Wednesday, June 16, 2010

United States Shooting Academy Tactical Rifle 230 Review

I have never trained or heard much feedback about the USSA, and since the Advacned Carbine class at Sig was cancelled, I decided to try out the Tactical Rifle 230 from USSA.
The course was taught by Eric Lund and hosted by the Sig Sauer Academy in Epping, NH. While the academy is nice, our class took place in a remote class room/range - very different from last year Defensive Rifle.
The first day started in a classroom with a standard safety briefing followed by a 3 hour long lecture about accessories, AR variants, etc, which contained information I already knew and I learned very little new information. Unfortunately, we did not get a chance to shoot until after lunch.
After lunch we gathered on the range and I had a chance to look at different rifles. We had a total of 8 shooters. Seven civilians and one LEO. A large number of students were new to rifles, this being their first class.
One guy has FS2000 classic. Another had Sig 556 and another shooter had an AK and FAL. The rest had one variant or another of the AR platform. I was running BCM ligtweight upper with TRX extreme topped with H1. Eric had Sabre upper with Adams Arms piston conversion and he was running an Eotech.
The LEO was running a ban compliant 20" HBAR with irons. His sling setup made me go wtf - he started the class with the classic AR carry strap attached in the traditional manner to the bottom of the stock and the bottom of front sight base. He was struggling with it. Since he did not have any other sling attachment methods besides the strap, he tried to make single point around the rear sling point on the stock. Apparently dissatisfied, he then attached the front of the sling to the side of the FSB.
This setup was still unsatisfactory to him and he ended up attaching a 1903 leather sling and finishing the class with that. So note: Please have a modern, two point sling NOT a carry strap to make things easier on you in a class.
We finally started shooting with some NSR drills. Eric's philosophy is less about pinpoint precision and more about "shoot him into the ground". Therefore throughtout the class the unofficial accuracy standard was to keep all the hits in the A zone from 50 yards in. During the first half of the class, Eric also went over the reloads. He teaches putting the stock of the rifle under the armit while ejecting the spent magazine and acquiring a fresh one. I liked that technique as you no longer have to balance your rifle on the wrist alone.
As we started going through higher round count drills, I noticed my handguard get too warm to touch with a naked hand. During this time I also had a hard failure to go into battery that required me mortaring my AR. Since I was using Wolf Military Classic ammo, this was the likely culprit. After the mortaring I exeprienced no more malfunctions.
Due to local restrictions, we couldn't start shooting on Sunday until noon. So Eric gave the mindset lecture which took about an hour.
After we got back on the range, we did a brief warm up and then Eric introduced transitioning to pistol. From now untill the end of the class we were expected to transition to pistol during drills if we were within 25 yards and the rifle ran dry or had a malfunction. I liked the setup they had with a paper target for rifle and a steel plate to the right of paper target for pistol. Towards the end of the day we pushed back to 100 yards to refine our zeroes. Everybody was able to get on steel with minimal effor in a short amount of time. This marked the end of TD2.
Day 3 started around 8:30 with some warm up drills. Then Eric had us do Optic failure drills were those of us with optics turned them off and used the BUIS. I didn't have a chance to get a rear BUIS in time for the class so I was only using my front HK Troy. However, coupled with Aimpoint Micro, I found the system workable out to about fifteen yards. Another shooter next to me had a simialr setup except his front sight was AR style. I actually found the HK style to be a little easier to use in the optic down drill since the POA was right in the middle of the HK ears. I used FSP for horizontal alignment and the simply put the point of aim in the space between the ears of the front sight. If I had an AR style sight, things would be more difficult.
Eric also briefly covered shooting behind barricades and bilateral use of the rifles. He said that due to his eye sight he never transitions to left side and always engages targets from his strong side regardless which side of cover / barricade he uses. However, he let us experiment with transition the rifle to the support side. The FS2000 shooter was next to me and as he transitioned to support side I noticed him fiddling with his safety, unable to fire. "Turn it [the safety] the other way" I said. And he immediately was able to engage the target. Later he said that he got confused by the FS2000 safety since it rotates along a horizontal axis and requires a different motion if done with an off hand.
After this drill Eric introduced different shooting positions. We covered various flavors of kneeling, prone, roll over prone, and reverse roll over prone. However, Eric did not spend much time instructing us how to get into these positions with slung rifles. For reverse roll over we started with the rifle simply laing on the ground, unslung. I would have preferred if he were to start it with a slung rifle. We then pushed back to 200 yards for zero confirmation. By this point everybody had a decent zero, and getting hits on steel became easy.
We then moved back to 15 yards and had a quick competition which involved starting with one round in a chamber and empty mag in the rifle. On command, you would engage the target, perform the emergency reload and engage the target twice more. I think the FS2000 shooter was the first one out, followed by the guy running FAL. At the end it was me with a BAD equipped AR vs another shooter with a Sig 556. I did notice that as I kept re using the same magazine for my empty, it stopped being drop free due to the fine sand we had, so I had to give it a pull a few times. At the end, the AR won ;)...
With the class almost drawing to a close, the time came for the best drill so far. It started out with us not knowing what to expect. We had to run about 100 yards to our rifle, make it ready and engage steel targets from 100 yards using cover. For the first time in the class I felt challenged. I also got to experience all the stress factors. Taking cover directly behind the car instead of a wheel well, shooting from the right side off the left side of cover all the things that I knew I shouldn't be doing but still did.
This drill concluded our class and we went to the classroom for the final wrap up. I feel that this is a good class for complete novices. However, for somebody who is already familiar with the AR platform and has been through at least one rifle class may find this class too slow. Personally, I did not feel challenged in the class until the last drill. However, it provided me a good opportunity to pratice with my rifle.
I think that by adding more graded drills/qualifications the class could become more interesting and push the students more.
Equipment notes:
I ran BCM light upper with VTAC TRX. It ran great except for one stuck case of Wolf which required mortaring to unstick. The TRX does get uncomfortably hot after prolonged shooting. So gloves are recommended. One shooter had his AK - I believe it was a Saiga conversion, but not sure, have numerous malfunctions, including an AD when he was charging an empty rifle. He ended up finishing the class with FAL. The student with FS2000 did not seem to experience any mechanical issues except learning the need to really tug on the magazine after seating it.
One student experienced a quadruple feed while using a Sig 556 with loaner mags. Sig Sauer academy uses asian manufactured aluminum loaner mags, which was the cause of the problem. It never ceases to amaze me how the academy uses low quality / junk parts for studen loaner firearms, making for a poor experience.
The trouble the LEO student experienced with his carry strap sling drives home the point of having a modern, two point, quick adjust sling.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Choosing an EDC flashlight

Things go "bump" in the dark. Having a flashlight with you will make the dark less of a mystery while also making it easier to find everyday objects behind a couch or illuminate a dark
parking lots after a night out. Given today's wide choice of tactical flashlights, which one is for you?
I have been introduced to the world of high performance or tactical flashlights in 2004 when I bought my first Surefire L2. I still have it, although it has been relegated to nightstand duty.
My current choice for an EDC flashlight is Novatac 120 T. I want to take you through the steps that led me to pick it.
There are two primarily types of switches to turn the flashlight on or off. You have a choice between a clickie and a momentary. Lately, some companies introduced the ability to have both switches in one flashlight. Clickie is nice because once it's clicked on, there is no need to maintain pressure on the button allowing more freedom of movement. The downside that if you have to turn the light off, you have to click it again. With a momentary switch, the light stays on only as long as you are applying pressure to the button. I found that when performing weapon manipulation with a light, momentary is much better because you don't have to remember to click the light off when racking the slide on a pistol, for instance. Since at night the flashlight works both ways - illumination the thread but also giving up your location,
the light should be off unless it is actively being used to search the surroundings or engage the target. Therefore not having to remember to click it off is a major bonus. That is why I decided that my flashlight of choice must have a momentary switch.
There are two main light technologies - LED and incandescent. However, given today's advances in LED's, incandescent lights should no longer be the choice. LED's have essentially unlimited life span, can last longer on a battery charge, less susceptible to recoil and shock. Another benefit for LED - there is no need to replace it. While an incandescent bulb for a flashlight such as Surefire costs between $15-20 and has a lifespan of about 60 minutes of continuous output.
The tactical flashlight should be large enough to allow a comfortable handle. Keep in mind that since you may be using it with a pistol or rifle, there should be enough area to allow for positive control without the flashlight falling out. In my opinion most single CR123 flashlights are about the minimum size for this purpose. With the advances in technology a single CR123 flashlight today is the equivalent of a double CR123 flashlight from a few years ago. I also like the the body of the flashlight to have some knurling or other "grip enhancing finish". While smooth body flashlights may have less wear and tear on clothing, trying to grip one with cold/wet/numb fingers would most likely result in the light falling out.
The chosen flashlight should have a sufficient output/run time. 60 lumen is the recommended minimum output for a flashlight that may be used for "social" situations. Most flashlights today provide at least this level of output. The run time is another issue. 30 minutes of continuous output at the maximum setting should be the minimum for a light. It would also be a good practice to carry at least one spare set of batteries in case the flashlight must be used for a longer period of time.
In recent years there has been a trend toward attaching strike/crenelated bezels to flashlights. E2D comes to mind. While the idea has some merit, the bezel will likely to poke you, and tear clothing/car seats, etc...A flashlight with a plain bezel can be used just as effectively while appearing less "threatening".
Surefire makes a claim about using the bright light to allow blinding of an opponent. However, just like saying if you shoot somebody with caliber X, they will immediately go down, the same care must be applied to assuming that a bright/strobing flashlight will always blind/incapacitate an opponent. Chances are it will work, but be prepared if nothing happens and you have to go to plan B.
When it comes to carrying flashlight, I prefer to use a pocket clip with a bezel down carry. This allows the bulk of the flashlight to remain inside a pocket, and makes deployment faster. Some people may prefer to carry a flashlight on the belt, however, the EDC flashlight should be pocket carryable since it is not always possible to fill your belt with pouches.
Given the above criteria, I had the following lights in mind when making my choice:

Surefire E1B

* Compact
* Bezel down carry
* Two output levels
* Good battery life


* Two slick - can fall out of wet/cold hands
* Clickie tail cap used to toggle between light outputs. Can cause confusion in stressfull situations.

Surefire L1 - new production

* Great form factor for a single cell light - fills hand nicely
* One of the best switches - press lightly for low, press all the way for maximum output, with lockout feature
* Good battery life


* Bezel up carry by default. Can be modded for bezel down carry.

Surefire E2D LED

* Good form factor


* Crenelated bezel can shred fabric of pants/car seats
* Clicky tail cap
* Bezel up carry

Novatac 120

* Compact form factor
* Bezel down carry
* Versatile switch - momentary press and hold turns on Max output. Can be used as a clicky if desired. However, the clicky is only required to go to lower output.


* Fairly short battery life due to high output at maximum level.
* A little on the short side.

Given the above list and my personal preferences, it came down to a choice between L1 and Novatac. At the end I chose Novatac because I was able to find it cheaper than L1, and there
was no need to do any mods or scrounge for E1B clip to turn L1 into bezel down carry. So far I am very pleased with Novatac. It is small enough that I grab it every-time I go out the door,
and the adjustable output allows me to get more run time by using less light for most instances. It is also rugged enough to withstand daily use.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

AR Cleanliness - the chamber

With the explosion of the "black rifle" market after the election, there are a lot of new shooters that wonder what is the proper way to clean their AR?
The key part that needs to be cleaned is the chamber. Since some manufactures ship AR's with tight chambers, a dirty chamber and some ammunition can cause failures to extract and even stuck cases. Therefore, invest $10 or so into a USGI cleaning kit that comes with a chamber brush, and use it!
If nothing else, just clean your chamber.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Dating and guns

Last night while on a date, the subject of blogging came up. My date mentioned her food blog and even showed me a few photos of some tasty treats she puts up. However, as soon as I mentioned this blog, the girl did a double take, her eyes rolling nervously around, followed by a forced "OK"...
Why do people have such a weird reaction?

Friday, August 14, 2009

If it's on the internet it must be good

As a new shooter, there is a great temptation to type your question into the search engine of the day and then after carefully reading the various websites, take the advice to heart and practice it, after all if some super secret squirrel organization is doing, it must be the bees knees.
Wrong! There is a reason why the internet has been referred to as the "errornet". Unless you absolutely trust the source, take everything with a pound of salt. There is nothing better than taking a class, especially when it comes to firearms, instead of trusting the first hit of the search engine's results.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

So I'm not an operator "rolleyes"

On a local forum somebody posted a thread about his recently acquired Olympic Arms AR15. Considering how far away from the military TDP Olympic strays, I suggested to the author that I wish he would have bought something that meets the spec better.
His reply was: So I'm not an operator...
It has nothing to do with being an operator or a mall ninja. When I buy a firearm I don't want to waste money, but I also want to know that I can depend on it to perform under any conditions. I just hope his Olympic AR will work him when he needs it most.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Concealed carry training

Just as getting a new car, the desire to carry your new firearm concealed immediately after getting it great.
However, doing so without at least some proper training can result in disastrous consequences. Use and carry of firearms spans many different areas of the law and society and it is beneficial to at least be aware of them.
If you decide to take a training class, I would recommend a comprehensive three day class, although it is possible to get the basic overview from a one or two day class.
What would you look for in a class? In my next post I will go over what to look for in a training class so you get the most benefit for your time and money.