October 1991 – Michael’s Observations

Are we trying to win … or just not lose

If you have read this journal for any length of time you will definitely find a recurring theme in almost all of my writings: “Why didn’t somebody try this (or that) technique? Why didn’t more people think of doing this (or that, or whatever)?” — the point being that the Southern California Tactical Combat Program is a testing and learning experience! I do not think that we have any real peers in this department; that is, those who run advanced rifle and pistol events (and including occasional shotgun tasks) on a regular basis. Even most of the “elite” units of the world’s military could learn a thing or two from our program, to enhance or improve their own training.

It seems that frequently we get a monkey-see, monkey-do attitude from a lot of the shooters because they are not using their minds to solve the problems; rather, they are just copying what everyone else is doing. Of course, sometimes the majority is right, particularly if it is about an equipment or a technique that has been refined by trial-and-error over a long period of time. But that’s not what I object to. I object to the idea of “playing it safe” — not trying anything different because of the fear of losing.

Our exercises and events are not “contests” for glory and prizes. Each and every event is an opportunity to experiment, to try different ideas and techniques, and to decide if you (not someone else) like the results. Any researcher worth his salt will tell you that when you try something new, it doesn’t always work well at first. The point of trying something new is not instant success, although it happens on occasion, but rather to search for some better ways or methods for doing it, yourself.

I fully understand the pressures of competing against other people (I was a competitor, once upon a time) but in order to gain knowledge and make progress in technique and personal ability, you must try ideas and techniques that vary from the mainstream. Now, I’m not saying that they will all be good or worthwhile. Every once in a while, for instance, I try some “point shooting” just to remind myself of its limitations. The lure and mystique of some things (weapons or techniques) is often far more impressive than the actual performance, as I related in my reference to occasional tries at point shooting. But a good reason to try some things is to get them out of your system and prove to yourself (not to other people) that those techniques or actions are not getting you the kind of results that you need and expect in your view of the shooting world.

Nonetheless, if you think at all (and none of this will be of any advantage, if you don’t think) about improvements in your weapons, your field gear, or your techniques, how are you going to put these thoughts and theories to the test?

What forum is better suited to testing your pet ideas against other peoples problems, or their versions of W.W. III, or the next Invasion From Mars? We cannot always figure out everything that might or will come up, or go wrong in a field situation, so it is a great advantage to have a number of very practical shooters to put on events for us. It gives us a test that we really cannot “rig” — because we just have to solve the problem as it is presented to us, without the time to work out the details in advance. That is an honest test; and if we try several different events, or if we use our “new” technique for handling a particular situation each time it comes up in an event, then after a several events or the better part of the year trying your new ideas whenever they apply, then we (and remember that all of us can learn from each other by observing other people’s ideas in action) will have more solid answers from which to judge the value of our ideas.

But even more important is just deciding to search for a better solution to a problem you are not handling well, or one you think you should be doing better at than you are doing now — this often is the most valuable tool you have as a shooter. Remember the saying, “your mind is your most valuable weapon, keep it sharp.” That’s what I’m talking about — if you are completely satisfied with your field shooting abilities, you are a fool who is overconfident.

The only way for even a competent shooter to stay on top of events is to always question things and search for better solutions. If you are not doing this, you are lazy, stupid, or worse. You’re in the proverbial rut, and if the rut is deep enough someone could dump your dead body into it! Being entirely predictable, always doing the same thing (unless it is so devastating effective that it is a really sure thing), just may get you killed in a fight. Try to have more than just one effective solution for each type of problem; it is better to have several tricks to pull out of your hat, instead of just one. That one, although it might work 75% or 80% of the time, isn’t enough. What about something to cover the other 20% or 25%?

The Southern California Tactical Combat Program is a tremendous place to learn your own strengths and limitations. After all, you are the most important troop that you will ever command in the field. Don’t you agree? I recently had a conversation with Tom “don’t-you-dare-laugh-at-my-lever-gun” Banks. Part of the talk was about the fact that I know (and I’m sure Tom knows as well) that an optical sight is the weak link in any field rifle; but nonetheless, neither of us wishes to go to the field for hunting, hiking, or war without having a telescopic sight on one’s weapon! Amen. And hear, hear. And all that.

This is one of the things I’ve been talking a lot about. Over the years I’ve come to understand that to be able to do my best work in the field with a rifle, it must have a telescopic sight! I’ve had to go to a higher magnification (a six-power scope, instead of the four-power I used for years) and a higher quality (read “sharper and clearer”) Swarovski ZFM glass to get the most out of my abilities. I believe I understand very well about the scope being the weak link in the system. I even believe that I have mentioned in print that I was going to put a “scope protector” over it, when the new M1/H was field-ready. Such is my concern for preserving my primary sighting system, and the $700.00 investment in the scope itself.

Perhaps because I have prayed most faithfully to John C. Garand over the years, he has seen fit to send me a fine student who is also a machinist and who just couldn’t stand the thought of a bulky scope protector made from a child’s Erector Set on my rifle. Yes, it would have no doubt looked that bad, and it would have probably worked, but it would have been an eyesore — and heavy to boot. So Sat Jivan Singh and I are doing the developmental work on the Mercedes-, BMW-, or Boeing-Aircraft-version of the scope protector. His design is so much better than what I had in mind because he has the talent and ability to make things more as they should be, not (as I have to be) limited by my own ability to work with the few tools at my disposal.

You will see it on the very first M1/H (I hope at the “Rattle Battle,” in November) and you may decide for yourself just how “trick” it is. Also, you just may want something like it for your own scope. I would think if you had an expensive scope sight, it would be very appealing. If you have a cheap scope, just buying a spare one, with rings already on it, ready to switch over if the one on your rifle goes sour, would be cheaper. (The new, duplicate scope is the one that should now be installed on your rifle. Your current scope should be moved to the back-up position with its rings attached. You then have a sight in reserve that should bolt back on already very close to its original ZERO, although some minor re-sighting-in will be necessary — and it has been tested for whatever length of time it was in service before you switched to the newer replacement.)

Sat Jivan Singh says he has over 40 hours of work invested in the prototype and, having some machine shop background myself, I believe him. If you really want one for your rifle and scope, we might be able to work something out with you, although it can’t be dirt cheap. It fits the scope so well that it is hardly noticeable, and maintains the clean lines and a very low weight.

At any rate, this is just a few of the examples of using your mind to think about solutions to field shooting problems. Watch other people do things — they might be trying something that you yourself would be interested in. Ask other shooters, talk about what you might want to try; maybe some others have tried a technique, or a type of weapon, or modification like what you propose to do and have some data for you to use. Maybe they found something out that you never though of, positive or negative, and it can save you some time and money if you hear it didn’t work out well (and you respect their opinions). Otherwise, if their reports seem positive you can proceed with more data in hand to start with, and it may make your testing cycle shorter.

You may piggy-back on another person’s ideas and come up with a much better idea than either of you had thought of separately. You may take an idea or technique, or even a type of weapon, and make it work better than most people do (like you-know-who and his .30-30).

As a final example for this time, I give you “782 gear” (or Load Bearing Equipment, as it is called by most people). There are dozens of commercial load-bearing vests on the market, the great majority of which are junk, and over-priced junk at that! Steve (ye Ed.) and I designed and produced a short run of vests, some years ago. True to my form, I did not think they were “perfected” enough, but they were pretty good nonetheless. We went through quite a bit of testing out in the field, and I arrived at some firm ideas of how field gear ought to work for you. I am not exactly a stranger to LBE gear; I wore it on duty in the field, in the FMF (Fleet Marine Force) while I served in the Third Marine Division, on Okinawa in the late 1950s.

I don’t know about most shooters, but I can generally tell from looking at a picture of someone wearing field or LBE gear what its strengths and limitations may be. If I see it in person, and get to try it on, I know right away whether or not it will work for the purposes for which I wear field gear; and if you give me a few hours running around in the bush, I can give you a detailed description of its good and bad points.

Most of the field gear on the market today was copied from other gear that was already in existence. I have seen more variations of the Rhodesian Vest (which is a version of the British Battle Jerkin of W.W.II.) and some South African versions, than anything else. I had a Rhodesian Vest at one time. Wearing most of these vests you can tell that almost all of the designers have never — I repeat, never — gone prone, or kneeling, or sitting, or even crawled across the living room floor in their creations! They have probably never loaded their vest with all the items it will carry, then hiked around, and then tried to use a rifle, either. There are people rushing “hot items” to market, some of which have a very healthy price tag, without even understanding faintly what it is that they are trying to accomplish or what their designs will really be used for.

Remember, to drive a Ferrari you don’t have to drive well — you just have to have the money to buy it. I wish some company out there would hire me as a consultant, so I don’t have to modify every piece of 782 gear I want to use. Gasp, choke, spit, slobber, snarl! I’ll get them for this! I’ll show them no mercy! And, you know what? You should show no mercy to yourself either, in your search to get better.

Skill Is Better Than Luck!