Monday, July 7, 2008

July Event Report

This was another big month for the Utah Polite Society. While we didn't have quite as many people as we did in June (around 20, rather than 38) we still had a larger than usual group, particularly for a holiday weekend. These included a fair number of new shooters (around 6 or 8). This is quite a few people for us, but unlike last month the number of people didn't get into unmanagable territory. As a result of the smaller numbers, and some better planning, I think this event ran a lot more smoothly than it did last time.

Rather than reorganizing things only the fly like we did last month, we were able to run things mostly according to the plan. We'd intended to do a pair of pistol exercises and some hand to hand stuff in the morning and the rifle stuff in the afternoon. We pretty much kept to the schedule, but the hand to hand slipped to the early afternoon, due to the amount of time it took to run everyone through the handgun exercises.

Rock Around the Clock
The focus of both this month's handgun exercises was on movement, specifically getting off the X with explosive movement. Several of us took Gabe Suarez's classes last year when we had him here in Salt Lake City, and we incorporated them into some of our drills in the Polite Society events in the next few months. However, it's been over a year, and we've picked up some new regulars since then, so I thought it was a good time to revisit moving and shooting.

I'd hoped to be able to do a moving and shooting demonstration called the Suicide Drill using airsoft guns, but Harold Green forgot to bring his airsoft stuff out so we had to improvise a little bit. I explained the basic principles of moving and shooting, including basic metal on meat point shooting, explosive movement, and why it's better to move diagonally towards the assailant than to move away from him (it means the assailant has to turn further to track you). I'm not sure how effective I was in getting this stuff across, since I was essentially trying to compress a day of Gabe's Close Range Gunfighting class into less than half an hour. That's a lot to absorb in a short amount of time.

Our first exercise was a fairly simple drill, giving everyone a chance to get off the X to the one, three, nine, and eleven o'clock positions (I omitted five and seven o'clock since we did those back in April in our dog attack drills). Particularly for the new folks, we emphasized taking it slow. While explosive movement is called for in a fight, you have to walk before you can run, so if its your first time, moving and shooting at a walking pace is just fine.

Motionless Operators Ventilate Easily
This month's scenario integrates the moving and shooting skills into a fairly simple confrontation. You're walking down the street when confronted by several assailants. There happen to be two handy pieces of cover (a barrel and a barricade) a few yards away. This presents the opportunity to draw and shoot while moving to cover.

Since moving and shooting was a new concept for a lot of people, it's not surprising that some folks had a little trouble with it. The most common mistake was to draw while standing in place, then move to cover. As the name of the scenario implies, standing still is going to make it a lot easier for them to shoot you. If you aren't comfortable drawing and shooting on the move, in a scenario like this with cover close at hand it would be much better to move first, then draw, rather than the other way around.

The next most common mistake didn't have anything to do with moving. A lot of people tried to shoot over the barrel rather than around it. When you shoot over a piece of cover, you expose a lot more of yourself than you do shooting around the side. What's more, the additional area you expose (essentially from the eyebrows up) is a pretty important part of your body, and one where you really don't want to get shot. Going around the side is a much better solution. Getting down below relatively short cover can be difficult, particularly if you're tall (6'5" here), but if you don't want to get shot, it's important.

The new shooters displayed some of the typical new-shooter errors that we see a lot of. One fellow, shooting a DA/SA handgun left his decocker in the safety position and popped three perfectly good rounds out and reloaded a new magazine before he realized what the problem was. As Jeff Cooper said, "Don't get caught with your dingus down!" The heavy DA trigger pull makes DA/SA autos perfectly safe to carry without having the safety on. Use it to decock before holstering but immediately flip it back to the firing position.

Another new shooter displayed a problem that I'd never seen before. He was particularly vigorous in getting off the X, which is good. What wasn't so good is the mag carrier he was using for his spare magazines. He had one of the nylon double mag pouches with the velcro flaps. I'm not really a fan of these, since they tend to make it take a lot longer to access your extra magazines. This fellow had folded the flaps back into his belt to expose the magazines and make them much easier to access. Unfortunately, the sudden stop when he got to cover sent his extra mags flying out onto the ground, which he didn't realize until he'd dropped the mag out of the gun during a reload. A good, open topped magazine carrier that holds magazines securely while leaving them easy to access is by far the best solution for this problem.

I decided to mess with Robin Hood a bit. We distinguish targets from innocent bystanders using foam cutouts of guns that hang around the target's neck. To encourage people to look a little more closely, we also have some badges and to designate a target with a threat indicator as a cop. You're not supposed to shoot the cop. When his turn came up I put threat indicators and badges on two targets to represent cops and didn't put out any threats. Rather than a fire command or the beep of a timer, we start our scenarios with some appropriate verbal cue. With a mugging or robbery type situation, a typical start signal might be yelling "Gimme all your money!" If the threats just open fire, then the signal is "Bang! Bang! Bang!" Since there weren't any threats out there (and to give a somewhat subtle cue that they were cops) I started the scenario by yelling "Get your hands up!" Robin looked up, got off the X beautifully and shot the hell out of one of the cops on the way to cover. As soon as he got to cover, he yelled "Shit!" as he recognized what he'd done. Then he proceeded to ventilate the other target, not realizing that it, too, was a cop. Afterwards, I remarked that in real life the cops probably would have shot him when he drew, so he probably wouldn't have had a chance to shoot both of them. Small consolation I guess.

He had his revenge though. When I shot the scenario I looked up and drew, but the first thing I saw was a target with two threat indicators and a badge. I managed not to shoot the cop, but it startled me enough that I didn't actually shoot anything on the way to cover. Once I got to the barrel I shot the rest of the scenario from cover. He also hung a threat indicator around a pepper popper that happened to be sitting behind the area where we were shooting the scenario. It took me a while to see it and knock it down. He did the same to another shooter with a different popper, but that one wouldn't go down. Instead the shooter hit the foam gun cutout of the threat indicator and shot it right off the target.

Based on the performance during the scenario, four or five repetitions in a couple of hours definitely isn't enough to get someone used to drawing and shooting while moving explosively off the X. Heck, I'm not sure Gabe's two day course really provides enough practice to get comfortable with it. However, I do think what we did today managed to open a few people's eyes to the possibility. Several people remarked that getting off the X made perfect sense, but it was something they'd never even considered before.

Hand to Hand Disarms
Brianna and Lizette were nice enough to come back again this month and teach us some more hand to hand concepts. Last month we concentrated on gun grabs, taking the gun away from an assailant within arms reach. This month we worked on a set of techniques that could only loosely be called a disarm. Rather than going for the gun directly, it involves tying up the gun arm so the assailant can't shoot you and inflicting enough damage on him that he lets go of the gun.

This technique starts off the same steps as the gun takeaway we learned last month: put the hands up, get the adversary talking to slow down his reactions, step and pivot offline and knock the arm holding the gun aside. Rather than grabbing for the wrist, as we did last month, take a half step further in to get inside the muzzle and lock the gun arm between your arm and body, right under the armpit. Once you've got it locked in good and tight, preferably just below the wrist, there's no way he can turn the gun enough to shoot you.

With the gun arm tied up, the next step is to start inflicting punishment. We learned a fairly simple three step procedure: break the elbow, hit them in the throat, and take out a knee. Of course, there are many other possibilities, including drawing a weapon of your own.

Compared to the gun grab technique we learned last month,tying up the gun arm has the advantage of requiring less precision than going for the wrist and gun, perhaps making it a better choice in low light conditions. However, since the assailant keeps ahold of the gun while you're beating on him, he may let off multiple shots before you've inflicted enough pain to get him to drop it. If you have a good background behind you (a brick wall or an ATM) then this isn't really a problem. If your family is standing behind you, then a more direct gun grab may be appropriate (though even that will probably involve at least one shot).

Personally, I wouldn't be quite as confident with this technique as I would with the gun grab. Because there is a real potential for inflicting significant damage here, we weren't able to practice this at full speed since we didn't want anyone to end up with a broken elbow. In contrast, we could go pretty much full bore with the gun grab, as long as we took a few simple precautions (no fingers in the trigger guard or in register, lest they get dislocated).

Carbine Exercise
We had eight or nine folks stick around for the carbine exercise. We basically went through the same exercises we worked on out in the desert a couple of weeks ago. Robert did a great job explaining and demonstrating the techniques for us.

This was definitely an AR-centric crowd, with all but two of our shooters using them, including a very nice JP Rifles example. The JP was interesting in that, unlike the other rifles, it had a muzzle brake rather than a flash hider. This produced a noticeably bigger bang if you were standing behind him when he fired. I'd be interested to see what it looks like at night. In addition to the ARs, Robin Hood was shooting an AK and I had my XCR.

There were a variety of optics in evidence, including three EOTechs, an ACOG with a red dot mounted on top of it, a Trijicon reflex sight, an Aimpoint, and a low power variable scope. The AK was the only iron sighted rifle in the group. The fellow with the Trijicon was nice enough to give me a chance to look through it. I like my EOTech, but more and more I'm thinking that for a home defense rifle I want something that's always on, rather than messing about trying to get it turned on and adjusted when I hear a bump in the middle of the night. I'm considering the Aimpoint and the Trijicon reflex, and it was nice to have a chance to be able to get my hands on one to try it out.

Before we got started, we went over the carbine specific safety rules we'd worked out. Carbines are something new for the Utah Polite Society and during last month's shoot, we saw a few instances of rather scary gunhandling. These new rules (keeping rifles cased unless you're out on the range and slung unless you're actually firing) are intended to keep things safe while still allowing people to gain some experience in carrying around a rifle.

We started out the drill by explaining how to sling and unsling the rifle. Robert demonstrated slinging and unslinging from the weak side shoulder, muzzle down. Since I seem to be the only one around who favors the strong side shoulder I demoed slinging and unslinging from that side, again, muzzle down. We decided to mandate muzzle down carry both for easier deployment and to avoid problems where a shooter bends down to pick up something and ends up muzzle sweeping everyone with his muzzle-up rifle.

Robert demonstrated the various ready positions for us (high, low, field, indoor, and Rhodesian ready), as well as the standard shooting positions (offhand, squatting, kneeling, double kneeling, sitting, and prone). Following his demonstration, we each got a chance to try out the different positions. One thing I noticed was that people had a tendency to load their weapons using their strong side hand. This is a bad habit to get into, since it leaves you unable to shoot while manipulating a magazine. Even if you've only got the one round in the chamber it could be crucial if you need to shoot while performing a reload.

We had one really troublesome jam during the carbine exercise. Robert's AR wouldn't go into battery, even with vigorous use of the forward assist. We took a break and he went over to the safety area to try taking the rifle apart. It was about this time that we discovered that a hive of bees seems to have made it's home in one of the drawers of the safety area workbench. Because the bolt wouldn't go into battery, it was impossible to take down the normal way, by popping the rear pin out and withdrawing the bolt carrier. First Robert tried pulling off the stock, but then he realized that he could get the upper and lower apart with the bolt still in place by popping the forward disassembly pin. Once the rifle was broken down, we spotted the problem: a popped primer cup was in the area where the bolt lugs are supposed to lock up, preventing the bolt from locking up. With this removed, the rifle went back together and functioned fine for the rest of the afternoon.

I think there are a couple of good lessons here. First and most important, when you carry a rifle, it's important to carry a pistol as a backup. This was a fairly simple problem, one that did no permanent damage to the rifle. However, no immediate action drill would have fixed it. The only way to get back in the fight would have been to switch to another weapon. Second, don't get too locked into one way of doing things. Robert was so used to popping the back pin and removing the bolt carrier group that it took him quite a while to realize that he could pop the front pin and detach the lower that way.

With that little problem cleared up, we moved on to the stand up drill. You start out prone and fire two rounds at the target. Once you've shot you start standing up, scanning as you go. The RO calls out "fire" and you have to drop into the quickest stable position and shoot. If the RO times it right, you end up shooting double kneeling, kneeling, squat, and offhand.

It was almost 6 o'clock by the time we got finished up, which made for a very long, but productive day. I think we were a lot more organized than last month and things ran a lot more smoothly. Of course, having about half as many people probably helped too. Once again I'd like to thank Brianna, Lizette, and Robert for their efforts to expand our knowledge.

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