Simple, Real & Difficult
This year was my fourth year in attendance at the National Patrol Rifle Conference (NPRC). Held this year outside Detroit, the event is hosted by longtime law officer Jeff Felts and the staff of Center Mass Inc. A shooting event was followed by the training conference, and, I’m proud to report, Illinois was well represented among the more than 120 officers from across the nation.
In the competition, all officers shot the same five courses of fire and were allowed to shoot in sight-classified divisions. In years past, I, along with a few others, had requested the segregation of sight categories, and Felts and his staff put a lot of effort into meeting our request. Scores this year were set up in categories for magnified optics, non-magnified red-dot-type optics and iron sights. Knowing the sights used by the shooter provided hard information on the difference in shooter capability with iron, non-magnified red dot and magnified scopes. With a group of serious shooters, this provided a great laboratory.
Following are my notes from the event.
The results showed the significant advantage of magnified optics. The best score in iron sights was in the 600-point range. With a non-magnified red dot, the best score was 1,030, and for magnified optics, the best was 1,800 points! The ability to visualize your target faster and with greater clarity is a huge advantage.
The bottom line: Optics don’t make an officer a better shooter if their marksmanship skills are lacking; optics allow a good shooter to see faster and better and, therefore, to shoot faster and at a more clearly defined threat/target.
There are many good choices in optics. I have long used an Eotech with a LaRue Tactical “PoBoy Special” magnifier. Mark LaRue makes the best mounts I’ve used. His pivot mount allows the magnifier to be instantly pivoted out of the line of sight if you want your red dot only for close-quarter battles. The Aimpoint optics series and its excellent magnifier is also great gear. The Trijicon scopes are high end, and many other optics are available at a wide range of prices.
Note : All scopes should be backed up by iron sights. Mandate this for all patrol rifles, departmentally or individually owned. Iron sights should be visible with the scope mounted, or you must be able to quickly remove it.
During the past two years, I decided to test the low-end price range of gear to see if it could make the grade. The results are encouraging.
I’m using a $200 Millet DMS 1-x-4 illuminated reticle scope on loan from master gunsmith Ned Christiansen. (I should have bought my own, but this way I can ask Ned to work on my gear and hold the scope ransom.) I wanted to use something any street officer can afford. I’ve tested this unit for two years, and it is solidly mounted on a LaRue Tactical SPR-e, quick-release mount. In the Gig Pit event, which I’ll describe in greater detail, below, I took the 50-yard, partially exposed head shots, and the combination worked out very well.
I also used a Spec Ops Patrol Rifle Sling that I’ve been testing/carrying on the street. In the “Officer Down” competition stage, in which I could use only my support-side arm and shoulder to load and fire (no support of any kind allowed from barricade), I used my sling and, along with teammate Sgt. Rob Donaldson, tied for the high score on that stage for magnified optics. This sling design is adjustable and has a bungee component that affords some isometric tension, and it allows me to use both shoulders without unslinging—a big advantage.
During the conference, I was honored to meet and hear John Giduck, author of Terror at Beslan speak. He has many powerful lessons in his presentation that all Americans need to hear, but most of all, all police officers.
Other excellent presentations hit on the key reasons we were there: skill, mindset and planning. The vendors displayed the newest gear and had a lot of information.
My longtime friend Officer Brian Sain (ret.), Port Arthur (Texas) Police Department, was on hand representing Black Hills ammo and says the company is maxed out on ammo orders, as are the other ammo and AR rifle manufacturers. Black Hills is the top tier of ammo producers, and when I have access to it, I use its ammo. Its 68-grain, match-molly coat .223 is the best load I’ve found in my full-size match AR. Owner Jeff Hoffman and Co. know their stuff.
Smith & Wesson was there. It has a .22 LR AR trainer coming soon as a complete rifle for less than $400, featuring a polymer lower receiver. Smith & Wesson has really got its product line and service back to the best-of-the-best level.
With price and availability of .223/5.56 ammo as it is, a suitable, dedicated .22 LR version will greatly expand training opportunities for patrol and SWAT officers using pistol caliber ammo ranges.
Lesson Learned … & Relearned
Fast is good, but accuracy matters: Proceeding faster than one can accurately engage a threat is bad. This cost me big in an event in which I had done well in past years. I finished far too fast and stood there watching other shooters beat me for accuracy. In the competition, all we lose are points. But on the street, the results can be far different.
We can’t make up for misses or marginal hits: A single round accurately placed on your target is the answer. We may have the opportunity to see the threat only for a moment, as I experienced in the Active Shooter stage using the CAPS live-fire simulator. I’ll defer to Henk Iverson. In every training session we do with Henk, he reinforces that there is only one round to use in a fight. In reality, there may be more, but if we believe that the one round is the only round, we’ll deliver the first time, in time.
The Simulation Active Shooter event involved the CAPS simulator with three 20-second scenarios. Only one round was fired in each. The offender was visible for a brief time, and cranial vault head shots were max points. In the third, I couldn’t get a shot away: I couldn’t see the offender, and there were numerous students running near him—a bit of reality. Any missed shot was a big penalty, and far more so in real action. As mentor John Farnam teaches, the fight is not what you say it is; it’s what the offenders make it and does not look the way we choose. It is what it is; it is “come as you are,” and we have to deal with it.
Fitness is key to fighting capability: Too big to go prone, too stiff to kneel—out of shape doesn’t mean you can’t shoot, but it may mean that you can’t get to the fight or stay in it long. I worked to prepare for this. Thanks to SWAT Officer Lou Hayes and his Crossfit consultation, I finished strong, and, as one of the most senior shooters, I ran with the younger ones. There are no age divisions, because there are none in the fight on the street.
I’ve been at this for many years, and at times I’ve allowed my conditioning to fall off. But Lou’s mentoring, along with friend T.J. Cooper, a Jacksonville (Fla.) Sheriff, put me back on the path. I need a goal to work toward, and the NPRC provides that for me, just as the Second Chance Shoot did for many years before. Tip: Find your path, and ensure that what you do prepares you for the burst-energy needs of a police officer.
I was concerned about the Gig Pit and whether I could complete the demanding course and get my rounds away. I was the last shooter, and the range master told me to make the run or they were closing the section. I sucked it up, deciding I’d rather be carried off the field than not do it.
So what exactly is the Gig Pit? Start with all your gear and drag a 100-plus-lb. railroad tie for 25 yards, run a 50-yard field course through a water-filled trench, get hosed down with water as you drop and crawl through a 15-yard-long sand pit with a 20-inch-high clearance of rope webbing, get out and run the course to a 4-foot wall, jump the wall, run 25 yards to the firing line. Go prone; fire two 15-round mags with a dummy in each at a target with either head or body scores in three minutes. Subtract time to last round from total score. Last year required prone, kneeling/sitting, and I finished fourth with 104 points. This year was prone only, and my score was 437 points—good for first place, proving again that lower and more stable is a huge assist to accuracy.
Have a plan: Going into each stage, I considered the tactical demands and prepared mentally for my actions. Running into a stage without thinking is the same as running into a fight on the street without a plan. If we run only on adrenaline, we will fail. The fight goes to the prepared, thinking fighter.
Face reality: As Iverson says, you must beware of what you practice; you may get very good at something that will get you killed. It’s about relevance and reality. The NPRC delivers fully on that which is applicable to street survival and success. The foundation that Jeff Felts and his NPRC advisory board address is to keep it simple, real and difficult.
Further resources for optimized fitness, tactics & gear:
Positive motivation is fundamental to success in all aspects of life. At the NPRC, every officer wants to win and be recognized by our peers as a skilled professional. We want to be appreciated for our proficiency in arms and understanding of the fight. This is what drives our warrior heart and spirit and makes us the best protectors of the public and our fellow officers. The NPRC isn’t for everyone, but for those officers who will set aside their ego and open their mind to new thinking and ideas, there’s unlimited room and opportunity for learning.
Congratulations to 2009 NPRC winner Deputy Jeff Cardinal of the Oakland County (Mich.) Sheriff’s Department. To view the scores and course descriptions, visit