Gunfighting 101 |||

No Fail Pistol and No Fail Rifle with Chuck Pressburg

I recently had the chance to attend Chuck Pressburg’s No Fail Pistol and No Fail Rifle classes in Mead Hall, Oklahoma.

Unusually for me, I didn’t do much research or have much prior knowledge about this class or instructor before I signed up. My friend Sammy mentioned it to me. I know he’s serious enough about training that it would be a worthwhile class. After I signed up, I read some of the No Fail Pistol course reviews and listened to an episode of the Primary & Secondary podcast where some alumni talked about the class, so I would have some idea what to expect when I showed up.

Gear

For No Fail Pistol, my primary gun was a Glock 45 set up as a compact Roland Special with an RMR, Mayhem Syndicate comp, and a Surefire XC-1B light. I had another pistol set up the same way as a backup. I also brought a G19X set up as a more traditional Roland Special, with an RMR, KKM comp, and Streamlight TLR-1. I decided to run the pistol class in my CCW rig: an appendix inside the waistband holster and mag pouch. The course reviews I’d read emphasized carrying enough mags, so I also tossed on a couple of OWB mag pouches on the hip.

Almost all of the students in the class were running red dots on their pistols. Many had comps and lights as well, so my guns were right at home. There were lots of Glocks and double stack 1911s. There were a few Sigs a smattering of other striker-fired pistols. Everyone in the class was running 9mm (the caliber wars are over, at least among Chuck’s student base). Most students were running some sort of tactical belt rig. There were only 3-4 of us running from concealment.

For No Fail Rifle, I brought my 14.5” AR with a Leupold Mark 4 1-6x optic in an ADM 1.93” mount, Surefire scout light, and an AAC Mini4 suppressor. At a couple of recent classes I ran into some issues with the JP Modular trigger becoming reluctant to reset as the gun got dirtier. After this continued happening despite some significant efforts to clean the trigger group while it was still in the rifle, I figured I’d need to pull the trigger out and give it a good thorough cleaning. I decided that if I have to do that every few thousand rounds, this trigger probably doesn’t belong in this rifle. I still love the trigger pull that it gives, so I’ll probably give it a good scrubbing and move it to a gun that doesn’t see as high of a round count. I replaced it with a Geissele SSA (I’ve had issues with Geissele triggers before too, so we’ll see how this one works).

I brought a tactical belt with a couple of rifle and pistol mag pouches, medkit, dump pouch, and a holster for support gear. I also brought a few belt-mounted rifle mag pouches and a dump pouch, so I had the option of something a bit slicker.

Everyone in the class was running an AR variant of some sort. Most had a magnified optic, though there was a substantial minority with red dots. Most folks had tactical belts of some description, with a few just running mag pouches on a regular belt.

The optional gear list for the class included a spotting scope. In addition to my Leupold Mark 4 spotter, I recently picked up a pair of Razor UHD 18x binoculars. They’re set up to run on a Leofoto tripod with an RRS leveling base and quick release clamp. I first ran into a setup like this at a Precision Long Range class a couple of years ago, where I found it had some advantages over a traditional spotting scope when it comes to field of view and eye fatigue.

Wednesday

After work on Wednesday, I loaded up the car and headed down to Shawnee, Oklahoma. I hit the drive-thru for dinner en-route, arriving that evening.

Thursday — No Fail Pistol, Day 1

The Mead Hall Range

Festivities at the range began promptly at 8 o’clock. Bill, the range owner, gave a brief orientation. He also let us know that the range would be providing dinner on Friday evening. The prospect of brisket made my ears perk right up.

Chuck started the class out with a medical brief, describing how we would handle things if there were a serious injury on the range. From there, he segued into the safety lecture. While he followed the familiar format of the four rules, he used his experience to make certain points particularly memorable (including heating up a rifle to the point where it was cooking off rounds in the chamber to emphasize the importance of muzzle discipline).

One area where he spent considerable time and had a somewhat different take from other instructors was what’s commonly counted as Rule 4: Be sure of your target and what is beyond it.” Chuck emphasized the foreground as well as the background and the fact that these are dynamic. You, the target, and potential non-threats may all be in motion, so declaring the foreground and background clear is an ongoing process, not a one-time event.

He also emphasized that because of the flimsiness of American residential construction, the background is usually going to continue well beyond what we can actually see. That blank wall behind the bad guy may well have an innocent person behind it. If it’s just drywall and well-spaced 2x4s, it’s not going to stop bullets. Indeed, even the bad guy himself may not stop bullets. One of Chuck’s reasons for placing such an emphasis on accuracy is that he wants hits exclusively to the upper thoracic cavity, both because they’re effective and because that’s the portion of the human body most likely to serve as an effective bullet trap.

This segued naturally into a discussion of terminal ballistics. Chuck pointed out that in many cases, you didn’t win the gunfight, the other guy quit the gunfight.” We can’t always count on the other guy quitting, so we want to deliver an injury that’s quickly physically incapacitating.

One way to do this is to destroy the cerebellum (the base of the brain). This produces instantaneous incapacitation. However, heads are hard to hit since they move quite a bit more actively than the body. What’s more, the skull can be difficult for pistol rounds to penetrate. On the flip side, a rifle round to the head will often over penetrate posing a threat downrange.

Chuck prefers shooting for the heart. If you can tear the heart open, blood will take the path of least resistance and start flowing into the thoracic cavity rather than up to the brain. This will take a bit longer to work than a CNS hit, up to ten seconds to lose consciousness. Ten seconds is a long time in a gunfight. However, as Chuck pointed out, this is not going to be a real high quality ten seconds from the perspective of his ability to fight.

The third possibility that Chuck mentioned is severing the spinal cord above the level of the heart. A hit here is a positive stop, as opposed to a hit below the heart, which would only destroy his mobility.

The brain stem, the heart, and the spinal cord above the heart are it. Nothing else will win the gunfight. That’s what sets the stage for Chuck’s accuracy expectations for this class.

With that, we headed out onto the range to begin shooting. We started out with an NRA B-8 bullseye target at 25 yards. Chuck gave us up to ten minutes to fire ten shots, with the goal of making each and every shot the best shot of your life. The goal here is to establish a baseline for how you’re shooting and make any sight adjustments to get your group nice and centered.

I’ve gotten a lot better at precision pistol shooting in the past several years, thanks in large part to some good instruction and quite a bit of dry practice, so I didn’t acquit myself too badly. However, this drill definitely showed how much further I have to go.

After everyone shot a group, Chuck gave everyone some feedback on their shooting, including suggested sight adjustments, if necessary. He also talked a bit in general about how to do as well as possible on this exercise, including holstering up, stepping off the line, and generally spending a minute doing something other than holding a couple of pounds of metal at arm’s length and staring at a black dot. He also talked a bit about his philosophy on zeroing your pistol at 25 yards. The idea is that the distance is sufficient to make errors apparent, whether gun or shooter errors. Things that go unnoticed at 10 yards become painfully apparent at 25.

With that baseline set, Chuck talked a bit more about how the rest of the class would go. The fundamental idea behind this class is that students will ideally come to it with a knowledge of the fundamentals and able to execute those fundamentals without any gross errors. This doesn’t mean all the rounds are going to end up in the center of the bullseye, as most of us had just demonstrated. However, it does mean that you probably aren’t making the kind of significant errors that are easily visible to the instructor (messed up grip, sucky trigger press, not using the sights properly, etc.). The things that prevent students at this level from putting all their rounds right in the center of the target are much more internal, like recoil anticipation and managing the wobble zone.

Chuck’s teaching philosophy is to give the student a selection of tools to manage these issues, set up shooting problems that require the student to use these tools, and give the student the chance to apply the tools and see what works for them. The building block of this is the free swim.” Chuck sets the distance, the accuracy standard, and the parameters (number of shots per repetition, from the holster or not, time pressure) and says, shoot a mag.”

What a mag” means depends on how much you want to shoot. If you want to stick to the published round count, it’s about fifteen rounds per iteration. I brought a bunch of ammo, and I have a bunch of 21 round Magpul mags, so I loaded those up and shot 21 or 22 rounds each time. I never regretted how many rounds I spent on any of these exercises (and in a few cases, I wouldn’t have minded running the drill with a 33 rounder).

Our first free swim” was shooting singles from the holster at 20 yards. While there wasn’t a hard and fast time limit, the idea was to get the shot out fairly expeditiously instead of the ten rounds in ten minutes we’d done previously).

After this drill, Chuck talked about his preferred accuracy standard for training. He really likes the NRA B-8 bullseye targets, which have a black circle about 5.5” in diameter. 5.5” is a good representation of the critical part of the upper thoracic cavity (see the earlier discussion of terminal ballistics). For learning purposes, he likes to aim for about 80% hits inside the black circle. If you’re putting all your rounds in the black, you’re not pushing yourself fast enough to increase your skill level. If you’re putting less than 80% of your rounds in the black, you’re not learning to shoot accurately enough for real-world situations where misses or shoot throughs could lead to devastating results. That said, this 80% threshold is a learning tool. You also need to know what it takes to deliver 100% accuracy on demand. How much do you have to slow yourself down to guarantee every shot?

Since I was shooting around 20 rounds during each iteration, that’s no more than four misses. During the first free swim” I’d dropped 8, so I needed to dial it back a bit. On our next iteration, I took more time and only dropped three.

Between free swim iterations, Chuck talked about various techniques for improving our shooting, including getting into the nitty-gritty of the trigger press and how it differs between 1911s, striker-fired guns, and DA/SA guns, and using the support hand to mitigate recoil anticipation. He emphasized something I hadn’t heard from other instructors: when shooting pairs, tracking whether your misses came on the first shot or the second and using that to prioritize your practice.

We moved on to shooting multiples, including 3, 4, and 5 round strings. I noticed that for me, four rounds seemed to be a tipping point. The first time we did a four-round string, I managed to drop three of the four were outside the black. Achieving this level of accuracy (hitting a 5.5” circle at 15 yards) on longer strings required me to slow down from the pace I can deliver pairs and triples at.

After a break for lunch, we headed back out on the range.

As mentioned earlier, part of carrying a gun for self-defense is being able to shoot to a 100% accuracy standard when necessary. To help develop that skill, Chuck put everyone on a timer. Five rounds, as quickly as you can, but any round outside the black and the run doesn’t count. Some folks did very well, but others weren’t able to put together a clean run. I managed a clean (but not fast) run on my second try, but things kind of fell apart when I tried to speed it up on my third attempt.

This was something that cropped up elsewhere in the class as well. I need to develop a better sense of how much I can throttle up and still achieve reasonable accuracy and how much I need to throttle down to guarantee the hits. It seems like I’m moving that throttle in too large of an increment. This is most obvious in situations like my third run, where I went from 5 hits to 2 hits. While it’s not as visible, I think I’m suffering the same problem when I’m moving the throttling back. I can slow down and make the hits, but I’m probably slowing down more than I need to.

Chuck explained that we would dedicate the remainder of the day to going through the same progression again, this time using only our primary hand. We decamped back to the 25-yard line and shot more 10 round groups for accuracy. I actually scored 5 points better on my first one-handed accuracy bull than I had with two hands this morning.

Throughout the afternoon, Chuck talked through various techniques for effective one-handed shooting. He also spoke about the need to secure the injured limb somehow, so it’s not swinging around (including a very graphic example of when he completely broke the bone in his upper arm).

One important thing that Chuck noted is that you can only shoot so many maximum accuracy bulls in a row before fatigue and lack of concentration start to take their toll. His limit is three or four. I think this may be one of the most important lessons of the class, one that could save a lot of frustration as I try to get better at this stuff.

When we moved on to shooting pairs” from the holster. The scare quotes around pairs” are there because, as Chuck noted, depending on how well you can control recoil one-handed, this can be more like a single shot, followed by setting up again and firing another single shot than a real pair. It’s worth noting that many more shooters miss their first shot when doing pairs from the holster one-handed than their second (in contrast to a much more even split when using both hands).

We shot some longer strings one-handed as well. For me, at least, anything involving four or five rounds is a much slower-paced affair when shooting one-handed. However, I was able to maintain the accuracy standard. Knowing what was coming, during our last set of five-round strings, I was able to slow myself down enough to put all fifteen rounds in the black.

Sure enough, Chuck brought out the timer. Five rounds, all in the black or the run doesn’t count. Just to mess with us, he moved us up to 10 yards (a distance we hadn’t shot all day). I was towards the end of the line. I saw a lot of folks tempted to go faster and ending up throwing rounds. I was very intent on avoiding this and keeping everything in the black. I did, but my first run was over 11 seconds (for reference, the fastest student in the class was around 5 seconds). However, my second run was all in the black and just over 9 seconds. My third run was just over 7 seconds and still all in the black. That sort of progression, and the ability to throttle up without the wheels coming off, was something I’d been looking for all day. Managing to put it together on this last drill was pretty gratifying.

With that, Chuck called an end to the training day. I headed back to the hotel, with a stop for some takeout, and got to work on this writeup.

Friday — No Fail Pistol, Day 2

We were back at it at 8 am on Friday. Chuck conducted a quick review of the safety brief with particular attention to being aware of your foreground, which would take on added importance during some of the shooting and moving drills this afternoon. With that, we headed out onto the range.

First up was ten rounds in ten minutes to confirm zero, shooting two-handed (this was the last chance we’d get to use our primary hand until this afternoon). I managed to improve my score 7 points compared to the first bull I shot on Day 1, so I can be taught.

We were going to go through the same progression as we did yesterday, except this morning’s work would all be weak hand only. Of course, to shoot weak hand only, you have to get the gun from the holster into the opposite hand. Chuck demonstrated how to do this. He talked a bit about the difference between techniques optimized for proactively passing the pistol to the opposite hand and those oriented towards an injured shooter who needs to get the gun from an arm that doesn’t work anymore to an arm that does.

As usual, we started at 25 yards shooting B-8 targets for score. My first one was not all that great, but the next two were pretty close to what I’d been able to achieve strong hand only. While I haven’t done a lot of precision shooting with the left hand, I have put quite a few pistol rounds down range left-handed, and I think that helped me here.

We moved on to some free swim experimentation. Yesterday, Chuck had presented a variety of techniques to make your one-handed shooting more effective. I’d experimented with them shooting strong hand only and found that certain ones made a difference for me, while others didn’t seem to do much. I did the same weak hand only during this exercise. Again, some were useful, while others didn’t make much of a difference. The interesting thing is that there wasn’t much overlap. The techniques that were working for me weak hand only were very different from those that had been most effective strong hand only.

It was getting a bit breezy, so Chuck talked about the effect of wind on pistol bullets. Even at 25 yards, there isn’t any. However, the effect of wind on pistol shooters can be substantial. You are a giant windsock.” A gust of wind can blow us off target. If a steady wind dies suddenly, all the muscular force we were using to hold steady will push us off in the opposite direction. If you’re trying to make a high precision pistol shot, the wind is something you have to be aware of.

One might wonder whether it’s worthwhile spending all this time on support hand only shooting. During a break, Chuck analogized it to the focus Delta puts on pistol shooting. Despite the fact that 99% of their engagements are with rifles and only 1% are with pistols, they spend about 60% of their firearms training time on pistol shooting. In part, this is because pistol skills are harder to develop and maintain, but it’s also because pistols come into play in critical situations: airplane assaults, injured operators, etc. For cops and armed citizens, weak hand only shooting is similar. The situations that call for it may be very rare, but when they do arise, it’s because absolutely everything has gone to shit. We’re probably injured, behind the curve, facing an adversary who has demonstrated a willingness to try to murder you. Our skills better be up to snuff. With this sobering thought in mind, we stepped back out on the range.

Chuck noted that with the weak hand, even more so than strong hand only, you don’t really shoot multiples the same way you can with two hands on the gun. Instead, you shoot a round, then have to get everything back in alignment for the next shot. During that time, the situation may well have changed; adversaries move, threats become non-threats (and vice versa). Shooting multiple rounds weak hand only requires maintaining an awareness of the changing situation.

As we were shooting multiples, a couple of guys had malfunctions. Chuck pointed out that malfs when shooting one-handed, especially weak hand only, are an early indicator that a gun needs to be cleaned and lubed.

Finally, we finished up weak hand only by shooting on the timer. Again, we did it from 10 yards. I shot my first run clean but took forever (13 seconds). The second run was faster but still clean. When I tried to throttle it up on the 3rd run, I ended up dropping a shot . . . and I still took 9 seconds.

That wrapped up the 3rd major block of instruction for No Fail Pistol. Next up, multiple targets.

When practicing multiple targets, Chuck talked about the importance of setting up the drill with a wide enough swing between the two targets to force the shooter to make a real target to target transition, rather than just riding the recoil from one target to an adjacent one. Chuck being Chuck, he also wants the targets far enough away to stress our marksmanship. To accommodate both of these, we couldn’t run a big relay. It was just two shooters at a time, so we could shoot from the 10-yard line and be forced to swing our muzzles about halfway across the range.

When he was briefing this drill, Chuck kind of made fun of some of the SWAT guys he teaches who get very keyed in on the first target and face directly towards in like a sprinter in the starting block ready to burn it down without a thought to how they’re going to deal with the second target. When they swing over onto the second guy, they get all bound up and have to shift their feet, rather than just swinging at the hips. He told us to set up facing midway between the two targets so we could swing between them.

I understand that in the context of this drill, but I have to admit that when I’m practicing this, I tend to do it the way the SWAT guys do: facing the first target then transitioning to the second. I figure that, rather than being presented with two targets that I know upfront that I need to shoot, I’m at least as likely to be dialed in on one guy and then suddenly see another dude and, Oh shit! I need to shoot him too.” Since that’s the more difficult situation, that’s the one I tend to practice. Anyway, enough with arguing with the instructor via AAR.

When I had a chance to shoot the drill, I did pretty well on the right-hand target, but I was overswinging to the left, putting quite a few rounds into the 8-ring.

Chuck set up a timed drill, where each student had to alternate between shooting the right and left targets. Anything outside the black added to your time. I was near the end of the line again, so I saw a lot of guys go. Some were pretty quick, but they dropped a lot of rounds and had a bunch of time added to their score. I vowed to slow the hell down and shoot accurately, and I was able to hold to that. I wasn’t that quick, but I was pretty accurate, only dropping three rounds into the 8-ring.

That concluded multiple targets. Next up was shooting on the move. We started out with some simple linear movement, walking directly towards the target. Chuck emphasized accepting your wobble zone and not trying to time your shots to your steps.

We moved on to some lateral movement drills. Chuck doesn’t set these up like many instructors do, with a shooter moving straight across the range, parallel to a set of targets. Instead, he has students coming in at an oblique angle, slaloming between cones, then making a direction change about halfway across the range. We did this drill on steel, with targets varying from about 8” to one little bastard about 3” across.

After everybody ran it left to right, Chuck talked a bit about strategy both for running the drill and for moving in general. There’s a tendency to either let your feet outrun your ability to shoot, or your shooting outrun the pace you’re moving at. If you move faster than you can shoot, you walk past the optimal position to hit a particular target and end up torqued around at an extreme angle as you try to fire back at it. If you shoot faster than you’re moving, the target you’re shooting at gets further and further away, making the shots harder and leading to misses. You need to adjust your speed, slowing down to make the hits when necessary and speeding up to close distance when that will result in easier shots. So, we ran it right to left, applying the lessons that Chuck had related to us.

This being No Fail Pistol, we ran it again, shooting one-handed with the strong hand only. This was a real SOB. I had to slow to a crawl to make some of these shots one-handed (Chuck tried to keep us moving, but I’m pretty sure I stopped entirely at a couple of points to hit particularly tricky targets). It drove home what Chuck had been saying all class about shooting based on your wobble zone. If you see the dot flying off the steel plate, it’s saying, slow down, stupid!”

After we’d done this both right to left and left to right, Chuck told us that we didn’t have time to run it weak hand only. I was genuinely disappointed.

Part of the reason we didn’t have time to run it weak hand only is that the Mead Hall range has a moving target. No Fail Pistol doesn’t always include movers, but when they’re available, Chuck wants to give everyone the experience of shooting a moving target. He noted that most people he’s shot were moving when he lit them up.

Even with the high accuracy standard for this course, on a moving target, you’re not necessarily going to be able to deliver that level of hits. You still don’t want to be throwing misses, and you’ll need to be extra conscious of your background (and foreground). That said, your hits aren’t necessarily going to be the upper thoracic incapacitating shots we’ve been talking about. Instead, you’re trying to slow or stop the guy, at which point you can deliver those decisive hits.

We only had enough time to give everyone two runs (one in each direction), which is barely enough to begin to get a feel for shooting movers. I need to find an opportunity to do a lot more of this.

Our last exercise of the day is to shoot a Bianchi Cup match. Chuck likes shooting Bianchi because it’s a discipline that has some time pressure but rewards accuracy more than most action shooting games. Bianchi Cup consists of a six-plate rack with 8” plates that you shoot from 10, 15, 20, and 25 yards. You have 6 seconds at 10, 7 seconds at 15, 8 seconds at 20, and 9 seconds at 25. There’s no reward for shooting faster than the par time, so you might as well use as much of it as you can without going over. Any plate you knock down past the time limit doesn’t count (though Chuck said he’d rather see guys lose points by going a bit over time than by missing). You get two runs at each distance, and the winner is the guy who leaves the fewest plates standing.

I’d never shot Bianchi Cup before, so this was a new experience for me. Chuck said a score of 5 down or less indicates a pretty good shooter. I was 8 down (4 plates left standing and 4 over time). However, I can take some pride in the fact that all of the plates I missed or went over time on were on my first run at each distance. For the second run at each yard line, I downed every plate within the time limit. I’m hopeful that’s a sign that with some practice, I could be pretty good at this.

That finished up the course of instruction for No Fail Pistol. Chuck had some quite impactful closing remarks. Then we adjourned to the range’s classroom building for an excellent dinner of brisket and hot links prepared for us by the range owner. The food was excellent and the fellowship with like-minded folks even more so.

Saturday — No Fail Rifle, Day 1

Today we convened in the Mead Hall classroom building for some lecture rather than out at the range.

Chuck started the class out by saying, This is not a class I ever wanted to teach,” which is a hell of a way to start a class. He went on to say that he saw guys missing with rifles at CQB distances and felt a need to figure out what was going on. That process lead to this class.

One of the fundamental issues that he identified is that with rifles, the relationship between your point of aim and point of impact can vary by quite a bit. This class is intended to give students an understanding of that.

The other thing he emphasized is that this is not a snipery” class. We wouldn’t be getting deep into the weeds on ballistics or shooting out to 800 yards. This was an assault rifle” class (yes, despite the fact that most of us are shooting semi-autos).

He started with a quick overview of external ballistics, then spent quite a bit of time talking about different zeroes. The 25/300-yard zero he ruled out pretty much immediately. It’s intended to get GIs on pop-up targets out to 300, so they can qualify, but in the real world, it tends to lead to a lot of missing at intermediate ranges because the bullet rises so far over the line of sight.

The more serious debate is between a 50/200-yard zero and a 100-yard zero. With a 100-yard zero, you’re dead on at 100 yards, but you have to hold over for longer distances. With the 50/200 zero, you’re going to be slightly high at intermediate distances, but you can shoot out to about 300 without having to hold for elevation. The 100-yard zero can work great if you put the time into knowing your holds, and you know how far out that target is. The problem is the real world is not a known-distance range, and most of us suck at range estimation. Snipers can sit there and use laser rangefinders or do mil ranging on objects, but that doesn’t really dovetail with the way assault rifles are employed.

We talked a bit about wind. Rather than some of the more snipery takes I’ve seen in the past, Chuck talked about favoring” one side or another based on the wind. If it’s blowing a bit, hold at the guy’s nipple. If it’s blowing more, hold at his side. However, he emphasized, don’t leave the meat.” In other words, don’t aim so far off the target that if the wind died down (or isn’t blowing as fast as you think it is), you’d miss entirely. If you have a good background, stay on the meat and send it, then make a correction based on that. If you don’t have a good background, it’s probably too windy to be shooting at distance.

Chuck’s take reminded me of the concept of aim points” that I learned in John Chambers’ DMR class (aim point one right is halfway between the center and the right edge of the target; aim point two right is the right edge of the target, etc.). As I’ve done more of my long-range shooting with fancy mil reticle scopes, I’ve kind of let this sort of thing drop out of my repertoire. Chuck has inspired me to change that.

If there’s a motto for No Fail Rifle, it’s Check your wobble zone and send it.” The first thing you do, before changing position, before tightening your sling, before latching on to that barricade and leaning in, is to shoulder your rifle, look through your optic and see if your wobble zone is staying on the target. If it is, press the shot.

With that, we left the classroom and headed out to the range. There was a brief review of the range orientation and safety rules. One new thing Chuck spent a bit of time talking about is the effect that protective eyewear can have on the light path between the optic and your eye. It’s one more potential source of error when you’re trying to shoot very precisely.

Everyone had the opportunity to confirm their zero at 100 yards. This gun is zeroed for my 70-grain self-defense load. While I’d attempted to measure the difference between the two and pre-dial an adjustment, I still had to make some significant corrections on both elevation and windage to match my training ammo.

After lunch, we moved back to 200. While he’d just spent about an hour talking about external ballistics and the effect of different zeroes, Chuck wanted everyone to see and experience these effects firsthand.

The 200-yard line presented some interesting micro-terrain problems. The target backers were set up with two B-8s, one above the other. The guys shooting on the top B-8 didn’t have any issues. However, for those of us on the bottom target, a slight rise around the 100-yard line blocked our view in prone. Some guys could reposition from one end of the line to another to see around the rise. Others were able to use a shooting platform about 2’ off the ground to get some elevation. It was high enough in front of my target that neither of these was an option. However, there was a tower for doing elevated shooting at the 200, so a couple of other students and I headed up there to shoot.

My rounds a 200 were quite a bit to the left. At the time, I attributed this to being more exposed to the wind by shooting from the tower.

In addition to shooting to the left, I also had two fairly distinct groups from one 10 round string. Chuck saw this and asked if I’d taken my cheek off the stock midway through the string. He called that one exactly right. Midway through the string, my neck had tightened up, and I came off the stock, rolled my head around a bit, and settled back into position.

Chuck explained that when zeroing, he keeps the cheek welded to the stock for the entire string. If necessary, he’s willing to shoot fewer rounds to avoid coming off the stock (or screwing up the group because his neck is cramping up).

I hadn’t run into this issue before, at least not to this degree. However, most of my precision” shooting has been with rifles with low mounted scopes, adjustable cheekpieces, and other accommodations that make it easier to get a nice, repeatable head position. On this rifle, I’m running an optic with an eye box that’s not particularly forgiving at 6x in a 1.93” mount that puts it about halfway between a cheek weld and a chin weld. There’s clearly stuff I’ve been doing on these other guns that I can’t get away with using this setup. This was a real light-bulb moment for me.

Shooting from 300 yards

Backing up to 300, we shot again. This is really where the difference between the 200-yard zero and the 100-yard zero becomes apparent. Chuck had made himself the demo for this one. He had a 100-yard zero, and rather than holding over for elevation, he illustrated how much drop you get. It would easily be enough to miss a torso-sized target.

With my 200-yard zero, my elevation was pretty good even out at 300, but I was still shooting quite a ways to the left. While we had some wind, I was a lot further left than everyone else’s shots at the same distance, so my windage was clearly messed up. I took out the windage change I’d made earlier in the day when we were at 100, which seemed to do the trick.

Up until this point, all the shooting we’d done had been for zeroing or a ballistics exercise. Most students had been shooting off of bags, bipods, or even tripods. This doesn’t really match up with the way assault rifles are employed. Once again, Chuck preached the gospel of, Check your wobble zone and send it.” If you can mount the gun in a squared-up CQB stance and the dot stays on the target, press the shot. But what if the dot is leaving the target an unacceptable portion of the time? The rest of No Fail Rifle was basically dedicated to various ways to stabilize your rifle.

Chuck talked through the shooting positions: prone, standing, kneeling, and sitting. For all of these except prone, he was largely demonstrating stuff just like you’d see at an NRA rifle match (he prefers a modified machine gunner prone that puts you directly behind the gun, rather than angled as in the traditional rifleman’s prone).

The big difference is that rather than the traditional shooting sling wrapped around the arm, we’re using quick-adjust CQB slings wrapped around the body and cinching them down to provide support. This requires a sling with a big range of adjustment. Many quick-adjust CQB slings use a closed-loop design where the end of the adjustable section attaches to some sort of sliding hardware. This eliminates any sort of dangling tail, but often they can’t cinch down short enough to provide real support. Open tail slings like the VTAC, where the end of the adjustable section feeds through the adjustment hardware and dangles off, generally provide a larger range of adjustment. They work much better for this.

This led to a discussion of sling setups. For longer distances, Chuck prefers a front sling mount out near the front of the handguard. However, for CQB, having it back closer to the receiver provides more maneuverability. He’ll run QD sockets in both locations and swap back and forth, depending on what he’s doing. Long walk in to a target during which he might have to take shots at distance? Sling in the socket at the end of the handguard. Getting ready to take a building? Move it back near the receiver.

We headed out to the range to put these positions into practice. We initially did these on paper at 50 yards. Chuck noted that this is much closer than you would actually use any of these sling-supported positions. At this distance, you can just shoulder the rifle in a CQB stance and take the (“Check your wobble zone and send it”). We were only shooting at this distance for learning purposes.

My rifle had a Ferro Concepts Slingster on it. Initially, it was too long to provide any actual support. I found if I tightened the back (non-quick adjust) end up as short as it would go, ran the quick-adjust all the way in, and ran the sling around the magazine to provide additional tension, I managed to get it barely tight enough to be useful.

When shooting from kneeling, I was initially getting diagonal stringing, with my shot group stretching from upper left to lower right. Chuck took one look at this and told me I needed to get the rifle directly over my knee. Once I did, the stringing went away, and my group tightened up considerably.

Sitting was a pleasant surprise for me. I’ve always shot well from sitting, but in the past, I’ve found it rather uncomfortable. It’s been several years since I shot much from it. In that time, I’ve lost quite a bit of weight and improved my flexibility. I found that shooting from sitting is quite a bit more comfortable for me now.

We moved back to 100 yards and switched to steel. Chuck had us practice starting from standing and getting into the kneeling and sitting positions. I did pretty well from sitting, but my kneeling still needs some work.

Finally, Chuck pointed out that even 100 yards was close enough that a sling supported position isn’t really necessary to get good hits on a torso sized target. To demonstrate this, he had us start from low ready and bring the gun up into an unsupported, squared-up CQB stance and shoot C-zone sized steel targets. Everyone in the class was able to hit reliably and do it in less than two seconds. Some of the really quick guys were pushing one second.

I had run my stock out to full extension for the position shooting, so when we switched back to a squared-up stance, I initially had some eye relief issues. Talking to Chuck about this after the drill, he recommended keeping the stock at whatever length you use for CQB and making that work for the positional stuff.

That wrapped up class for the day. Everyone got their gear packed up, and we headed out.

That night I pulled a VTAC sling off my backup rifle and put it on my 14.5” AR. I hoped that the ability to cinch the sling down more than I could with the closed-loop Ferro Concepts sling I’d been using would improve my sling supported shooting.

Sunday — No Fail Rifle, Day 2

Our first topic of the day was cant ballistics. When you hold the rifle anything other than straight up and down, the relationship between the line of sight through the optic and the flight path of the bullet is going to change. This is why many long-distance precision shooters put bubble levels on their rifles so they can verify the rifle is perfectly vertical. For fighting rifles, however, there may be circumstances where you need to roll the gun over. Shooting under a car, for instance, or firing through a loophole that isn’t tall enough to get a clear view the optic and a clear path in front of the muzzle for the bullet. Canting the rifle can also lower your profile when shooting over a piece of cover.

In a properly zeroed rifle, the bullet starts out traveling at an upward angle relative to the line of sight through the optic so that it will intersect the point of aim at the zeroing distance. Canting the rifle takes away some or all of this upward angle, increasing bullet drop. Instead of fighting gravity, this upward angle is now throwing your bullet horizontally. How much more bullet drop? How much horizontal deviation? It depends on a bunch of variables: how much cant, distance, sight height, and what sort of zero you have.

Rather than trying to calculate all of this, Chuck prefers a simple rule of thumb, backed up by some real-world experimentation. The rule of thumb is to hold high and towards the magazine. To get a feel for how high and how much towards the magazine, we headed out to the range and shot on paper at 100 yards. By shooting with the rifle rolled over 90 degrees and 45 degrees in each direction, everyone was able to see how their gun shot when canted.

With the theoretical exploration taken care of, we dragged out a bunch of various pieces of cover: VTAC barricades, barrels, pallets, tires, and a frame holding some orange plastic construction fencing. Chuck talked about techniques for shooting from cover, including how (and when) to switch shoulders and using trail support when kneeling. In keeping with the Check your wobble zone and send it” motto, the emphasis here was on building the minimum position necessary to make the shot.

We did some free swim exploration where students could shoot from the various pieces of cover, trying out different positions and seeing what worked for them. After everyone had a chance to do that, we did some timed drills, emphasizing getting into position and delivering shots quickly.

During this process, we had a couple of rifles go down hard. One had a stuck round in the chamber with the case rim ripped off. This sparked a bit of discussion from Chuck about the importance of keeping a rod on the rifle.

The other was more unusual. The rifle’s trigger locked up, making it unable to drop the hammer. This can happen when a piece of debris, most commonly a popped primer, falls into the trigger well and lodges itself under the trigger. In this case, however, the debris was a small piece of aluminum. The gas key had seriously battered the top rear of the lower, eventually knocking out the piece that ended up under the trigger. Normally, the bolt carrier shouldn’t be able to go back far enough that the gas key would contact the rear of the receiver. After comparing buffers and buffer tubes with some other guns, we figured out that the rifle was running a standard carbine buffer in an A5 length buffer tube. That it had functioned reliably this way for years and thousands of rounds until the little piece of aluminum broke off is impressive. However, the gas key had beat the hell out of the receiver. Definitely not a compatible configuration. The guy ended up borrowing a lower from another student to finish the class.

After finishing up with the barricade shooting (for the moment, at least), we broke for lunch.

We returned to the range and did some more drills going from standing to supported kneeling and standing to sitting. The increased adjustability of the VTAC sling was helpful. I could tighten it up a bit more and steady up my position.

Moving back to 200 yards, Chuck had us try a few shots from unsupported standing, mostly to demonstrate that this was beyond effective range. I went 1 for 5. Switching to a sling supported standing position brought my hit rate up to about 50%.

Because it’s hard to self-spot .223 at these distances, Chuck had anyone who’d brought a spotting scope bring it out for this exercise. I’d hauled out my tripod-mounted Vortex 18x binos. Chuck jumped in when I needed a spotter, and he seemed impressed (always nice when I can cost the instructor some money rather than the other way around). He also noticed that we were getting obvious trace when I was shooting. After the drill was over, he had me continue sending rounds downrange, so interested students could rotate through my binos and get a look at the trace. I need more practice from standing, so I didn’t mind.

We did some shooting from kneeling and sitting as well. I did not have my natural point of aim properly aligned with the target the first time we shot from sitting and having to muscle the rifle on target affected my accuracy. On subsequent runs, I spent a bit longer getting my NPOA dialed in, and it paid accuracy dividends.

As we were doing these drills, I had some eye relief issues. Following Chuck’s advice from yesterday, I kept the stock adjusted to the length I like for CQB and changed my head position for position shooting. It’s doable, but it will require some more practice to consistently get the right eye relief and eliminate scope shadowing. Out at these distances, the parallax from scope shadow can be enough to cause a miss.

After doing the position shooting, Chuck had us experiment with canting the rifle. At this distance, you need to hold even further off the target to get hits. I managed to burn myself with some hot brass when shooting with the rifle canted over to the right with the ejection port down. A long sleeve shirt would be a good idea for this exercise.

Moving back to 300, Chuck had us drop down into prone and go down the line of steel targets, dinging all the 8” plates.

This drill is where we started seeing differences between red dots and low power variables. Until this point, it didn’t seem to matter what kind of optic you were running. I did all my shooting today at 100 and 200 yards on 1x, so my fancy Leupold was effectively a big, heavy red dot anyway. At 300, I cranked the magnification up and managed to get good hits on 8” steel. Most other shooters with magnified optics did the same. The guys running red dots, on the other hand, had a lot more trouble. Most were not able to hit the 8” plates consistently (though they did much better on the steel C-zone torsos). We didn’t have anyone running a red dot with a magnifier in this class. I would have been interested in seeing how that compared.

Despite running a 200-yard zero, I found that I had to hold a bit high to get reliable hits on the 8” plates at 300. The 200-yard zero is good on torso size targets out to 300, but I do have to hold high on the smaller plates.

This drill is also where my 18x binos really came into their own. The field of view was wide enough to take in the entire line of steel targets, so I could spot as shooters moved down the line without adjusting my binos.

Our last drill was the scrambler. We headed down to the 100-yard line and dragged the barricades back out. Each student starts on one piece of cover and has to make six hits from different positions. Once you’ve made your hits, you move to the next piece of cover. If there’s still someone shooting from that piece of cover, you tap them, and they’re out. So, you’re trying to get your hits as quickly as you can to chase down the guy in front of you and avoid getting caught by the guy behind you.

The Mead Hall Range

The first time we ran this, I did not do all that well. I was one of the first few guys eliminated. The second time, I did better and made it into the top half of the class. The third time I really got in the groove. I was making hits and moving pretty fluidly from one position to another. I even managed to tap out a couple of guys. When I eventually got tapped, I was surprised to find that the guy who had chased me down was the last one left, putting me in second place. I’m pretty proud of the improvement.

After we finished the scrambler we packed up the barricades and policed brass. As we were picking up the last of the brass, the wind started blowing pretty good, and it began spitting rain. We hurried and got everything packed up before adjourning to the classroom for some closing remarks from Chuck.

Conclusions

These were great classes. No Fail Pistol definitely elevated my accuracy with a handgun, and No Fail Rifle really pushed me to consider what I was capable of with a fighting rifle.

While they share the No Fail name and an emphasis on accuracy at distance, the two classes are quite different in some ways. No Fail Pistol’s core message is: You know how to do this; here are some techniques for executing it successfully every time. No Fail Rifle’s core message is: You may not even know that this is possible, but it is. Here are some tools to make it happen.

Most shooters know that it’s possible to put every round in the black on a B-8 at 25 yards, but many don’t think they can do it. No Fail Pistol will get them to that level. Many shooters don’t even think about drilling 8” steel from 300 yards with an assault rifle”. No Fail Rifle will show you that it is not only possible but show you how to do it.

Perhaps the thing I most appreciate about No Fail Pistol is that Chuck doesn’t just provide a grab-bag of techniques for improving your pistol shooting. He also provides a system for making yourself a better pistol shooter. The combination of the accuracy standard, time pressure, and getting a feel for how much to throttle up to push yourself to improve or throttle down to make that 100% shot provides a roadmap for regular practice that I think will pay dividends in accuracy and speed.

On the rifle end of things, while I’ve shot a lot further than this in other classes, that’s almost always been with rifles optimized for precision shooting like a DMR AR or a precision bolt gun. This is probably the furthest I’ve shot with a gun configured as a straight-up assault rifle”. I see that the guns I was using for the longer-ranged stuff obscured some of the issues that can crop up running a gun that’s less optimized for precision. Similarly, most of my precision shooting has been from a bipod, tripod, or ruck with some sort of rear bag. This class had me shooting further using just magazine or sling support than I have in the past. What can be done under these conditions is pretty eye-opening.

Both of these classes fall into a category I’ve taken to calling advanced fundamentals” courses. Unfortunately, these are pretty few and far between. Most classes that focus on the fundamentals are open to, and marketed towards, relatively new shooters. While even skilled shooters can benefit from going to one of these courses, there’s a point of diminishing returns. Many of the instructors teaching these classes don’t necessarily have the depth of knowledge to help a more advanced shooter improve. Even if they do, their time and attention are going to get sucked up by the new shooter who’s coming to their first class.

On the flip side, most firearms classes beyond the basic and intermediate level are dedicated to covering some sort of specialized subject matter, whether it’s CQB, team tactics, vehicles, low-light, long-range, etc. Classes that focus on the fundamentals but are aimed at advanced students and taught at a very high level are few and far between. These kinds of classes generally pick a subset of the fundamentals, whether it be target discrimination and movement, malfunction clearance and gunhandling, or multiple target engagement, and drill down into it. No Fail Pistol and No Fail Rifle definitely fall into that category.

When I was researching No Fail Pistol before the class, one of the things I came across was folks asking what sort of skill level was necessary for this course. Many people asking and answering seemed to think of this in terms of the score they can get slow-firing on a B-8 target, but I don’t think that’s the best metric. It’s less about how well you can shoot and more about how you get there. To get the most out of this class, you should be able to shoot a handgun without any obvious problems with your shooting mechanics that an instructor would spot (other than recoil anticipation). Someone with good mechanics who shoots lousy because of recoil anticipation issues will get more out of this class than someone who shoots better but has lousy mechanics. If your grip, stance, or trigger reset is all messed up, get those taken care of first.

The other thing I’d emphasize is that these courses, especially No Fail Pistol, aren’t for fragile egos. They’re challenging courses, and most students are going to find that there’s some of this stuff they’re going to suck at. Based on what I saw in these classes, the student base’s skill level is high enough to be humbling. I’ve gotten to a point where if I’m not the best shot in a handgun class, I’m usually second or third best. That was not the case here. There were a lot of guys in this class who were much better shooters than I was.

Both these classes involved some long days. We started up at eight o’clock, and most days we went till about six. You definitely get your money’s worth, but you need to be prepared.

The facilities at Mead Hall helped made those long days more bearable. Having real bathrooms and good overhead cover are good quality of life” enhancements. The range itself is very nice, and Chuck took advantage of the various target options, paper, steel, plate racks, and the mover. The big array of barricades provided a lot of learning opportunities and made the scrambler a lot of fun. I’m hoping to return to Mead Hall for more training in the future.

I ran into a couple of instances of failures to fully chamber a round when I dropped the slide stop release on the Glock, but other than that, the pistol ran well. Towards the end of No Fail Pistol, Chuck noted that none of the 23 red dots in the class had gone down, but one guy did have his front sight come off. An interesting data point on the reliability of red dots versus irons.

My AR ran well. The Geissele trigger didn’t have any issues. I don’t like the trigger pull quite as much as the JP, but reliability is king on a fighting rifle. As described above, I did run into some issues getting my zero dialed in with the training ammo I was using, compared to my self-defense load. It got me thinking: this is my primary training rifle, but thanks to some new purchases, there are a bunch of other guns that I’d grab first for self-defense. I should probably go ahead and make it a straight-up training gun and zero it with 55-grain ball.

That said, I am making some changes. I am thoroughly convinced that open tail slings, with their larger range of adjustment, are the way to go. Swapping to the VTAC on the second day definitely made a difference. I’ll be going back to VTACs on my rifles. I’m also going to be playing around with QD sling mounts out at the front end of the handguard for non-CQB purposes.

While my rifle ran well, the same can’t be said of everyone’s. I already mentioned two of the more unusual malfunctions (the stuck round and dead trigger due to a chunk of the receiver), but I also saw a fair number of more pedestrian double feeds and stovepipes. Despite the fairly high-level students in this class, I saw quite a few examples of really lousy rifle malfunction clearance. This stood out all the more because, during No Fail Pistol, most of the malfunction clearance I saw was very skillful and fluid. It was pretty clear many of these folks are not putting the same amount of time into practicing clearing rifle issues that they’re putting into pistol malfunctions.

The tripod-mounted binoculars for spotting worked very well. It was not a small investment, but it’s a quality of life improvement when you’re on glass for an extended period. I spotted for almost every student when we were back at 300. I don’t know if I could have done that with a traditional spotting scope. The wide field of view was handy for seeing the full line of steel targets, though this is something that’s more specific to that particular drill.

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