Upgrading/Improving Your Rifles

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With limitless funding, we could all create the perfect survival/combat rifle imaginable, right? Barring that, we do what we can when we can afford it, and hope that we can get our weapons to where we thing they need to be before they are need for a real world event.

I recently acquired two items that are sold by Primary Arms and one that is made by XS Sights. The optics that PA carried that I received/purchased were the Holosun HS515C red dot, and the PA 1-6×24 SFP riflescope with the ACSS reticle. The item I purchased from XS Sights is the full length rail for my Ruger Gunsite Scout Rifle. BTW, all three items are cheaper if you go through Amazon instead of the links shown.

 

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Top is Ruger Gunsite Scout Rifle with the new scope rail, Next is a DSA ParaFAL with PA 1-6x ACSS, and the bottom is the SIG M400 AR pistol with the Holosun red dot.

To start off with, my awesome Wife, (WMD) bought me the Holosun red dot for my Sig M400 AR pistol for Christmas, and it’s performance is as good as any red dot I’ve used (most experience is with the Aimpoint M68 sight). This optic is waterproof, has a battery (2032) life from 20,000-50,000 hours. Has a redundant back up solar panel for powering with available ambient light, and comes with a “Killflash” lens cover and flip down lens covers.

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The 2MOA dot (with a 65MOA circle around it if desired) was able to give me half inch, three shot groups at 50 meters, and not only is this sight compact, but it co-witnesses well with my GG&G BUIS (back up iron sight). Rounding out the features is a quick release mount that is fast, but has a built in lock so it doesn’t accidentally come open.

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Note the small, cylindrical tube in hole of the QR lever. This has to be pushed forward before you can flip the lever over and pull the sight off of the rifle.

Next up from Primary Arms is the 1-6x rifle scope with the ACSS reticle. I was immediately enamored with this scope’s reticle when I first saw it advertised and read about it. The reason being is that the reticle in the ACOG on my M4 on my last deployment was very similar, and it appears the ACSS is just a refinement/evolution of the ACOG reticle, and the PA ACSS is faster at close range.

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ACOG reticle I used in Iraq

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Our ACOG’s came equipped with a “Killflash” device attached to the end of the sight.

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Primary Arms ACSS reticle for 5.56N, 5,45S, and the 7.62N. Note the similarities to the ACOG reticle.

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How you use the reticle.

 

OK, so I purchased the 1-6x ACSS for my ParaFAL because I wanted something that was a little more useful at distance than my Millet DMS-1 with a circle dot reticle, and the ACSS seamed like the perfect sight since I already had experience with a similar reticle on another rifle. At the range, I sighted it in 1″ high (.308/7.62) at 100 meters ( tip of the chevron, per the instructions), and it shot 1.5-2.5″ groups with Mil ball.

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Top is the Millet DMS-1 scope that the PA 1-6xACSS (bottom) replace on the ParaFAL.

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Keep in mind, this is a second focal plane scope, meaning to get the correct range and hold, it has to be on the highest power setting (6x). At 200 meters, it was dead on (between the bottom tips of the chevron). I haven’t had the opportunity to shoot past 200 meters yet, but I’ve heard nothing but good things about the reticle’s ability to range correctly at all the given ranges.

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DSA makes a decent brass catcher if you have need for one, it attaches directly to their scope mount via two holes in the rail.

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Ball detents keep the catcher attached, and the bottom has a convenient velcro opening to let the brass fall out in a nice pile if you don’t want it collecting in the bag.

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Holes for brass catcher shown in rail scope mount.

The final item I bought recently was the XS Sights extended rail for my Ruger Scout Rifle. The difference this made in the accuracy of the rifle was phenomenal. The rail has a built in ghost ring rear sight (sighted in at 50 meters) built into the back end of the rail, so I don’t have to worry about not having back up iron sights (the reason I didn’t use the Ruger supplied rings for a rear scope mount before. You have to take off the rear sight). As you can see in the below pic, the scope sits a good bit lower now and wears quick release rings. During the sight in, I actually shot two one hole groups at 100 meters. This might not seam like a big deal, but the best it shot before that was 1.5″ at 100 meters. A good cheek weld and lower sitting scope (no raised cheek piece) can make a big difference.

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Top shows the scope mount before and bottom is the new rail system.

Well, that’s it for now, let me know if you’ve tried any of these items, and your “mileage”.

JCD

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Nuke Alert, “The 15 Minute Scenario”

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By now we all know about the Hawaii false “Inbound Missile” alert that took place a week ago. I keep hearing the BS from the talking heads about “One guy pushed the wrong button.”, and “It was a complete accident.”, and none of use that know better believe anything they are saying. Brushbeater spoke about it briefly in this post. Here’s the thing to ponder, what if it was real? I’m not getting wrapped up in the political, misdirection BS being espoused, but what would you do if it was real? Where would you go?

Do you have the slightest clue how you would react, and is your situational awareness and training enough that you would immediately know where relative safety is (it honestly depends how close you are to the blast). Keep in mind that this post is about protecting yourself from the initial blast, not the fallout. Fallout/Radiation protective measures have been talked about here.

Here are three “area dependent” scenarios you might want to consider planning for.

  1. You are at home.
  2. You are driving through or at work in town.
  3. You are driving on the Interstate or in a remote area.

Before we discuss where you are, let’s discuss where the primary targets in your area might be. Two primary targets for a nuke would be a military base, or a large city. Once you’ve figured out where the target for the nuke might be in your area, you can then make an assessment of where you might want to position yourself in the area you have selected as an improvised blast shelter. This assessment would dictate that if you are in a building, you’d want to be on the side furthest from the blast, preferably in a basement. It also dictates that if you are in something like an end to end open drainage, the drainage needs to be perpendicular, rather than parallel to the most likely direction of the blast’s path.

1. You are at home. OK, do you have a basement, if so, are all sides covered by dirt (less chance of blast damage)? Protection in this situation is somewhat simple. Get in your basement, go to the side furthest from the likely target, and if possible, get under something like a table to help protect from falling debris. Another thought would be to grab that spare mattress that everyone seams to have in their storage area and place it on the side of the table closest to the direction the blast would be coming from. In the below video, Cresson Kearny discusses a basement shelter.

If you don’t have a basement, do you have a crawl space? If so, apply the directions for the basement, in the smaller area of the crawl space. If you have neither of these, apply whatever is more applicable from what is mentioned in either #2 or #3 below.

2. You are driving through or working in town. Once again, where is the likely source of the blast wave coming from. Find a solid (concrete or brick) building and try to get into the basement as quickly as possible. Parking garages are another type of building in a city that would be good cover, and if it has a basement level, all the better.

Manholes are one of the better sources of protection, but usually, the biggest hurdle to them is gaining access (getting the manhole cover up). I first learned of a nifty improvised method from Bruce Clayton’s book, Life After Doomsday. In it he describes a “Key” to get a manhole cover open in an emergency. As he mentions, crowbars work too, but how many people carry crowbars in their car these days?

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Manhole “Key” improvised from three items found in the tool box in my vehicle. An allen wrench, a piece of wire coat hanger, and two screws.

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I used screws because if the loop is tight, they won’t fall out when tilted sideways to put in the manhole access hole.

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Once they are all the way in, the screws act as a toggle by tilting sideways to lift the cover.

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Two screws are still small enough to fit in the access hole, but strong enough to lift the cover.

Another source of some immediate blast protection is small drainage ditches. The drain itself doesn’t have to be big enough to get into, because you can drive over the ditch up where the drain comes out of the ground, and get underneath your vehicle.

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In this situation, I’d drive my vehicle off of the street which is perpendicular to the main road (yes, I’d drive over the black and yellow “Caution” sign), and I’d straddle my vehicle’s tires over the ditch until only my rear bumper was over the blacktop. Then just get under your vehicle. You are protected from falling debris from above by your vehicle, and most of the blast effects (except for overpressure) from the sides are covered by the bank of the ditch.

3. You are on the Interstate/ in a remote area. Let’s say you were driving down the highway in Hawaii last Saturday at 8:05AM when you got that alert, and there are no buildings anywhere close, what do you do? My first reaction would be find a drainage ditch. As mentioned earlier, don’t get into a drainage ditch that appears to be parallel to what you think would be the path of the blast wave. If you do, you could be shot out of the end of that ditch like a bullet from the blast force that could be concentrated in that pipe. It is still better than being in the open, but I believe it’s more dangerous than the earlier mentioned “Car over drainage ditch” method.

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If I was to use this pipe, I’d drive my vehicle over the grassy portion above the pipe (in the pic) down over the entrance to the pipe. Access to the entrance could be gained from the left side in the pic.

Although an overpass would do if you have nothing else, it would be my last choice of the things that have been mentioned. There isn’t a whole lot of cover under an over pass from something like a blast wave, and my concern would be of a possible collapse. It is still better than being in the open though, especially since you have the added protection of the vehicle you are in.

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Getting behind the concrete wall at the base of the pillars on the left side is probably your best bet. Better yet would be if you could drive your vehicle up under either side off the roadway (less open area, less blast wave).

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Stuff like this is why I’m not a fan of the “Overpass technique”.

If you are situationally aware, you know that most areas of roadway in the US have a number of drainage ditches, pipes, overpasses, and manhole covers (i.e…….cover) that could be used in a situation like what those in Hawaii faced last Saturday morning. The mantra “Stay Alert, Stay Alive” isn’t just a hokey military axiom, it is something that should be applied by everyone who calls themselves a Survivalist EVERYDAY!

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How many areas in this pic do you think would make good, improvise blast protective shelters? Your vehicle can do nothing but aid in the blast protection if done right.

Although one of my MOS’s in the Mil was in NBC (nuclear, bio, chemical), you do not have to have that background to be able to use common sense to figure out a solution to your protection from things like a nuke blast. There is a lot of good info out there for free, so take advantage of it. Start with Cresson Kearny’s book “Nuclear War Survival Skills“, then read Clayton’s “Life After Doomsday“.

JCD

Basic Strategies And Gear For Operating In Cold Weather

Old school Mil Issue. Wool watch cap, Field Jacket w/ liner, wool fatigue sweater, D3A leather gloves with wool liners, Field pants w/ liner, Mountain boots.

The recent extreme cold weather has made Survivalists all over the US realize that whether they’re in a “Warm Weather” state or not, having the gear and “know how” to operate in extreme cold weather is a necessary reality. I laughed when I got an alert that Tallahassee FL. had 21 deg. Fahrenheit (all temps listed in this post are Fahrenheit) and snow the other day. Why did I laugh? I laughed because I knew a guy in that area years ago who told me he didn’t have to worry about cold weather gear in the area he lived, as they never got real cold weather.

Cold weather has a number of categories that have to be addressed within their own niche. I usually just go through them as such: “Cold/No Precip”, “Extreme Cold/No Precip”, “Cold/Wet”, “Extreme Cold/Wet”.

“Cold/No Precip” is your normal Fall/Winter weather in the top half of the US. The range starts at the “vulnerable to hypothermia” temp (usually 60 deg.) and goes down to the average low of 20 degrees in most places except maybe the most Northern of States.

“Extreme Cold/No Precip” starts at 19 degrees and goes down as far as it might get in your area.

“Cold/Wet” starts at the same “vulnerable to hypothermia” level and goes down to 20 degrees, but it has the added measure of precipitation involved that is either in the form of rain, ice, or snow, and if it’s snow, it’s usually what we call a “wet” snow.

“Extreme Cold/Wet” starts at the 19 degree mark, and is usually snow. When it is snow in that temp range, it is usually what we call a “Dry” snow. Al that means is that it is fluffy and can be brushed off as opposed to the “Wet” snow wanting to stick and soak into everything.

Basic Strategy

Staying warm starts with understanding what takes the warmth away when you are in any of the above environments. This starts with doing what you can to stay dry. Not sweating or staying out of the precipitation is your best bet to accomplishing that. Barring the ability to stay dry, having an outer layer that is windproof, relatively waterproof and breathable (and with the ability to vent as much heat as possible) is your best bet. This is used in conjunction with under layers of clothing that either wicks away the moisture (like polypro and fleece) or retains its insulative qualities when wet (like wool). When you are wet, wind and cold are what will rob you of the warmth that can kill you. Your ability to dry out quickly, or keep that moisture warm through insulation and body heat (similar to a diver’s wetsuit) is what will save you if you do get wet.

For “Cold/No Precip” I use what the army used to call “summer weight” BDU’s (cotton ripstop) or the more common 65/35 poly cotton BDU’s. Along with them, depending on the temp, I use either the issue lightweight or heavy weight polypro longjohns (over underarmor briefs and t shirt) and these Fox River socks. Over the BDU’s I wear my SAS style smock. In the lower range in this category, I forego the BDU top, and replace it with a wool “Commando” sweater (get a real one not the lightweight cheap knockoff. It’s worth it).

Left to right. LL Bean OD green “Commando” sweater from ’88, Recent version of the same sweater in brown, Military wool fatigue sweater, an LL Bean variant of the “commando” sweater that added the buttons of the fatigue sweater. All are a wool blend, but the issue fatigue sweater is a lot lighter and not as warm.

If it’s in the 35 degree or lower range and I’m sitting sedentary in a tree stand (also good if you are pulling a security shift), I usually wear heavy weight polypro bottoms with the old style issue field pants (no liner), a lightweight polypro top with the commando sweater, and the SAS smock. Along with that I use the Danner “Ft Lewis” boots, or Matterhorn boots (both 200 grain thinsulate) in combination with Ice Breaker “Boot blankets” (I run hot, so my feet stay warm in the 200 gram insulated boots as long as I’m moving. I put the boot blankets on when I stop to keep that warmth in while sitting, and you can walk in them if necessary).

From left to right. Lightweight, uninsulated Danner boots (BQM LAW II’s), 200gr thins. liner Matterhorns, Chippewa S.F. Mountain boots, “Mickey Mouse” boots, N-1B Mukluks, and on the bottom, Ice Breaker “Boot blankets”.

The neck gaiter, wool (or fleece) watch cap, and gloves (light and heavy aviator gloves) shown in the Smock post are also used, depending on the temperature. My basic rule of thumb is to under dress if I’m doing a lot of exercise (ruck  march, heavy work like dragging a deer, etc.), and overdress if I’ll be sitting for a while. If you layer up properly, you can always take a layer or two off if you start to get too warm.

Left to right. Mil issue N-4B mittens with liner and two sets of thin, acrylic liners below. More recent version of the trigger finger mittens (leather trigger finger) and a pair of the older version (cloth trigger finger model that I’ve had since I was 12) with inserts below. D3A black leather gloves with two sets of wool liners below. Heavy aviator gloves above, lightweight version below.

“Extreme Cold/No Precip”. Take what I used in the “Cold/No Precip” category for sedentary activities, and add in the liner for the field pants, a field jacket liner for the smock or for an actual field jacket (slightly heavier/warmer). At the lower temps mittens come into their own. The two types I use are the Mil issue trigger finger mittens (had a pair since I was twelve) with wool liners, or if it’s extremely cold, the N-4B arctic mittens with the liner (same material as a field jacket liner).

Left to right. Field pants w/ liner, Field jacket w/ liner, wool lined, fur trimmed, snorkel hood that buttons on the field jacket.

With those N-4B arctic mittens I wear the thin acrylic glove liners (they are for the leather goretex glove the mil issued back in the late 90’s and early 2000’s). I use these because they breathe better than the thin flight gloves, and you need the hand covered by something. The last thing you want to do at that temperature is pull your hand out of a warm glove and grab something metal with bare skin. Make sure if you have gloves that use liners, you have extra liners to change out when they get wet. Older Mil issue gloves, whether it’s the D3A leather gloves or the trigger finger mittens, use wool liners, so get a few extra.

Left to right. Lightweight polypro long john top and bottom, with a pair of polypro sock liners, and the Fix River Mil sock below them. Heavy weight polypro long johns.

Along with mittens, I use the combat vehicle crewman’s hood/balaclava. I was actually issued this when I acquired my first cold weather gear of goretex, polypro, and mountain boots. That balaclava is as warm as a balaclava can get. BTW, when we were issued this stuff, we were told to wear the “summer weight” BDU’s because they dried out quicker that the “Heavyweights” did. Other headgear would be the old “Pile” cap (helmet liner). It makes a good cold weather hat, and it will roll down to protect your ears when it get’s really cold, and it’s also more windproof than wool or fleece watch caps. Besides the boots I listed above, the only other cold weather boots I have experience with are the “Mickey Mouse” boots, the Chippewa S.F. Mountain Boots, and the N-1B Mukluks.

Left to right. Mil issue field jacket, Brit issue smock, Begadi Fleece jacket, US issue fleece jacket from ECWCS.

The “Mickey Mouse” boots are better for sedentary tasks than highly active ones, but they will do the job of keeping you feet warm, even if you are filling them with sweat (have lots of socks to change into if you are seriously active in these boots to avoid trenchfoot. The S.F. Mountain boots are the highest quality boots I’ve ever owned. They are made to old school standards, and do the job they were designed to do. Downsides: You need to have more than one wool felt insole, since they need to dry out. They are heavy. They take a while to break in due to the stiffness inherent to a boot designed for skiing and mountain warfare. The Mukluks are great for emergency cold weather boots (keep in your vehicle trunk), and for use around camp.

Left to right. US issue field pants. Field pants liner, US issue fleece bibs for ECWCS.

“Cold/Wet”. Starting in the warmer temps in this range, a good, old fashioned poncho can’t be beat for staying dry, especially if you are ruck marching. The downside to a poncho is that it catches on things and can sometimes get in the way of certain activities, like using your rifle. Goretex is great, but any amount of exertion, and you will start to sweat. Although they say goretex “Breathes”, it is very limited, and most of the time, you will be as soaked under your goretex (while doing strenuous activity), as you would have been without it. The main advantage you have with wearing goretex is it’s ability to block the wind and cold air from stealing the warmth you’ve built up under the goretex, especially if it’s used along with clothing like polypro long johns and fleece mid layers which will eventually dry out when you stop sweating.

Left to right. US issue ECWCS goretex pants, ECWCS goretex coat, goretex reversible desert/woodland rain pants and jacket, Brit issue tall gaiters.

Knowing how to use the ventilation system most mil issue goretex jackets has is very important. Armpit zips used in conjunction with the front zipper can negate some of the heat and moisture you build up inside it while conducting strenuous activities. Although I very rarely ever use goretex pants, they do have their place. They are great if you are sitting sedentary, or if you are doing work around camp that requires a lot of kneeling or sitting on wet ground. Also, a drawback to Mil issue goretex clothing is that it is noisy. I use gaiters more than goretex pants because they protect the lower legs from moisture and don’t cause the heat build up that the pants do.

Top left to right. Helmet liner “Pile” cap, fleece watch cap, wool watch cap. Below left to right. Ear covers, and crewman’s cold weather balaclava.

If you are using a goretex top, my suggestion is to replace the smock mentioned above with it if it’s the heavy duty jacket, or wear it under the smock if you are using a lightweight rain jacket. The primary goal of what you wear in the “Cold/Wet” environment is to keep your core from getting wet to begin with, or if you are gonna get wet from exertion (sweat), keeping the heat from escaping, thus chilling the moisture you’ve already built up and eventually freezing your core. The point of moisture wicking materials like polypro and fleece is they pull (wick) the moisture away from your skin and gradually wick that moisture to the outer layer, and the goretex outerwear let’s you stay warm while the fabric does that.

“Extreme Cold/Wet”. Even though this is listed as “Wet”, generally, this is considered a “Dry cold” type of “wet”. The consistency of the snow in this environment is usually of a powdery consistency, and the need for waterproof clothing in this environment is not as necessary as that of the “Cold/Wet” environment talked about above. Generally, snow that collects on you and your gear can be brushed off without leaving the item wet.

From the left, snow camo pack cover, to the right of that at top down, balaclava, neck gaiter, and overwhites for the trigger finger mittens, right of that, German snow camo overwhite smock and pants. above them an overwhite helmet cover.

One of the best uniform items the military ever issued and used in this environment was the 1951 wool shirt (very hard to find now unless you wear a small size). Barring that and the system that was used with it, the mil uses the ECWC System ( I used the GenII system in the mil, and that’s what I own) which combines lightweight or heavy weight polypro longjohns (first layer) with a fleece jacket and bibs (2nd layer), the field pants discussed earlier with their liner, the earlier discussed field jacket liner (pants and jacket liner are the third layer), and the goretex top and bottom (fourth layer).

Typically, you can use the ECWCS system without the goretex top and bottom, and you can substitute the goretex top with the SAS style smock. Your outer garments would then be the smock and the field pants. Obviously, you will probably need to get the field pants in a size bigger than you normally would if you’re gonna wear the complete ECWC System under them. Your smock should already be big enough to go over the ECWCS garments on the upper body.

This category is generally the coldest of all the categories. Extreme low temps are usually in an area that has snow cover so the overwhites (no insulation, just camo) go over the whole set up. Hopefully, you are never in an environment that is so cold that you need to wear the whole ECWC System, but better to have and not need…..right?

Sleeping Gear

Although I own and have used the mil issue Intermediate and Mountain bags, The way to go these days is the US Issue Modular Sleep System. You ask any vet that has used both types, and they will tell you the MSS is the best thing going for sleeping gear, and it’s relatively cheap. Considering that I bought a Wiggy’s Ultralight with the goretex bivvy cover (about $350) back in the early 90’s, and I bought (or have been issued) a few of those MSS’s in the last 15 years for between $75 and $125 a piece. It’s a “no brainer” which one is the better deal. I like the Wiggy’s bag, but the MSS is the way to go and along with a good sleep pad (whether foam or Themarest). They will keep you warm down to the extremes you might have to sleep in. Use a balaclava in the lower temp extremes, and you can use your field jacket liner as a pillow. Whatever you do, don’t stick your head in the bag and let your breath condense and build up on the inside surface.

These are just some suggestions concerning cold weather gear THAT I HAVE USED. If you mileage was different great, I’m happy for you. I have used both wool and synthetics and have determined that there is a place for both in combination. In a number of areas, I’m not spending the money on most wool products because it’s outrageously overpriced, but synthetics have a flammability issue (newer mil issue ones are flame retardant). Figure out what works for you.

With all that being said here’s something to keep in mind. I use mil surplus not only because it is usually cheaper than a civilian equivalent, but it is generally a lot more durable and available in colors that help me blend in in the woods, not stand out. I’ll take the extra weight every time if it means it’s more durable.

People that haven’t done it think I’m joking when I tell them what I wear (or don’t wear) in extreme cold while rucking. In the pick below from yesterday (01/06/18) I have on a fleece watch cap, polypro T-shirt, lightweight polypro longjohn top, lightweight fleece TruSpec jacket, lightweight aviator gloves, Underarmor shorts, 65/35 poly cotton BDU pants, and uninsulated goretex Danner boots. 15 min miles with the 85lbs. I’m carrying warms me up real fast, but my camelbak tube froze solid.

JCD

Brushbeater Talks Practical Rifle Accuracy

In the real world with real bad guys, practical accuracy is the only accuracy.

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img_0233There’s a lot of confusion even among longtime shooters between what a rifle is capable of doing off the bench on a nice controlled square range and what’s actually practical for a serviceable combat weapon. The two really aren’t the same. While tight groups are definitely a plus and a goal to be attained, having a precision weapon in the general purpose role is not always completely necessary to make one combat effective. There’s a happy medium to be found, and getting there is not always hard or expensive. Above all else, it’s the fundamentals of the shooter that make a weapon deadly, no matter what.

One of the really neat things about the past couple decades, firearms-wise, is the real renaissance we’ve seen in weapons development and maximization of potential. Most visibly is this phenomena with the proliferation of the AR-15 platform, but really among all classes of weapons. One can pick up even a lower-tier carbine and have a decent action capable of making solid hits at further distances than many shoot on average. That is, if the shooter is capable. Some of this has to do with the plethora of modern ammo choices out there, some with the advent and precision of CNC machines, and some with the proliferation of free-floated handguards. While the Colt M4A1 series has a mil-spec tolerance of 4 MOA, or a ~4 inch group at 100 meters, and usually easily exceeding this your common off the shelf AR-15 can expect much better than that on average. It begins, however, with the skill of the man behind the trigger.

The same can be said for the huge boom in the Long Range hobby. Lots of people are getting into it and it can be a lot of fun putting steel on target from 500m or more. The ability to squeeze every last fraction of capability is definitely nice. And usually the underlying question, whether plinking, running 3 gun or Long Range type stuff, is ultimately protection of hearth and home. But the question that comes to my mind is do you really need all of that to make an effective rifleman? The answer is largely determined by the rifleman’s purpose. For a combat weapon, even a designated marksman’s role, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a .5 MOA rifle or even one that really impresses at the range. Gasping for air, I know. Practical accuracy is a different animal from mechanical accuracy. But let’s look at some reasons why.

1. What is the median distance you plan to engage?

For my operating environment, I live in mostly dense forest with rolling hills. The long distance stretches are either pastures, power lines, or highways. From a light fighter’s standpoint, these three amount to the cardinal rule of never walking in the open or crossing a linear danger area with no overwatch. Overwatch, by the way, is not some fancy buzzword to sell you junk but actually is someone on your team hidden watching for muzzle flashes in case you get shot…while you’re crossing in the open or across linear danger areas. They watch over you. That said, my average engagement distance here is under 100m. Are you accurate enough to be lethal within 100m? How about 200m? How about 300m? Do you really need to shoot further than that? Maybe, maybe not. What are the intermediate barriers, i.e. potential cover (rocks, deadfall, etc) between you and where an adversary may fire from? Are you capable of shooting over those same open areas that they may cross?

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Average backwoods of NC.

A good way to put this into context is to think of the average shot a deer hunter will make in a given area. Around here, between thick Carolina conifer and hardwood stands, shotguns do just fine for 99% of putting meat in the freezer. Rifles are nice for shooting across cutovers or fire breaks- those open areas requiring a little more range I just warned you about. And how accurate is that Remington 770 or 742 with meat ammo versus a heavyweight barreled Remington 700 5R and precision handloads? Mechanically it wouldn’t make much difference in the woods over relatively short distances. But the weight sure as heck will, regardless of whether you’re a twenty something stud out shootin’ n’ lootin’ or a mid 50s patriarch looking to protect his home. Doesn’t mean that any of these are my personal choice for anything other than hunting game, but the concept is basically the same. Which bring my next point.

2. What is your Weight Threshold?

I knew a guy a while back who had a uber-high end semi-auto AR-10, decked out to the nines, with every cool guy thing you can imagine and a giant NightForce 56mm celestial telescope on top. Beautiful rifle, crisp glass. Weighed 18lbs empty and carried like a 4×4 in the hands. And there’s nothing wrong with that, if you want a high end benchrest-type gun. But that’s a ridiculous and unnecessary amount of weight for a general purpose weapon. For him, making tiny groups at a given distance was a lot of fun. But when it came time to carry it, you’d see him ditch that for his handy WASR-10 that weighs half as much loaded and accomplishes the same task within 100m.

The point is that what feels heavy but tolerable in your hands at the gunstore becomes a boat anchor after carrying it over distances with supporting equipment. Common knowledge usually dictates weight equates superior accuracy, but too much becomes self-defeating. That lightweight AR-15 with a pencil barrel can get heavy too. After a four day cave clearing mission in Afghanistan my M4 felt like a cinderblock. And aside from a PEQ-15, it wasn’t too far removed from the AR-type carbine pictured above. Granted, I was carrying a lot of other equipment including a SMAW-D and several days worth of 5590 batteries (which is like toting around bricks), but the point is that a carbine I intend to fight with needs to remain lightweight to keep me unencumbered. There’s a reason the broad shouldered bubbas get picked to hump the M-240B; it’s big and heavy, and the small guys can’t handle and effectively employ it over long distances. Even the meat eaters get tired though, and shaving a few ounces here and there makes a world of difference when you’re gassed.

3. Remaining Combat Effective- Remember BRAS

The reality of fighting in armed groups is that it is nothing like sitting at a range plinking targets. That’s nice for basic rifle marksmanship, and it’s really important to work on fundamentals. It’s purpose is to confirm zero & dope (Data Of Previous Engagement- a record of ballistic data for that weapon and specific ammo load) and make sure you can hit a target at a given specific distance, hence why most square ranges are referred to as Known-Distance or KD ranges. Square range time is critical, and should be at least a monthly training event for you and your group. But understand it is not the end-all-be-all; its just a foundation for Basic Rifle Marksmanship consisting of BRAS- Breathe, Relax, Aim, Squeeze. For creating and maintaining proficiency this is the proper cadence for trigger control. It’s easy to get right when relaxed and very easy to get wrong any other time. Only training on a 100m square range is a dangerously false sense of security. Only shooting from a bench and calling it good is preparing you for nothing except shooting off a bench. Getting out and humping that safe queen through the woods for a bit is critically more important than making tiny groups from the bench or even shooting fast at stationary targets in the 3-gun stall. You learn the ins and outs of that weapon on a patrol and get to make it better.

You may very well learn that what you can do with a 12lb rifle you can also do with an 8lb rifle, and that 4lb weight saving could make a big difference. If I’m running a .5MOA rifle but it’s a beast to carry with that 20in bull barrel, I may end up being so exhausted after a movement or a quick react to contact that I can’t hit anything with it because I can’t settle down behind the gun. Under duress this will happen to you. If you’re out of shape this will be you. And at that point the rifle’s accuracy is irrelevant. Shooting a half inch at 100m now becomes not even being able to acquire a target in that 14x zoom lens, because you’re spent and can’t think through your situation. Believe me, it will happen to you.

4. “If you can’t do it with irons, don’t bother with optics”

I was talking recently with an old-hand Sniper Instructor who told me this. It may come as a shock to some of you but I agree wholeheartedly for making new riflemen. The optics themselves make life easy, especially today in the world of precision machining and glass manufacturing that makes even lesser-expensive options fairly high quality. And it can produce marksmen in a shorter amount of time because the process of sight-aquire-fire now becomes streamlined. But- and this is a big objection- without the fundamentals of proper marksmanship, an optic of any type does you little good and in some cases might make you worse. If I’m running way more glass than necessary, such as putting a 16×50 on an M4 because it helps me shoot tiny groups off a bench or in the prone, I’m not effective anywhere but in that one scenario. I may very well lose my target if something throws me off kilter as usually happens in a dynamic environment and I may also have trouble getting on target with any amount of speed. If I back the zoom off but have a second focal plane scope, now my reticle is worthless for any sort of bullet drop or ranging measurements.

His logic is that if I can do it with iron sights, then I have zero problem with optics. The fundamentals are there, along with my confidence. The foundation is laid. Optics of any type are a tool to enhance one’s capability, not a shortcut in training. If Joe knows he can ring steel with irons on his weapon at an average engagement distance, then an optic of any type enhances his capability. He now has confidence in himself and his weapon. And confidence is the difference maker above any piece of kit. So with that said, anyone getting started in rifle marksmanship should begin with iron sights and graduate to implementing optics down the road. Simplicity equals success. Keep in mind this is for basic training purposes; a standard for those new or inexperienced. Additionally, for those simply thinking optics always equate accuracy, buying airsoft-grade trash or even decent glass but a skimpy or improper mounting solution is a recipe for problems in the long run. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right. If you genuinely don’t know, swallow that pride and get some instruction- I promise, it will be worth it.

Mechanical vs. Practical

M4A1-accuracy-vs-M16A2.jpgMechanical accuracy definitely plays a large role in practical accuracy, but if your fundamentals are trash nothing is going to make you a good shooter. While you’ve read up until now that pinpoint accuracy is not a central requirement in a primary fighting carbine or rifle, good mechanical accuracy is definitely a desirable asset. If my weapon shoots 2 MOA, or a 2 inch group at 100 yards, that means on an average man-sized target at any given distance I have some margin of error to still make solid hits, all things being equal. Anything up to 4 MOA for a general purpose carbine then becomes perfectly acceptable. Even out to 600m this gives us, in theory at least, 24 inches of spread but still perfectly capable of a solid hit if you do your part. But you have to know how to do your part, and that only comes from solid training. But will you need to shoot that far? Probably not in most cases- and only your own situation can determine this. Most often our expectations should be half that distance at the most, but if everyone in your group can make those kinds of shots, then they’ll have no problems engaging closer than that.

Practical accuracy comes from the individual rifleman; riflemen are only produced and maintained through quality training. The tactics of the Team of Riflemen are the real difference maker. You should be seeking out training outside the square range on a regular basis. My friend JC Dodge has an upcoming class which will go beyond the typical comfort zone of most, pushing both the student and his equipment. In addition, I’m available for those seeking private instruction on both making the shot and proper field techniques, along with other small units skills such as off-grid communications, Recon & Surveillance, and Combat Casualty Care. We’re not the only ones who can teach this stuff; there’s many others. But I highly implore the reader to get that training along with all the other skills to give you the tactical edge in setting up a secure retreat, even if you think you’re the ‘expert’. And with that, I’ll leave you with a quote from the late, great Peter Kokalis:

To train others in the art of war, you must both know war from the trenches and undergo constant training from others, both to keep the sharp edge and be exposed to the ever-evolving tactical concepts of combat at the down and dirty level. Several have asked why an “expert” (God how I loathe that word) like me would need to participate in training at a firearms school. The answer is simple: for the same reason tennis and golf pros constantly train under other tennis and golf pros. You cannot observe yourself while shooting, but the professional firearms instructors under whom I train can constantly detect slight nuances of incorrect movement that need to be reprogrammed.

-From Weapon Tests and Evaluations, The Best of Soldier of Fortune

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Good advice from a good guy who knows his stuff.

JCD