Tag Archives: firearms

TTPs: On the Flinch

A few weeks ago I had a good friend come by for a visit. She had never fired a gun before, and was keen to learn to do so. I grabbed a couple guns from my safe, some ammo, and headed to a nice indoor range. She quickly took a liking to my Glock 17 with RMR. As we were shooting, she noticed her shots were moving down the target. From where I was standing in the lane, it was clear she was flinching. Let’s talk about how to fight the flinch.

First, what I did not do:

  1. I did not simply tell her to “Stop Flinching”. It’s not a conscious thing.

  2. I did not break out the snap caps for a bunch of ball and dummy work. Ball and dummy drills are useful if you are trying to diagnose a flinch. Once the flinch is diagnosed (which I had already done), they are worse than useless, because the ball and dummy drill makes you very aware of an unconscious reaction, and your efforts to fight it usually make it worse. Maybe this works for you. It has never worked for me.

Now, on to what I did. First, I talked through what was going on. It’s natural to be a little flinchy. There’s an explosion going off in your hands. It’s ok. We just have to learn to get past that.

I also noticed that she had a backwards lean to her stance, and she had a tendency to pause her trigger press partway through to fix sight alignment. From personal experience, I know this leads to a suboptimal trigger press. Often, we end up jerking the shot when we do this. And this gave me an idea.

I directed her to lean forward a little to help absorb recoil. Then, the gun (even a 9 mm) wouldn’t feel like it was pushing her off balance. I find thinking of a fighting stance helpful for those with martial arts experience. Or, “nose over toes” if that resonates better with the student. This is often counterintuitive for students who don’t think of themselves as “big”. They think they’ll want to lean back to keep balance while lifting the weapon. But the weapon isn’t all that heavy, and they’re not going to be holding it up for hours. Leaning back maximizes the ability of the weapon to push them off balance, which will reinforce the flinch. We don’t want that.

Next, I talked trigger pull. I spent some time on this, and directed her to really focus on not stopping. If you find yourself stopping, take your finger off the trigger, take a couple deep breaths, and try again. Continuous press. Do not stop. I wanted to give her something else to focus on that wasn’t the flinch. I’ve found trying to tell myself over and over to not do something usually makes me do the thing. So it’s easier to work with “Do something else”.

In this case, it worked great. Got a lot of that flinch out, and her shooting improved. So the next time you’re struggling with the flinch, try focusing on something else.

The Five Seven is Stupid

It’s true. The FN Five Seven1 is profoundly stupid. Too stupid to have a good time.

There’s nothing really good about it. If you hold one, you’ll notice that the grip is quite long. The better to accommodate the longish 5.7×27 mm rounds. It’s awkwardly long, and it’s fat at the back, narrowing at the front. So, vaguely egg shaped, if you were to look at it from the top. Nothing else is like that, and there’s a reason for that. They could have made it a long oval like a 1911. People like that. Or even something squarish like a Glock or USP. Both of which work well for people. But no.

The trigger is awful. Apparently you’re pulling the trigger bar across the whole Sahara desert. It’s mushy, gritty, and creepy. Nothing redeeming about it.

The slide release is weird. Like everything else about the gun, it’s plastic. Or polymer. Whatever. But it gives absolutely no feedback. It doesn’t feel like it’s a lever. You press on it, and it feels like a solid molded protrusion. Until you press down like it owes you money. And then it will release the slide. It’s too small. It really doesn’t do its one job.

The safety on the Five Seven is proof that a frame mounted safety can be done extremely stupidly. It’s directly above the trigger. You can reach it with the tip of your trigger finger. Or your weak hand thumb. No one else does this. It’s unintuitive. It’s easy to engage accidentally, and engagement isn’t even positive. If anything, it’s negative. It’s everything a safety shouldn’t be.

How does it shoot? Well, recalling the time I spent on a range renting one, it’s ok. The sucky trigger made me sad. The round has good paper punching ballistics. Very flat shooting. So, that’s a plus.

At least, as long as you’re made of money. It’s an expensive pistol that shoots expensive, hard to find ammo. Terminal performance of actual rounds that have seen service is atrocious. Maybe defensible in the P90 when you can riddle the bad guy’s face with 15 in a second, but not so good for a pistol. You get 20, though, so there’s that. It’s also very loud for what it is. So it’s a poor choice for the recoil-averse, even though there’s no recoil. That bang and flash will induce flinches anyway.

I think the biggest indictment of the Five Seven is that both Fishbreath2 and I should like it, and both of us don’t. At all. It’s a hipster gun that’s ultramodern and grew out of the last years of the cold war. It’s flat shooting. It should be our favorite thing since the 9 mm Luger round. But no. It’s a super expensive curiosity. It doesn’t really do anything well that you can’t get elsewhere.

Except, I guess, be the Ultimate Status Item for drug lords. It’s got that going for it.

  1. No, I’m not going to capitalize it the way the FNH Marketing department wants. That’s stupid too. 
  2. It really is a terrible piece of kit, and something I wanted to like. I just can’t bring myself to it. The controls are awful, and I am this blog’s resident AK shooter. -Fishbreath 

M4A1 PIP vs HK 416A5

We talked a little bit about the M4A1 PIP before. Let’s compare it to the popular and successful HK 416A5.

The 416A5 is the latest variant of HK’s version of the M4. It’s available in a number of barrel lengths, but to try to keep this comparison as objective and direct as possible, we’re going to compare carbines with the same barrel length: 14.5 inches.

While the 416A5 is a production weapon, the M4A1 PIP isn’t. So I’ll have to make some guesses as to what it might have looked like in an approved format. In the above article, I made some guesses:

  1. “SOCOM” profile (a medium profile) barrel
  2. Safe/Semi/Full Auto Trigger Group
  3. Daniel Defense M4 RIS II (12″)
  4. Cut down pinned gasblock (as on Colt 6920-OEM2)
  5. Knight’s Armament folding front and rear backup iron sights
  6. H2-weight buffer
  7. B. E. Meyers 249F flash suppressor

Pretty simple. I chose those parts because all of those have NSNs, and are already-approved accessories, and Colt already makes guns with that particular low-profile gas block. I keep going back and forth on the notion of changing the stock, and settled on not changing it mostly to keep things simple. The obvious stock alternative is the SOPMOD stock, however I couldn’t find anything on stock changes, so I opted to be simple and leave the existing stock. The SOPMOD stock weighs 11.5 ounces, which is about 4.4 ounces (0.275 lbs) more than the regular stock.

Let’s compare them. Both carbines are capable of semiautomatic and fully automatic fire. Both carbines do not have a burst feature. Both carbines have collapsible stocks. Both carbines offer quadrail handguards. The M4A1 PIP has a 3″ longer handguard (12″ compared to the 416A5’s 9″ handguard), but both are longer than the 7″ RAS/RIS handguard currently present on the M4.1 Both fire the same 5.56×45 mm round.

Doing a weight comparison, the M4A1 PIP weighs 6.99 lbs as above, unloaded and without optic. The 416A5 weighs 7.68 lbs unloaded and without optic, which comes to a weight difference of 0.69 lbs. Where does the weight difference come from?

Both rifles have medium-profile, 14.5″ barrels. The 416 also has a short-stroke gas piston system and a heavy handguard, both of which add weight. The stock of the 416 is also a bit heavier.

Carrying more weight sucks. But weight can also bring advantages. Bearing in mind the following destructive tests had a sample size of one, let’s see what weight helps with.

On a standard M4, firing 140 rounds rapidly and continuously will raise the temperature of the barrel to the cook-off point. At this temperature, any live round remaining in the chamber for any reason may cook-off (detonate) in as little as 10 seconds.

What if you keep going cyclic? What if you’re desperate? Colt tested this in 1996, and discovered that the barrel on a standard M4 (with full auto trigger group) will burst after 596 rounds fired cyclic. That’s just under twenty magazines worth of rounds. That is a lot.

The M16A2 (also with a full auto trigger group) was also tested to destruction. Its barrel burst after 491 rounds. That’s also a lot, though less than the M4.

The M4A1 with the heavier SOCOM-profile barrel will fail after it has fired 840 rounds cyclic. In this case, the barrel won’t burst, but the gas tube will fail. If this was a problem, you could conceivably use a beefier gas tube. Or accept that this is good enough, since a soldier’s basic load is 210 rounds.

Unfortunately, I can’t find much in the way of good data on when the HK416 (or the M27 for that matter) fails if it’s run cyclic until it chokes. I do know that it’s “more than 900 rounds” but that’s the best I’ve got. This makes sense: the barrels are similarly beefy, and eventually the op-rod/piston will fail. Or the barrel will. Waste heat sucks.

So what do I think? Well, a good part would depend on what price you could get both guns for. But if you could get the M4A1 PIP as a package from Colt for any price that isn’t exorbitantly over that of the 416A5, I’d probably go with the M4A1 PIP. I like less weight, and I really don’t think the piston system gets you all that much for your trouble.

That goes triple if you already have M4s/M16s in your procurement system, since you can just swap uppers (and trigger groups if you have that infernal burst mechanism).

  1. We could have used a 9″ quadrail on the M4A1 PIP, but that would have increased its weight advantage, and we would have had to pick a handguard that isn’t currently in the inventory. The DD M4 RIS II 12″ handguard is already in the system, as the handguard for SOPMOD Block II upper. Also, note that I don’t have a weight figure for a 416 with an extended handguard. 

Glock Gen 3 vs Gen 4

Yes, this is somewhat old data. But I haven’t found one source that has everything one should know about the two generations of Glocks on the market. So I’m making one. We’re going to break down each difference here, and then talk recommendations at the end.

Grip Configurability
The Gen4 Glocks come with four backstraps: medium, large, medium with beavertail, and large with beavertail. They can also be used with no backstrap. The Gen3 comes in just one size. It’s very roughly the same size as the Gen4 with medium backstrap. So it will fit most, but you might get a better fit on the Gen4.

Grip Texture
The Gen4 Glocks added a reasonably aggressive grip texture. Gen3s are smooth sided, except for the Gen3 RTF2, which also comes with some good texture (but is harder to find). If you’re looking for stippling work, the Gen3s have a bit more material to work with in their grips that you can shape and play with.

Grip Accessories
The Gen3 doesn’t have possible backstraps to make things difficult. So there are more options for magwells for competitors, especially if you’re looking to tune the weight of your pistol to get the perfect balance between heavy to absorb recoil and light for transitions. Some magwells for the Gen4 can be had made for a backstrap. Otherwise, you’ll be modifying them to fit. It’s not very hard, just something to note.

Mag Release
The Gen4 has a bigger mag release than the Gen3, and it’s reversible for lefties. It’s easier for the small-handed to push. Mods abound for both platforms.

The Gen4 has a somewhat different internal path for the trigger bar to take. Stock Gen4s (that aren’t 34/35s) come with a different connector than the Gen3s to compensate. If the same components are put in an otherwise similar Gen3 and Gen4, the Gen4 will have a trigger pull about half a pound heavier. As always, components are easy to mix and match to get the pull you want. Trigger components, including trigger bars, from a Gen3 will work in a Gen4 without difficulty. If you stick with the Gen4 trigger bar, remember to apply lubrication to the bump on the tab that engages the drop safety plunger. It will improve the feel of the trigger. Always lubricate between the trigger bar and trigger connector.

Barrel Fit
From Gen3 to Gen4, Glock changed something about the barrel fit. As a result, while drop-in match barrels will generally improve the accuracy of a Gen3 Glock, they will provide at best no measurable improvement in a Gen4 Glock. The OEM barrel actually does better than some aftermarket drop-ins for some loads. So don’t waste your money simply for accuracy if you have a Gen4. Note that both generations of Glocks will see improvement from a professionally-fitted barrel.1

Recoil Spring Assembly
Glock changed from a single-spring recoil spring assembly in the Gen3 to a dual-spring one in the Gen4. Not much difference to feel in 9 mm, but it improves hotter calibers like .40 S&W. Note that competitors interested in an aftermarket guide rod and spring kit will either need an adapter or a guide rod designed specifically for the Gen4. This is a part that does not interchange.

There you have it. Overall, I think the Gen4 is a little better in 9 mm for most people. Some custom builds might be easier to do on a Gen3. It’s not a huge difference though, so don’t sweat it.

  1. By a Real Gunsmith who knows what the hell he’s doing. Fitting a barrel is tricky, and this is something that isn’t easy to do after a youtube video. If you’re springing for a fancy fitted barrel, get it done right. 

On Faith and Shooting

Ordinarily, I’d leave the posts on faith to Fishbreath. But this one is quite specific, and there’s an interesting point to be made with it.

Last year, one of my pistol classes had a long-range component. A really long range component. We had plates at 25, 35, 50, 80, and 110 yards. Pistols had iron sights, nothing too fancy. Shooting from the usual offhand1 unsupported position. There was no real time limit. Just you, and your pistol, and a steel, man-size plate.

The first thing I had to learn, having come off a bunch of speed drills, was that my trigger finger had a speed other than maximum. We had trained for the past day and a half on a continuous speed trigger press, and since these were 10 yard timed drills, the correct technique was to grip the hell out of the gun and get on that trigger hard and fast. Now, there were no follow-up shots to worry about. So grip wasn’t as important to manage recoil. And we had to learn how to work that trigger slow without stopping. Stopping tends to mean “jerking” and screwing up the shot.

I was missing a lot, but I was learning a lot too, and getting my hits. And I brought six 17-round magazines for my Glock 34. Prepared. At least until round four. That damned 80 yard plate. Everything went all to shit for me, and I’m not quite sure why.

I can tell you the symptoms though. I was switching eye focus rapidly, between the target plate and my front sight, which was wobbling, and back to the plate. Back and forth. It was odd. There were stops in my trigger press, with the predictable shanking of shots into the dirt like a damned noob. I took a break in frustration, and talked to my instructor.

He said, “The plate isn’t fucking moving. Relax. Pick your aim point, have faith in yourself, and focus on your fucking front sight.”


Faith in myself. Faith in my pistol. Faith in those Warren sights I liked so much. Faith in my instructors. Faith in the fundamentals of marksmanship. Faith in my trigger press technique, which had worked well throughout the class. Faith in the cables holding the target in place.

Did I mention faith in me? Yeah, that’s a big one.

So I took a lot of deep breaths. And tried my best to forget all those damn misses. Stepped up to the line, picked my aiming point, and focused on my damn front sight. Like I was supposed to. Took the shot.


Okay. No problem. Adjust your aim. Focus on the front sight, nice continuous speed trigger press. Nice and slow. Press and let the gun do it’s thing.


“Just like that!” called out my instructor. I started getting results. I guess those fundamentals meant something. The drills continued.

I’m not quite sure why it took so long to really run into problems that required me to understand what’s really meant by a hard front sight focus. Nothing highlights problems in your fundamentals like long range pistol shooting. It took many more reps to get the trigger press right, but there’s a lot to be learned from my front sight issues.

One of the other shooters ended up exhausting his supply of ammo at the 80 yard target. He was new at this too. My instructor called endex. I checked the mag in my gun. It still had ammo. I asked if I could have a go at the 110 yard target, at least until other, more-ammoed students showed up. And so I went back to the line.

Front sight focus. Constant speed press. BANG!


Part of shooting, especially long range shooting, is understanding that you can’t take that shot back. That bullet is gone. Move on. Focus, focus. BANG!


Focus. Front sight. Trigger press. Slow. Let the gun do its thing. Maybe that’s what whoever coined the term ‘surprise break’ meant. We’ll go with that. Don’t get impatient. BANG!


Good. Just like that. BANG!




See, it’s working. I might have smiled a little. BANG!


Ugh. What was that about not getting cocky? I’m even missing in a brand new way! Let. It. Go. Breathe. Are we breathing? We need to do that to live. Breathe. BANG!


Slide locked back. I dropped it, and experienced the awful feeling of running your hand along your belt pouches and discovering they’re all empty. My last mag went splorch in the mud.

I reminded myself to breathe again. And then there was quite a bit of uncivilized whoopin’ and hollerin’ on my part. Because I showed that 110 yard plate who’s boss.

And I couldn’t have done it without finding faith at 80.

  1. i.e. standing 

TTPs: More Finger on the trigger?

Here’s a short little post on something that’s helped both myself and Fishbreath.

I’ve heard this from a bunch of pistol instructors, usually in regards to shooting Glocks. Often, shooters complain that their Glocks shoot left or low-left (for a right-handed shooter, lefties will often see right or low-right). and consider adjusting their sights and bitching and blaming the gun. The instructor will then borrow their gun and show them that it’s not the gun, it’s them, and then talk techniques to correct the problem.

One such technique involves trigger finger placement. New shooters are often told to put the “pad” of their finger on the trigger. Maybe this works really well for some people. But sometimes the geometry of the grip and trigger mean that this is suboptimal and leads to a lot of low-left shots. One fix is to simply put more finger on the trigger. Sink it to the first knuckle, or maybe further.

This requires a bit of experimentation, but I’ve found that more finger on the trigger generally helps me get shots on target better. This might not be true for everybody, but if shooting left is the problem you’re seeing, give more finger a try. You might be surprised.

And if it doesn’t work, you don’t have to stick with it.

I’ve always heard this technique referenced explicitly as a “Glock Technique.” That said, I’ve used this technique to improve results on an M9, and M&P9, and an FNX-45 in addition to my Glocks. So it may help you regardless of what pistol you shoot.

TTPs: Shooting on the Move

A few of my previous TTP columns have talked about how to use shooting on the move to your advantage in a defensive situation. From these, you might conclude that I’m a fan of shooting on the move. And I am, except when I am not. Which is probably frustratingly zen, so let’s dive in.

First, a brief disclaimer. These are talking about defensive-ish gun uses for the CCW holder or off-duty cop with a gun. We are NOT talking about the following areas:
1. Competition. Depending on the rules and stage layout, shooting on the move may or may not be a good idea in a match stage. I will leave the discussion of stage planning to another time.
2. The SWAT Team/Special Operations Entry Stack. Because there are men behind you in the stack, it is vitally important that you not stop moving, so as not to jam everyone up and cause problems. You had better shoot on the move here.

Okay, that out of the way, let me talk you through a brief experiment that you can do do think about shooting on the move, and help reason when it is and isn’t a good idea. You will need the following items:
1. Some gallon milk jugs full of water.
2. A buddy.
3. A pulley and stake.
4. Some rope.
5. Your pistol of choice, with ammo (duh) and a holster.
6. A steel pistol target.
7. A permissive range bay to yourselves. Private shooting land will also work well.

Item 6 might be the hardest for you to acquire. Fear not. After I detail the setup, I’ll walk you through the results that I got when I did this. Also note that a shot timer is optional but extremely helpful.

The setup is as follows. First, we’re going to look at, of course, shooting on the move. Set up your steel at the end of the range, and then mark out a line for you to move across the bay at a spall-safe distance from your steel (7-10 yards). Warm up by shooting that steel at your marked distance. Now, do a few runs across the bay, gun holstered. Get an idea of how quickly you can move across your bay. Try to put a couple in as if your life depended on it. You can probably do this pretty fast if you’re not all that fit.

Now, shooting on the move. Draw your gun and move along the line as best you can, shooting the steel. Move as quickly as you can and still get some hits, and shoot when you think you can guarantee a hit. Don’t hose. You have a buddy there to mock you to keep you honest. He should also do his best to keep you on that path. You’re probably going to move off of it.

Even with proper, bent-knee, ‘rolling-heel-toe’ gait, you’ll find you moved across the range a lot slower. And you’re probably shooting a lot slower than you did in the warm up. That’s expected. Or at least, that’s what I got. I had decent technique but not a lot of practice. If I had more practice, I could probably do better. But I’d need a lot more.

Okay, now for some more fun. Place a gallon milk jug at one side of the range, and the pulley at the other. Mark off a firing position in the middle of the range, at about the same distance you were from the steel. Tie the rope to the handle of the jug, run it through the pulley, and then down the side of the range to your buddy. For safety, your buddy will stand behind you, holding the rope. When he wants, he’ll run away from you, pulling the rope. When you see the jug move, draw and shoot it before it gets to the other end of the range. Have your buddy vary the speed of the jugs on different attempts.

Shooting a moving target is difficult. Some will find it more difficult than others. I didn’t find it too bad. What I did find, as did most other people who tried this with me, was that we could hit the jug when it was moving faster than we moved while shooting. So moving and shooting didn’t help us avoid incoming fire all that much. A dead run to cover was a lot harder to hit, but then we wouldn’t be shooting back either.

It’s something to think about. Does this mean you should never shoot on the move? Certainly not. Hopefully it has also convinced you that there are times when shooting on the move might not be the best plan ever. There are no easy answers. There are no simple answers. Shooting on the move is fun to practice, and can be useful, but there are a lot of other techniques out there that you should practice too.

On the .40 S&W

.40 S&W is an interesting cartridge. It started as a shortened version of the reduced-power load of the 10mm Auto round, and it’s often been branded as “short and weak”. On the other hand, it’s been a bridge in the caliber debates between .45 “size/weight guys” and 9mm “capacity/velocity guys”. It’s now fallen out of vogue somewhat. Let’s take a look.

The .40 S&W has been a super popular law enforcement caliber for the past twenty years or so. The FBI led the adoption. In the .40, for a round a trifle bigger than 9 mm, cops got a more powerful round that was a lot more effective. But the overall length was similar to that of 9 mm, so you didn’t need a big frame like 10 mm auto did. This meant that smaller hands had a chance of controlling guns firing the .40 round with good technique. And it could happily pass all of the FBI’s ballistics tests where 9 mm generally couldn’t.

But technology advances. By now, 9 mm hollow point rounds have caught up with .40, and can also meet the FBI’s ballistics test standards. This makes the advantages of the 9 mm round readily apparent:

  1. More rounds1
  2. Lower cost
  3. Lower recoil

That said, the .40 still holds some advantages over the 9 mm round. Clearly, if you are a LEO, your agency might issue something in .40. In which case, it behooves you to carry and practice with .40. And if you just like the round, by all means. Carry it. I’m not going to stop you.

  1. Makes Major power factor easily
  2. Does very well against intermediate barriers.

Let’s pull these apart. For USPSA and similar competitions, shots landing outside the A-zone of the target are penalized less if your power factor is high enough to “make major.” Power factor equals bullet weight in grains times velocity in feet per second divided by 1,000. Presently, it must be over 165 to make major. It is possible to do this with a 9 mm round carefully loaded, but this is somewhat dangerous, as you’re exceeding the pressure specs for the cartridge, with all the hazards that entails. Most commercial .40 loads will easily make Major, and it’s also a lot easier to handload .40 rounds that make major. As a result, .40 S&W is a popular caliber for competitors.

Intermediate barriers are pesky things you need to get to in order to reach your target, like auto bodies. For a CCW holder, this probably won’t be an issue that often. But it might be for law enforcement agencies, and it’s a reasonable consideration for issue weapons.

So, while 9 mm might make more sense, .40 is still an effective choice. If you like it, rock on. If you don’t, there are other choices that work well too. And it’s a great way to make major.

For the curious, I own an M&P 40, and might make another for open division gun games. I usually carry and train with 9 mm.

  1. Two more rounds in Glocks and M&Ps, more in some other designs. I don’t think two rounds difference is all that much better. It is better though. And other designs have a bigger spread, which might become significant. 

On Iron Sights

While I’m slaying sacred cows, let’s talk about iron sights on rifles. Pistols are a topic for another time.

Should you “master” iron sights on rifles before moving to optics?

Hell no. Next question.

Iron sights are outmoded. Obsolescent. There are better choices right now, namely optics. For any given purpose, there is an optical sight that will perform better than iron sights on long guns.

Close range shooting? Red dot or low-power variable. Boom. Faster than irons.

Long range shooting? Get you some magnification. Make the targets bigger. Done. Better than irons.

Now, optics don’t magically make you a better shooter. They do take out one component of shooting: sight focus. Iron sights give you three focal planes at three different distances from your eye: the rear sight, the front sight, and the target. Your eye is physically capable of focusing on one plane at a time. So you acquire the target, then focus on your front sight. It’s not intuitive. It’s not easy, especially when your target isn’t easy to see. Then you have to align the front sight with the rear sight and the target. And then you have all of the other trigger control issues, steadying the rifle, dealing with recoil, etc.

With optics, the sights are in the same plane as the target. So you look at your target. That’s intuitive: you want to shoot that. Then you align the sights with the target. Which is a lot easier, because they’re in focus too. Same plane and all. You can see your sight (where the bullet is going, more or less) at the same time as you can see the thing you want to shoot. Then, trigger control time. Recoil management.

I’m always in favor of making my life easier. As is just about every other serious user. Choose a special forces unit, they use optics on their rifles. Most militaries of repute and with some ambition issue optics for all of their rifles. If rules allow optics, competitive shooters put optics on their rifles.

And they’re one I like to pick on, because they’ll do anything (at least, anything not prohibited by the rules) for an edge.

Optics are better. There basically isn’t a downside. Hell, most new rifles don’t even come with iron sights these days, whether they’re flat-top ARs or slick new hunting rifles. And do you know how hard it is to actually kill good optics?

Okay, now that I’ve said all that, let me preempt a few comments.

I’m not saying iron sights won’t work. They’ll do the job if you can and do. Optics will make your life easier.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t know how to use iron sights at all. They are on most pistols, after all. Plus they’re on all manner of old rifles, like an M1 Garand or the Lee-Enfield. And shooting old rifles is plenty of fun. But you’re probably not going to use those as your primary longarm. So focus on your primary. Which has an optic.

What about using iron sights as a way to “get better at shooting”? Well, if you can use iron sights, you can certainly use optics. True. And irons are way harder. Also true. My turn for a question: what is the goal?

If your goal is to get better with iron-sights, perhaps for an iron-sight competition like the National Matches, rock on. Mission is driving the gear train.

If your goal is to get better with your optic-equipped hunting/defensive/competition rifle, you should probably be training with that. You know, the gun you’re actually going to use. Familiarize yourself with the quirks of your optic. Familiarity brings comfort. Remember, all of the other things you do when shooting are there. You still have to work on those. Optics are one of the few ways to reduce the complexity of the shooting problem.

Iron sights aren’t a thing you can work in isolation. You make the sight alignment problem more complicated, but you still have all of the other issues. For most of us, misses occur because of a combination of factors. We didn’t do just one thing wrong, we did a bunch of things wrong. Put them together, you get the (bad) result. If you’re very good, you can figure out all of the problems. More likely, you can figure out some of them, but not all of them.

You can get great at shooting with optics. You can probably even do it faster than with irons, because you have fewer difficulties.

What about durability?

Modern optics are extremely durable. And most shooters don’t abuse their weapons. The vast majority of optics will happily survive moving from gun safe to bag to car to range to car to safe with no issues at all. And if you abuse your optics, buy accordingly. My Aimpoint Comp M4, for example, is stupidly durable. Go google some “test videos” where people do dumb things like hit it with a hammer or set of explosives nearby. You can probably find a way to kill it, but your gun (and you) will be similarly out of action. So don’t worry about it.

Mindset And Equipment; Equipment and Mindset

A shooter’s performance in competition or combat can be broken down into two big categories: internal things (mindset, training, skill, and confidence), and external things (what gun, caliber, etc.). There are a lot of stupid arguments on the internet about which is more important.

And they’re stupid precisely because they’re very difficult to tease apart.

Clearly, internal factors are super important. If Jerry Miculek and I were in a shooting match together, and for some bizarre reason Jerry had a box-stock Hi-Point, Jerry would still outshoot me. Wouldn’t matter which gun or how many mods I put in it. Jerry is that much better than me.

That said, while Jerry could beat me with Hi-Point, he doesn’t shoot one at matches. For one thing, they don’t sponsor him. Smith and Wesson does. So he’s shooting out a super tricked out Smith and Wesson. Set up just the way he likes. See, he’s competing with a lot of other hardcore guys like Max Michel, K.C. Eusebio, and Rob Leatham, who are also very skilled and have tricked out guns. They’ve got guns set up the way they like to maximize their skillset. Lighter triggers are easier to shoot well for example. So the hardcore guys have hardcore equipment.

Let’s look at another case. The infamous 1986 Miami shootout, between two criminals and a number of FBI agents. The guy who had the most combat experience and the most will to win, Platt,1 also came with the most gun. He had a Ruger Mini-14 chambered in .223, plus two revolvers chambered in .357 Magnum. Once again, skill and equipment go hand in hand.

The dangers of equipment is the thinking that you can buy skill. You can’t. Good equipment will mean you can use your skill to the best of your abilities. Focusing on one kind of equipment will let you have some constants to make developing skills easier. Always chasing the next best thing isn’t the best plan. There’s quite a bit of maturity in knowing when to stick and when to jump. For example, in most applications, the difference between a revolver and a semiauto is very significant. The difference between semiautos is much less so.

So some basic “good enough” satisficing will help you in the short term. You can save the optimization for later once you know what you like in a gun. Or once you have a big company like Smith & Wesson paying for your stuff.

  1. One of the criminals. He was a Ranger in Vietnam. Note that better equipment and mindset weren’t enough to prevail. C’est la vie. In this case, it’s a good thing.