The ultimate goal of shooting any firearm is to hit your target. Nowhere are the downsides of a miss so dire as during a real gunfight. If you miss, someone may lose their life—and someone will more than likely be shooting back at you. Can you shoot your carbine quickly and accurately at distances of 25 yards and more? All while taking incoming rounds? I own a training company that focuses on "the combative application of the handgun" but that does not mean I do not see the value of the long gun. I choose not to teach carbine courses because I never carried one during my law enforcement career so I have no original thoughts on deploying the system. To teach it would seem a bit disingenuous, but that does not mean I do not train with it and have thoughts on how to excel with it.
The primary reason for the carbine for the legally armed citizen and law enforcement officer is to have a gun with greater reach and precision for the atypical situation in our society, like a sniper or active shooter. The faster the threat is neutralized, the greater the chance everyone involved (both active participants and those caught in the cross-fire) go home with few, if any, psychological or physical injuries. Getting the first hit and following up fast is how a gunfight is brought to a conclusion.
It’s like Barbie for men!
To me, the AR-15 is like the 1911 of the past...you feel compelled to hang crap on it! Every armed citizen of police officer needs to give critical thought to what they really need on a combative-grade carbine. Please keep in mind I am not talking about your 3 Gun Match Carbine, those requirements are likely to be different. I am talking about the gun you will be pulling from your vehicle to defend your life or the life of another. You want this gun to be light, sleek and as reliable as possible. Never rely on gadgets for performance! You can’t buy skill so don’t even try. As a general rule, an AR set up for combative purposes should have:
• An optic (one level of magnification for every 100 yards you expect to use it in):
• Back-up iron sights;
• A sling;
• A mounted white light with pressure switch activation;
• A good muzzle break/flash hider
Anything beyond this will probably make your lightweight carbine clunky and heavy so think carefully. DO NOT take your light 7 pound carbine and turn it into a ten pound plus piece of junk!
I like the AR-15 platform because it offers a certain continuity of action with the semi-auto pistol. It uses a pistol grip, a push-button magazine release, a slide action (charging handle) that can be manipulated with the support hand and the ability to clear stoppages quickly. “Tap, Rack, Target” is a simple stoppage drill that prepares students for this potentiality. Tap the bottom of the magazine to make sure it’s seated, rack the action (slide of a pistol, bolt handle on the carbine) and focus back on the target to adapt your next move. Controlling the recoil of the two guns is also similar in that putting one’s body mass behind the gun will help keep the muzzle on target. The carbine’s recoil is even more “rearward linear” than a pistol as the bore of the AR is actually in line with the stock while the pistol sits above the hand. Having the bore in line with the shoulder makes recoil control all the easier.
Combative Carbine Training
When training to use the carbine for personal security, focus on the essentials! There is no way any of us can practice for every possible situation that may develop, so practice the basics and “war game” in your head how to use those to adapt to a rapidly unfolding situation. With the AR/M-4 carbine, combat grade speed and accuracy is accomplished by squaring the body behind the gun with the upper torso slightly forward: This keeps body weight behind the gun holding the muzzle down. Many shooters want to blade their body due to the length of the gun, but this is a serious mistake in a fight. Think of it as if your upper torso were a gate—when the gate is closed, it’s locked in line with the rest of the fence. If the gate is left open to swing, it can be moved with very little effort. Square to the target, the gun is locked down with very little muzzle rise occurring. But if the body is bladed behind the gun, recoil can actually push it back allowing the muzzle to rise unnecessarily. Keeping the muzzle on target results in fast, accurate shots, which end the confrontation.
2. Keep the shooting hand high on the pistol grip: Everyone knows gripping the semi-auto pistol high on the tang helps control the gun. On the AR, it keeps the hand in proper alignment behind the trigger for better trigger control. If the standard grip allows too much of the index finger to enter the trigger guard, get a grip that adds surface material behind it. The Magpul MOE grip is a perfect example of this. Also by pulling back on the grip, the gun is better locked into the shoulder. This further increases weapon control—not doing so is the mark of a lazy shooter.
3. Grip the forward hand guard firmly with the support hand: How this is done differs from shooter to shooter. Some prefer to use a vertical fore grip while others don’t—there’s no right or wrong way here. Keep in mind that when using a vertical grip, don’t grasp it like you’re holding a beer can. The thumb should stay on the support side of the hand guard and not tucked under, mimicking the thumbs forward grip used on a pistol. This keeps the wrist locked and allows the support arm’s elbow to be bent down holding the hand back and holding the muzzle down. The vertical fore grip is an excellent lever—to not use it would be such a waste. Rolling the thumb over the top of the fore end and lifting the support side elbow high is becoming increasingly popular. If you like it, fine…but do not lift the elbow so high you cannot scan for threats without getting the elbow in the way. I tend to roll my thumb over top and place the elbow in a position that will allow me to pull back on the fore end as if I am pulling on a rope. Do what works for you.
The high elbow “C grip” allows for an exceptional level of control when driving the muzzle from one target to another, but I have seldom seen it used in actual conflict. Watch news footage from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and you’ll see many soldiers and Marines grasping the magazine well—a technique I used with my HK MP-5 and still like. That said using this technique infuriates many instructors. In fact, I had an instructor slap my hand when I reverted to it unknowingly during a training course (He and I had a little discussion about this afterward) which is totally unprofessional.
I had the opportunity to bring up the high elbow, reach forward C Grip with a couple of recently returned Army Rangers during an interview. They told me they had been trained in the C grip technique and liked it. But they also said when the bullets are flying and the muzzle is leading out and around toward the threat—say around the corner of a building or over a wall—few want to place their hand near the muzzle so they end up pulling it back and grasping the magazine well. While I too, like reaching forward on the hand guard, this is something to consider as real bullets in the air fighting is quite different than shooting on the range. Maybe the solution is grasping the hand guard in the middle but still wrapping the thumb over top. Something to think about.
Keep the head locked down on the rear stock: Not only does this give a consistent view through the optic or irons, it also helps hold the gun firmly in place. With the head locked down (the consistent cheek weld) and the shoulders forward, there’s no place for the gun to go so the recoil comes straight back, making follow-up shots very fast.
5. Drop the strong side elbow down: Once you’ve mounted the carbine as described, the next thing is to drop your strong side elbow. This performs a few important functions: First, it tightens the pectoral muscle, which helps solidify the carbine’s position. Second, it helps keep the elbow out of the way of objects and prevent injury. As someone who smacked his elbow on a door frame during a building search for a bank robber, I can’t express how important this is. Third, the downward pressure also helps bring he gun tighter into the upper torso.
6. Control the trigger! Trigger control is weapon control. If you slap, smack, smash or spank the trigger, the muzzle will move no matter how hard you hold the fore end. It won’t be as much as a pistol, but poor trigger control will affect the muzzle. Proper trigger control, whether it’s a pistol, shotgun or carbine, is a smooth depression straight to the rear (i.e. press). This will always be the case regardless of the gun being shot. Control the trigger and you’ll control the muzzle.
Incorporate tactics into your shooting! Tactics keep you from being seen and shot. Shoot around objects of various sizes and heights, move into and out of position, reload and “run the gun” in unorthodox positions, transition to a secondary weapon and practice pulling it out of whatever type of rack the gun is carried in while being transported in the car. Combative firearms training doesn’t vary greatly from weapon to weapon, it just needs to be relevant and prepare the shooter for the likely situations they may face. Remember: Winning a gunfight usually comes down to adapting your practiced skills to the situation that’s unfolding before you.