AAR – Sentinel Concepts Essential Carbine Employment
By: Phil Axelrod
Instructor – Steve Fisher
When: 10-11 October 2015
Where: Nunn, Colorado
Cost – $450
Ammo : 1000 rounds (rifle) 300 rounds (pistol, optional)
Class Size: 12 students
My background and realm of experience – Active duty US Army Infantry Officer, Bachelors and Masters degrees in education and curriculum development/instruction (focusing in Biology), ten years of experience giving basic-level firearms instruction. When in student mode, I tend to watch instructors for more than just the information they are presenting, but also how they present it and how confident they are with the material, their gear, the class size, etc.
Gear – I brought two rifles and two pistols with me: 12.5” BCM SBR with Ops Inc 12th Model Suppressor, 14.5” BCM Upper/P-Tech lower M4 clone (more on this later), Beretta M9A1, and Glock 19. I chose to wear my Crye Precision JPC 1.0 with ESAPI plates during the majority of the class, as this is what I wear for work. I was shooting Wolf 55gr Polyformance FMJ .223 Remington and Blaser Brass 115gr 9mm ammunition. I use Aimpoint sights and Viking Tactics padded slings.
Steve started off Day One with the usual administrative and safety information. This was day three for those that took also the Essential Pistol Employment course, which was about 75% of the class. Instead of glossing over the basic safety rules and concepts for his range, he ensured that nothing was left to chance or the imagination. He then took the time to inspect everyone’s rifles to gauge what, if any, special considerations he would have to make and a solid estimate of who would eventually need loaner guns. Everyone was shooting AR-15 pattern rifles, ranging in quality from commercial-spec Rock River Arms to Knight’s Armament.
The morning of Day One consisted of zero confirmation at 50 yards (unfortunately, we did not have the ability to confirm at 200yds, due to range space), discussing a good standing position, sight over bore/sight offset, and trigger control. This was more painful than it should have been, frankly. Several of the students were inexperienced with their rifles and a few were using poor-quality sights or optics ill-suited to the close quarters. One student was running an iron sighted carbine and had only a basic understanding of the fundamentals of marksmanship. These issues aren’t uncommon in a basic course such as this, and were dealt with as they came up.
Steve took the time to inspect each target and help make adjustments where necessary. His standard for hits is that all rounds must be within an 8” circle in the high thoracic area or a 4” circle in the center of the head, where the major central nervous system goodies are housed. Hits on the lines don’t count: there are no certainties in a gun fight, and “almost” is not good enough. Control what you can control, minimize your enemy’s ability to react and fight back, and make sure your hits are good.
We discussed the various benefits and detriments of low ready, high ready, high port, and a couple of other methods of resting the gun when not shooting it. I found high port, something I have never given much time or attention, to be surprisingly fast and easy to get on target. “Don’t fight gravity,” Steve repeated when he saw that flash of understanding.
Steve handed a few students his personal/loaner guns throughout the morning, and before 1100, everyone who was having issues with their equipment had either shaken it out or swapped guns. I was shooting my as-issued M4 clone with Aimpoint Comp M4S, which is my primary training gun. I had recently swapped the LMT lower receiver to another project, and replaced it with a cheapo lower receiver from “P-Tac,” the budget friendly wing of Palmetto State Armory. The hammer would follow the bolt forward every few rounds under rapid fire, leaving me with a dead trigger and a bad attitude. After clearing a few malfunctions, I relegated that lower receiver to the “Sell When Hillary Gets the Nomination” pile and swapped to my known-quality SBR lower. I had no more issues with malfunctions during the course. Lesson learned: quality lowers do actually matter.
Around noon, after the initial build-up of skill building, we broke for lunch, prepped magazines, and sucked down some water. The afternoon consisted of working from various shooting positions (a lot of kneeling, a little prone), and shooting on the move; Lessons that built up on those basic practices and standards from the morning. Every string of fire was varied in some way: different combinations of shots to the high thoracic or head, changing the ready position between each string.
Day Two started off with another zero confirmation. Steve preaches to check and confirm your “hard zero” at the start of every range trip. He was proven right when 50% of the students had seemingly inexplicable shifts in zero from the previous day. This was due either to poor fundamentals in the prone or screwing with their gear off-line.
I ran my 12.5” SBR and suppressor for the entirety of day two.
Steve walked us through clearing common malfunctions such as double feeds. A student, while setting up a double feed to practice clearing it, caused a bolt-override, which Steve also addressed. We did not spend much time with clearing malfunctions, as there really aren’t that many ways to clear them: remove the possibly bad magazine, get the stoppage the hell out of the way, add a fresh magazine, and get back to work. Most malfunctions, Steve explained and demonstrated, can be cleared in the same, simple way.
In the late morning, things got sporty. The wind was gusting over 20mph and it was difficult to keep target faces on the stands. We got into two lines of six, centered on the range with six targets on either side. We took turns moving through right and left lateral movements, engaging each target as we passed them. This was a painful process for those that had little experience shooting on the move. Eventually, people figured out what worked for them.
The afternoon introduced us to the Ladder Drill. Cones were placed on the range at 25, 20, 15, 10, and 5 yards. Shooters would fire into the high thoracic area of his or her target, sprint to the next successive line, fire, and then sprint to and fire from each line on the way back. This was the culminating event of the course: it combined everything we had been taught and threw a healthy dose of stress into the mix. This was done at the individual’s pace, with faster and slower shooters within meters of each other, so muzzle awareness was as important as ever. Every shot still counted, and mechanical offset changed at each line, forcing shooters to think while on the move. It was challenging, to say the least. An excellent semi-finale to the weekend.
The last step of the class was Steve’s take on the VTac 1-5 Drill. “I take a 2.9 second drill and turn it into a 15 second drill,” he said. Targets were at different ranges (for different mechanical offsets), and had to be engaged with varying numbers of rounds to different areas of the target, with two magazine changed. A speed drill became a speed thinking drill. There was a time penalty for each shot out of the 8” or 4” circles. And that timer was worse for getting the heart beating than the wind sprints of the Ladder Drill. Prizes were awarded to the fastest times. I came in third, but had the fastest clean time. I’m not bitter or anything… Just saying, I cleaned it and those two other guys didn’t… grumble grumble bitch and grumble.
Steve Fisher runs a great course. He is laid back when everything is safe, he gets serious when it is time to be serious, and he treats everyone he meets like an old friend. He is a world-class shit talker, and the levity that he fosters calls attention to a confidence in the material and his own expertise that is rare, in my experience.
Steve teaches skills, and he teaches them simply. This makes for lessons that are easily applied to any situation, be it on a square range, during a competition, or in combat. While this class was geared more toward fighting with the gun than just merely shooting it, it wasn’t “super-duper combat gun kata bullshit CQB ballistic masturbation.” Steve teaches people to shoot, he teaches them to think about shooting and to analyze their shooting, and he teaches them to do it well. He doesn’t go on about his own glory, he doesn’t call unnecessary attention to backgrounds, and he only name-drops to give due credit to the people who invented a drill or explain a technique well. While not traditionally “professionally behaved” (he is as foul mouthed and dirty minded as any man I’ve ever met), he is easy to like and easy to respect. A good man and an excellent instructor. I recommend that anyone in the market for training train with Steve Fisher and Sentinel Concepts at least once.
Cool Shit to Look For
Steve had a bunch of Midwest Industries lightweight, 14.5” Criterion-barreled guns available to students. These guns worked very well and, even with optics, lights, and DBALs, were very lightweight.
He had a sample PolymAR-15 from Robar that was freaking awesome. It felt like they had left half the gun out of the gun. It was right around 5lbs with Trijicon MRO and folding iron sights. Recoil was interesting, given how light the platform is, but there were no malfunctions in it, in the couple hundre rounds it shot over the two days. Steve will keep us up to date on how it continues to perform, I’m sure. I will be basing a hunting/hiking rifle off of this platform in the near future.
Three or four of Steve’s guns had the new Trijicon MRO mounted on them. I was not a fan. There is a noticeable blue tint to the optic, common to the 1x Trijicon optics of yesteryear. This was annoying, but not necessarily a deal breaker. What killed it for me was the noticeable parallax. It was like trying to find the eye box on a 3x optic without the benefit of the magnification. The dot was crisp, the sight was small and light, but the aforementioned optical aberrations were, to me, inexcusable. I will continue to give my money to Aimpoint.