3 Rivers Tactical Training Solutions, Inc.

Pittsburgh, PA

The Pittsburgh area's premier firearms and tactical training provider.

AAR: May 18-19, 2013 - 2-Day AR-15 Carbine Operator

3T conducted a 2 day Tactical AR course this past weekend, May 18th & 19th, at the Beaver Valley Rifle and Pistol Club.

This was our second 2 day AR course this year. We had 10 students in the class, including one (Ryan) who traveled from Ohio.

I think 3 of the students were attending their first formal, professional training class. It was a very new world to them. Shooting from a bench takes zero skill - something people learn very quickly.


Weather was perfect both days - sunny and mid 70's.

Gear issues

One shooter got into a prone position to fire his first shots of the day when we got everyone squared away with a 50 yard zero only to discover that his EOTech was dead. The batteries had died.......at some point since he last used the optic. This is my shocked face (insert sarcasm here). Like EOTech's all you want, but there is no arguing this fact - they can't hold a candle to any Aimpoint optic when it comes to battery life.

Ryan learned during the course that his Blackhawk vest was less than ideal. This is what training classes are for - not only to shoot, but to learn what works and what doesn't work. Part of this is gear related. 

Cory realized about halfway through day 2 that his the screw in his ambi-selector was loose and backing out. Lesson learned here - anything you put on your carbine that has threads gets Loctite. If you don't use Loctite, it's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when the screws comes loose. Lesson learned.

Dunny discoverd during the night shoot that he had an extremely difficult time being able to see the reticle in his ACOG. In fact, he really couldn't see it. At all. This is a very significant learning point - sometimes, things that work great during daytime don't work at night. Some of this is gear related. Much of it is shooter related. More on this later.

Andrew had some night vision that didn't really benefit him at all.

This is where the value of doing a night shoot really hits home. Until you've tried to use all your gear at night, you don't know how it will perform when it's dark out.

John ran a suppressed 300 blackout SBR all weekend. The jury is still out on this caliber, but it certainly looks promising from what I have seen so far.

Cory and Andrew also ran cans. Very, very quiet cans.

Day 1

After introductions and the safety and emergency medical brief, we moved right into getting everyone squared away with at least a decent 50 yard zero. Everyone was able to place a 5 round string into an area approximately the size of a tennis ball. This was good enough for what we were going to be doing for the two days. If all of us were heading to Iraq or Afghanistan the day after the course, we would taken however long it required to get everyone shooting 5 round strings into an area the size of a quarter. As it was, I didn't want to take 2 or 3 hours to achieve the quarter zero, so we charged on.

The zeroing process was pretty easy with this class. It took about 30 minutes total. The previous class we had in February it took much longer. Here's a tip - whether it's a 25 yard, 50 yard, or 100 yard zero, show up to class with your rifle zeroed. I occasionally have folks show up at AR classes without having zeroed their rifle - and sometimes folks show up with brand new rifles they have never fired a single round through. This makes the process much longer than it has to be.

After zeroing, and a discussion on the fundamentals of marksmanship, we did some rythm drills on VTAC humanoid paper targets. The VTAC targets are one of my favorites, and I use them at pretty much every course I teach. This got the students warmed up, got some rounds through the guns, and got the students understanding sight offset, and beginning to get the technique down for reloads. All did well.

We moved on to some transition drills - meaning transitioning between the chest and the face. Again, all did well and there were no issues.

With the exception of the night shoot and the final excercise, this was it for using paper targets. The entire rest of the class was shot on steel. 

After breaking for lunch we came back and introduced the kneeling and prone positions. After getting everyone familar with each, we did a drill known as the MNQ - Modified Navy Qual. This is a portion of a pre-9/11 Navy qualification course. We modified it slightly, but the basics are 5 rounds standing, 5 rounds kneeling, 5 rounds prone. As an instructor, the biggest thing I was looking for here was that each student was using the mechanical safety - ie. putting the weapon on safe before moving to a new position. We had a few hiccups, but nothing major. This class did very well from a safety standpoint - I rarely had to point out something such as failing to engage the safety more than once.

After the MNQ we did our first drills engaging steel at distance. I had placed a steel target downrange - to the west. This caused some issues as we had to look into the sun, but nothing earth stopping. All were able to at least hit the steel from prone, which is what I wanted to see. The students didn't know the distance of the steel, and neither did I. This brought up an interesting discussion point - distance plays tricks on the eyes. Before I hit the steel was my laser range finder, I asked the class how far away they thought the steel was. Plenty of guesses were offered. None were close. Everyone overestimated. Some of the guesses were 150 yards, 160 yards, etc., etc. The actual range was 105 yards. Distance plays tricks on the eyes.

Below, Cory engaging the steel at 105 yards. Note the sun - it made the shot quite a bit tougher than the shot would normally be.


After engaging the steel at 105 yards we moved into rifle-to-pistol transitions. The technique for this is fairly simple. A tougher issue is when to do it? In general, I say when your carbine goes down (runs dry or malfunction - doesn't matter - the gun isn't working) within 25 yards, go to the pistol. The variable here is this - before coming to your decision, you need to have an honest conversation with yourself about what your pistol skills really are. Most modern pistol are more than capable of getting accurate hits from well beyond 25 yards. The issue is the skill level of the shooter. The other variables are the availability of cover and which you can do faster - get the rifle back in the fight, or get the pistol into the fight. For just about everyone, the answer is - get the pistol into the fight.

I didn't get any pics of the pistol transitions. Sorry fellas.

Below, J.W. is going from standing position, to kneeling position, to prone position during the Modified Navy Qual drill.

After the rifle to pistol transitions, the studetns took a break while I set up the range for the night shoot. Josh brought an AK to the course, and since we still had a little time before it got dark, Josh let me use it to do a very brief AK class. I'm a big AK fan, mostly because it's a fun weapon to shoot. Given the choice, I'll take an M4/AR any day of the week.

After a brief AK class (see next post), we moved onto the malfunction clearing with the AR. We had very, very few actual malfunctions during the class. However, I did hand out 3 dummy rounds to each student, which they mixed into their ammo supply. These dummy rounds eventually made it into their magazines, so they at least got some repititions clearing some failures to fire. I think we had one or maybe two double feeds through the weekend, but that's it. Except for one shooter who self induced a double feed at the start of his run through the final excercise. How did he induce the double feed? He rode the charging handle forward instead of letting it get their on its own. Lesson learned for sure.

We moved onto the night shoot, which was quite the experience for some. Half the class had never done a night shoot before, and there were plenty of lessons learned. Not the least of which was how much smoke was generated and caught in the light beam. Of course, the same amount of smoke is generated during the day, it just isn't seen. Activating a white light while shooting is pretty much the exact same thing as turning on the high beams of your vehicle when driving through fog. There is a simple way to aleviate this issue, which we addressed.

The night shoot is also a discrimination excercise, meaning that it is one of only two drills during the course (the other is the final tactical exercise) where the shooter must decide whether or not to shoot, instead of just listening to range commands and shooting when told to shoot. This sounds simple, but it's a new world to some.

What else is new to many is simply shooting when it's dark. Over and over again, class after class after class, I see students who perform simple tasks such as initial loading and reloads well during daylight, but have difficulty performing the same tasks in the dark. This is one of the (many) reasons why mastering technique is so very, very important - the simple act of a reload or clearing a malfunction must be performed quickly, smoothly, and efficiently regardless of conditions, shooting position, etc. The night shoot really drives this point home. It's just amazing how the dark makes even very simple tasks more difficult. 

The night shoot was a combination of steel and paper. Below is a picture of the shoot / no-shoot targets we used during the night shoot.


Note the target in the middle - it's a guy wearing a ski mask, pointing a gun at you. Nothing to indicate law enforcement or a "good guy". This would be a threat that needed to be engaged. The ski mask would be what we call a clue. For whatever reason, the students had a problem identifying this target as a threat - almost nobody engaged this target. I guaranteed you in the daytime, everyone would have. Simple tasks become more difficult in the dark.

One gear related issue discoverd during the night shoot - probably 1/3 or half of the class realized the light they were using was not up to the task of threat discrimination. I very strongly recommend an LED light with an absolute minimum of 200 lumens for a carbine light. Also, many shooters like to put either the Streamlight TLR or SureFire X300 series of lights on their carbine. I strongly recommend against this. #1, these lights were made to go on pistols, #2, the activation switches on these lights are easy to manipulate when on a pistol. Not so easy when on a carbine. One shooter had a TLR light on his carbine. He had no issue turning the light on, but experienced rather significant difficulty turning the light off. I've see this many times.

Below, John running his supressed 300 blackout SBR during the night shoot. I'm not sure what light he has mounted on his SBR, but it got the job done from the looks of this picture. Not the 105 yard white steel target in the distance. All students effectively engaged this steel as part of the night shoot.


The night shoot ended day 1. It was a long day, and everyone was pretty smoked.

Day 2

We started fresh on Day 2 with a recap of Day 1. Everyone had observations to share from Day 1, whether it be a piece of gear that was determined to be less than ideal, or a new technique learned, or a variation from previous training they have received. Sharing these things with the class allows all to learn.

We did a brief class on inspecting, cleaning, and most importantly, lubricating the AR platform. Most shooters drastically under-lubricate their AR. Over lubricating AR's is a myth that is flat out not true. When doing this, it's only a matter of time before problems develop. Not if, when. There is a lot of metal rubbing on metal with this weapon system. It needs lubrication to work properly. This isn't very complicated - AR's will run dirty and wet (lubricated). They will not run dirty and dry (under or not lubricated).

We started Day 2 with tactical reloads. Different instructors define reloads differently. My definition of a tactical reload is when there is a round in the chamber, and a magazine with only a few rounds in the weapon. The shooter (hopefully) is behind cover, and the opportunity presents itself to replace the nearly empty magazine in the gun with a full one. Keeping your gun from ever running completely dry in a gun fight is a good thing. 

We spent almost all of Day 2 cover over the use of cover and concealment. Most people know the defintions of cover and concealment......and not much more. Few know how to correctly use cover and concealment to their benefit. Even fewer understand how to move properly between two pieces of cover. We did a demonstration that drove this point home. Everyone understood afterward.

The use of cover drills began with and moved on to moving between two pieces of cover. To drive home the idea of not letting your gun run completely dry, if it happened to a student, he was forced to finish the drill with his pistol, no matter how far from the target he was. This gets the students thinking for themselves about when to perform a tactical reload, instead of just listening to range commands and doing what the instructor tell them to do. 

Below, Dunny allowed his carbine to run dry, and had no choice but to get the pistol out to finish the drill. The good news is that he got hits on the steel with his pistol from about 45 yards.

Second, Josh utilizing cover.

Third, Edd also utilizing cover. Edd actually skipped ahead of the cirriculum, and by that I mean he effectively "sliced the pie" around this cover before we covered it in the class. I'm not sure Edd realized he was doing it - he was just using his head and being smart about his engagement. It is very rewarding as an instructor to see students begin to think on their feet and figure things out on their own.

After the use of cover drills, we finished off the morning of Day 2 with strong side shoulder to support side shoulder drills. There is no gentle way to say this, so I'll just say it............Right handed shooters have significant difficulty doing ANYTHING left handed. This is no exception. You don't get to choose the specifics of your gunfight. Having the ability to effectively engage threats when shooting from your support side allows you to expose less of your body to the bad guy(s). This is a good thing. But it's flat out funny, and often hilarious, watching right handed shooters do this for the first time. To say they look like fish-out-of-water is a significant understatement. The good news is that after a few repititions they get the technique down and figure it out.

After lunch we did some drills from the high-port ready position - sometimes referred to as the "high ready" position by some. This is VERY foreign to many soldiers and Marines, who have it pounded into their heads to never point the muzzle up. You need to be able to adjust your techniques to whatever situation you find yourself in. If you are walking through heavy vegetation, you probably don't want to utilize the low ready, because when you mount your weapon you will likely have what looks like a salad on your front sight post. This drill was well received and opened a few eyes.

The last drill we did was another cover excercise. We put some barricades on their side and placed them onto some standard ammo cans, thus elevating them a few inches off of the ground. This was used to simulate shooting under a vehicle. Shooting over a vehicle, instead of under it, needlessly exposes much, much less of your body. One of the things I said over and over throughout the weekend is "It's never a bad idea to make yourself as small of a target as possible". This drill really drives this issue home.

This is a very awkward position at first, but it doesn't take long to understand it. Getting into these awkward positions is when red dot optics really shine - this is significantly more difficult when using iron sights.


At the right, Greg shooting under a simulated vehicle. Shooting under cover with iron sights is not impossible, but is certainly more difficult.

We finished the course, and I always do, with the final training excercise. I give the students basic instructions only - on purpose. I want to see them THINK their way through the exercise. I also get their heart rate up a bit. It's amazing to see how little things begin to fall apart when shooters have to think for themselves, and even the slightest bit of stress is added. This is a HUGE learning point for all. The final exercise is also supposed to be fun, and I think all would agree that it was.

This was a very good class, and very easy to teach. Everyone was motivated, there were a lot of good questions asked, and during discussion periods everyone had something worthwhile to add. There was one negative to this class that reared it's ugly head over, and over, and over again, and that was some students shooting too fast, which ALWAYS results in missed shots. I honestly can't estimate how many times I had to say "Slow Down", and every single time I said this - just like magic - the students would begin to get solid hits again. Missing a shot or two at the range is no big deal. It can't happen in a real world shooting. Look no further than the cop in New York who shot a hostage a few days ago. This is inexcuseable and simply cannot happen. Ever - whether a hostage situation or not. You own every bullet you fire, and everything that every bullet you fire does is your responsibility. 

Josh shot the AK off and on during the class, and was kind enough to allow me to use it to teach a brief AK class for everyone. Once when he was shooting it he had an interesting bolt / charging hand override malfunction. I have quite a bit of AK experience, and I've only seen this once before, and that time it was with a piece of brass. This was with a live round. Check out the pic below to see it.


The round somehow ended up in between the charging handle and the dust cover.

From left to right below, Andrew (wearing NOD's), Josh, and Cory. The NOD's didn't work very well at all for Andrew.


Below, Ryan using cover very effectively. It may seem as if he is exposed and not getting any benefit from the simulated cover (the white and blue barrels). This is an optical illusion - in fact, he is exposing very little of his body to the bad guy and getting solid hits. Very well done. Also, John effectively and correctly utilizing cover. Note the magazine on the ground at this feet from his tactical reload.

The pic below is Greg moving from standing to kneeling during the MNQ drill. Note the white piece of steel on the right in the background. This was the 105 yard piece of steel. It was engaged from very close to where Greg is standing.


Just a flat out awesome picture below, taken at just the right moment. I'm not 100% sure, but I think Luke is the shooter. Thanks to J.W. for the night shoot pics.


Below is a group photo. Thanks to all for attending. A lot of learning occured during this class.


Our next 2 day AR course is June 1st & 2nd in Holsopple PA, just south of Johnstown in Cambria County. We still have slot open for anyone interested. The course details are listed here.

If you would like to host a 3T course at your gun club or range, please do not hesitate to contact me. I have no problem at all going on the road to teach a class.

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In accordance with ITAR regulations, only United States citizens will be accepted into 3T classes.

All classes end with a night shoot on day 1.  The class hour vary upon time of year.  You will be notified of the class hours specific to your class approximately 2 weeks before the class. Range locations are subject to change.


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