Thursday, December 18, 2014

Thoughts from my trip to Gunsite

Thoughts from my trip to GunsiteRecently, I traveled to Gunsite on behalf of Ruger to attend an event that focused on their line of 5.56/.223 rifles and carbines.  It was a three day mini-course with day one focusing on their bolt action rifles, primarily the compact American, with days two and three highlighting the Mini-14 and SR/AR-556 carbines. As the three days went by, I had a number of thoughts about Gunsite, training, weaponry and related accessories that I thought I would share here. In a weird sort of way, this makes sense as anyone who has read the writings of Lt. Col. Jeff Cooper, the founder of Gunsite, knows he oftentimes wrote in short thoughts about a variety of subjects. Here are mine…not as profound I am sure…
  • The last 250 pistol course of 2014 was ending on the first day of our event. I noticed most of the students were carrying Glock and Smith & Wesson M&P pistols on their hips. I only saw one 1911! Not to say there was not more, I just did not see any.  The instructor cadre seemed to reflect this trend as there were a few 1911’s in leather holsters but there was an equal amount of Glocks in Blade-Tech Kydex rigs including one sporting a Surefire weapon light. Kydex was the carry gear of choice with most being Blade-Tech. Tim Wegner of Blade-Tech is a friend of mine so I cannot say this is a bad things as he makes great gear!
  • As I walked the Hanneken Range after the pistol course ended, I noticed the deck was littered with 9mm brass.  Students are not required to police brass, so do not think they left it behind maliciously.  There was only one firing position in which .45 brass was readily apparent.  This is a HUGE change over from times past!  In talking with a few of the Gunsite instructors I discovered a number of reasons for this in their opinions…”It’s cheaper to shoot”…”too many of these people listen to the fu*@in’ FBI who doesn’t know what they are talking about!”…”many of these people do not want to deal with recoil which is what the Weaver Stance brings to the table”…”it’s just the way it is now”. 9mm Glock and M&P pistols are what I see 85-90% of the time in my classes and I am ok with it. In days past I would have thought the selection of the 9 over the .45 was not a sound idea, but with modern ammunition I do believe the difference in pistol calibers is now minimal.  This is using modern hollow point ammo, of course…
  • As I watched the students come and go I noticed the trend of military-style “tactical” clothing was not in residence. The mode of dress was more hiking/camping oriented which makes a ton of sense! Cargo pants were being worn for the pockets and not the look. 511 was used in conjunction with North Face, Columbia and Mountain Hard Wear to keep warm and dry…not look “contractor casual”. I have seen this in my classes as well and is certainly welcome it!
  • I don’t like to shoot bolt action rifles! I get bored. Before you beat me up understand I don’t think bolt actions are bad, I just prefer to shoot guns that shoot with a simple press of the trigger. I admit to this being a bit disingenuous as I prefer pump action shotguns. I didn’t say it made sense…
  • I still like the Mini-14! This was our first SWAT rifle when my former agency formed its SWAT Team in 1980. I liked the gun then and I still like it…it feels like an old friend when I pick it up and shoot it.  I can still run it pretty well, too!  I like the open top that allows me to tip the whole gun inward, with the rear stock supported under my shooting-side fore arm and “rack out” any stoppages with gravity doing most of the work.  Several of the others in attendance looked at me like I had two heads when I did this, but it works!! It’s also simple to do and God knows I like simple!
  • I have come too really like variable magnification optics on my AR platform carbines.  I know many of the former military instructors recommend simple red dots…of which I have tried various models…but they just do not work as well for me as the variable models. You have to see to shoot and the better you see the better you shoot!! While running the Scrambler at Gunsite I used various optics from iron sights to a developmental 1 x 6 Fire Dot Leupold scope and without fail the Fire Dot was the way to go. Leupold had also sent an EO-TECH-style optic (that is also in development) which was very nice, but I just did not shoot as well as I did with the 1 x 6. Those who argue against the longer scope claim it adds bulk and weight to the light carbine but I feel it is worth the trade-off. Our PJ agreed stating that when he deployed next he wanted to take the 1 x 6 Leopold instead of his fixed red dot.  MGM makes a simple plastic lever that fits over the magnification dial on such optics that makes increasing/decreasing the level of magnification a snap.
  • Those of us in the combative handgun arena think WAY TO MUCH about the type of ammo we place in our guns. The truth is we are currently enjoying THE BEST combative ammo in history and as I said above, the difference between the popular handgun calibers is less than ever before but DO NOT misunderstand…a bigger, heavier bullet is still probably superior, but only if you hit what you are shooting at! NO CALIBER WILL MAKE UP FOR POOR BULLET PLACEMENT. The .223/5.56 is a rifle caliber that has been much debated and for good reason in some arenas. For the vast majority of us, a 55 grain bonded hollow point will work just fine. For the LE community, a barrier penetration round is something that should be considered and for those who might take a VERY LONG shot, the 70 plus grain bullets make sense.  How many armed citizens…or cops for that matter…will be taking a shot longer than 300 yards?! At Gunsite we were hitting chest cavity sixe steel targets with boring regularity out to 300 yards from both stranding and kneeling with 55 grain bullets. This will work just fine for those of us using an AR in this country. Former Arizona DPS Trooper and long -time Gunsite instructor Charlie McNeese told me a number of stories of how well their 55 grain bonded hollow point worked, even on car windows…
  • Pistol sights seem to be selected based on popularity or the recommendation of a popular instructor. I continue to see students using pistol sights they cannot see, something that several Gunsite instructors also passed along in conversation. Why would you select a sight system your eyes cannot focus on??!! “Because instructor XYZ said they were the best!”, that’s why!  For them, maybe…but how about you?! Black on black sights super-imposed on a dark target is tough for even the best of eyes, though they work great on white steel targets. What is the chance your opponent will be wearing white? As he aged, Jeff Cooper started using colored front sights, though he never liked tritium. Admittedly, tritium is nice to have but not essential as the light spectrum in which tritium works best is limited. If you do choose to color the front sight, then why not color MUCH of it? Fiber optics are all the rage right now and that is fine, but I (personally) cannot see them so I do not follow the trend. If you can’t see them, then neither should you! Fiber optics are great for precision shots in day light (competition) but how are they in inconsistent light (indoors) or when the light gets low? This, of course, is up to you but choose wisely and choose based on your needs and not the instructor you “worship”…
  • While a number of instructors want to claim their doctrine is truly unique, if they go through the process of teaching grip, trigger control, ready positions, presentation from the holster, reloading, clearing malfunctions, using cover, stress inoculation, etc. then they have been influenced by Gunsite whether they want to admit it or not. Jeff Cooper quantified this process through the years (the 50’s and 60’s) before opening Gunsite in 1976 and teaching it as his Defensive Pistol course, which is now called 250. Even if you do not agree with The Modern Technique of the Pistol (Weaver Stance, etc.) you should take this course as it is where it all began. Keep in mind the doctrine has changed over the years as the folks at Gunsite have learned some techniques work better than others, but the support arm is still bent which I happen to think is just fine if it works for you…

It was a great week in the Arizona high desert shooting other people’s guns and ammo, drinking and eating food paid for by Ruger and drinking Scotch and smoking cigars with such good folks as Charlie McNeese and Dick Williams. I hope I get back there real soon…

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