I first got a night vision optic several years ago. I played around with it, even took it out to the desert and shot with it once. It was readily apparent that if I wanted this to be more than an interesting toy I’d need some professional instruction on how to use night vision effectively. Ever since I’ve been asking (ok, badgering) instructors I know who have experience with NVG to teach a night vision focused class, to no avail. And I can understand why. Teaching a class where the price of entry is a piece of $3000 hardware is a tough sell.
I have spotted a few other folks teaching classes like this, but they’ve always seemed to be on dates where I had a conflict, or I don’t find out about the class until it was too late. Earlier this year, however, I found a Night Vision Operator class being taught by Eric Dorenbush of Green Eyes Tactical down in the Dallas area and I jumped on it. Eric is a former Delta operator and he’s got plenty of experience operating under night vision gear.
Usually when I talk about gear for gun classes, I start out with my primary firearm, but in this case, it’s the NV optic that’s more important. Mine is a PVS-14 monocular made by ITT (who make a very similar model of the military). It's a third generation night vision optic, so it performs well in situations with very little light (not quite as well as you see in video games, but pretty good).
One thing my brief experience playing around with this optic made clear to me is that you really need a night vision optic mounted to your head, rather than your rifle. With the NVG on your rifle, your situational awareness goes completely to hell.
The standard solution to this is to mount your NVG to a helmet, either a ballistic helmet (one that provides protection against small arms fire and fragments) or a bump helmet. The other standard solution is a head harness colloquially known as a “skull squeezer”. They’re every bit as uncomfortable as that name implies. I started out with a bump helmet, and while it worked well enough, it was bulky and hard to pack.
In Eric Pfleger’s Pathfinder, Reece and Mantracking course I saw one of the other students using a Crye Nightcap. This is essentially a thin, mesh cap with webbing threaded through it and a chin strap. It mounts the night vision optic, yet it’s small enough to roll up and fit in a pocket. I picked one up and, after playing with it a bit, it’s completely displaced my bump helmet as my standard way of mounting my NVG.
The next piece of the mounting solution is the mount itself. This attaches to a shroud on your helmet (or Nightcap in my case) and holds the NVG out in front of your face. It also allows you to pivot the NVG out of the way when you’re not using it. I started out with the rhino arm mount that was standard in the military at the time (so called because when it’s flipped up without an NVG on it, it looks like a rhino horn). Frankly, I didn’t find it very good, so I replaced it with the Norotos INVG Mount. I chose this mount for a specific reason: I’m 6’5”, a standard interior door is 6’8”, so if I flip NVG up on a standard mount it would be very easy for me to scrape them off on a doorframe. In addition to being able to be flipped up, the INVG mount also rotates on its axis (placing a night vision monocular like mine in front of the left side of my forehead). This allows me to get the NVG clear of my eyes while keeping it lower than the top of my head.
Finally, you have to attach the NVG to the mount. There are two standards for this, the bayonet mount that comes with the PVS-14 and the dovetail mount that’s standard for the PVS-15. For the PVS-14 this part also serves to get the monocular in front of one eye or the other. I started out with the standard bayonet mount and j-arm that come with the PVS-14, but I read that the dovetail tends to be a bit tighter and more robust. When I got the INVG mount I also picked up a Norotos dual dovetail adapter which allows you to use the dovetail type mount on the PVS-14.
With the NVG mounted to your head, you need some way to aim your rifle. Some high speed units are using night vision compatible red dot sights and looking directly through the rifle optic using their night vision, but that’s not really an option with a magnified optic like the one on my rifle. The other, much more widely used solution is to mount an infrared laser (visible through night vision goggles but not the naked eye) on the rifle. You also want some sort of infrared light source for situations where there’s not enough ambient light for your NVG to function just based on the light in the environment. Sometimes these are separate devices, but often they’re integrated into a single Multi-Function Aiming Laser (MFAL).
My original solution was a Steiner OTAL IR laser and a Surefire M300V IR flashlight. This setup had a couple of disadvantages: First off, the OTAL only has an IR laser. This means when you want to zero it, you have to do it using night vision goggles because the IR laser is invisible to the naked eye. Second, can be difficult to coordinate the two different devices, especially if you want to run them off of momentary pressure switches rather than just locking them on (and giving your position away to anyone with an NVG. Finally, the relatively low power civilian version of the OTAL can be overwhelmed by the bright core of the Surefire’s IR light at close range, making it difficult to pick out your exact aiming point.
As long as my night vision gear was just something to play around with, these problems weren’t too serious, but when I signed up for this class, I decided to get something better. My original plan was to get one of the ATIPAL or DBAL IR laser/Illuminati’s devices (basically a civilian version of what the military uses). However, I saw some folks I know and trust who have lots of experience working under NVGs raving about the BE Meyers MAWL. I did some research, and I came away impressed by the MAWL’s design and the way it seemed like a well thought-out piece of hardware. It costs about twice what the other solutions do (almost as much as my PVS-14), but they assured me it really was worth it. I went ahead and got one.
It’s important to have a good white light on your rifle when running NVG, so that if the situation dictates you can switch rapidly to using visible light. I got a Surefire M600 Scout Light. In order to avoid too much shadowing from the suppressor, I wanted to mount it as far forward as possible. I ran across the Unity Tactical Monkey Bar, which replaces the small part on a Magpul MBUIS Pro front sight that clamps to the picatinny rail with one that has a mount for Surefire Scout lights. It cantilevers the scout light out forward of your rail system (the tailcap is about even with the sight). The MAWL has buttons on the device itself for activating the laser/illuminator. With the MAWL mounted just behind the front sight these buttons work well when standing, but in some of the other shooting positions I found them difficult to reach, even with my long arms. The solution is a remote pressure switch to activate the MAWL. Similarly, with the Surefire M600 mounted as far forward as I had it, it was difficult to reach the tailcap switch in anything but a standing position.
I wanted any pressure switches to be on top of my forend, where they’d be accessible from both sides. There was only a limited amount of top rail available before running in to my scope, not enough to mount two pressure switches. Fortunately, Surefire makes a dual pressure switch that can plug into both a Surefire light and an IR laser/illuminator (as long as it uses the Steiner type remote switches). Unfortunately, the Surefire switch puts the pressure pad for the laser at the front end (the end with the cables coming out) and the pressure pad for the light at the back. Since the point here was to make the pressure switch for the MAWL a shorter reach I wanted it to be the one at the back. I ended up having to track down the out of production version of the Surefire dual pressure switch with 9” cables (versus the 7” cables on the standard model). The longer cables allowed me to mount the switch “backward” so the pressure pad for the light was at the front and the one for the MAWL was at the rear.
One thing I found playing around with this gear is that standing there with your thumb on a pressure pad for a long time can be a real pain. The MAWL allows you to double tap the switch to change it for constant on for three minutes. For the Surefire, I got a tailcap that has both a pushbutton and a socket for the pressure switch, so I can click the button if I need to lock the white light on.
All this kit is mounted on a 14.5” AR that I put together. Despite being a frankengun, I’ve run it through several local classes in Wichita; it’s been satisfactory so far. It’s got a Leupold Mark 6 1-6x scope on it, which I really like. I find it works a lot better for me than a red dot at intermediate distances.
I also brought a backup rifle, my suppressed SBR with the handguard extending over the suppressor. It’s got my original OTAL/Surefire M300V setup on it. I also recently added a Surefire M600 light with an Arisaka tailcap. The Arisaka tailcap essentially converts the clicky tailcap of the scout light to a simple, “push for on, let go for off” switch like the old Surefire 6P/G2 series lights. As with the 6P, you can also twist the tailcap for constant on.
My primary support gear for this class is an AWS Light Assaulter belt with Tyr Tactical Happy Mag pouches, a Chinook Medical IFAK, and EMDOM dump pouch. I wore my Overlord gloves for the class. While I generally try to train both with and without gloves, I decided that for this course if I could master all the switch manipulation with gloves on, doing it without gloves would be relatively easy.
The class was pretty evenly split between single tube monocular and dual tube binocular night vision setups. The other students in the class had ARs of various descriptions, with the exception of one guy who brought a SCAR. Most students had IR lasers/illuminators. There were a couple of DBALs, a pair of ATIPALs, and one MAWL. One guy had an OTAL and one of the Surefire 950V Series IR lights. One fellow did not have an IR laser, though he did have a visible one.
I left mid-afternoon on Friday and got to Weatherford, Texas (west of Dallas) about 9pm. I deliberately stayed up till about 11:30 (past my usual bedtime) to help accommodate me to the 3pm-midnight schedule of the class.
Saturday (and Sunday morning)
Unlike most classes when I’m usually getting up early so I can head out the door in order to get to the range on time, I was able to have a leisurely breakfast, work on the Gear section of this writeup, run to Walmart for supplies and even have a nice lunch before heading out to the range.
Eric had invited folks in the class to come out before the 3pm start time if we wanted to work on our zeroes. I’m never one to turn down that sort of opportunity, so I got out there about 2pm.
Rather than using a standardized zero (25/200, or 50/300) which probably doesn’t match the ballistic performance of your rifle and round, Eric is a big proponent of developing a developing a custom zero based on a maximum ordinate (how far the bullet will rise above the line of the sights at the highest point). He’s a fan of a 3” maximum ordinate. This means that you essentially don’t have to worry about holdover or holdunder, even on a head shot, until you get to a point where the bullet has dropped 3” below the line of sight (on my rifle, for instance, this is about 265 yards).
To do a customized zero like this, you need good velocity data. Eric has a LabRadar chronograph which he let the students use to gather velocity data. I did this for both my practice ammo and the ammo I use for serious purposes (Barnes 70gr Triple Shock bullets loaded by ASYM). Most of the folks had gotten their velocity data by the official start time of 3pm.
Once our last student showed up, we got going, beginning with the usual waivers. Eric expressed a desire not to see certain info about tactics posted online, so there’s some stuff I’ll refrain from posting.
He handed out a three-ring binder to each student with a lot of interesting info in it, ranging from basic stuff like shooting fundamentals and malfunction clearance, up to advanced topics like CQB (Eric also teaches a couple of CQB classes that I’d like to come back and take).
For the safety brief, he went through the usual four rules in a fairly standard way, but then he doubled back to “don’t point your gun at anything you don’t want to destroy.” He pointed out that when you’re running weapon mounted lights (or IR illuminators) strictly adhering to this rule is pretty much impossible. You need to illuminate the target to diagnose whether or not it’s a threat and to do that you need to point in. The way to do this safely is with very strict adherence to proper trigger finger control. Moving the finger to the trigger needs to be the product of a conscious thought process, not part of the mechanical process of drawing the pistol or shouldering the rifle.
Going beyond the standard four rules, Eric emphasized ensuring that the rifle remains on safe when you have it slung. Especially in a night class like this, it’s easy for safeties to get knocked off by gear and you not to notice due to darkness. He advocated keeping your hand on the pistol grip with the thumb resting on the safety whenever possible.
Eric noted that anyone in the class could yell “stop” or “cease fire” if they saw an unsafe condition. If someone yells this, the only thing you’re allowed to do is take your finger off the trigger. Don’t take another step, or turn and look. Just freeze and straighten that trigger finger.
He briefly went over the procedure in the event of a serious injury. Half the class raised their hands when asked if they had trauma training (one of them a navy corpsman).
Before we started shooting, Eric went through his preferred method for clearing the rifle. Given the subject of the class, he mentioned that he tries to gear all of his weapon manipulation towards techniques that can be done at night. Doing these things at night is more complex, due to low visibility, and we tend to train a lot less at night. So if you have a daytime way and a night way to do something, that means you’re not practicing the more complex and difficult version of this task nearly as much.
Eric described clearing the weapon as a three-point safety check: check the chamber, check the source of feed (the magazine in this case), and check the bolt face. He emphasized that while you’re primarily inspecting to make sure there’s no ammo in the gun, this is also an opportunity to inspect the weapon’s condition (debris in the chamber, damage, etc.). He’s also a big advocate of chamber flags when we’re not actively loaded up, just to communicate that to anyone else that the weapon is, in fact, unloaded.
He fired up the Applied Ballistics app on a laptop and used everyone’s chronograph data to generate a custom zero. The one obstacle we encountered for some folks is that ballistic coefficients for cheap training ammo can be hard to find. Sometimes he had to make some assumptions about what sort of bullet the ammo manufacturer was using.
With that, we got to zeroing. Everyone dragged a target stand out to the distance that was indicated on their custom zero and shot some groups on simple bullseye targets. One interesting suggestion Eric had was using different colored sharpies to mark your bullet holes, so you can easily see how your hits have moved in response to adjustments (or just firing more rounds without making adjustments).
After everyone got on target, we moved individually over to a nearby range with steel of various sizes at hundred hard increments starting at 2-300 yards. In the fading light, I had some trouble spotting bullet splash from misses, so I moved over onto some of the largest targets (torso sized rather than smaller gongs). I was able to go out to 500 using the drop chart in the ABMobile app.
With too little light to do any more daylight shooting, we broke for chow. Eric did a lecture on night vision, starting off talking about the biology of the human eye, then moving through the history of night vision devices. He talked about the technology involved with night vision image intensifiers, and what some of the specs mean.
He went through various head mounting options, including the helmets and the Crye Nightcap. Eric isn’t a fan of bump helmets. He doesn’t think the cheap plastic ones are solid enough, and the expensive carbon fiber ones are getting into the same ballpark as ballistic helmets in terms of price. You might as well go with something that offers ballistic protection. He’s a fan of counterweights (you should be able to balance a helmet with the NVG mounted on one finger), but he’d much rather have them be some sort of useful weight, like batteries, rather than the lead ones that some companies sell.
Moving on to sighting systems, Eric is a real fan of using an NV compatible red dot mounted on a tall riser and looking through the optic itself with your NVGs. He likes lasers more for designating targets and signaling than as aiming devices (and also because most good IR illuminators have lasers on them anyway). His preferred method of zeroing an IR laser is to look through your optic with your NVGs while sighting in on a distant object and align the laser dot with the sight. This is relatively simple with an NV compatible red dot, harder with a low power variable scope like mine.
After zeroing our IR lasers using the “align with the optic” method, we moved over to the range with the steel and walked out towards the nearest 12” plate. We started off doing some shooting at 200 yards. The full moon was very bright, so I had some trouble with the plate blending in to the berm. The fact that too much light could be just as much of a problem with NVG as not enough would be a running theme throughout the class.
I was not the only one having issues, so Eric moved us up to about 100 yards, where it was considerably easier to get hits. We pulled back to 150 and did some more shooting. I had some trouble here, but through his NVGs Eric noticed some dust kicked up through my rounds up near the top of the little berm behind the target. He told me to hold about one target height low, which got me some good hits. Clearly, my efforts to zero the IR laser while looking through the optic had been less than precise.
We moved back to 200 again, but with my laser misalignment, I wasn’t able to get any hits. I walked over to a nearby shooting position with some larger torso targets and cranked a correction on to my laser (really more of a wild-ass guess). I was able to get hits at 200, so I decided this was good enough for now.
I had a chance to handle Eric’s rifle with the EoTech up on the riser that you could look through using the NVG. It’s a pretty interesting setup when operating under NVG. I don’t know that I’m ready to give up my low power variable (with my bad eyes it works so much better at distance than a red dot).
Our next drill would be at a different part of the range that required us to drive over. Since we all had NVGs, Eric talked a bit about driving using night vision, covering issues with exterior light sources (especially brake lights) and interior sources like lights on the dash. Those of us who wanted to give it a try could drive over using NVG. After I packed up, I started my car and quickly realized that the only setting that turned off all exterior lights (both the headlights and the parking lights) also turned the dash lights up to maximum brightness for some reason. I ended up throwing a coat over the instrument cluster to get the interior of the car dim enough to see through my NVG. The drive was pretty short, but at least at low speed driving with NVG is doable. Brake lights from the vehicle in front were a real pain if you were anywhere close though. If you want to do this in convoy some way of disabling or covering over the brake lights is definitely necessary.
From our new location, we walked cross country for a ways down into a creek bottom. This provided a backstop for a small course of fire. Eric walked us through the area for familiarization, then put up some targets out of view. Each shooter walked down the side of the creek individually and had to spot and engage the targets using NVG. He used IPSC targets with the brown side as threats and the white side as no-shoots.
Spotting the targets was a bit of a challenge. I did pretty well, though I went last, so I had the advantage of knowing that it had been an issue for previous students. It was pretty hard to distinguish the no-shoots from the threats under the monochromatic green of my NVG. Eric noted that when I ran into areas where poor footing or vegetation was an issue, it tended to disrupt my scan and suggested that when I encountered areas like this, I ought to make an extra effort to scan before moving on. He also emphasized pushing your awareness and scan out to greater distances so you could pick things up earlier. After shooting the course of fire, he had us take a look behind us as we walked back to the beginning and see how much earlier we could have seen each target.
We hiked back up to the vehicles. Since one student had encountered a malfunction during the drill down in the creek, Eric took the opportunity to talk a bit about clearing malfunctions. What he teaches is pretty standard, though again he emphasized always using techniques that work even in darkness, rather than having a daytime technique and a nighttime technique.
He gave us the choice of either going back to the range and doing some malfunction drills or going to another location and doing another woods walk similar to the last exercise. Unsurprisingly, everyone chose the NVG shooting exercise rather than malfunction clearing (though this means I really ought to set up some dry malfunction drills and home and do them using NVGs. Not as cool as shooting but kind of like eating your vegetables, I guess).
We drove out to a different part of the range (using headlights rather than NVGs to save time). This time I was the first shooter through the course rather than the last. Here we had a game trail to follow adjacent to the creek, rather than walking through the creek bed itself, but the vegetation was quite a bit thicker. I had some issues with my IR illuminator reflecting back off the brush when I tried to use it to illuminate targets or aim using the IR laser. I had to change elevations a couple of times finding a clear path through the brush for my light and laser to engage some targets.
When I got to the second-to-last target of the course of fire, I also spotted another target right next to me (about 3 yards out) and engaged it too. It turned out to be a target that I had engaged earlier and lost track of (in part to the limited field of view provided by the NVG). To maintain situational awareness you’ve got to keep your head on a swivel rather than just concentrating on the area where you expect to see a new target.
When we were going back through the course of fire and checking my hits using white light, we noticed that a fair number of my shots showed substantial evidence of yawing, due to hitting vegetation between me and the targets (I tend to shoot a lot, so there were plenty of nice circular holes in the target too).
After everyone had shot this course of fire it was about 1:30am, so we broke for the night. By the time I packed up my gear and got back to the hotel, it was closer to 2:30. I rolled right into bed.
Sunday (and Monday morning)
After the late night (or, rather, early morning) I slept in until about 9:30. I spent a bit more time working on the writeup, grabbed a nice big lunch and headed out to the range a bit early again.
Before class, I did a bit of shooting on the longer range steel (got out to 400 on the gongs but couldn’t get good hits on the 500 yard one).
We started out with some pistol work while we still had daylight, mainly to confirm that we could all draw safety and shoot decently before we had to do it at night.
Before we went live, Eric did a bit of lecture and a demo of the drawstroke. He teaches an interesting variant of the drawstroke that I don’t think I’ve seen before. He angles the gun upward at about a 45-degree angle until the front sight is at eye level, then drives the gun forward so that the front sight stays aligned with the target and the rear sight comes up right behind it as the gun reaches full extension. It’s definitely a draw that emphasizes getting to the sights and shooting from full extension. My usual rule when training with an instructor who teaches something different than I’m used to is, “when in Rome, do as Romans do”. Given that we were just doing a little bit of pistol work to verify our ability to handle a handgun safely, I decided to stick with my usual drawstroke.
After each student demoed the drawstroke dry, Eric had us shoot some slow fire groups at three yards to verify our shooting ability. At that distance, I managed to put three 5-round strings into one ragged hole, which I’m pretty happy with (the red dot definitely helped).
We moved back to 25 so that another fellow with a red dot could fix his zero. While he did that, the rest of us had a chance to bang some steel. I spent a bit of time using the visible laser on my MAWL to align the laser to the topic. With a low power variable optic like mine, I think this is probably a better approach than trying to peer through the scope with NVG and zero the IR laser to the optic.
After a break to get some food, Eric talked a bit about shot placement, then moved into one of the best lectures I've heard on shoot/no-shoot decisions. This is a subject that gets covered in a lot of classes, but his take on it is by far the most systematic and in-depth.
Eric is a proponent of doing your target discrimination through the optic, with the rifle pointed in at the target rather than from a ready position. While he applies this day or night it is especially important at night when you’re using a weapon mounted light or IR illuminator.
He starts with the hands. You want to be able to see both of them before dismissing a target as a non-threat. You may also want to see both before deciding a target is a threat: if you see a weapon in one hand and a badge in the other, that information is probably going to affect your shoot/no-shoot decision. That’s information you’re not going to have if you short-circuit the process as soon as you see the gun in one hand.
The next step is to trace the arm back to the torso. This may seem like an odd thing to make an explicit step, but if you have two people in close proximity (two people fighting, a hostage taker and a hostage, etc.) making assumptions about who that hand belongs to can result in shooting the wrong guy.
At this point, you make the actual decision to shoot, pick your aiming point (using the anatomical landmarks and taking into account your mechanical offset) disengage the safety and press the shot.
If you have multiple potential targets, Eric advocates a controlled pair, then moving on to the next target and going through the target discrimination process for that target. After all the targets have been addressed (either getting a controlled pair or dismissed as a non-threat) you reclear every target.
For the threat targets, the reclear is your chance to assess the effectiveness of your shots. In the real world, we can look at the target’s response to being shot. With paper targets on the range, all we can do is look at our hits and decide if we’re happy with the holes on the target. For the targets that you didn’t shoot, this is a chance to reassess: is there something you missed or something that’s changed that indicates this person needs to be shot?
We moved out on to the range to put this into practice. Eric put up pairs of photorealistic targets for each shooter. He also had laminated pictures of hands holding weapons, badges, cell phones and other objects that could be used to customize the targets turning non-threats into threats and vice versa. Glue sticks worked well to stick the laminated hands on to the targets temporarily, while still allowing them to be peeled off after a string of fire was complete.
Half the class would face uprange while the other half applied the hands to the targets. Then on command, the shooters would turn, go through the target discrimination process for each target, and engage if necessary. After each run, Eric had each of us talk through our decision-making process and shot placement. I really like the way he facilitated this. Rather than the judgmental, “You shot a non-threat!”, type of review that I’ve sometimes seen elsewhere he really tried to get at the student’s thought process. I think the students that got the most out of it were those who were willing to subject their decisions to some searching examination (something that seemed to be easier for some students than others).
So in the interest of that self-examination, on one iteration of this drill I mistook a cellphone for a weapon and shot a non-threat, and on another, I failed to recognize a threat the first time through (though I did pick up the weapon on the reclear and engaged the target).
We started out running the exercise with white lights on our pistols. I was very glad to have the Surefire X300 on my Glock; this would have been a difficult exercise to run with a handheld light. Then we moved on to doing it with rifles and white light. The M600 and the pressure switch worked very well for this. This is the highest lumen light that I own by a significant margin and coming in to the class I was a bit worried that it might be too bright. It worked out fine in this case.
I did have a significant operator induced error, though. The first time we shot the drill with our rifles, I found my optic was still dialed up to 6x magnification from when I was checking my zero earlier. This threw me for a bit of a loop and led me to miss my first shot quite badly. After that first miss I took a breath and got back into the game, and I was able to get the subsequent rounds on target. If I want to run a low power variable dialing it back to 1x after every time, I have it on a higher power setting needs to become absolute second nature.
Next, we broke out the NVGs and did the drill again. The limited field of view through the NVG definitely makes it more challenging. I found that the full power close range setting on the MAWL was so bright in my NVG that it tended to wash out the target, making it hard to pick out the details required for target discrimination. The low power setting worked quite a bit better in this case.
After a couple of iterations, we took a break and Eric brought out one of his range vehicles. He has several that he uses for a vehicle operations course and they’re quite the worse for wear. This one wasn’t even running; he pushed it over with a van. The original windshield had long since been busted out, but he had some extras and strapped one of these on the vehicle. He talked a bit about how laminated glass can affect the trajectory of a bullet and demoed the deflection with a handgun round.
I’ve done some shooting through glass before, but the real attraction here was a chance to see how it affected lights and lasers. Once the glass you’re shooting through gets broken, it starts refracting light in weird ways. This can be distracting with white light and IR illuminators, even to the point of causing visibility problems. With aiming lasers, the problems can be even worse, since the glass may be reflecting the laser off course or blocking it entirely. We each had a chance to shoot both handgun and rifle with white light and under NVG.
For our last drill of the night, we did some shooting using the van for cover. One issue I ran into with the MAWL is that splashback from the illuminator could be almost blinding when shooting around cover (particularly when shooting through the van’s windows to a target beyond). There was enough ambient light that using the laser alone was a better option in this situation. Unfortunately, on the MAWL the laser only setting is a bit difficult to access.
That wrapped things up for the night. We did a bit of a debrief and Eric handed out the course certificates. He said we were welcome to shoot some more if we wanted to, but frankly, I was ready to head back to the hotel and crash. I got all my gear packed up and headed out. I ended up getting back even later than the previous night and headed right to bed.
It was after 10 o’clock by the time I rolled out of bed. I had a fairly long drive ahead of me, so I got everything packed, checked out, and headed home.
This was an excellent class. Eric is highly knowledgeable about using NVG and did a great job conveying that knowledge to the students. I really feel like I came out of the class with the fundamental knowledge to use my NVG effectively as part of my fighting toolkit. Now it’s up to me to put in the practice and turn that knowledge into skills that I can perform on demand.
One of the big (and somewhat surprising) lessons from this class is that too much light can be as big of a problem for your NVGs as too little. This is true whether the light comes from the environment or your IR illuminator. One particular manifestation of this was light from the IR illuminator reflecting back off of a closer object (brush or a piece of cover) and drowning out a more distant object.
I do wish we could have had some lower light conditions that pushed the performance of the NVG and IR illuminators a bit more. The fairly bright moonlight provided its own challenges, but it would have been nice to have some more widely varying light levels.
All that said, the biggest eye-opener from the class for me had nothing to do with NVG; it was Eric’s target discrimination lecture. This alone would have been worth the price of admission. I’m very interested in his Close Quarters Marksmanship class, where these sorts of drills are one of the primary areas of emphasis. I’d love to get more practice with this, especially in a context where I can concentrate on the target discrimination task rather than having to juggle that with the technical demands of operating NVG or a white light.
My PVS-14 worked well overall. I do have some envy of the dual tube NVG setups that Eric and some of the other students in the class were running. Down the line, I may have to shell out for one of those rigs, but it’s far from the highest thing on my priority list.
The MAWL worked very well, both as an aiming system and an illuminator. Having the low power mode easily accessible just by hitting the other activation button was a great benefit. However, I do wish they took it a step further and made the laser-only mode more easily accessible. To get just the laser, you have to depress a detent, slide the switch into the long-range mode, then hit the secondary activation button. I think I’d have liked the laser only mode as part of the medium range setting, so you didn’t have to depress the detent to get to it.
Regarding zeroing the laser, doing it by bringing the daylight visible laser to the optic worked much better than trying to peer through the optic with my NVG. However, it does require that the visible laser be properly aligned with the IR one (something I need to go out and test).
The M600 and the Surefire dual pressure switch worked out great. In any shooting position, I was always able to one of the pressure pads to activate the MAWL. I didn’t have any trouble telling the switches apart (no “white light ADs”). I’m very happy with the way I have this rifle set up.
The Norotos INVG mount worked great. It’s up there with the MAWL as far as being the best investment in gear that I made for this class.
I really like the Crye Nightcap, but using it for an extended period did make evident one shortcoming. During breaks, the guys running helmets could easily pop them off and tuck them under an arm or hang them off a piece of kit. Because it’s just cloth, it doesn’t maintain its shape I never felt comfortable doing this with the Nightcap. I may want to pick up a ballistic helmet and try running the NVG off of that for an extended period.
I’m intrigued by the option of running a red dot like the EOTech and looking through it with the NVG, rather than relying primarily on the IR laser for aiming. That said, I really like what I can do with the low power variable optic during daylight; I don’t know if I’m ready to give that up. I may have to get an EOTech setup to T&E at least.
Not night vision related, but I did have one other lesson learned. During the class, I tried to pop the AAC Mini4 off the rifle and found it was stuck fast, beyond my ability to crank if off by hand. When I got home, I used a strap wrench on it, and it came right off (with quite a bit of carbon buildup on the mount and the back of the can). I need to take it off an clean the mount more regularly; I also may want to include a strap wrench in my range kit.
Aside from that, the rifle ran well. I’m increasingly happy with the way this rifle build worked out. A lot of my other ARs are more specialized, but this is a great all-around gun.
Eric Dorenbush is a truly great instructor. Not only does he bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to the table, he has the teaching and coaching skills to convey that knowledge effectively to the student. I’d highly recommend his classes, and I intend to be back in Texas for more of them in the future.