AAR MRM Austin, TX 23-25Mar2012

Trident Concepts conducted our three-day Mid-Range Marksmanship (MRM) in CENTEX recently. A little bit about this class, this class is something we run for several of our military and federal clients. It is designed to push the standard issued M4/AR to the outer extremes of its effective range. While the maximum effective range is hugely debatable the more important question is do you have the skill to hit at these ranges. Let the bad guy worry about the terminal performance. I love this class as it really pushes your skill level and challenges everyone to bring up their game. While we do a fair amount of shooting from the prone position, there is a substantial amount from the kneeling and standing position. Some will question these positions, but in the real world you find yourself having to engage from a variety of positions and more importantly you would be surprised what you can do when you practice.

When you can effectively engage threats consistently out to 300 yards, you change the face of the battlefield; it’s as simple as that. At these ranges, fortune favors the skilled shooter and it has been proven time and time again that a single marksman can have devastating results on the battlefield. Now, imagine entire units and organizations with these skills. This is not a precision rifle shooting class; that needs to be understood first off. While several skill sets are transferrable they are two different animals. The point behind this class is to bring back the rifleman culture, a culture that over time has diminished somewhat.

What kind of gear do we see in this class? As I mentioned earlier, usually it is a standard issued M4; 14.5”bbl w/1:7 twist. In this class we saw a variety of different weapon systems and all performed reasonably well. Barrel lengths varied between 16” and 14.5” with a permanently attached flash hider. We had a few with a 1:8 twist rate, but everything else was 1:7. Again, this class is designed for a SI rifle so we don’t want to see any over accurized type rifle, the name of the game is to have an accurate rifle then make it as light as you can. We take these guns from 5 yards out to 500 yards and we expect them to be reliable, durable and accurate. So, what are we talking about regarding accurate. 4MOA is all I want to see out of a gun. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind seeing guns that are more accurate, but the trade off is in reliability and durability. Accuracy comes last in the grand plan for a duty/combat piece of gear. Here is the other point of contention I have, I don’t care if it is a 4MOA gun or 2MOA or even a sub-MOA gun, and the real question is what can you do with it? I’ve had folks come through complaining that their gun shoots to 2MOA accuracy. Fine, prove it! If you can’t shoot to the capabilities of the rifle then who cares, I’m not here to brag about what this or that can do. I’m all about performance. Show me and we will get along just fine.

That is where this class really comes into it’s own, the goal is to get everyone to shoot within 4MOA at 100, 200 and 300 yards. It is a lot harder than one my think and many folks struggled with this one component that is so important to any style of shooting; consistency.

Another piece to the gear puzzle was ammunition. We saw a lot of good stuff, from the 77gr OTM to a 64gr OTM round. Brands we saw in the class were Blackhills Ammunition Silver State Armory, Asym Ammunition, Hornady, Speer and a local brand that I didn’t catch. I was pretty happy with all the ammunition, but I wasn’t too happy with my own. I’m still sorting out some issues and will report back, but at a certain point you know what your rifle’s ability as well as your own and I wasn’t getting the performance I wanted. I switched over to another brand of 77gr OTM and groups were significantly tighter. I don’t have a good explanation, but I am going to dig deeper and find out what the deal is here. Reliability from all of the rounds was very good. The only problem we had was when a student had a problem with his rifle I loaned him mine and it seemed that certain magazines had a hard time feeding his ammunition. He had several malfunctions that I felt were more related to the magazines than ammunition or rifle. I think all the ammunition performed well, we saw some great groups from the BH and Speer, but the Asym printed the best group in the class, it was very impressive.

The last piece of this puzzle is the optic. I have complained for several years that there wasn’t a good solution for an optic that dominated at close range and mid range. I still feel that way, but I’m seeing some movement in the optics community. This point is recognized and many are trying to come up with their own solution. Most are far from a final product, but that is what we need to have the optics community continue to push the limits, listen to feedback and manufacture the very best optic they can.

My thoughts on a good optic for this class are the following. If you were choosing a fixed powered I would recommend a 4x and a variable powered 1-6x. Anything higher and the weight and field of view become problematic. I prefer a standard duplex crosshair with an illuminated reticule and I prefer the illumination to be controlled to deal with varying lighting conditions. I’m a big fan of a bullet drop compensator, but it has to be intuitive and easy to use, something we don’t often see. Generous eye relief and field of view are high on the list. I prefer ½ inch corrections, but ¼ are great, I try to avoid the 1/3 types as while they are designed to be somewhere in between I don’t feel like we get them dialed in as easily. I wouldn’t go larger than a 30mm tube and lastly the best scope is of little value if it is in a crappy mount. Once you find these attributes from a manufacture invest in the very best glass you can afford. You won’t be disappointed.

In this class we saw an Aimpoint 2MOA T1 with a 3x magnifier. This is a really good setup, but it does have limitations and the more I play with this configuration the more I feel like it is maxing out at 300 yards and 200 yards for the average shooter. I’m not saying you cannot hit at further distances, but the demand placed on the shooter is pretty high. We had one of the new Swarovski Z6i and this happen to be the model that I have been T&E’ing. Based off some dialogue with the manufactures I have high hopes for this optic and while it is too early to say for sure I like it for sure. The student gave me a list of what I would recommend and based off what he gave me it was easy to suggest this optic. Is it for everyone? Probably not, but it performed very well and as I get more comfortable with this optic I am anxious to see what it can do. We had a few ACOGs of various magnification and reticules and while I like the ACOG line there are too many reticules to choose from and most struggle trying to learn how to use it. I also don’t feel like they are a good close in optic, those that try to do a better job up close usually give something up at distance. We had a couple of 2-10x Nightforce optics and while I really like the brand, I don’t think this is a good option, the weight and reduced FOV just don’t give me that warm and fuzzy. One thing I hope to see more common from optic manufactures is keeping everything simple, prefer corrections and reticules to be on the same page so either Mil’s or MOA, my preference is for MOA, but that is debatable. When you combine the two it adds a lot to the plate.

There are two additional pieces of gear I like to talk about in this class and that is a bipod and sling. Slings are pretty easy, an adjustable sling does allow a shooter to sling up and create a bit more stability, but it usually comes at a price. I prefer being able to get into and out of a sling quickly so tightening the sling is one thing, but I prefer taking a wrap. It tends to be the fastest and when I have to jump to different positions where in one position the sling can be too tight taking a wrap off solves that problem. On the bipod topic, there are a lot, but the one I prefer is the GripPod. I like it because it doesn’t take up too much room/weight so compared to other bipods it generally comes in lighter. The ease of deployment really cannot be beat. It is not realistic to move or patrol with your bipod deployed aside from getting snagged on crap it just looks weird. You have to be able to deploy the bipod quickly in order for it to be really valuable in my opinion. That is pretty tough for traditional bipods that usually require one leg being deployed at a time then the height being adjusted.

We had several optics that hadn’t been properly zeroed so we took them to the 25-yard line to get them on paper, then we moved back to the 50-yard line for the RDS students to confirm zero. For the RDS students this class is a challenge, once they confirm their 200 yard zero, they should be good to achieve consistent hits out to 300 yards, but beyond that and it proves problematic. We got the 200-yard line dialed in eventually and I was pretty happy with the shot groups. We shot a skill’s assessment and it seemed that most folks did pretty well from the prone, but kneeling and standing were tough. Kneeling would prove to be the most challenging for everyone in the class and consistent throughout the classes we teach.

A little bit on kneeling, it is a very under rated positions and one that needs more attention. There are several forms of kneeling and for mid range work we teach what I call a Hunter’s Knee, which is something we see a lot of hunters using to take a long shot. It is a good position, but does require some flexibility. Once in it though it offers good stability for shots out to 200 yards and that is what we are looking for. As you descend to a prone position not only do you reduce your profile, but also you reduce your field of view and if you cannot see the bad guy hitting him will be a real magic trick.

We got our 100-yard and 200-yard zero confirmed and then we worked the various positions into the mix. I like using steel as it gives us more immediate feedback and keeps us on the line versus heading down to check targets, but there is still nothing quite like personally viewing your targets. We had a special student in the class, a veteran paralyzed in the war who shoots from a wheel chair and is a great shot. It was too difficult to load him and way to much to ask him to head down range so we came up with a plan of using technology. We used Skype technology so he could view his target in real time and it worked out great. There were a few glitches, but other than it was a huge hit and something that I will use in other classes as well.

A big part of this class is being consistent; I try to stress that to everyone. Consistency across the board, so not just your shooting, but your gun handling, positions and all around actions. We run our very excellent Modified Navy Qualification, but at distance so the ranges are 50 standing, 100 kneeling and 200 prone. Scoring is pretty much the same and par time is extended somewhat. This to me is the real MNQ and the one I wish we could do all the time, but alas we settle for the 50-yard version. It really challenges you, your technique and your equipment. We had a few good runs on TD1 and with some more practice I’m sure folks could have generated some even better scores. The other drill we use to help establish that consistency is a Battery Test, similar to the close range version only this one works the distance aspect to the drill. Very challenging and one I enjoy doing myself. We finished off the day with a Point Blank Familiarization, which basically has the student holding the same point of aim for all the distances and it gives them an idea of their bullet’s flight characteristics at the various ranges.

We started out TD2 and believe it or not we had to delay our start time for of all things, fog. Pretty funny to see something so innocuous as fog holds us up, but it did on TD2 as well. Other than that it was a beautiful for all three days. We confirmed zero at 100 yards then pushed right out to 200 yard for some more familiarization. Folks were still having difficulty figuring out how to use the various reticules we saw in class. I strongly encourage folks to bring the instruction manual. You need to know how to use the reticule, but you also need to know the value for corrections. Some had to guess and we were lucky, but it is really nice when we don’t have to guess.

One of the students had mistakenly mounted his optic partially on the upper receiver and partially on the fore-end. He could understand why he was having problems printing even from a nice rifle. The problem was the shift and torque placed on the optic caused some serious problems. We didn’t figure it out until mid morning so he would have to wait until the next day to re-zero. I was happy to loan him my rifle, which was equipped with the Swarovski Z6i optic and he had very good comments after using it for the day. The quality of the glass, the field of view and the reticule are all-amazing. We still had problems figuring out the exact holds for the stadia lines, but once we did we were good to go.

We took lunch at another CENTEX favorite eatery and yes, it was another BBQ joint. The afternoon would be spent pushing out to 400 and 500 yards. While definitely a logistical issue, it was well worth it. You really start to see the limitations of some equipment at these ranges. Plus, the student’s technique has to be finely honed and consistent to do well. We finished our day with a head to head competition, which was a lot of fun. I was surprised to see more folks not doing so well, but the major problem was in knowing your holds since you had to engage targets at various ranges. The student who borrowed my rifle ended up winning the competition and taking home an original prototype rifle case.

TD3 was really delayed by the fog, but we managed to still get our 100 yard zero in, but visibility was pretty challenging. Due to the weather and some other logistical concerns we opted to stay on the known distance range, but we had to cancel the unknown distance evolutions. Not a major tragedy, but with enough folks still having problems with their reticules it made it easier to go back to known distance and continue to hone our skills. We spent the rest of the morning working the 200 and 300 yard line on paper and steel.

The afternoon we had some more issues to deal with, but again no big drama. A few folks had to bail early on account of flights. It happens and we do the best we can to accommodate and we had one who’s asthma was really bad and had to take time to recover. We ended up starting the tests about an hour early and I was really happy with folks on the MNQ, some really good score and with some more runs through I really think folks would do much better. We setup for the final standards test and again we had several folks do well, a few who forgot their holds and even fewer who missed the target. I was very happy with the overall performance of the class, this is not an easy class. There are so many demands placed on you and your equipment. I’m looking forward to running another one of these classes in the fall for sure.

Some observations on the gear I used. I had shipped out my TRICON MK6 rifles in support of another class starting next week so I wanted them to be there with plenty of time. I ended up using one of my original TRICON rifles with approximately 14.6k rounds through it. It has been a great gun with some amazing groups over the years. It is hard to know when a rifle barrel is truly shot out, but if you pay attention and keep track of your rounds and shot groups you can start to see depreciation. Measure that depreciation and it is probably one of the best methods other than scoping your barrel, which is something not everyone can do. I was worried the rifle was getting shot out when I could print groups I was use to; add to the equation getting use to a new optic. I was using the Swarovski Z6i and while to early to say anything I am enjoying getting to know this new optic. This rifle was the one loaned to a student in the class and he preformed quite well.

While he was using this rifle I played with my other favorite toy, which is 6.8 SPC rifle. It is a 12.7” bbl LWRC M6A2-S equipped with a M4s and 3x magnifier. The setup is pretty awesome and I really have no complaints. This package does a very good job for 0-300 with the current optic without breaking a sweet. I’m still looking for the optic that will take it out to 500. The M4s even with the 3x makes for some pretty tough times out to 500 so will continue to experiment. I really don’t get a chance to shoot it as much, but that will change here shortly.

Overall, it was another great class in CENTEX. I’m looking forward to the fall class already, so start planning early, as I’m sure it will be a sold out affair.

 

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