Thursday, November 1, 2018

Pistol Sights and How I Choose Them.

I am sure my journey is a lot like other folks who want to find the best tools to fight
someone with. Possibly we are on a different leg of this journey but be sure, most
folks are on an entirely different trip. On this journey, people will talk ad-nauseam
about what firearm is “best” and they know because they own 35 different ones.
But that's not what I want to talk about today. I want to talk about the sights that go
on top of them, and specifically pistol sights.

From my time plinking, into my first rudimentary military firearms training, to my foray
into competition shooting, on to my study of violence and into my career as an
instructor, I found a lot of my time consumed with looking through sights. At those
different points in my life, I evaluated all the different sights that passed in front of my
eyes (see what I did there?). It was more obvious when I didn't like something than
when I did. But I kept notes. A few years ago I finally settled on what features are
important on sights and found what products had those features.

When I evaluate sights, there are a few things they must do and a few things it would
be nice if they did. The top priority for any sight is that it has to be reliable. Steel
construction without moving parts is all that will do. I’ve broken a fair amount of Bo-Mar
style sights. Enough to know that they don't belong on a fighting gun. I want front and
rear to fit in a dovetail. When I install them, I use Loctite and stake the dovetail to
prevent them from coming loose. The Glock style front or GI 1911 style front is a recipe
for being broken. Admittedly, these are a choice made by the gun manufacturer, not the
sight company, but that certainly influences what guns I buy.

If we go on the assumption that we are only going to compare reliable sights, there is a
feature that stands above the rest. A highly visible front sight in variable lighting conditions.
By “variable”, I mean a little dark, a lot dark, super dark and potentially pitch black. Oh yeah,
and then daylight too. Two features dictate this: size and color. For size, it needs to be big.
How big? Bigger. I haven't yet found a front too large, nor a rear with too wide of an opening
yet. I imagine that a front site can be made that obscures a person at a certain distance, but
the widest front sights I’ve seen are .191” wide and they don't cover a dude at 100 yards,
which is a shot that is a tall order for most gun guys with a pistol. I have made that shot, with
that sight, in front of students, on a gun without a rear sight at all. So for those that are
screaming at their screen that it has to be super thin in a narrow notch, I don't know what
else I need to ask my sights to do.

So if it’s big, it’s easier to see. Like the front you chose to set your screen to read this. Why
would this be important? When you need your sights on a bad guy, like right fucking now,
easier to find would be good. If we’re also watching that bad guy move, like they do, easier
to find would be good. If we are also moving (like we should be doing) and shits bouncing
everywhere, easier to find would be good. Big is the key to this in any lighting, but really
important in low lighting. I’ll get to that in the next paragraph.

Now let's talk color. Straight color with no energy source first. The human eye has rods and
cones. I know you learned it in 10th-grade health. The cones that are in the middle are great
at finding small stuff and focusing on it. They also see colors well. The rods around the
outside are what give us low-light vision. They don't focus like a cone and they are naturally

So what's that mean in the dark? They have a hard time focussing on small things (I told you
I’d get tot hat) And all those fancy colors we like are just a shade of grey. You know what the
brightest shade of grey is? White. Yep, the color of the dots that came on the gun. Who
knew that the gun companies would actually give us the highest visibility sight color when they put the cheap sights on at the factory. I can hear the gnashing of teeth now.
People are saying “Garry, at the well-lit range, those orange, green, blue, purple sights are easy to see.” Yeah, they are. But so is plain black. I don't know what the percentages are, but I can point it out with simple words. Black sights are very easy to see in daylight. White dots are a smidgen easier to see. Some bright colors are even easier than that, but only by a little. In the dark, black sights are quite hard to see, those fancy colors AKA grey sights are a fair amount easier. The whites are really easy to see. Orders of magnitude easier than the various greys. If we remember the various lighting conditions I mentioned, daylight ranks dead last. Just because that's all the average gun dude shoots in, doesn't mean that what a martial gun handler should focus on.

But what if we add an energy source? Something like tritium or photoluminescent dots. Tritium stores energy from the factory and slowly releases it, letting your sights glow 24/7. The only downside is that the tritium is usable in a very narrow set of circumstances. Often it is too bright to see the glow, or too dark to identify your target. But the downside? None. Photoluminescent is pretty neat. They store energy after you charge them. For some amount of time. There are a number of colors in the spectrum that can be made to glow after some outside source of light has been shined on them. They generally emit much more light than tritium does. The downside is that white is not currently one of those colors. So in darkness, prior to being exposed to a light source they are orange, green or yellow. Which is less than ideal as mentioned above.

I've talked to some leading scientists that study eyes. They tell me that there are colors that are easier to see in the dark than others. Some yellows and even some oranges that are closer to the yellow end of the spectrum are much closer to the visibility of white in human night vision. One of these colors in a photoluminescent might be a viable option. Fiber optic is another option that requires energy to work. The downside is that the energy is not stored at all. The energy source must be directed at it while being used. Generally, these require good lighting to make them more visible than the surrounding black sight. They shine awesomely in the daylight, but that's not what we’re looking for. Being a little bit better in ideal conditions is not an adequate trade-off for being the worst choice in common conditions. The last option for a sight that requires an energy source is a red dot. The energy is stored in a battery and is usually bright enough to be seen in all conditions. I haven't written an article about red dots on pistols yet, and this one isn't going to be it. But like anything that is battery powered, a mechanical backup is a priority and that backup should meet the above criteria.

Down my list after size and color, I look at the shape of the sight. I need the sights as I’m aiming to not be overly intricate. Lining up triangle inside of diamonds or any craziness in unwanted. Some way to grossly align the front to the rear and possibly a way to finely align them for precision shots. However, being able to hit a dude-sized target at 100 yards with no rear sight at all limits my belief in the importance of finely aligning sights. From a side profile, I like the rear sight to have a ledge that I can use to rack the slide with and not be so sharp I cut myself on them. If it doesn't, it’s ok. I own a file and can make a ledge and soften the edges.

Beyond that, the sight needs to be made for all the pistols on my approved list. Not really a concern since currently, only 4 guns have managed to get on that list. That's the entirety of my requirements. When I try a new set of sights, the first thing I do is a bunch of dryfire in random parts of my house at night. The basement, the hallway with the nightlight in it. The Living room with a streetlight seeping in around the curtain, the kitchen with the blinking clock on the coffeepot. That's the lighting I’m focused on. If they look ok there, I’ll install them on a UTM gun and use it for force on force. The lighting covers all possibilities, and the target and I are always moving. That's it. No live-fire required at all to test sights. I heard one of the best pistol shooters in the world talk about sights. He said every single shooter he had seen, and he has seen all of them, shoots better with new sights. Not because the new sights are good, but because they focus more on the front sight when it's different than they are used to. In essence, live-fire testing of new sights is more likely to give us false-positive results than actual useful results. So I skip it. I urge you to do something similar. When you want to try new sights, get those sight pictures in the dark. Try them in as many different levels of dark that you can and then get in a shoothouse and try them in some force on force.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Jump in the Pit, Force On Force Training.

When I was a kid, I used to poorly do tricks on my BMX bike. My friends and I would hang out like typical kids but we’d roam around on our bikes and try to impress each other with the newest tricks we’d been practicing. Like most young men, approval of our peers was important, even if we didn't realize it then. Many years later, after getting out of the Navy and now a newly minted father, I’m watching some kids do some amazing stuff in the X-games. Damn, these dudes were not just on a different level, like the kids in the magazines when I was young, they were from a whole different realm. In one of those cool featurettes, ESPN went behind the scenes with these guys and showed their practice regimens. While they were showing PA’s own Woodward BMX camp (or whatever they call it nowadays) there was a giant foam pit. These dudes were doing insane tricks and landing in the pit. They could push their boundaries with the repercussions for failure almost eradicated. They could perfect their craft in relative safety. At first, I was jaded and called them cheaters, but after setting my ego aside, I realized it was genius and these guys used their brains to be able to push their abilities to the next level.

The first time I heard about Simunitions was in high school, in one of Dick Marcinko's books. I never gave it more thought than it “seemed like fun.” But years later when I had the opportunity to put my hands on a similar product (federal FX) it was like that foam pit had been dropped into my training world. Here was my way to work on tactics, with the repercussions of failure being just a few welts and a hit to my ego. Sure, I spend lots of time on the square range working on skills, probably like most of the people reading this, but there is very little room for practicing tactics. We can utilize cover, concealment, and barricades, but if we use them poorly or incorrectly? There is nothing to penalize us for doing so. The possibility of ingraining poor tactical habits is high on the flat range. Shooting competitions like IDPA and USPSA actually reward poor use of cover, so those arenas actually cause regression in most competitors in that area. But here, with a non-lethal round fired from proper gear, there was a golden opportunity to work out tactics against live opponents who are also practicing proper tactics. Like anything that we learn, proper repetitions are the key to growth, and here in front of me was nearly endless repetitions with the penalty for failure not being dead, which was how a lot of warriors throughout history learned. But how many were robbed from us by an action that could have been practiced safely prior to facing an opponent intent on killing you?

I embraced this concept. And it has paid dividends. I have learned much more about my abilities and decision making from facing a live opponent than I ever did facing cardboard and steel. I’m not different than anybody reading this article. You and I both can line up sights and press a trigger without disturbing them pretty well, likely better than the vast majority of humans walking the earth. But if we don't get an opportunity to do those two things, it doesn't matter how well we can do them. That is why I tell my students, or anybody that will listen, “If you had to choose between live-fire and Force-On-Force (FoF), ALWAYS pick FoF!” It is that important.

There are a couple key components to having a quality Force-On-Force Experience. First, like any training, a competent Instructor is a must. You might already have found one that you prefer already that offers Force-On-Force classes, and that’s great. If not talk to your live fire Instructors about who they prefer. If they don't have one to recommend, they should get out more. If they recommend against FoF, you should find a new instructor to learn live fire from.

The next thing is quality, trained opponents. Often called “Role Players”, these folks need to be well versed in the lessons being taught. Their goal, like that of the instructor, is to have the student gain the most possible every time they gear up. It’s not a paintball game where both sides are trying to “win.” Winning is when the students learn the intended lesson. Don't get me wrong, the role players are also learning during these as well, they are just at a different point in their training and learning different lessons.

Finally, but still immensely important is equipment. The gear has to be solid and robust. It needs to handle being treated like a real gun. If it can't be dropped, or thrown away from a downed bad guy, its garbage. This is where airsoft fails miserably. Tokyo Marui plastic is not the same as Glock plastic. The pot metal coming from Asia is vastly inferior to steel and aluminum. I’ve broken Airsoft guns just by racking the slide as a pistol is intended. If it needs to be manipulated gingerly to prevent breakage, chuck it. That is something too easily transferred into your live-fire manipulations.

There needs to have some negative reinforcement for fucking up. If getting shot doesn't hurt, it’s not a good training tool. Paintball guns excel here, they have more kinetic energy than any of the simulated rounds on the market. However, not a single manipulation is remotely the same. None of the controls get close to mimicking the controls on the tools you will save your life with. They are not training tools.

There are two general types of quality Force-On-Force options. Simunitions and Federal FX rounds are grouped into the first category. These work out of Glock's factory G17T. The technology for these has been around for decades. They do everything that one needs for FoF training. I have used both, and they were acceptable. The design leaves something to be desired. The soft end of the projectile is easily disfigured during the chambering process, causing a jam that can only sometimes be cleared by the standard immediate action procedure for a pistol (Tap, rack/Unload, reload). The superior option is the new guy on the block, UTM (Ultimate Training Munitions). The modern design of these projectiles has a flexible plastic cage with the marking paint housed inside it. This makes feeding ten-fold more reliable. Another upside is that UTM slides are available for a number of different pistols, allowing students to use their own carry gear (holsters and mag pouches) without going and buying a duplicate set just to fit a schools sim guns. From a schools perspective, it is much easier to purchase UTM slides for civilian training than G17T’s from Glock. As in, Glock does not care if civilians ever receive FoF training and outright refuses to sell guns to schools that train civilians. I’m not alone in my preference for UTM over Sims/FX. The US Army has also transitioned to UTM and left Sims/FX. If the Federal Government can figure out that there is an improvement, it should be pretty obvious to the rest of us.

Just like the foam pit, this is your chance to fail in a safe environment. An opportunity to pressure test your Mindset, your skill, your gear and most importantly, your tactics. As often as your training schedule and budget allows, you should be looking for Force-On-Force training opportunities. Find a school with quality instructors, that use vetted, trained role players and have a stable of UTM gear (Sim/FX if need be) and sign up. I promise you, you will learn more about your abilities in one class than all of the live-fire training you’ve ever done.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The Search For Animal Chin

The Search for Animal Chin

The wizened old guru, Won Ton “Tactical Animal” Chin is out there. Isn't he? Part of my misspent youth was taken up by this film, one of many movies that nobody ever watched, that I really liked. The plot is these young souls looking for the source of all the wisdom in their chosen field.

As a firearms instructor, there’s a certain fantasy about our own Animal Chin being out there. As someone on this path, should I be searching for him? I’ve had many long talks with the world’s greatest firearms instructor and he is the one who told me that out there somewhere is a guy teaching the best stuff to his students. The heart of gunfighting without all the flair that we see in the current training community. I’m also guilty of adding flair, I post photos and write little blurbs like this one. But those aren't teaching. Time spent doing that is not time spent pressure testing curriculum to find any deficiencies. But somewhere, that instructor is out there doing that. He doesn't update his website, because he didn't make one. He isn't posting on instagram, because that's not important to him. There’s not a bookface page we can follow his exploits on because he is too busy passing along his wisdom to his students.

I don't know who he is, because he has never talked about himself. And his students have not told me about him. Maybe because they assume I know who he is, or maybe they don't want to share this gem they have found. But his students, whomever they are, find him with word of mouth. Someone told them and they searched him out. Animal Chin might not even realize that he is this wise guru, he might think he’s just a dude teaching dudes good skills. Which makes the search all the more difficult.

I know this, his range has a berm. It does not have fancy reactive targets, nothing is remote controlled, I doubt there is running water. He doesn’t give a silly certificate at the end, and there is no swag shop in the trunk of his 87 Honda Civic. Just staplers and a stack of targets. You get a handshake and a “good job” at the end of class. But the actual reward is tenfold more than you get from the biggest, most famous schools.

I brought this idea up at a recent class I was at with another awesome instructor who certainly is not as well known as he should be. He concurred that Chin might be out there. Filling his classes with students because they tell their friends how great he is, not because he advertises. He doesn't even know he is the Animal Chin. He’s just doing his thing. He doesn't tell his students the history of a technique, he might not even use the name of the technique as the industry does. Because he doesn't care what it's called or who or when it was invented, he just cares that his students understand how to do it and why they are doing it.

I was not convinced that Chin existed. And frankly, I’m still not. But two of the most talented instructors to ever teach think he does. Is that reason to set off in search of him? Should it turn into a cheesy movie with a bunch of cool shooting action? I’m going to say "probably" to the first question and "no thank you" to the second. Not that it wouldn't be a fun film, but if that teacher is out there, it’s not my place to put him in a limelight that he did not choose. But if any of you have any leads, please point me in the directions of the Tactical Animal Chin. I may have to get this quest started.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Range Crap

I see a bunch of useless range crap peddled all the time to unsuspecting gun dudes. Stuff that “helps” them at the the range. Then there’s the list of regular stuff that dudes
tote to the range with them. Lots of it either doesn’t work, or it doesn’t work as well as
something else. I’m amazed at how often I see a guy struggling with his support gear,
and I’ll assume he just is caught up in the “always done it this way” and not looked for
an alternative. So I made a list:

Range bags without dual back straps.
There's a fair amount of stuff that usually comes along to the range. So the bags tend
to get large. Then there's a single shoulder strap on this giant square duffelbag that likes
to slip off the shoulder because it was designed poorly. It’s also often a lot of weight that
would better be distributed over both shoulders, and would free up one hand, as one is
always busy keeping that shoulder strap from coming off.
Range bags designed to hold ammo and guns.
After the first entry, I’m already convinced that most range bags #1 purpose is to separate
a gun owner from their money. But they build a duffel bag that costs over a hundred dollars
and then assume the dude who bought it is going to bring his single pistol and 100 rounds
of ammo to shoot. If a guy is buying a 199 dollar duffelbag, he probably is bringing his 5
pistols and a thousand rounds of ammo to the range with him. And now he has a stupid pistol rug slot and a tiny spot for bullets built into his caddilac of range bags with no gear that fits in it. I’m not even going to mention the 5 loops for magazines, I have no idea where the other 20 are supposed to go.

Paper Targets
I’ll start off by saying I mean big paper targets. Anything larger than an 8 ½ X 11 or a B8
center. I used to buy IDPA silhouettes made of paper because they were much more
affordable than cardboard. But you know what I couldn't do with them? Staple them to
uprights. They would tear in the slightest breeze. So now I was buying cardboard targets
to use as backers...And then I realized I could just shoot the actual cardboard targets. Some
paper targets are larger than a silhouette, but the problem then becomes the parts outside
the cardboard backer blow all over the place and cannot be seen anyway.  And sometimes
it rains, mostly every time I'm at the range. The melting targets are always a good time, and
no known method will keep them attached when they are saturated.

There are companies that make a living from making precut pieces of tape at exorbitant
prices because people are too lazy to rip their own piece of tape from a roll. Or folks like to
spend money on stuff because its designated as shooting tape instead of the 88 cent roll
of masking tape they buy at wally world.

2X4 uprights
The big overbuilt concept is one I often admire. Sometimes, like this one, it's a hindrance.
While it does offer more resilience to getting shot (why are we shooting the edge of the
target again?), it has some down sides. It might need power tools to be replaced. It’s often
screwed into the base and the 8 foot replacement piece needs a saw to get cut down into
a usable length. Now the aforementioned range bag needs a battery powered saw and
screwgun.  1 X 2 firring strips cost less and are easier to: transport, cut, install, replace.
Plus they offer a unique advantage of using binder clips to attach targets to them.

Spray Glue
It has a single use. To attach a paper target to some type of backer. It will not hold a real target up (cardboard) and depending on the brand, a 5 dollar can will not last past one relay of students in a class. The area I like it is attaching a smaller target to my used IPSC target, like a small dot drill, a B8 center, a business or index card, etc. But you know what else works there? That 88 cent roll of masking tape.

Tiny cheap staplers.
The el cheapo stapler that we buy for putting up christmas lights was not designed to put in 300 staples a day, 2 days a week, 40+ weeks a year. Big and robust, and it should be front loading, no more of this "pull out the thing, drop em in, put the thing back in"…..that thing always gets lost. Big staples that go through a cardboard targets and possibly into a knot of wood and a stapler that will reliably deliver them.

At some point, I’ll likely make a video about a range bag and the gear that goes in it, but it
wont be for awhile. So in the meantime, I called out the stuff that makes baby Jesús weep
in sorrow.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Are Standards just the standard way of cheating ourselves?

Are Standards just the standard way of cheating?

Standards exist to measure one’s proficiency. Technically, a standard is a set of rules that one must adhere to. The standard is either met, or it is not. In that vein, repeatedly practicing a standard drill does not mark true skill level. It marks one’s ability to meet a very narrow set of parameters. The core element of these standards is that if a shooter has attained a certain level of proficiency, he will be ably to call upon the few skills in his vast library of skills to pass the standard. When reality hits us, the standard has been published long before a student has attempted to pass it. The shortcut that we, as humans, will do is to only practice that tiny sliver of skills to maximize our ability to meet the standard. At no point is there a motivator to even begin to amass a large library of skills, we already know which ones will be needed. The problem is, in our shooting world, the standard being tested is just a small representation of a larger skillset one is assumed to have.
Precision Skills on display

Sometimes we perform this standard to show others that we meet the required skill level. The assumption on their part is all of the unused skills for that standard are at a similar level. However, shooters often game the system by focusing only on the ones they know they will be tested on. Now they are selling a false bill of goods. I see no reason why a student should know the specifics of a standard they will be performing beforehand. Sure, tell them that we are going to be doing some testing with pistols on Wednesday. Bring a guns, bullets and rig to wear it. And here’s the most important thing to bring...all the skills you have. Now, of the three-hundred thousand things a dude can do with a pistol in his hand, we can select a few and test him on those with a much better sense of his overall proficiency level.  We certainly don’t have time to test him on all of them on Wednesday, so this will give us a coarse picture of where he is and then we can decide if he is suited for whatever task we are testing him for, or to if he warrants making it to a further round of testing where we add more and more skills to the required tests.

What about when we are testing ourselves? I hope you all record your results when you practice the things you learned at training. This is how we measure our progress. If we learn some techniques at training, we should be practicing them. At some point we will test ourselves and measure that to prior results. Over time, this tells us if our practice regimen is working. Whether we pass or fail the published standard, it can be used as a yardstick.

However, if we know we’re going to time our El Pres the first weekend of every month, what to stop us from only practicing the 3 things an El pres measures? This is exactly why I can make a novice shooter an IDPA master class shooter in a weekend. He will lock up last place in every match he goes to because matches test an array of skills, but I can make him real good at the few needed for the classifier in a relatively short period of time. We might run the actual standard at the very beginning and at the beginning of day two to measure progress, but with the published requirements well known, it would be a cakewalk to pass it by the end of a quality 16 hours of instruction in doing so.
That's not quite an El Pres homie.

There are professional schools that train people to pass the Navy qual. Every block of instruction is focused around getting a student to pass it. When it’s over they are pretty damn good at a tiny number of things, and they often easily pass the qual. But is that a true measure of how overall proficient they are?

Wouldn’t  it make more sense to have a catalog of standards that are randomly chosen on our test date? Standards that test a wide variety of shooting skills. We go to the range 4 times a month (I picked that randomly). We practice the things we wrote down before we left the house. A few hours later, before we leave. We bust out one of those standards and perform it to our ability. We record that. That is our yardstick.

With a vast array of standards, we could easily choose a random one weekly so that in a moderate amount of range visits, we are back to ones we’ve already done and can track our progress. Assuming there are published requirement for pass/fail for these standards, we can even compare ourselves to those. If a student can pass that standard, cold, on-demand, with no advanced time to prep for those specific circumstances, then we can finally assume that he has a proficiency level equal to what we are asking him to perform on any given standard.
Your Bill Drill has a Mike