. You’ll see a few different weapon light setups from the time. Of most note would be the conversion of the Underwater Kinetics model QXL Scuba Flashlight. These would be modified in-house by Delta armorers and commo dudes to be painted black, covered in black inner tubing, set up with remote switches and affixed to the plastic handguard by hose clamps.

On the other hand, the film armorers used components that were easier to acquire at the time to assemble several screen-ready rifles, but still captured the idea of the CAR-15 authentically. There are, however, a few major differences of note. The film rifles feature A2 uppers, as opposed to the period-correct C7; technically, they would be considered the Colt Model 727. Attached to the upper’s were carry handle Weaver mounts (I’m not sure the make) with Aimpoint Comp M2s. These rifles also featured barrel clamp-mounted Surefire 6P or 660 flashlights, which was the preferred white light after the time of the Modelo-style QXL Scuba Flashlight.

You may have also noticed that the rifles seen on-camera were slightly tweaked and re-used for the film Blood Diamond starring Leonardo DiCaprio. A byproduct of both films sharing the same prop/armorer company, Bapty & Co, these rifles were wielded by the mercenaries seen in film, and for a brief scene at the films climax by Danny Archer. Does it ultimately make that much sense that a bunch of South African mercs in 1999 are rolling the same primary as literally Delta Force? Probably not, but it illustrates that they are well equipped and trained, and for characterization of the group, it fits well enough. It’s still a cool rifle, and it’s got a different paint scheme this time. It kinda makes me wish we got a rifle like this in Far Cry 2 instead of the fucked up not-quite-an-AR we did get.

Cyclical, Like The Terminator

On the initial glance, and even after some use, your impression of this rifle is probably going to be something like “it’s dated”, and “the red dot is really high up there” and you’d be right. However, consider the concepts that drive this build.

The M4 SOPMOD program in the 90’s and 2000’s was a direct evolution of this rifle due to its versatility and overall performance, but with a recognized need for more extensive accessory solutions. The most basic SOPMOD Block I rifles had flat top uppers with Aimpoints mounted lower to the gun to allow co-witnessing iron sights. They also featured the KAC RAS quad-railed handguard for easy accessory management for lights, lasers, and foregrips. The Block II rifles refined this package somewhat with updated optics, improved quad-rail, and other accessories, but the concept was still the same.

This M4 bears typical SOPMOD Block I accessories. Of note is the Aimpoint Comp M2.

Fast forward to now. Micro red dots on 1.93″ mounts with MLOK handguards are among the most popular setups in CQB-oriented rifles. The high mounted red dot allows for a more “heads-up” shooting stance, improving situational awareness and comfort. The slick MLOK handguards replacing quad-rails cut unneeded weight on the front end.

Wait… tall red dot, slick front ends? Haven’t we done this before?

Really makes you think. Turns out we had it mostly figured out 30 years ago. Not to say improvements haven’t been made in the past few decades (this setup would not be quite so nice under NODs as modern solutions) but it is extremely interesting to see these old setups be completely justifiable in the modern age, after going through so many iterations. If I was told right now I had to give up my currently issued patrol rifle, I would not feel any worse off with my CAR-15. It is extremely rare for a “historic” design to also qualify as a practical one.

If you aren’t used to this “heads up” style, it’s gonna feel a little alien learning it on the CAR-15. The FiberLite style stock is very thin, so your cheek/chin weld is gonna have less engagement than say, an LMT SOPMOD stock. Rep it through a bit, and you’ll be back to blastin’ in no time. While you’re rolling this build, I think you’re gonna be surprised at the lightweight nature of this gun. Turns out the AR can be really fuckin’ light, we just need to stop throwing so much shit on them. Or do more pushups, whatever.

To be clear, I’m not advocating that you drop whatever your current primary is and commit to the bit of the CAR-15. I simply suggest that you might be surprised how much a “dated” build like this can hold its own in the current year. At the end of the day, fun things are fun. LARP your heart out.

My CAR-15. Build guide coming very soon.

There are many reasons I decided to do this build, and eventually this article. It’s a cool rifle. It’s an effective and simple rifle. It’s a peek into “how dad did it”. With all that being said, it’s important to remember the men responsible for getting this wheel rolling to begin with.

In the words of Larry Vickers:

SOF in general has been a catalyst for improving and reinventing things that were set in stone. SOF legend Major Richard Meadows, the man I consider to be the first Delta Operator, was involved with not only MACV SOG but was a team leader on the Son Tay Prison Raid, arguably one of the most influential SOF missions in history. Delta Force grew from that kind of outside-the-box thinking.

It was the Son Tay Raiders who first fielded a red dot sighted weapon system, and it was Delta who picked up the ball with Aimpoint sighted CAR-15s. Every Soldier, Sailor, Marine and Citizen who uses a tricked out M4 style carbine today owes a debt of gratitude to individuals like Major Meadows, the Son Tay raiders and the Operators of the Delta Force for pushing the limits of the AR style carbine into one the most successful fighting weapons in the history of the US Military.

Larry Vickers, 2013

The CAR-15 is ultimately a product of its time, driven and further developed by the men who wielded it, and the world they operated in. This rifle exemplifies the “get shit done” attitude of the guys who have been there and done that and wanted to do it even better. The knowledge today we take for granted when we build out any AR was gained only through experience, and often paid in blood.

Gothic Serpent was just one footnote on the military history of the United States, and the lessons learned in Somalia, Panama, and earlier in Grenada, Iran, and Vietnam, defined the dawn and growth of what’s now considered standard in special forces operations, and the use of the fighting rifle in general across the globe.

Take a moment to reflect on that knowledge, and know that at the end of the day, the ingenuity and experiences of a few hundred real people is what brought us here. I feel that this rifle is a fitting tribute to those men.

Delta Operator escorting General Norman Schwarzkopf as part of his PSD Team.

This article grew into something far larger than I initially intended, but it’s gonna be a good thing when it’s all shaken out. You can look forward to my build guide coming soon in Part 2.

Thank you all very much for reading, stay safe, and listen to Calliope Mori’s new album Sinderella on Spotify.


Further Reading;
Larry Vickers – The SCUD Hunter Carbine
Larry’s Delta CAR-15
Forgotten Weapons Ft. Larry Vickers Delta Force Colt 723 Carbine

Make Your Hits!

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.

Welcome to the Ranch

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.

Josh briefs students on the upcoming weekend

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

Mark and Jon of WGW running a 2-man positional shooting exercise

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

Staging up for the night shoot

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.

Night time walk, 1/4 mile left to go

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.

In Conclusion…

Hanging out by the fire after class (DISCLAIMER: WGW does not condone purchasing or using “Chinese-quality dumbass weeb vaporware jackets because you saw it in a drawing once,” even if our friends might. We recommend outerwear from reputed brands like Arc’Teryx, Patagonia, Beyond, etc.)

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.

Practical Carbine class photo 2021NOV


LMS Defense’s upcoming classes can be found HERE

Weapons Grade Waifus’ shooting and training group can be found HERE

(Photos courtesy of Josh J., Rob C., Mark S., Jon B.)