Recently, I seized the opportunity to attend United States Shooting Academy’s Tactical Rifle Course. Having taken two of their courses since the Academy got underway in April of 2007, I was thoroughly impressed both by the experienced instructors and the facility.
We convened a bit after 7 a.m. on a Friday for registration and classroom instruction began at 8 a.m. Our instructors, Erik Lund and Chad Warren got things started with a review of range safety rules, followed by a summary of range commands. We were schooled in the Academy’s mantra, “Win the Fight” and how it applied to training on the range.
We were expected to train realistically and handle the weapons as if we were on the street. This meant that if equipment malfunctioned, we would have to clear the malfunction, reload or do whatever it took to complete the course of fire even if it meant going to such lengths as transitioning to our pistols. After lunch, we gathered up our weapons and equipment and headed off to the 100-meter carbine range.
Once at the range, the first priority was to verify the rifles were zeroed. A 200-yard zero was recommended, given that variation in the point of impact at 100 yards will be insignificant, with little difference at 50 yards. We assumed a prone position at 100 meters (the max at the carbine range) and dialed the sights in. Most students opted to fix reflex scopes on their rifles, including yours truly, with an EOTech 550AA.
Once zeroed, we moved up to about 15 yards and Lund reviewed the principles of the mechanical offset effect produced by the line-of-sight of our scopes being mounted any number of inches above the bore. The practical application for the rifle operator is that up close, such as a range of 15 yards, one has to aim 3 to 4 inches high to get a precise hit.
This would obviously be critical for a headshot. Shooting at various ranges to actually experience the effect and train oneself to take the appropriate high hold puts the theory into practice and ingrains the technique.
We moved on to the basic shooting stance, which is a shoulders-squared interpretation. This puts the best protection of body armor towards the threat, and makes for ready transitioning to other stances or movement.
The butt is placed on the pectoral muscle and brought in close to the head. Elbows are drawn in, rolled down with the shoulders up around the neck. Warren used the analogy of the twisting of a wet towel to describe the tension in the elbows and arms.
I received a bit of one-on-one instruction, as I was the only one in the class not shooting a 5.56mm/.223 rifle, but rather my favored DSA Para FAL Tactical Carbine, stoked with Hornady’s excellent 110-grain TAP (Tactical Application Police) .308 load (which is also my duty load). Warren showed me how to modify my stance to control the heavier gun and recoil, using a more aggressive fighting stance with the strong side foot about a foot back, raking forward at the hips, and moving my support hand forward on the hand guards. A vise-grip on those hand guards was crucial. This was to make a decided difference for me in the course.
We were then schooled in four mount positions: These consisted of an “aimed in” position, and “high ready.” “Low ready” and “cross body” positions were also instructed, and both-eyes-open sighting was advocated for a fuller field of view.
We then fired controlled pairs, standing: headshots at 15 yards, then center-mass at 25 meters, and then 100 meters. As we moved back to the 25-meter mark, we began shooting at steel adding the effect of audible feedback.
Up close, the effects of the mechanical offset were readily apparent. Getting the shots between the eyes and nose required a hold on the “scalp” of the silhouette. Aiming armpit-high at 50 meters produced hits center-of-mass.
Next came “hammers,” (double taps) and again, we started at about 15 yards, then 25 yards. I was amazed at how small of a group I was able to maintain using the stance and technique in which I’d been coached. Prior to this, I’d dismissed the idea of accurate “hammers” from 25 yards with the .308.
We then began to integrate practiced scans left and right, then to each rear flank. FBI stats concerning police-involved shootings are showing a trend toward multiple adversaries. From here, we began to review various kneeling, sitting and prone positions. A variety of versions were demonstrated for each.
With prone, beyond the standard elbow-supported version, we were instructed in placing the magazine on the ground for support (which doesn’t affect reliability) and “scuba” position, which involves laying the weapon on the ground, ejection port up, “getting behind” the gun to find the sights.
Elevation was adjusted by placing the support hand under the forend, making a fist to raise the gun; opening the hand to lower it. A “roll-over” position was also shown for shooting around strong-side cover.
Emergency reloads, tactical reloads and malfunction clearances were drilled. Very simple, positive and effective techniques were shown in these areas. Some were different than popular methods, but were explained and demonstrated to make solid, practical sense. Believing a tactical reload to be all but impossible with the big FAL magazines, Warren and Lund showed me a very doable technique for the big mags that worked.
We covered guiding the weapon to the weak side for transitioning to a pistol, and were encouraged to immediately go to a reload, malfunction clearance or pistol transition during courses of fire according to the way we would handle the problem in a real fight. We were trained in failure-to-stop drills and the theory of methods of incapacitation. Optic failure drills were also covered.
The technical aspects of shooting from cover with a rifle were covered to include using either a high-roll or bilateral option to negotiate the difficult “weak-side” shooting. Many of us resist shifting the weapon to the weak side, but Warren and Lund demonstrated a very simple and effective way to transition to the “weak” side and effectively control the weapon. It was a confidence-building exercise. Engaging multiple targets was addressed including making use of cover, stacking targets when possible, transitioning eyes first, and then driving the rifle to the next shot.
On our third day, we were joined by instructor Virgil Litterell, and checked zero out to 300 yards. We ended live-fire with perhaps the most enjoyable exercise, entering the shoot-house to engage unknown targets and receiving feedback from instructors. Both the shoot-house and vehicle exercises were very enlightening. We ended with classroom instruction on the physiological effect of stress, stress “inoculation,” and the mental attitude needed to win the fight and never give up.
I came away from the course with a few more tools in my toolbox to get the job done. These included a better stance to control recoil, a way to more quickly reload, ways to get lower in the prone position than ever before, intimate orientation with mechanical offset problems and solutions and, in general, smoother and simpler techniques in gun-handling.