I am going to address this challenge in the same manner as every major military exercise I’ve ever been a part of. This summary highlights the goals going in, equipment used, what worked, and what changes had to be made along the way. All learning points will be summarized at the end.
The challenge lends itself well to practicing those skills and positions that I don’t normally practice, and I tried to take advantage of it as such.
Without further ado, let’s dive in.
Inspiration for the primary objective for this challenge originated at my most recent (as of writing this) trip to the range. I opted to practice some offhand with the rifle I call the MCR-J. That’s short for Minimum Combat Rifle-Jungle, and I’ll touch it more on in the equipment section down below.
During that session, after failing to group better than about 2.5 inches at 25 yards, I decided I needed practice. As a result, my initial objectives looked as follows:
- Improve offhand target stance by performing that hold
- Use this practice to work support side rifle skills by mirroring time and effort across both shoulders.
What started as just offhand lasted about a week, and I soon added the following:
- Practice non-traditional positions, specifically a sitting position, on both shoulders
- Utilize additional gear, namely my belt kits, a plate carrier and a helmet, to practice various positions encumbered
- Work the mechanics of reloads and transitions from that gear
Most of my positional practices focused on three major positions:
- Target stance offhand
- Combat stance low ready
- A variation of sitting with the rifle magazine braced against the knee.
I initially referred to the third one as the “Defoor” method since I learned it from one of Kyle Defoor’s video demonstrations. It’s very similar to something else known as the “rocking chair sitting.”
Of note, this is the first time since approximately 2014 that I’ve given serious work to offhand shooting. It’s also the most attention my seated position has ever received.
The low ready presentation started as a late add once I began getting comfortable with both sitting and offhand, and as an opportunity to work presentations using the 0-2 Aperture available on M16A2 sights. While I ventured into some cross-leg and cross-ankle sitting positions initially, I abandoned these as they either failed as I lacked the bio-mechanics to make them work, or because they distracted from the objectives above.
Two AR-15 pattern rifles saw the bulk of the rifle practices. I rotated them every other day, with a few notable exceptions.
The MCR-J, a 16-inch mid-length gas rifle built with an M16A2 upper and a Vltor A5 receiver extension, served as an iron sight only trainer. It’s cohort, a factory-built Aero Precision 16-inch mid-length fitted with a DBAL-A3, mil-spec receiver extension, and 3x ACOG served as the optics rifle during these practices. I refer to the latter to as the M4A4.
Both rifles have Magpul SL stocks, Magpul vertical grips, Daniel Defense 9-inch M-lok Omega rails, and identically mounted Streamlight HL-X weapon lights.
Except for sighting systems, slings (initially), receiver extension length and the presence of the DBAL, these rifles closely match each other in size, furniture configuration, and weight. As of the end of this practice, both rifles wear a Rifle Craft RS-3 cross-body slings.
There were two exceptions to the rifle practices. My M16A4 semi clone saw one practice thus far, as has my Savage built Lee-Enfield Rifle No. 4 Mk 1.
However, I quickly kicked these out of the rotation as I limited my training progression to the “go-to” weapons listed above.
Pistol Training Equipment
Pistol practices included my Springfield Armory MC Operator and my Smith & Wesson Model 10. I started off with the Springfield because I had ready access to a holster and switched to the S&W once I finally had snap caps for dry practice.
The MC Operator had the added advantage of being the heaviest of my pistols and therefore the most likely to disrupt positions by weight. A later practice involved a more likely carry piece: my Glock 22.
Other gear included two sets of belt kits. One in ranger green (non-pistol configured) and one in multi-cam (pistol configured). The green belt featured two lidded magazine pouches, one each at my 3 and 9 o’clock, an H-harness, two canteen pouches, a general-purpose pouch, IFAK, and butt pack. Most of these came from the Velocity Systems Jungle kit line.
The multi-cam belt, based on a three-row Hippo belt from British Tactical, featured a similar configuration but with the rifle magazine pouches bumped back a clock position in order to support pistol tacos and a G-Code RTI plate.
A First Spear Strandhogg plate carrier and a pair of Revision Military Battleskin Viper helmets rounded out the tactical gear used.
I decided I wanted to refine the target used about mid-way through the process. Rather than finding small objects to aim at across my house, from distances of 20 to 25 feet against things like electrical sockets, I opted to build a scaled target.
The first iteration had two target sizes, a 4-inch circle and a 12-inch circle scaled at ranges from 25 meters to 500 meters. These were calculated for five feet, which proved too small to effectively use, as the 12-inch circles at 400 and 500 meters, scaled for five feet away, are indistinguishable; they differ by less than 1 millimeter.
The 4-in target becomes equally as useless after 100 meters. A new target, scaled for ten feet, replaced this original target a few days later, featuring the same 4-in circle out to 100 meters, and an 8-inch target scaled to 300 meters. This second target remained the preferred target for the remainder of the exercise.
Results & Discussion
Before we go any further, here are some final numbers:
- 165.5 minutes offhand dry practice
- 105.5 minutes sitting dry practice
- 45 minutes of reloading practice
- 184 minutes practicing from the support side (left-handed)
- 378 minutes of total dry practice
Now that we’ve gone far down the rabbit hole about what I used, here are the four major points about what went well, where I fell short, and what I learned along the way.
1. Timing & Mobility: I have a toddler at home, so all of my practices had to be mobile and relatively easy to set up and tear down. The scaled target provides just such mobility, as it allows me to set up a target anywhere.
I performed most of my practices in the early morning, well before my kid woke up, largely facilitated by being able to setup on the opposite side of my house from his room.
2. Practice with Optics: As disorienting as it was, practicing against a mirror or scaled target with a magnified optic as John Simpson one mentioned in an interview with Matt, proved quite beneficial. The magnification highlighted my movement, enabling me to adjust the natural point of aim. The use of the ACOG also provided the additional opportunity to practice with both eyes open against targets close enough to force one eye into dominance over the other.
3. Support Side Practice: Emphasizing support side practice as close to parity as I could manage constitutes the biggest takeaway. More to follow in the Lessons Learned section.
4. Practice with Gear: As I’m no longer a member at the outdoor range I used to frequent before my son’s birth, I don’t get regular opportunities to vet or work with my PC, helmets, or belt kits. Using them for these practices enabled me to resume vetting of their layouts, configurations, and practice otherwise difficult movements such as reloading from a low-speed, high-drag, lidded magazine pouch, that I haven’t worked on in recent memory, if ever.
1. Have a Baseline: This entire practice started with my unsatisfactory 2.5-inch groups from a range session against targets that I have no captured data on. Thus, any progress gained during this process lacks a baseline to adjust from. If starting this process over again, I would get baseline targets for those positions I want to work, data captured by photos, distance, weapon, and ammunition used.
2. Limit the Scope: When I started, I performed ten minutes of offhand only. By the time I finished, I recorded 12-15 minutes of various practices, usually in two to three-minute increments, spanning roughly a half-hour between setup and teardown.
Several positions and practices have been omitted over the course of the month, indicating that my focus broadened to the detriment of my original goals. If starting this process over again, refine positions and practices to no more than three exercises, and perform only those three. Also, consider focusing on one specific skill set per day.
3. Set Reps, not Time: I performed most of my practices by running a timer on my phone. While this provided a hard start and end times, I feel it cost me parity between strong and support sides. Initial movements on the support side were much more difficult due to using my right hand for traditionally left-handed movements. Reps suffered as a result.
If starting this over, I would set the number of quality reps I wanted to accomplish, say a minimum of five, and work up to ten or more as I adapted to the positions. These practices would then be timed by a stopwatch, and elapsed times recorded.
4. Practice all Optics: I had a red dot- but I never used the red dot. Adding my Bushmaster XM15 into the rotation was feasible, but never done. That was a training opportunity missed.
If starting this over, I could add that rifle into the rotation at least once per week. Likewise, since my Aimpoint PRO currently sits in a QD mount, once I validated if the mount held zero when moving across platforms, I could’ve exchanged it with the ACOG on the M4A4, as well.
1. Support Side Practice: Despite the initial difficulty, I found that after troubleshooting and working through the biomechanics, I could adapt to new positions in about a week of practicing. I, by no means, have mastered those positions, but I find I’m much more comfortable with the support side positions I practiced.
2. Have the Gear, use the Gear: Things like a helmet chin strap, a front plate in a plate carrier, or even the weight of a pistol on your opposite hip affect you. You will never know this unless it’s practiced.
Notable things I learned: when sitting, a front plate can choke you out; a 1911 on your opposite hip can make you feel like your target-side hip isn’t as forward as you think it should be. Likewise, a side plate makes the elbow-hip meld easy; an A5 stock’s extra half-inch of extension matters. I would not have learned any of this if I hadn’t tried it.
3. Flexibility is the Key . . . to most things: In my foray into the sitting practices, I learned I have gaps in my core strength and hip flexibility which precluded stable, traditional sitting positions. I can’t hold a stable cross-ankle position. Instead, I opted for a position I could hold with some degree of relative stability. This lesson, combined with gear obstructions when present, give me some new fitness goals to work towards moving forward.
4. Practice is Valuable, but Focused Practice is essential: I have, over the course of the month, continuously added and removed various practices from the daily work. Naturally, every new practice detracts from the available time to work another. With time and finite resources, having a focused, quality-centric practice will likely net better dividends than the scattered, almost haphazard approach I took in this process.
Bringing this all back together in closing, let’s take stock of the original objectives. Time and range practice with live ammunition will tell if I truly improved my offhand ability, but I know I will be much better at support side offhand, as I’ve spent almost an hour practicing it over the last month.
Likewise, support side practices encompassed 48% of my total practice time, which met the Objective 2’s requirements. With a total of 105 minutes of sitting practice, I can safely call Objective 3 accomplished. Since approximately a third of my practices involved some tactical gear, I judge Objective 4 as met, though not every practice involved the combination of the plate carrier, belt kit, and a helmet.
Finally, the late-arriving Objective 5, encompassing all things reloading, proved one of the most satisfying objectives to complete, especially from the support side. Between reloads and learning a sitting position, this has been a successful month.