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.
For survival, especially self-defense involving aggressive attackers, flashlights are mandatory. For everyday survival flashlights are handy. A common byproduct of natural disasters such as ice storms, tornadoes, and hurricanes is the loss of power. When you can’t flip a switch multiple sources of alternative lighting make life a lot easier. For situations involving violent attackers light is a necessity, especially considering that most violent encounters occur in low-light environments.
For home defense it makes sense to have a light attached to your weapon. Mating two tools into one package makes responding to a threat simpler; defending against an attacker in your home will stressful enough without adding to the process. Today there are a variety of pistols manufactured with rails to attach lights. With the light mounted on your pistol you are ready to locate, identify, and if necessary engage a threat.
Carrying a light on your pistol, especially concealed, is a little easier than it used to be. At one time there were only a limited number of holster options available. Most of those were bulky outside the waistband holsters that are difficult to hide. Today a variety of manufacturers produce holsters for pistols with lights, and there are even inside the waistband holsters available.
As with all fighting skills and related equipment training and practice is necessary. It’s not as simple as snapping a light onto the weapon and calling yourself ready. Manipulating a pistol in the dark is completely different from a lighted environment. Using the flashlight properly is an ability that requires a good education on low-light principles. You also need to insure that attaching the light to the pistol doesn’t affect reliability of both light and pistol.
Just because you have a weapon mounted light doesn’t mean you don’t need to know how to use hand-held lights. While the LED lights of today are much more reliable than the older incandescent models they can still go bad. When your light goes out you better have a spare. Carrying a hand-held allows you to perform tasks that don’t require you to draw your pistol. A hand-held provides a little more versatility, allowing you to keep the weapon indexed or pointing in one direction and the light in another.
There are more people than ever seeking out training for self-defense, which is a good thing. The problem that we see is very few students ever progress into low-light training, which is a bad thing. Documentation shows over seventy percent of violent confrontations occur in low-light environments, and keep in mind low-light environments exist twenty-four hours a day. There are always areas in buildings and structures that have shadows or are not lighted. This is compounded when you step into them from sunny, bright daylight. It’s daytime, but the power goes off. You need to clear a closet in your house, but it’s probably a bad idea to step inside it to turn the light on.
Once you get up to speed on your daylight fighting skills it’s time to move over to the dark side. Unless you’re prepared to face conflict in the dark you ain’t really ready. Flashlights, and the skills to use them, are mandatory. Don’t get caught off guard.
When you train, attending a school to learn techniques, and as you practice, learning the techniques through repetition, it is a good idea to work with what you actually carry on a daily basis. For example students who carry concealed will arrive at Shootrite for class with a full size 1911, which is a good fightin’ weapon. The problem is that as we talk about carrying, it comes out that the pistol they normally tote is a J frame S&W revolver in a pocket holster. When I ask why they aren’t training with the J frame the most common response is, “I didn’t want to hold back the class.”
This also occurs with armed professionals. Does your work holster have retention devices? Then that’s what you should train/practice with. The other side of the coin is that most officers also carry off-duty, which makes it a little more complicated. Since one can never predict when you may need the pistol it’s a good idea to work with both duty and off-duty weapons and gear.
We attend training to learn tactical skills – moving, communicating, the use of cover, shooting under a variety of conditions and learning to think under stress. Regardless of why you carry a weapon these fundamentals are pretty much the same and apply across the board; they may vary slightly in their actual application according to what your job is.
Training also provides an opportunity to learn how your gear works. You’re not only learning new skills but also searching for any problems that can be corrected in advance. On the range, during single hand manipulations simulating injury drills, you determine that you can’t cycle the pistol’s slide by hooking the rear sight against your floppy holster. Learning about this problem during training means you can get a better holster as opposed to finding out during a fight that your gear doesn’t work. Pinpointing a potential problem in advance is very valuable. This applies to gear, physical skills, and especially the mental aspects of personal combat.
To fight effectively you must be intimately familiar with your gear. True, you need to know how to operate any type weapon you may acquire. But, training/practicing with one type pistol and then carrying something completely different creates an ideal situation for difficulty. In a confrontation there are plenty of things to think about without your equipment adding to the list. Spend most of your time with what you normally carry.
Once you determine what works for you as far as pistol and gear goes, stick with it. Slowing down the class shouldn’t be your worry. Plus, if you come to class with a revolver you’ll get really good at reloading. I also wouldn’t be concerned about being the quickest guy in class to draw and fire a shot. It will be up to you alone to defeat the threat. To do this means learning to work with what ‘cha got
Carrying a revolver means you pack extra ammo. Five or six shots may solve your immediate problem, but without ammo to reload you’re unprepared for anything else that might kick up. How you carry ammo and the gear used is just as important as your tactics and training.
For semi-auto pistols you carry extra magazines. With a revolver there are ways to carry loose rounds, speed strips, and speed loaders. Shoving a handful of rounds into your pants pocket is not advised. The ammo should be located and positioned in a consistent manner so you can get to it efficiently from any position. Below are a few things that work well for me. Your application, personal preference, or how you have to dress dictates how your carry.
I’m a big fan of pouches and carriers for the belt. I’m don’t carry ammo in a pocket. Your body position in a fight may not allow quick access to a pocket. I like it on my belt, and the ability to grab one or two rounds for tactical reloads – replacing rounds fired with live ammo -an essential skill for the revolver. There are lots of options for belt carry. The two I use most often are an old six round slide loop carrier from Milt Sparks and a pouch El Paso Leather calls a “2-6 Pick Box,” which hold six rounds in three separate compartments. Both of these allow you to carry extra ammo in a fairly concealable manner with quick access.
I’ve tried speed strips, which are like metal stripper clips for ammo except made of rubber so you can strip rounds off once they are chambered. They are a good way to carry ammo, but for me they are difficult to carry and my old hands don’t work with them very well. If you do carry strips they should be inside a pouch. You can put a strip in your pocket, but over time the rounds will twist loose and attract lint and grime like a magnet.
Speed loaders are almost like carrying a magazine, it just takes a little more skill to work them. With a revolver if you’ve fired until empty, or shot four out of the six rounds it holds, dumping everything and loading all six chambers fresh is the way to go. This is the job of the speed loader. The disadvantage is they are bulky, making them more difficult to conceal. I use El Paso Leather’s Double Speed Loader pouch.
The key with revolvers, as with all weapons, is learning how to operate them and the related gear. This process takes a little more time and research because there are several options for manipulating revolvers, like keeping it in the strong hand to manipulate or swapping it over to the support hand. There are also a variety of ways to carry ammo. Once you determine what works well for you then make time for plenty of practice.
I like leather holsters, belts, and mag pouches, and it takes an artist to create leather gear that works well and looks good. Assembly line products function well, but there is a difference between that and a piece of gear that was created by someone who worked with care through each step of the process. For this type leather Bill McLennan, www.texasholsters.com, is at the top of the list.
Bill was one of the original “Death Cheaters,” a nickname for instructors at the Thunder Ranch Texas (TRT) location. I met him during my first class there, and after I became an instructor there I got to know him well during hours spent around the “campfire” at the instructors’ bunkhouse after classes. He is a true Texas gentleman, one of the most knowledgeable men I know when it comes to art of gunfightin’, and a gun-leather artist.
After many years of teaching, in San Antone as their P.D.’s rangemaster and the majority of classes at TRT, he’s seen a lot of gear, and as he says on his website after watching thousands of students and their holsters the ones he builds “work or I wouldn’t build them.” Bill’s designs and skills are heavily influenced by the work of Bruce Nelson, Milt Sparks and Tony Kanaly, and Thad Rybka. (Search the ‘net and you’ll figure out that these are solid people to have as mentors.)
Texas Holsters has a limited product line, which is the way Bill likes it. He makes holsters for 1911′s, the Glock 22 and 27, S&W 2 inch J frames, and 4 inch barrel K and N frame Smiths. They come in smooth-side out or my favorite, rough side out, and any color as long as it’s natural color leather; he doesn’t dye or work with “drum” dyed leather. Bill offers a couple of outside the waistband style holsters, which work well for concealed carry, and inside-the-waistband models for more concealment.
A good holster requires the proper belt, and Bill offers these as well as mag pouches, slings, and nice cuffs for shotguns and lever actions. I own several examples of Bill’s work, and for carry they fit and function as it should. Bill’s leather also looks good, which is why I use it for my Sunday go to meetin’ leather. After all, there are times when my work leather, which sees constant use and abuse, just doesn’t meet the dress code.
Check out Bill’s website, and if you see something you like get with him at email@example.com. But I have to warn you, Bill is through and through Texas, which means he doesn’t have a lot of time for idle chit-chat, so for my sake don’t waste any of his time. On Bill’s website it says: “Gun Leather: made by hand, by one man, one piece at a time.” For fine leather that will withstand actual use and looks good this is the way it should be.
The tactical clothing of today traces its roots back to outdoor sports, especially “alpine” style mountaineering, an aggressive method of attacking a climbing objective carrying only the bare essentials, operating without any additional support or bases.
If you need it, you hump it. This sport requires lightweight clothing that provides protection against harsh terrain, water, wind and cold while allowing climbers to perform complicated physical tasks. As this gear became more mainstream the hunting and tactical communities recognized its advantages.
Today these high-tech materials and designs from the extreme sports have been successfully adapted for everything from suburban bicycling to the most rigorous forms of combative and tactical training.
A perfect example of the evolution from sport to tactical is Wild Things, a company started in 1981 by two climbers focused on making rugged lightweight climbing gear. Wild Things Tactical (WTT) is a line of gear specifically for combative applications. For example WTT’s Hard Shell Jacket, the SO 1.0, is designed to be worn over body armor and helmets, yet still create a slim profile.
All zippers are waterproof, including the pockets. There are two open-air mesh pockets inside, along with vent zippers on the sides. The hood is fully adjustable and has a laminated brim, a feature I consider essential. I usually wear a beanie cap in the cold. A hood without a brim will constantly slide forward and cover up my eyes.
The Hard Shell pants are made to the same specs as the coat, and cut to be close fitting. A slim profile allows you to move more naturally without snagging and catching on objects in your environment. A gusseted crotch makes kneeling and squatting easy. They also have suspender loops, a mandatory feature on my outer pants.
The waist of my outer shell must be loose enough that I can get to the gear on my belt underneath the pants or the pockets of my regular pants. With the outer pair this loose I need galluses to keep them from dropping down to my ankles. The pants have zippers up to the knees so getting the pants off and on over boots is easy.
WTT produces jackets and pants in a variety of different styles and weights. Their SO 1.0 Soft Shell jacket is constructed from a “four-way stretch nylon/spandex blended fabric” with a “hydrophobic polyester fleece” lining. Each sleeve has a shoulder and forearm pocket, and the sides have pit zips.
The stow-away hood can also be worn over a helmet and is cut to provide the wearer with as wide a field of view as possible. This jacket stands alone, or you can layer it under the Hard Shell for protection from anything shy of artic like conditions.
There’s no tellin’ the weather when trouble comes knockin.’ Don’t let the climate and terrain become a threat or a negative aspect to deal with when faced with dangerous situations. Protecting ourselves from the climate and environment is an easy option, and can provide an immense advantage over a less-equipped adversary.
To operate a pistol effectively the weapon has to fit your hand; a proper grip is especially important with revolvers. The good thing is that revolver stocks, what most people call “grips,” come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and materials. Working through the different type stocks allows you to determine what style works best for you.
Stocks come in smooth, no finger groves on the front, with finger groves, slim and thick, and with the grip extended on the bottom to provide more area for your hand to grip. You can get stocks made of composite material, in rubber, and of course wood.
When it comes to outfitting my revolvers with stocks looks are not a major concern. My focus is function, and under all conditions, wet, wearing gloves, or with only one hand.
Lately I’ve brought some revolvers out of the safe to start shooting more. I need to put proper stocks on them, had recently received my new Brownells catalog, http://www.brownells.com/ and a few days later hit the shop. First on the list is a couple of J frame S&W’s. A rubber Pachmayr grip without finger grooves feels great on a 640-1, a J frame .357. It’s a little larger grip than normal, but with full load .357′s I need the size to control the pistol. For my snubbie .38 I picked one of Ahrends’ Boot stocks, cut from cocobolo wood and without finger grooves. This small grip is ideal for concealed carry, especially in an ankle holster. Future plans include some of Ahrends’ Retro Target Stocks for a pair of K frame model 13′s I’m putting together as twins.
My favorite S&W’s are the K frames. The size of the frame fits my hand and the .357 is a proven round when it comes to stopping power. My Model 13, a three-inch that’s been reworked by the S&W Performance Center, has Spegel stocks, which have finger grooves that actually feel right in my hands. I can’t remember where the Spegel stocks came from, but the website is: http://www.craigspegel.com/.
There are also stocks that convert your round-butt revolver into a square-butt. For shootin’ I prefer the square-butt stocks; with my hand size and shape they provide a good consistent grip. The round-butt revolvers are generally preferred for concealed carry because they don’t print as much due to the shape of the frame’s grip.
The proper stocks on your revolver are key to finger placement on the trigger. Having the correct grip and finger placement, basically the proper geometry between your hand and the pistol, makes it possible to press even a heavy trigger smoothly.
You’ll also need to make sure your pistol’s stocks will allow you to use a speed-loader. I have seen stocks that were too large, blocking the loader from centering on the cylinder for loading.
Selecting the gear you use should involve a lot of thought, research, and testing. Each piece of gear you choose is part of the chain; the chain is only as strong as its weakest link. When it comes to picking your kit, nothing is considered “small.” In a fight, every piece of gear is critical.
Also keep in mind as you train/practice your views on equipment will change. There will probably be a box of gear left over once you have arrived at the spot where your gear will do everything you need. The more you learn the more you’ll realize how your gear must function.
For example when you attend your first class on firearms, using holster “A.” This holster works fine in the beginning, during the initial stages of training and practice. After learning how to properly draw the pistol and working from concealment you discover that holster “A” doesn’t function as well as you thought it might, and so it’s time for holster “B.”
As you learn through training and practice your thoughts on gear will evolve as well. Eventually you start working on single hand manipulations. The holster now serves as an edge to hook the sights of your pistol on to cycle the slide, and you determine that holster “B” doesn’t work very well. Holster “B” isn’t stiff enough to hold up against the force necessary to cycle the slide, and it has a lot of curved edges without a flat spot to properly hook the sight on.
After more research you purchase holster “C.” About now you’re getting close to what will actually work for you, although it may be necessary to work with three or four other holsters similar to “C” to find the one best suited for you.
Another important factor is simplicity. There is enough to think in a fight without adding complicated equipment to the list. Take flashlights for an example. I need a simple flashlight with a button you push for momentary light, and a way to turn it on for constant illumination.
Lights requiring a complicated series of pushes in the proper sequence to select what type light is activated or switches of some sort to regulate the light – low level momentary light, a bright constant output, a strobe effect, … – are too complicated for me. In theory these options may be a good idea.
Reality is that these lights are too complicated for people to operate during low-light drills on the range, much less when someone is trying to put the hurt on you. You’re working the light while moving, using cover, shooting and manipulating your weapon as necessary. Trust me, simple is good.
Discover what works for you. Your gear must function under all type conditions, not just a sunny day at the range. It has to work every time, without a lot of thought. When you discover inadequacy, correct it, regardless of cost. The alternative is much more expensive.
The majority of the problems I see with AR’s involve the bolt assembly. The simple solution to this problem is to have a spare bolt assembly on hand. If you’re training/practicing and experience a problem swap out bolts.
Just be sure to check the headspace on your spare bolt to make sure it fits. (Unless you plan on performing a lot of work on AR’s and need gauges get a gunsmith check it.) Have your spare bolt gauged in any other AR’s you own as well; usually one bolt will often fit several rifles, but check to be sure.
It’s also a good idea to have spare parts for your bolt group, and the knowledge and tools necessary to swap out parts, which is pretty easy. One of the most common parts to fail is the extractor spring. With a punch and the know-how it’s easily replaced.
I use chrome silicon springs for both extractors and ejectors in my rifles. (Brownells #840-000-051) While reworking the bolt I also replace the cotter pin holding the firing pin in place with an original style solid pin. The cotter pin eventually bends, making it difficult to remove and install. The solid pin (Brownells #231-000-029) cures this problem.
Get you an extra set of gas rings for the bolt. The rings wear out, and occasionally they break. I’ve seen rifles run with missing or broken rings, but it’s not something I’d do for extended periods of time. My Marine Corps Technical Manual advises testing the gas rings for wear by installing the bolt in the carrier, without the firing pin and cam pin, and holding the carrier upside down.
If the bolt drops free, replace the rings. I’m not sure what the ‘official’ life of the gas rings is – I have training carbines with 15,000 + rounds through them – but with an operational weapon, replace them regularly, like every 5,000 rounds or so. (Note: Keep a logbook on your weapons. Data books aren’t just for sniper rifles.)
One area to inspect on your bolt, especially with new rifles, is the gas key on top of the carrier. Make sure the bolts holding the key are securely staked in place. If they aren’t properly staked, they work loose, gas escapes and the weapon won’t cycle properly.
Use plenty of lube on the bolt, carrier, and charging handle. Where you see wear marks, lube it up. I use SLIP 2000 EWL. AR’s will run dirty, but not dry.
Taking proper care of a fighting firearm is a matter of life and death. Preventative maintenance is essential; it fails during a fight the consequences are disaster. If you don’t feel confident about working on your own weapons find someone who does, and not just anyone, but the guy that you trust when he’s finished it’s done right.
Occasional, sometimes, or the “it only happens every once in a while” problems are not acceptable when it comes to your weapon. This also is true for every other piece of your kit.