FirstSpear Range Day 2019

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Today was a busy old day hitting up both the ever-enjoyable FirstSpearRange day for the 4th consecutive year in the morning as well as the ATAC Global range in the afternoon. With that in mind I focused pretty much purely on the shooting rather than the gear that was on display, since the gear is usually all on show in the main part of SHOT whereas you can’t exactly blast off rounds inside the convention centre.

TRIARC Systems were in strong attendance with their Glocks, 1911s, 2011s and AR-15s. The 2011s start in the price range of $3k and if you ever want better proof of how the gun absolutely doth not maketh the shooter then these are it, because you can put a gun that expensive in my hands I will still be a really terrible shot with a pistol. The triggers are like fresh Norwegian icicles of course and all the controls feel simply incredible with immaculate stipple work and surface finishes, but personally I’d shoot a stock Glock basically the same because my pistol skills are that unrefined that the gun itself has almost no impact. My key point here being that if you’re the sort of person who can own a handgun and/or you carry one regularly and you have access to training, then training is where you absolutely must put your money. I practice with airsoft pistols all the time and I often get in a few dry fire reps with the real thing in work, but no amount of that can get rid of my involuntary flinch with live ammo and the finest quality weapon in the world won’t ever improve your marksmanship just by picking it up. Real life is not an RPG where your armament passively imbues +4 accuracy when equipped, sadly.

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Luckily the TRIARC ARs were a bit more my speed and I’m reasonably competent at getting more hits than misses when using a rifle. They have a new handguard based on the ZEV M-LOK rails which were in turn based on the Hodge Defense Systems wedge-lock, though TRIARC have incorporated steel QD sockets on both sides which is always nice in the long term. To cover the most absolute basics, they manufacture some top shelf receiver sets and barrels and really cherry pick the finest components available from the rest of the industry to incorporate in to their builds. Radian charging handles and 45 degree selectors, Geissele triggers, the list goes on, everything you manipulate just feels supremely sharp and crisp. A standout for me was getting to try out the new Unity Tactical Aimpoint, Inc. mounts, including the brand spankin’ new Flip-to-Centre (yep) magnifier mount, which is by far the best solution for a red dot magnifier I’ve encountered so far.

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I was very pleased to see a strong showing yet again from IWI US to include numerous Tavors and Galils. They didn’t have 40mm rounds available but I obviously picked the carbine equipped with the UGL anyway to do some pinking at the steel up on the hill side. Really good triggers for any type of rifle let alone a bullpup. I can get along with the L85 but trying to break shots cleanly with the X95 is just so much easier. The grenade launcher is also very impressive in terms of weight – with a lot of movement towards standalone 40mms now brought about by a desire to lighten the 5.56 rifle (given that you don’t shoot the 40mm nearly as much as you’re carrying it) it was interesting to handle a launcher that had so little adverse affect on the overall weight and balance point of the host rifle itself. Sadly the Negev NG-7 wasn’t available to be fired, but I couldn’t pass up the posing opportunity.

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The one piece of kit I’d have to highlight is the new Wound Club from Phokus Research Group. I mentioned their Wound Cube last year which is a brilliant tool for allowing people to train and practice the packing of wounds with combat gauze/celox bandages and the like, an area of training that is woefully lacking certainly throughout the British military and certainly by comparison to training on tourniquets. The Wound Club allows you to practice physically squeezing a bloody vessel shut by pressing the afflicted area up against the fake bone running through the simulated flesh, forming a seal. Saline can be run through the red tube that simulates the blood vessel, spraying outwards at a fair rate when unrestricted, so you very much know if you’re correctly squeezing the blood vessel closed in the required manner. This is something I’ve never had any training on or real practice with in my time in the service and there’s no doubt in my mind it would make an amazing addition to medical training for anyone who might possibly encounter gun shot wounds or very deep lacerations in the line of their work.

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Thanks to all the organisers and RSOs who made the event a very enjoyable and informative one and to Femme Fatale Airsoft for taking a lot of these images.

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Machine Gun Experience Review – Las Vegas Shooting Centre

So far I’ve given my thoughts on Battlefield Vegas and Shoot Las Vegas, both already very positively reviewed online, both with their own merits and both I’d happily recommend to any of you visiting this utterly insane part of Nevada.

Other people’s reviews are all well and good of course but if they’re not ‘gun people’ doing the writing I like to double check on the situation for myself. LVShootingCenter wasn’t open last time I was over here for SHOT but it’s already garnered a good little reputation with a clean looking store and website to accompany that. The weapon selection is small comparatively but you need to remember what comparatively means within the realm of Vegas gun rental/machine gun experiences.

Las Vegas Shooting Centre is both a standard gun shop and a machine gun rental business combined with a 12 lane indoor range that services both elements. It’s located just barely off the West side of the strip, quick and easy to reach and part of your shooting package does include a free Uber to get you from your strip hotel to the store (though not back again), which actually adds a good bit of value all things considered.

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The store and the range both have plenty of light and a fresh, bright new paint scheme, which probably seems like an inconsequential detail but I really can’t emphasise how claustrophobic and grim a lot of other similar businesses in Vegas might feel inside to some people who’re probably already a bit nervous about shooting a gun in the first place. Granted that’s the nature of a lot of gun shops because they tend to have far fewer windows that your average business (if any) but with new shooters it is always important to make the whole thing as relaxing and enjoyable as physically possible. To my mind, of all the rental ranges in town Shooting Centre is absolutely the one to go to for the newer shooter or anyone who hasn’t already shot an extensive number of full auto weapons previously. There weren’t actually many of the weapons they have available to rent that I hadn’t already fired and none of the machine guns were new to me personally, but that is purely as a result of doing a lot of this stuff the past few years. Never shot an AR, AK, MP5, P90, Thompson, M1919 or Minimi in full-auto? You’ll be in for a good time. Plus of course there’s plenty of standard self-loading rifles and pistols to choose from and pretty much everything that’s automatic has a selector to go down to repetition/semi.

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Pricing wise, they’re pretty competitive overall, especially when you consider the number of rounds you get with a lot of the weapons and particularly with anything in a pistol calibre. I’m not sure what the deal is with the packages vs just picking á la carte – the ‘First Base’ package for example is advertised at $115 on the website and includes one 9mm SMG and one 9mm pistol with 2 mags for each. I picked from the wall and chose to shoot an MP5 (it was a Turkish MKE with FA sear dropped in to the trigger pack, but it still tasted like an HK), an FN 5-7 and the Sig P320. Total cost came to $113 which is somehow $2 less for shooting a whole extra gun, so I’m unsure if the guy behind the till tapped a wrong button or what but just something to be aware of. Personally I never opt for packages at any of these places as I find they’re put together for general tourists with little to no knowledge of small arms who want to say they ‘shot a Glock and an Uzi’ when they actually fired a P226 and an MP5.

The big plus for me with LVSC is that for the standard price you get 2 magazines with basically everything that’s smaller than 7.62 NATO, usually filled to around 2/3 capacity and that’s quite a substantial step up from all the similar ranges I’ve attended and researched in terms of pure cost per round. You generally pay $5-10 more per weapon than other places, but you get something like 40 rounds though an SMG vs 25 rounds at other places, or 20 through a pistol instead of 10. Crucially you get to perform a reload on everything, which may be of little interest to some but essentially the entire reason I decided to go down was so I could try a full and proper ‘live’ reload on an automatic MP5 for the first time.

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As I mentioned the selection is on the smaller side when compared to some other places with hardly any of it being historical (if that’s your bag) and I think the location overall might not be as ‘flash’ as some others with less peripheral fluff; no pick up in a HMMV or giant Monster Truck limo etc. The Range Officers are certainly stricter with rental folks than other places I’ve been to and they will be right up beside you regardless of experience level, which makes the angles available for video recording pretty limited but obviously I’ll never knock anywhere with solid safety procedures. None of the above detracts however from the shooting itself, it just means you’ve made a better educated decision by not being swayed by marketing.

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If anybody reading this ever finds themself planning a trip to Vegas then I’d presume you want to shoot some stuff so please do post here or in the group and ask me anything at all about going to these places that you’d like to ask. The cost-per-time ratio is definitely very high end as entertainment goes but Las Vegas is one of the only places in the world you can legally actually shoot so many of the firearms that are available at the various rental ranges and shooting experience centres.

Armistice Centenary Shoot

I discovered via the Forgotten Weapons patreon page that the UK NRA were going to be holding a WW1 style rifle competition at Bisley on the 10th of November 2018 and Ian was planning to be in attendance.  I had done a very small amount of competitive shooting through the military before, but never outside of work as I don’t personally own any firearms.  It’s quite a lengthy and complex process to obtain a Firearm Certificate for anything other than a shotgun with a max capacity of 3 rounds here in the UK and even with the Section 1 Firearm Certificate you’re not able to own self-loading pistols or rifles in any cartridge more energetic than .22LR.  When I saw Lee-Enfield rifles were available to simply rent for the day of the match however, it seemed like all the pieces were falling in to place.  After all the 100-year anniversary of armistice day only comes around once.

There’s an awful lot of things I could write about with relation to this day because it was quite a day to say the least, but I’ll try to focus on some basics of competing in rifle competition at Bisley, my experience of the No1 SMLE and the gear I was wearing/using during the event to try and keep myself as comfortable as possible.  This blog will also be quite heavy on the imagery, seeing as a picture paints a thousand words.  Special mentions to my buddy Ivan of KitBadger.com for the loan of the USMC issued Urban-T pattern BDU trousers I wore for the day and also to my mate Sid who I was shooting alongside, took a lot of these pictures and toughed out the entire event in the cold rain wearing basically just a desert climate uniform of the period.

I was up at 5 since match registration opened at 7am.  Signing-in was followed directly by a fairly lengthy service of remembrance and commemoration out on Century range – Bisley’s primary rifle range and the venue for the entire day’s events.

One thing to know about competitive rifle shooting in this discipline, at least at Bisley, is that you will only spend 25% of the time actually behind your rifle.  All competitors at this match were split in to 4 details, so for example during the first quarter of the day details 3 and 4 (of which me and my mate were a part) were down in ‘the butts’ putting the targets up and down for details 1 and 2 to shoot at.  This is a crucial aspect of traditional military marksmanship and competition with a rifle, as the whole idea is to become accustomed to the fact that in reality your enemy are going to only be out in the open for as little time they can be.  They don’t want to be seen and get shot, funnily enough.

When it is time for your half of the cadre to be out on the firing line you will spend half of that time writing down scores for your partner and buddy-checking their chamber is clear when unloading after a string of fire.  This all means of course that when it is your turn to pull the trigger you’ve got 2 people putting your targets up and down for you and another person taking your score.  There are electronic systems manufactured that can put steel targets up and down and even record scores and a small number of the lanes at Bisley even have such targets, but in my experience such luxuries are fairly rare on civilian and military ranges in the UK.

The boots worn by British military personnel up until roughly the 1970s-80s were truly horrendous.  An actual nightmare to endure.  Since the British military made the transition to the new selection of brown boots from the old standard issue black ‘assault boots’ that were just bare leather inside with no cushioning, poor quality soles and a ridiculous break-in period; things have improved pretty significantly, I’d venture to say we’re almost in the modern age now.

Targetry for the match consisted of modern re-prints of legitimate British Army standard marksmanship practice targets from the 1910s.  Given that the Machine Gun was only just coming in to popularity during this time period, the main weapon of war was very much still, at least doctrine wise, the individual man’s rifle and skill in accurate shooting was greatly emphasised.  By WW2 (and even late in WW1) this emphasis had changed somewhat in the British military given the advent and proliferation of automatic weapons and the Bren gun in particular, but before that point it was the bolt-action rifle that mattered.

2 of the 5 strings of fire were shot against targets similar to the one shown in the centre of the picture below, which as you’ll note is quite literally just the size of a standard sized man’s head and shoulders.  Frankly there are a lot of people in the military now (outside of combat roles) who would struggle to consistently hit a target like this using a 5.56 carbine with a magnified optic from 100m.  This entire match was shot from 200 yards (just under 200m) with the rather obsolete notch sights of the No1 SMLE, not even a rear aperture.  While the other targets were large screens as depicted here flanking the head target, the high scoring zones on said screens are only the same size as the head, as you’ll note from the size of the black area on the left hand screen.  The head-size target is 100% a real representation of a person who is only sticking part of their upper torso up over a ledge, so if you can hit that target you can shoot a person in their head or neck, which is a pretty ‘strong’ thing to imagine doing for want of a better phrase.

For me this targetry was quite a departure from shooting at either little white squares for zeroing, or the standard Figure 11 target board that’s been a mainstay in the armed forces for a long time now.  Although funnily enough there are similar head sized targets like the one shown below still used today during inter-services competitive shooting, also presumably for the infantry and other combat arms for whom marksmanship is a stronger focus.

The round count requirement for the full day was 66 cartridges and again we were able to purchase these direct from the UK NRA just to be used on the day alongside the rented rifle.  Standard ball rounds with 180 grain bullets, brass, rimmed cases and generally a very premium appearance to them by contrast to most military 556 ball and blank.  We certainly suffered no issues related to ammunition accuracy or reliability throughout the event.  Unfortunately the rims were not rounded off at the rear as per the proper old military spec, which means you can experience rim-lock stoppages if you don’t load your magazine properly and always place the upper rim in front of the one below it, however we took care to load properly and no issues of this kind reared their heads.

A lot of the shooters who’d brought along their personally owned rifles and ammunition were using stripper clips which we did not have, though that was of little consequence during the competition itself.  I do somewhat regret not enquiring about this before the day as loading a fixed magazine in a rifle with clips is not something I’ve been able to experience yet, outside of putting en-blocs loaders in to an M1 Garand.  I’m sure the opportunity will arise eventually though, which will certainly be interesting after playing a lot of BF1 in the past couple of years.

My shooting buddy and I were loaned out our No1 rifle after doing our turn down in the butts and moving back up to the firing line.  A 1941 production which of course makes it far later than WW1, though most likely in better condition than any rifle from the 1910s would be at this point.  Keep in mind the No4 rifle wasn’t officially adopted by the British until 1941, so the huge amounts of No1 SMLEs in inventory saw substantial active service during World War 2.  If I recall correctly both India and Australia never adopted the No4 at all, so given the number of their troops that participated in the conflict it goes to show how much use the No1 rifle from the first world war actually ended up seeing in the second world war.

The particular rifle we used for the day was made at the Lithgow factory in Australia as you can just about discern from the very shallow and worn stamping on the stock socket.  How it ended up in the UK I’m not sure, it could well have made its’ way here during or immediately after the war in some soldier’s hands as there is no shortage of Lee-Enfield rifles already in the UK, so I’d be doubtful it was imported specifically for civilian usage.  It may even have been sent from Australia to the UK as material aid during WW2, unlikely perhaps, but hard to say given everything that was going on during that time.  Far stranger things did happen.

While it pains me to say it in a way, I can’t pretend to be a huge fan of the No1 rifle overall.  This is in spite of the fact I would very much rate it generally higher than the 1891 Mosin, 1903 Springfield, Lebel 1886 and Gewehr 98.  Rifles of this era are just hard to shoot when you take in to account the last 100 years of firearms development for comparisons’ sake.  It’s not that you can’t connect shots and that the bullets won’t do what they need to, it’s just the nature of certain design elements from that period.   Ergonomic considerations have come along massively in the last century.

The primary culprits for me are the iron sights, which are of course basic notch and post types as still employed by some rifles like the AK-74M in service today.  Unlike an aperture type sight where the rear ghost ring is right back near the shooters’ eye, the No1 rear iron sight is roughly half way down the portion of the gun that lies between the shooters’ eye and the front sight.  You lose an awful lot of sight radius this way which is inherently less accurate, slow to acquire a sight picture without fairly extensive practice/training and you can’t see anything below or to the sides of the front sight blade (unlike modern iron sights).  I’m not saying this style of sight is unusable by any stretch and there are many historical accounts of very well trained and skilful people pulling off amazing feats of marksmanship with weapons like these, but the fact remains those people would have done even better with a rear aperture and it would’ve probably taken less time in practice to reach the same skill level.  The British military even experimented with rear apertures at least as far back as 1911 because they knew that was the way to go.

Fast forwarding somewhat – before the infanteers of the current British military moved over to ACOGs/Elcans on the L85 and the SUSAT was subsequently dispersed amongst the rest of the military (about 5 or so years ago), I spent all my time on the L85 shooting with the weapons’ iron sights, so using these comparatively obsolete predecessors was an eye opener and learning experience in a lot of different ways.  They certainly make the irons found on the L85, M16 and G36 seem very easy to use by comparison and that’s without even going in to red dots and other more advanced magnified optics.

The other aspect I personally struggled with is the low height of the sights combined with the very slim nature of the stock/handguard and, to some extent, lack of a bi-pod.  It’s perfectly easy to get your eye down to the sights with the drop of the stock of course, but in the prone position it is not immediately obvious how to actually use the sandbag support provided while still elevating the muzzle high enough to aim at targets on the horizon line, or indeed above said line.  This is admittedly hard to put across without a picture, but I was myself unable to come up with a prone position that allowed me to actually use the sandbag (even when the stage allowed for supported shooting) while still sufficiently elevating the muzzle.

The position I ended up using to shoot in the prone is depicted slightly further down in this post.  I found I really had to slide the support hand a lot further back than I would with any modern rifle in order to get the aforementioned necessary muzzle elevation.  Being raised high up on the elbows is not my usual prone shooting style as normally I flatten out as low and as wide as physically possible, with the elbows splayed and the magazine of and L85/AR acting as a mono-pod; but I couldn’t seem to make that work with the No1 given the long stock.  Some of the more experienced participants who clearly had a lot of years behind these guns could get in to positions such that the sandbags could take the weight of their support-side forearms with the rifle butts essentially dug down in to the dirt under their chests to get the right angle, but it would definitely take me some more range time to become accustomed to these older style rifles when shooting from the prone.

I also found I had a lot to get accustomed to in terms of the length of the weapon/barrel.  With the L85 the rifle’s chamber is almost under your cheek when in a firing stance, or at least behind the hand that’s pulling the trigger.  But with the SMLE the chamber is of course forward of the magazine, essentially in the region where your support hand will tend to be gripping the stock, whereas the support hand on a modern rifle can usually manage to take hold almost at the muzzle.  That’s a very substantial difference in the ‘starting point’ of the barrel and to your stance, which has a corresponding knock-on effect to the overall length of the rifle, which in turn moves all of the weight and balance much further out forward of the shooter’s centre of gravity.

This is not to say that the rifle is all bad of course, far from it.  You have double the magazine capacity of all its’ main comparable contemporaries, a fairly decent 2-stage trigger and the cock-on-close action with a nicely curved bolt handle and nicely manufactured parts makes cycling the gun extremely fast.  Anyone who’s fired a Mosin with it’s straight bolt handle, cock-on-open, ‘basic’ machining work and shoddy surface finish will find their bolt speed significantly higher with a No1 or No4.   This competition was also the first opportunity I had personally had to use the magazine release on any Lee-Enfield rifle and it is surprisingly not that difficult to remove or re-insert the detachable box magazine.  I say surprising as .303 ammunition was always issued as standard on stripper clips throughout both world wars and the ability to change magazines was basically never taken advantage of in either conflict.

We started the morning session down in the butts during which time the sun was out, but of course shortly after we transitioned from being under cover to being out on the field, the rain began.

I should mention at this point that although American shooting competitions tend to comprise of ‘stages’ that form a match and there are usually overall scores, a lot of the military style competitions here in the UK are comprised of ‘matches’ instead of stages and often the scores from the matches have no bearing at all on any of the other matches that for that day.  Even though you might only be shooting for a couple of minutes, if you win that match you get a gold medal.   Conversely, consistently doing fairly well but placing outside of the podium throughout the day will net you nothing at all.  Best to have an absolute disaster of a match then to truly shine in another if silverware is your goal.

The below images were taken during the first match before the clouds rolled over and the rain properly began.  Match 1 involved shooting with a No1-appropriate pattern of bayonet affixed.  Supposedly having it attached changes your zero quite a bit, although for us on the day there wasn’t anything noticeable in that regard.  One would expect shots to land lower than the aiming point given the weight hung on the end barrel, but that did not appear to be the case at the 200 yard line where the whole competition took place.  Perhaps it might be noticeable at 400 or more.

After a well needed curry lunch we headed back down the butts for the 2nd round of managing the targetry during which the weather held, but as in the morning it all changed come our turn back out on the firing line, though more dramatically this time.

Fortunately shooting with a hood up and in somewhat dim, drab conditions did not actually prove to be too bad using the sights on the No1, though I dread to think about how much harder it would have been in the true conditions of trench warfare and wearing the equipment of the 1910s.  After shooting at the target comprising only a head and shoulders in the morning, the man-sized target for the afternoon which actually had part of the torso and an upper arm showing was slightly easier to connect to, but I think the image below demonstrates just how small said target actually is at 200 yards without any magnification.  I got maybe 1-2 more hits on this target compared to just the head.  If you happen to be unsure what the targets actually are in the picture below I wouldn’t blame you, they’re the little black blobs contrasted against the sand berm and running from lanes 71 to (1)00.

Once the actual competition stages were over with, the day was finished off by a ‘demonstration’ shoot of a Vickers machine gun.  Nothing replica or reproduction about it, a legitimate functioning MG of the era with all the original matching water cooling gear, cloth belts and appropriate tri-pod.  Whether it was pulled from some armoury at Bisley, a military-owned collection or somewhere like the Leeds NFC I have no idea, but there it was and somehow  permission was obtained, in 2018, to blast off nearly 2000 rounds of .303 with the general public in attendance.  The MG fire was split down in to 4 parts and since the ammo we purchased for the day included some extra rounds to fire alongside the Vickers we were able to do just that.  Scroll right down to the bottom of this post for the video.


‘Loadout’

The good thing about being outdoors all day of course is that when it rains for a good portion of that day you can figure out how well any given piece of your gear deters said rain.  If you manage to stay fairly dry at your core then you’ll also stay warm and that’s what really matters.  You can be 100% soaked in warm water and be fine, but it’s always loss of heat that hinders your ability to perform and ultimately can lead to injury or worse in truly extreme situations.

-Salomon XA Pro 3D Mids, GTX – A really old set I’ve posted about previously here on the blog.  Manufactured before what I believe was the point when Salomon got too big and too popular and ‘did a Merrell’.  Quality dropped right off subsequently.  I don’t tend to go for GTX boots of any kind if I’ll be running around much in a temperate climate, but for a comparatively stationary match like this one they were ideal.  Kept my feet dry and are far more comfortable given their trainer styling versus 6-8″ conventional military issue style boots.

-USMC Issued Urban-Track pattern BDU cut pants  – Many thanks to Ivan from Kit Badger for the lend of these.  I had to make sure I wore them to some event that held some modicum of significance at least before returning them to him.

-Tactical Distributors Shooter’s T-Shirt + Under Armor synthetic boxers – Synthetic base layer items like these that wick any water quickly are absolutely foundational in temperate climates in my experience.  While your L5 and L6 kit keeps rain out, a good set of base apparel will move the water away from the skin.

-Gruppa 99 Lvl 5 Jacket – No camo or arm velcro.  Blocks wind like a champ, holds off some rain, breathes nicely and with more than enough pockets.  You cannot beat a good quality, non-insulated L5 jacket when it comes to all around performance in just about any weather and it makes a NYCO BDU or Field shirt seem obsolete by comparison.

-Berghaus Gore-Tex (i.e. PCU L6 equivalent) Jacket – I had a feeling it might well bucket down for the day and a non-insulated Gore-Tex jacket that nicely layers over a softshell was absolutely the right call.  I’ve owned the thing for close to a decade now and it does not bead the water the way it did when it was new, but that was a solid reminder for me to run it through a wash with some Nikwax followed by a spin in a warm tumble dryer.  Even with its’ age and lack of maintenance it kept the vast majority of rain out, with only some saturation in small areas of the extremities like the cuffs.  It’ll be very interesting to see how well the wash and dry has restored the waterproofing performance of this old workhorse of mine.

-The Redback Company, Custom Flexfit style Timmy cap in Desert Night pattern – This match was the longest period I’ve spent solidly wearing the Redback flagship product so far.  Extremely comfortable to the point of not feeling like it’s on your head.  Regulates temperature nicely, doesn’t hold much volume of water at all.  Definitely a warm weather cap yet still served me well in the cooler conditions and rain.

-3M Peltor Comtac XP Electronic ear pro – My go to set of hearing protection for all shooting (work and recreational) and indoor airsoft use for probably 5 years now.  Night and day compared to foamies that may protect your hearing but certainly do not help you in hearing range commands.

-SKD Tac PIG FDT-Delta gloves – I only wore these briefly at this match, but they performed just as I’d expect from a PIG glove.  Peerless dexterity that feels essentially no different to just bare hands.  They take some of those annoying cuts and scrapes you’d incur otherwise, but don’t impede manipulation of a firearm in the slightest.

-Mil-Spec Monkey CYOA Pack – Before I last deployed I spent a couple of days on ranges with my MSM BOSS Beaver bag that I’ve reviewed previously.  It was sat out on an entirely exposed field for many, many hours simply getting rained on and didn’t let water in from above or allow it to soak through from underneath.  This is the beauty of proper mil-spec 500D cordura, being nylon to start with and the fact it always comes with a permanent waterproof coating.  The CYOA performed just as well as the BOSS and quite literally kept my powder dry as I had my .303 ammo for the day stored inside it while the rain came down.

-Source 2L Bladder – I’ve only ever purchased a couple of Source bladders and frankly, unless some other company comes up with a miraculous new way to keep water warm/cool for days in any climate or defy physics in terms of mass or volume, I’m not foreseeing any need to ever replace them.  It’ll take a lifetime of regular use to wear out one of these bladders, let alone occasional usage.


Ian of Forgotten Weapons fame was very much swamped the whole day with people getting pictures and chatting etc, which I was not at all surprised by given the type of crowd present for the match.  I’d be very surprised if the majority of attendees weren’t subscribers of his channel or at the very least aware of it.  I’ve been able to meet him (just briefly) twice now and although he’s very much drowned in attention at SHOT show and the like he maintains a very friendly demeanour and always smiles in pictures.  I very much wish him the best of luck in maintaining that ability to be jolly with strangers, because we live in an age where more people are more famous than ever thanks to YouTube and other social media, even if they only get recognised when within their niche fields.  This is going off track, but something I do find interesting is the cult of celebrity just in the way it changes people and how it grinds them down in terms of getting approached a lot for pictures etc and the way it inhibits them living their daily lives when going above a certain level of fame; most people who don’t have that or rarely get recognised will very much enjoy occasional recognition, but the reality is it grinds people down after years of having too much of it.

Either way, credit to Ian and the many other people who shot the match in the heavy rain while wearing the awful woolen uniforms of the WW1 era.  Personally I’ll be sticking to all my DWR Nylon shells and comfy synthetic shoes.

Lastly, if you’ve missed it then be sure to watch what I’d say is the companion video to this article, because if a picture does paint a thousand words then a video paints ten thousand.

Thanks to everyone at the UK NRA who took part in running the match and photo credit to their photographer for all of the images that have their watermark in the corners.

Skirmish Report – West Midlands Airsoft

First airsoft game since the summer yesterday, I’ve stepped away from the game itself to a certain extent but when opportunities come up to play at sites that look good and with a good bunch of people there’s no denying it’s a good bit of exercise, gets you practicing manipulation skills that are cross-applicable and generally out of the house away from the screens for a bit. Plus of course for me it’s about seeing whether this kit actually work.

First off thanks to Femme Fatale Airsoft for hosting me, we’ve got a collaborative type of video coming up focused on a subject I’ve been meaning to showcase on video for literally years but couldn’t get done without access to somewhere (like an airsoft site) in which it was possible to run around with RIFs.

Second I’d have to give a pretty solid thumbs up to the High Command site in Birmingham run by West Midlands Airsoft. If you like to emphasise the C in CQB type gameplay it’s definitely an indoor location you’ll want to to add to your shortlist. Dark enough to add some nuance to the possible tactics and equipment without making you feel the need to strap on too much money in NVGs. It was a quiet day player number wise which is generally a bonus for compact indoor sites anyway. Did get a little too quiet towards the end after some folks had to go, but that’s no fault of the site. Overall I’d have to say some of the friendliest and most honest players I’ve encountered in the past ~13 years of playing, extremely good sportsmanship on display. Well furnished safe zone, well equipped shop. The lunch was one of the few areas I’d say could be improved compared to some I’ve had, but then equally plenty of sites don’t provide anything and I’m really nit picking at this point. Personally I was more than happy with all the other aspects of the site that actually matter, very good bunch of staff/marshalls.

I’ll be losing possession of the Urban-Track BDU set quite soon sadly, however again a really huge and genuine thank you to Kit Badger for the loan, all around one of the soundest blokes on the planet. If you’re here because you like the way I look at kit you need to be following him for sure because he actually goes outdoors a lot and has his own firearms.

This game was the first time I’d worn a standard BDU set in longer than I can really remember. If the floors weren’t so smooth I know I’d have really missed having integrated knee pads and having to tuck in a shirt with pockets down low on the abdomen is just awful, not to mention no arm velcro. That all pales in comparison of course to the magical powers imbued by wearing a camo pattern this cool. On a serious note though, of course a basic uniform like this actually works more than perfectly well for myriad purposes. You can easily strap on some standard knee pads, sew on loop and unpick pockets on shirts (if desired) for hardly any cost.

First time for the The Redback Company Timmy hat in game as well as the Noisefighters Ear cups, theFirstSpear LLC Multi-mag with speed reload kit, ALG Defense V2 EMR and mounting the Spiritus Systems Micro Fight as a PC placard. The cap performed spot on as expected and there were Magflash rounds getting thrown around in BFGs so the improved seal of the Noisefighters on the Peltors was 100% welcome. I find I’ve no need for the extra front pouch on a chest rig when PC mounted for what I carry in a game, which is why my custom placard is only a single cell, but in fairness that pouch adds minimal bulk to the front of the rig and one thing I’m continually surprised by is how much I’ve grown to like the Spiritus elastic triple 556 insert. I still like plastic alternatives if they’re properly mounted, but the Spiritus elastic is performing incredibly well and I’m not left with even the slightest feeling as if I’m equipped with an inferior competitor. The elastic actually has sound levels and low profile very much on its’ side vs the KYWI/MP2.

Second time out with the SKD Tactical Deltas which I don’t think will be beaten any time soon in the realm of a tactical glove when it comes to comfort and most crucially dexterity, not to mention the touch screen compatibility. The MBAV cut Strandhogg with the Tubes is still superb of course and the G-Code Holsters SOC rig and ESS (Eye Safety Systems)Turbofans never let me down.

Custom ‘Cryes’ from Ukraine

Fingers crossed this video will answer what accounts for the vast majority of questions I get on social media whenever I post any of this camo.

I don’t personally know of any other reliable business or individual currently operating who offers mods to uniforms in to the Crye style or makes them from scratch.  Most others I’ve seen appear in the past like K-SOG or Combat Gear/Can Tac have been unreliable and untrustworthy to say the least and that’s without delving in to all the 1-man sew shops on Facebook who’ve clearly bitten off far more than they can chew and ran off with people’s money.

Christmas 2018

And a very merry happy holiday-christmas-winter-seasons greetings type thing to you all. These are all the presents that I bought for myself and I have by far the biggest budget of anyone that gets me things so they’re pretty good to my mind (that’s not meant to be depressing btw that’s obviously just how being an adult works by comparison to childhood).
ft. Crye Precision, HyperStealth Biotechnology Corp, Tiger Stripe Products, Roman Kurmaz, Raine Inc, Soldier Systems Daily, Altama Boots, Noisefighters, Wilcox Industries Corp, ACTinBlack, Gearskin and Patagonia. Partly sourced from Tactical Distributors and TNVC, Inc.
If you stay tuned here for long enough then you’ll even get to see all these different bits posted about by themselves (eventually)!

11.5″ BCM x Geissele AR AEG

If you missed part 1 of this 2-part little showcase be sure to take a look over the earlier entry via the link below, as it details the base gun that was used to build the one I’ll outline here, as well as the ‘sister’ to this build:

14.5″ Airsoft BCM-KMR Build

The 11.5″ barrel is without a doubt the more practical option when put up against the 14.5.  In an electric airsoft gun there’s no significant difference in range, accuracy or muzzle energy with a slightly shortened barrel, however the weight is decreased and ability to manoeuvre in tight spaces goes up significantly.  If I am going out to engage in fake wars I far prefer indoor and close-up sites and I’ve found myself in areas barely wider than my shoulders before now, places where a 14.5″ M4 style setup was actually far from ideal.  The smaller rifle is just handier and more manageable in essentially every conceivable situation.

This specific RIF has been through 2 iterations with me, the second being a smaller change in terms of numbers of parts, but still significant in terms of adjustments in handling.  Originally I wanted to replicate a real BCM upper and thought that the wide ranging versatility of a quad rail would be a good call if I ever purchased an IR laser, so I picked up a Centurion Arms C4 10″.  This was before the release of the MCMR line of handguards of course and even though the C4 is nice and light for a quad I realised it was a bad choice as soon as I got it in my hands.  I’ve written a piece that is both a review of the C4 and my thoughts on the obsolescence of quad rails that I’d strongly encourage you to check out if you’ve missed it previously as some learning most certainly took place on my part.  Doubly recommended if you’re contemplating which type of handguard to buy for your next AR build (firearm, airsoft or otherwise):

Centurion C4 (A Quad Rail? Srsly??)

From factory configuration, the stock and pistol grip were changed over from basic, black PTS MOE gear to a BCM Gunfighter (non-SOPMOD) and Dytac replica of the BCM Mod 3 respectively, the Dytac motor housing fortunately being a pretty close facsimile for the proper BCM grey colouring.  The SureFire brake replica was substituted for a King Arms replica of a BCM Compensator in the process; replica on account of the proprietary threading on AEG barrels and illegality of fitting some real muzzle devices to airsoft guns in the UK.

I also had a Gunfighter Mod 3 vert grip fitted to the C4 alongside a Magpul QD Paraclip adapter, which of course pairs up with the PTS ASAP sling plate that VFC/Avalon mounted to the lower receiver at the factory.

As mentioned above and outlined in the review of the C4 however, the quad rail simply isn’t in line with what I want these days and when I saw the Geissele MK14 first at DSEi 2016 it became clear my first Geissele rail purchase was on the horizon.  I’d handled one of their earlier products prior to M-LOK which no doubt many folks will remember, and they were popular forends (especially on the 416), but they weren’t particularly light and they were egregiously bulky, so even given the extremely strong reputation for quality I never took the plunge.  The Marks 14, 15, 16 and 17 from Geissele are still a little heavier and wider on average than you would tend to see on a civilian AR but then again they’re all very much leaning towards the military and LE side of the market.  The barrel nuts are longer then industry norms to better counter leverage forces and there’s just more aluminium than usual in every area.  Particularly around the mounting screws as you probably will have noticed upon first looking at the pictures.

The anti-rotational nature of the QD sockets on the MK14 prevents the Magpul adapter being mounted at the desired angle so I went for the ever reliable RSA instead.  At the moment there’s an Arisaka Scout body sandwiched between SureFire head and tail all attached to an Arisaka inline M-LOK mount that will soon be swapped over to their Offset mount in order to bring everything closer together.  The SureFire SR07 is, to my mind, peerless as far as remote switches go.  Instant access to momentary light from either shoulder when mounted at the 12 o/clock, with the constant-on switch requiring only a small movement of the thumb to manipulate.

The Type 2 M-LOK covers from Magpul are ironically in place to protect against cold rather than heat.  An airsoft gun generates no heat when fired of course, but a bare or thinly-gloved hand will be sapped of warmth very quickly during the winter when in tight contact with an aluminium handguard.  It also never hurts to protect your M-LOK slots on a rail that costs hundreds by adding some plastic covers that cost about $12.

Actually fitting the MK14 to an AEG is something I’ll leave for the review of the forend itself, but sufficed to say it required a mill and some very careful work along with diligent hunting of some replacement screws in the correct spec.  All that said, aside from the internals of the gun (which I find deathly boring in electric RIFs) or optics/lasers, there’s nothing left that I’ll be changing at this point.  I consider the primary ergonomic/interfacing parts of any rifle to be the handguard and pistol grip and both of those are as good as I can get them.  The controls are all basic AR fare but that’s all pretty good out of the box on even the most basic military type M16.

Overall a pretty lightweight configuration that’s nice and short with more than enough pic rail and M-LOK space for a full suite of NV-compatible modern accessories (if desired).  Nothing outside the box here really, no carbon fibre or ambi-everything or short stroke gas system – but then the Mk18 also has none of that stuff and people go loopy for those things for some reason or another.

In SBR or Braced pistol format I think the real firearm equivalent (if also built on a BCM) would make a superb carbine for any defensive purpose or in police usage.  Maybe not the absolute ideal for hunting or competition, but absolutely capable of being used in both to a moderate level at least.

9 Signs They’re Clickbaiting You

Things that should ring alarm bells with regards the knowledge of the author when you read/watch any sort of ‘review’ about kit:

-“This.. er… material..(?)” (They don’t know what it is, even though it’s probably just cordura)

-Continuously saying material over and over with regards various different types of substances (is it 500D cordura? 1000D? Webbing? Edging tape? Hypalon? Hypalon laminated to something else?…etc)

-“Polymer” (it’s just plastic, they’re straight bullshitting you and hoping your ignorance will make up for their lack of knowledge)

-“Metal” (alu? steel? what type? cast or stamped? anodised or cerakote? might not have all the exact answers all the time and sometimes the detail isn’t needed, but then again often it is)

-“Really well stitched” (no mention of stitches per inch, no discussion of reinforcement via bar-tack or flag stitch placements or anything of the like, says nothing to qualify the statement)

-“Super rugged construction” (again, without qualification, doesn’t know what the fabrics constituting the item actually are or whether it’s sewn to a good standard, has no experience using other gear of similar construction, has literally just opened the packet of said item)

-“Waterproof” (really fuckin good chance it’s actually not, probably a review of a softshell)

-“MOLLE” (means PALS, has no idea there’s even a difference but claims to know stuff about tactical kit)

-Shit ton of superlatives, no negatives (doesn’t have any actual technical information to give you, got the thing free and wants more from the same company)

I could go on, but those are some classics. I generate a lot of spite from people for pointing these things out, but I’m only here to try and disseminate useful info and if it gets someone’s back up then so be it I’ll carry on regardless. I’m still not an oper8r, I don’t think I’m above reproach and if you dug back through previous posts and videos I’d bet I’ve done some or most of this, but hopefully I’ve learnt from it and I won’t ever steer any of you wrong in future. ‘First do no harm’ is a strong strategy in all sorts of walks of life.

The Redback Company and the Timmy hat

I’m a very strong fan of the Timmy hat from The Redback Company for a few reasons. First off the company itself is owned by a top bloke who’s a British army vet. However there’s a crucial difference between TRC and a lot of other brit veteran owned companies that have been started up in recent years and circulated the shooting/gear/outdoor scenes. TRC doesn’t just take a slight variation of a skull design you’ve seen on a thousand bits of merch before, plaster it on some t-shirts, conduct a social media campaign involving a lot of tactical-crossfit, coffee and beard oils and pretend that any of the above is worth anybody’s time or attention. For that alone I give them a huge round of applause, because the aforementioned stuff showing up every 2 seconds on Instagram makes me wonder sometimes if people are even interested in good, original ideas that are useful in the real world versus just having a more SF looking tattoos than the next guy.
 
Out of the gate I should mention that the version of the Timmy I’ve got here is not the standard one sold by Redback. Some of you probably will have seen other uniform pieces I’ve picked up lately in the late-80s Desert Night pattern and it’s fair to say it’s a camo that I’m not alone in having a liking for. So when I first became aware of TRC through a post on the ever enlightening Soldier Systems Daily, my interest was rapidly piqued. After discovering that both the Rhodesian and Desert Night patterns were available I very quickly fired off an e-mail to Redback just on the off-chance they might be willing to make a couple of caps with slight variations from their template. Though I can say with hand on heath that if they hadn’t I’d still have bought standard caps anyway.
 
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I’ve mentioned previously how much I like the MilSpecMonkey CG-Hat as well as the Arc’teryx/Flexfit BAC, both of which are extremely breathable and adjust to the wearers’ head via internal elastic, rather than having gaps in the rear with hook and loop. I was very lucky indeed that Redback were able to get a couple of Flexfit-style versions of the Timmy made and sent over, both for me to add to the Desert Night loadout here as well as talk about in a post. Unfortunately I’ve been informed they’ll not be offering this exact variant at retail, however if you are not planning to wear your headgear backwards in conjunction with goggles like I will, then the retail version will absolutely look after you just as well if not better. I wanted to make sure I’d spent at least a dozen or more hours wearing my cap before discussing and do so in both relaxed and less-relaxed environments, which of course enables me to feel confident in recommending this particular piece of kit to you all as a potential purchase.
 
The key feature is the construction being primarily of mesh, which I’m frankly amazed they have managed to have produced in both the camo patterns available. The mesh is quite literally exactly what you need when the mercury rises given the rapid dissipation of heat and sweat. That said, even when wearing it in the rain I wasn’t disappointed as while it will of course soak through, it remains extremely comfortable and holds on very little water; certainly far less volume than a standard style cap made of cotton that would probably sap heat from your head faster than wearing no hat at all.
 
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The underside of the peak (which you can shape to whatever amount of curve you prefer) is a plain colour in keeping with the pattern you choose. Certainly the superior option by comparison to having a visually noisy and distracting field of busy patterning hanging about constantly in the edge of your field of view. This is also beneficial in terms of keeping the most possible light out of your eyes. Adjustment as mentioned is via the 2 hook and loop tabs you’d expect at the rear and head sizes from 52cm to 64cm are catered for, which I’d bet heavily on accommodating just about 95% of humans on the planet. There’s also no top stud, so no dramas there in terms of obstructing comfortable wear of ear pro.
 
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You can check out The Redback Company store here for more pictures and information and to pick up a Timmy yourself if you think it fits your criteria in a baseball cap. I must say I think the £20 price tag for a cap in patterns as uncommon as Rhodesian and DNC is well worth it personally.
 
https://theredbackcompany.com/product/timmy-hat/

‘Cryfire’ Temperate MARPAT

I’ve been lagging a bit with the gear posting recently on account of a fair few changes in things, but I hope you’ll all enjoy this feature and seeing some close-ups of an item that isn’t too commonly discussed or displayed.
 
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To my knowledge, these Flame Resistant G3 uniforms offered by DRIFIRE are sewn by Crye Precision, primarily using Drifire’s fabric. They’re available in Multicam, US Woodland, both AORs and both standard flavours of MARPAT. Also, as you might expect for a cut this complex in a top of the range FR material, the price is not low (AG-Tactical can get you some of the non-restricted patterns). For those interested in such things, this particular pair of combats cost me the most of any item of tactical soft goods that I currently own, by a reasonable margin in fact.
 
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Personally, temperate MARPAT is a pattern I’m quite attached to since it was the first camo I ever purchased for myself around 13-14 years ago now, a couple of years before I joined up. Although they’re not well known about, a few sets of G3 uniforms have been manufactured in regular USMC twill NYCO, both combat cut and field, though only in the temperate pattern that I have personally seen. Based on what little evidence is available however those were only a micro sized batch for prototyping or a one-off, very small team purchase. These Drifires on the other hand are still in manufacture at the time of writing to my knowledge, though in incredibly small numbers by comparison to most other uniforms from Crye.
 
They’ve been pictured in use with various elements of USMC Special Operations and possibly a few folks attached to them. They certainly represent what I’d say is the pinnacle of a premium combat uniform for extremely well funded SOF in warm climates, given the feature set and protective properties, at least until the G4 FR stuff starts to proliferate that is.
 
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The detractors (nothing’s perfect after all) are somewhat encapsulated in the phrase well funded. It’s pretty much a universally recognised fact that any FR uniform will fade more quickly and tear more easily by comparison to a regular synthetic/cotton blend, the very nature of the fabric not being a rip-stop weave gives that away right out of the gate. The G3 uniform, particularly the combat pant, already has many more potential ‘bursting’ points by comparison to standard issue uniforms since it comprises significantly more separate pieces of fabric sewn together in to the end product. That said, if you can afford to clothe your troops in high performance FR gear with loads of pockets, adjustability and joint protection and then replace said clothing when it rips or fade; why wouldn’t you? You can read one of my earlier blog posts for a little bit of discussion on FR uniforms in military use:
 
As far as these particular offerings from Drifire go, it is very much evident from a glance at the internal label that there is quite a laundry list of ingredients comprising the primary fabric. The stretch panels being the same tweave as those found on all commercial Crye product. The colouration of the stretch panels and other ancillary parts is in line with the Ranger Green commercial G3s. Sizing is also standard and after a brief inspection the one single anomaly in construction I could find here is that the bottom edge of the knee pad pocket is lined internally with loop. I’ve no idea why this is done as the standard Airflex combat knee pad does not have hook in this area to interface. Though at least if the end user adds more hook they can do what G4 has done and increase the staying power of the pads.
 
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A nice piece for the collection overall. Know some friends who might also be interested to see this post? Share it with them. If you happen to be feeling really flush and want some unusually patterned FR G3s for yourself you can get in touch with AG-Tactical. I’ve no association with them at all, but they do bring some extremely high end gear in to Europe for regular folks like me to buy if they so desire.