On December 14th 2019, I had the pleasure to attend the Carry the Day Texas Tactical Pistol/Rifle course. To be honest, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect going into it. But coming out of it, I’m really happy with what I learned and took away.
Let me start by explaining why I wasn’t sure what to expect going into this.
I was registered for this course by wife as a birthday gift. When I looked up the course description, I learned that participants were expected to have completed a basic pistol and rifle course prior to attending. While I have received instruction from a reputable instructor with pistols, that wasn’t the case with rifles. This made me think that perhaps this course was a bit beyond my skill level. I reached out to the Sean Hoffman, one of the instructors, whom I had met once while attending an intermediate pistol course. Sean remembered me and we discussed my experience level with a defensive rifle. He gave me the green light to proceed as a participant.
The day of the course was great. Perfect weather. Clear sky. Moderate temperature. A few students cancelled at the last minute, leaving three students present to receive instruction from Sean Hoffman and Mark Ryan.
Both instructors dumped knowledge on me left and right. It was yet another humbling experience reminding me how much I still have to learn and skills I need to develop. I see training as an opportunity to identify bad habits to break and good habits to establish. It’s also an opportunity to learn new drills to help build good habits.
We started out the day with pistol work. Specifically, we started with a draw to first shot on target drill at a distance of 25 yards. Cold. I noticed that I was consistently slower than the other two students, but I wasn’t there to compete. I was there to improve. Sean caught me “bowling my draw” rather than pressing it out. I attribute this to me adjusting to drawing with body armor on for the first time (more on the body armor in another post). Once that was corrected, my time from draw to first shot improved significantly as I was able to find my sights much faster. I was still slower than the other two students, but the difference was much less significant.
The worst part of the drills at 25 yards is that it’s hard to confirm good A-zone hits. I’m not quite at the level where I can call my shots consistently. Needless to say, I was happy to see that all my shots were acceptable hits when we walked up to the target.
We then moved closer to the target and proceeded to work on recoil management. The recoil management drill consisted of shooting at a small (probably 2 inch) black dot on the target quickly with several (3 to 5) shots. During this drill Sean and Mark helped me refine my grip to tighten up my groups with quick follow up shots. The key thing was to introduce a slight bend at the elbows (rather than locking them out). This slightly changed the direction of the recoil towards me and decreased the upward muzzle movement during recoil.
Another lesson that was reenforced during the recoil management drill was the importance of a strong support hand grip. The stronger the grip the tighter the group. The tighter the group the faster one can shoot and get acceptable hits. Unfortunately for me, I was reminded the arthritis in my support hand limits my grip strength especially when I have a flare up. Silver lining here is that it is important to know and be aware of ones limits.
After working on recoil management, we focused on shot cadence (or tempo, rhythm, etc.). The quickly, carefully, and precisely drill consisted of placing three (3) rounds quickly in an eight (8) inch circle, followed by placing two (2) rounds carefully in a four (4) inch circle, and finishing with placing one (1) round precisely in a two (2) inch circle. Given the faster cadences result in wider groups, the shooter needs to adjust their cadence depending on the precision needed.
While working the quickly, carefully, and precisely drill, Sean noticed I consistently grouped left of center. After a little diagnosis, he pointed out that it was a gun fit issue. Essentially my short sausage fingers combined with my fat meaty palms have a hard time reaching the trigger on the beloved P229 I carry and compete with regularly. As a result, the gun is out of alignment with my forearm when I grip it and my trigger finger, which rests flat against the frame, tends to nudge the muzzle left when I work the gun.
Regarding the gun fit issue, Sig Sauer does offer a “short” trigger and enhanced grip for some of it’s P-series pistols. I don’t know if these are available for the legion series pistols as they have an enhanced Gray Guns trigger and narrower G-10 grips out of the box. I will look into it and see if it’s an option. Otherwise, I will be making a change to my every day carry (and IDPA) gun now that I know what to look for when it comes to a good fit.
After the static work, we moved on to shooting while moving and transitioning between targets. One drill consisted of walking towards a target. During this drill the shooting cadence was increased as the distance to the target decreased. Sean let me run this drill with his STI 2011 which had a grip reduction (since he has similar hands to mine). The STI felt much better and ran really well. As a result, it is now on my wishlist.
Target transitions felt pretty natural to me given my IDPA experience this year. However up until this class, I had always moved to a position, planted my feet, and shot a target. Sean was able to point out that incorporating shooting while moving can help improve speed and accuracy. This will require me to rethink how I plan an IDPA stage.
Here are a more things I took away and want to remember with regards to running the pistol:
- Grip, sight alignment, trigger control still seem to be the three most important “shooting fundamentals”. Yes, the other ones matter. But these seem to matter more.
- Pinning and reseting the trigger can slow you down. Don’t want to “slap” the trigger, but it’s okay to release the trigger and smoothly press it.
- Dry fire is your friend
- Work in your workspace
As a side note, I had my third double feed with the P229 during this class. At this point, the gun has had 1200 rounds through it. I still think the issues are more likely to be self induced (due to weak strong hand grip) rather than the gun. But I do plan having a gunsmith take a look at it, as I’m starting to think something maybe up with the extractor.
With half the day gone, we took a shot lunch break and to work on the rifle.
The rifle drills were very similar to the the pistol drills. Recoil management, cadence adjustment, transitioning between targets, and shooting while moving.
My favorite drills were the target transition drills: Box Drill and “X” Drill. The first consisted of placing two (2) chest shots on the first target, two (2) chest shots to the second target, one (1) head shot on the second target, and finishing with one (1) shot on the first target. The “X” Drill was a slight variation starting with two (2) chest shots on the first target, one (1) head shot on the second target, two (2) chest shots on the second target, and finishing with one (1) head shot on the first target. These drills also worked the shooting cadence as the chest a-zone is much larger than the head a-zone. The “X” drill was also a bit tougher as you had more going on between transitions. For example, on the first transition I switched between head to chest target zones while transitioning which required a cadence change, this was followed by switching to a larger a-zone which was another cadence change, and finished with another chest to head a-zone switch while transitioning targets and adjusting cadence. In total the “X” drill had three (3) target and cadence changes and two (2) target transitions, while the box drill consisted of one (1) target and cadence change and two (2) target transitions.
I found that running the rifle quickly and accurately was easier than running the pistol. Sean mentioned that it’s more common to see a good pistol shooter develop strong rifle skills quickly than it is to see a good rifle shooter develop strong pistol skills quickly. I’ll trust his opinion as I’m certain he’s seen a fair share of people skilled with one type of firearm develop proficiency with the other.
Here are a few more things I took away and want to remember with regards to running the rifle:
- Mounting a red dot on top of LVPO is bad idea as you have to know and adjust for two different hold overs. A 45° offset is a better way to go as it keeps the distance between the red dot and the barrel about the same as the distance between the scope reticle and the barrel.
- 100 yard zero is perhaps not the best idea for a defensive rifle, will be changing to a 25 yard zero
- Shouldering a rifle with body armor is very different. Butt stock design can help with shouldering the rifle on the shoulder rather than having to shoulder it on the body armor which messes with my cheek weld.
- Don’t like the Burris scope. I put a fresh battery in it the night before the class and it was drained in the morning. I’ll end up changing the scope out in the near future.
- Aim towards the top of the a-zone or the box. It provides a larger margin of error for an acceptable hit. More on this later.
We wrapped up the day with a few rifle to pistol transitions. I learned that this will typically happen because one either runs out of ammo or encounters a malfunction with the rifle while actively engaged in a firefight with a near by threat. Basically, reloading or clearing malfunction at that distance on the rifle is slower than switching to a sidearm. Additionally, there isn’t any magic to the rifle to pistol transition. It’s essentially three steps: 1) engage the safety on the rifle, 2) put down the rifle as quickly as possible while keeping it under control (in other words don’t let it bang up the family jewels), and 3) draw the pistol into the action.
It was a fun filled eight hour day. However, the eight hours were both physically and mentally exhausting.
A few things to remember about ammo for the next class I take:
- Pre-load as many mags as you can.
- Thumbs will get tired, sore, maybe a little raw. Will be investing in a maglula.
- Bring extra ammo. I ran low.
And a few more thoughts and general take-a-ways:
- Setting up the weapon for intended application is important. If I can afford to, I will look at using different pistols and rifles for different uses. For example, I’d like to keep an AR-15 with a 25 yard zero for defensive purposes and perhaps another with a 100 yard zero (and different optics) for varmint hunting purposes.
- Keep it simple stupid principle applies to everything shooting.
- Muzzle aversion is an important thing to remember to reduce legal liability if ever in a defensive gun fight. Should be a no brainer given the second rule of gun safety, but easy to forget when shooting paper targets. Also something I want to incorporate in IDPA matches.
Overall, I was impressed with this tactical pistol and rifle course. Sean and Mark did a great job making the tactical aspects practical. This turned out to be a great experience with tons of takeaways. I’d like to retake this course at some point in the future after addressing some of my equipment concerns and establishing new habits. I feel better equipped to improve my practice sessions and skills.