Sunday, April 16, 2017

Guns: Rangemaster Combative Pistol - class review and report

I'll let you guys in on a dirty little secret - years ago, when I was 21 and applying for my first concealed weapons permit, I didn't actually take a formal CCW class. You see, Florida allows you to satisfy the firearms training requirement with a free hunter safety course, and at the time, I was a poor college student, so I went for the cheap route instead of the proper route.

I mention this mostly because Rangemaster Combative Pistol, taught by instructor Tom Givens, is the type of course that I wish I had taken back then. It's two days (16 full hours) of classroom lecture and range work detailing the why and how of the defensive use of the handgun. If you're interested, here's a report on what we covered - it's by no means a complete breakdown, both out of respect for Tom and because I encourage you to get it straight from the horse's mouth.

Day 1

The Combative Mindset

Tom starts by giving us his background in law enforcement, competition, and (most importantly) in studying and instructing defensive shooting by LEOs and average citizens. After an extensive safety brief using the Four Rules, he talks about the combative mindset by using real-life examples (a disturbing 911 call during a home invasion, an infamous traffic stop, and the tale of a watch store owner who succeeded against countless violent criminals). 

The main takeaways? "Why" you are being attacked is irrelevant - you need to refuse to be a victim, fight for your life, and concentrate on "how" to stop the a--hole. Based on average 911 response times (and even the response time of police coming to the aid of fellow officers under fire), you are going to have to solve the problem yourself.

Defensive Shooting Technique

We move onto the "how." Tom stresses marksmanship because each miss (which includes shots that do not hit the upper chest or soft tissues of the head) wastes precious time - possibly the rest of your life. Also, every bullet launched will go somewhere, so it is completely irresponsible to shoot without knowing where the muzzle is pointed, either by using "the bumpy things on the gun" (the sights) or by actually seeing the top of the muzzle (when shooting from retention).

We discuss the grip (cover the back of the frame with as much meat as possible, and thumbs up), stance (forearm in line with the gun, elbows extended but not locked, keep your nose over your toes), and sight picture (as long as you can look at the front sight through the rear somewhere, the sight picture is usually good enough). The most emphasis is on trigger press and control - even with everything else correct, if you yank the trigger, you can miss a man entirely from 5 yards away.

Draw from Concealment and Basic Marksmanship

Because of the structure of OK Corral, our host range, we do all the classroom work for Day 1 in a long morning block, break for lunch, then head to the range. Tom covers the four-count drawstroke strictly from concealment, with two main techniques depending on the cover garment - punching and raking with the offhand fingers, and ripping up the garment with both hands.

We do some basic shooting at about 3 yards - conversational distance, the most common range for civilian violent encounters. There are a variety of skill levels on the line, and most people (myself included) tend to miss low left, due to jerking the trigger.

We do get in some practice from longer ranges, including 10 and 15 yards. These types of shots are rare, but they do happen, typically when you need to protect someone else from a deadly threat.

We practice one-hand shooting, "changing gears" (speeding up and slowing down for closer/larger and further/smaller targets), and finish off with a baseline test to measure CCW proficiency - draw from concealment and deliver 3 shots, at 3 yards, in 3 seconds. Everyone passes, eventually, and the range day ends.

Day 2

The Violent Criminal and the 1986 FBI Shootout

We start off again in the classroom. Tom breaks down the number and types of violent criminals in the U.S., along with an analysis of their lifestyle and mindset. There are rare, hardcore attackers - either sociopaths, or experienced criminals who have engaged in so many gunfights that they are not thrown off by getting shot.

Tom then delivers the most detailed breakdown I have ever seen of the 1986 FBI shooting in Miami. There were too many good points to even write down, but here's a few:

(1) Pistols require surgical hits on the right anatomy [a .38+P failed to penetrate the cheekbones of one of the bad guys];
(2) Even one good hit may not be enough [a 9mm JHP hit the bad guy in a vital area, but did not quite penetrate enough to stop him];
(3) Wear your gear [several FBI agents had shotguns that never got used];
(4) Practice single-handed shooting [5 of the people in the fight were hit in the hand or arm].

We break again for lunch, which was graciously provided by Todd Hunter of United Tactical Federation.

Then it was off to the range. Day 2 was a scorcher - big thanks to Girls Got Guns for providing helpful care packages of sunscreen:

Gunhandling at Speed

Tom gives us some formal instruction on reloading. He advises us to forget about the "tactical reload" (a/k/a reload with retention), which has no relevance in a non-military world - we should only reload when the gun is empty, or proactively by dumping the partial mag and getting a full one in as quickly as possible. Speedloads should be done either right after getting to a point of safety, or right before the gun goes into a holster. As for empty loads, Tom recommends the slingshot technique, since slide releases are inconsistent from gun to gun, and may not overcome the inertia of the top round in a full mag.

We shoot a quasi-qualification drill to measure our progress. I fumble two reloads pretty badly, but otherwise do okay.

We have a bit of fun at the dueling tree, pitting evenly matched shooters (as sorted by qualification score) against each other. I get absolutely smoked by the other guy, who is so fast he hits his three targets before I can hit one.

We finish off with discretionary command drills, the casino drill (21 rounds, including 2 reloads, at 6 separate targets at 21 feet, in 21 seconds or less), and malfunction clearances.

Tom demonstrates how easy it is to make a GLOCK malfunction, and the usual tap-rack-bang methods for clearing such malfunctions. One refinement on the standard advice - when you rack the slide, spin the gun so that the ejection port is pointing down.


It's not very often you get to train your fundamental pistol skills with an instructor as good as Tom. I could look up and down the line and see how the students improved, in two days, under his tutelage, and I could see my own scores on the casino drill get better and better (I did manage to shoot one clean run, at the very end of the class - hooray!). If you are thinking of carrying a handgun for self-defense, you would be well-served to take Combative Pistol.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Music: Something to Believe In

One thing the smartphone era has taken away from us is the bliss of waiting in line. Before you had the ability to check your email while waiting for something else to happen, you used to just stand there, noticing everything around you.

I try to avoid looking at my phone whenever possible, and that's how I heard "Something to Believe In," a mellow Cali soft rock gem from Trevor Beld Jimenez's now-discontinued musical project, Tall Tales and the Silver Lining. Maybe you'll hear it, too, the next time you're waiting in line at a Walgreens for your passport photos:

Friday, April 07, 2017

Tech: Uncharted 4 review

This past Christmas, my friend Ben got me "Uncharted 4: A Thief's End," the final chapter of the "Uncharted" series, and easily the biggest PS4 release of 2016:

The game follows treasure hunter Nathan Drake, who is dragged out of early retirement by the sudden appearance of his long-lost brother Sam (a retconned, never-before-mentioned character). It turns out that Sam is under the thumb of a dangerous drug lord, and he needs Nate's help to do (wait for it...) one last job: retrieve a legendary pirate treasure.

Okay, so the story in "Uncharted 4" isn't particularly original, but the execution is flawless. Developer Naughty Dog has truly mastered the cinematic action adventure genre. The set pieces are not only some of the best I've seen in a game, they're some of the best I've ever seen period. Take this harrowing motorcycle chase through a Madagascar town - I dare say it's as good as the famous desert chase from "Raiders of the Lost Ark":

Gameplay-wise, this is mostly the same "Uncharted" stuff you've played several times before: platform, puzzle, or climbing sequences punctuated by pitched gunfights with fairly intelligent enemies. The formula certainly overstays its welcome in the last third of the game, but the emotionally cathartic ending makes up for it (you'll be misty-eyed if you've been following Nathan's adventures in the earlier games). When the credits finally roll, you'll have experienced a 15-hour adventure packed with the best graphics, sound, and voice-acting this side of Hollywood.

Rating: 92/100