I recently competed in the Arklatex Multi Gun Competition. In Part I of this series, I discussed each of the stages and my performance. Here, I’m discussing the Armored Trooper division, my match equipment, and more lessons learned.
Trooper division requires you to carry all material you need for the match on your person. While shooting the stages, you may ground excess gear such as water, snacks, spare parts and/or extra clothing if you brought any. You must also walk from stage to stage, which the match director kindly told me where to go after each stage.
In Trooper, we were allowed to compete with any combination of gear that we wanted. The only caveat is that we had to carry it. We were also required to show up with 1 liter of water in addition to all equipment. If you were willing to carry it, then it was legal to use.
In my infinite rookie wisdom, I elected to use my British Tactical belt kit, which had (left to right) one rifle magazine pouch with two pistol magazine pouches attached, a utility pouch for spare ammo, a canteen pouch, another utility pouch, another canteen pouch, an IFAK, and my pistol holster.
This setup enabled me to haul two quarts of water, 240 rounds of ammunition in three rifle/two pistol magazines, spare parts, medical and a rain jacket. I also carried an extra two liters of water, the remaining 60 rounds of rifle ammunition, ear/eye pro and knee pads in a Crossfire Spitfire pack between stages.
For Armored category, you had to wear rifle rated plates in addition to everything else carried. Since Armored was a category, you could combine Armored with any of the divisions, as long as your other equipment met the criteria in the rule book.
I wore a set of High Com 3S9Ms in a First Spear Strandhogg, backed up with some pistol soft armor in the cummerbund. I threw a pair of pistol mag pouches on it to get me up to four total pistol magazines. I faced a bunch of questions from other competitors, who seemed very curious about whether I had ceramic or steel plates. I even took an ACH to wear during the stages, but upon arrival, decided it would be overkill, and left it behind along with my knee pads.
In the spirit of competing with what you have, I used a factory Aero Precision M4 style midlength rifle. It was equipped with a TA50 3x ACOG, with a dual illumination 12 MOA circle RMR piggybacked on top.
The rifle also wore two lights (one IR, one white) and a DBAL mounted on a free float handguard, which made for a very thick front end. I equipped the rifle with an ALG ACT trigger.
Zeros for the optics: 100 yards for the ACOG, and 36 yards for the RMR. I used Hornady Black 62gr .223 Remington ammunition throughout the match.
For my pistol, I used a Smith & Wesson M&P M2.0 in .40 S&W, equipped with an Aimpoint ACRO P-1. It rode in an open-top T5 Custom Kydex holster on the belt.
The M&P slide has been milled for the ACRO, so the pistol had no rear sight. The ACRO is zeroed for 10 yards with 180gr Federal HSTs, though I shot Magtech 180gr for the match.
I installed an Apex trigger not long after I got the pistol, so those were the only major modifications.
General Equipment Thoughts
The equipment I had worked, but other configurations might have been better optimized. For example, I used a Velocity Systems Jungle 5.56 pouch as my rifle magazine carrier, and I’ve practiced reloading with it without unlatching the Fastex buckle. However, slap two Esstac pistol magazine pouches on it and load that sucker, and it’s very heavy on one side of the belt.
Seeing as I never needed more than two rifle magazines on any one stage, limiting to one spare rifle magazine on my person would have been better than three. Likewise, I had four pistol magazines available to me, but used no more than three on any given stage (Stage 2 fumble included).
At the next match, I will likely scale back to two rifle and three pistol magazines carried.
The Brittac Hippo belt is perfectly comfortable for wearing all day, especially with an integrated patrol harness. However, I learned by Stage 3 that I hadn’t sized the harness appropriately for wearing two quarts of water. The belt ended up sitting much lower than I wanted, which I quickly remedied after the match.
The Spitfire is an awesome little day pack, and I found it integrated over my PC well; I felt perfectly comfortable moving around between stages with all my gear.
My PC, aside from reminding me I have weak core muscles, was comfortable if not hot (daytime highs were high 60s to low 70s). What I wore as Armored Trooper never bothered me until Stage 3, and only became painful at Stage 4.
My rifle and pistol worked well enough. I had two worries about the rifle going into the match: 1) The two lights and the DBAL would keep it from going through a VTAC barricade, and 2) I should’ve used a red dot sighting system.
The first worry quickly proved it wasn’t a problem, and I won’t have the answer to the second until I go back with a red dot. While my rifle performed adequately, seeing all the svelte 3-Gun ARs led me to believe I could be better served by a lighter if not better balanced and/or softer recoiling upper.
Weighing it after the fact, my rifle tipped the scales at 9lbs 4 oz (I removed the IR light not long after to shave 5 ounces); a full half pound heavier than I thought it was. As for my pistol, I have no complaints.
Everything worked. The 10 yard zero proved adequate for every pistol target presentation. About the 3x ACOG, I don’t believe the TA50’s eye relief hindered me more than my own skill deficiencies.
I also felt adequately served by the ACOG’s magnification power, though I wouldn’t mind having more. Moving forward, I might switch to a TA33, trading an ounce of weight for the extra eye relief. I might also swap the RMR to a Holosun 508T, as the 12 MOA dot doesn’t offer the precision of a 2 MOA dot.
For the next match, I’m going to take a red dot, and see how it serves me with the longer ranged targets. I’m contemplating a purpose built upper for future matches, and in the event I decide to build it, I will throw an LVPO on that.
As you might expect, I saw many improvements I need to make with my skills. At the top of the list: closed bolt reloads.
On Stage 1, I failed to verify the magazine had been seated, and it fell as I tried to charge the rifle. Reseating on an empty chamber also cost me a second or two.
On Stage 2, I lost grip on the magazine, and had to move to a second. This led me to open the slide on Stage 3 to ensure I had a good reload. Both my fumbled reloads occurred on closed bolts/slides, and I have ideas on how to fix it. Unfortunately don’t yet have the resources to duplicate those conditions to practice.
Likewise, I hadn’t done any kneeling pistol shooting, or engaged targets on a different plane. This I can certainly fit into my dry fire routine, but I never had expectation that I might need to do it.
I previously practiced one handed dry fire from both strong and weak side, which was helpful in Stage 4. Shooting pistol with the dot proved intuitive, and I can see how doing that might give you the impression your perceived skill with pistol might exceed reality.
From Stage 3 onward, I realized I needed far better stage planning. Reflecting on the match, I recognize I had the problem the whole time. While I did the walkthroughs, I see the need to up my planning game. Thorough use of the walkthrough could have given me better awareness of target locations and help me better locate ideal positions to maximize target engagement.
Regarding “software” for the optics, I practiced a unique transition with the ACOG/RMR stack. I shot the ACOG with my right eye, but when I switched over to the RMR, I canted the rifle so that the RMR sat in front of my left eye. The movement isn’t all that different from going to an offset RMR in practice.
When I did it on the stages, it worked just fine, and avoided a chin weld. In the future, I need to train switching back. Additionally, I found myself getting caught up in reacting to the stage.
What do I mean? At one point on either Stage 3 or 4, while moving between firing positions, I found myself wondering if I had set my rifle to safe. I had, but the fact I even thought told me I had lost awareness of what I was doing and reacting to the targets on the stage. This, I think, goes back to planning, in that I had no plan, and was effectively reacting on autopilot.
To me, this is unsafe, but I believe that’s a training issue I can overcome.
Finally, there’s something to be said for having one of other competitors video my runs, since I lacked the ability to film them myself. Many of the other shooters had others follow them with phones, and at least one had a head-mounted GoPro. Writing this, I realize the value that having video records of my runs would help me not only explain what I did but assist me in recognizing what to do better. I intend to fix this either through a GoPro with an NVG mount or a MOHOC camera on top of an ACH.
Competing in Trooper will put you at a competitive disadvantage, as will being the most inexperienced competitor. Not to mention, the combination of a lingering cold and a PC left me feeling out of breath for an inordinate amount of time after my first run.
I don’t have a written total of how much extra weight I carried, but I felt a lot faster than I probably looked. However, this match was fun, and I’d gladly do it again (planning to go back in January), just maybe not in Armored if I feel like garbage the week of registration.
While competing with substandard equipment at face value, I believe what I had never held me back on any of the stages. Yes, it could be better, but I gained irreplaceable insight in that equipment by using it in this venue. Rather, my lack of experience, mediocre health and incomplete stage planning played larger roles in how I performed than any of my equipment.
Sure, a lighter rifle might transition between targets faster, but if I’m aiming at the wrong part of the target in the first place, no equipment can absolve me of that mistake.
I will note that this match, at its core, feels like 3-Gun, so not having the shotgun element may have added to my disadvantage. Bird shot from a semi-auto shotgun is probably just more forgiving against six-inch steel than a semi-auto pistol. Still, I had two goals going into this match: 1) Don’t DQ, and 2) Compete with what I have. I accomplished both, and while I wasn’t as competitive as a 2-Gun Trooper, the experience I gained will only make the next one that much better.
As one of my fellow competitors told me, “You will always walk away learning something you can do better.”