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Advanced Kalashnikov Rifle Gunfighting

August 27, 2010

In June I attended the Advanced Kalashnikov Rifle Gunfighting class in Prescott, taught by Gabe Suarez. He was assisted by SI Staff Instructors Doug Little and Dale Hunter. On the second day they were joined by Uli Gebhard. This was the second of three AK classes, following Kalashnikov Rifle Marksmanship and followed by Kalashnikov Rifle Force on Force.

I shot the class using my Arsenal SLR-107F in 7.62x39mm. Everyone in the class was using an AK pattern rifle, with a mix of Arsenals, nice Fuller builds, and various other rifles. 7.62 rifles were the most common, with a minority in 5.45mm. My rifle was set up with a forward mounted Aimpoint Micro on an Ultimak rail. There were lots of other folks in the class with optics, with Ultimak mounted Aimpoints being the most common. One fellow had a Russian optic, while another brought out a rifle with a scout scope on it later in the day. While there were a lot of optics, many rifles had only iron sights. I fed my rifle out of a sneaky bag, as did many in the class. The majority of shooters were using more tactical gear of some sort or another, including plate carriers, tactical vests, chest rigs, and other similar equipment. This class included some work with pistol transitions. I recently bought a Glock 17 and I figured this would be a good opportunity to put some more rounds through it, so I carried it instead of my usual Glock 21. Glocks of various types were by far the most common pistol, with a substantial number of XDs and a few other models.

Day 1

The class began with some dry drills. Gabe had us all get in a big circle around him and practice reloading. We began by working it stationary, both right and left handed. Then we started walking in a circle and reloading on the move, then did the same at a light jog. We combined reloading with a get off the X drill. We walked in a circle until Gabe signaled a threat by lighting off a round into the berm. At that moment, we had to get off the X and move to cover or drop prone while performing a reload.

Next, Gabe demonstrated 360 degree position shooting. Almost everyone is familiar with the standard rifle shooting positions: kneeling, squatting, sittingand prone. While these positions are more stable and offer a somewhat lower profile, they limit your mobility. It’s important to be able to address threats to your sides or rear from these positions. It’s also important to be able to do so without standing up to face your adversary. There’s probably a reason you dropped down to a lower position, and it likely involved incoming fire. Raising your profile could be hazardous to your health. From the kneeling position, this involved turning to your right and left, with the occasional shoulder transfer or Spetsnaz prone thrown in. From squatting, you either go to kneeling, or spin around into a seated position. Sitting, you either twist left or right, or come up to kneeling. From prone, you have to roll over onto your back and address targets to your sides or rear from there.

After static dry practice, we put these skills to practice by going back into the circle drill. When Gabe shot into the berm, we immediately dropped to a lower position, then kept our rifles trained on him as he walked around. Then Doug or Dale would put one into the berm and we had to reorient on the new threat.

We had a brief discussion on why you would want to get off the X and the dynamics of the OODA loop, then broke for lunch.

Gabe announced that we would be going live after lunch, so during the break I went to load up my Glock. I inserted the mag and went to rack the slide only to find it quite immobile. After I dumped the mag and applied a bit more force, I managed to get it loose, but it was very gritty. I disassembled the gun and poured out about a teaspoon of dirt and sand from the frame and slide. Because we were working dry, I had been rolling around in the dirt without a magazine in the gun. This provided an entry point for all kinds of crap. What I should have done was empty out a mag and used it to plug the magwell, rather than leaving it open.

After lunch we loaded up our rifles and went hot. We started out working the ‘Caveman EOTech’. This is the rifle equivalent of metal on meat point shooting. You look over the rear sights and put the front sight assembly on the target. As long as the target is bigger than the front sight tower, you’re probably going to hit. This isn’t a precision shot, but it will put bullets pretty much where you want them at CQB distances. For those of us with red dot scopes, Gabe asked us to turn the dots off and just shoot through the tube (at least with my setup, you can actually do both: put the front sight tower in the center of the Aimpoint tube.

With the caveman EOTech down, we moved on to position shooting. We started working with contact ready, with the rifle in the shoulder and just lowered an inch or so until we can see the target’s hands over the gun. This gives us a good view and lets us pop the rifle up to a shooting position very quickly. For closer quarters, close contact ready places the butt stock in the armpit, rather than on the shoulder, but serves the same purpose. We fired several bursts starting in each position using the caveman EOTech.

Next were the movement readies. Sul is perhaps better known as a pistol ready position, but it was originally developed for long guns. It’s quite good for moving through confined spaces or crowds of noncombatants. For moving quickly, Gabe showed port arms and the high noon ready (a much more dignified sounding term than the ‘rifle Sabrina’). This is also useful for rapid movement. The vertical orientation makes it less likely that you will cover anyone and leaves one hand free for other purposes (to catch yourself if you trip and fall flat on your face, for instance).

After a few bursts from those positions, we moved on to the last ready position. Patrol ready, sometimes known as Rhodesian ready (though Gabe confided that when he taught in South Africa he met several Rhodesians and they had no idea what heck he was talking about when he mentioned the Rhodesian ready). This is an important one just because if you spend any substantial amount of time with a rifle in your hands, either on the march or just standing around, you’re eventually going to end up in a relaxed ready position about like this. We let loose a few bursts starting in patrol ready to finish up the ready position section.

The next subject was shoulder transfers. One of the big emphases of the SI rifle program is being able to run the gun ambidextrously. Effective use of movement and cover really requires the ability to shoot from both shoulders. A vital part of this skill set is the ability to move the gun from one shoulder to the other. Gabe teaches the ability to shoot from the partial transfer: moving the buttstock to the other shoulder but keeping your primary hand on the pistol grip and your support hand on the forearm or magazine. From there, you can switch hand positions and shoot from a mirror image of your standard shooting position. For right handers, one thing to remember when shooting an AK is the charging handle. Taking the reciprocating charging handle on the thumb hurts (I can say this from painful previous experience). On stamped receiver AKs, there is a pair of rivets right there that make a good index point. Milled receiver guns have a depression cut into the receiver there that can serve the same purpose. We shot a transfer drill that involves firing one shot from the primary shoulder, transferring the support side shoulder and firing a shot, swapping hand positions and firing a shot, transferring back to the primary shoulder and firing again, then switching the hands and repeating from the beginning. This isn’t something you’d do in a fight, of course, but it really isolates the shoulder transfer skills and lets you work them intensively (it also looks really bitchin’ on the DVD trailer).

To apply these shoulder transfer skills, we worked the pacing drill. You basically walk three steps to the left, then three steps to the right, transferring the gun to shoot from the shoulder in the direction you’re going. This gets you used to doing the transfers on the move.

To finish up the day, Gabe provided an application for these skills. He went through the theory of how, why, and in what direction to get off the X. Then we went back out to the range and practiced getting off the X to the 1 o’clock and 11 o’clock directions, shooting on the move and doing shoulder transfers as appropriate.

At this point, class was finished for the day, but the fun was not. One of the students in the class (gunplumber) brought out his pair of PKM machineguns and offered the rest of us a chance to shoot them if we paid for the ammo. I happily ponied up and ran a 100 round belt through the gun. Mounted on the tripod, I found it very easy to control. It was quite accurate, and easy to get short, controlled bursts. I was even able to get down to single shots if I was quick in manipulating the trigger. I’ve shot full auto before, but never a belt fed gun. It was a real blast. I want to thank gunplumber for giving us the opportunity.

Day 2

Gabe opened up the second day with some discussion of various AK accessories and modifications. He showed his ‘pimp daddy AK’, equipped with a front sight gas block, flash suppressor/muzzle brake, and full Ultimak handguard system. We talked about various optic and stock options, and what modifications were useful in what context. He also teased us about all the cool stuff that was coming from U.S. Palm that he couldn’t tell us about because he had signed a NDA.

As an introduction to the day’s first drills, he recapped the get off the X discussion and talked about the various lines. He demonstrated how to get off the X to the rear obliques, the 5 o’clock and 7 o’clock directions. These angles make it difficult to keep the gun in a conventional shoulder mount or achieve a traditional cheekweld as you torque yourself around to shoot to the rear. It may be necessary to angle the gun either inboard or outboard, or even float the butt off the shoulder entirely.

We ran the 1 and 11 o’clock lines again, repeating yesterday’s last drill, then moved on to the 3 and 9 o’clock directions. As promised, the 5 and 7 o’clock lines came with some more issues. I tried canting the gun both inboard and outboard. I’m running a Surefire G2 in a VLTOR mount on my Ultimak gas tube, which puts the light above and to the left of my handguard. I found that when I canted the gun outboard on my right shoulder, I could use the caveman EOTech technique with the flashlight instead of the front sight tower. On the left shoulder, it seemed easier to cant the gun outboard and just point shoot along the barrel.

We moved on to after action drills. Just because you shot, or even hit, an assailant doesn’t mean the fight is over. Your hits on the target may not have had the desired effect, or he may have friends around. The after action procedure is a structured way to deal with such possibilities. The sequence goes like this:

Did I hit him? Did it work? (drop the rifle to contact ready and take a good look at the guy you just shot to make sure he isn’t a threat any longer)

Does he have any friends? (scan to the right and left looking for additional threats)

Does he have any friends behind me? (do a Sul scan to the rear to make sure there isn’t anyone sneaking up on you)

How is my gun? (reload if appropriate)

How am I? (look down and check yourself for injuries).

In between each of these steps, you return your attention to the target to make sure that his status hasn’t changed. We went through the drill dry a couple of times, then did it live, getting off the X to the 3 and 9 o’clock and running through the full after action checklist.

The next subject was transitions to pistol. Gabe talked about when and why you would want to transition to pistol instead of reloading or clearing a malfunction. He went through various alternatives, including keeping the rifle in hand and running a sling that attaches you to the rifle. He made the case for his favored transition, which involves shoving your support side arm though the sling, raising the rifle over your head, and dropping it so it hangs diagonally across your back. When you get good at this, it becomes more of a ‘toss the rifle over your head’ movement rather than specific steps. As your hands leave the rifle, they drop into a normal draw stroke and produce the pistol.

We worked transitions dry first, starting slowly and increasing the speed. After several repetitions, we went live. Gabe had us insert a single round in the rifle magazine and chamber it. He asked us to pull the trigger three times. The first time would fire the round, the second would get a click as the hammer fell on an empty chamber, and the third would be a dead trigger. Under the stress of a fight, this is probably what you will end up doing, rather than immediately recognizing the click. Upon feeling the dead trigger, we performed the transition and put a burst into the target.

At this point we broke for lunch. After lunch, we did the transition drill on the move. We loaded 3-7 rounds in our rifles and started out down on one end of the line of targets. As we ran down the line we put a round or two into each one until we got a click, then transitioned to our pistols on the move. While everyone had done pretty well on the static transition drills, doing it on the move messed a lot of people up. One AK ended up in the dirt, and a lot ended up hanging either around the neck or on one arm, rather than diagonally across the back, which inhibited both movement and the use of the pistol. Some pistols clearly weren’t in a good position to draw on the move, mainly on guys who were carrying in more tactical rigs like thigh holsters or vests, rather than CCW type belt rigs.

We ran the drill twice moving from left to right (putting the targets on our left side), meaning right handers could shoot the rifle on their strong side and the pistol two handed. Then we did it once moving from across the range from right to left (putting the targets on our right side), forcing most students to shoot their rifle on the support side and their pistol one handed. The weak side transition is a bit more complicated than the strong side one and even more students had trouble with it. I bobbled it a little bit, but at least I managed to get the rifle hanging crosswise on my back. You could tell that some students probably hadn’t taken any of the SI Close Range Gunfighting classes, because when they transitioned with the targets to their right (for right handed shooters) they still tried to shoot two handed. This generally resulted in them ending up sidestepping or walking backwards, rather than keeping their toes pointed in the direction they were going. Guys with SI pistol experience just shot one-handed.

Gabe gave a brief explanation of the basics of fire and movement, where two guys work as a team and one lays down suppressive fire while the other moves up. He illustrated this using some empty shell casings on the ground. Given that this was an AK class, the good guys were a pair of 7.62x39mm casings while the bad guy was a .223.

Before we tried any of the team tactics stuff, Gabe had us do a muzzle aversion drill. We lined up and pointed our rifles towards the targets, then had to either drop them to Sul or pop them up to high noon ready when one of the instructors or a fellow student walked in front of us. Confident that we could keep from muzzling anyone, we lined up into parallel lines, perpendicular to the targets. The front person of each line fired a burst at the target in front of them, the raised their rifle to high noon ready and peeled off to the left or right to file to the back of the line. Everyone had a chance to go through the line and shoot a couple of times, and everyone kept their muzzles pointed safely towards the sky, even when reloading.

These exercises led up to the two-man team drill. We paired up and each pair started down at one end of the line of targets. One shooter would put rounds into the target, while the other moved behind him and took aim at the next target in line. We leapfrogged down the firing line this way until we reached the end.

The shooting part of this really isn’t very challenging. The challenge is to communicate with your partner to make sure at least one of you is putting fire on the targets at all times. You call out “Moving!” to indicate you’re ready to move up. The partner calls out “Covering!” to indicate that he has responsibility to maintain fire while the other moves. The first shooter moves up to the next position (perhaps reloading on the way). When he reaches the firing point, he resumes shooting and calls out “Set!” The process then repeats with the roles reversed. If it’s your responsibility to provide fire and you run out of ammo, you yell out “Checking!” indicating that you’re unable to provide continuing fire and that your partner needs to take up the slack (without explicitly saying that you’re out of ammo).

This seemingly simple procedure proved surprisingly difficult for many of us to execute in practice. Shooters often forgot to yell commands when it was their turn, ran out of ammo, fumbled reloads, etc. My partner and I managed to run out of ammo at the same time, but probably had a smoother run than some other folks. Doing this sort of thing well clearly takes a lot of practice.

Our last exercise was the Columbian Special Forces drill. There were five steel plates set up down at the bottom of the 100 yard range. You started out at the 100 yard line and dropped prone, firing on one of the plates until you got four hits. From there you moved to each of four barrels representing pieces of cover from about the 75 to 25 yard lines, dropping prone and firing until you hit four times form each of these positions. The magazine in your rifle was loaded with just 24 rounds, meaning that if you missed more than four times, you would have to do a reload. Dale set up the cover so that you could only see some of the plates from each position. Dealing with these micro-terrain obstacles and figuring out which plates to shoot from each position was really half the battle. I helped him position the barrels, and made my own subtle contribution by positioning the barrels on the right hand side of the range so it would be more difficult to shoot around the right side of the cover so that students would be encouraged to shoot from both shoulders. It seemed fitting, given SI’s embrace of ambidextrous use of the rifle.

Only two students managed to get through the course without any misses. Some had a lot more. I went towards the end of the class. Many of the previous students ended up leaving pieces of gear, especially magazines, on the range as they went down to or got up from prone. I wanted to avoid this, so I snapped the flap of my sneaky bag shut. This made it less likely that I would leave gear strewn all over the range, but it meant a reload would be a long and painful process. I gambled on my ability to shoot accurately. I was doing quite well at first, making eight straight hits at the first two firing positions. At the third position, however, I missed three times in a row. This is usually the way these things go. You miss once, and you get flustered, causing you to miss again, making you even more frustrated and degrading your performance even more. After the third miss, I told myself to calm down, took a deep breath, reestablished my sight picture and made the hit. After that I went through the rest of the course without another miss, leaving one round left in the gun. Made it through with no reload!

Final Thoughts

This was a great class. Gabe did a great job teaching, ably assisted by Dale, Doug, and Uli. We had a very squared away group of students. In particular, I want to call out the performance of gunplumber’s fourteen year old daughter, who did a great job in the class. Everyone had solid, safe gunhandling skills and was able to deal with the physical demands of the class. Gabe says that the rifle is a physical weapon. It’s much bigger and heavier than a pistol and if you want to use it to it’s maximum potential you have to master getting into and out of shooting positions. This is Arizona, and it was dry, on the warm side (though not as hot as it could have been) and at an altitude of about 5000 feet. These can combine to really kick your butt physically but everyone handled it well. I would highly recommend this course to anyone who wants to learn how to use the AK to it’s maximum potential or who wants an excellent education in the combat use of the rifle.

This class really left me looking forward to the AK Force on Force class!

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