Monday, October 28, 2013

IPSC Sniper or Miss Faster, Faster You Fool!

I shot a sniper team match recently at Greenport Tactical.  Each team consisted of a spotter and sniper.  Most of the spotters shot an AR platform in .223.  Most of the snipers used a .308 bolt action with lots of optical glass.  A few snipers used a .308 or .223 AR platform.

I had a lot of fun.   I didn’t anticipate winning but my partner and I weren’t in last place either.  This match brings out a lot of very good shooters. 

One of the advantages of shooting these matches is to find areas I’m deficient in.  These problems can be skill set or equipment based.  Once I discover the problem I then have to decide if I want to resolve it.

What, live with deficiencies?  Sure.  Here are two examples.

One stage called for the sniper to shoot through several different canted slots in a barricade at a 4x6-inch steel plate 126 yds away.  
Shooter has to tilt rifle to line up shot
The shooter has to tilt the rifle and the sights to line up on the target.  Times of 300 seconds were not uncommon, but a miss was only 2.5 seconds added to your time!
Canting the rifle and sights causes a serious change in impact points.  You could learn to apply a correction factor based on experience and training over several distances or simply accept the fact that you’ll miss the center of mass but hit the man.  I’d like to improve that skill set.

4 by 6 inch steel target  sniper match
Here's the target she's trying to hit.  A white 4x6-inch steel plate at 126 yards.  After a hit the plate twists, rocks and moves in unpredictable ways.
Another stage had you spotting playing cards at 76 yds.  My 10X 50mm binoculars didn’t have enough oomph to clearly resolve the cards so I wasn’t much help to the sniper. I could cure this problem with more magnification, which is harder to hold steady.  Another solution to this problem would be better optics with the same power and a larger front lens to gather more light and improve resolution, which is more expensive. 

This is not a problem I’ll attempt to resolve.  I just can’t see the need to identify your target based on name badges worn at 100 yards.  I just don’t anticipate having to solve that problem.

And what about the match itself?  That’s a sticky wicket as the Brits say.

Sniping of the roof's peak
Shooting off the 'dog house' roof at 260 yards.

the sniper targets at 260 yards
Each sniper had to put 5 rounds in their numbered target.  After everyone shot, the targets were scored and replaced. Oh, you can't see the targets?

better look at the doghouse targets
Here's a better look at the targets.  Teach team had their own number.

One of the contestants, before a single round was fired said, “They have taken a rifle match and turned it into a pistol match.”  I have to agree.  
the sniper shoots 8 paper targets and then the turns to a six position plate rack
The team starts at the blue barrel left edge of image.  Both move to the first barricade where the spotter shoots 2 body and one head on each of the 5 IDPA targets against the berm.  Both move to the second barricade where the spotter repeats the CoF.  As soon as he finishes, the sniper, who isn't carrying his weapon 'cause it's not needed, draws his sidearm and runs up to the mid-field IDPA targets and shoots each with 2 rounds from any distance.  The sniper then moves to the red barrel and has to hit each of 6 plates on the plate rack with his sidearm.  That finishes it.

The sniper fired more shots from his sidearm than he did from his rifle. The scoring was based on IDPA so low time won.  A miss was 5 points or 2.5 seconds added to your raw time.  The impact of this scoring system is tremendous.

One safety officer put it this way.  “Look, this isn’t sour grapes.  I’m not competing, but the misses have no impact on your score.  Time is what’s important.  You can shoot fast enough to win simply by throwing all your rounds away on most stages.”

He was right.  One of best shooters scored nine hits in just under 70 seconds on one stage.  Given the distance and shooting scenario, this is tremendous shooting.  With my AR and the 5 round sniper limit in the magazine, I could have emptied the magazine, reloaded and done 4 more rounds in 30 seconds.  All misses.  My penalty?  The match director/statistician would have added 22.5 seconds to my score giving me a world beating 52.5 second score.  If all I wanted to do was win a plaque, I could have done that by missing every target and shooting fast.

What about the failure-to-do-right penalty?  It’s very hard to give to someone dumping rounds when they claim they are just missing.  If I remember correctly, IDPA now allows you to dump rounds.

Fortunately, nobody on my squad was a gamesman and we all shot it with the intention of hitting the target as best we could.

The tactical content?
That’s easy.  Matches and the resulting pressure lets you discover where your weaknesses are and what equipment works under what conditions.  One of the spotters had a sweet system and a great plan.  He mounted a green indicator laser on his tripoded spotting scope.  The plan, and I liked it a lot, was to find the playing card and illuminate it for the sniper.  With the two of them working together they could have saved a lot of time and racked up points.  They had tried this on a nice summer night and it worked quite well.

The first problem was a 50-degree day was too cold for the laser to operate.  They solved that by keeping the laser in an inner pocket until it was needed.  Then the laser was too dim to see on a playing card in the bright sunlight.  No good solution seems available unless you move from a low power class three laser to a class 4, 1 watt or better laser.  That’s takes a lot of power and most diode lasers don’t have the tight beams you need to select one playing card.  Sounds like you need military grade equipment.

My friend may not choose to solve that problem, but at least he’s aware of it.  To be fore-warned is to be fore-armed and that’s tactical.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Armed Intervention

One tactical topic that keeps raising its head is the question of intervention, or extending your mantle of self-protection to a stranger.

It must be the John Wayne gene in many of us.  We want to help society.  We want to be the hero.  We want people to look up to us and say, “He’s the guy I want on my side when the chips are down.”

Let’s look at what Evan Marshall has to say about it.  Evan is a 20-year veteran of the Detroit Police department and the author of three books on handgun stopping power based on actual performance.  He has kindly given me permission to condense and paraphrase his article, THE DANGERS OF INTERVENTION, from his website

Let me be perfectly frank.  Those who think that intervention will bring fame, honors, glory, etc are delusional.  If the rescued individual doesn’t make life miserable for you in the courts, they just might kill you.

Evan goes on, I’m aware of four instances where officers responding to a domestic violence situation and when the wife realized the breadwinner was going to jail, she assaulted and killed her would-be rescuers.

There’s a couple things Evan wants you to realize.  The first is: things are never what they seem.  (That sound like excellent tactical advice to me)

The other important item applicable to all of us is the law is what the local prosecutor says it is.  So do you really want to spend 7 years in jail waiting for an appeal to be heard and your conviction overturned?

Twenty years as an LEO in Detroit would give anyone scary stories and some of them are applicable to us.  Evan once got sued for more than 100 thousand dollars for legally handcuffing a suspect.  Fortunately it was job related and the Detroit footed the bill and settled out of court.  But listen to what he has to say.  “Had I been acting as a private citizen I would have subjected my family to DECADES of poverty in order to pay the judgment and attorney fees.”

Are you counting on the media coming to your aid and championing you as the white hat good guy?  Citing another example Evan explains he and his partner were accused of being blood thirsty, trigger-happy and racist.  The media conveniently forgot they had intervened in the severe beating and robbery of an elderly woman.

So would you?

Would you jeopardize everything you own, your family’s security for a total stranger? 
Would you let everything, your home, your car, your retirement be taken away to play Knight of the Round Table?

So if you decide to extend the mantle of your protection to a stranger, do it on your terms.  Evaluate, carefully and with your eyes wide open to the consequences, the totality of the circumstances.  And if you decide to respond you should do so at the lowest level of necessary force.  Options include command voice, cell call to the professionals (the police), OC spray and lastly, the firearm.  If you think that the mere display of a weapon will stop hostilities you are extremely naïve and in great error.

What more could I add to Mr. Marshal’s comments?  Maybe a little.

If you think that because you’re not a LEO and not backed by deep city pockets you’re okay from predatory law suits?  Think again.  You may not have much but it’s better than having nothing.  The police at least have a support group.  The armed citizen has nothing.  

If that isn’t enough, remember, when the police do arrive, they don’t know you from the bad guy.  Your Simon Templar halo will not be visible to them.

I know a lawyer in the Youngstown area who claims to have been taught how to shoot by a member of the mob.  He likes to say,  “Nothing good comes out the barrel of a gun.”  Think about that before you rush in to save the princess.

For more on my perspective :

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Condition White

I never thought I’d have to say this:  Be tactical.  Be aware of your surroundings. 

San Francisco rail commuters on phones didn't notice gun before killing, police say

Published October 09, 2013
The man drew the gun several times on the crowded San Francisco commuter train, with surveillance video showing him pointing it across the aisle without anyone noticing and then putting it back against his side, according to authorities.
The other passengers were so absorbed in their phones and tablets they didn't notice the gunman until he randomly shot and killed a university student, authorities said.

Before that moment, footage showed the man pull out the .45-caliber pistol and once wipe his nose with the hand holding the weapon, "These weren't concealed movements -- the gun is very clear," District Attorney George Gascon said. "These people are in very close proximity with him, and nobody sees this. They're just so engrossed, texting and reading and whatnot. They're completely oblivious of their surroundings."  My emphasis.

Even if you’re not carrying you are always armed.  You need to be aware of your surroundings so you can take action to protect yourself.

Huh?  I’m armed even when I’m without gun or knife?  Even when soaping up in the shower?

Let’s slow down here.  Your mind is your weapon.  Everything else is a tool, including your body.  So yes, you’re armed even when soaping up in the shower.

Let’s review the levels of awareness.  I prefer the five-color escalation because I think you need to separate the last two.

Condition White:  You’re like the people on the train.  Life blurs by you and you are so tightly wrapped in your own micro-comic world that you blunder into every dog pile life has.

Condition Yellow:  You’re aware of your surroundings.  That’s all.  No ninja breathing, no twitchy movements waiting for the attack.  You watch life and the people around you.  You hear interesting stories meant for others, you see things that would amaze the condition white zombies who stumble through life wondering “Where did it all go?”  You have the opportunity to see the dog piles and step around them.

Condition Orange:  Something seems out of place.  Something is different and you want/need to find out more about it.  You may be getting ready; you may be pre-planning your next move and are thinking about routes of access and egress.  It may not be clobbering time, as Mr. Grimm used to say, but you’re thinking about it.  Weapons are being made ready.

Condition Red:  Weapons are ready.  The police have been called if there’s time.  You have moved to a position of strength while attempting to place your adversary in a position of weakness.  You are about to challenge the situation.  Such challenges include: 
            Drop the weapon.
            Don’t move.
            Someone call the police.
All hesitation is past.  You are ready to escalate to lethal force if required to protect yourself.

Condition Black:  The time for talk is past.  You are fighting for your life.  There is no holding back, no doubt. You must win to protect your life.  

These colors describe your condition even if you don’t want them to.  You may not want to play, but you’re on the stage and the curtain is up.  When you’re not in the safe confines of your home you must be in condition yellow.

I’m not saying anyone on the train should have attacked Nikhom Thephakaysone.  I wasn’t there.  I would not fault anyone who observed the gun and left the car or exited at the next station.  You may be armed, but successfully engaging a second armed person in a crowded, moving transit car takes a high degree of skill.  I do fault anyone who observed the situation and did not call the police or alert the authorities. 

Did you catch it in the above article? 

Transit authorities refer to reviewing the situation on video tape from the security system.  Apparently nobody was watching the feed in live time or they were unable to get the professionals there in time.

Both point out the futility of depending on others to protect you. 

Monday, October 7, 2013

Pickin' Up Brass

Pick up almost any fictional story about cataclysmic existence (aren't they all fictional?) and they stress conserving and utilizing resources.  Metals are especially important to conserve.  If you need new iron, you might have to mine it, refine it, forge it and shape it all by hand. 

So now image a group of people committed to surviving apocalyptic events.  These events might mean something as simple as a winter storm and no electrical power for 78 hours or bacteriological terrorism in your backyard.

The group only allows people with specific skill sets to join.  That makes sense if you’re going to build a future community from the ashes.  You would want medical doctors, hunters, military scouts, weavers and leather tanners.  Farmers and carpenters would be welcome, maybe even a few accountants to help manage and insure sufficient supplies.  Web designers need not apply.  
close up of brass left on the range
Can you guess what this is?

Having a second skill like welding, candle making, rope making or bread baking might get you accepted especially if your primary skills aren’t that hot.  As you might expect, they get together to practice their skills and learn new ones like shooting, first aid, camping and working together.  Cooking over an open fire isn’t a simple skill nor is building emergency caches of supplies.  You need to practice both.

One person you would certainly want is the scrounger.  Even in modern life it’s nice to know someone who can find a new battery for an old laptop, the valve stem on a 14-year old frost free outdoor faucet, or a good truck inner tube on short notice. 

Of course part of his job would be to conserve resources and utilize them as best as possible.  If you anticipate the Twilight of the Gods then you know you will run out of arrow heads, that ammunition must be conserved and you better be able to substitute one material for another.

So imagine my surprise when I found that the local group was training at our range and left at least 19 pounds of dirty, wet, fired brass cases behind.  I also found a surprising number of unfired cartridges, mostly 9s and 40s.  I’m going to assume they are from clearing weapons at the end of an exercise and simply lost in the grass.

fired brass left as worthless scrap
The total pile of unloved, unwanted brass left by the survivalists.  Well, I have several uses for it. 
Wouldn't you want to recover the brass?  You could melt it over a coal fire in a cast iron pan and cast bullets, arrow heads, and knife and tool handles.  By flattening out a case and cutting it into a triangle the brass could make either fishing or bow hunting more efficient.  

If you've included a blacksmith or a metallurgist in your group you would know that the addition of specific metals to molten brass could turn the brass into a harder form of bronze.  Bronze has better strength and edge retention than brass.

Even failing that, the reloading potential is huge.  There’s probably a summer’s worth of shooting in the brass I picked up.  If scrap prices stay at $1.75 that’s at least 30 bucks they could use on heirloom seeds, survival gear, water purification or the yearly we-survived-another-one party.

Not bad for less than an hour of stoop labor by two people.

Is there a tactical message here?  I don’t know.  Maybe the message is that modern life is too complicated to successfully step back to the 8th century.  Maybe it’s camping out over a weekend isn’t a measure of your survival skills and planning for the zombie uprising is waste of effort.  Maybe the tactical message is that we can be blind to the flaws in our favorite plans.

You think about it and see if there’s a message in here for you.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Low Light / No Light Shoot-Out

I recently had a chance to run a night shoot. 

That isn‘t quite correct.  I scattered IDPA targets and no shoots over the range and made sure each shooter had an empty gun when they finished.

CoF?  That’s simple.  From the start position each shooter was told there are people out there who have come to kill you.  Find them.  Stop them.  Don’t shoot the no-shoots!

We had a wide range of skill sets.  Some with TV and adventure movie training, others with serious professional training.  It gave me a chance to draw some observations.

I saw two different basic approaches depending on the shooter.  The IPSC-style shooters tended to select a path and never depart from it.  They moved in a straight line very fast.  While several of them used their lights sparingly, the straight line path made their location very predictable and a hidden troll would have had no problem ambushing them.

The IDPA-style shooters tended to move off the original path and continue along a new path.  They were required to use their lights more often, as their position relative to shoot/no-shoot targets constantly changed and they needed to confirm the target identity.  It took them longer to complete the CoF, but I believe the illuminate/identify/move-illuminate/confirm/shoot gives better survival options to the single good guy.

Most shooters, including myself, left their lights on too long.

All bets are off when moving with a squad and with targets that shoot back!

It’s quite amazing how moving among stationary cardboard targets gets your heart racing.  Engaging several armed individuals by yourself in the dark is clearly not for the faint of heart.  It also points out the advantage to be the hidden or ensconced shooter.

Low light - no light shooting
So what else is waiting in the darkness for you?  Illuminate, off light, move to different location!

Another observation I made was about the light used by each shooter.  No matter if shooter used a tactical or gun light, interesting differences were observed.  It’s very difficult to hold a light in one hand, a gun in the other and operate both independently.  Gun lights appear to be slightly easier, but most shooters still had difficultly.  In either case the shooters tended to look at the illuminated targets and not their front sights. 

Night sights/lasers.  Several shooters had them, but after using the lights, those glowing night sight dots became invisible.  Red lasers had their problems too!  Most people left them on too much and in the smoke and dark conditions they tended to point back at the shooter.   

At least one shooter using both light and laser was so conditioned to dot-on-target syndrome that he was unable to engage the target he had illuminated and identified as a shoot target.  Instead he froze in place trying to turn the magic dot back on. 

Another shooter had a light that it could have signed his position to a sniper on Mars.  It was so bright that it not only robbed him of his night vision, it reflected off surfaces and blinded him to shoot targets just outside the cone of illumination.  

Several targets are visible, but what else is there?
There's a shoot target behind the rear no-shoot.  It's a balance between little light and too much light.  

There is no question in my mind that anyone who found themselves staring into that light would have been blinded and confused, but it did make the shadows darker and deeper hiding places.  The shooter still has the obligation to his family to make sure there aren’t more than one of them.

Many of the shooters were using reloads; after all it was a practice night.  Other shooters used factory ammunition and some used defensive loads.  The difference in muzzle flash and smoke was impressive.  Some powders produces a feeble pale orange flash that the shooter scarcely noticed while others produced a blinding white flash that reminded me of flash photography. Some powders produced a significant cloud of smoke so much so I thought the shooter was fogging for insects.  

Not knowing what is what, my best recommendation is to have someone shoot your gun in darkness and evaluate the flash and smoke for yourself.  This is truly a case of little is good, none is best!

After everyone shot we got the road flares out.  Most of us thought we had moved the range to the gates of hell and were busy cutting crosses in our bullets.  It flashed through my mind that crosses were easier to carve in a bullet tip than a Star of David.  I digress….

The flare throws hellish light everywhere changing how anything looks
Flare light.  Did I say it was bright?
We found our eyes almost uncontrollably drawn to the incredibly bright red flare.  The irregular light made shadows move and change and that added to the complications.  Even with tactical and gun lights everything seemed harder: walking, shooting and especially hitting the targets.

I don’t know the tactical advantage of practicing by flare light.  Not too many of us will need to shoot it out against several armed intruders in a burning house or around a roaring camp fire.  It was however great fun.

I will say that mastering the ability to stay focused under these conditions makes staying focused under other less severe conditions appear simple. 

Maybe that’s the message of this blog.  Experience and mastery of a wide range of shooting conditions give you an edge when you need it.

Tip of the hat to Larry for the great images!!