Wednesday, June 11, 2008

June Event Report

This month's Utah Polite Society event was a bit different from our usual fare. Generally, we do two drills and two scenarios with pistols. We're usually done by around noon or one o'clock. This month we only did one pistol drill and one scenario, but added some training on hand to hand disarming techniques and the first of several carbine classes. With all these activities, the event was planned to last all day, rather than just the morning.

This month's even was also rather unusual in the number of people who attended. A typical Polite Society event will draw around ten people. Anything over fifteen is considered a fairly big crowd. This month we had 38 people show up. Part of this was probably because of the stuff that we were offering this month, particularly the carbine exercise. People interested in this who may not have shown up for one of our regular events probably accounted for five or ten of the additional people. We also had a very large number of new shooters this month. Around fifteen people who'd never shot with us before (most with relatively little shooting experience) showed up, which is probably the largest contingent of new shooters we've had except for one or two of our new shooter classes. Some of these folks were fairly inexperienced, and they probably would have benefited from a full-on new shooter class, but given the amount of things we had going on this month that wasn't really practical. Harold Green took them aside and gave them a little basic instruction. While their inexperience showed a bit, most of them did fairly well in the pistol exercises.

Because of the unusually large number of people, we had to reorganize things on the fly. The plan was to run the pistol exercises first, followed by the disarm drills, break for lunch, and do the carbine stuff in the afternoon. With the huge number of people we had it would have taken all morning and part of the afternoon just to run everyone through the pistol exercises. Instead we rented the 25 yard range next door and took over part of the road up to the range for the hand to hand stuff so we could run all three events in parallel, rather than serially.

Any Which Way You Can

Both the pistol drill and the scenario this month were built around the idea of shooting while lying down. Getting knocked down in a fight is a very real possibility, but we practice most of our shooting standing, or occasionally kneeling. Being able to shoot from the ground is an important skill. These drills focused on shooting from the ground at up-close and personal opponents. Prone positions are also useful for using a pistol against a long range adversary, but that's an exercise for some other month.

For this month's drill, you start by lying down about four yards from the target (we put down some cardboard so you're not lying on the range's rather uncomfortable grave). The first string is fired lying on your back with your feet pointed towards the target. This string is shot from the holster, so it's important not to sweep your let or feet when drawing. It's also important not to shoot your feet, but this is less of a problem than it might seem. Unless you’re shooting something very distant or very low (say, about the size of a cat) the line of fire is going to pass several feet above your toes, even if you have size 14 skis like I do. Because of the risk of sweeping the other shooter or people behind the line, none of the subsequent strings are shot from the holster. Instead you ground your gun, pointing down range before you get into position. For the second string, the shooter rotates 90 degrees, putting the target to their right. You roll over to the right so your body is facing the target, pick up the gun, and shoot. People's instinct is to try to hold the gun upright, but twisting your arms around to do this tends to inhibit accuracy and recoil control. The better technique is to hold the gun horizontally, so it lines up with your body. Just imagine your normal two-handed shooting stance and tip it over so you are lying on your side. The third string is basically the same as the second, save that the target is to the shooter's left. The fourth string is the fun one. Your head is pointed towards the target. You look up at the target, pick up your gun and shoot it upside-down. Some people don't realize that the pistol will function perfectly properly even when inverted.

Shooting from the ground, even sideways or upside down, can be just as accurate as shooting from a more normal position. However, it does require concentration. When shooting from conventional positions, we have the advantage of muscle memory to help keep everything lined up right. Shooting sideways or upside-down is not something most of us are really used to, and it takes more concentration to keep the sights lined up from these unusual shooting positions. As long as you keep the sights in alignment it's possible to shoot quite accurately, at least at close ranges. At longer ranges, however, differences in the alignment of the sights and the bore will come into play when shooting sideways or upside down. The only other caveat involves recoil control, which can be more difficult from these positions, particularly upside-down. It's probably best to slow things down a little bit.

I'm Not Going to Take This Lying Down

Our scenario for this month builds on the ground shooting drill. Basically, you answer the door in response to what turns out to be a group of home invaders. One of them kicks the door in, knocking you on your keister. You have to draw your weapon and solve the problem. We set up barricades about three feet apart, representing the door and put one target right in the middle of it. Several more targets represent additional robbers, passers-by, and pursuing police officers, depending on the presence or absence of threat indicators and badges. As usual, a few people ended up shooting the sheriff. Before the scenario we talked about the difference between cover and concealment and just which these barricades represented depending on the construction of your home.

People shot this drill in two very distinct ways. Some shot it entirely from the ground, engaging all the targets from their original position. Some shot only the initial target (representing the assailant who kicked the door in) from the ground then got up and shot the rest from the cover/concealment of the doorframe. Each of these has advantages and disadvantages. Getting up made it easier and quicker to shoot, but the act of getting up tended to take a long time, particularly due to the need to carefully keep the gun pointing down range. Shooting all the assailants from the ground obviated the need to rise until all the threats had been dealt with, but engaging each individual target, and transitioning between them, tended to be slower than shooting from your feet.

As usual, I was able to watch quite a few people shoot the scenario before shooting it myself. Based on the difficulties of both shooting from the ground and getting up with gun in hand, I decided to pursue a different strategy. Instead of drawing from the ground, I immediately rolled over behind concealment, got up without needing to worry about managing my pistol, then drew my weapon and engaged all the targets from concealment. I was probably out of the line of fire quicker than someone choosing to shoot from the ground could have neutralized the initial target. I ended up neutralizing all the threats, but had some shoot throughs on some of the non-threat targets. It's important to keep your background in mind.

With our large contingent of new shooters, we did see a lot of new shooter mistakes. In addition to the usual failures to neutralize (primarily due to shooting too low or not shooting enough), doing after action scans with an empty gun, and putting guns back into holsters without reloading a lot of the newer shooters also crowded cover and/or used the "Charlie's Angels" ready position. Many of the new shooters tended to get very close to the cover, even extending their gun beyond the doorway. This is not only an inviting setup for a gun grab if someone is standing on the other side of the wall, it also telegraphs your position to anyone on the other side. If the wall is concealment rather than cover, a smart opponent may just shoot you through the wall. If it is hard cover, they can either shoot your hand, or just know exactly where you are going to pop out and be lined up on that spot before you even move.

The Charlie's Angels ready position (also called the "Sabrina" after a character on that show) is a lousy idea for two reasons. First, it makes it easy for someone to take the gun away from you. All they have to do is prevent you from bringing the gun forward with one hand and twist the firearm out of your grip with the other. In a low ready position, if they try to grab the gun and shove it downward, all you have to do is fall backwards and the gun will come up on target. The second reason for eschewing the Sabrina is for safety purposes. We're on an outdoor range and there is no backstop in that direction. What goes up must come down, and when it does it's gonna hurt.


I spent all morning running the pistol scenario but after an excellent lunch (provided the range manager's wife and her sister) I managed to sneak over to our disarming exercise. Brianna and Lizette have been shooting with us for a couple of months and they've come to us (Brianna in particular) with martial arts experience. One of the purposes of the Polite Society is for members to share knowledge of self defense techniques with each other, so we drafted them into teaching some disarm techniques.

Hand to hand skills are certainly a hole in my skill set. One of the things the Interactive Gunfighting class we took from Gabe Suarez last year made evident to me is that an opponent is only really a gun problem if he's beyond about three yards. An opponent within arms reach is a hand to hand problem rather than a gun problem (assailants out of arms reach but within three yards are in a sort of grey area where there are no really good solutions, merely "die less often" techniques).

I have to say right off, Brianna and Lizette did a really good job. They did an excellent job explaining what you needed to do and critiquing your technique during practice. I'm really glad we were able to get them to do this. Harold Green also put together some nice wooden practice guns for us. You can use red guns for this kind of thing, but if anyone leaves their trigger finger inside the trigger guard there's a good chance it's going to end up broken or sprained.

Some of us learned some disarm techniques when we took a class from Gabe Suarez last year. The techniques Brianna taught were similar in their general principles, but somewhat different in detail. She taught three techniques, one for when you are facing an adversary who has a gun pointed at your torso, one for an adversary with a gun pointed at your head, and one for an adversary pointing a gun at you from behind. While there are differences, all three have common elements and all three follow the same basic steps.

The first step in this is to put your hands up, whether or not the assailant asks you to. This may put him at ease and give a feeling of power, but it also gets your hands into position for what's going to happen next. It can also be a good idea to start talking to the attacker, particularly asking him a question such as, "What do you want?" Answering this will degrade his reaction time, and even the smallest delay could make a difference.

The next step is to get the gun pointing at something other than you so that when it goes off (and it must be emphasized that the gun will almost certainly go off sometime during this procedure) it's not going to hit you. For an assailant pointing at your torso or behind you this involves stepping to the outside of the assailant's gun hand (so for a right handed shooter you want to step to his right/your left) and knocking his arm aside with your forearm. This is more difficult to do with someone behind you since it's harder to know where the gun is. You can glance over your shoulder to see which arm is holding the gun and even step or lean back to feel how high he's holding it. For an attacker pointing a gun at your head, instead of knocking the gun sideways, it will be easier and faster to knock it upwards using both hands.

Once the gun is no longer pointed at you, your outside hand (the left hand if you are confronting a right-handed shooter) goes to the wrist while the other grabs the gun and twists it up and back. This works best if you step into the attacker, bringing the gun close to your body. That way you can put your entire body into this maneuver, whereas the assailant is essentially trying to resist with three or four fingers and a thumb. Even if the assailant is a lot bigger or stronger than you, his fingers probably aren't going to be strong enough to hand on if you can put your whole body into it.

As I mentioned earlier, Gabe Suarez taught some disarms in his Interactive Gunfighting class a year ago. While it was fairly similar, Gabe's techniques emphasized going directly for the wrist with your hand, rather than knocking the gun out of the way first. I think I prefer the forearm. It leaves a lot bigger margin for error, which is particularly important in a low light situation or when the assailant is behind you.

We're going to be continuing these exercises in the future. The next set is going to emphasize getting control of the gun arm then attacking the assailant directly (going for elbows, knees, eyes, ears, and other nice vulnerable spots) rather than trying to take the gun away directly.


Our third activity this month was the first of what will be a series of rifle/carbine exercises. Several of our members have recently acquired black rifles of one description or another (ARs mostly) and expressed interest in some long gun training. We asked Robert, one of our members who is very well versed in rifle shooting, to do some instruction for us. Unfortunately, I missed part of his lecture because I was still doing the disarm training. During the part I was able to listen to he gave a very solid explanation of the operating procedures for the AR and AK. We had a nice discussion about the merits of different rifles and calibers, getting good rifle magazines that will work with your gun, and flashlight techniques (which should come in handy next month). Robert had to run off to get ready for a wedding, but after the discussion was done we had a chance to do some shooting.

There was a fair amount of rifle trading going on during the shooting period. It's always nice to get a chance to shoot some different guns. One of our members had let me shoot his AR on a previous occasion, so I returned the favor by letting him shoot my Robinson Armament XCR. He seemed to like it, and later commented to me that it had less recoil than his AR, which surprised me a bit. I recently finished the break-in period, and last time I brought it up to the range I adjusted the gas system from full bore to a much lower setting. This reduced recoil noticeably, but I'm surprised that it was actually less than a gas impingement AR (not that either of them has a lot of recoil shooting the .223 round).

I also think shooting my rifle convinced him of the merits of a vertical foregrip. I have to say that I resisted putting a foregrip on there for a long time; it just seemed way too "tacticool" for me. However, reading Kyle Lamb's book Green Eyes Black Rifles made me reconsider. He's definitely a guy who knows what he's talking about and he makes several good arguments for a forward pistol grip. The one that finally pushed me over the edge was its benefits in weapon retention, but I've found that it really does help in countering muzzle rise for follow up shots and driving the weapon from one target to another.

We did have one serious malfunction. One of our members shooting steel cased Wolf ammo though his M&P AR suffered a stuck case. It was stuck well enough that no amount of racking the bolt was sufficient to remove it. Eventually he disassembled his rifle and we used a cleaning rod to knock the case out. This did give me the opportunity to show a member who was considering getting into black rifles the difference between the AR bolt (lots of little lugs, spring loaded ejector, little extractor) and the bolt from my AK (three big lugs, fixed ejector, big extractor).

Later on I also had a chance to watch Brianna and Lizette shoot an AR. Neither of them have a black rifle of their own, but we were able to talk them into trying one out. From the smiles on their faces I think they enjoyed it quite a bit. The look of the AR can be intimidating to someone who's never shot it, but thanks to their low recoil .223 rifles are a real joy to shoot and very friendly to new shooters.

Despite the unexpected number of shooters I think this month's event went fairly well. We had to adapt a bit, but plenty of our more experienced shooters were willing to pitch in and help run things. I'd really like to thank Brianna, Lizette, and Robert for contributing to this month's events. All three of them did an excellent job. I think they really helped us expand our toolbox into some new areas.

The Utah Polite Society has a very full calendar coming up this month and next. On June 21st we're going to be going out the desert in Skull Valley, west of Salt Lake. We've got three major activities planned for while we're out there: We're going to be doing some 360 degree pistol scenarios (there's a nice bend in the canyon that provides an all-around backstop). We'll also take advantage of some of the extended ranges out there to do some longer ranged carbine work. Finally, we'll be doing some Box O' Truth style penetration testing of things like drywall, windshields, and car doors. Our next regular event will be on the 5th of July. We'll be doing the carbine class again, probably focusing on slings and transition to the pistol. Less than a week later, on the evening of Friday, July 11th, we will be having our yearly night shoot. We did this last year and I think it was a really big success. Shooting at night is a very eye opening experience if you've never done it before, and something few of us get enough practice at.

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