Those of you who have read Combat! and my column for any length of time know that I admit (or confess) most of my mistakes, most of the time. The reason is two-fold: first, I hope that other people can learn from them and, since I tend to try out a lot of different techniques and gear that the average shooter also does, it should give other people a decent source of information; and second, if I admit in print things I didn't do very well, I will more likely face the problem head-on instead of trying to make excuses to myself, and that process should help me to get better. This last is what I want first and foremost, and I hope I've blazed a few trails for other people as well.
Some re-examination is in order
I have, believe it or not, put a great deal of time and effort into my shooting in general, and the philosophy and doctrines of tactics and gear in particular. I believe my positions are sound (but don't all of us think highly of our own opinions?) and, of course, mine are based on my view of the world to be sure -- but, I think, far less influenced by any of the current trends and fads than, let us say, the average gun writer or shooter. I know that I am a good shot, and I really wouldn't want to face myself or anyone like me in a life-or-death struggle. Therefore, it seems to me that I don't have anything to prove, I don't have to take myself or anyone else too seriously, and I am willing to fail (or look bad on the score sheet) if I have to in order to properly try new gear or techniques.
I and my good shooting buddies are constantly trying new and (sometimes) better ideas. However, lately a couple of old ideas (or maybe concepts) have collided in my brain and started me to re-evaluate a position I've held which, as I see it now, is probably wrong.
One of the real truths of all time is: "you fight like you train." You will almost always do anything the way you trained or practiced to do it. I even think that it is perhaps the one singular concept around that even shooters with widely differing views of the shooting world can readily agree on. Do you think so? Even though they have some widely dissimilar training goals and techniques, I have seen enough of the three main training groups around (the military, the police, and the private sector) to believe that the whole concept of "you fight like you train" is a true Holy Grail, worthy of pursuing.
I know you're saying, "OK, when is he going to admit his blunder?" All right, I'll tell you. I have said over the years (and put it in print) that I often favor the use of contrasting targets in our events, "because we (the SCTC) are not trying to handicap the iron sight shooters." What was I thinking? Was it a last left-over piece of competition philosophy? Was I drunk? Stupid? Or what?
The recent events of our "Tres Banditos" in the snow opened my eyes to a problem that has been staring us all in the face right along.
Everyone Had Problems Finding the Targets
Everyone had problems finding the targets! Isn't that a correct statement? I know that some youngsters, with young eyes, see really well; but I would defy anyone to pick out all of the targets we had out in the snow without using any optics. As it was, even people using binoculars and some high-quality rifle scopes missed targets because they just didn't see them. And I seem to remember that there were some times when all the weapons fell silent, and the entire team was looking very hard for the remaining "enemy" plates.
My realization hit home in the seven-man team event. I only fired four shots because I couldn't see any targets to shoot at. I went prone, and left other shooters on the team to fire off-hand or kneeling, because I knew I could hit the 300-meter and 400-yard VZ targets and the "ram" stop plate. On the first run, from prone, I could see five targets; but during the later run, none! If Tom hadn't told me to keep looking for the 300-meter target, I wouldn't have found it. In fact, the ram was the only target I could see well.
I had a lot of trouble picking up most of the targets. Don't tell me everyone else didn't. And how can we forget the white plate left up by the #2, seven-man team? Hell, are people going to go to war out in the snow without some old bed sheets to drape around them? How easy would it have been to see targets in a real fight? Why have some of us (me, mainly) not seen clearly the handicap that we've been giving ourselves? We've got to be practical and let the chips fall where they may.
Hey -- you should "run what you brung," just like in real life. The old Southwest Pistol League limited all strings of fire to only six shots (in 90% of the matches) so as to not "handicap" the revolver shooters and to make matches the very same for everyone. Jeff Cooper, on the other hand, up in Big Bear, set up a problem and then let the chips fall wherever they landed. No concessions whatsoever were made to revolver shooters because of the "design feature" of only having six shots and a basically slower reload. I've learned a lot from Jeff Cooper and the old Mountain Man program he ran at Big Bear, so I'll mumble my apologies to El Jefe and try to do a little better from now on.
The Southern California Tactical Combat program frowns on (which means you can't use) optical sights on pistols because it reduces the utility of the weapon, and it is not a practical path in learning to use the sidearm well. Nonetheless, we allow any center-fire rifle and let all action types shoot against the same time limit or task together, without any special considerations. Bolt-action rifles, lever guns, single shots, or semi-auto weapons all shoot together. This concept is both realistic and practical. So why are we worried about making things easier for any iron sighted rifle? We should not miss the real object of the exercise, which is to learn how to operate in the field. And if it is harder to see targets through iron sights, so be it. I believe we must live with our choices in weapons and gear. That's why I harp on keeping possession and control of your weapon all day. If you sit around and shoot the bull, and then walk over to the bench or your car trunk to pick up your rifle when it's your turn to shoot, you are cheating yourself out of the experience of living with your choice of field weapon. Would you shoot the weapon you shoot now, if you had to carry it all day? Now is the time to find out, not later when it may be much too late to change your choice of a weapons system. Wouldn't it be better to know now if you like the features versus the handling and the weight of the piece, or if you think you can learn to live with it?
I believe we have to learn to live with all of the consequences of our choices in field weaponry, and that would certainly include shooting either with iron sights only or having and using a telescopic sight. I personally would like to have a less bulky rifle (without a scope) and I didn't enjoy having to pay $700.00 for high-quality optics, plus even more money (and time and effort) for a custom mount, and then worry about bashing the scope out in the field. (Of course, the new scope protector, courtesy of Sat Jivan, will buy me an abundance of peace-of-mind in that regard.) However, I really have no other choice I can make in the matter of a field rifle. My background in the U.S. Marines, my own shooting training over the years, my personal view of the world, and my eyesight in my advancing years, dictate most of what I feel I need to have in a rifle for successfully operating in the field.
Part of all of our choices is related to confidence; and whatever we feel confidence in, we should do well with. So, in order to be a valuable learning experience for all of us (that is, you, me, us), we need to stop worrying about whether or not it is "fair" (or equal) to have shooters with ironsights engaging targets that are hard to see with the naked eye. If a man chooses to use iron sights, he should learn the limitations of that system -- which includes his own eyes. I certainly believe that the man is more important than the tool. And as to equipment, a really superb rifle may help a good shot somewhat, but a poor shot won't gain very much even with the best rifle possible. However, your own confidence in your system is very very important.
Wayne Miller and I spent some time figuring out a useful, memorable acronym for the field shooter. It was "M-O-T" (we couldn't use "TOM" -- it would be confused with sombody's name) which stands for "Marksmanship -- Observation -- Tactics," the very necessary skills for any field rifleman. We have stressed tactics and marksmanship, but perhaps we haven't given enough value or even enough practice to the observation part. I don't think that you should hide all of the targets completely, in the next event you put on; but as I have said before, if you're going to put on an event, figure out the stages for the scenario that you are trying to test and then do it. Don't worry about what type of rifles, or sights, or even the caliber people are going to shoot--just make it as realistic as you can, and let the chips fall where they may. After all, if we really do fight the way we train, don't you think that we should learn to find and hit the enemy with whatever selection of weapons that our view of the world dictates? I do! How about you?