Monday, March 28, 2016. 18:00 to 22:00.
Instructor: Andrew Blubaugh
Course description follows:
This 4 hour Advanced Applications Clinic provides shooters with the opportunity to work on their low light shooting skills and acquire a few new skills in the process. This 4 hour clinic is not designed to be an in depth "how to", rather this clinic will start with a brief classroom portion and the remainder of the class taking place on the range with live fire drills. The class is not for the beginner. Students need to have a grasp on the fundamentals of marksmanship (Grip, Sights and Trigger Control), safe and proficient weapons handling.
Effective use of lights (handheld and weapon mounted)
Multiple target engagement
Shooting while moving
Class size was capped at 12 students, and all seats were filled: last-minute cancellations by students dropped enrollment down to only 7 students, which drove Andrew to make a decision that would come into play later (*1). All students were experienced shooters, as the "AAC" demands of its participants. Students came from a variety of backgrounds and spanned approx. 20 years in age as well as a full range of physical builds. All students were male.
Virtually all students had at some point already trained Andrew. One student was vetted-in based on known coursework with other instructors/schools.
Weather for the evening/night was forecast to be a cloudy but clam 40s (deg. F.) to 30s. Rain earlier in the day combined with the low temperatures likely caused some students to cancel, but this was considerably better than the snowy and single-digit forecast which forced Andrew to cancel the originally scheduled date for this class. Sun down was at approx. 19:45, but overcast conditions gave the twilight a chrome appearance that affected depth perception.
Testifying to the quality of the students, everyone was squared away in terms of clothing and gear. This became most apparent as rain swept in on us for a portion of the class. Aside from my own clothing-induced failure (*2), no-one was left shivering or drenched because of conditions. No firearms or gear - including flashlights - suffered any kind of mechanical dysfunction that impacted learning. Everyone used dominant-side waist holsters (a variety of setups, everything from full-concealment IWB EDC to war-belt OWB), and all but one handgun was equipped with a WML (Surefire [including the XC-1], Inforce, and Streamlight were all represented). One student had an RMR-equipped handgun (IIRC, it was a RMR07, 3.25MOA adjustable LED). Most students utilized LED lights, with one student using an incandescent handheld.
Prior to the start of class, Andrew rounded everyone up to clear "hot" concealed-carry firearms. Weapons were verified cleared and were rendered "cold" only for the initial classroom session.
Classroom Segment -
Class began with the usually expected signing and witnessing of liability waivers, and progressed quickly to Andrew's interactive - dare I say Socratic? - and comprehensive safety brief.
The main classroom instructional block then began with a very brief overview of the two main categories of tactical flashlights on the market today (halogen incandescent versus LED), as well as a quick breakdown of the most commonly seen brands/makes out there, all framed with respect to Andrew's personal experience with these lights, both weapon mounted and stand-alone handheld (durability/reliability, etc.), via his professional career.
Some of my take-homes for this section were that for WMLs, Andrew favors spending a bit more for Surefire products over that of the Streamlights (citing ruggedness as the reason), and that in terms of handhelds, filament-burning incandescents are not compatible with strike-bezel use (of which the Bust-A-Cap - http://www.bustacap.net/ - device is his favorite for breaking auto-glass; overall, Andrew does not like the idea of deliberately using the light as a cutting tool when using it as a weapon-of-opportunity/striking [the aggressor's blood can be a problem in more than one way], but that such bezel crenelations can be useful for window breaking, etc.), and may also be a problem when dropped either accidentally or when purposefully transitioning to the WML for active engagement.
Hardware selection ended with a note about the need to balance beam shape to achieve sufficient utility for the user's intended mission, as well as the need for a lanyard to be set up with a breakaway mechanism for safety in case of a physical altercation.
This section is something that's near and dear to my heart as a flashlight collector. I've long tried to tell my friends to look at not just the lumens output on a light as the sole criteria for purchase. Andrew stressed that the end-user should consider his/her area of operations in the selection of the light, remembering that a light that's purely designed for throw may not have a sufficient corona to allow for effective searching, particularly when the light is either used in the open or in an enclosed space that "sucks light," such as a dark-paneled room, warehouse, etc. Andrew's very lighthearted example of their family's "skunk light" for letting out the dog was a great way to drive home this point, and is an easy-to-relate-to example even for those who've never thought about this before.
The latter half of the range evolutions also served well to illustrate this point, and I will address this later (*3).
Andrew stressed that this is an "applications" clinic, and is thus not meant to be a full exploration of either hardware or doctrine. Towards the latter, Andrew noted that while it is important to understand the advantages and disadvantages of the plethora of different flashlight techniques out there today, that we should strive to really master the handful which we each individually determine to be our most effective/applicable techniques so that we can fall back onto them as stress levels increase: and that these chosen techniques should compliment each other so that considerations of backsplash from cover/concealment is minimized.
The advantage of a WML in terms of this backsplash concern was also highlighted, but we were cautioned that while the WML is an excellent engagement tool, its utility for searching was limited because of the coaxial bore.
Andrew's basic technique is to start with the light center-mass on the threat, with a quick sweep to the face/eyes. This allows quicker and more certain placement of the light on-target while immediately affording sufficient light to assess the threat for visible weapons in the hands (or a lack of visible hands, period). The follow-up to the face/eyes, if-needed, can then buy you the time necessary to further assess or verbally challenge the threat while depriving them of a visual horizon (Andrew also noted that it's not necessary to constantly keep the light in their eyes, one can dance the light between the eyes/face and the hands as the burned-in after-image of the light will work to keep that visual horizon obscured). To me, this is more intuitive than aiming to blast the face/eyes to start off with, and I immediately made a mental note to adjust my technique to implement this change.
Andrew's take on the light is that while it can be used to dominate the fight in some circumstances (he used the example of a high-risk warrant which he and his team served in the wee hours of the morning to drive this point - that his light sufficiently disoriented the just-awoken suspect into momentary compliance, buying him and his team-mates enough time so that they did not need to shoot or wind up engage in a gunfight with this suspect), all that the light really needs to do in a confrontational context is to reset the adversary's OODA Loop (which, in going back to that same example, Andrew noted is really what happened: that it bought Andrew and his team-mates time).
Andrew's favored technique is also mine - that of the neck/jaw index, which allows for an easy "third eye" tracking of the light's beam. Muzzle-aversion can be easily accomplished with this technique as the light is not locked into the gun, such as with Harries. Despite this similarity, though, I found that his preference for indexing the beam of the light to be considerably more rigorous than I am used to - i.e. to ignore the placement of the beam hot-spot and just aim/shoot. I will address this point later in the AAR (*4).
Range Segment -
Out on the range again, Andrew flagged the trauma kit with a red light-stick, and we went over the medical emergency and evacuation plan. Primary and secondary first-responders were designated, and the area for off-line hot weapons manipulations was identified. Even though weapons at that point had yet to be gassed, hot range rules were then implemented for the rest of the class.
This is an area where I've really found Andrew to be exceptional at - his safety and medical presentations have been amazingly consistent over the course of the three classes I've now taken from him, and regardless of how many or few students he has on-hand, he always but always takes the time to address these concerns thoroughly.
- Paper Dot Targets
- Steel cadence
- Pieing (steel targets): slow, dynamic
- Confrontation (steel targets): right side drop-out, left side drop-out
- Searching (paper targets): number/shape ID, realistic threat ID
The first three exercises occurred during dusk, with increasing less light to work with. All tasks involved some form of movement, and most shooters shot the drills (at least part of the time) weapon-hand-only, with the option to transition to their WML.
As with most low-light classes, instruction began with sufficient ambient light not only for the instructor to ascertain students' safety and proficiency, but to also allow the students to themselves work out the kinks in their shooting and to validate any new gear they may have incorporated since their last range trip. My shots were far from perfect, but shooting one-handed and coming cold to the class as of 3/11, I was doing OK. Aside from my handheld flashlight (*5), all gear had already been vetted, so I didn't think I'd have any problems.
Surprisingly, I fouled three draws from-concealment over the span of less than 10 minutes (*2 from above). It happened twice while I was wearing my usual el-cheapo Old Navy untucked T-shirt under a L.L.Bean zip-front fleece - a combo that closely mirrors my late-fall/early-spring EDC (those who know me personally know that I am one of those weirdos who has a closet full of the same outfits ) and which I had thoroughly vetted in another rather frigid class late last year (as well as via countless hours of dry-fire practice at home) - and yet again after I switched to a wool sweater as the top layer (rain had moved in by that time, and was starting to soak the fleece). At Andrew's suggestion, I ditched the T-shirt, and did not have any further problems with fouled draws the rest of the night. An autopsy of the shirt at home revealed that it was one of my newer "home shirts" (I'm the type of person who gets home and immediately swaps out my work clothes for clothes that I wear around the house; this comes both as a result of my upbringing [we were poor, so good clothes were reserved for school] as well as the fact that my work means that my clothes are soiled with some stuff that I'd rather not share the dinner table with) and was a size bigger than my out-of-the-house daily-wear, and furthermore has not been shrunken from countless wash/dry cycles.
Despite having ditched the problematic garment, that unexpected difficulty played with me mentally. Furthermore (*5 from above), my new EDC flashlight (Surefire EB2 w/"Tactical" tail-cap) threw out considerably more light and with a wider beam shape than the light that I'd been carrying for the last few years (Surefire E2D w/Malkoff M60 drop-in, using the VME head), causing me to perceive a lot more backsplash from my handgun and even just my hand. These two seemingly rather trivial factors combined to cause me to reach mind-melt considerably earlier than I'd anticipated versus the progression of the class. During these opening evolutions and drills, I'd managed to fail to reset the gun's trigger at one point, and I absolutely failed to keep the proper cadence during the steel cadence exercise (my being ESL means that I usually have trouble with this, anyway: no joke, my wife had to help my daughter learn how to break words into syllables). I knew I had to get my mind back into the game: to learning, but I was finding it somewhat difficult. This was a very interesting lesson for me, personally.
During these early evolutions, Andrew made it a point to highlight the importance of beam placement on-target. As I noted previously (*4 from above), Andrew prefers to have the hot-spot be that proverbial "3rd eye" for shooters. To accomplish this in an efficient manner, Andrew's default is the jaw/neck index.
This is my preferred position as well, as my defensive handguns utilize a thin fiber-optic front post with a blank target-type rear, this hold allows me to, with the gun tilted/rotated inboard, light up my sights. Secondarily, I feel that it overlaps with both the "wounded-wing" single-hand-shooting technique as well as comes close to the placement of that support arm/hand in coming back to defend my face/head from a physical assault at close/contact range.
This is only the second time that I've been in an outdoor low-light class, and as-such, the environment highlighted the weakness inherent to using the corona/spill of the light when shooting: that number one, sometimes, it's just not enough light to properly ID the target with, and number two, that our eyes have a tendency to want to find that hot-spot, and unfortunately, where our eyes go, so do our hands, instinctively. While I still feel that it's important to be able to take (that) shot(s) even if the hot-spot is not on-target, I will be working diligently, dry-fire, on lining up this "third-eye" axis. For me, the advantage is undeniable, and the failings of my own preference quite obvious.
Light selection (hardware, *3 from above) manifests as an objective concern, here. The beam shape and throw can have a significant impact with this concern. For example, my good friend LegoGlock's Surefire EB1, at 200 lumens and 10K candela, has a great form-factor that allows for easy EDC with virtually any style clothing, but its beam shape becomes an issue when either there's a larger area to cover or when the surroundings "suck" light. Meanwhile, the 500 lumen / 16K candela, EB2 that myself and another student used, while completely eclipsing the EB1's output and easily lighting up that same environment, really did affect me with its backsplash at the beginning.
Complicating matters for me is that I'm cross-dominant. As a result, my jaw-index axis gets thrown off once I bring the gun - and its sights - into play. I'd never noticed this until Andrew highlighted it as a learning point for the class, and again, this definitely gives me something to work on dry-fire. I also witnessed that this technique, while providing critical lighting to my sights, causes both backsplash from my hand and the weapon (which should be mitigated somewhat, as my defensive handguns are all-black; the range/training copy of my EDC that I use for classwork has a stainless slide, which causes a bit more backsplash) as well as shadowing at-extension, and that these are things that I need to be well accustomed to.
While the objective was not marksmanship, Andrew nevertheless did expect us to hold to our personal standards, and shot placement (in the context of vital anatomy) was individually critiqued in the last variant of the last evolution.
For me, once we progressed to a more physically complicated evolution, my marksmanship fell drastically. The need to walk and chew gum at the same time: to manage the flashlight, trigger path and sight package, as well as physical movement during the third evolution saw my shooting degrade to the point that I was missing a TDI torso plate at distances of no more than 10 yards. As I post-mortem'ed with LegoGlock, that particular BSA template was something that should have been easy for any of the shooters there - particularly guys like the two of us, who've rolled through Andrew's "Moving/Movers" AAC just this past fall - to accomplish. Yet, with the addition of the flashlight as a consideration, I was tossing shots every which way but on-target. It's really a credit to Andrew's instruction that by the time we'd gone through the next two evolutions that my shooting improved considerably.
Towards this end, Andrew reiterated that it all goes back to the fundamentals. That as the shots get more demanding, the more our ever-so-slight deficiencies in the execution of the fundamentals will magnify.
I can't remember the last time that I streaked a barricade so badly - I tore up the "doorway" opening of Andrew's/Rittman PD's shooting structure something awful. An imperfectly executed trigger path as I tried to take that perfect shot against a partially obscured target meant that my shots failed to be effective at all. Lesson learned.
Because of the last-minute student cancellations, as I mentioned in the opening paragraphs (*1 from above), Andrew decided to not include an AI. This led to some longer down-times as Andrew scrambled to set up particularly the last few evolutions, and while I don't think any of the students thought much at all about this, Andrew was quite adamant that he could have done better here, that it's a failure he has taken note of and will absolutely improve upon. Again, while none of the students - myself included - really thought there was a problem, it is nevertheless always good to see that the instructor is taking note of ways that he could himself improve.
Andrew is a very gifted teacher - I find that he's extremely articulate, and adept at being able to effect that all-important knowledge-transfer between himself and his students. He always demos every evolution, every drill. He takes whatever time is necessary to get each student were he thinks they should be. His classes are chocked-full of excellent information, and I can honestly say that I will be returning for more, and as much as I can. If you're in the area and are considering taking training classes, you owe it to yourself to check out his offerings.
Now, back to speaking abut failures...
Mine were monumental. This class proved to be an excellent learning experience because of it. As I wrote in another thread (ironically Andrew was the OP on that one: http://www.apexshooting.com/?ckattempt=1), I really value failure - it teaches me where I need to focus my efforts.
I now realize that while I feel OK with square range techniques, as we layer-in the additional complications of tactical considerations of movement, angles, etc., my fundamentals start to fall apart at a shocking rate. Looking back to this winter, I exhibited clear signs of this during the IDPA practice session that EChryst so kindly invited me to participate in. At the time, I chalked it up to performance anxiety: in-reality, it's just a true performance deficit.
What does this mean?
(1) I need to find more time to practice the fundamentals of marksmanship.
(2) I need to re-evaluate my training priorities - I really need to find more classwork that deals with tactics.
(3) I need to redouble that focus to be pistol-based, and also low-light, because, realistically, this is going to be a more likely scenario for me than getting to break out the carbine and full kit, no matter how much more fun that can be!