SureFire Institute, the tactical development and training arm of SureFire, recently opened a new facility near Las Vegas, Nevada. It’s within easy commuting distance of the Strip, but there are plenty of hotels nearby if the non-stop action of Las Vegas is not your cup of tea. There are paved roads all the way into the facility, so it’s very convenient to make the daily drive in for training. However, this place wasn’t built for entertainment purposes: It’s a real-deal, top-tier training facility used by elite military and law enforcement personnel for learning the skills needed to do their jobs. It’s also open to private citizens who want to learn and develop the skills needed to protect themselves, their homes and their loved ones.

I was fortunate to attend the first SureFire Institute AK-47/74 Operator course. It isn’t a “get acquainted with the gun and fire a few rounds for familiarity” affair. Rather, it’s a serious course designed for people who use what they learn in the real world to defend our country. In fact, the class included two U.S. Air Force Pararescue Jumpers—the guys who jump out of airplanes into hostile territory to rescue injured and downed flyers.

You might ask why our military would need to know how to operate an AK-47. The reasons are that war is very unpredictable, and a warfighter may need to use an AK-47 found on the battlefield if his or her issue weapon is lost or damaged. Furthermore, certain military units that operate in obscurity actually do use foreign weapons from time to time.
The SureFire Institute is owned and operated by Bill Murphy. He’s a long-time police officer and trainer with a long list of accomplishments. And he actually uses what he teaches in the field—very effectively. SureFire Institute employs other top-rated instructors with real-world experience in applying the tactics, techniques and procedures they teach. While some have grey hair, others are younger and bring proven and effective new techniques into the curriculum.

The Basics
Instruction began in the classroom, where basic AK-47 manipulation and safety were taught. Compared with other rifles, the AK is difficult to master because it’s not ergonomically designed and its sights are less than ideal. But the AK is robust and runs with little maintenance. Disassembly and cleaning procedures were demonstrated, and instruction was provided on how to determine if a gun is semi-auto or select-fire without relying on the appearance of the selector lever. Included were tips on making the selector or safety easier to move by bending it with a screwdriver, and on how to make the safety quieter by wrapping shoelace or parachute cord around it.

SureFire Institute uses dead-stock guns without modifications so that students will be able to run one if they pick it up on the battlefield or have to use another unit’s guns. However, students are welcome to bring their own guns to class if they prefer. We used brand new Century Arms WASR-10s out of the box after a quick cleaning and lube.

The shooting range is right outside the classroom door and backs up against some very picturesque mountains, where we even saw a bighorn sheep one evening. The first task when we got to the firing line was to zero the gun, which is done largely by trial and error since the AK has no sight markings to indicate how far the point of impact will move when adjusting the sight. (A sight pusher and a pouch full of Russian swear words are helpful.) These guns are more accurate than most people give them credit for, but it takes proper technique and skill to get the most out of them.

Bringing The Fire
Instruction in different shooting positions followed. Included was training in how to shoot from standing and get into and out of prone, sitting, squatting and kneeling—fast. Shooting was conducted at ranges of 25, 50, 100, 200 and 300 yards, on steel pepper poppers or 11-by-18-inch steel plates. All students were able to put hits on targets at 300 yards with open sights and Wolf mil-spec ammunition.

Techniques for quickly changing magazines were demonstrated and practiced. Students learned to strike the magazine release using the new magazine, sweep the old magazine out and let it fall to the ground, then insert the new magazine and run the charging handle. It was recommended that chest rigs be used instead of belt pouches because it is easier to quickly remove magazines from them. I used a chest rig from U.S. Palm that served well. Also covered were techniques to clear malfunctions ranging from a simple primer failure—a dud round—to double feeds.

A sling or carry strap on a long gun is like a holster for a handgun, so students received instruction in carry methods using the basic carry strap. The strap was draped over the neck for most techniques because the gun was quick to bring on target from that carry position. Instruction was also delivered on American and African carry styles.

Since it is faster to draw a backup handgun instead of clearing most malfunctions, transitioning from the AK to a sidearm was covered. A big problem when doing so is what to do with the AK, as it needs to be controlled until its safety is engaged—no one wants the AK going off unexpectedly and inadvertently hitting something or someone. And tossing the AK to the ground is Hollywood nonsense. Consequently, controlling the AK may mean shooting the pistol with one hand while holding onto the AK with the other.

We had the opportunity to fire both 7.62x39mm AK-47s and 5.45x39mm AK-74s on full automatic. The latter is much more controllable, but by using the right techniques, an operator can control either weapon. The most effective technique is to fire two- or three-round bursts, but some students were able to fire a full AK-74 magazine with one trigger pull and keep most rounds on a steel plate at 25 yards.

Although the emphasis of this class was basic techniques for using the AK-47 effectively, low-light shooting was not neglected. After all, this is a SureFire school, and SureFire is famous for its tactical lights. There is no place to hang a tactical light on a stock AK-47, so techniques for using a handheld light were taught. It’s not easy to effectively fire an AK-47 while holding a light, but since low-light fights are very common, it is an essential skill to have. One technique is to use the front edge of the magazine to activate the light’s tail-cap switch. Another is to rest the rifle on the forend while holding the light in an ice-pick fashion and activating the switch with the thumb. Another way is to adjust the tail cap so the light comes on when the tail cap is pushed to the side, against the handguard.

Las Vegas is easy to get to by air or car, and there is plenty to do after class. SureFire Institute offers numerous very reasonably priced courses that last only one or two days, so quality firearms instruction could be part of your Las Vegas vacation. Visit or call 888-573-9993 for more information.

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