Night vision equipment is cool. Being visually oriented creatures puts us at a disadvantage once it’s dark. It’s very empowering see what others can’t. For armed professionals this ability is essential. In some states it’s legal to
hunt varmints using night vision. If the zombies do attack night vision would be a good thing to have, plus shooting at night without having to use a flashlight is an evening of fun.
When Brownells began stocking ATN’s line of night vision scopes, which are affordably priced, I immediately placed an order. Brownells carries several different models of ATN’s scopes. I, of course, ordered the least expensive of the Aries MK models (#100-010-904), which is a Gen I with 2.5 magnification. This is a stand-alone scope with crosshairs, and can be used in the daytime with the cover – which has a small hole in it – over the front lens. More money gets you more magnification, or with the PS40 and PS22 series a smaller package that mounts in front of your regular day time scope and features an automatic cutoff feature for bright light.
The MK350 model runs off a CR123 battery. A push-button turns it off and on, there’s a knob to adjust the brightness of the reticle, and the scope adjustments – 1/4 minute per click – are handled with large easy to reach knobs.
Night vision amplifies the existing light. The key to being able to really see with any NV is using a good IR illuminator. The scope came with an IR illuminator but I discovered it doesn’t supply enough light for rifle work. Using an IR light such as Streamlight’s SuperTac is like the difference between night and day, allowing you to see out to several hundred yards even in pitch-black conditions.
This also provided me an opportunity to use MechArmor’s TacOps-1 charging handle. With the ATN scope, or a traditional optic, the scope has to be properly positioned to provide the correct eye relief. Usually this mounting position makes it difficult to work the AR’s charging handle. MechArmor’s handle is heavy-duty, with extended lathes, making it easy to operate with the scope. The ambidextrous design allows you to cycle the handle using either hand, so for a right handed shooter in a prone position it’s easier and requires less movement to cycle using your strong hand. This is a good piece of kit.
Mounting the scope is easy, and it’s simple to operate, just pay close attention to the directions concerning focusing. This model is bulky, adding about three pounds to your rifle, which makes it top heavy so it does take some getting use to. Also, make sure to use a good firing position to avoid getting kissed in the eye by the rear of the scope as you fire.
I think the night vision market is about to explode. There are legitimate uses for this gear, and as mentioned even if you don’t really need it the cost isn’t that bad compared to the cool factor. As with any kit practice so you know how to work it properly. Remember, it will be dark, you won’t be able to see, except through the scope, and the ability to operate all your gear in the dark is mandatory.
Seems like there are new products for AR’s being introduced daily. Not all of them are good, but some are great. So, I have three products to recommend, two fairly new and one oldie but goodie.
When it came to ergonomics Eugene Stoner was a genius. The AR has all its essential components – safety, mag and bolt release – in just the right place. On the original rifle Stoner used triangular handguards. The triangle shaped fits the shape of your hand nicely, and the flatter bottom helps when you’re resting it on something, like bracing for stability and accuracy. I have several rifles with them and really like ‘em. The problem with the original design, due to the material they are made from, is they break or crack easily.
Precision Reflex, Inc. now offers their Gen III Delta shaped forearm that is free floated, set up with rails, and constructed from carbon fiber, which makes it virtually indestructible. The triangular shape works with gas or piston guns. They offer three lengths – carbine, mid-length, and rifle – with picatinny rails positioned on the top, sides, and bottom that are easily removed if you want. If you’re going mount one of these handguards be sure to get the proprietary wrench needed to torque the barrel nut.
I like fixed stocks, particularly the A1 stock, which is 5/8 of an inch shorter than the A2 version. Now, Magpul has their MOE fixed stock, (Brownells 100-009-585) which is close to the length of shorter A1 stock but with an enlarged area for an improved cheekweld. Snap the muzzle up, hit your cheekweld and you’ve got a sight picture. It has a small storage compartment and a variety of points to attach your sling. It also looks cool, which is always an advantage and may just improve your accuracy. They will soon have this same style stock set up to fit an adjustable stock buffer tube that will allow you to use one buffer tube for fixed and adjustable stocks.
The extractor spring on the AR is obviously an important part, and over the years there have been many variations offered. I’ve tried a lot of different type springs, even the chrome silicon versions – and I’ve ended up having all of them break before they should. Now, I’ve sworn off everything except Colt’s “gold” extractor spring (Brownells’ 160-304-025). Colt went through several different versions of springs and plastic inserts, eventually settling on the “gold” spring around 2003. This spring provides reliable and effective performance in both rifles and carbines.
Rifles are very personal weapons, and with the variety of parts available today there is no reason not to have one that fits your needs. Just keep in mind the deciding factor in choosing parts is your intended application of the weapon. Once you’ve figured out what you need then spend plenty of time practicing so you know how it works.
When it comes to long guns one of the most common issues we see is shooters not getting the stock of the weapon in the actual pocket of the shoulder. This creates several problems. If you’re firing something with serious recoil, especially shotguns, the stock will slam into the shoulder with enough force to bruise. The stock needs to be in the pocket for accuracy, creating a consistent platform and efficient recovery from recoil for follow up shots. Getting the stock located in the pocket is also crucial for efficiency. When you bring the muzzle up and obtain a cheek weld against the stock the sights should fall into alignment with your eyes, without having to reposition your head.
To find your pocket bring the right arm up, for right-hand shooters, so it’s angled ninety degrees to the body, bending the elbow so the hand is positioned where it would be if holding the grip of the gun. Take your support hand, holding the fingers straight, and find the high point on the front of the collarbone. Now slide the hand outboard, towards the shoulder, following the radius of the collarbone. Your hand will dip down, or inward, and keep sliding until you hit the deltoid muscle of the shoulder. This low spot is your pocket, and where the heel of the stock should be positioned.
How much of the stock you have in the pocket, or the height of the stock, depends on what type weapon you’re firing. The idea is that when you bring the muzzle onto target and obtain a cheek weld on the stock the sights should be aligned with your eyes. For guns with low sights, such as shotguns, the entire heel will be in the shoulder. The same position holds true for a bolt-action rifles, even those with optics higher than the barrel. Unless your stock is adjustable or has a raised comb you’ll have to add material to the stock, raising the comb of the stock so you can get a proper cheek weld. A cheek pad -Brownells # 851-200-500 – works well for this. In the field you can use duct tape and foam pipe insulation.
AR’s are completely different. Due to the rifle’s design and offset between the sights and barrel only about the bottom half of the stock’s heel should be in the shoulder. This allows you to hit a solid, consistent cheek weld and obtain a good sight picture without having to reposition your head and eyes. If you put the stock too low in your pocket you have to shove your head forward or tilt it sideways to obtain a sight picture. Neither one of these options are good.
The key, as always, is consistency, and consistency is the result of practice. Dry practice is best. You start in the low ready position, stock properly positioned in the pocket and muzzle depressed, visually focusing on the exact point you want to place the shot. You bring the muzzle up and obtain a solid cheek weld. The sights should now be in alignment with the eyes. Lower the muzzle down, and repeat, over and over, until it becomes natural.
In the past two columns we’ve talked about aiming, holding, and pressing the trigger to fire an accurate shot. (Remember, accuracy is defined by the shot you’re attempting.) The final step in the fundamentals is follow-through – recovering from the recoil, reacquiring the sights on the target and resetting the trigger. Following through after every shot fired is essential for firing multiple shots accurately and to improve accuracy.
Follow-through begins by recovering from the recoil. When it comes to recoil we control it as much as possible with the proper stance, isometric tension between the arms and a sound grip, but the idea is to concentrate on allowing the recoil to occur and then using the entire body to assist in recovering from the recoil efficiently. If additional shots are required you’re back on target and ready to fire. By not attempting to control the recoil you’re able to press off the shot without recoil anticipation, which is definitely going to improve your accuracy.
While pressing the trigger your visual focus is on the front sight, or with a red-dot sight, on the target. Once the shot fires keep your eyes on the same focal point. Ideally with iron sights you’re watching the front sight travel up and back down onto target. Make sure to fight the urge to shift your focus to the target to see where you hit. This will cost you time and without the proper follow-through you’ll see accuracy degrade. When using a dot your focus in on the target and the dot drops back onto the target. One reason dots are so easy to operate is that you don’t have to program the eyes to shift their focus from the threat to a front sight. Iron or dot visually acquiring another sight picture is essential for firing additional shots without delay, often required in a confrontation, and again a critical part of accuracy.
The final component of the follow-through is resetting the trigger. To reset the trigger you fire the shot then release the trigger forward only far enough so the internals reset and it’s ready to press again if needed. The speed you press the trigger is dictated by the accuracy required. The same thing applies to a certain degree when resetting the trigger. When surgical accuracy is called for you want to press smoothly to fire the shot, completely recover from the recoil, and then reset the trigger. This makes sure the shot has cleared the barrel before you start changing anything in your grip or stance.
In a lethal confrontation we know it’s likely multiple shots will be required to stop the threat, especially when we’re talking about handguns. The proper follow-through allows you to place multiple hits accurately on the threat in the least amount of time possible. The more accuracy required the more important follow-through becomes; for precision/surgical shooting follow-through is a key element to success.
If you think about it follow-through applies to almost everything we do in life. Make sure to get the job done efficiently, regardless of the task.
Shooting accurately requires you to know how to work the sights and trigger. For fighting the term ‘accuracy’ is very subjective. Some situations call for efficient shots to a large target at close range. The threat is two yards away; hits to the chest don’t require a perfect sight picture and you don’t have all day to press the trigger. For a longer distance shot, or when firing at a smaller target, if you don’t get a good sight picture and smooth trigger press you ain’t gonna get the hit.
In the last column we talked about obtaining a sight picture, aligning the sights between the eyes and the point on the target the shot needs to go. Once you have the sight picture, as defined by the accuracy required, you hold steady by focusing on the front sight. The degree you focus on the front sight is determined by the accuracy needed. For a large target at close distance a flash sight picture, a quick confirmation the front sight is on the area the shots need to go, will suffice. As the distance increases or target size decreases you have to focus more intently on the front sight.
With red-dot sights, which a lot of people are putting on pistols now as well as rifles, your visual focus is always on the target and you place the dot where it needs to go. Focusing on the dot will get you into “chasing the dot,” which will never settle down exactly where you want it. Focus on the target and put the dot on the spot.
Once you’re holding steady, regardless of what type sights you’re working with, it’s time to smoothly press the trigger. The time it takes to press the trigger depends on the accuracy. The only way to learn how to press the trigger smoothly, no matter what the speed of the press is, is to start slow.
Your job to point the weapon in the right direction, using the sights, then press the trigger, allowing the internal components of the weapon to do their work and firing the round when it’s time. Trying to make the weapon fire when you’re ready, going “now” and slapping or jerking the trigger, usually results in recoil anticipation, which is going to affect accuracy.
There are a variety of ways to learn how to achieve a smooth trigger press. In the beginning you have to consciously think about the press. If you’re not thinking about pressing smoothly it won’t happen. One technique is to achieve a smooth press is to verbalize the word “press,” dragging it out, saying “pressssss” as you steadily increase pressure on the trigger. At some point the shot is released. You can use a count method, starting at 1, slowly going through 2, 3, 4, … steadily increasing the pressure as you count up. Another technique is to see just how much pressure you can apply to the trigger without making the weapon fire. At some point the pressure will override the trigger and fire the shot. Imagining they are slowly pressing the bullet out of the barrel while holding the sights steady works for some people. We all have a different method or technique that works. Discover what works for you.
Once you discover your mental key for pressing the trigger practice, over and over, always properly working your sights. Eventually you get to the point where you shorten up the time required to press the trigger. After time and repetition it becomes an action that doesn’t require conscious thought. Pressing the trigger becomes a subconscious act; you press the trigger smoothly because of thousands of repetitions.
In part III we’ll talk about the importance of “follow-through.”
To shoot a firearm accurately you have to apply the fundamentals of marksmanship: Aim, Hold, Press, and Follow-Through. In addition to these fundamentals you use the proper stance, arm position, and grip, but these things are subject to change according to the situation. In a fight you may not be able to acquire a textbook stance. The arms may not be indexed in the ideal position. You could be firing with only one hand. But anytime you’re firing a shot the four fundamentals still apply – even more so when the other basics are compromised.
When you fire a shot it should be with predictable results. You aim, hold, press and follow-through to ensure accurate shots. Just keep in mind that accuracy is defined by distance and the size of the target. The speed you can cycle through the four fundamentals depends on the accuracy necessary for the shot you’re attempting.
Aiming basically means getting the weapon pointing in the right direction, but it’s a little more complicated than just pointing. Very few things required to fight effectively with a firearm are instinctual. Under stress we are programmed to visually focus on the source of our problem. When faced with a threat we shift our focus to the person, then begin visually assessing to determine how big the problem is. Normally this means watching the hands to see what they are doing. Do they have a weapon? Are they responding to our commands for them to drop the weapon, or did their hands start out empty and now there is a weapon. Watch the hands. It’s also a good idea to watch their feet. The feet will predict what movement a person is about to perform, often even before the suspect consciously realizes what they’re about to do.
When the situation turns to the point that we have to use our weapon, it’s time to shoot, our focus should shift to the point on the threat that we want the bullet to go. With the eyes focused on this point we bring the weapon up so the sights intersect our line of vision. Now we have a sight picture, the alignment of the weapon’s sights between our eyes and the point of impact, where we want the bullet to strike. This is much more efficient than seeing the whole target, bring the weapon up and lowering the head down to find the sights and then having to align all that onto the target.
The precision in the alignment of the sights between the eyes and target is dictated by the accuracy needed. To put shots into the chest of a target five feet away you can get by with just having the front and rear sights close to actual alignment. To hit a four-inch plate from twenty-five yards the sight picture is going to need to be more precise.
Once you have a sight picture it’s time to go to step two, holding the sights steady. We’ll discuss that in part two of this series.
New gear comes out for the AR every day. Some of it is useful for a wide variety of shooters while other pieces are highly specialized and designed for very specific applications. Here are three pieces of kit I think are worthy of consideration for anyone owning an AR.
AR’s will run dirty, but eventually you gotta clean ‘em. In the past one of the worst aspects of cleaning was removing carbon buildup on the tail end of the bolt and inside the bolt carrier. Everyone had their own assortment of tools and tricks to accomplish the task. The CRT-15 Carbon Removal Tool from Magna-Matic solves that problem. There are several tools out there designed for this cleaning chore, and I’ve tried a lot of them. I like the CRT-15 best. It works well, it’s rugged, plus it’s small enough to fit in your range bag with standard cleaning gear or into a pack for field use.
In an actual encounter it’s rare you’ll need a high round count to solve your problem, unless you’re in the military, but there are some situations that might present a target rich environment. Plus, who can argue that shootin’ a bunch without having to reload is fun, especially with full auto weapons in rock-and-roll mode. There hasn’t really been a good answer to the high-cap mag issue for the AR until Surefire released their new MAG5-60 mag, which holds sixty rounds and is 8.7 inches long. (It also comes in a hundred round version, but this involves adding almost four inches of length to the mag’s body, which I consider too long.) I took it apart, and it’s an impressive design with a very slim profile. One of my instructors took it on a T/E session of full-auto fire. Trust me when I say he abused it. It functioned flawlessly.
When it comes to red-dot sights I use Aimpoint. I prefer the two MOA dot, which allows surgical shots at realistic distances, but you could only get that size dot with the larger body sights like the M series or PRO. I like the size of the Aimpoint’s micro sights, the H-1 and T-1 (which is night vision compatible); they are small and just as rugged as the larger sights, but were only available with the four moa dot. Beyond one hundred yards the larger dot, which covers four inches at one hundred or eight at two hundred, makes it more difficult to get surgical type hits. Aimpoint listened to their clients, and now the H and T sights are available with two MOA dots, a small package with excellent accuracy. This is the sight to have. It’s easy to use, has a long battery life, and there is no questioning their quality.
Choose your kit carefully. Learn how to work it properly. When the time comes, use it efficiently.
rounds is very important. The total depends on a lot of factors, but the goal is to discover
how many rounds you can load yet with the bolt closed still easily seat and lock the
magazine into the rifle.
During a recent class we’re discussing this and Matt, one of our instructors, told about a test he ran during agency qualifications. Shooters loaded their mags with thirty rounds and were told to lock them into the rifle, rating how easy or difficult it was to seat the mag, 1 being easy and 10 difficult. When seating the AR mag with the bolt closed the bolt carrier presses the top round down into the mag. If the top round can’t be pushed down the mag will not lock in. The fully loaded aluminum G.I. mags were rated an eleven.
They continued, removing one round for each test. At twenty-five rounds the mags were consistently easy to seat. When first learning to work the AR I arrived at the same conclusion, and I have to admit part of it was the fact I could load two and one half stripper clips and I was good to go. I didn’t have to count. (Remember, this is before the fancy loaders available today.)
There are a lot of different mags and components like followers and springs available today. The number of rounds a mag will hold and easily seat into your rifle will vary. Your job it to figure out what works for you and your equipment. “Easy to seat” is a subjective term. What works for me will be different from someone with stronger muscles or an injured shoulder or elbow.
We want as many rounds in the mags as possible. You never know how much you’ll have to shoot. At the same time those extra four or five rounds won’t do any good if the mag won’t seat in the rifle. Even if the bolt is locked to the rear, say during an empty reload, with a lot of rifles the bolt won’t have enough power to strip off the top round from an overloaded mag with too much spring pressure on the first round.
The same thing applies to some pistols, especially those with high capacity double stack mags. Loading the mag completely full applies a lot of pressure to the spring and sometimes, even when the slide is cycled aggressively, it won’t chamber a round. I know several guys with high cap pistols who load with one or two rounds less than “full” because it guarantees proper functioning.
Having to take the time to smack the bottom of the mag to seat it may cost you an extra second or two on the range. In a fight, on the ground with your elbow trapped underneath your body the ability to smoothly index the mag, slip it in and easily lock it is victory.
Hand and arm injuries are common during fights. You injure your hand hitting someone. The arm doesn’t work after blocking a strike from a baseball bat. A knife cut disables tendons and muscles.
You broke something after being thrown to the ground. Part of our training and practice with firearms is learning how to operate them with only one hand and arm so if injured we still stay in the fight.
An area that normally isn’t addressed is the situation where you still have partial use of the injured limb or hand. A study of gunfights will reveal where a shooter lost a finger or part of a hand but still used it to reload. The hand is completely disabled but their arm continued to support a rifle. Single hand manipulations are a necessary skill, but we also need to make use of partially functioning arms and hands. Just ’cause it hurts don’t mean it’s out of the fight.
The best way I’ve found to simulate partial hand injuries is with heavy bulky gloves. Thick oversize gloves create a loss of dexterity, providing a sense of loss and simulating a wound. To replicate different type wounds tape different fingers or thumb together. Tape the thumb to the hand, which takes it out of operation and forces you to use the four remaining fingers. Taping the three smallest fingers together creates a completely different type handicap.
By being creative you can simulate all types of injuries. Use Popsicle sticks to tape up your trigger finger, forcing you to press the shot off with your second finger. Stuffing small rubber balls inside a glove creates a different sensation and difficulty to overcome. (Rocks are better, but rougher on the hands.)
A ninety or forty five-degree section of PVC pipe taped to your elbow joint allows only partial use of that arm. The same thing can be done with knee joints, using straight or angled sections of pipe. A really large oversize bulky boot creates a sense of what an injured foot may feel like.
Our actual body parts don’t feel pain. To indicate injury they transmit signals to the brain, where we “feel” pain. You can train to ignore pain, fighting and pressing on despite being wounded. Athletes do it all the time. Imagine what you can do when lives depend on ignoring an injury. A limb, hand, or foot that isn’t functioning will however affect our performance. The key is to modify your skills as necessary, which requires training and practice in advance. Preparation prevents me from having to be creative in the middle of the fight, a distinct advantage.
To practice these skills use dummy ammo and work dry. Safety is in effect at all times. The muzzle is pointing in a safe direction and fingers are only on the trigger when appropriate. After lots of dry practice working start moving and using cover. Finally go to the range – with a partner – and make sure when you press the trigger you hit the target. In a fight, don’t stop until you win.
The AR type rifle is equipped with a bolt release, which releases the bolt whenever it’s locked to the rear, hence its name. There are times when we use the charging handle – loading the rifle when the bolt is in battery and clearing malfunctions – but anytime the bolt is locked to the rear – reloading the rifle – we press the bolt release, not cycle the charging handle. Working the bolt release is ergonomic, efficient, and the way the weapon is designed to operate.
A right-handed shooter reloads the rifle by using the support hand to insert and seat the magazine – I tug to insure it’s seated – and then slides the cupped fingers up the magazine and mag-well which positions the thumb in just the right place to press the bolt release. The left-handed shooter seats the mag with the right hand, and uses their trigger finger to release the bolt. The AR is designed to be ergonomic, so hitting the bolt release is much quicker than cycling the charging handle.
This technique is also efficient. You can maintain your cheekweld on the rifle while keeping the muzzle on the threat, ready for follow-up shots if necessary. To cycle the bolt you have to lift your head up off the stock, and normally at the same time the muzzle drops off target. Any extra motion, like cycling the handle, lifting your head, large slapping motions with your hand to hit the release, which under stress usually takes shooters 2-3 slaps, or dropping the weapon’s muzzle off target means you’re wasting time. When reloading an empty weapon time is crucial, and efficiency is key.
The more you work the charging handle the more chance there is of you creating a problem. For example people will ride the handle forward with their hand, which slows the bolt assembly down enough that it doesn’t strip a round off the mag or chamber it correctly. This is especially true with a fully loaded magazine because it takes a lot of force to strip those first few rounds out of the mag.
Shooters will short stroke the handle, creating a stoppage, such as not ejecting a round or empty case. When it’s necessary I can work the charging handle, but anytime the bolt is locked to the rear pressing the release is our best option and course of action
Use the bolt release. That’s the way the AR rifle is designed to operate and it’s ergonomic, which translates into efficient and quick. Practice all manipulations; learn when to use the bolt release or why you cycle the charging handle. Then, when you need these skills you’re able to apply them properly and without conscious thought. This may seem like a small matter to some, but in a fight often times the little things can lead to ugly stuff. Train and practice accordingly, so you’ll fight properly.