Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Tactical Defense Institute: Handgun Levels I, II, III

The gals and I were enjoying the drive through the rolling hills of southwest Ohio. We were packed up for a three-day weekend of fun... food, clothes, iced-down cooler full of beverages, a half-dozen handguns and six-thousand rounds of 9mm. We were headed to the Tactical Defense Institute (TDI) as a family for their three-days of Handgun Levels I, II and III training.

Aside from having a great weekend together shooting as a family, we each had our individual reasons for going. I'm an NRA and Ohio CCW instructor and the opportunity to brush up on my skills and get some quality instruction and learn new  stuff is something I'm always seeking. My main gal, the wife, wanted to really master her basic handgun skills with the Ruger SR9 and SR9c pistols our family has standardized on for home and self-defense pistols. My lil' gal, the daughter, is working on her 4H Shooting Sports pistol project and wanted to develop her shooting skills.

It isn't my intent to regurgitate the entire course step-by-step here as there are already plenty of good reviews out there, but to give our overall impressions and thoughts. First, this was a significant decision for our family as we are not independently wealthy and while we are committed to continual training and practice with our firearms to the point we even have our own shootin' range at home, the total cost of training at TDI was significant for us, but well worth it.

The cost for the three day course was discounted for cash (or check) payment from $525 to $495 for each of us. Then there were two nights spent in the Comfort Inn for $165, and we went through approximately 4,500 rounds of 9mm over three days. We packed our food and drinks, so our total cost was around $1,700 plus the ammo.

TDI's facilities are nestled into the rolling hills of Southwest Ohio about an hour east of Cincinnati with 180 acres of shooting ranges, shoot houses, range/classroom building, and force-on-force facilities. As 4H Shooting Sports instructors, we were glad to see and hear they host the county 4H Shooting Sports club for no charge at TDI's facility. I'm not sure that there is a better equipped facility in the Midwest that I'm aware of.

John Benner owns and runs TDI.  He did the majority of the classroom instruction and some of the range instruction. TDI's philosophy of Mindset, Tactics, and Shooting... in that order... was clear throughout the training. You need to be mentally prepared to protect yourself and survive, you need the tactics to avoid and/or deal with threats, and finally you need the ability to effectively respond with your firearm to the threat of serious injury or death. The talk, discussion, and instruction was frank and professional throughout the courses, both in the classroom and on the range.

Benner is assisted by a team of instructors, all of whom are top-notch.  Probably the one doing the most instruction next to John was David Bowie, better known to some for his company, Bowie Tactical Concepts. Our class consisted of 34 folks from all walks of life ranging from police officers to fire-fighters to mom's to lawyers to teachers to other instructors... from seventeen to sixty.

All the instructors, like Benner and Bowie, were outstanding, just what you should expect from professional instructors, and they adjusted and adapted as needed to address each student's needs. While they told us the instruction would feel like we were "drinking from a fire hose", they maintained a good pace, and knew when to joke and be light-hearted to ease the comfort level for each student.

One thing I appreciated about the instruction at TDI is that they show you their way of doing things... methods that are pretty much industry and shooting-world standard at this point, but they also do a good job of discussing popular alternatives and adaptions of various methods... and they explain why they chose the techniques they teach. They have a wealth of experience and knowledge in their pool of instructors with civilian, military, police, and special tactics backgrounds... but this isn't training for mall-ninja wannabes or operators. This is solid training for everyday Americans wanting to have better skillsets and mindsets.

There were twelve to fifteen instructors on site each day and everyone on the shooting line at the range had plenty of one-on-one instruction. I found the feedback and critiquing helpful to fine-tune, adapt, and improve my shooting skills.

For you gals, my wife and daughter would tell you that all of the seven ladies in our class agreed that the instructors and instruction for the women was professional and helpful. My wife has been having some inflammation problems due to a hyper-extension type of injury to her off-hand elbow and they showed her some techniques to compensate for that.

One thing that I will say, dry-firing is good practice... shooting twenty, fifty, one-hundred rounds is good practice... competing in IDPA is good practice... but intense, quality instruction and training while shooting hundreds, even thousands, of rounds, in just three days under the watchful eyes of an instructor that can provide you immediate feedback, tips, and suggestions is invaluable. I do this for others as an instructor, but it is always great to experience it myself. My wife feels like she could run her gun blindfolded after these classes, which is awesome.

As far as guns go, I'll discuss our experiences with our Ruger SR9s in the near future, but TDI instructors typically recommend Glocks and S&W M&Ps with good reason. They are quality guns with solid records of reliability. They are not necessarily fans of our Ruger pistols, but they weren't gun snobs or elitists either. There were a total of six folks running Ruger SR9s, some Glocks, some M&Ps, a Steyr, Beretta Storms, a Walther PPQ, 1911s, and few other pistols. Some folks were limited on ammunition due to shortages, but the courses and shooting sequences are design to allow you flexibility in how much you shoot so your round count for the course can vary.

I've been to a number of shooting schools and classes over the years, both as a police officer years ago and as a regular guy. If our experience with this class is typical, I can highly recommend TDI to anyone. The gals had a great time. My daughter said, "I think I'll do this course again when I'm old enough to get my CCW." to which I said, "Hey, how about takin' the CCW class from your ol' man.".

My gals and I will definitely be heading back to TDI in the future as finances allow... maybe to their Advanced Concealed Carry Course or their Partners Tactics course for my wife and I. My wife will be heading back in July to take their three-day course for Armed Teachers, along with her elementary school principal. Her school district is still in the "denial" stage, but they are looking at the possibility of allowing select teachers, staff, and administrators to carry in school, but that is a subject for another day. Besides, we need to go back to check in and say, "Hi" again to Jack, the range dog...

I'm a big fan of the NRA courses for those new to shooting or getting back into shooting after a long hiatus, but if you want to take your skills to a far more competent level, consider the offerings at TDI... the gals give it thumbs up all the way 'round.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Inforce WML-HSP Weapon Mounted Light

When I began looking for a weapon light for my recent and ongoing Ruger Mini-14 Tactical project, my first thought was to try a Streamlight TLR-1s since the gals and I have several of those mounted on our firearms. The Streamlight TLR-1s has a lot going for it, as I mentioned in my previous review, and it now comes with 300 lumens of lighting power standard, but... to have good momentary control... with the switch in a convenient location... you need to use a remote switch.

The Inforce WML-HSP Weapon Mounted Light was developed with specs provided by Travis Haley and Haley Strategic Partners. It is a momentary-on-only light system that is only on when you press the switch.  The most significant difference between this model and the other Inforce Weapon Mounted Lights is that instead of 125 lumens of light... this model cranks out 200 lumens.

The WML-HSP offers a claimed ninety minutes of run-time off a single 123A Lithium battery and while I have not timed ours, I would say that we had a good two hours of on and off light-on time while shooting one evening before needing to replace the battery. That is the sacrifice you will make for 200 lumens and one battery verses the 125 lumen model with a claimed run-time of two hours, or ten hours on low power.

We mounted our WML-HSP in the ten-eleven o'clock position on the Ruger Mini-14 Tactical rifle with an Amega Mounts rail and it seem to be in a very ergonomic and natural position. The switch is easily operated momentarily with your off-hand thumb while allowing you to maintain a solid, fairly forward off-hand grip on the rifle. The light appears to be well made from polymer in tactical black.  Mounted and removing the light is very easy with the grooved/knurled tightening screw that locks the mount in place on the rail. 

One nice feature is the flip-up switch guard that protects the light's switch from being accidentally pressed like when it is in a soft case. The switch is rubber and appears to be well sealed since this light is supposed to be waterproof to a depth of sixty-six feet. I didn't test this light underwater, but it has been mounted and on while shooting quite a bit in the rain this spring. It doesn't seem to notice the cold, rain, or recoil of 5.56 rounds.

The design of the WML-HSP allows for tight, compact, and trim low-profile mounting and at only three ounces with a battery, you'll hardly notice it is there.  At just over a c-note in cost on the street, you can pick one up relatively inexpensively. We've also tried the light on our Ruger SR-556c in the nine o'clock position and found it worked pretty well there too. We purchased ours from US Elite Gear a while back, our first purchase from this veteran-owned company, and we were very pleased with the pricing and quick shipping.

If you're looking for a top-quality, light-weight bad-guy-blinder... check out the Inforce WML-HSP Weapon Mounted Light.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Ruger Mini-14 Tactical Rifle - Stainless Steel

Spending some time with a firearm before I pass judgement is important to me. Even more so, when I'm passing on my thoughts and opinions to others.  I have been shooting Ruger Mini-14s for almost thirty years now. My first Mini-14 was a "180" series noted by the three-digit prefix on the the serial numbers. It was a solid, reliably functioning semi-auto rifle with mediocre accuracy back in the day when the only ARs around were full-size M16-looking rifles which were long with triangular ray-gun furniture out front.

That first Mini-14 and I parted ways not long after we purchased our first "580" series rifle which was a significant improvement in accuracy and tolerances. I won't bore you with the long history of the Mini-14 as there are already great resources out there for you, such as this from the American Rifleman and of course the Wikipedia version too.

The gals and I now have several Mini-14s, all stainless steel, including several Ranch Rifles with synthetic stocks, a Mini-14 Target Rifle... yeah, but before you say that "target" paired up with "Mini-14" is an oxymoron... you should see how ours shoots, which is pretty darn good with 69 grain Sierra Match King BTHPs out to three-hundred yards... and finally, the Ruger Mini-14 Tactical Rifle in stainless steel which I've now spent enough time and ammo with to share some thoughts about it here.

The blued version of the Mini-14 Tactical Rifle has been out for a while, but the good news is that the stainless version I purchased through Ruger's Law Enforcement side while back is now available with their regular offerings. This rifle is handy at just less than seven pounds in weight and less than thirty-seven inches in length, which includes the threaded flash suppressor on a sixteen-inch barrel. It is slightly lighter and more compact in overall profile, but relatively comparable to our Smith & Wesson M&P15 Sport equipped with a Streamlight TLR-1s and an Aimpoint PRO... in terms of cost, size, and weight.

The intent of this rifle is for self-defense, home security, and an occasional varmint, be they four-legged or two-legged. We wanted the best, but affordable, components with excellent reliability matching the Mini-14's reputation for reliability while keeping the slick, lean, and light-weight nature of the Mini-14's size and profile. With that in mind, I've added the Ruger-branded Mini-14 Scope Mount III rail made by Amega Mounts, an Aimpoint Micro H1 red dot optic, an Inforce WML HSP weapon light with 200 lumens to light the night, and finally a simple, quick adjust web sling until I decide which way to go for a better sling arrangement.

The entire weapons system we've created in this slick little package weighs in at 7.2 pounds without a magazine and just a pound more, at 8.2 pounds, with a loaded twenty-round magazine. It's just a bit lighter than our AR-15s, but I'm not here to argue the whole Mini-14 verses AR-15 thing here.

The rifles does feel a little front-heavy, but that is due to the sturdy and light synthetic stock... and maybe that helps because with a solid mount and a forward off-hand grip... the muzzle seems to stay right on target without noticeably climbing, even under rapid fire. The slanted press-to-turn-on power button is positioned just right for me with the forward mounted Inforce WML HSP weapon light.

When it comes to aiming, Ruger offers several options including the rock-solid, built-like-a-tank fixed front blade and adjustable rear peep-sight. I find the peep-sight aperture... er, hole... to be just right for quick acquisition of targets and threats, but it might be a bit large for precision shooting at longer distances.

Ruger also includes their proprietary scope ring mounting system and a set of Ruger stainless steel scope rings which they will exchange for other sizes and heights. One new feature many folks will like is that Ruger has pre-drilled and tapped the receiver to attach the INCLUDED picatinny rail over the action for those who prefer a more industry-standard optic mount.

So if Ruger included a picatinny rail, why did I add the forward rail in place of the upper hand-guard? First, I wanted more of a smaller caliber scout rifle configuration, similar to that propagated by the late Col. Jeff Cooper, and second, the Amega Mount rail also offers the perfect ten to eleven o'clock mounting position using the side mounted rail for the Inforce WML HSP weapon light.

The included flash suppressor seems to do a decent job when shooting in low-light or after dark, but I've seen some flash suppressors do a better job. Fortunately, the threaded barrel will allow you to swap out the factory flash suppressor for dozens of other options including a "can" to cut the noise down. Some folks might be tempted to add a muzzle-break, but I don't think the Mini-14 really needs it.

The synthetic stock is sturdy, light and has soft-rubber butt pad with rounded edges that provides a terrific shoulder mount for the shooter whether you're using a traditional rifle stance or a more straight-on tactical hold for the rifle.  Ruger includes one-inch stainless sling mounts which most folks seem to either love or hate.  I'm still evaluating various sling options and configurations, so for now I've just added a quick-adjust, nylon-web sling... the Super Sling, by The Outdoor Connection.

As for putting holes in things down range, this Mini-14 is not a precision benchrest or prairie dog rifle. It is a good rifle with good precision.  With the one-in-nine twist, the barrel can produce consistent accuracy and groups of under two-inches at a hundred yards with a wide-range of ammunition from 55 grains to 62 grains.  I've even managed several three-quarter-inch groups shooting Federal Gold Medal rounds with the 69 grain Sierra MatchKing bullets.

The stock trigger is typical for the Ruger Mini-14... a pretty stiff pull, but a crisp break.  I'm not interested in a one-pound, precision trigger in a self-defense rifle, but a smoother three to four-pound trigger pull would be better and so I'll have a trigger job on done on this rifle.  Even with the stiffer trigger pull, if you're looking for a good self-defense or handy hunting rifle, the stock trigger will still let the Mini-14 Tactical take care of hitting the center of mass quickly, even when acquiring multiple targets.

Look for some reviews of the Aimpoint and the Inforce add-ons coming in the near future...  But for now, if you're looking for a reliable, rock-steady rifle that will last just short of forever... you might consider the... Ruger Mini-14 Tactical Rifle - Stainless Steel