Last year, I had a chance to take Chuck Pressburg’s Night Fighter Night Vision Course in Mead Hall, Oklahoma (yes, this is a very delayed AAR).
My primary rifle for this class was a 9″ Sig MCX SBR in .300 Blackout. It has a Dead Air Sandman-K suppressor and the 13″ Midwest Industries handguard extending forward around the can, allowing for an extended grip and lots of rail-estate even with the short barrel. It’s got an Aimpoint Comp M5 red dot on the very tall Unity FAST mount. I got the FAST for a more upright head position; this will be the first time I use it for what it was really intended for: getting the optic high enough to look through with head-mounted night vision.
For low light, the rifle sports a Modlite PLHv2 light in a Modbutton mount/switch. In this class I’m also running a MAWL-C1+ IR laser/illuminator. One of the things I’ll be testing is the MAWL’s location, fairly far forward. I set this gun up with the white light in the optimal position (which for me is the right side of the gun, tucked in at the 1 o’clock position. This leaves enough space in front of it for the MAWL, but I have to run that on the left side, out where I can just barely reach the rear button. If I were running this as a dedicated NVG gun I’d set it up differently, but we’ll see if I can make this work.
This is a fairly new-to-me gun. I haven’t run it in a class before and I’d only had a chance to do a rough zero on it at 25 yards (zeroing it about 2″ low at that distance so it would be right on at about 50 yards). When I was heading out to the range to do a 50-yard zero the weekend before the class, I found my car battery was dead. Thankfully I was able to get the car battery replaced before my drive down to Oklahoma, but I was left with a rifle I’d never shot beyond 25 yards.
As a backup gun, I brought a .300 Blackout SBR AR, set up similarly to the Sig (only one MAWL, so if the Sig goes down, I’ll have to swap that over).
Everyone in the class was running an AR-type rifle. Most had red dots, with a few low-power variables. Some of the folks with LPVOs also had offset red dots as well. Probably close to half the class were running suppressors. Almost everybody had some sort of IR laser/illuminator combo, though I did see at least one laser and IR flashlight setup. A fair number were running a MAWL.
My handgun for the class is my usual Glock 19X. This one is sporting a new Modlite PL350. Equally important for this class, it’s got an RMR, so it can be used with NVG, as well as a pair of straight-8 night sights. I’m running a KKM barrel and comp, Kagwerks extended and raised slide release, and an Overwatch trigger. It rode in a Safariland ALS holster.
Only one student in the class was running an iron-sighted pistol; everyone else in the class had a red dot. Mostly Glocks and 1911s.
My NVG is a PVS-14-type monocular. I’ve got it mounted on a Norotos INVG mount. The Norotos allows me to get the monocular out of the way by rotating it rather than flipping it up. Important given that the top of my head clears most interior doors by less than 4″. I’ve got a Wilcox lanyard to keep from losing it. For this class, I changed my set up to put the monocular on my right (dominant) eye.
To mount this assembly to my head, I’m running a Crye Airframe helmet. It’s got helmet-mounted hearing protection (a set of MSA Sordins on the Unity MARK mounts). I’ve also got a Crye Nightcap, but I find the helmet does a better job of keeping the monocular in front of my eye.
A majority of the class were running dual-tube binocular-type night vision systems. Monoculars were a significant minority. One guy was running a PVS-7 setup. Chuck had a set of the four-tube panoramic GPNVGs.
For my handheld light, I brought yet another Modlite (sensing a theme yet?), a PLH head on their handheld body. I also brought an old Surefire as a backup.
Chuck did some clever scheduling for this class. Since the Veteran’s Day holiday falls on a Thursday this year, he scheduled the class Friday-Saturday. This allows everyone a day to drive here, two days for the class, then a day to drive home. Important, given that everyone will probably finish this somewhat sleep-deprived.
I slept in late on Thursday morning, trying to bank as much sleep as I could. I headed out from Kansas City at about 10 am.
Since my previous trip to the range to refine my zero at 50 yards was a dud, I stopped at the El Dorado State Park Shooting Range in El Dorado, KS. I was familiar with the range from my days living in Wichita (also familiar with the fact that it’s pronounced El Do-ray-do, not El Do-rah-do). I pulled in at about 1 pm and got set up. After slapping a 3x magnifier on the Sig, my first group was a bit too big to make an adjustment. My second group tightened up nicely, putting all the rounds in a nice tight group dead center. I didn’t end up touching the elevation at all. Not bad for zeroing on a 25-yard range and making a guess at elevation.
I was lucky enough to be on the lane down at one end of the range, where I got a bit of a shadow from the wall of the bay. It was just barely enough to make the green laser on the MAWL visible at 50 yards. I was able to align it with the dot at 50 yards. I’d prefer 100, but there was no way to see it at that distance in broad daylight. This at least got me in the ballpark. Hopefully, I’d have a chance to refine this during the class.
The stop to zero broke up the trip nicely. I continued down to Shawnee, Oklahoma, arriving around 6:30. Usually, the night before the class, I try to turn in as early as I can, but this time I wanted to stay up late, trying to shift my sleep schedule as much as possible.
After sleeping in late again on Friday, I loaded my gear back in the car and headed over to the Mead Hall Range ahead of the 11 am start time.
We began with a very extensive lecture. Chuck admits to being a bit of a gearhead and during his time in military he worked on procurement between deployments, including night vision systems. He brought a very deep understanding of the technology. I probably came into the class knowing more than average about night vision tech, but Chuck’s lecture added quite a lot.
The lecture portion of the festivities lasted until about 3 o’clock. From there, we headed down to the range and got all of our kit squared away.
After the safety brief, we started sending rounds downrange. First on the agenda was confirming zero on our day optics. Chuck is big on zeroing being an ongoing process, not a one-and-done sort of thing for each gun. Even though I’d confirmed zero the previous day, I’m never one to miss an opportunity to verify and refine zero. In my case, my 50-yard group was was close enough that I didn’t even twiddle the dials. I did appreciate the chance to shoot at 100 yards since that was a new distance for this gun.
It took a bit of time for everyone to get their day optic zeroed. When we were done, it had gotten dim enough to see visible lasers at 50 yards. Photographers love the “golden hour” for the pictures it produces. Night fighters love it because it’s dark enough to see your laser but still light enough to see the target. We used every bit of it to get our lasers zeroed, first at 50, then at 100.
In contrast to my red dot, I had some trouble here. My results with the laser were very inconsistent and I ended up chasing groups back and forth across the target, with my rounds sometimes moving in the opposite direction of my adjustment. Later that night, Chuck mentioned to a guy using a bipod that loading the bipod could cause the handguard to flex, which is an issue when your aiming device is on it. I wasn’t using a bipod, but I had been shooting off a sandbag. Next time I’m trying to zero a laser, I’ll probably try monopoding it off of the magazine instead.
As it transitioned to full dark, we broke for dinner. The range owners provided an excellent meal of burgers and brats. While we ate, Chuck talked a bit about how best to zero an IR laser. The thing that makes zeroing a laser more complicated than a red dot or scope is that we’re dealing with a horizontal offset in addition to a vertical one. Chuck is an advocate of the parallel zero where the laser will always be offset to the right of the bullet’s path, regardless of distance. The alternative is a converging zero, where you angle the laser so it intersects with the bullet’s flight path at a specific distance. If they intersect relatively close, this can create problems as distances increase and the beam gets further and further from the bullet’s flight path. All that said, Chuck pointed out that the farther out you get before they intersect, the closer it is to a parallel zero. A 100-yard intersecting zero might only be one click different from a parallel zero.
We also got into some discussion of techniques for shooting with NVG. When using an IR laser, Chuck prefers mounting the rifle lower in the shoulder. This keeps it below the line of sight and prevents any light from your laser or illuminator bouncing off the gun itself from disrupting the view through your NVG. He also talked about shooting passively by looking through your NVG and an NV-compatible optic, which requires an even higher-than-usual optic mount to get everything lined up. Finally, for zeroing purposes, he showed how you could sit and clamp the base of the mag between your feet with the stock in your crotch. It looks silly as hell, but it stabilizes the rifle without you having to crank your neck to try to look through your NODs while prone.
We stepped back out on the range and Chuck gave a night shooting safety brief. This was mostly focused on making sure the downrange area was clear before any live fire. In low light it’s a lot easier to lose track of someone and go hot while they’re still downrange, even with NODs.
With that, we resumed our zeroing using NVG and IR lasers. Chuck put little squares of reflective tape on the targets, which helped indicate exactly where your laser is pointing. I gave the funny-looking sitting position a try. It worked pretty well; I was able to get good groups at 50 and 100 with it. It also had the benefit of taking any handguard flex issues out of the equation.
One issue that cropped up at the 100-yard line was a bit of tall grass about 10 yards downrange. It wasn’t high enough to block visibility, and when we shot during the day, it hadn’t been an issue. At night, however, it caused a lot of splashback when you fired up the IR illuminator.
Just like with day optics, at close range, IR lasers have a mechanical offset from the barrel. Where this differs with lasers is that there’s a horizontal offset in addition to the vertical offset. Rather than trying to account for this by aiming up and to the side, Chuck recommended simply rolling the rifle to put the laser directly over the barrel. This turns it back to a hold-over problem that we’re already used to dealing with when using day optics or irons. This is a bit more awkward for me since I was running the MAWL on the left side of the rifle. I had to roll the gun outboard rather than inboard, but I was able to make it work. We did some shooting like this to get everyone familiar with the concept.
A neat bit of kit that Chuck brought to the class was a set of remote control lights that he could set up downrange to demonstrate the concept of a photonic barrier. A strong light source will effectively conceal stuff near or beyond it by causing NVG to adjust to the brightest part of the image. The solution is to flood the area with a ton of light from your IR illuminator. Chuck used the remote lights to demo this, then had us use our own illuminators to do the same.
My helmet-mounted ear pro became non-helmet mounted when I was putting it on before a drill. The Unity MARK adapter on one side popped out of the rail. This is not the first time this has happened and I’ve about had it with these mounts. I removed the other side and just ran my regular, non-helmeted ear pro for the rest of the class.
Next up was some pistol work. We started with just presentations from the holster. I found I was doing pretty good getting the gun up and aligned with my NVG, but I did have to fish around for the dot occasionally. We moved into rifle-to-pistol transitions, loading a few rounds in the rifle, shooting it dry, and switching to the handgun. Really, with a red dot pistol shooting with NODs isn’t really all that different. As long as your presentation gets the dot lined up with your NVG, it’s all about the traditional elements of pistol marksmanship.
Multiple target engagement, on the other hand, poses some unique challenges when using night vision. Chuck set up a pair of widely separated steel targets, meaning that when we were engaging one of them, the other target was way outside the 40 degree field of view of our NVG. The most efficient way to shoot widely separated targets like this is to eyes first, the drive the gun to the second target. In daylight you can cheat this a little bit, because even if you’re moving eyes and gun together, you can pick up the target in your peripheral vision. That goes away under NODs. When we’re limited to a 40 degree FOV, it becomes even more important to move your head and pick up the target earlier. Everybody ran through a mag, alternating between the two targets.
Our last drill of the night was running the Bianchi plate rack with our pistols. We only had time to run the 10 yard distance before we had to knock off for the night.
We packed up our gear and headed back up to the classroom for a bit of discussion. It was after 1 am by the time I got back to my hotel.
I slept in pretty late Saturday, helped by the fact that class didn’t kick off until noon. We got started up in the classroom with some discussion of terminal ballistics.
Heading down to the range, we shot the Bianchi plate rack. This time we did all the distances (10, 15, 20, and 25 yards). When I first shot Bianchi in Chuck’s No Fail Pistol class, I was about the middle of the pack. This time around, I tied for best in the class.
We did some shooting on the move. Chuck is not a fan of the “conga line across the range” approach that some instructors take with this. Instead, he set up a line of cones diagonally across the range and had us weave through them slalom-style. He set up an array of torso and head-sized plates for us to engage as we moved across the range. We ran both left to right and right to left, giving us some time with both the easy shoulder and the more difficult one (the one left-side shooter in the class got to do the more difficult side first). Chuck talked a bit about adjusting your walking speed, slowing down when necessary to make the hits, and speeding up between targets.
At that point, we moved back to the hundred-yard line to do some shooting from cover. There were an array of VTAC barricades, barrels, orange construction fencing stretched across a frame, and other objects representing cover. Chuck gave some pointers, but mostly it was time for some individually driven experimentation. I’d shot all of these during No Fail Rifle last year, so I didn’t put a whole lot of rounds downrange during this exercise.
Once everyone had familiarized themselves with the cover, it was time to shoot the scrambler. Basically, one guy starts on each piece of cover. You have to get hits from a certain number of positions on each piece before moving on to the next one (certain shooting positions require hits on the head-sized plates). If you catch up with the guy in front of you, he’s out. If the guy behind you catches up, you’re out. Last guy standing wins. I was about the middle of the pack this time. We ran it twice, once with everyone, then again with the guys who got eliminated first during that first run, to give them some more shooting time.
At that point, we broke for dinner. Again, the range provided some excellent burgers and brats. After eating, Chuck talked about how some of the things he experienced overseas affected him, to encourage anyone (particularly mil or LE guys) to get help if they need it or help others who may be in their own dark place.
Back on the range, we shot a full Bianchi under NODs. I did not do as well as I did during the day, and not just in the sense that I missed more plates. My performance also dropped off more than students in the class. I had some trouble distinguishing the round, black plates from either the B-8 target centers on some paper targets downrange. Some of the folks running IR lights on their pistols used them for the Bianchi and they seemed to have an easier time at it.
Shifting the plate racks out of the way, Chuck set up a line of chemlights for the night version of the shooting on the move drill. We ran it a couple of times. I feel like I did pretty well, particularly on some of the later runs.
By their nature, this drill is a one-shooter-at-a-time type of deal, so there was a gaggle of us standing around either waiting for our chance or having finished our run. Between drills, Chuck noted that most of us spent that time standing around with our NODs flipped up. To him, that signaled that we weren’t really comfortable spending time under NVG. Suitable chastened, I vowed to keep mine on when we were out on the range, even between drills. After all, I’m paying a good chunk of change to be here and I don’t really have a lot of chances to put my NVG to use aside from a class like this. I should really be taking every advantage of it.
For the next drill, Chuck painted a random letter or number on each steel torso target. He would call out a couple of letters/numbers and the shooter had to engage those targets. This was another drill that helped drive home NVG’s limited field of view. Out of an array of seven targets, you could only get 2-3 of them in view at a time.
As I’d committed to, I kept my monocular down while we were out on the range, even when I wasn’t the one shooting. By the time we’d run everybody through the drill, I found I had some pretty heavy-duty eyestrain. Mentioning this to Chuck, he noted that some people do better or worse than others handling the very different input of a monocular on one eye and natural light (or the lack of it) on the other. The solution is to go to a binocular setup.
More shooting on the move, this time going right to left (the more difficult direction for a right-handed shooter). For the last run, Chuck had us do it passive only, looking through our optics rather than using IR lasers. That was definitely more of a challenge.
Heading back to 100 yards, Chuck gave us some time to familiarize ourselves with shooting from the various barricades under NVG. Using barricades and doing position shooting with night vision definitely introduces some additional complications. Positioning your body to get both the NVG and rifle aligned with the target can be a challenge. You also need to make sure your IR laser and illuminator clear the barricade at a minimum. Even when they’re clear, you can run into issues with splashback from the illuminator interfering with your NODs. More a function of the distance than the type of shooting, but I had some difficulty telling if I was getting hits on the steel at 100 yards through my NODs, especially with a bunch of folks on the line shooting.
Once we were done with the familiarization, we ran a low-light version of the scrambler. I totally botched this. Reconstructing it afterward, I think I hugged my second piece of cover too closely and obstructed the ejection port, then failed to clear the malfunction properly. I have practiced both fixing malfunctions in low light and fixing malfunctions with the rifle on my support-side shoulder. Doing both at once ain’t easy. In any case, I was one of the first ones tapped out.
This was our last drill of the class. Everyone put up our gear and broke out the headlamps for some brass pickup. We packed up and convened up in the classroom for some closing remarks, then went our separate ways just before 1 am.
I slept in as late as I could, packing up and heading out just before check-out time. Rather than taking the familiar route through Wichita, I decided to drive home via Tulsa and saw some new country on the way.
This was an excellent class. Chuck not only has a lot of time operating under NVGs, he also has a deep understanding of the underlying technology, making him an excellent resource for students.
That said, my biggest (and most expensive) lesson from this class came from Chuck’s encouragement to continue running our NODs even when we weren’t the one actively running a drill. That really drove home the limitations of a monocular setup for me. It’ll be expensive, but I’m going to make a change.
My rifle setup worked pretty well. The only issues with the gun itself were operator-induced. The MAWL is a great laser/illuminator and I found it highly effective during this class. This was my first time running a red dot in an NVG class rather than an LPVO, so it was the first time I’ve been able to try engaging passively, looking through the optic with my NVG. The tall mount definitely helped with this, but it could be a bit tricky aligning the relatively small tube of the CompM5 with my NVG. While I’ve been an Aimpoint die-hard for many years, I may have to give an EOTech a try.
This class may lead to changes on another rifle as well. Chuck talked some about using offset red dots in conjunction with magnified optics, and quite a few students were running them. I may give that a try on one of my LPVO-equipped guns.
Based on my experience shooting the Bianchi plate rack, I think an IR pistol light is in my future as well.
I’ve about had it with the Unity MARK helmet-mounted ear pro adapters on my Airframe. This is the second class where I’ve had issues with them. I need another solution there.
Despite how much money it’s going to cost me, I’m really happy I took this class. Chuck always does a great job using students to confront their limitations and this class was no different. His depth of knowledge of NVGs and command of the subject matter is tremendous. If you’re looking to develop the skills to fight effectively with NVG, this class is a great avenue for that.