Last weekend (Friday through Monday, actually) I attended Front Sight's Four Day Practical Rifle class, along with three friends. This was my first time through the class and I used a bunch of new gear, so I thought I'd write up my impressions of how the gear performed. But first, a little about the class itself.
The first day ended up being the toughest of all due to two factors. First, the weather was obnoxious with 25+ MPH winds blowing the Nevada dust and sand into our eyes, turning everything sandy brown and making it difficult to maintain a steady off-hand position. We could even taste the grit in our mouths. Everything being kicked-up made my contacts feel like sandpaper, which made my eyes water and tears roll down my cheeks. It also got into my nose and caused it to run, so to the rest of the world it probably looked like I was having a good cry, and none of this was making it easy to get a good sight picture or sight alignment.
Second, that day focused on firearms manipulations and how to safely work as a group at the line so there was almost no shooting. I think we shot 10 rounds all day. This was very frustrating to most, and one of my friends was seriously questioning whether to continue with the class.
Fortunately the second day started off with shooting from multiple positions at multiple distances, and the wind had died down to a strong breeze, lifting everyone's spirits. The third day began to put some time pressure on us, and we got to go through the tactical simulators: a couple of canyons we had to traverse that were populated with a mix of steel and photo-realistic paper targets. The goal was to make it through the canyon, correctly identifying the threats and taking them out while not shooting the innocents.
The final day was spent rehearsing for the skills test in the morning, and then taking the actual skills test in the afternoon. Students earn one of three certificates at the completion of a class at Front Sight, based on the student's performance on the final day's skills test. A score of less than 70% earns a Certificate of Achievement, while a score of 70% to 90% earns a Graduate, while 90% or higher earns a Distinguished Graduate. Graduate or Distinguished Graduate in a four-day basic class is usually required to enroll in more advanced classes. I was fortunate enough to Graduate, and I think I shot the top score in the class. Out of 36 students, six Graduated and the rest got Certificates.
Here's the gear worked well:
- Revision Hellfly photochromatic glasses: They fit well, were comfortable to wear all day even under ear muffs, and seemed to be robust. It was nice to be able to leave them on in both the sun and shade, and they react fairly quickly. The only thing I wished was that they made a goggle with photochromatic lenses, too. The dust on the first day really overwhelmed my eyes with just these glasses. Next time I go I'm bringing goggles, too.
- BCM 03 MSF chest harness: This was perfect for the class, as it let me carry four magazines in the front and a 2L Camelbak reservoir in the back—everything I needed while I was on the line. The mag pockets were a little tight initially, but they loosened up by the second day and now it's pretty easy to get the mags in and out. Even better, I didn't have to use the elastic mag keepers unless I planned on turning the vest upside-down. (I used Magpul PMAGs.)
- BCM EAG AR-15 upper: The upper had about 500 rounds through it, without any cleaning, prior to the class. It left with only 320 more rounds on it, but it was absolutely bomb-proof even though the entire carbine was coated with Nevada sand and dirt thanks to the windy conditions. I just sprayed down the chamber area with CLP after the first day, wiping the excess off with a paper towel, and then added a couple drops of Slip 2000 EWL into the ports in the bolt each morning. The barrel's 1:7 twist really likes the Hornady TAP 75gr training ammo, allowing me to produce good groups and hits out to 400 yards.
- Vickers Padded Sling: This class never worked on firearm transitions—switching quickly from carbine to pistol, or switching shooting sides—which is where this sling would really be put to the test. However, for just holding my carbine at rest and facilitating its use from various positions, the sling did just fine. It didn't get tangled up at any time, and my only minor nit was that by the end of four days it had rubbed my neck a little bit raw. It did tend to loosen up a bit throughout the day, so once or twice a day I'd have to resize it to snug it up again, but that was no big deal.
- Geissele Super Dynamic-Combat trigger: This was probably my secret weapon, as its such a phenomenal improvement over a stock military trigger. The two-stage design let me easily stage the trigger at the start of the drills, increasing both my speed and accuracy.
- Mechanix Gloves in coyote: Inexpensive, with good dexterity, they kept me from cutting my hands up on the sharp parts of my carbine, and also prevented blisters. It's not often that you can find such an inexpensive bit of gear that works so well.
Here's what didn't work well:
- Vamfire bullet button: This thing caused me problems from day one. It worked great when in the California-compliant setting, but was unreliable in the out-of-California setting. The first day I had trouble getting magazines to seat, so that evening I played with the height of the button shroud and eventually it seemed to be good to go. It worked OK for the majority of the second day, but I'd still have occasional difficulty getting a magazine to seat and it was always nagging at the back of my mind whether my magazine was really seated or not. It was a distraction that I really didn't need. Finally, towards the end of the second day as I was completing a drill and locking the bolt to the rear, I saw the mag latch parts eject from both sides of my carbine onto the ground. Fortunately I'd brought the original parts with me and was able to get my carbine running again in about 20 minutes, but I remain deeply dissatisfied with the product. (Further research online suggests using blue Loctite or Teflon thread tape to keep the button from unscrewing itself.)