I started my firearms journey with a basic handgun class, although one could argue that it really began with the marksmanship merit badge at Boy Scout summer camp many, many years ago. That was my first exposure to a gun, a humble, bolt-action .22LR that had weathered many seasons in the Texas hill country. While pistol training classes are relatively common in this part of Oregon, I hadn’t come across too many beginners' courses for long arms. Having heard great things about Threat Dynamics' Intro to AR Rifles class from a range buddy, I signed up for a session to get that belated, proper introduction to the AR platform.
I Brought My Pencil (Gimme Something to Write on, Man)
Like any training course, we began in the classroom, myself and seven other students, with an instructor (Jack) and a range safety officer (Vincent), both of whom are USMC and US Army combat veterans, respectively.
There’s quite a bit of history as well as volumes of technical and practical details on the AR-15, and since this is a four hour class, there’s only so much content you can cram into those 240 minutes. After the safety fundamentals, we get an abbreviated, but sufficient overview of Eugene Stoner’s brainchild, its upbringing and evolution, and the basic care and feeding thereof.
Jack had two of his rifles (unloaded and always pointed in a generally safe direction with finger off the trigger, naturally) as the show’n’tell models, and between the demo, lecture, and class discussions, it becomes pretty obvious as to just how customizable the AR-15 platform is. Among the 11 or so AR’s in the class, only two were of the same manufacture, and some were custom built guns.
I also learned that there is such a thing as an “AR-47,” which is an AR-15 chambered to shoot a 7.62x39mm round most commonly associated with the AK-47.
Some People Say That Gun Ranges Got Big Lanes (Got Big Lanes, Got Big Lanes)
As the Warhammer 40,000 Orks would say, on to the shooty bits! On site at Threat Dynamics is an indoor gun range, and the class recongregated there after the lecture’n’PowerPoints.
And here we are, getting set up to calibrate the red dot. While not terribly easy to discern in this photo, we were using a modified target to affect a “50 yard zero at 25 yards.” Basically you aim for the main bullseye at the shorter distance, while the windage and elevation adjustments are made based on the holes made on the “virtual bullseye.” It involves ballistics, math, and some amount of hand-waving.
I also learned that there’s a thing called the “36 yard zero” which (naturally) has its supporters and detractors, but from what I gathered from the instructors, it made sense to me, so that’s a rabbit hole to follow on another day.
After a few iterations of shooting and adjusting, we’re reasonably dialed in for the rest of the course of fire. Because of time and ammo constraints, I didn’t bother futzing with the iron sights or the laser, which is perfectly fine.
Par for the Course of Fire
I can’t emphasize enough the time constraint of this class. To provide some sense of sale, US Marine Corps basic training takes thirteen weeks, so if you can learn to safely load, shoot, and unload a rifle with reasonable accuracy in one evening, then you’re doing fabulous.
Including the 9 or so rounds used to zero in the sights, we shot 100 rounds in six courses of fire. The objective of the evening isn’t cranking out a class of marksmen, but letting folks get a feel for their rifles.
Here’s my target after those 100 rounds. The more divergent shots came from the “hammer fire” and “failure to stop” drills which involved rapid, one-after-the-other firing from a single sight picture, as opposed to a “controlled pair” where you make two shots in succession after establishing sight picture for each trigger press.
Also note that the holes tend to be a bit lower than the -0 marker at the center of the target, as the sights were calibrated to a longer distance than the 10 yards at which we were doing these drills.
Throwing Back the Apple(seed)
I could probably write an entire blog post comparing and contrasting this class with the two day Appleseed workshop, and while I may do that at some point, I’ll try to summarize what I think the instructor was looking to achieve at Threat Dynamics.
This wasn’t intended to be a “classical” marksmanship course; rather, a number of potential grips and stances were presented as options from which the student can try and suss out to be their preferred method. Almost all the shooting was done at 10 yards, with emphasis added to reload, hammer pair, and failure to stop drills. We weren’t looking to pick off Redcoats at 400 yards; instead, we were making center of mass shots at close quarters distances.
Within a limited timeframe and ammo supply, I got what was advertised - an opportunity to try out and learn from using an AR-style rifle in a controlled environment. And given the relative lack of accessible instruction on the use of AR-15’s, I felt this was well worth the time, money, and the Portland rush hour drive to learn from Jack and Vincent. I intend to return to the range in the near future to repeat the course of fire drills from this class and to eventually sign up for the follow-up course at Threat Dynamics once I become more proficient.