I first met Dave Starrin when I took my CCW class at Gunsite about a year ago. The Operations manager at Gunsite was extremely patient with all my OCD questions over the phone in preparation for the class, and for a time afterwords. As I’m fairly local to Gunsite, I asked Dave about the possibility of some private instruction. He told me to come up to visit whenever our schedules allowed. So far, that’s been about an afternoon every other month…
Dave has watched (with amusement, I imagine) as I’ve gone from unarmed victim material to occasionally armed with the smallest possible caliber pocket gun (un-chambered of course), to armed with a full-sized service pistol (chambered and ready to rock and roll), to a reasonably competent pistolero.
Dave’s been an encouraging listener, never forcing me to go any certain way, or pick any certain caliber/platform/carry method. After a year or so, I’ve come to many of the same conclusions about pistols as Dave. I now carry a Glock 9mm all the time. I sort of took the long way around, experimenting before coming to that conclusion. I should have listened in the first place. Sometimes the destination is more important that the journey.
In the next step of my training as a competent armed civilian, I decided to learn how to use a rifle. Not the hole-punching Boy Scout target rifle of my youth. An honest-to-goodness combat rifle.
Before wading into purchasing anything, I met with Dave to try out a few different platforms and see what fits my needs. Like any good salesman, Dave organized our discussions into a series of questions.
First: with what weapon should a civilian be armed? Dave believes we should be competent with three classes of combat weapons: pistol, carbine and shotgun. They each have different roles. Drilling down, for someone looking for minimal training, minimal maintenance and functional equipment, Dave recommends Glock for pistols, the AK platform for carbines, and a Remington 870 for a shotgun.
Interestingly, Dave said that the shotgun is the most difficult of the three to master. He also believes it to be the most versatile of the three genres, offering both devastating close quarters combat lethality and deadly long[er] range accuracy (with slugs). Dave called the shotgun a “thinking man’s weapon.”
Dave consider the pistol the civilian’s “last choice” defensive weapon, deployed only when nothing else is available. The handgun advantage: small size and one-handed operation. If you’re expecting a fight, a weapon that allows four points of contact and hits harder is vastly superior. As a quick aside, Dave had quite a bit of submachine gun trigger time in his SWAT days; he can’t really see how they were superior to an M4 in most applications.
From there we talked a bit about ballistics. The .223 or 5.56 round has an ability to penetrate body armor to rapidly put down a bad guy at close range. What it does not have: a reliable ability to penetrate barriers. That’s a good thing in a home defense situation where you don’t want to shoot the neighbors or the kids in the next room. Dave pointed out that 9mm from a pistol delivers greater barrier penetration than 5.56X45. Something to consider.
The .30 caliber AK round penetrates better than .223 through cover such as vehicles, brush and the lot. That’s partly why Dave recommends it for something to have in the car, or to bring to bear in more wide open spaces.
For the day’s shooting at Gunsite, Dave brought a couple AK 47s, one with a folding stock, one without. Also on site at Gunsite: AR15 chambered in .223. I brought my dad’s 80’s era Mini-14 which had never, to my knowledge, been fired.
We talked about slings a bit. They’re good for when you need to keep your rifle with you for extended periods of time. They function much like a “holster” for the rifle. Dave does not use slings on his home or car rifle because they can easily get snagged on things just when you need the gun most.
We went over the basic functions of each rifle, then headed to the range.
The Mini-14 felt heavy to me. The lack of a pistol grip was an ergonomic distration. We practiced loading, unloading, then firing single shots, double taps, and multiple rounds at the target from seven yards. We were working on combat accuracy, not bullseye shooting. Essentially, as soon as the Ruger’s site was back on the target, I fired again. I didn’t particularly like the trigger, and the small peep site was slow to acquire.
Functionally, the Mini acts a lot like the AK. It loads and charges very similarly. The Mini ended up being my least favorite rifle of the bunch.
Next we moved to the AR. This weapon system was as foreign to me as Burmese Mohinga. Soooo many doo-dads, and so very cool how it comes apart. The AR felt the best in my hands and in the firing position—by far. All the weapon’s controls (and there are a lot of them) are within easy reach. Mag swaps are very quick and easy. We worked from single firing to bursts of five to six shots. The main difficulty: adjusting my firing stance to allow me to control the recoil and get sights on target again.
By the end, I was keeping decent little groups, pulling the trigger as fast as I could. Getting forward pushing my shoulder into the gun and twisting my elbows in toward the centerline while squaring up to the target worked best. Sight acquisition was rapid. The trigger reset was amazingly positive. I definitely need work, but it was fun learning.
I liked the AR. But if I got one of these rifles, I would have to spend a lot of quality time working with it dry. I was constantly getting confused with the various controls. I’d go for the bolt release when I wanted the mag release. I’d forget to lock the bolt back, or put the charging handle back, or forget the safety. The gun has great capability and great ergonomics, but demands more training than this Glock-shooting caveman usually puts into weapon handling.
The AK looked like total pieces of crap compared to the AR. Ugly. Crude. We took one apart, and the spring and various guts made me wonder if someone bent a bunch of coat hangers to fabricate the parts. Functionally, the AK was easy to use. The magazine rocks into a latch under the receiver. There is a simple safety – flip up, flip down. There is a charging handle. There is a trigger. Hmmmm… caveman like.
The AK did not feel as good up against my shoulder as the AR, but it didn’t seem to matter. I put my best grouping of the day onto the target. Even though it was difficult to get a decent cheek weld on either the folder or regular wood stock, sight acquisition was rapid. That didn’t matter much for such close up work, though. I felt the 7.62 round didn’t kick much worse than the .223. I had no difficulty keeping it on the bad guy. And the AK actually had the best trigger pull of all the guns, although the reset was distinctly not great.
At the end of the day, I’m not sure which rifle I preferred. The AR certainly appeals to my inner nerd. I would really enjoy mastering it. In the end, though, it seems too much like a 1911 with all the switches and doo-dads. I’m a keep-things-simple kind of guy. I expect I will end up with an AK.
Dave and I then did a little long range pistol work with my Glock 17 and TSD upper. The upper has an RMR which makes sighting in long range shots stupid-simple if you have the gun and trigger control. We started at 50 yds and were about 75% hitting a steel 4ft x 1ft target. Dave’s obviously much better than I am. We backed out to 75 yds and hit a little over 50% of the time (using cheap Wolf Ammo BTW), then moved out to to 100yds.
My first two shots were hits. I just cracked up laughing. There’s something very satisfying about pulling the trigger, hearing a bang, then just under a second later hearing a ping on steel. I then, naturally, proceeded to miss a bunch. All told, we were 50-75% hitting the target at those ranges with the misses mostly by inches on either side. It was a fun way to end the day.
As we got back to the trucks, Dave and I had a bit of a discussion on knife attacks (as one does) and how they’re nearly impossibly to defend from close range. He even got the rubber knife out for a quick demo.
Knives are deadly-effective weapons that work best deployed from ambush. You will most likely never see the blade coming. And even if you do, it’s unlikely you can stop it with your gun. If you are pointing your pistol at an assailant with a knife and they aren’t dropping it or retreating, you should not hesitate to shoot.
Nor should you, an armed civilian, hesitate to explore all the major weapons systems. If you’re comfortable with one, it’s time to move on and master the next. Not to coin a phrase, but nothing’s as dangerous as a gun—when it’s the only one you have.