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.
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:
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
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.
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?