After several years of trying to get myself on the roster at a John Farnam course, I finally succeeded. (As you know I like to quote his “Quips” now and then.) I attended his two-day Defensive Urban Rifle Course hosted by a private range in Forest, Virginia, this past thursday and friday.
Bottom line up-front: Outstanding experience, highly recommended.
This course was like many others I’d attended in size and mix of students– some with military experience, many without, old, young, big, tall, short, small; there was one married couple, but other than the wife of that pair, no other women. (And she proved herself a very competent little shooter.)
But the program of instruction was not like anything I’d had before at Gunsite or FPF Training, or in the Marine Corps for that matter. That’s neither bad nor good, except in one sense I suppose it’s very good in that it exposes the student to different ways of achieving the same result. Here’s one example: we did not zero our weapons. Instead, we verified zero and made adjustments . I think Mr Farnam has a tacit expectation that serious students will show up with rifles that are ready to go, and while he’ll offer us as much time as needed to adjust sights, it’s better for all concerned if the least possible time is spent in the tedium of zeroing. Another example: the range had an old junked car right in the middle of it, obviously there to use in vehicle drills. Mr Farnam’s reaction: although it would have been easy to roll it off to the side, he said, “We’ll just leave it there. It’s clutter,” and then in a louder voice, “Get used to clutter! Find a way to fight around it!” It was a lesson he hammered home several times in different ways.
Let me say right now that although I shot reasonably well, I fumbled some drills and failed others. But in those fumbles and failures, I learned. I learned a lot. And that, of course is the purpose. Mr Farnam told us that we ought not be afraid of failure, but that we should press ourselves to fail, to see where the edge of the envelope is.
The shooting part of Day One started late, but went late too. We shot long into the afternoon– moving and engaging targets, shooting around bystander targets and the old car (which took some windshield hits), then broke for dinner and came back for an hour’s shooting in the dark. First lesson learned for yours truly: have a light mounted on your weapon. I did not. I made do, for one run, with my Surefire in the support hand, pressing the tailcap against the front of the magazine well. That works fine if everything else works fine, but if you have a stoppage or need to reload, well, you’ve got a problem because your support hand is occupied. (Ask me how I know!) Fumble, and failure. Lesson learned. I’ve got a TRL-1 on order now from Brownells…
Day Two began with snap-shooting very close targets, proceeded to shooting from positions other than standing, and use of cover. We dragged out two “constructive cover” barriers, step-sided upright plywood sheets with odd-shaped holes cut out; you’ve seen them before. We used these, and one steel target, on a series of drills where the shooter engages the targets, shooting past bystanders and the car, then runs to the next position and does the same, using the barriers as cover. Oh, and it requires the shooter at one point to mount the gun on the support side shoulder. This, by the way, showed the great value of the red dot sight. I’m now a convert. As Mr Farnam says about the value of red-dot optics, “You put the thing on the thing, and press the thing.” Couldn’t have done that with irons.
- The shoot-everyone-else’s-gun drill, where you fire two rounds, then pass your gun to the right, shooting everyone’s gun until you get yours back. What’s the purpose? To let you fire any non-AR guns your fellow students brought, and to let you shoot ARs with different triggers and set-ups. You learn that at close and moderate ranges the different sight settings have negligible effect on your ability to hit.
- The low round count. The course description said 400 rounds. I think we fired about 250. I’d be surprised if we hit 300 rounds.
- Close range engagments. We did nothing past about 45 yards. This is an URBAN Defensive Rifle course, and the set-up supported that construct– close quick fights, with lots of movement and a cluttered scene.
- Gear validation. The M&P performed admirably, as did the Aimpoint Micro H-1, and of course the Vickers sling. Needless to say the 1911 did well too, on the lone transition drill. I will be adding a mounted light. I’ll also be getting rid of the Badger Tac-Latch and replacing it with something less prong-y. With other courses I’ve been wearing gear so it hasn’t dug into me. This course I treated as come-as-you-are training, mirroring real life, and that thing dug into my torso when the rifle was slung. It’s a very effective device, but that drawback outweighs the advantage it confers.
The last thing we did was the test. I won’t go into exactly what it consisted of– you should find out for yourselves– but it is short, straightforward and deceptively simple. I liked it so much I took it twice! ;-) Yep, I fumbled it, but learned from that and aced it the second time.
I very strongly recommend John Farnam’s Defensive Urban Rifle Course. I did things and learned things I had never done or learned before. Mr Farnam is an outstanding instructor, at once affable and authoritative, with some memorable pithy one-liners. And he has a more earthy sense of humor than I thought he would, for some reason. Next time he comes to your ‘burg or close by, you should add on. You won’t be disappointed.