We need to talk about our mindset surrounding gear. During a recent podcast interview, the conversation wandered all over the place for two hours. We discussed military training standards, military techniques, and more.

Prior to the interview, I asked community members if there any questions they wanted me to put forward to this particular expert.

One question was about whether or not the .224 Valkyrie is just a fad or something that has staying power like 6.5 Creedmoor.

Spoiler alert, I didn’t really get an answer. Like many other experts and high-level shooters I’ve talked to in the past, he thought that there is far too much emphasis on the gear side of the house and not on really learning how to run what you already own.

As a culture, we often lose sight of the important stuff.

One of the reasons I originally started The Everyday Marksman was the realization that I was spending far more time purchasing gear than I was actually working on my shooting skills.

The uncomfortable truth

Examples

John Buol Jr. over at the Firearms User Network once put an article called Lie Against Competition shooting. He relays a story from a police department that I found illuminating:

Not long ago, I supervised a standoff situation where our officers were placed in positions to engage a dangerous suspect. Several officers were armed with M4s. Bystanders were thickly mixed-in! Range to suspect was between 10 and 30m. Happily, our situation was resolved without our officers having to shoot.

As a precaution, I asked all officers to report, with their red-dot-equipped M4s, to the range the following week. I set-up a situation with paper targets that exactly duplicated the situation with which were confronted a week earlier.

Given generous time, stable, braced firing positions, and stationary targets, not one of our officers was able to deliver required shots, even after several attempts! When asked about sight settings and zeros, most officers were not prepared to answer definitively. Some didn’t even understand the question! An examination of the M4s present revealed that, in most cases, the red dot and the back-up iron sights did not agree. Some were not even close!

John Farnam

The point of the article is not to make fun of anyone or denigrate law enforcement. I’m illustrating that even the “pros” are not necessarily doing things right, either. John and I have both seen this in the military as well.

The underlying message of John’s article is that competition has a valuable place in training. You will simply not see these kinds of issues concerning zero distances and equipment configuration among competitive shooters.

It’s a valid point, but not what I’m driving at.

Identifying the Problem

All the Gucci gear in the doesn’t amount to a hill of beans if the person wielding it is not competent in the fundamentals.

I sincerely believe that 95% of gun owners are better served by purchasing a high-qualty but basic weapon and investing the rest of their time and money into training and focused practice.

That’s why I make the recommendations I do for the Minimum Capable Carbine as a first rifle.

Hardware is not a substitute for software, even if the gun-owning community constantly tries to pretend it’s the other way around.

Consider my article on barrel selection as another example of how this gets out of hand. It’s one of the most popular posts on this site, which means there are a lot of people searching for information about what the “best” barrel is.

In the real world, barrel configuration just isn’t that important. I had a discussion with someone who absolutely believed that they needed a heavier SOCOM profile barrel for their first AR. The only reasoning they could provide was that it’s the most “combat ready” of all the configurations out there.

This individual could not speak to why the SOCOM profile was developed, and what made it particularly more worthy than any of the other profiles that have existed in the last 50 years, but he just knew it was what he needed.

The Hard Truth

Different types of barrel profiles and materials only matter when comparing two equally skilled shooters on the same activity.

It’s a valid measurement to see how long it takes two career door-kickers to clear a building when you hand one a 10.5″ CQBR and the other a 20″ M16A4. But simply owning the “high speed” configuration doesn’t automatically make Average Joe perform like a career door-kicker.

In fact, Average Joe may actually be hindering his growth as a shooter and his future potential.

In the firearms culture, we’ve developed this obsession with weapon capability instead of our personal capabilities.

Examples of Poor Mindsets

If you are unable to hold your rifle steady enough in field conditions to hit a target, the solution is not spending thousands of dollars on custom stocks and gunsmith work? No, it is not. You should be spending hundreds of dollars on some training and practice ammunition.

If you have never been trained to tactically clear a building, then you are better spending money on that training and putting in the practice with what you have. You are not well served by spending the money on NFA hardware when you don't even really know how to use it right or what its limitations are.

If you miss a deer at 200 yards with your .308 Remington 700, which is more than capable of 2 MOA, your solution is not be to send the rifle to a gunsmith to make it capable of .5 MOA.

Maybe even worse, don't go out and buy a magnum caliber rifle to “put that deer down for good no matter where you hit it." You should be working on your fundamentals and shot placement.

Let's say you want to get into three-gun. Do you really think you're better off waiting until you can drop another $5K in "gaming hardware" before you can compete?

Instead, show up to a match with what you already own and learn how to push your current equipment to its limits. Burn out your barrel in the process and then figure out what will better serve your needs and techniques.

These things sound perfectly reasonable, but many of us don’t follow it. Our behavior as a shooting community still trends towards the things we shouldn’t be doing.

Why is this? My guess is that we inherently understand two things:

First, it’s difficult to admit where our skills are weak. Either because we lack enough experience to determine what we need to work on, or because we view admitting fault as weakness, we don’t talk about it.

Secondly, we recognize that actually investing the time and money into improving ourselves is harder than buying “stuff.” It’s not as if the temptation isn’t always there.

How do we fix it?

This is a difficult challenge to overcome. It goes back to the death of mastery in our culture.

Collectively, we want the easy fix so that we can go on experiencing a continuous series of peaks and personal bests.

We reject the idea of riding the plateau. We don’t want to put in the work, because we’ve come to believe that work is for suckers.

Suggesting that everyone get involved in training and competition is certainly one path. However, I don’t necessarily think it’s a realistic one. Not everyone lives where it is easy for them to do.

For example, I was very limited in the kinds I could do while living in California. When I was in Montana, it was rare for a well-known trainer to pass through.

Sure, I could compete/train in another state- but that gets even more prohibitively expensive on top of class entry costs and ammo counts.  I’m not saying this is insurmountable, but it reduces the likelihood of participation for much of the population.

Quality training, for most folks has become a once-in-a-lifetime event.

The Way Forward

Let’s bring this back to the culture question. We should all put emphasis on simply being good marksmen. We need to spend less time obsessing over gear.

More importantly, we need to focus on what we are capable of doing with it.

We should spend more time teaching others how to perform well, rather than telling them what they should buy.

At some point, we all need to realize that the idea of the “best” gear is fleeting.

As another example, I’ve been following the military’s strategic pivot to the Pacific theater, which means jungle environments. I’m seeing some pretty interesting trends in the training reports from the dudes rotating through jungle training.

Many of the advancements in gear and optics we’ve seen over the last 15 years of desert warfare don’t work.

Chest rigs get ditched in favor of belt kits. Weapons sport iron sights more than optics because the environment simply isn’t conducive to magnification, electronics, or really anything that has lenses.

All of the things we decided were “the way to do things now” aren’t necessarily true anymore.

Do you know what hasn’t changed? The importance of building your own personal skills, knowing your capabilities and limits, and working within them. The one constant in all this evolution is the importance of the user.

Wrapping Up

When I said in the beginning that my gear buying philosophy has changed, I wasn’t lying.

I used to buy “stuff” because I thought that’s what I was supposed to want. The internet told me so.

I now buy things based on my needs.

Instead of looking to expand a particular weapon’s capability, I look to support my own. This distinction may not look significant from the outside, but it is a distinction.

It’s taken me a lot of time and wasted money to get here, and I want to help prevent others from making the same mistakes.

Don’t get me wrong, I still want some things just because. It would be hypocritical of me to tell you to stop spending money on gear while at the same time I’m shopping for a new pistol, planning gunsmith work, or writing product reviews.

The difference is I’m not telling myself, “If only product X, I could finally get over this plateau.”

Where are your priorities? Do you desire to “look the part” and buy things to make it happen? Or do you buy things based upon careful analysis of your capabilities and analyze the most appropriate way to fill any gaps?

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Matt

Matt

Matt is the primary author and owner of The Everyday Marksman. He's former military officer turned professional tech sector trainer. He's a lifelong learner, passionate outdoorsman, and steadfast supporter of firearms culture.

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Sunshine Shooter
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Great post, with one small exception. I don’t believe that “We don’t want to put in the work, because we’ve come to believe that work is for suckers”. I think that humans are inherently lazy, as are all animals.

Animals are evolutionarily biased towards being lazy. Do lions chase the fastest gazelle because they enjoy the hunt? Or do they pick the sick/slow/old one because it gives the best return for invested calories? Do dolphins and whales chase fish in open water because they’re piscicidal maniacs? Or do they herd them towards the surface for easier catching? Having the best ROI on calories is what has allowed untold generations of every animal on Earth to survive, we are built to be lazy.

Wanting to buy more stuff to improve your skills with as little effort as possible is the natural state of things. Our forefathers weren’t immune to laziness, so much as had fewer gear options to choose from and probably also had a better understanding of our natural tendencies. We need to recognize it in ourselves and be better than our base urges, and that goes for much beyond mere laziness.

DarkLordOfOptics
Member

I sense we need to have the optics vs iron sights conversation again. Or you can simply admit that I am always right and we will leave it at that…

Cutright
Member
Cutright

Just read this for the second time. This pretty much encapsulates the entire mindset of new guys and those who have been around for a bit. I went through the same, exact evolution.

And it can even be embarrassing…ever had a guy who’s stacked bodies higher than your house ask why you have that thing there or why you’d even pay for it? I have. It wasnt a SOCOM barrel, it was a guy from SOCOM politely waiting to hear the pop. The sound of my own head coming out of my ass. And then it gets real again as your training evolves and you find you have a need.

It’s been covered extensively here and other places, but that notion of a quality weapon with simple equipment really cant be over stated. A good carbine with a quality red dot or low variable power optic and a reasonable light on it gets you soooo far. Cans and IR devices are awesome but may require you to cheat on your taxes and lie to your wife, so proceed with caution…but they’re fun. And not necessary for civilians to live a safe life.

As always, a great read. I’m behind on your explosive growth but I’m happy for you and glad to see this thing grow in a great way.

Cheers, Cutright

Bill Webb
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Bill Webb

It’s been that way for more than 50 years to my personal knowledge, but with the plethora of expensive, flashy gear these days it’s gotten many times worse.

Back in my NRA 3-gun days in the late ’60’s a lot of sharpshooters were shooting Jim Clark’s (and others’) conversions, emulating the experts and masters. The experts and masters had moved up as they could afford, doing lots of cheap shooting in the meantime. The first group tended to remain sharpshooters.

A third group, the ones who started out with a stock Woodsman, a Model 15 and whatever surplus 1911 with decent sights they’d been able to scare up, bought reloading equipment and supplies with the $$$ they’d saved, learned a lot, shot constantly, and were eventually WINNING those Clark custom guns. I was one of those, and I bet I had lots more fun along the way, too.

Without the basics, which ONLY come with massive practice, a custom firearm can even be dangerous, by giving the holders false confidence that they how to handle situations that they should never have gotten into, whether in competition or on the street. The good news is, in a competition you only get embarrassed.

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