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AAR – Viking Tactics Nightfighter Course

April 7, 2011

On April 1-3, I attended the VTAC Nightfighter course in Surprise, Az. The instructors were the ever popular Kyle Lamb and Dan Brokos (who I had not met before).  The class consisted of a little over 20 students, all of whom were pretty highly skilled and vetted prior to taking the class (and thank God for that given the advanced nature of the course).  Most were law enforcement.  I shot about 1400 rounds of 5.56 and 300 rounds of 9mm.

First off, the level of instruction was absolutely top notch.  Both Kyle and Dan were excellent instructors. The concepts of the class were clearly articulated and demonstrated (I for one can’t stand instructors who don’t demonstrate.)   There was an excellent balance of pushing students and providing positive feedback.  Kyle is a big believer in pushing students to “where the wheels fall off,” which gives them a good sense of their limits.

Day one consisted of the arbitrary zeroing of the rifle.  Then Kyle had us perform some standards type exercises.  The basic drill consisted of shoot at the VTAC bullseye target: 10 rounds prone at 100, run to 75, 10 rounds sitting at 75, run to 50, 10 rounds kneeling at 50, run to 25, 10 rounds standing at 25.  We did the drill both strong and support side.  When it got dark, we started doing basic drills with the rifle, learning how to manipulate the flashlight.  Drills consisted of advancing from 20 to 15 to 10, shooting every 5 yards.  We also did the 2X2X2 drill both in the daytime and in the dark with our lights. We also went over flashlight techniques with the pistol (with Kyle having his own technique for handheld lights) and finished up with shooting sans light.

Day 2 left the standards behind and we began to shoot scenario based drills, first doing the drill in the daytime and then at night.  We started out in the daytime working nearly every possible shooting position with the rifle both around some cars and VTAC barricades.  Then we commenced to doing drill in and around the cars, again during daylight.  Then came the dark!  We fired some pretty challenging drills in and around the cars in the dark. One common theme was offsets.  Most everybody, including myself, shot the cars when hugging them as cover –  but I did not hit a tire!  Another common theme was switching weapons, especially the rifle from one side to another.  This greatly improves the ability of the shooter to maximize cover.  The most difficult shooting problem encountered was shooting under the car with the rifle in the dark.  The problem was that the light would pretty much illuminate the underside of the car and not the target which was about 25 yards away.  The shooter had to really get the rifle under the car so the light would illuminate the target and not reflect back from the undercarriage to blind the shooter.   We also commenced with one handed drills, meaning the shooter would have to manipulate his weapon systems with just one hand – very challenging stuff.  The range was divided into 3 scenarios and the shooters would work though each 2 or 3 or even 4 times with Kyle and Dan coaching.

Day 3 continued with drills focused with shooting in and around cars.  We began by shooting car doors and windows to see the effects that various projectiles had.  I can say 3 things about this.  1) It is largely unpredictable what a bullet will do when striking a car 2) BUT bonded bullets and heavy bullet performed better than lighter and/or unbonded bullets 3) if shooting in and around a car, shoot A LOT!  On Day 3, we began to engage targets through our own windshields.  My advice: 1) wear plugs and muffs 2) Keep Shooting! I did not get thorugh the windshield until about the 3rd or 4th shoot with my AR.  The drills became more complex ending with a drill from hell wherein the shooter engaged a wide variety of targets from both in and around the cars.

I have several observations taken from this class

1) The 1st the impact of competitive shooting on the tactical world.  Whether or not the tactical oriented like it. Many (if not most) of the actual shooting techniques taught by guys like Kyle have their genesis in competitive shooting. This is NOT to say that just because you are a good competitor that you are all of a sudden some sort of warrior.

2) I shot 3 optics in the class to compare them: a Leupold Prismatic (my sight from SMM3G), a Leupold CQBSS 1-8X, and an Eotech.  Result?  In the daytime inside of 50 yards, I thought the Prismatic was best.  At night inside of 50 yards, I would give a slight edge to the Eotech, but only if shooting positions wherein the rifle got really pushed away from the eye.  Past 50?  The CQBSS ruled day or night, especially at night as its higher twilight factor kicked in.  When shooting 6 in plates at 50 illuminated with a flashlight, the Pris and the Eotech became problematic.  Not so with the CQBSS set on 2X or 3X.  Of course, the CQBSS was not as easy to use when shooting some of the more unique positions required by the class.

3) I used several lights through the course of the class.  Several Surefires and 2 Leupolds.  My X300 mounted on my CZ SP01 died at a VERY inopportune moment but Dan hooked me up with his for the next drill.  (Thanks Dan!) The Leupold lights were excellent, being both very bright and adjustable. Their switches were slightly easier to use than my Surefires when shooting both mounted on the rifle or when being handheld in conjunction with the pistol.  Brighter too.  I varied my light mount on the rifle several times throughout the class, settling on the Leupold in a VTAC mount on the right side as my favorite.

4) I shot Hornady 55 grain steel cased training ammo for the rifle.  It functioned flawlessly EXCEPT for 1 failure to fire.  I shot a combination of handloads and 125 grain HAP Hornady training ammo in my pistol.  I did not have any trouble with the factory ammo (can’t say the same for the handloads, 2 of which were oversized and jammed up my SP01).  I did the car penetration tests with Hornady 75 grain TAP.   One penetrated the rear window and broke into 4 pieces which penetrated the front windshield.  The second one penetrated two car doors and placed a nice hole in an IPSC target.

5) I have been experimenting with JPs EZ drop in trigger on my tactical lower.  So far it has been through several matches, a Mike Pannone class and a now this class for a total of about 4000 rounds. I can report flawless performance as well as a good trigger squeeze – AND I installed it.  One hears of all sorts of trouble with match triggers in these carbine classes.  I don’t doubt the reporting but I expect that the triggers are installed incorrectly.  I now have 10s of thousands of rounds over match triggers.  I have never had an issue with a JP with American primers – but I’ve broken 2 Timneys with only about 1000 rounds or so.  I have one JP trigger set really light which does not reliably fire the Russian primers on Hornady’s training ammo.

6) When shooting your carbine one handed, you feel every ounce!

7) The rifle should be as slick as possible if you are going to be shooting it sideways

8) It is funny to be an IPSC shooter at these kind of classes.  I DON’T break the 180.  Just can’t do it.  BUT I don’t point my guns at the other students or instructors either – something that many students can’t say.

9) I have never been as bruised up for any other class or match

10) I shot the class with a Tyr Tactical plate carrier with a plate in it.  What a fantastic piece of gear.  It was light, durable and comfortable (or as comfortable as such a thing could be). Highly recommended.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. JonnieTyler permalink
    July 1, 2011 4:49 pm

    What type of rifle/carbine set-up did you use at the class? It sounds like you used your competition rifle for the tactical class.

    • kellyneal permalink*
      July 1, 2011 6:42 pm

      I did not use a race gun for the class. First off, no sense working over a match grade barrel. Secondly, you don’t want a comp at a class like this due to the increased muzzle blast. This hurts night vision, pummels nearby shooters and become problematic when shooting positions like SBU prone. Finally, Kyle would pick on me unmercifully. I used 2 rifles. The first was a DSA carbine w/ an 16 in fluted barrel, VTAC sling, Troy VTAC hand guard, Magpul stock, JP’s new EZ trigger, and Leupold Prismatic. The secondary is an old Frankengun built by Scott Medesha on a Colt lower. It has a lightweight Colt barrel, Medesha hand guard, and Accuracy Speaks trigger. It used it to try out different optics at night. Both worked quite well. Note while I may not run a race gun, I do believe in good triggers.

  2. July 22, 2011 7:09 pm

    Great AAR!

    >> Many (if not most) of the actual shooting techniques … have their genesis in competitive shooting.

    The US Army’s first official text on marksmanship was Manual For Rifle Practice by George Wingate, co-founder of the NRA, based on lessons learned in competition shooting. Good gun handling technique was largely developed in practical competition.

    Sure Kelly Neal is a competition shooter, but I’ll bet he was top shooter amongst the tactical types in this tactically-oriented class.

    • kellyneal permalink*
      July 22, 2011 9:49 pm

      Thanks. The competitive shooting world and the “real” world have had a long history together. Competitive shooters do tend to be the top guns in these classes. Why?? Because we shoot so much more. In my experience an active USPSA competitor at Rio Salado Sportsman’s Club will shoot 10X as many rounds a year or more than the average SWAT officer. That sort of experience will show through in a shooting class.

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