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Full Contact Gunfighter with Eric Pfleger

Chris Upchurch

Last weekend I took Full Contact Gunfighter 1 and 2 with Eric Pfleger in Hershey, Pennsylvania. These classes teach a mix of close range shooting, empty hand techniques, knife defense, and offensive use of knives and other contact weapons.

Compared to the amount of time I’ve put into shooting with pistol and rifle, hand to hand stuff has long been a weakness of mine. I took the SI 0-5 foot class several times and did some knife training with Tom Sotis (plus any class I took from Randy Harris always seemed to end up covering grappling and knives at least in passing), so I’m not a total novice. I know enough to know just how little I know. And with what I do know I am horribly out of practice.

Knowing this was a weak spot I’ve been wanting to take a hand to hand focused course from Eric for a long while now. I was never able to make one of his Hand to Hand for CCW courses back when he was with SI, and he’s only taught this sort of thing once or twice in the past five years. When he posted this four-day extravaganza, I jumped on it, even though it was across the country.


Originally, I was just going to bring my usual RMRed G17 to Pennsylvania. However, the fact that the class would include contact distance pistol work got me thinking about bringing my Glock 19X “Roland Special.” One of the characteristics of the Roland Special is a compensator (in my case a Mayhem Syndicate barrel and comp). A common concern about comps is muzzle blast when shooting from retention or other close contact positions. While I had a chance to do some retention shooting in Roger Phillips Fight Focused Handgun III class last month, I thought this class would be a good chance to test that out even more thoroughly. I still brought the G17 as a carry gun and backup for the class.

Since we’d be doing knife work (and because I carry them anyway), I brought a Spyderco Street Beat fixed blade that I carry at about 11 o’clock, just behind my spare mag, and a Spyderco Endura that carries in my right side pocket. At Eric’s encouragement, I bought a trainer version of the Endura. I also brought a couple of NOK rubber training knives and an orange plastic dummy gun.

Pre-Class Travels in Pennsylvania

The class ran Thursday through Sunday, but I decided to take the whole week off and fly out the previous Saturday. This would give me some time to play tourist in Pennsylvania ahead of class.

After I arrived in Philadelphia on Saturday, I toured the cruiser USS Olympia, which is moored down on the waterfront. On Sunday, I drove up to Scranton and saw Steamtown National Historic Site. It’s quite the destination for a train nut like me. Then on Tuesday I dove down to Gettysburg and toured the battlefield there. This is an excellent experience (I’d been there before, but that was about thirty years ago). Wednesday I saw Eisenhower National Historic Site, just west of Gettysburg, and drove up to Hershey for the class.

Another student and I got together with Eric and his family that evening for a nice dinner.


I rendezvoused with Eric at his hotel, and we drove a few minutes to the range. Once everyone was assembled, we took care of the waivers and got the medical brief out of the way.

Eric had everyone introduce themselves. Some of the folks in the class were new to me, but others I’d trained with before when I lived on the east coast. All had fairly extensive training histories, so Eric announced that he was planning to deemphasize the handgun portion of the curriculum and spend more time on the hand to hand and contact-weapon focused elements.

Nevertheless, we started with some handgun work. After a quick range safety brief, we started out working some point shooting to the body, followed by a sighted fire shot to the head (much like in Roger’s class a few weeks ago). Eric emphasized that at the sorts of distances that we’d be training in this class, headshots should be a priority. It’s close enough that they’re doable and at these distances, the situation is urgent enough that we want the instant, lights-out fight ender that a central nervous system hit provides.

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We worked some point shooting from compressed positions, initially facing the target, then incorporating turning to engage targets behind us. One thing Eric pointed out that I hadn’t appreciated before is that when you turn to look at a target over your shoulder, your weight will naturally shift to the leg on that side. That flows nicely into pivoting on the ball of that foot as you turn.

Moving on to targets to our right side we did some shooting with the pistol compressed in towards the shoulder in a “chicken wing” position. Eric emphasized that the lack of structural support in this position might cause the pistol not to fully cycle and malfunction unless you have a convulsive grip on it.

Switching over to targets on our support side, we shot cross body. Rather than something like the Center Axis Relock position that we used in Roger’s class, Eric had us work it one-handed as if the other hand was occupied fending off the opponent.

While the issues with targets to the right and left are different, they highlight a common theme in the gun portions of this class. At these sorts of distances, in a confrontation that combines firearms and physical contact, we may not get to shoot optimally. The reality of the fight will likely compromise our shooting position or grip.

Next up, Eric covered drawing a pistol using the support hand. If you’re carrying appendix, you can reach across and draw. With a hip holster, you can reach around behind your back. In either case, you’re probably going to have to start with a very compromised grip and get a better grip on the gun once you have it out of the holster. The idea of doing this in the middle of a grapple when your primary hand is tied up with your opponent seems risky. Much better to have a weapon of some accessible to your support hand: either a backup gun or a knife of some sort. We did this dry first; then once everyone was reasonably comfortable with it, we went live.

Our penultimate handgun topic For today was defending Sul. Sul is a useful, ready position when scanning behind you or moving through an environment with a lot of non-combatants. However, it doesn’t have the muzzle pointed at a potential threat. If a threat emerges suddenly at close range (as you round a corner or turn around to look behind you, for instance), you need to be able to deal with it.

Eric likes treating this as a combined gun and hand to hand problem, rather than just a gun problem. Depending on which direction the threat emerges from, the response will often start with an elbow strike before bringing the gun into play. We practiced dealing with threats from the front, sides, and rear dry, then shot all of them live.

Lastly, Eric talked about contact shooting. If you have your gun in hand when you’re in a clinch or on the ground with an opponent, you may have to shoot with the barrel physically touching the adversary. This can be a problem with semi-autos because if you’re pushing the gun into the adversary with enough force, it can push the barrel out of battery. One way to counteract this is to put your thumb on the back of the slide and hold it in battery when you shoot. You only get one shot, but that may be enough to give you the advantage and let you finish the fight by other means. Eric had us give this a try. This finished up the handgun portion of today’s class.

Moving on to empty hand work, Eric talked a bit about what he was trying to accomplish with the curriculum of this class. We’re going to be covering strikes, blocks, grapples, ground fighting, chokes, joint manipulation, and knives, sticks, and other contact weapons. He’s not able to turn anyone into a complete ninja after just four days. All he can do is provide an introduction to all four of these topics, giving us some solid basics that we can take with us and practice on our own.

Eric started out talking about footwork, including lead (which foot you have forward) and movement. He emphasized the need for fluid movement and a solid base from which to deliver and receive force.

At this point, it started pouring rain. Thankfully, we had a big ramada for overhead cover, but the rain was pounding on it so hard that Eric could barely make himself heard over the noise. Rather than shouting himself hoarse on the first day of class, we took a break for some lunch.

After the rain stopped, Eric moved on to blocking. He covered a few different techniques, including up and down windmill blocks, hubud, and a few others. He emphasized that a block is not just to prevent an incoming strike from hitting you; it’s also an attack on your opponent’s arm (or leg). You’re basically hitting him with the bony outside part of your forearm, or as Eric likes to call it, your natural ASP baton. Since you’re hitting him anyway, you might as well hit him hard.


On top of the hard block itself, Eric also encouraged following up your block by counterstriking or trapping the opponent’s arm. An option he really likes for this is a quick strike to the brachial plexus. Or, if you trap the arm, strike the back of the elbow and break or hyperextend it. If you’re getting the impression that Eric is pretty offensive-minded about this stuff, you’re right.

Moving on to striking proper, Eric covered various strikes delivered using the hands and arms: punches in roundhouse, straight, and uppercut varieties, hammer fists, palm strikes, elbows, eye rakes, and pump handle strikes (an upward strike using the top of the fist). Eric had some padded shields, and one of the students had brought out a BOB target, so we could practice hitting stuff.

One thing Eric emphasized was using strikes to set up other strikes. Hit someone in the balls, and it will tend to bring their head forward where it might make a good target for a follow-up strike. Use an eye rake to turn their head and set up a blow to the jaw hinge. Etc.

For strikes delivered by the feet and legs, Eric taught a selection of kicks, knees, stomps, and heel strikes. We had a chance to work each of these on pads.

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That wrapped up the first day of class. We headed over to a local restaurant for dinner. There was good food, good beer, and some great conversation.


When we reconvened on Friday, Eric started us off with some warm-up live fire. We worked some bursts to the body, headshots, and turns.

The meat of this morning’s live fire was the “Murphy’s t-shirt drill.” Sometimes when you’re drawing from a closed front cover garment, the muzzle of the pistol can catch on your shirt. If the adversary is at close range, you can point shoot through the shirt, then shove the pistol forward through the resulting hole (you may need to assist by grabbing the cover garment with the support hand). It’s possible that the gun will malfunction during this process because the slide gets caught on clothing or a case bounces back into the ejection port, so you need to be prepared for that. Once the gun is through the shirt, you can transfer the pistol to your other hand and get it up to eye level.

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Eric asked everyone to bring an old t-shirt so we could work this drill live. We shot it a couple of times (you can turn the shirt around or use a different spot on the shirt).

Next up was shooting from the ground. Getting knocked on your ass is a significant possibility during a fight. You need to be able to get your gun out and deliver good hits from the ground. One thing to be aware of when practicing this sort of thing is to make sure your bullets don’t go sailing over the berm. Thankfully we had a nice tall berm (more of a hillside, really) so we had some flexibility in this regard. Eric had us simulate kicking the opponent’s ankles as we got the gun out to keep him off of us.

You don’t want to just hang out on the ground if you have a choice, especially if the BG has friends. Eric demonstrated how to get up while keeping the gun on target. We ran the get-up live a couple of times.

With that, we put the guns away. Our topic for the rest of the day would be knife defense.

Eric started by describing the five lines of attack that a knife strike could take. This divides things into slashes from four quadrants (upper right, upper left, lower right, and lower left), plus stabbing attacks that come straight in.

Blocking a knife is a bit different than blocking an empty hand strike. With an empty hand strike as long as we block the hard, initial strike, we’re less concerned about it slipping around our block without much force behind it. With a knife strike, if the knife slips around our block, it can do a lot of damage even if it doesn’t have a ton of oomph. The flip side is that with a knife we’re generally less concerned about the attacker’s other hand (when we got to offensive use of the knife on Sunday Eric had a lot of good suggestions for things to do with that other hand, but as the defender, it’s a secondary concern). Against an empty hand strike we might not want to tie up both of our hands blocking one of the opponent’s, but against a knife using both hands to ensure that blade doesn’t slip around our block is a good tradeoff.


All of this is why Eric strongly advocates using an X block (arms crossed about midway up the forearm) to block knife attacks. While he’s a big advocate of keeping things simple and creating consistency across different categories, there are differences between dealing with a knife and dealing with an empty hand threat (sticks and other longer contact weapons throw in yet another set of dynamics). We worked the X blocks against high line and low line knife attacks.

When you’re empty handed against a knife attack you don’t want to just stand there fending off attack after attack. Eventually, you’re going to flub a block, and he’s going to get one through. Instead, you need to do something to change the dynamics of the fight.


One option for this that Eric likes is trapping the opponent’s knife arm to neutralize the threat and going to work with empty hand strikes. Breaking elbows, brachial stuns, throwing elbows or hammer fists, etc.

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If you’re armed (whether with a gun or with your own knife), another option is to break contact long enough to deploy a weapon. The key here is to get enough time and distance to do so without getting stabbed.

With the fundamentals covered and drilled, we spent a good portion of the afternoon working these skills in less structured force on force.

Our last subject of the day was various pressure points. Having Eric demo some of these on you was quite an experience, I can tell you. However, one thing that was very evident was that the effectiveness of a given pressure point can vary quite a bit from person to person. The infraorbital pressure point under the nose is not very effective on me, for instance. If you’re not getting results from a pressure point technique, don’t get fixated on trying to get it to work; move on to something else right away.

After wrapping up, we headed out to dinner. Last night’s meal was good enough that we just went back to the same restaurant. I’ll admit that I pushed pretty hard for this option. While the steak I had on Thursday was pretty good, the bacon wrapped pork chop that some other folks ordered looked great (and it was). We had another evening of fantastic food and fellowship among like-minded individuals.


Rather than starting with live fire like we had the past two days, we dove right into ground fighting. While many fights go to the ground, few of them start there, so we started by learning how to fall. You might not think this is something that requires instruction (“easy as falling off a log”), but there are some nuances to it if we want to maximize our ability to fight once we arrive on the ground.


When falling forward, Eric is a big advocate of training to catch yourself with the back of your forearms rather than the palms. Outside the dojo, the surfaces that we fall on are likely to be unforgiving ones (think asphalt, maybe with some broken glass thrown in for good measure). Skinning the hell out of our palms and fingers is not going to do our ability to fight any good, especially our ability to use tools like guns and knives). Catching myself with my hands is something that’s so natural and that I’ve done for so many years, this is one that’s going to take a lot of training to ingrain (I sense a lot of falling in my future).

If you have enough momentum, there is the possibility of doing a forward roll and ending up on your feet or knees, but more likely if you fall forward you’ll end up on all fours. You want to get turned over on your back or rear as quickly as possible so you can get eyes on your opponent and defend yourself. As you do this, you can tuck one leg across to protect yourself from getting kicked in the crotch and throw up an arm to shield your head.

Falling to the rear we have nice big (sometimes well padded) surfaces to absorb the impact. We can also squat on the way down to lessen the impact. The critical thing is to keep the back of your head from slamming into the ground. Tuck the chin and throw your arms out to arrest your momentum.


On the ground, keep your feet towards the opponent, so you can kick and use your legs to fend him off. You can either roll onto your side and use one leg to maneuver and the other to kick, or stay on your butt and have both legs available for kicking at the cost of somewhat less mobility. We worked falling (onto some mats rather than the gravel surface of the range) and getting from there into a fighting position.


As a general rule, you want to get up as quickly as possible. However, we may be on the ground not just because we were knocked down, but because we took a round to the leg or the opponent stomped our ankle and broke it. If you’re stuck on the ground, you probably want the opponent down there with you if possible. Eric showed a couple of ways for someone on the deck to take down a standing person. All of them essentially involve fixing the foot (trapping the heel if you’re pushing them back, rolling onto the top of the foot if you’re pulling them forward) then using your body weight to push the knee back or pull it forward.


Next up we worked some two on one drills, with one guy on the ground and two trying to maneuver into a position to kick the crap out of him. Two opponents when you’re on the ground really sucks. If you can, the best course of action is going to be to go to guns as quickly as possible. Eric mentioned that part of the reason does these two on one drills is that if you ever have to do this, afterward you can articulate why you shot two “unarmed” guys. “I’ve done this in training, and I’ve experienced the disparity of force that being on the ground against two opponents creates.”

During a bit of a break, Eric did some lecture on the physiological changes the body goes through during a “fight or flight” response and how that affects our performance. He covered how we can mitigate this both before the fight (fitness, nutrition, etc.) and during the fight (breathing).

Getting back to ground fighting, we started working on what to do if the BG gets on top of you. This is kind of a shit sandwich, but the least shitty bite is if you’ve got him between your legs in the guard position. He can still hit you from here, so it’s important to keep your arms up to shield your face and to keep your head off the ground, so it’s not bouncing off the deck with every hit.


In the ring, or in a purely hand to hand confrontation, guys who do a lot of ground fighting generally want to keep their legs wrapped around the opponent to keep them from getting around to the flank. In our case, it’s probably not a purely hand to hand fight. We often want to create enough space that we can access a handgun or knife.


Some of this depends on how big you are compared to your opponent. We can create a bit of distance just by “bridging,” pushing our hips up off the ground while keeping our legs wrapped around the opponent’s midsection or torso. Often this isn’t going to be enough distance to keep him from fouling our draw, however. So another option is to use our legs to shove him back until we’ve got our knees, or better yet, our feet between him and us. This does increase the danger of him getting around our legs and coming at us from the side, so we don’t want to hang out here. Get the gun into action and fill him with 9mm or get the knife out and start filleting.

The shittier bite of the shit sandwich is if rather than being wrapped up between our legs, he’s mounted on top of our torso. This is the classic “ground and pound” position you see in MMA fights, and it’s not a good place to be.


One way to counter this is to shove your hips upward. In past classes, I’ve been taught this in the context of trying to totally buck the opponent off, but Eric pointed out that even if you can’t initially get him all the way off it can be useful to upset his balance and get him down closer to you. This is particularly important if your opponent has more reach than you do (when I was playing the BG, for instance) and from the mount, he can pound you in the face while you can’t reach him. If you can upset his balance even for a moment and force him to put a hand on the ground to stabilize himself, you can snag that arm and haul him down where you can start throwing punches, elbows, and hammer fists.


Once you’ve tenderized him a bit, then you can try to buck him all the way off you. To do this, it’s important to get his legs trapped inside your legs so he can’t just splay them out to stabilize himself. Then thrust your hips up and chuck him off. At that point, you can try to break contact (either to run away or to go to guns) or you can climb onto him and go to work.


While we would be doing more with chokes on Sunday, Eric took a break from the ground fighting to teach us the Lateral Vascular Neck Restraint (a blood choke, in other words) because of its usefulness in ground fighting. This is a technique that produces unconsciousness by squeezing the sides of the neck to prevent blood from leaving the head. The body responds to increased blood pressure in the brain by fainting. As with the pressure points, the effectiveness varies from person to person. Eric demoed it on everyone, but he was not really able to get it to work well on me. When it works, it works very quickly, but you need to be prepared to move on to another option immediately if it’s not effective.

After some more practice with the ground fighting work, we moved on to weapon retention. One of the dangers of open carry is an opponent trying to grab a gun out of your holster. However, even carrying concealed a bad guy might make your gun (or try to foul your draw, which presents many of the same problems). If someone attempts to grab your gun, get your hand on top of his and jam the gun down into the holster. You really want to keep it from coming out. Eric pointed out that this is a lot easier to do in the appendix position than if you’re carrying on the hip (carry behind the hip is even worse).

While holding the gun securely in the holster, you can use your other hand to go to work on the opponent, throw elbows, brachial stuns, eye rakes, whatever you can to tenderize him a bit. If he’s grabbed with both hands, you can stick your arm between his arms and saw on one of them with the bony bottom of your forearm to get him down to one hand. Strike the elbow of the arm he’s using for the gun grab to break it down, then turn your body, moving the gun away from him. Either he’ll let go, or you’ll send him sprawling.

The worst situation is carrying on (or behind) the hip and having an opponent attempt a gun grab from the rear. You don’t have nearly as many options for striking, so throw a headbutt and elbows as you drive your body backward.

Moving on to the opposite end of the gun, we worked some drills being held at gunpoint and having to strip the weapon and disarm your opponent. The key enabler here is proximity. Unless that gun is very close (ideally within about a foot of your body) an attempted weapon strip is a losing proposition. If he’s close enough, feign compliance, then do something to distract your opponent. Even a simple question can reset his OODA loop for a moment to give you a chance.


While the details vary depending on whether the opponent is in front of you or behind, all of these disarms begin with getting the gun pointed somewhere other than you. Eric is a fan of combining both diverting the gun and moving your body out of the way. This is only going to last a moment, so you need to go right for that gun.


One difference between what Eric teaches and what I’ve done previously is that rather than being very focused on the gun Eric places a lot more emphasis on upsetting the opponent’s balance as part of the disarm. If you’re on the outside of the opponent’s gun hand (with the back of his hand towards you) bring the gun to your belt buckle and take a big step, pulling him forward and off balance. Then pivot, taking a big step back to turn the gun and his wrist, forcing it in towards his thumb, which is the weak route out of his hand.


If you’re on the inside of the opponent’s gun hand (palm towards you) turning the gun towards the thumb is not a good idea, since that would direct the muzzle right back into you. In this situation, you have to attack the gun more directly. This is more the sort of disarm that I’ve learned in the past: control the wrist and move the gun.

We did a bunch of practice, starting in various positions (opponent in front and behind, gun high and low, even the classic gun against the side of the head hostage position).


That wrapped things up for a day. Rather than going to the same restaurant a third time we hit another, somewhat more distant place that had great prime rib. In the field across from the restaurant, there was a guy giving helicopter rides over Hershey park. A couple of the guys from the class took a ride (to get me on a helicopter you’d either have to offer some spectacular scenery or a chance to to be doing something pretty cool like shooting, fast roping, or riding on the skids of a Little Bird).


On Sunday morning, we got started with some drills that combined empty hand work and live fire. Obviously having a live handgun into a drill that includes hand to hand with a training partner is potentially fraught with peril. Eric mentioned that he was only doing it in this class because he had a switched on group of students that he had confidence in (lacking that, he might run these same drills using airsoft rather than live fire). Even so, as an added safety measure, we ran these drills using an empty chamber (“Israeli carry”). This is obviously not a carry method that Eric would recommend, but in this case, it could simulate something like fixing a failure to cycle that might occur in a compromised, close-quarters shooting position.

For our first drill, the student had to divert and defeat a knife attack, spend 30 seconds wailing on the BOB target to get his heart rate up, then fall onto a mat in front of a target, draw a pistol and shoot from the ground, then get up and deliver a headshot. An extended drill like this really drives home the physical aspects of a close range fight like this. It’s a lot more work than most handgun drills.

After everyone ran this a couple of times (falling both forward and backward onto the mat), Eric switched things up by swapping out the knife attack for being held at gunpoint and having to perform a handgun disarm.

For the culmination of this series of exercises, Eric had us start on the ground with another student mounted on top of us. We had to get him off, then deal with an attack from a guy in a padded red man suit wielding a big foam stick simulating a piece of rebar or other long, contact weapon. We had to get the stick away from him and use it to beat on BOB for 30 seconds, then pick up our ear protection and handgun from the mat and shoot. This was quite the workout.

After these drills, Eric continued a discussion about weapons that one could use in environments where you can’t carry a gun or knife that had started during a break yesterday. Today he brought out some examples of stuff you can get on airplanes and in other similarly secured locations. He showed off a coin purse that makes a nice sap, a carabiner as a knuckle duster, and some long hair clips that his wife wears that she can use as stabbing implements. We’d already talked about canes yesterday and would be picking that back up when we got to stick work this afternoon.

Before that, we moved on to the offensive use of the knife. Thus far, our knife work focused on the defensive end, but sometimes legal restrictions or other obstacles mean that the blade will be our primary means of self-defense. We need to be able to use it to defeat an attacker (or, likely, attackers). The first step in this process is getting the knife out and into action. With my fixed blade, this is pretty quick and easy, clear my cover garment and draw it out, much like drawing a pistol from left-hand appendix. The pocketknife that’s more likely to be my primary in a knife-only environment takes rather longer. Seeing Eric draw some waved Spydercos makes me think maybe I need a waved Delica or Endura.

We spent quite a bit of time practicing accessing. After that, Eric talked about different knife grips and the pros and cons of each. His favorite for general use is a conventional point up, edge out grip. It’s versatile and crosses over to most of the other stuff we use a knife for: cutting food, rope, butchering animals (in Eric’s case anyway). He covered point up, edge in and reverse (point down), edge out grips, but it doesn’t seem like he’s got a ton of use for either. He does like reverse grip, edge in quite a bit, due to its usefulness in dealing with attempted blocks.

Eric covered the five different lines of attack with a knife, which correspond to the five lines of attack we talked about from a knife defense perspective on Friday. They’re downward slashes from the upper right or upper left (#1 and #2), upward slashes from the lower right and lower left (#3 and #4), and straight in stabs (#5, which can either be high line or low line).

With these in place, Eric introduced the 5x5 drill. This is essentially delivering pairs of strikes, cycling through all the different combinations. Throw a #1 followed by another #1, then a #1 and a #2, #1 and #3, and so on, until you’ve worked your way through every possible pairing (like doing the multiplication tables in school). This gets you used to throwing multiple strikes and gives a feel for how they can flow into each other.

Once we had a bit of time with the 5x5 drills, Eric had us start throwing in strikes with the support hand (he also talked about integrating kicks). After everyone worked those for a bit, Eric talked about where to direct our attacks. Specifically what areas to target with the sorts of short knives (3-4” blades) that we generally carry.

In the gun world, we often talk about “shooting to stop” versus “shooting to kill.” With the short knife, there is much more of a distinction, in part because we can’t really deliver the central nervous system hits or heart damage that produces the quickest stops. You can kill someone with these short knives, no question, but it may take him five minutes to bleed to death. We want to end the attack a lot quicker than that.


In order to do this, Eric prefers slashes rather than stabs. With knives this short it’s hard to stab deep enough to get to the really good stuff (especially if you throw stuff like thick winter clothing into the mix). He likes directing those slashes against muscles and tendons that will deny the opponent mobility and the ability to use weapons, like the tendons at the wrist or above the knee, or the muscles of the bicep or glutes. He’s not averse to going for major arteries where they get close enough to the surface to reach with our short knives, like the clavicle, armpits, inside the upper arm, and crotch. He will also deliver slashes to the belly. Spilling somebody’s intestines all over the floor will certainly impede their ability to fight.


Eric briefly covered some stick fighting basics. You can use the same basic lines as you do with knives. There are some special considerations in a stick vs. stick fight to keep from getting your fingers crushed, however, since sticks, canes, and pipes don’t have any sort of handguard. One thing Eric likes is running a stick in the right hand as the primary offensive implement with a knife in the left hand to deal with an opponent who manages to crash through the stick and get inside its swing where it the stick can’t be used very effectively. The knife and stick complement each other nicely. We worked some stick strikes on BOB.

Our last subject of the class was chokes. We’d already covered blood chokes a bit on Saturday. Eric is not a big advocate of airway chokes. Since we may often face situations involving multiple opponents, hanging out with our arms around some guys neck waiting for his air to run out is not a great place to be. A much faster application is “chokes” involving spine compression. Essentially you’re hyperextending the neck, then applying additional force to separate the skull from the spine. This is, obviously, fatal, so safely practicing these is tricky, and they should only be applied in situations where deadly force is justified.

Eric started our discussion of these spine compression techniques by demonstrating a sentry elimination application. You approach from behind, use a hip check and a strike to the neck to get in a position to hyperextend the neck and immobilize his head, piledrive him into the ground, then step through and leverage the skull off the neck. Eric demonstrated the head immobilization and hyperextension of the neck on everyone, then we drilled it very slowly, one step at a time, stopping before the final leveraging of the head.


Eric demoed a couple of other applications of the same principles from other positions that we might end up in in the course of a grapple.

With that, we wrapped things up. Eric handed out the certificates, we got all the training gear packed up, and everyone headed out.

I drove to Philadelphia and got a hotel room near the airport. The next morning I flew back to Wichita and was back at work by lunchtime.


This was a great class, one where I learned a ton of new stuff. When you’ve done a lot of training, it’s easy to become a bit jaded. Obviously, that hasn’t stopped me from taking more classes. However, it is refreshing to train in an area where I’m still very much a beginner.

Taking Full Contact Gunfighter really helped fill a couple of big holes in my fighting skill set, particularly when it comes to empty hand and ground fighting. It also provided an opportunity to train defending against and using the knife, areas where I had some limited experience but had not practiced much in the last 5-6 years.

This brings up the subject of practice. In just four days, Eric covered quite a bit of close range shooting, defending against empty hand attacks, striking and kicking, ground fighting, chokes, defending against knife attacks, ground fighting, using a knife offensively, and a bit of stick work. He did a great job of keeping things as simple as possible and focusing on fundamental principles and widely applicable techniques, but this breadth meant we didn’t get a ton of reps on any one thing. Taking these techniques and practicing them is essential.

I’ve already bought a BOB target to practice my strikes on and use for some knife targeting drills (it should make a nice dry practice target as well. On the knife side of things, I need to work on accessing and deploying my knives and do some of the 5x5 drills (same for stick). Throw in some falls, and I’ll be doing just about everything from this class that can be trained solo. What I really need is a good local training partner, but until I find that, BOB will have to do.

Based on the work we did deploying knives, I’m very happy with how quickly I can access the Street Beat. If I need to get someone off me in a clinch or ground fight, respond to an attempted gun grab, or access a weapon with my left hand because the right is otherwise occupied, it comes out very quickly. The Endura I carry in my pocket, not so much. Getting it out and flipping it open is time-consuming. I’m trying to decide between getting a waved blade or going back to something like a Cold Steel Voyager that I can inertia open (maybe both, for different clothing). I have to say I’m really glad I brought the Endura trainer since it helped make this issue obvious.

The rest of my gear worked very well. The comp on the G19X didn’t cause any issues with the close range shooting we did. NOK trainers were excellent, as usual, as was all of the Dale Fricke kydex.

We had some great weather for this class. It was a bit rainy on Thursday, but we had a ramada to retreat to. The only real downpour came around noon, so we were able to break for lunch and stay under cover. The rest of the days were sunny and clear, but not too hot or humid. Better weather than we had any right to expect in Pennsylvania in June.

Finally, this class was just filled with great students. This included a couple of more experienced guys, who made great demo dummies and training partners, as well as some folks who, like me, were relatively new to much of this material. Eric did a great job of teaching everyone, regardless of skill level. All of the students were quality training partners and did an excellent job of helping their partner learn (unlike some folks in classes like this who are just there to indulge their own egos).

All of the students at the class seemed very happy with Eric as an instructor. There was some discussion of what he might come out and teach next year, and it sounds like there’s some great stuff on tap. I may be heading out to Pennsylvania again.

Shooting in Low Light

Chris Upchurch

Recently I took a Shooting in Low Light class at Range 54, a local indoor range and training facility here in Wichita. This is a single-evening course that covers the basics of shooting in low light situations.

Trigger time in low light is not easy to get, so I try to hit as many low light courses as I can. In this case, my specific motivation for taking this class was to test some new hardware.


I've been setting up a variation on the "Roland Special": a Glock 19 with a compensator, red dot, and weaponlight. The low light applications of a weaponlight are pretty obvious, but the other hardware reason for taking this class was to see what effect the comp had on muzzle flash.

My Roland Special is a Glock 19X with an RMR, a Mayhem Syndicate Compensator, and the Crimson Trace Lightguard LTG-736. The Lightguard is a bit of a compromise. It's very compact and has a frame mounted pressure switch allowing momentary one-handed activation. However, it doesn't have the lumens of some of the larger weaponlights, is not easily removable, and it takes CR2 batteries rather than the more common CR123s.

I went with the Mayhem Syndicate comp because it's nice and compact. On a G19, it's the same length as a G17 slide (as compared to most comps that take a G19 up to G34 length).

One unexpected addition to my gear for this class was the Surefire Stiletto. A fellow student at the Longrifle/Scout Sniper class last week showed me his, and I immediately ordered one off of Amazon. The Stiletto is a is a 650 lumen light that uses a built-in rechargeable battery rather than replaceable batteries. Rather than being cylindrical, it's sort of flattened, making it easy to carry in a pocket. What really got me interested is the switch setup. It has a tail switch and a switch on the side of the light. All the tail switch does is momentarily activate the 650-lumen setting. No locking the light on, no cycling through different modes (you can get a strobe mode by triple tapping and holding, but I basically ignore that). The side button will turn on the light in the 5-lumen task light power (it will cycle through the power settings if you click it multiple times). This is the first light with multiple power settings that I really like the switchology on. The clear separation between "tactical" and "task" lighting is a great setup.


The class was scheduled from 6-8pm and kicked off a little after 6. Greg, the instructor, introduced himself, then had the students talk a bit about their backgrounds.

The first section of the class was dedicated to lecture, starting with the four rules of gun safety. With that taken care of, Greg segued into low light tactics.

The lecture was done in Range 54's very nice classroom facility, rather than on the range. This meant that it could be accompanied by a powerpoint. Unfortunately, I think this ended up detracting from the quality of the lecture. It wasn't very interactive. It also meant that all of the lecture content was done up front (in about the first 40 minutes of the class) before we got out of the range and shot. The lecture was quite the info dump; I think it would have benefited from being broken up into shorter chunks and having some of the more technique focused stuff integrated into the range portion of the class.

Greg covered some of the fundamental principles of shooting in low light, then moved on to the various light techniques. He covered Harries, FBI, Rogers, and neck index techniques. Harries has you holding the light in one hand, gun in the other, with the back of the hands pressed together. Rogers allows you to get somewhat of a support hand grip on your pistol, trapping the light between your index and middle fingers and pulling it to the rear to activate it. The FBI technique is the classic police light technique, with the light held above and to the support side. Neck index involves holding the light against your jaw, linking it to your head position rather than your gun hand.

Greg kind of poo-poohed the neck index, which I find to be one of the most useful flashlight techniques (and didn't cover reverse Harries at all, which I also like quite a bit).

He talked very briefly about point shooting, in the context of pointing in using body mechanics and using your muzzle flash to verify sight alignment for subsequent shots.

Finally, he moved on to a more general discussion of defensive shooting, talking about verbal commands, using cover, and post-fight actions to check for additional threats, injuries, and dealing with responding law enforcement. A particularly good point that he made was that in low light you may want to get much closer to your cover than you would during daylight. When you're using a light, getting closer to cover avoids bouncing light off your cover and illuminating yourself and ruining your vision.

He talked a bit about reloads, both out of battery and in battery (slide lock and proactive reloads). One thing he emphasized was stowing the light before reloading, rather than trying to reload with the flashlight in hand.

We moved out to the range and got started with some dry work, practicing each of the shooting positions. Greg pointed out that with the relatively low ceiling on the range using the FBI technique with your gun up high tended to reflect quite a bit of light back on you. Given that most of my low light shooting experience has been on outdoor ranges, this isn't something I've encountered before.

Getting started with the live fire, we began with pairs from low ready using the Harries, Rogers, and FBI positions. I had a real hard time using the Rogers position with the Stiletto. The tail switch just isn't well set up for that sort of activation. Harries and FBI were no problem, however.

We moved on to incorporating some reloads and basic movement (a sidestep) into the drills. Greg really pushed leaving the light on when sidestepping. I think leaving the light on negates one of the biggest benefits of moving in low light: concealing your position.

While I tried to follow Greg's instructions to stow the light during reloads, most of the time I ended up leaving it in my hand because that's how I've practiced. Due to its flat shape, the Stiletto actually quite good in the hand when reloading. It's much easier to accommodate alongside a magazine than a cylindrical flashlight.

We did a bit of shooting without the light, just using the muzzle flash. For these drills, I brought out a bit of my carry ammo to see how much muzzle flash it generated with the comp. It was fairly minimal. Definitely more prominent than a gun without a comp, but hardly blinding. My practice ammo was definitely a lot more flashy, though.

Moving back to 7 yards, Greg had us start giving some verbal commands ("Stop!", "Drop the weapon!", etc.) during the drills as well. Around this point, he stopped prescribing which flashlight technique to use on each drill and told us to choose what we were most comfortable with (including using a weaponlight if we had one). I had some difficulty reliably activating the Lightguard using the pressure switch, particularly while actually shooting. I definitely need to put in some more practice with it.

Greg dragged some stacked barrels out to the 15-yard line for us to use as cover and had us practice shooting around to either side of them. When he was demoing shooting from the support side, he swapped hands. I'm always up for swapping hands, so when I shot the drill, I did likewise. Since there wasn't any actual instruction on support side shooting, I couldn't help but wonder how educated some of my fellow students' left-hand trigger fingers were. We practiced both standing and kneeling, from both the right and left sides of the barricade.

For the final exercise, Greg moved one of the barricades up to the 5-yard line and had us shoot from the 15-yard barricade, then move up to the 5-yard barricade and shoot from there.

We finished up right at about 8 o'clock. Greg had us to a bit of a debrief afterward, asking us for something we liked about the class and something we didn't like.


This was a worthwhile class for me. The content was pretty basic, but in a 2-hour open enrollment class I wasn't expecting anything like one of Roger Phillips' 4-night extravaganzas. It did a good job covering the fundamentals.

The class definitely taught me some valuable things about my gear. The Stiletto worked quite well. Not really suitable for the Rogers technique, but anything that has your thumb on the tail switch works just fine. The flat shape is great for keeping it in the hand during weapon manipulations. It's also got a ton of lumens. I'm really liking this light.

The Lightguard, on the other hand, does not have a ton of lumens. However, it definitely has enough for target identification at close ranges. I don't know that I'd want to search a darkened warehouse or a big field with it, but for home defense or a close range confrontation in an alleyway or Walmart parking lot, it has enough to acquire and identify your target. However, I definitely need to put some more time into training with it. I sometimes had a hard time keeping the light on as I was shooting. Sometimes I found the light turning off as I moved my finger to the trigger. More dry practice is definitely necessary.

The muzzle flash from the Mayhem Syndicate comp was never blinding, even with my flashy practice ammo. With the carry ammo, it was downright tame. Definitely not the problem that some folks make it out to be.

One piece of gear I had some trouble with was my magazines. When I switched to appendix carry, I also switched from standard length G17 mags to the longer Magpul 21 round mags. For this class, I only brought standard length mags, and I found them difficult to dig out of my appendix mag pouch. Lesson learned, bring some 21 rounders next time.

I think this class was a very good value for my time and money. For a beginner, it does a good job covering the fundamentals, and for a more advanced student, it's a good opportunity to get some low light trigger time and shake out some gear.

Longrifle and Rural Scout Sniper with Eric Pfleger

Chris Upchurch

Over Memorial Day weekend, I took Eric Pfleger's Longrifle and Rural Scout/Sniper classes. The Longrifle class ran Saturday/Sunday and focused on long-range shooting, while the Rural Scout/Sniper course on Monday and Tuesday covered stalking and the intel gathering role of a sniper.

Eric is a sniper on a regional SWAT team in a very rural area, so he's one of the small percentage of police snipers who's actually going to get a lot of mileage out of a ghillie suit. This sort of thing is right in his wheelhouse. I've taken the Longrifle course before when Eric taught it at Thunder Vally Precision in Ohio. The Rural Scout/Sniper has some overlap with the Pathfinder, Reece, & Man Tracking course that Eric did a couple of years ago, so the curriculum wasn’t totally new to me, but I’m still generally a novice at this sort of thing so more instruction from someone as knowledgeable as Eric was quite welcome.

After the class, I stuck around for the rest of the week to enjoy Montana a bit.


Long range rifle classes are generally very gear intensive; this one even more so because we'd spend one night camping in the field. That posed a problem for me since I'd be flying in from Kansas.

Despite the fact that I was flying in, I decided to bring two rifles to this class. I wanted to bring out my Ruger Precision Rifle for the long-range shooting portion of the course, but it's kind of heavy and unwieldy to carry around in the field. For the field work, I brought out my new .308 AR.

The RPR hasn't really changed since the last class I brought it to. As before it's got a 3-18x Vortex Razor HD II on it and I've replaced the factory stock with a Magpul PRS. One change I did make was to switch from the Atlas bipod to one of the new Magpul bipods. I did this so I could have one bipod on each rifle, rather than swapping the Atlas back and forth.

The .308 AR is a build I put together, using an Aero Precision upper, lower, and handguard. I'm running a Nightforce ATACR 1-8x on it, in a tall American Defense mount. This is more of a general purpose rifle rather than being optimized solely for long range or precision shooting. I figured it would work well for the Scout/Sniper portion of the class.

When I was testing the gun, I was getting some failures to eject with the spent case hanging out like a stovepipe, jammed up underneath a fresh round that was partway into the chamber. I took some slow motion video to help diagnose the problem. I came to the conclusion that the rifle was probably overgassed, leading to the bolt carrier group coming back fast enough for the extractor to lose its grip on the rim of the case before the case had a chance to reach the ejection port. After a heavier buffer failed to solve the problem, I ended up installing an adjustable gas block. I did not get the chance to run as many rounds through the rifle as I would like before bringing it to class, but during the testing, I was able to do I didn't have any more malfunctions after getting the gas block adjusted, and ejection was much more vigorous and consistent.

Both rifles have QD mounts for my AAC 762-SDN-6 suppressor. Only one can, so I had to swap it back and forth between them.

This is grizzly bear country. While my .308 would be my go-to for bear defense, I might not always have that in hand. I brought a 10mm Glock. One issue when running a big pack is always how to carry a pistol and accommodate the pack's belt. My favored solution for this is a dropped and offset holster. This puts the pistol low enough and far enough out from the body to clear the pack belt without tying it to your thigh the way a drop leg holster does. Whenever you're crawling around in the bush, it pays to have some sort of retention. I ran a dropped and offset Safariland ALS holster.

In a class like this, optics are as important as rifles. In addition to the rifle scopes, I also brought my Leupold Mark 4 12-40x spotting scope with a Horus reticle in it. After my experience hunting in Montana the past two years I decided to upgrade from separate binoculars and laser rangefinder to a set of binos with a built-in rangefinder. I picked up a pair of the Vortex Fury 10x42s for this class (I also brought my old Leica 1600 rangefinder and Vortex compact 8x binos).

On my past hunting trips and classes, I've run the binos on a Leupold binocular harness, but I've found pulling up against the tension of the harness annoying, and it can make it hard to keep the binos steady for long periods. This time I brought a Badlands Bino Mag case that provides the binoculars a bit more protection while keeping them readily accessible (ok, it also looked really cool in Wind River). The case has dummy cords in case you drop the binoculars, but they aren't under tension the way a harness is. I used a set of Peak Design Anchor Links, so I could detach the binos from the dummy cords when I wanted to use them separately.

This is definitely a course where camo is appropriate. I favor Multicam, and the terrain in Montana is quite suited for it. I brought some Crye combat pants (one pair of G3s and one of the new G4s) and Tru-Spec Multicam shirts. Throw in a pair of Multicam Under Armour boots and a Multicam boonie, and I was pretty much cammoed up head to toe.

Being Montana in the springtime, the weather was potentially pretty variable. I wanted to be prepared for everything from hot days to sub-freezing temps, sun to rain (probably not snow, but even that was possible). So, long underwear, fleece, insulated gloves, neck gaiter, and watch cap for the cold. For windy and wet, a full set of Multicam Gortex including a rain jacket, rain pants, and gaiters.

Since we'd be camping out in the field for a night during the Rural Scout Sniper portion, this class also required camping gear. I mostly brought my usual backpacking kit: a small tent, sleeping bag, Thermarest mattress, etc. I did upgrade my old backpacking stove to a new Jetboil model for cooking dinner and breakfast.

I brought a pair of 2-liter water bladders as my main water source, along with a Nalgene bottle (sometimes a bottle is more practical than a bladder, particularly around camp). To keep these full of fresh water, I got a new Sawyer Squeeze water filter and some Katydn Micropur purification tablets.

Finally, food. For the overnight, I brought my usual sort of backpacking rations: noodles and canned ham for dinner, instant oatmeal and hot chocolate for breakfast. Knowing Eric, I figured that during the days it would be mostly eating on the go rather than lengthy meal breaks, so I brought a lot of snack type stuff: Cliff bars, GORP, pretzels, jerky, beef sticks, etc.

Of course, I also needed some way to carry all this stuff. Eric told us to be able to carry all of our kit to our camping location on foot, then carry our food, shooting, survival, and inclement weather gear with us as we moved around to different locations during the day. So, a big ruck to carry everything and a smaller bag to carry the daytime kit.

This sounded like a job for my Eberlestock Skycrane. The Skycrane is less of a "pack" and more of a flexible system for securing heavy loads to your back. The base pack includes a frame, shoulder straps, and waist belt. Its only enclosed cargo space is two long side pockets. You can load this frame up with Eberlestock's Little Brother pack and their Spike duffel bags in various combinations. I squeezed all of my daytime in the Little Brother and loaded up the Spike and the side pockets with my camping gear. When I did my test pack (which didn't quite include all of my gear or ammo), the day pack came in at about 30 pounds, and the full setup was over 55 lbs. Throw in the remaining kit, and it'll probably tip the scales at over 60 pounds (not counting rifle, scope, pistol, or binoculars).

This was all way too much for checked luggage with the airline. Fortunately, Eric was willing to receive packages for students ahead of time. For some stuff like ammo and stove fuel that can be a pain to ship, I bought it online and had it shipped directly to Eric. I packed most of my gear in one big box and shipped it out the week before class. On the airplane, I had one big rifle case with the rifles and pistol in it and a large rolling suitcase with my clothes and other gear. Rather than trusting my expensive optics to UPS or the TSA and airline baggage handlers, I got a carry-on sized Pelican case and brought them with me on the plane.


I arrived in Missoula in late afternoon. Eric was nice enough to pick me up at the airport. He was putting me up for the class in his fifth-wheel trailer, which was parked on a piece of property where he was also hosting some students from the class who were tent camping. After dropping my gear off at the fifth wheel, a couple of other students and I went out for dinner with Eric and his family.


I rolled out of bed early on Saturday and got to work sorting out my gear. It was pretty well mixed up, with gear spread between my checked suitcase, rifle case, carry on, and the stuff I had shipped out ahead of time. Thankfully I could ignore a lot of it until Monday, (mostly the camping stuff) but I still needed to assemble all the shooting gear, some food, and other random stuff I’d need today and tomorrow.

We convoyed from camp out to the rendezvous point (a gas station on the highway where we’d be shooting). Eric briefed everybody on where we were headed today, and we made the short drive out to where we’d be shooting.

We started out with introductions. There were some folks who’d made long trips to attend this class (even longer than mine). He had us team up into two-man teams (shooter/spotter). My buddy for this class was a guy who goes by cdiesel on the Paragon Pride forum. He was shooting a SCAR 17 with a 3.5 power ACOG, so a very different setup (particularly compared to my RPR with the big 3-18 optic on it).

Most of the students in the class were running bolt guns, though there was a substantial minority with semi-autos (mostly ARs of various flavors, plus cdiesel‘ s SCAR). The most common caliber was .308, but there were a number of 6.5s in evidence, as well as one .224 Valkyrie.

Eric gave the medical brief. Since we’d be training in remote locations this was fairly in-depth, with designated medical personnel, incident commanders, note takers, runners, communicators (including instructions on how to get comms with county dispatch), and even designating responsibility for who would be responsible for signaling a helicopter if we had to call in a medivac.

To avoid having to put any of these preparations into practice, Eric did the safety brief. In addition to the standard gun stuff, Eric talked about snakes, badger holes (don’t want to turn an ankle), hydration, and other environment-specific threats. On the gun side, pistols could stay live in the holsters, while sniper rifles needed to be unloaded when not on the line and shooting. Eric demoed his preferred unloading procedure. The element I particularly like about how he does it (which I have incorporated into my own unloading process) is that he does visual and tactile checks of the weapon’s chamber and magwell, then looks away from the gun before checking a second time. This diverting attention away from the gun is key to breaking up the two checks and making it less likely that you’ll miss something.

Eric had everyone grab a pistol, binoculars, and a notebook and writing implement. This is the bare minimum of what it takes to function as a spotter or observer, and Eric wanted everyone to have it on them at all times during the class.

He talked a bit about the sniper mission, and the way it combines observation and precisely delivered fire.

This segued into a lecture on Tier 1 gear; the gear that you carry directly on your person. Eric went through what he carries and why. For a sniper, this usually includes a rifle and ammo, but also survival kit, nav equipment, and sustainment gear.

Eric is known for his epic gear lectures, but in this class, he was making an effort to break it up over the four days, rather than going on for hours at the start of day one. After covering the Tier 1 stuff, we moved on to a Kim’s game. Eric had a dozen items laid out on a piece of cardboard and gave us three minutes to memorize everything we could about them.

Before going out and shooting Eric went through the basics of shooter-spotter communication. It’s important to tell your partner when you’re on target and ready to shoot so he can observe the effect of your shots. Since we’d be shooting in an area with some high grass, Eric also covered some methods for getting more elevation, including using your spotter’s rifle, or your spotter himself, as support.


We shot at 100 yards to confirm zeroes and adjust as necessary. It took a couple of iterations, but eventually, everyone was happy with their zeroes.

Eric did another brief gear lecture, talking about the gear he keeps in the stock pouch on his main .308 sniper rifle, including a few rounds of ammo, laser rangefinder, dope cards, a calculator, and a tape measure. He also broke out the whiteboard and talked a bit about ballistics and zeroing, showing how the trajectory of the bullet relates to your line of sight through the optic.

Before getting back to shooting, Eric also went through the contents of his soft case/drag bag. He’s got bigger support gear in here, like a spotting scope and suppressor, more ammo, more dope cards, etc. Between this and the stuff on the gun, he can grab one case and combined with the Tier 1 gear on his person he has everything he needs to deploy as a sniper.

At that point, we switched from bullseyes to photo targets of human heads. Eric talked everyone through the aiming points on the human head, aiming for that perfect “lights out” shot. Eric’s head pictures are not all straight on presentations with the target directly facing the sniper, so you have to visualize where those critical parts of the brain would be based on the head’s orientation (Eric noted that a good way to do this is to think about where you want the round to exit). We ran this drill a couple of times, pasting up new pictures so people had experience shooting at several different heads in different orientations.

We got our first dose of rain, but it was fairly light (barely worth breaking out the Gortex).

On one iteration of the headshot drill, Eric had everyone deliver coordinated fire, doing a count and firing together on three. On the following iteration, he had us do the same thing within our two-man teams. Doing it within the team is a bit harder because someone has to both shoot and do the count. That can make breath control and getting a good trigger press challenging. I ran the count and cdiesel and I were able to get good simultaneous shots.

We moved over to a neighboring draw where Eric had set out various objects and had us search for them using our binos and spotting scopes. Some of them were pretty obvious, others more subtle. Perhaps most notably, he had a ghillie suit set up as an enemy sniper, with a foam head and spotting scope. The sunglasses and spotting scope are surprisingly visible at distance. They were what really made it possible to distinguish the ghillie suit from a big bunch of vegetation. Optic lenses are definitely something you need to camouflage.

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We moved back and debriefed the Kim’s game from this morning to see how much we had been able to remember. Eric talked about doing Kim’s games with vehicles and people, picking out and memorizing characteristics that make them identifiable.

Since he’d used the ghillie suit during the glassing exercise, Eric talked a bit about ghillie suit construction. He had examples of both a full ghillie suit and a ghillie cape that he keeps with his main sniper bag. The cape can be pretty effective at breaking up the human outline without being as hot or heavy as a full ghillie suit.

Switching to some shooting, we moved back to 200 yards. At this distance, the grass was too high to shoot from prone. We had to use various means to get higher to engage the targets. I ended up standing my pack up on end and resting the rifle on that. cdiesel and I were able to get good headshots that way.


Eric noted that snipers have two movement speeds in the field: crawl and run. He ran us back from the targets a couple of times to get our heart rates up before firing.

Moving back to 300 yards, again we weren’t able to shoot from prone. Since we were getting far enough that my spotting scope wasn’t doing much good seeing holes in the paper, I pulled it off of the tripod and put my shooting saddle on there. I found I could rest the front of the rifle on the saddle and sit with my pack against my chest to provide rear support. This was a very stable position.

We started out with some headshots, though this is pushing the distance that you can deliver a perfect lights-out shot. We moved on to painting some circles on the targets and using those as aiming points.

Finally, we pulled back to 400 yards. Here we had a bit of elevation and some shorter vegetation, so we were able to shoot from prone again. After everyone was satisfied with their hits at 400, we packed up our gear and loaded the targets on the truck.


Our last exercise of the day was doing some ranging with mil-reticle optics. Eric did a brief lecture on how to calculate the distance to a target based on its size in mils. Standard sized objects like street signs and license plates are good for this sort of thing. He gave us a card with dimensions of these sorts of common objects. This is also why Eric emphasizes a sniper carrying a tape measure, so he can measure stuff in the field and build his database of standard sized objects. What’s useful to know will vary depending on your AO. If you’re someplace overseas where there are lots of Toyota pickups being used as technicals, then knowing the height of a Toyota door or the size of its tire will be useful. Same thing for standard door heights, the transformers on power poles, and other objects or features you find in the environment.

Eric had scattered some road signs and a license plate out in the field. We ranged them with our mil-reticle optics and worked the math, then confirmed with laser rangefinders. I did pretty well with the mil reticle in my spotting scope. The folks running mil reticles in binoculars had some challenges holding things steady enough. I like having a mil reticle in binos for other reasons, but they’re not great for ranging.

We headed back to Eric’s place, where he cooked up a bunch of antelope and lots of mashed potatoes. Several folks had brought growlers of beer and a small keg. I broke out the nice bottle of rye I brought while another student had some good tequila. We all hung out and talked for a couple of hours.


On Sunday morning, we rendezvoused at a different gas station. From there we drove out to an actual shooting range for a couple of exercises. First up was shooting moving targets.

Eric set this up on a 100-yard rifle range, with half the class beyond the berm carrying targets back and forth on tall sticks while the other half shot. This did mean that we were shooting over the berm, but we had a whole mountainside as a bullet trap. Eric explained how to lead targets based on movement speed and distance.

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There are two ways to shoot while leading a moving target: tracking and trapping. With tracking, you swing your rifle with the target as it moves and creeping slightly ahead to provide your lead. Trapping involves keeping your rifle stationary using the horizontal crosshair to figure when the target gets to the point where you’ve got the appropriate lead, and allowing the target to walk into your bullet.

Each relay got a couple of dry runs to get the right magnification and practice leading the targets, followed by a live run. We went down and checked the targets to see how we did. I’d gotten my lead right, but I was quite a bit high. This was surprising because while my trigger press was far from perfect if anything, I shanked it low. Then I realized that I’d left my 400-yard adjustment dialed in from yesterday. Always return your turrets to zero!

We got set up again and did two live runs, one moving in each direction. Having got my rifle dialed properly, I did a bit better this time. On the last run, I actually tried engaging multiple times, trapping for the first shot, then running the bolt and switching to tracking for a second shot.

Next, we moved over to the pistol range to practice transitioning from rifle to handgun. Eric had us start off just drawing and shooting from the holster, to make sure everyone could safely get the gun out and deliver handgun fire.

If a sniper armed with a bolt gun encounters a sudden close range threat the best course of action is probably to fire one shot with the rifle, then switch to handgun. With a high magnification optic delivering that first shot at close range may be a challenge. Eric talked a bit about point shooting, specifically using the top turret of your optic with “metal on meat” point shooting.

We drilled taking one shot with the rifle, then slinging the long gun and transitioning to pistol. Rather than metal on meat, I just rolled the rifle over a bit and sighted down the handguard, which works well with the nice straight lines on the RPR’s forend.

Finally, Eric talked about responding to threats when you’re proned out behind the rifle. He demonstrated responding to threats to either side, but for the drill, we would be responding to a threat to the rear. We started out on our dry rifles, facing uprange. On command, everyone rolled over off the gun, sat up, and drew their handgun and engaged the target.


During these drills, I got had several malfunctions with my 10mm Glock. They appeared to be light primer strikes. Since I’d be relying on this gun for bear defense over the following two days (not to mention as my self-defense gun for the rest of the week), this concerned me quite a bit.

As Eric had said the previous day, snipers in the field have two speeds: crawl and run. He comes to this range and qualifies with his duty sniper rifle every week. As part of that he runs up to the gate and back (about a quarter of a mile) with his rifle then takes a 100-yard headshot. Eric had us shoot this drill. He emphasized that we should pace ourselves on the run, including walking some or all of the distance if necessary (he didn’t want to give anyone a heart attack). However, if you’re not getting yourself winded by the end, you’re not really getting full value out of the drill.

A couple of years ago when I was carrying a lot more weight and not doing as much exercise, this kind of drill really would have sucked for me. However, I think I did pretty well both on the run and in delivering the headshot at the end. I was definitely feeling the weight of that big, heavy rifle though.

We loaded up the vehicles and made a drive out to some land Eric had permission for us to shoot on about 10 miles east of town. Here we could push to longer distances than the spot where we’d been shooting the day before.

After setting up some steel, Eric did another chunk of gear lecture, talking through the contents of his sniper ruck. He covered a couple of alternatives, like a battle belt, sniper vest, or shoulder bag, with examples of each. However, he spent most of the time going through his primary sniper ruck: a medium-sized backpack. As you’d expect from Eric, it’s very well thought out, both in terms of what he’s carrying and how he’s got it laid out with shooting gear on the exterior and sustainment gear inside.

Eric had us move to shooting positions up on a bluff. Rather than just walking up there he had us move somewhat tactically up from the road (though this was not intended as a stalking exercise). Eric talked a bit about vehicle insertions, including one that he did when antelope hunting (which actually has quite a bit in common with sniping). Basically, the vehicle slows down, and the sniper chucks out his pack and hops down while the vehicle is still in motion. We simulated this rather than actually doing it, then moved up to our firing position. While this was not a stalk, Eric did have us crawl from the point where we got to the crest of the bluff into our shooting position.

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One problem many students encountered with this was the “buffalo hump” issue. While your body may be low, that ruck on your back is sticking up and wiggling around as you crawl. Unless you’re moving through very high cover, you really need to get that ruck off and drag it.

Another gear specific issue that cropped up was with the Badlands binocular case that cdiesel was running. He was using one that included a smaller, second compartment on the bottom for a laser rangefinder. When low crawling, this tended to rub against the ground and pop open, dumping out his LRF. He didn’t have the rangefinder dummy corded, so he had to go back and look for it. Clearly, this bino case wasn’t built with a low-crawling sniper in mind.

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Once in position, we did some shooting from about 500 yards. At first, I was off by quite a bit, until I realized that I’d been looking at the dope card for my .308 rather than my 6.5 (there’s about a mil difference between them at this distance). After I fixed that screwup and got a feel for the wind, I was able to bang some pretty small targets (verging on MOA sized).

We did our initial shooting from prone, but after a while, Eric had everyone rally up and demonstrated some techniques for shooting from sloped terrain, shooting uphill and downhill, as well as cross-slope. He had everyone push forward over the lip of the bluff and do some shooting from the slope (which was fairly steep, about 45 degrees). This was kind of tough with my big, front-heavy rifle. The best way I found was to raise my support side knee and brace the back of the bipod against it, then kind of come in from the side and peek through the scope. cdiesel actually had it quite a bit easier with better-balanced SCAR.

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Since cdiesel and I were on the extreme left where the bluff curved around, Eric encouraged us to take advantage of this and try some cross-slope shooting as well. This was considerably easier. I could just use my ruck for support. The only hard part was figuring out what to do with my strong side elbow (splaying it out was less comfortable, but seemed to be more stable than tucking it underneath my body).

As we walked back to the vehicles, Eric went through the 10 deadly “S”s that will betray your position to someone trying to observe you: shape, shadow, shine, silhouette, spacing, speed, scent, sound, signal, and spoor.

We relocated the steel, then drove back out to a position where we could shoot out to longer distances, starting at about 800 yards. I found that I was missing my rear bag. I’d used it when we were shooting off the bluff, so I must have left it up there (spoor). I let Eric know, and he said he’d have a look next time he was out here shooting.

Shooting without the rear bag was a bit harder, but I got good hits at 800. This sort of distance was really pushing the SCAR and ACOG, though cdiesel got better results when he switched from the M80 ball that he’d been shooting to some match ammo.

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We pulled back to 900 yards. From this position, you needed to shoot from a higher position to see the targets. Since most of us aren’t steady enough to shoot from standing at this distance, some folks shot from truck beds and others broke out tripods. I was able to get some hits at this distance as well, though it was getting to the point where spotting my misses to make corrections was difficult.

With where we had the targets placed, we could have gotten back to about 980, but not quite to 1000 (a different target placement probably could have made that possible). Rather than push the distance again, we decided to pack it in and head back. I got some dinner with Eric (some excellent goose barbacoa). After dinner, we headed over to camp and enjoyed some more good beer and good conversation before turning in.


After the light primer strikes the previous day on Monday morning, I partially detail stripped the slide of my Glock. I got the firing pin cleaned off, as well as cleaning and lubing the whole gun generally.

We all met up there in camp. Eric gave a more detailed version of his 10 deadly “S”s lecture. He talked about different camouflage options. A ghillie suit was great for open country like where we’d been operating on Saturday and Sunday, but it’s not as useful in the woods where we’d be today and tomorrow. Not to mention, for long, foot-mobile operations ghillies are hot to wear and heavy to carry. This is much more the domain of BDUs or hunting camo.

Moving on, Eric went through the contents of his big Eberlestock Terminator pack. This was the longest gear discussion of the class since Eric has this pack set up for multi-day operations out in the woods. In addition to sniping kit, this includes heavy-duty sustainment gear like multiple days of food, clothing, a bivy shelter, sleeping bag, etc. It’s basically the same setup that Eric wrote about in his Everything but the Kitchen Sink article.

Eric broke out his sand table kit. This is a collection of little lengths of various colors of cordage, sponges, and other bits and bobs that he can use to lay out maps and diagrams as part of the mission planning process. He used these, along with a whiteboard and markers, to brief us on our initial mission we’d be performing when we got out to the class location.

Our job was to recon a structure on the property and gather the intel a commander would need to plan an assault. Eric talked about what kind of information was required: things like the number and location of windows and doors, window heights and coverings, available cover and its distance from the structure, whether different approaches would be passable for conventional vehicles or armored vehicles. Even down to things like the location of chimneys and roof vents (which can help you figure out the interior layout of a structure), where electrical and phone lines enter the building, and the presence of security lights and cameras.

Eric gave everyone a chance to get packed up (or repack their kit based on his gear lecture), then we mounted up and convoyed out to the property where we’d be doing the remainder of the class.

Once out there, Eric demonstrated using face paint to camouflage yourself. It’s more than just slapping a bunch of green on your face. You want to lighten sunken or shadowed areas of the face, like the eye sockets or under the chin, and lighten more prominent areas like the nose and cheeks. Then you add some blotches of contrasting colors to break up recognizable features like the eyes and mouth.

For this operation, Eric wanted us to carry our full load, including all the gear we’d need to stay out overnight. For me, this probably added up to over sixty pounds, plus rifle (I’d swapped over to the .308 AR for this portion of the class). We’d cache the big rucks near the objective and move forward with just our sniper kit for the recon and retrieve our rucks on the way out.

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I got volunteered as team leader for the operation. We had five teams, so one team would be responsible for each side of the house, and one would get a good look at the gate. cdiesel and I took the gate, and the other teams each took one side of the house. Eric issued radios, but as a backup, we set a time for each team to finish their observations by and to pull back to the vehicles.

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We stepped off and moved up as individual teams. I’m not the sneakiest guy when it comes to moving through the woods, but doing it in a big heavy ruck definitely added to the degree of difficulty. Not only did the big bulky pack tend to brush or catch on stuff, but the weight also pulled me off balance and made it difficult to bend down or lean to avoid branches.

After dropping our rucks, cdiesel and I moved up to our observation position and started glassing the gate and taking notes. The gate was pretty straightforward, so we also gathered what intel we could about the area as a whole, leaving the structure itself to the other teams. When the time came to pull back, we moved to our rucks and retrieved them. I found it took longer that I would like to get the Skycrane put back together. While I was doing that Eric walked by and spotted us.


We were the first ones back to the vehicles. One student had brought a small drone, so we also ran a bit of aerial surveillance on the target as well.

After everyone trickled in, we relayed our observations to Eric, having each team talk through what they seen and done. Some teams had a bit more of an adventure than we did (including one who got wet crossing the creek to get to their observing position).

We mounted up and drove on into the clearing where we’d be camping. We took a walk around the structure and debriefed the exercise. Generally, we’d done a good job of noting the relevant details of the structure.

Eric pressed some of us into service to go out and set up some steel targets at about 100 and 150 yards for our low light shooting later that night. With that accomplished, we took a bit of a break from class to get camp set up and get some dinner.

It doesn’t get dark until quite late in Montana this time of year, so we didn’t kick off the night shoot until after 10pm. Several folks had brought NVGs, so we started off shooting using those (I’d brought my PVS-14, but I don’t have a laser setup for this rifle yet, so I just watched). Once everyone who wanted to shoot with NVG had a chance, we went out and put some light sticks up on the targets so folks without night vision optics could shoot.

With that, Eric called an official end to the training day, and we broke out the booze. Some folks headed right for bed, but many of us stayed up until the wee hours enjoying some good fellowship with like-minded folks.


After a rather short night’s sleep, we all got breakfast going and got our kit squared away for the last day of class.

Eric started things off with another Kim’s game. After that, we did an exercise where he handed us a little smiley face, and we had to use our optics find the matching smiley on a sheet that had about 20 of them on it, each with slight visual differences. Then you had to engage your smiley. The smileys are only about an inch in diameter, so the accuracy standard is pretty high. To complicate things a bit further, Eric had us shoot this drill from about 60 yards. So if you didn’t know your intermediate holds before you get out to 100, you were in trouble. cdiesel and I were able to ID our smileys, but I missed mine. The round landed high, and a bit left.

The next exercise had us moving one team at a time to the firing position where we’d done the night shoot last night. Our task was to engage a priority target (represented by a paper target) and a secondary target (represented by a steel plate). The priority target varied for each team. Some were given a photo of their target, others were given a photo of a hostage and told to shoot the hostage taker holding that person.

Since I had more magnification, I took the paper target while cdiesel took the steel. Again, I ended up shooting high and to the left. I hadn’t had a chance to check the zero this rifle (this and the previous drill were the first two rounds I’d put through it the entire class). My zero on this gun may not have been that great to begin with, and I’d popped the optic off of it for the trip out, so the fact that it was off was not entirely unexpected. I cranked in a rough guess at an adjustment based on my results on this drill.

After each team had shot the drill, we debriefed the Kim’s game from earlier.

Next, Eric briefed us on our final exercise. He gave each team a bunch of pictures of targets. Some were identified as bad guys who needed to be shot. Others were undercover officers or informants who we were not supposed to shoot.

The targets would be set up on one side of a large open meadow about half a mile away. Our task was to move to the near side of the meadow, covertly move into firing positions, ID the targets, engage, then pull back.


Once again, I got elected as team leader. I tried to stick with a fairly simple plan: everyone move up to the firing position as a unit, ID the bad guys, and each team simultaneously engage a BG based on their team number going from left to right (team 1 engages the leftmost BG, team 2 the second from left, etc.).

Eric suggested we establish an Objective Rally Point (ORP) where everyone could gather a bit short of our shooting positions and prep gear, sort out any last minute issues, etc. He also wanted us to pull back to that position after taking our shots.

We stepped off, moving in our 2-man teams with about a 25-yard interval between each team. cdiesel and I were team 5, so we were on the tail end. Our route paralleled a road, crossed a more minor dirt track, then paralleled that track into the objective.

After crossing the dirt track, the team running point held up. Eventually, cdiesel and I moved up to where they were stopped. I discovered that their understanding of our route didn’t match mine. I really should have had everyone (but particularly the lead team) brief back the route before we moved out. Once we got that sorted, we started moving parallel to the dirt track to our ORP.

When we got there, Eric suggested a leader’s recon to get eyeballs on our shooting position and the targets before everyone moved up there. I took one of the guys from the lead team, and we moved up to do the recon.

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The shooting position Eric had selected for us was a very good one. The big open meadow we’d be shooting across ended with a line of trees and a slope down towards a small pond. The slope provided good terrain cover from the targets and meant that we could walk to within about 10 yards of our shooting positions before having to drop down to a crawl. The line of trees was thick enough to provide concealment while having enough gaps to use as shooting lanes that we could use to engage the targets. Across the meadow, I could see a bunch of 4’x 3’ wooden targets, each with two faces on them.

However, it quickly became apparent that we would have to push very far forward and expose ourselves quite a bit for every team to be able to see all the targets. Rather than having each team self-deploy and either move forward far enough to see all five targets or engage in a bunch of confused back and forth over which of the five targets each team was looking at, I decided that I’d place each team one at a time and designate a specific target for them so we could be sure that every target was covered.

We headed back to the ORP and briefed this to the team. Everyone moved up to the base of the slope as a unit, and I called one team up at a time and got them in position and pointed at a specific target. They got settled in, broke out the spotting scopes, and got to work IDing the targets.

Since I was running around doing team leader stuff, cdiesel ended up out there on his own. I thought he’d need some more glass than just his ACOG, so I broke out my spotting scope and moved up to give it to him. Unfortunately, I misinterpreted his reply when I offered it to him and thought he was waving me off when he actually wanted to use the spotter. Fortunately, he was able to work with the team next to him to get his target identified.

We had one target board that was a little lower than the others, and that really caused the team I’d assigned to it some problems. They had to push further forward and expose themselves more to get even a tentative ID.

When everyone was settled into positions, we made sure rifles were clear, and Eric moved downrange to the targets and looked back towards us. Even though no one was ghillied up and we hadn’t done any real hide construction (just wearing camouflage with maybe a sniper veil thrown overhead and optics) Eric wasn’t able to locate anyone using his binos. I was moving around quite a bit behind the firing position, making sure each team had ID’d their targets and confirming that there was only one BG (and one no-shoot) on each target board. Even so, he didn’t spot me either.

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After Eric was back behind the firing line, we loaded rifles, and I called the count for the coordinated fire. In real life with teams spread out this far you’d probably do this with radio comms, but we “made pretend” and I just called it out verbally (or more formally, I “simulated radio communications” by speaking loudly). Most targets were engaged simultaneously by both members of the team assigned to that target, but because I was doing the count cdiesel was on his own. One of the other teams could only get one shooter in position to engage without exposing themselves. The coordinated fire worked well, with everyone firing so close together it sounded like one only slightly ragged shot.

We cleared rifles and Eric moved downrange to observe us while we pulled back. He threw in one slight curveball when he told everyone to police their brass as they withdrew (easy enough for the bolt gun guys, but more of a tall order for those shooting semi-autos). Eric had a bit more success spotting us as we withdrew. He made two bits of movement, one very fleeting, the other more obvious and sustained (sustained enough he could have engaged).

After finishing our pullback, we walked out to the targets to debrief. The shooting results were a bit more mixed. Two were solid hits, two more flesh wounds, and one clean miss.

We hiked back to camp, moving non-tactically down the road. There everyone got packed up and loaded our kit, Eric handed out certificates, and we headed out. We convoyed back down the mountain to the main camp where some people had left vehicles and gear. Folks who were headed elsewhere peeled off as appropriate.

Eric and I headed over to his place, and we enjoyed a nice dinner and some beer before making an early night of it.


This was a fantastic class. The long range stuff on Saturday and Sunday was great, but for me, the field work on Monday and Tuesday was the main event. There are few people better at teaching this kind of stuff than Eric, and he really delivered during this class.

As great of an instructor as Eric is, a lot of credit also goes to my fellow students. Everyone contributed significantly to the class. We had a lot of great questions that pushed Eric to elaborate on certain aspects of the material. Many students had experience hunting or shooting long range, and they were able to provide some additional perspective. After the training day was over, there was also some great fellowship among like-minded folks. I thoroughly enjoyed hanging out with this crew.

I had a good shooting partner in cdiesel. He did a great job spotting and pushed the ACOG on the SCAR farther than I would have thought possible. He did a great job holding up our team’s responsibilities when I got sucked into the TL role in the last exercise, and I need to thank him for that.

The Ruger Precision Rifle ran great. It’s a bit of a heavy SOB, but it shoots very accurately. The Vortex 3-18 ran well, using both holdovers and dialing my elevation. I’m liking the Magpul bipod. It’s not as good as my Atlas, but for 1/3 of the cost, you get a lot more than 1/3 of the capability. I’d much rather run this than a Harris or Versapod style bipod. The only thing I’m really missing is QD capability.

I really should have confirmed zero on .my 308 AR on Saturday, even if it meant holding up the class at 100 for a bit longer. There were some more adventures with this rifle accuracy and reliability wise later in this week, which you can read about below.

The Leupold spotting scope ran well, as usual. I am very tempted by the nice tripod Sammy brought for his spotting scope setup. I think I may get a bigger tripod for range use, and maybe something even smaller and more compact for use in the field. My current tripod tries to split the difference between these two roles and doesn’t do either of them optimally.

The Vortex Fury laser rangefinding binoculars worked great. I’m very impressed by the glass on these, and the LRF was effective out to 900 yards (I even pinged a hillside beyond where we were shooting at 1300, though I wasn’t able to confirm that number). Having the laser and binos in a single package was very convenient. I gave Eric a peep through them, and he was pretty impressed as well. I think I may have cost him some money on this trip (turnabout is fair play).

The Badlands bino case worked well. There were a few instances where I wished it was more compact when I was crawling around in the dirt or had to shift it a bit when I got behind the rifle, but generally, it stayed out of the way and kept the binos well protected.

I’m loving the Crye G3 and G4 pants (if anything I think I like the older G3 design a bit better). The knee pads rock for this kind of stuff, though I probably got as much mileage out of them kneeling by the campfire on Monday night as I did doing sniper stuff. Multicam is a good choice for Montana, but this early in the season you could have gotten away with a greener color scheme like woodland BDUs.

My backpacking gear worked as it always does. I was snug and warm even down below freezing the night we slept out. The new Jetboil worked well. I got the bigger pot, which was definitely appropriate for cooking dinner, but I could see a role for a more compact stove as well.

I’m a bit more mixed on the Skycrane system. I like the Little Brother pack as a sniper ruck (it’s got a lot in common with the Eberlestock Halftrack I usually use in that role). However, I’m not entirely satisfied with how long it takes to get in and out of the Skycrane. The Skycrane carried all my gear well, but it’s a pack that tends to get wider side to side and deeper front to back as you add stuff to it. Being 6’5”, I’d really prefer something that gets taller. The biggest issue is that the Skycrane doesn’t really have much in the way of external storage that you can access easily. The Little Brother is kind of buried, and the Spike duffel that sits on the outside is just one big compartment without any organization. I may have an Eberlestock Terminator like Eric’s in my future (though if I get out of a class like this with Eric and that’s the most expensive thing I buy I’ll count myself lucky). I already picked up a Mongo Versapack shoulder bag from Eric, and I’m going to set that up as a small sniper pack as well (which will require slimming down some of my gear).

Using the carry-on sized Pelican case for my optics worked out pretty well. No problems getting it through the security checkpoint at the airport. I did end up having to gate check it for the Denver-Missoula and Missoula-Denver legs (itty bitty airplane with tiny overhead bins) but that's a lot less handling and time out of sight than if I'd checked it as baggage.

I'll definitely be making some changes to my kit after this class. Lots of small "quality of life" improvements like using the Maxpedition pocket organizers to carry kit in cargo pockets, carrying stuff like cough drops, wet wipes, and a microfiber towel. He also demonstrated using an ID card holder dummy corded to your bag to hold dope cards, which is just genius. I'll also be setting up “on gun” and “drag bag” kits for each of my sniper-type rifles.

I’ve talked a bit with Eric about what he wants to do next year and the possibilities that the areas we used for this class have to offer. It sounds like there’s some awesome stuff on tap.

More Montana


The end of class on Tuesday was not the end of my Montana adventures. I’d decided to take the whole week off and wasn’t flying out until Sunday afternoon, so I had some time to hang out with Eric and see if I could fill my bear tag.

Eric had to work a shift on Wednesday, so I spent the morning I doing some work on this writeup. Eric picked me up about noon, and I spent the afternoon doing a ride-along with him.

We swung by the range to take care of the zero on my .308 AR. I was able to get on target, but the experience confirmed that the load that I’m shooting does not group very well out of this gun (it’s the Fiocchi loading of the Barnes 168 grain TTSX bullet). It’s still minute of bear through. However, I also had a couple of failures to cycle as I got down to the bottom of the magazine.

After my light primer strike issues on Monday, I also took my 10mm Glock out to test with a couple mags of ball ammo. I had 3 failures to fire in a row. At that point, I just walked back uprange in frustration.

After thinking about it and talking with Eric, I decided to try some of my hollowpoint carry ammo in it. I was reluctant to do this since I’d only brought two mags worth of hollowpoints (along with two mags of hard cast for bear defense). Shooting some of the carry ammo would leave me less than a minimal loadout for self-defense, However, given the effect, these problems were having on my confidence in this pistol I effectively had zero rounds of useful ammo, so there wasn’t much to lose.

I walked back downrange and blew through a full mag of carry ammo rapid fire. As Eric succinctly out it when I got back to the bench, “You have an ammo problem, not a gun problem.” I got my confidence in my Glock back, though now I was a bit light on ammo (I just carried a mag of hard cast as my reload for the rest of the trip). I gave what was left of the 10mm ball to Eric; maybe it’ll go bang in one of his guns.

That evening we did a road hunt for some bear. We loaded up Eric’s family in the truck and drove up into the mountains west of town, keeping an eye out as we drove and glassing open areas for bear. We kept at it until dusk (pretty late this time of year in Montana). No luck with the bear, but time spend driving around the Montana woods in such good company is by no means wasted.

After some chow and beer at Eric’s place, I drove back to his trailer and turned in for the night.


After the late night road hunting last night we got a fairly leisurely start today. Eric and I headed out to an area where we could get some distance and checked the dope on a couple of his rifles. I also tested out my .308 AR at 300 yards. After the failures to cycle on my .308 AR, I’d opened up the gas setting on my adjustable gas block another notch. There were no troubles cycling, but I did have one round fail to fire.

After I was done shooting, I found an anvil from a primer rattling around in my magazine, indicating I’d probably popped a primer. We didn’t recover that round, but another piece of my brass we did find showed signs of pressure. Eric and I hypothesized that the primer or anvil kept the bolt from going quite all the way into battery and that’s what lead to the failure to fire. Not really the gun’s fault, but this isn’t helping my frustrations with this rifle.

We did some more road hunting. No luck finding a bear, but Eric pointed out some areas where he’s had good hunting on deer and elk in the past. I’ve got an elk tag for this fall, so I’ll be seeing some of these places again later this year.

We had some pizza from a local place for dinner. The pizza was very good, and I’m not grading on a curve here. This wasn’t just “good for small-town Montana,” it was good pizza.


I did another ride-along with Eric on Friday. He got rolling early (though I didn’t join him until mid-morning) so he clocked out mid-afternoon.

Eric put paint on some steel targets and stands that he scored off of a student in the class, then we geared up for an evening bear hunt. This was the last day of the season, and we didn’t bump any bears. We did see a ton of deer through, which augers well for hunting in this area when I come out here in the fall. Fall will also provide a second opportunity to fill my bear tag (tags are good for both spring and fall bear season in a given year).

We got some chow, and I headed back to the trailer.


I headed over to Eric’s place early on Saturday and helped him with fitting a brush guard to one of his vehicles that didn’t have one. We discovered that this would be a considerably more involved process than anticipated (one involving welding and fabrication), so we didn’t get it mounted, but I think we clarified the approach he needs to take to this.

That afternoon I did another ride along, then headed back to the fifth wheel and started the process of getting packed up. This involved sorting my gear into stuff that’s going in my luggage, stuff that will be shipped back, and stuff I’m stashing here until either this August when I’ll be back for another class or when I’ll be in Montana hunting.


Sunday morning I got my gear packed up. I left Eric a big box of stuff to ship back to me at his leisure. This time I managed to keep my gun case below the overweight bag limit.

Over at Eric's, he packed up some antelope that I'd left in his freezer last fall, along with some of his tasty venison summer sausage. We swung buy the fifth wheel to pick up my bags and headed into Missoula. There we hit a couple of gun shops and sporting goods stores, grabbed a late lunch/early dinner, and got me to the airport in plenty of time (in Montana, when you check guns, the TSA agents all crowd around your bag to see what cool stuff you've got when they're searching it).

My flight out of Missoula was delayed 25 minutes due to bad weather in Denver. I only had a bit over an hour layover, so I was concerned about making my connection. Thankfully, they got us there in less than the scheduled flight time, so I was able to make my next flight, no problem. I got home around midnight and staggered into bed.

Final thoughts

I need to thank Eric and his family for putting me up (and putting up with me) for a week. I love spending time in Montana, and it was great to hang out with all of them for a week. I am immensely grateful for the opportunity.