Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Rangemaster Shotgun Instructor Course--Part 2: More Highlights and Observations

Common Shotgun Shells
As I mentioned in part 1 of this article, I recently attended Tom Given’s Rangemaster shotgun instructor course—a very good class that I highly recommend. The class is a three-day course designed to train instructors how to teach techniques for handling and shooting the defensive shotgun under stress.

Some additional highlights and observations:

-- Always check your ammunition. Examine the primers, ensure that the shells are not damaged or corroded, properly crimped, and that the shell mouth has not expanded. Shotgun shells that have been in a tubular magazine for an extended length of time occasionally swell which may result in an inability to chamber the shell.

    Ensure you are using ammunition of the correct gauge. This is particularly true if you own shotguns in several gauges which increase the potential to mix shells. Although many ammunition companies use different colored shells for different gauges, this is not always the case.

    Tom mentioned the chance of mistakenly placing 20 gauge ammunition in a 12 gauge shotgun. The 20 gauge may slide down the barrel far enough that the shooter can load a 12 gauge shell in the chamber behind the 20 gauge shell and fire it with the obvious potential for catastrophic results.

    Ironically, one of the students in the class had a gun that suddenly would not chamber a round. Examination showed that the barrel was obstructed with another shotgun shell. Considerable pounding with a cleaning rod produced a 16 gauge shell that entered and became stuck in the barrel. The student sheepishly admitted that he owned a 16 gauge shotgun. Both shells were the exact same red color and only a close examination would have identified the 16 gauge shell.

-- Are lights really necessary on a shotgun for home defense use? Not really. Tom discussed the benefits of simply leaving a light on in your home that illuminates any areas where an intruder might enter. As you think about it, under these circumstances you will likely see the intruder before or when he sees you. If the house is dark and you come into the area with a light, the intruder will immediately know your location; however, you may not know his.

    As an experiment, I completed the Rangemaster shotgun qualification during a recent low light practice session. I did not use a mounted light and instead held the light in my support hand alongside the shotgun’s forend. I scored 100% and completed all the strings of fire within the prescribed time limits with no problem. The paired holes are where the Federal Flitecontrol® wads struck the target.

-- "The 20-gauge is much easier to shoot than the 12-gauge, produces significantly less recoil, and is lighter and more maneuverable."* Like many others, I have always accepted the comment that a 20 gauge is better for small-statured people in a home defense role due to less recoil. However, as Tom discussed, a 20 gauge may not be better than a 12 gauge for home defense (and indeed other defensive applications). Although this may not have been the case at one time, modern low-recoil 12 gauge buckshot loads have less recoil than many modern 20 gauge equivalents.

    It is a matter of physics. A 20 gauge, 20-pellet standard load of #3 buckshot weighs 468 grains. At 1200 feet per second (FPS) it will have a muzzle energy of 1497 foot pounds. A 12 gauge, 8-pellet 00 buckshot load weighs 430.4 grains. At 1145 FPS it will have a muzzle energy of 1253 foot pounds. All things being equal, the 12 gauge load would have less felt recoil than the 20 gauge load. All things  typically are not equal however. The 20 gauge shotgun will probably be lighter than a comparable 12 gauge shotgun so if recoil is a concern, the 12 gauge will likely produce noticeably less felt recoil.

I have always been impressed with the shotgun’s effectiveness and power and the Rangemaster shotgun instructor course reinforced my belief in the shotgun as a defensive tool. When employed correctly and within its proper range envelope the shotgun is very effective; however, trying to use it beyond its capabilities is an exercise in frustration. It is not a rifle and trying to make it one will result in disappointment. Remember, you are responsible for every pellet you fire.

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Monday, November 4, 2019

Rangemaster Shotgun Instructor Course: Highlights and Observations

I recently attended Tom Given’s Rangemaster shotgun instructor course—a very good class that I highly recommend. The class is a three-day course designed to train instructors how to teach techniques for handling and shooting the defensive shotgun under stress.

Some of the highlights and observations included:

    -- Absolutes: Muzzle discipline and trigger finger discipline. For administrative movement, Tom had the students move with the action locked open, muzzle vertical, and fingers of one hand inside the open ejection port.

    -- Shotguns are not drop safe. No shotgun is drop safe if dropped on the muzzle. While some may be drop safe for impacts on the butt of the stock you certainly cannot count on this. Using the shotgun to deliver a butt stroke may cause the weapon to fire as recently occurred when carjacker Reece Ramsey-Johnson fatally shot himself while delivering a butt stroke to a car window.

    -- Federal 8-pellet 00 Buckshot loads using the FLITECONTROL® wad throw an extremely tight pattern. My fellow students and I fired a variety of buckshot loads during the course and only the Hornady 00 Buckshot load with the Versatite™ wad was comparable.

    -- Multiple projectile loads require particular attention to what is behind your target. YOU are responsible for every pellet you fire. This is where target distance and the pattern of a particular load in your shotgun come into play. Fiocchi 9-pellet 00 buckshot loads from my Beretta 1201 shotgun at a distance of 12 yards generally put all nine pellets within a 10 inch circle. I say generally because occasionally this load throws one wild pellet off the target at that distance. The Federal 8-pellet 00 Buckshot load puts all 8 pellets through a hole 2 inches in diameter at the same distance.

     -- High visibility, brightly colored followers make it easier to see that there are no rounds in the magazine. My personal Beretta 1301 shotgun which only fired a grand total of 2 rounds during the entire class did not have a high-vis follower. Tom graciously loaned me his personal 1301 for the class and his did have a high-vis follower and it was clearly much easier to see that there were no rounds in the magazine.

    -- You should have spare ammunition on the shotgun in either a side carrier on the receiver or some type of butt cuff. I personally prefer the side carrier. I find removing the shells from a butt cuff requires more dexterity and is slower than loading from a side carrier.

    -- The length of pull as measured from the trigger to the center of the shotgun butt should be between 10-12 inches. Most shotgun manufacturer’s standard length of pull for a sporting gun is between 13 and 14-1/2 inches—much too long. I started the class (my 1301 did dry fire very well) with a 13-inch pull and that was too long. I am 6’2” tall and found the 12-inch pull to be perfect. A shorter person would likely find a 10-11 inch pull to work well.

    -- This goes without saying: Always wear eye protection. I was surprised by the number of 00 Buckshot pellets that apparently bounced backwards off something on/in the dirt berm. We found numerous pellets in the 2-10 yard area on the firing line and found one pellet approximately 22 yards from the berm. Some of them showed obvious signs of having impacted something (e.g. a pebble) others were perfectly round. No student reported being struck so the bouncing pellet’s energy level was likely very low.

I will provide more highlights and observations in part 2 of this article.

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Tuesday, October 22, 2019

The FBI Qualification with a Five Shot Revolver?

I routinely carry a S&W Model 342 .38 Special revolver in a pocket holster when I am at home and not otherwise armed. 

The Model 342 is a J-frame revolver with a 2-inch barrel similar in design to the many other variations of the Model 36. This pistol has an enclosed hammer and is double action only with fixed sights.

Just for the sake of doing it, my friend Steve and I decided to shoot the 2019 FBI qualification with our J-frame revolvers. We started with the pistol in a pocket, hand on the grip of the pistol.

The 2019 version of the FBI pistol qualification course of fire is as follows:

3 yards

- Draw and fire 3 rounds strong hand only, switch hands and fire 3 rounds support hand only, all in 6 seconds

5 yards

- Draw and fire 3 rounds in 3 seconds

- From the Ready, fire 3 rounds in 2 seconds

- From the Ready, fire 6 rounds in 4 seconds

7 yards

- Draw and fire 5 rounds in 5 seconds

- From the Ready, fire 4 rounds, conduct an empty gun reload, and fire 4 more rounds, all in 8 seconds

- From the Ready, fire 5 rounds in 4 seconds

15 yards

- Draw and fire 3 rounds in 6 seconds

- From the Ready, fire 3 rounds in 5 seconds

25 yards

- Draw and fire 4 rounds from Standing, drop to a Kneeling Position and fire 4 more rounds from Kneeling, all in 20 seconds.

Scoring: 50 rounds, two points per round for a total of 100 points possible; 90 or above is a pass for FBI firearms instructors. 

Obviously with a five shot revolver we could not do the six shots in one string at the 3-yard line. We fired 3 shots in 2 seconds, reloaded, at the second start signal passed the pistol to the support hand and fired the additional 3 shots in 3 seconds. We did the same thing for the 5-yard string firing two, 3-shot sequences in less than 2 seconds each.

I fumbled a bit on the first run and did not make the 8-second time limit for the 7-yard string of four – reload – four in eight seconds. I also discovered that the pistol was printing low and left at 25 yards with the ammunition I was using. My score (not counting any time penalty) was an 88. The circled round is a miss. According to Tom Givens, all shots must be inside the bottle to count as hits.

On the second run I borrowed Steve’s speed loader and made the 7-yard reload time. With fixed sights you get what you get, so I also adjusted my 25-yard aiming point and scored a 92. 

This light little pistol and its siblings have served and protected many police officers and private citizens alike for decades. I generally don’t carry it when I go out in public anymore in favor of my compact SIG P320. Not that it would not serve for most potential incidents; however, I prefer a larger pistol with greater ammunition capacity given the buffoonery that is going on now days. 

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Saturday, October 12, 2019

To Red Dot or Not?

GILES CUSTOM w/ Aimpoint MKIII Courtesy of Morphy Auctions

My first experience with a red dot sight on a pistol was the Aimpoint Mark III in 1983 when I was a member of an Army pistol team. The Aimpoint was the “newest thing” and several of my team mates had purchased them and mounted them on their bullseye pistols. Even though the sight was too large and heavy for practical carry they worked well as bullseye pistols. We had several Distinguished shooters on the team who could hold the 1.69 inch “X” ring on an NRA standard B-6 50-yard target with both iron sights and the red dot.

I mounted one on my Giles Custom 38 Wadcutter 1911 pistol; however, I could not consistently hold the 8-inch bullseye at fifty yards much less the X ring. The bouncing red dot frustrated me because it was a constant reminder of how large my arc of motion was at that point in my shooting career. I took the Aimpoint off the pistol and installed it on a Ruger Mini-14 and proceeded to use it to hunt jackrabbits. I still have the sight and it still works.

Fast forward to 2015 and my introduction to the Miniature Red Dot Sights (MRDS) and their ability to be slide-mounted for daily carry. I tried a MRDS during one of Gabe Suarez’s classes and was immediately struck by its utility.

What impressed me about the red dot was that it removed one variable in the aiming process. With a dot, you do not need to maintain the relationship between the front/rear sights that you must maintain with iron sights. The red dot is on a single focal plane. If the dot is on the target and you maintain this alignment while properly pressing the trigger, you will hit the target assuming a properly zeroed pistol.

Notice I said maintain the dot’s position in relation to the target and properly press the trigger. A red dot sight will not correct a flinch, jerking the trigger, etc.

Some studies have stated that a red dot does little to enhance accuracy at the 0-5 yard ranges for typical targets. In reality do you need sights at these ranges at all? I personally don’t and many accomplished shooters can extend this out to 6, 7, or even 10 yards. If the target is close then the sights are unnecessary, the body mechanics of pointing the pistol will allow you to hit the target absent some intervening factor (e.g. severely jerking the trigger).

Sights are for precision shooting such as a 1-inch group at 10 yards or making a head shot on an IDPA target at 25 yards. Precision and distant shots are where sight selection becomes important whether you are looking at the width of the front sight blade on adjustable iron sights or the minute-of-angle (MOA) diameter for a red dot sight.

In 2015 & 2016, Karl Rehn and KR Training partnered with the Texas A&M Huffines Institute to conduct a study comparing shooter performance using iron sights, green lasers, and slide mounted red dot sights.* They collected data on 118 shooters of all skill levels from age 18 to 76 years old over a two-year period. I learned of Rehn’s study at the 2016 Tactical Conference where he summarized the study’s conclusion: Shooters using the slide mounted red dots did not shoot better than those using irons or lasers.

As I listened to the Tactical Conference presentation one thing immediately caught my attention. Per the study: “There was not time in the testing to give participants significant training time to learn the red dot or the laser. They were allowed 10 or less dry fire presentations before testing began. Red dot advocates insist that finding the dot on presentation improves with training.”

In my experience this is absolutely true. The physical alignment of the pistol on target results from properly positioning the body, your hand eye coordination, and a proper grip on the pistol. These factors are what align the pistol on target, not the sights.

If you do not have a solid mastery of shooting fundamentals or if you cannot properly present the pistol from a draw, the red dot will not magically cure these problems.

The pistol’s ergonomics can affect your grip and ability to obtain a consistent pistol presentation. The grips size compared to your hand size and the grip angle come into play. In my case, I personally don’t like the grip angle on some pistols because they cause me to present the pistol with the muzzle elevated—iron sights or red dot. I don’t have that problem with other pistols such as the 1911, S&W M&P, or the SIG P320. My current carry pistol is a SIG P320 with a Trijicon RMR and the SIG Lima Laser Grip module.

SIG P320 & SIG Lima Laser Grip module

If you have a pistol that fits you and have practiced to the point that you have a consistent presentation then the red dot will be exactly where you need it to be in relation to the target. All you need then is a good trigger press and you will hit.

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