Friday, October 11, 2013

A Critical And Honest National Debate Is Needed Now More Than Ever

By Dave Dargo

The first U.S. presidential election in which I could vote was in 1980. Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter and John Anderson were on the ballot. I was twenty years old and lived in Maryland "inside the beltway". Growing up in the Washington, D.C. area meant that the national political news was local news.

We had just had a miserable four years under Carter, preceded by some pretty dreadful years under Ford. Ford had his "Whip Inflation Now" campaign and Carter had his disastrous energy and economic policies coupled with equally disastrous foreign policies that left us with a "Crisis of Confidence" and malaise.

Reagan won the 1980 election and tackled, with a newly elected Congress, the deep economic and foreign policy problems we faced. Many of us still remember the immense foreign policy debates that went on and the insults thrown at Reagan as a war-monger. The Berlin Wall fell, the Soviet Union fell and a great economic boom started.

The 1980s was a decade of tremendous political debate on the future of the country and what it meant to be an American and what America, as an ideal, meant.

The debate we see today, in my opinion, is even greater and more important. I've written many times about my feelings about the true power of the federal government and how I believe it has overstepped its bounds.

Today, there are those of us who believe in limited national government. We believe the U.S. Constitution gave very limited power to the federal government for a reason. We want to return the national government to its proper role as defined by the Constitution.

On the other side is one political party that believes the national government is the answer to all problems and seeks to expand the powers of that government through bribery of their constituents and economic slavery. There's another political party that seeks much the same but at a smaller scale and slower velocity.

The U.S. Constitution gives the House of Representatives the power of the purse. There are many ways to legally affect change in this country. One of the legitimate ways is for the House of Representative to withhold funding from the executive branch. Doing so may carry enormous political cost. Failing to do so may carry enormous moral cost to future generations who may miss out on America's ideals.

The debates we are witnessing today are sad. There's a small group of lawmakers who are proposing their ideas and defending their positions. There are huge numbers of people who have resorted to personal insult and refusal to even discuss the issues. Those, on either side, whose only argument is a hurled insult do a disservice to the reasoned national debate we so desperately need.

I stand for limited national government and personal freedom. I believe in the presumption of liberty rather than the presumption of constitutionality when judging the validity of a law. I believe in the individual's right to liberty to make their own decisions and to own the results of those decisions. I don't want a nanny state, I don't want to be looked after by a collective and I don't want to be told what I can and can not do when it has no impact on others.

I want an open and honest debate about the future of our country. Democracy requires a free and open market of ideas. Despotism requires lies and half-truths to maintain the support of "useful idiots".

I don't mind if you disagree with me, just be honest about your cause and your methods to achieve your desired results.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Gunsite 499 Advanced Pistol - Day 5 - Part 2

By Dave Dargo

I've made it through the school drills and though I'm a little disappointed at my performance in the demi-presidente drill I'm pleased enough about my performance on the school-drills to feel pretty good.

Now it's time to climb into the back of a pickup truck and get a ride out to the force-on-force simulator. Because I've been through a 499 course before I'll be going last so they can change the scenario before I get there. I have a sense of anticipation, nervousness and eagerness to face the challenge. In each of the force-on-force simulations I've done I've learned a great deal from my mistakes and had enough fun that I wanted to do it again in order to improve.

I've had force-on-force simulation in the Gunsite 350 course, Team Tactics for Two course and, of course, the 499 course. The force-on-force simulation uses a product called Simunition. Simunition is a training round that allows individuals to fire at each other with non-lethal marking rounds. Though they are non-lethal they still hurt and require significant safety protocols and equipment.

Before we head to the force-on-force area we divest ourselves of all objects: keys, watches, pens, combs, knives, ammunition, etc. Things can get pretty exciting during the simulation and we don't want anyone improvising. We get a pat-down search, get in the vehicle and are driven to the site where we get wanded down with a hand-held metal detector. Then we wait our turn before donning the protective gear: helmet, goggles, neck and groin protectors.

We get the call to head down to the simulation site where a simunition gun is placed in our holster and told a scenario.

I won't tell you the scenarios I've had because it's important that you experience the full joy of discovering it for yourself. There is, however, very little given in the way of description. It might be something like, "You've arrived home and found the door ajar." You might not want to go into your own home after finding the door ajar but the scenario will develop enough that you will want to go inside. After that, well, that will be a surprise for your own visit as I wouldn't want to ruin the experience.

During the scenarios you will face role-players who have specific instructions and will perform specific actions based on your words and actions. Say or do the wrong thing and you will get shot. Say and do the proper things from a tactical perspective and you can emerge with no shots being fired by anyone. The goal is to emerge unscathed and victorious without shooting any no-shoot individuals. Even knowing it's a simulation doesn't prevent increased heart and respiration rates. The purpose of force-on-force simulation is to place the individual in as realistic a training environment as possible without anyone getting hurt.

At the end of the simulation everyone de-briefs about what was done properly, what could have been done better and what was done wrong. We discuss why certain actions were chosen and if they were the best option at the time. Sometimes you only have a choice between a bad and worse option. Sometimes you have a choice between bad, good and best options. The simulation is designed to help you select the best options available to you if you're ever faced with a situation.

One could perform 5,000 of these simulations and the outcome would be different each time because we're dealing with multiple humans making multiple decisions. However, certain patterns do emerge and best practices should become part of your repertoire.

After my simulations I wanted to do more. It's like getting on a roller coaster and after the ride is over you just want to go again. It wasn't to be, though, as it was off to the scrambler.

Here is a video someone posted on YouTube showing a good run on the scrambler with a rifle:

The targets are out to 105 yards and we ran it with a pistol. Of the seven targets I had two hits and was disappointed. But, then again, the targets were at a great distance and I was just having fun with the program.

After the scrambler it was time for our class shoot-off. Every class I've been to at Gunsite has had a shoot-off where the students compete against one-another shooting steel. In this challenge we were to start seated and on the go signal we had to stand up, knock over a block of wood with our shooting hand, draw from the holster and shoot one head plate about 5 yards away, an 8" lollipop target about 15 yards away, a mini-popper about 10 yards away, perform a speed reload and then hit our half of a split popper.

The first person to properly knock down their targets wins that match and, in a class of 11, we each get about six matches to determine the winner.

In my first match I was a split-second behind in shooting my split popper but had a .45 ACP round vs. a 9 millimeter round and drove my target down first winning the first match.

Finishing the speed reload before knocking down my final target

Out of my six matches I lost one, tying for second place. Again, a little disappointing given my competitive nature but not so much that I actually felt bad. In the individual match I lost I know exactly what I did wrong - it was my form in not having a stable enough platform. After that particular loss I stopped looking at the targets while I was sitting and started doing exactly what I had been trained to do. I stood up and properly established my stance, drew smoothly on the target and delivered my shots. I didn't lose another match but 5 out of 6 wasn't good enough. The winner won all six of his matches. This is the second shoot-off where the winner has had a red-dot optical sight on their pistol. I might need to get me one of those.

After the shoot-off comes graduation. Gunsite has multiple "grading" levels for their students at graduation: Demonstrated Sound Understanding, Marksman, Marksman First Class and Expert. I'm pretty much stuck on Marksman First Class and am happy with that. I'd like to, someday, achieve an Expert rating but am comfortable with my consistent performance and will keep going back to Gunsite for more training and refinement. Each time I go I learn something new and gain valuable experience.

September, 2013 499 Class Photo
I didn't get the memo and am in the blue shirt
I shot about 1,250 rounds during the week. I'm a little beat-up and sore but very satisfied with the course and Gunsite. I can't wait to go back. At graduation they commented that I had put myself through the pain of a 499 class twice in the same year. "But," I said, "it's only offered twice a year."

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Gunsite 499 Advanced Pistol - Day 5 - Part 1

By Dave Dargo

The final day comes with a mixture of emotions. We've made it through four grueling days of square-range work, indoor and outdoor simulators, day and night shooting and one challenge after another. We've all been extremely safe with our pistol handling and there have been no concerns with any of our fellow students.

We can all see improvements in our gun handling and marksmanship skills and we're all eager to get through today's tests.

As we got through the week we've had feelings of exhaustion and disappointment in our own individual performance as well as feelings approaching giddiness when we solved complex problems. For me I hit a brick wall on Wednesday evening and had difficulty getting through that night's shoot. Thursday picked up for me and the night shoot on Thursday evening re-invigorated me with the challenges it presented.

But now it's Friday, test day. Today we will perform our school drills for marksmanship grading, engage in force-on-force challenges, have fun at the scrambler and do our shoot-off before graduating later today. Everyone seems to be excited to have made it to Friday while at the same time a little down about having to go home. Just as we're becoming competent at the challenges Gunsite is delivering to us it's time to pack it all up and head home leaving behind a place that has become home during the previous week.

For me the day started with a little warm-up on the square range. We immediately transitioned to our school drills for scoring. In the school drills we work with turning targets, drawing from the holster when the target turns and delivering the required shots in the required manner:
  • 3-yards, 2 seconds, two shots to each of two targets - standing
  • 7-yards, 3 seconds, two shots to each of two targets - standing
  • 10-yards, 4 seconds, two shots to each of two targets - standing
  • 25-yards, 5 seconds, two shots to teach of two targets - standing
  • 35-yards, 3 1/2 seconds, two shots to one target - kneeling
  • 50-yards, 7 seconds, two shots to one target - prone
It's a total of 20 shots for a total possible score of 100 points. The target is an 18" x 30" silhouette with an 8" center-of-mass circle. If the shot is in the circle it's worth 5 points, if it's in the silhouette but outside the circle it's worth 2 points. Beyond 15 yards the circle defining center-of-mass gets lost in the camouflage of the target's silhouette.

I felt good about my shooting while I was doing it but it's a long way back from the 50-yard line as we approached our targets to see just how well we did. My target looked pretty good but I couldn't really tell yet. I had five shots just outside the center-of-mass circle; shots approaching a 10-12" diameter. Those shots were well within the silhouette, though. I couldn't quite tell about the shots in the circle - it looked like 15 shots between the two targets but there were some double and even triple-shot holes. I got a lot of friendly grief from the instructor as he was scoring the target, "Next time spread the shots out so I can count them." He confirmed what I thought: 15 shots in the circles and 5 outside but on the silhouette for a score of 85 out of 100. I was pleased. The best score in the class was 88.

It was now time for the demi-presidente drill: facing up-range turn on the signal and engage three targets. Two shots center-of-mass to each of the targets, speed reload followed by a single head-shot to each of the targets. Par time is 10 seconds with a par score of 45. Go faster than 10 seconds and gain 5 points for each second but lose 5 points for each second over 10. The purpose of the test is to combine the pressure of speed with movement before shooting, and, of course, accuracy. Yesterday, during practice I was consistently scoring 42 points - I was shooting at the 10-second mark but usually had one shot outside the marked target areas but still on the silhouette.

Today wasn't so good. I delivered the body shots, reloaded and had a click when I went to fire the first head shot. I performed an immediate-action drill to clear the malfunction and delivered the head shots. Unfortunately, it wasn't a malfunction of the pistol but of me. I hadn't engaged the grip safety properly after the reload - performing the immediate-action drill forced me to re-grip properly solving the problem.

During any of the drills if you have a malfunction but clear it properly you gain that clearance time back. Because I didn't have a malfunction I didn't get the time back and lost points. By the time I was done I had a score of 25 - very disappointing.

My mistake caused a lot of discussion about grip safeties, the fact that we're not in the cavalry and that pinning the grip safety on a 1911 may cause issues for someone involved in a shooting. Regardless of the fact that some government beureaucrat forced Browning to install the grip safety contrary to his original design, the cause of me not firing was all my own caused by trying to be faster rather than smoother.

Now we had something that comes up during the simulators on each of the days and that's waiting. It wasn't my turn yet to go through the force-on-force simulator so I had to wait. Fortunately, no one else was back from their force-on-force simulation so we waited by shooting on the square-range and I have no problem spending an hour throwing lead down-range.

In the next section I'll go over the force-on-force simulator.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Gunsite 499 Advanced Pistol - Day 4

By Dave Dargo

Another day that started at 8:00, broke from 4:00 to 6:45 and then the night shoot until 9:30. Another very long day with a lot going on.

We went through about 325 rounds of ball and 50 rounds of frangible with two indoor and two outdoor simulators; one set during the day and one at night. The daytime indoor simulator, though, did require the use of a flashlight and one student learned why you need two flashlights instead of one as his batteries went out at that critical moment.

We started out with the 499 school drills again to get us warmed up and ready to go. We then concentrated on the distance shots: 25 yards standing, 35 yards kneeling and 50 yards prone. Those positions are worth 40% of our marksmanship score and it's important to get those distances down. Everyone seems to be struggling to hit the eight-inch circle at the 35 and 50 yard distances. It's a combination of sight picture and trigger control and everyone seems to get one wrong when the other is right. However, it appears that everyone is starting to zero in on the right combination. The pressure is completely self-generated but there's something about knowing that target is going to turn away at any moment that causes people to quicken their shot. At 35 yards we have four seconds to go from standing still to drawn from the holster, kneeling and placing two shots in that circle. It's not a difficult exercise until we start to put pressure on ourselves.

Shortly after the drills started I was off to the indoor simulator. This simulator was much more complex than yesterday's and we have to continue to repeat to ourselves, "Look Everywhere!" We need to move smoothly, pay attention and solve each of the problems presented. We also better remember how to do one-handed pistol manipulation and malfunction clearances. Most importantly, the exercise isn't over until it is over and that point is not so obvious to everyone.

I did fairly well in the indoor exercise and was immediately off to the outdoor simulator.

I did a lot better than yesterday but not nearly as well as I need to. I'm still much more comfortable with the indoor simulators and its nice cozy compartments vs. all that openness.

Once I got back from the simulators it was back to ball ammunition and more school drills practice.

That completed the morning and it was good to have a lunch break.

Once back from lunch we broke into three groups to perform demi-presidente drills, 100-yard shots and to engage a remotely controlled free-wheeling target.

The demi-presidente is a drill where we start facing the instructor up-range. When he believes we're ready he signals the start. We turn to three targets down-range, place two center-of-mass shots to each of three targets 10 yards away, speed reload and then place a single head-shot in each of the targets. Par time is 10 seconds with a par score of 45. For every second over 10 we lose 5 points and for every second under 10 seconds we gain 5 points. Each shot in the center-of-mass circle or head-plate is 5 points, any shot outside those perimeters but on the silhouette is worth 2 points. My score was a consistent 42; I finished in 10 seconds and typically had one of the 9 shots on the silhouette but outside the marked zones. I was pleased. The most important component is smoothness. Firing those six shots at the three targets should have a cadence that sounds as if one is firing at a single target.

The 100-yard shots were very interesting as a 20 mph wind had picked up. We were to fire standing, kneeling and in prone. I went to the line and hit the steel with my first standing shot and like an idiot at a carnival I decided to go again. I ending up hitting the 100-yard target about 25% of the time in each position. Perhaps if I was fresher or there was less wind pushing us around I could have done better.

The robotic free-wheeling target is a little more interesting. Here is a target with two faces: one side presents a no-shoot and the other side presents a threat. The instructor drives the target around in front of us and it occasionally comes towards us with no threat and at other times it comes at us as a threat. We certainly can't take our firearm out and aim it at the no-shoot but need to quickly react when it becomes a threat. That moving target shows how difficult it really is to make a head shot. On the other hand it also shows how many shots can be fired center-of-mass and how effective stepping off the line of attack can be.

It was an incredibly full day and it was a relief when we broke for dinner. Of course, that gave us time to consider the night-time simulators that awaited us.

When we returned for the night-shoot it was starting to get overcast. It was pretty clear that we weren't going to get any help from the moon or any of the stars.

The indoor simulator moved quickly and was shorter than the daytime simulator, though still quite challenging. One of the refrains we continue to hear is, "Come on guys, this is 499." The goal is to deliver challenges that are complex enough that allow mistakes to happen. I certainly remember the effect of a mistake much longer than easy runs through a simulator.

The outdoor simulator, on the other hand, went from open-space to very-closed space with lots of vegetation. Vegetation significantly changes the strategy one has to deploy when using a flashlight to find hidden opponents. The vegetation will cause certain areas to appear "washed out" because of the light back-scatter and one has to carefully illuminate areas multiple times from multiple angles in order to determine if a threat is present. The challenges that came with tonight's outdoor simulator left me invigorated and ready for even more. One student described it as an e-ticket ride and I couldn't agree more.

In both the indoor and outdoor simulators one has to judiciously deploy the light with movement in order to prevent oneself from becoming the target. Getting the right combination of light-on, light-off, move and target engagement takes quite a bit of practice. In the case of the simulators we're working with static targets and it gets even more complex with live targets.