AAR: AR15/M4 Rifle Gunfighting with Randy Harris
Over Memorial Day weekend I attended a Suarez International AR15/M4 Rifle Gunfighting class taught by Randy Harris. This will be is a bit different from my usual after action reviews. I was not actually a student in this class. Instead, Randy was nice enough to let me sit in as an 'Assistant Instructor', which essentially meant that I watched Randy teach the class, helped run the firing line, demoed stuff, and offered the occasional comment from the peanut gallery.
Why spend a weekend over in Chattanooga doing this? Well, back in February I taught a Fighting Rifle Skills class and one of the students brought an AR. I'm mainly an AK guy, but I'd prepared for this eventuality: I watched the AR-15 Rifle Gunfighting DVD, read up on SI doctrine for running the AR, etc. I think I did a pretty good job telling the student how to run his rifle, but I could have done better, particularly when it came to demonstrating some of the AR specific manipulations. The best way I can describe it is that I knew this stuff in my head, but not in my hands.
The first step in improving my ability to do this was to get myself an AR, so I could get some hands on experience. I got the gun put together about a month ago, did dry work with it, and shot it for about half the exercises in Roger Phillips' Long Gun Point Shooting Progressions class the previous weekend.
This hands on experience has certainly helped (and I'll continue to get more of it as time goes on). As I was putting the finishing touches on my new rifle, I noticed Randy's class on the SI schedule. He knows a lot more about the AR than I do (he bought an M16 before he bought his first car), and I figured seeing how he taught students to use it would be quite helpful.
I brought my new AR, a BCM upper with a lightweight barrel and midlength gas system on a Palmetto State Armory lower with a Sully stock. It's got Magpul handguards, a Daniel Defense fixed rear sight, and an EOTech on a LaRue mount. The latest additions have been a flashlight mount for a Surefire G2 on the front sight post and a set of nice Suarez International logo decals. I am really happy with how this gun turned out. I’m still and AK guy, but this rifle is tempting. The gun was fed with PMAGs. I brought my Sneakybag, but ended up just using one of Dale Fricke's kydex mag carriers and a belt mounted dump pouch (either EMDOM or Maxpedition Rolly Polly).
On the pistol end of things, I brought my Glock 17 with a new RMR on it. This is actually the first time I've used the RMRed pistol as a carry gun. It rides (very nicely, I might add) in a Dale Fricke Seraphim holster.
This was a fairly big class. There were twelve students, all told. They all brought ARs. One was in 7.62x39mm, but all the others were in 5.56mm. The majority was using iron sights, but there was a strong minority of red dots (Aimpoint and EOTech) and one magnified optic. Some rifles started out with a lot of stuff bolted to them. One began the first day with a flashlight, green laser, bipod, and a vertical fore grip (after the first round of dry drills, these accessories started disappearing).
There was quite a bit of variety in support gear. We had sneakybags, chest rigs, tactical vests, a plate carrier (sans plates), belt rigs, and one student who just fed his AR out of the pockets of his jeans.
Glock was the most common pistol, with a smattering of XDs and 1911s. Most folks ran with a pistol on the belt, but there were a few with thigh holsters. Several people had some rather unusual pistol carry methods, including a cross draw holster on a vest, and two who carried their pistols inside their shoulder bags.
The class started off with the usual safety briefing. Randy explained the four rules and how we would run the range. He went over the medical plan and what to do in the event someone got shot.
With that out of the way, we began with a lecture on the history of the AR platform. This sort of thing could be a little boring, but Randy was able to provide lots of visual (and tactile) aids from his extensive AR collection. There were also a couple of students with some old school rifles that helped illustrate the early years of AR design. One had a three prong flash hider (pre-birdcage) and both lacked the forward assist and had slab sided magwell (without any ridge around the mag release button). From this starting point he used his extensive knowledge of the AR's history and various examples to take us through the development of the gun to the modern day.
The AR does have something of a mixed reputation, and we talked about some of these alleged issues. During recent conflicts, the AR has acquired a reputation for poor terminal performance. Randy pointed out that the two primary culprits in this: the adoption of the 62 grain green tip round and the widespread issue of shorter barreled guns took place during a time period (the '80s and '90s) where we weren't shooting a lot of people. As citizens we can choose more effective ammo, we are generally forced to use somewhat longer barrels, and we don't tend to be taking real long shots.
The other issue ARs often get knocked on is reliability. A lot of this is operator induced, usually either insufficient (or no) lubrication. An AR will not run bone dry, and it needs to be cleaned occasionally. On a well lubed and reasonably clean rifle, the usual mechanical culprits are a bad extractor spring or bad magazines. The extractor issue can be mitigated with newer, more powerful extractor spring with a D-ring around it. With mags, you can either buy newer mags, or replace the followers on old mags with newer, better ones. Randy demonstrated this by replacing a black follower in an old mag with the anti-tilt green one during the lecture. The other thing you can do with mags is to identify and get rid of your bad magazines. If you keep your gun well lubed and relatively clean, have a good extractor setup and good mags, it will run much more reliably than many people will believe.
We talked about the AR's different controls: the sights, trigger, safety, mag release, charging handle, and bolt release (we pretty much ignored the forward assist). Some of these are pretty self-explanatory (sights, trigger) but others require some education. One of the things that makes running an AR different is that there are two different controls for manipulating the bolt: the charging handle and the bolt release. On an AK (or most other military rifles for that matter) you do all the bolt manipulation using the charging handle. On the AR, you need to know when to use the charging handle and when to use the bolt release. Basically the charging handle is for loading and malfunction clearance, while the bolt release is for reloads. Using the charging handle for everything is slower, less reliable, and risks damage to a somewhat fragile part.
The other point about the ARs controls is that they aren't ambidextrous (at least not in the stock configuration). SI places great stock in being able to run the rifle on either side, so you need to be able to operate all of these with either hand. Right handed, the mag release is run with your index finger. With the rifle on the left side, you use your thumb of your right hand as you grab the mag out of the rifle. On the right side, the left thumb hits the bolt release. On the left, if your fingers are long enough you can hit the bolt release paddle with your index finger. If they're shorter, you can 'choke the chicken' and reach around the front of the magwell and slap the bolt release with your fingers. Right handed, you can operate the charging handle by hooking it with your left index finger. On the left side, you can reach under and hook it with your right thumb. In either case, just hooking the left side of the charging handle (where the latch is) is faster than taking the stock off your shoulder and grabbing both sides of the t-handle.
Randy had the students empty their rifles and divest themselves of any loaded magazines. Thus denuded of any live ammunition, we started with some dry practice. First up was simply mounting the rifle to the shoulder with the sights in line with your eye and pressing the trigger to the rear. We moved on to the reload, and had the students change empty magazines in their rifles. Then, in their first taste of SI doctrine, Randy had the students switch to their support side and do the reload with the gun on that hand. It was immediately obvious that many people's support gear was not really set up for support side reloads. Many also had difficulty with a lack of a good place to put 'expended' magazines in either the primary or support sides. SI is not a fan of dropping expended mags as a default.
Moving on to some position work, Randy had me demonstrate kneeling and prone, and had the host of this class, who has taken lots of Randy's rifle classes, show SBU, urban, and modified (Spetsnaz) prone. Then Randy had the students practice tracking him while prone and seeing how they had to shift positions to address potential threats in different directions.
Randy continued the dry work by doing mag changes on the move. Everyone lined up abreast and moved down the road, doing three mag changes. They did this at a walk a few times, then stepped it up to a jog. The first few times there were a lot of dropped mags, but these diminished as students got more experience. Then, of course, we switched shoulders and did the same from the support side.
Next up was the slalom drill. The students lined up about three yards apart, and one at a time they slalomed down the line, treating each student as either a right or left handed corner, switching shoulders each time.
While this dry work was just the first part of the first day, it really encapsulated the SI philosophy: everything we do we want to be able to do ambidextrously and on the move.
After lunch, we moved out to the range and worked on zeroing everyone's rifles. We shot prone from 50 yards. Most folks were either right on or pretty close, but there were some exceptions. One student had a brand new EOTech that he'd never sighted in, and it was shooting way low. We had to dial it up around 65 clicks to get it on target. Another students iron sights were so far off he was off the paper entirely. Randy took his rifle while I ran the line and spotted and we got it dialed in after some major adjustments. While he was doing this, he doubled a couple of times. He eventually concluded that if you didn't fly your finger off the trigger with each shot and instead tried to properly reset it, the rifle would double more often than not.
Once all the rifles were pretty well zeroed, we moved on to some snap shooting. Shoulder the rifle, make any small sight adjustments you need to get the sights lined up and on target, and press the trigger. The better your mount is, the fewer adjustments you need and the quicker you can press the shot, so a solid mount is an important skill. At reasonable ranges with the right skills, you can press the trigger as soon as the rifle hits the shoulder. After doing this from low ready, Randy had me demonstrate the SI ready positions (contact ready, close contact ready, Sul, patrol ready, port arms, and high noon ready) then proceeded to practice mounting the gun and making snap shots from all of them.
Next up Randy introduced the "caveman EOTech". This is a method of point shooting the rifle, similar to the metal on meat method for pistols. You basically look over the rear sight, put the front sight tower of the rifle on the target, and press the trigger. If the target appears larger than the sight tower, you're probably going to hit. For the portion of the class with optics, we talked about looking over the optic and using the top of the sight housing for your caveman EOTech. We did a fair bit of shooting like this to get people used to the concept.
Randy also talked about mechanical sight offset. The AR's sights are 2.5 inches above the bore, so at close range the bullet will hit low. If you're trying to shoot a guy in the chest, it’s not really an issue. If you're trying to shoot him in the eye, and your daughter’s head is right under that eye, you need to take this into consideration. Randy had the students shoot at a small dot on the target's head and see how low their bullets hit, then had them compensate for this and try to put the rounds right through the dot. There are two methods. One is simply to aim about two inches high. The other is to get an alternate sight picture with your irons, with the front post up above the rear aperture. With a little practice, everyone was able to get very precise hits on the dot.
Continuing our emphasis on ambidextrous shooting, we did some more shoulder transfer drills, this time shooting it live. Fire two shots from the strong side, do a partial transfer (move the butt of the rifle to the other shoulder but keep the primary hand on the firing grip and the support hand on the magwell) and fire two shots, switch the hands and fire two shots, do a partial transfer back to the primary shoulder and fire two shots, then switch the hands and fire two more.
Our last major drill of the day was to practice against multiple adversaries. We split the class in two and I ran one line while Randy ran the other. Each line had three targets and one student at a time would engage them. We started with firing at each target three times each, then switched to shooting them once each, then twice each. This got students used to transitioning from target to target and taught them that shooting them once each is going to be faster than hosing each target down with a burst.
To wrap things up, Randy talked about malfunctions. Because of its design, the AR is subject to some rather . . . interesting . . . malfunctions. Cartridges or empty cases can end up in odd places (like between the bolt and the charging handle) where they are rather hard to get out. Given the variety of problems that can crop up, many people like to do diagnostic malfunction clearance: figure out what's wrong and perform some remedial action specifically designed to remedy that problem. We're not really a fan of that at SI, regardless of the platform. It's quicker and easier to deep the diagnosis to a minimum and apply a general solution that will fix a broad range of problems. We can't quite get to completely non-diagnostic malfunction clearance the way we do on an AK (if it stops working, reload it). However, we can keep diagnosis to a minimum. We divide malfunctions, and our actions to clear them into two categories: dead trigger and mush trigger. The dead trigger goes click, and you get nothing. The mush trigger doesn't even go click. The difference between the two is if the gun goes click (the hammer falling) you know that must be in battery. If the hammer won't even fall, the bolt is probably not all the way forward.
If you get a click, it means that you either have a dud round, or there's nothing in the chamber. The most common reason there's nothing in the chamber is a failure to seat the mag completely. If the magazine is not all the way in the magwell, the bolt won't be able to strip the top round and drive it into the chamber. To fix either of these problems, we do the same as we do on a pistol: tap the bottom of the magazine and cycle the action. This insures the magazine is seated, gets a dud round in the chamber out (if there is one) and chambers a new round. Gun should be ready to go.
If you don't get a click and the trigger is just mushy, it means you have a failure to extract (the previous round is still in the chamber and the rifle is trying to drive another round in behind it), a failure to eject (commonly referred to as a stovepipe), a true double feed (two rounds trying to get in the chamber at the same time) or one of the AR's more complex malfunctions (most of which can be described as rounds somewhere in the mechanism where they shouldn't be). For all of these problems, step one is to get the mag out of the magwell. Depending on how stuck it is, you may be able to just rip it out, or you may have to lock the bolt back first to relive some pressure. Once the mag is out, the rounds causing the problem may fall out on their own, or you may have to coax them out by cycling the bolt or by hand. Once the gun is completely empty, insert a new magazine and cycle the bolt. If this is one of the more complex malfunctions, you may have to do some diagnosis at this point (and perhaps use your multitool to help get cases or cartridges out).
Randy had demonstrated one other malfunction clearance technique earlier in the day (when we had an actual need for it). During the procedures above, you may run into a situation where a shell is stuck in the chamber so tight you can't even move the charging handle. This can often be solved by 'mortaring' the gun, though sometimes it will require a range rod to clear. If you have a collapsible stock, collapse it (otherwise you may break the pin that holds it in position). Then, while pulling the charging handle to the rear, drive the gun butt first into the ground (angled downrange, please). The sudden stop when it hits the ground should allow the inertia of the bolt to yank the stuck case out of the chamber and clear the malfunction. If it doesn't, you may need to bang it out with a range rod.
As it was getting a bit late, we held off on practical application of these procedures until tomorrow. Randy, several students, and I adjourned to a steakhouse for dinner and some excellent fellowship before turning in for the evening.
We started out the day with a review of the material we covered yesterday, which evolved into a discussion of the context for civilian use of the AR. Unlike a pistol, we're probably not going to carry a rifle on our person all the time. A rifle lives in the closet or the trunk until a situation where you need it. Those situations are probably limited to home defense and SHTF scenarios. While Katrina is the default example for a SHTF situation these days, the tornados that hit the area where we were training about a month prior (much damage was visible on our drive to the range each day) provided a more immediate real world example. In these sorts of situations you might be glad to have something with a bit more reach than a pistol. Randy had a personal example of this. After the tornadoes, he some trouble getting home from work that day because the police closed off the road due to downed limbs and powerlines ahead. He was on the verge of walking the last half-mile into his subdivision when they opened up the roadblock. Now, he wouldn't have had to fight his way through half a mile of zombie cannibal looters, but I'm sure having a get-home bag, which included a rifle, probably made him feel a little better.
We moved out to the range and Randy started the students off with some dry practice in the various shooting positions. The first live drill exercised the different shooting positions from both shoulders. From 50 yards, the students shot five shots standing from their strong side, five shots kneeling, did a mag change, then did five shots prone. Then they switched to the support side shoulder and did five prone, another mag change, five kneeling, and five standing. Positions shooting from the support side shoulder and reloading while prone were clearly new to a lot of folks. I suggested that the students running shoulder bags swing their bag out in front of them when shooting prone. This makes mags a lot more accessible and even offers the possibility of using the bag to shoot off of (it's probably too low to put the forend on, but you can plunk the mag down on it for a bit more height).
After giving everyone some experience on the support side, Randy concentrated on strong side position shooting for the next few drills. They worked shooting standing from 50 yards, then kneeling, then prone. The shoulder bag users really liked swinging the bag up for the prone work.
One of the things that really differentiates SI is our emphasis on dynamic movement. We had been putting together the building blocks for this on the first day with the caveman EOTech and shoulder transfers. Now it was time to pull it all together and shoot on the move. As with most things, the first step is to do it dry: take three steps to the right, turn and transfer to the left shoulder, then take three steps to the left, turn and transfer to the right shoulder. Once everyone had it down (and everyone was doing it pretty much in unison so we didn’t have shooters bumping into each other) we did it live. Three shots as you take three steps to the right, then three shots as you take three steps to the left. As Randy emphasized, this is just a drill. You’re not going to pace back and forth in front of an adversary while shooting on the move. This is just a way of practicing shooting on the move and transferring the gun from shoulder to shoulder during movement.
A more realistic application for these skills is shooting while getting off the X (GOTX). The “X” is where you were standing at the start of the fight, where the attacker expects you to be, and where all of the death and destruction he can muster is bearing down on. Standing there and shooting it out with him is like playing rock-em sock-em robots with guns. It’s not going to end well for you. It might not end well for him either, but which is more important to you: shooting the bad guy, or not getting shot yourself?
The way to avoid this is not to be standing on that X. We need to move, and move far enough and fast enough to change what the attacker sees so that he has to reorient himself and reacquire you as a target. In the meantime, we put a bunch of rounds into him so that he never gets that chance. The key here is to use the caveman EOTech skills we introduced on Saturday. These let you move much faster than you can if you’re intent on maintaining a traditional sight picture, yet they’re sufficiently accurate for shooting at the ranges where getting off the X is an appropriate response.
This is all pretty easy if you’re going towards your strong side. Unfortunately, that won’t always be an option. If there’s a wall to your right when your fight comes, you better know how to get off the X to your left. This is where the shoulder transition comes in. You can do the partial transfer (moving the stock but not switching your hands) and get the first shot off almost as quickly as you can going to the right. After taking more than one or two steps, this is going to get more and more awkward, so it’s usually best to swap hands after the first shot. We ran this several times getting off the X to the right (our dominant side for all but one student) then did it several more times going to the left. After giving everyone their first taste of getting off the X, we broke for lunch.
After lunch, Randy talked about the after action assessment. Plenty of people have gotten killed because they shoot the bad guy they see, then relax before the fight is really over. The guy you just shot may get back up or he may have friends. We need to remain aware, check for additional threats, and keep an eye on the guy(s) we just shot. Randy teaches this using the F.A.S.T. acronym (also known as the Wyatt protocol). This stands for Fight, Assess, Scan, and Take cover, Top off, Treat injuries, Talk to anyone who needs to be talked to. The Fight part of this is what we’d been working on the entire class so far. Assess means check out any attackers you shot at. Ask yourself “Did I hit him? Did it work?” Scan for any additional threats. Look left and right, moving your muzzle and eyes together in the contact ready position. There’s no sense looking with just your eyes and having to drive the gun to the target if you spot an additional attacker. Real life is not a square range where there are only targets in one direction, so you need to check behind you as well. This is where the Sul position comes in. Drop the muzzle down and you can turn around and safely look for threats behind you. The key here is to step forward when you turn, rather than pivoting in place or stepping backward. This will give you a little extra space between you and any potential adversary behind you. The various ‘T’s might not always be applicable to a situation, and the order they are performed in may vary. We want to get to a better position and Take cover if possible. Top off by performing a proactive reload to get your gun ready in case additional threats show up. Check yourself and your friends or loved ones for any injuries and Treat them if necessary (we do not advocate treating the attacker, he can fend for himself). By Talk to anyone who needs to be talked to, we mean calling 911, talking to witnesses, responding police officers, etc.
We ran the GOTX some more (just to the strong side this time) following it up with an after action assessment. One of the traps it’s easy to fall into is turning the scan a ‘tactical pirouette’. You swing from side to side then turn around, but you aren’t really looking, just going through the motions. To drive this point home, I made some silly faces or held up my knife during some of the scans, then asked folks what they saw.
Next up was transitioning to pistol. Transitioning to a pistol is much faster and simpler than reloading a rifle or clearing a malfunction. Most civilian rifle work is going to occur well within pistol range, and civilians generally can make the choice to carry a pistol in any circumstance when they’ve got a rifle on them, so this makes sense as a default when your gun doesn’t work. SI recommends a simple two-point sling and for most folks we recommend not tying yourself to your rifle. You may have to drop the rifle quickly when responding police officers show up, lest you get shot by the cops, and you may need to employ the rifle for home defense in situations where you don’t have time to climb into your nifty tactical sling. There are circumstances where being tied to your rifle makes sense, particularly if you may get blown up by a roadside bomb. It’s nice to have your rifle close at hand when you regain consciousness and the post-IED ambush starts. For those of us not operating in areas with an IED threat, not being tied to our rifle is generally the better choice.
One fellow in the class was running a one point sling that tied him to the gun, so all he had to do to transition is drop the rifle. If you’re not tied to the rifle, you’re going to have to do something with it when you transition. The method we teach is to bring the rifle up over your head and drop it so it hangs diagonally across your back. This gets the rifle out of your way, gives you two hands to access your pistol, and is reliable even at a dead run. For this to work properly, you need a long enough sling. Most folks showed up with their slings adjusted on the short side (especially folks who were used to using the sling as a shooting aid) but we were able to get everyone adjusted out long enough (though some were pretty marginal).
We ran through this dry a bunch of times, until everyone was able to do it safely, without muzzle sweeping the next guy in line. Then we went live with it. Now some folks run transition drills with full magazines and have the student put the safety on before transitioning. There are two problems with this. First, if you are doing anything dynamic, there’s a good chance the safety could get knocked off on some piece of gear. Second, you’re building in a training scar. For any malfunction on an AR where you get a click instead of a bang, you won’t be able to engage the safety. You don’t want to be standing there in the middle of a gunfight with your transition disrupted because you can’t get the safety on like you do in training. Train like you fight. The way we do this is to have each student load a mag with two rounds. They chamber the first one so they’ve got one in the chamber and one in the mag. Randy emphasized that he wanted students to try to fire a burst of at least four shots. This fires the two rounds in the rifle and makes absolutely sure it was empty. It’s important to be absolutely sure you’ve shot the rifle dry and it’s safe to transition. This also simulates a real gunfight, where it will probably take several failed trigger presses before you realize the gun doesn’t work.
The first time we did this live, one student found his pistol wouldn’t shoot. I examined it and it turned out the bump pad on a new 1911 mag was preventing the magazine from going all the way in. Luckily he had several mags with a different bump pad on them that worked.
A fair number of the people in this class were wearing thigh holsters. Many of them were adjusted way too low, closer to the knee than the hip. These shooters really had to stretch to reach their pistols. Thigh holsters should be run high enough that you can easily grasp the pistol’s grip. Closer to the hip is better. I could also tell which student had put a lot of time in practicing with his thigh rig and which students were new to this carry position. I think this is a pretty good argument for keeping the position of your pistol on your tactical rig as close as possible to your CCW rig. It’s one of the reasons I like running a shoulder bag so I can wear my actual EDC holster. I’m planning to go with a war belt for my more ‘tactical’ use rather than a chest rig for similar reasons.
We’d talked about malfunctions on Saturday, now it was time to give students some hands on experience with them. We divided the students up into groups and set out four rifles. While the student faced uprange, the instructors would set up four different malfunctions (an empty chamber, unseated magazine, stovepipe, and a failure to eject). The student had to turn around and fix each rifle in turn. Everyone managed to fix all the malfunctions and get the rifles going, but several people went to removing the magazine and reloading the rifle on malfunctions that could have been fixed with a simple tap-rack. Another problem occurred when a student clearing a double feed locked the bolt back to make it easier to get the mag out. He didn’t send the bolt forward until after he inserted a new mag, so it just rammed the top round from the mag into the back of the round that was still in the chamber. You’ve got to make sure to cycle the bolt and get everything out of the gun on these kinds of malfunctions.
The last drill of the day was the combat rundown. We ran this drill one student at a time. They started at 100 yards with 25 rounds in their rifle. First, they dropped prone for their first shot. They moved up to 75 and shot from sitting behind a barrel, then to 50 and shot kneeling from behind a tree, then standing at 25 yards from behind a barricade, then moved out from cover, fired their last five shots on the move, then transitioned to pistol and put five more in the target from about five yards. As Randy pointed out, this is just a drill. Assaulting over open ground like this by yourself would be suicide. It gives you a chance to practice moving with the rifle and getting in and out of different positions. It’s also a big, fun drill to cap things off with. Visually impressive too; I had several students ask me to take pictures while they ran it. Hopefully some of them will be willing to post some of them in this thread.
We finished up by presenting the certificates and asking what the students thought of the class. Everyone seemed pretty happy with it. The number one request was for cooler weather.
The AR often gets knocked for its reliability, but I was favorably impressed with how well most of these rifles ran. There were only two that gave significant problems. One was the AR in 7.62x39mm. This gun had some major magazine issues. When you turn a mag over, you shouldn’t have four or five rounds pour out. The problem was the follower was getting hung up on the transition between the curved portion and the straight portion of the magazine. The AR just wasn’t designed for such a tapered cartridge. The 7.62x39mm wants to feed through nice, curved magazines like the AK uses. When you try to run it through a mag that has a straight section to fit in the AR magwell, it’s going to cause issues. This gun also suffered quite a few stuck cases, some of which had to be beaten out with a range rod. During the transition drills, the student with this rifle finally got so frustrated with it he gave up and switched to his AK. That, I think, is the ideal solution. If you want to shoot 7.62x39mm, use a rifle designed for it.
The other troublesome rifle was one shooting Tula ammo. Hearing this, one might immediately jump on the “don’t shoot steel case in your AR” bandwagon, but none of the problems he had were extraction or chambering related issues you would expect if the case material was the problem. Instead, he was getting failures to fire. The firing pin strikes in the primers were nice and deep, so this was probably just a bad batch of primers. This gun also had a hammer pin start to walk out during the second day. Randy hammered it back in.
Other than these two guns, almost all the malfunctions we saw were operator induced. Failing to fully seat the magazine was the most common. We even had a discussion of whether not having a magazine in the gun when you started the drill counted as a malfunction (consensus was no).
Aside from the fact that some calibers don’t work in ARs, the most obvious learning point from the class was some of the gear issues. This is not intended as a criticisim of any of the students. Part of the reason to come to this class is to test how well your gear works. I’m not trying to knock anyone here, just to draw out some lessons for future students.
Suarez International is not gear focused. Yes, SI sells gear though One Source Tactical, but we aren’t going to tell you, “you must have this doohickey on your rifle or you will die!” We won’t look at you askance if your dump pouch isn’t the brand that OST sells. While we don’t care what brand of gear you bring, over the years we’ve found some setups work better than others.
Most folks brought rifles that worked pretty well. The biggest problem was having too much stuff bolted to your gun, but that’s easy to fix at the class with a screwdriver or hex wrench. A sling is pretty much mandatory, an optic is a nice addition, and maybe a flashlight if this is a home-defense gun. That’s about it.
The most common piece of additional equipment on the rifles in this class was the vertical foregrip. At SI we’re big advocates of the floating support hand. Basically, your support hand moves in and out depending on what you’re doing at the time. A VFG (or the MagPul AFG) tends to inhibit this. While there’s a bit of physical aspect to this, preventing you from sliding your hand easily forward and back, it seems to be as much mental as physical. A VFG tends to glue the support hand in one particular spot, even if that’s not the best spot for that hand at the time. Where this is really evident is during shoulder transfers. Hands stay on the VFG even if it’s a really long stretch, when it would be much easier to just grab the magwell instead.
The most troublesome accessory was a magnified optic with a very small field of view mounted on top of a carry handle. For what we’re doing, iron sights or a red dot are really much more useful than a magnified optic, especially one over four power. The top of the carry handle is a pretty lousy place to mount any sort of optic, as its way too high for any sort of reasonable cheek weld.
Another issue we ran into on some rifles was the stock length. The A2 stock, in particular, is really too long for the kind of shooting and manipulations we do. The A1 stock is workable, and a collapsible stock not extended all the way is pretty good. I got some interest on the Sully stock on my AR, which (in the configuration I have) is just about the right length.
I discussed slings earlier. There’s really no need to go for anything fancy here, as long as it’s long enough. Something like the Saiga sling OST sells, which is basically six feet of webbing and a couple of buckles works fine. A good test to see if your sling is long enough is to loop it behind your neck and hold the rifle horizontally across your chest. If the gun hangs at around belly button level the sling is about right
As far as support gear goes, the key is to have mags available to both hands, for doing reloads on the support side shoulder. A shoulder bag works for this because you can swing it around and access mags with your strong hand. Chest rigs place the mags where they’re easily accessible to both hands. On a belt rig, put one mag carrier on the strong side for support shoulder reloads. You also need a way to stow expended mags. Putting them back into mag pouches is far from ideal, both because it’s generally difficult, and because of the danger of grabbing an expended mag when you wanted a new one. If you’re using a shoulder bag, it works pretty well as a dump pouch (again, swing it around for the support side reload. With chest or belt rigs, a dump pouch of some sort is best. One solution to the ambidexterity problem is to put the dump pouch in the 6 o’clock position, accessible to both hands. Another solution with a chest rig is to tuck the expended mag behind the chest panel until you have a chance to move it to the dump pouch.
I certainly got a lot out of helping Randy teach the class. It was great to see how someone who really knows the platform taught it. Just as important, I got to see how a fairly big, diverse group of students responded to that instruction. What worked well, what things tripped them up, etc. I hope they learned half as much from me as I did from them. I'd like to thank Randy for letting me sit in on this excellent class. I'd highly recommend Suarez International's AR15/M4 Rifle Gunfighting as well as any other class Randy is teaching.