After-Action Report: Gunsite's "Battle Rifle" Class

OK, folks, long post here. Thought I'd jot down a few (hundred?) thoughts about the Gunsite "Battle Rifle" class I attended last week.


I've been slinging around these things called "battle rifles" for a decade or so now. I bounced around the spectrum of them -- FALs, HKs/PTRs, M1As, M1 Garands -- and finally settled on the M1As. (Don't worry, I kept the Garands...) I've been shooting the local CMP matches with the M1As for about five years and doing . . . . . OK. (High score so far: 465-10X) I also shoot 3-Gun matches with the M1As, running in the "Heavy Metal" -- aka, "He-Man Irons" -- division. Again, I do OK, albeit slowly. Last year I scored a Rifleman patch from the Appleseed folks using my iron-sighted LRB. So, needless to say, I can hit with an M1A.

But one thing I'm not with an M1A is fast -- and the thought of having to use iron sights in an "expedient fashion" always gave me the wiggins. So I decided to attend Gunsite's "Battle Rifle" course with an iron-sighted M1A with the hopes of remedying that.

This was to be my fourth trip to Gunsite, having taken Pistol 250, Arizona CCW, and Carbine 223 previously. I'd been warned by an attendee of the inaugural Battle Rifle class that it was heavily derived from Carbine 223 and that there'd be overlap. That didn't phase me. Carbine 223 helped me get a lot faster with that platform; I expected the same from Battle Rifle.

I was not to be disappointed.

The Curriculum

The class is one of Gunsite's 5-day "total immersion" affairs. The schedule was roughly (and with some probable ordering/sequence errors on my part):

Day 1:

Introduction, safety briefing, syllabus, and rifle fundamentals
Sight alignment and trigger control
Natural Point of Aim
Zeroing at 100 yards and 200 yards
Shooting positions

Day 2:

Introduction to the "school drills"
School drills
Tactical reloads and ammo management

Day 3:

School drills
Speed reloads
Movement and turns
Shooting from cover
Transitions to a sidearm
Non-standard response (moving beyond "two to the body, one to the head")
300-yard shooting

Day 4:

School drills, school drills, and more school drills, with time pressure
El Presidente
Moving targets
House clearing
Field courses: walking and running
Night shoot

Day 5:

400-yard shooting
School drills, school drills, and more school drills, with time pressure
El Presidente
School drill, El Prez "final exam"

Each day began with a quick confirmation of our 200-yard zeroes.

The school drills were:

One shot to the head @ 25 yards in 2 seconds, off-hand, starting from low-ready
Two shots to center-of-mass (COM) @ 50 yards in 4 seconds, off-hand, starting from low-ready
Two shots to COM @ 100 yards in 13 seconds, dropping to kneeling/squatting from low-ready
Two shots to COM @ 100 yards in 13 seconds, dropping to sitting from low-ready
Two shots to COM @ 200 yards in 15 seconds, dropping to prone from low-ready

Depending on your experience level, those times may seem too fast or too slow. For me, running irons, they were just barely long enough, with the targets typically turning away just as I was recovering my sight picture from the final shot.

The El Presidente was:

One shot to COM on each of three targets @ 25 yards, off-hand, starting from low ready, followed by
A speed reload, followed by
One shot to COM on each of three targets @ 25 yards

The goal was 10 seconds. My best time was 11 seconds.


Well, I can say one thing for sure: I'm a lot faster now! Gunsite is all about repetition and establishing muscle memory. We performed the school drills until I couldn't stand it anymore. While it was difficult to do them quickly with iron sights, by the end of the week, I was doing them in half the time I was at the start of the week. We were taught a very clever trick to perform a speed reload on the M1As and the FALs. (Basically, lever-out the empty mag using the full mag that'll replace it...) On a full-sized Pepper Popper, I was able to make 90% of my hits at 300 yards and 2/3rds of them at 400 yards. And, yes, that little range knob on the left-hand side of the M1A's rear sight really does work! Me and my M1A -- dubbed "Mindy" (aka, "Hit Girl") -- gelled into quite a team.

On the final day, we did a "rotating" shoot-off with all of the students in the class, shooting from indoor ready against a 100-yard Popper (off-hand) and a 200-yard falling plate (prone), with a movement of firing positions in between. I was the only student in the class with iron sights and I had to haul-ass to keep up. I won 6 of the 8 initial pairings, putting me in a three-way tie for first place. Unfortunately, I was eliminated in the first round of the final shoot-off and had to be content with 3rd place, not that I was upset about that. I was congratulated by my fellow classmates, all of them impressed that I was keeping up with iron sights. Upon graduation, I received a grade of "Marksman I", the Gunsite the equivalent of a "B".

And, man, was I exhausted!


Rifle: Springfield Armory M1A Standard, green composite stock, iron sights

Ammunition: German DAG mil-surp

Sidearm: Springfield Armory Mil-Spec 1911 (not the GI model)

Rifle Mags: CMI 20-rnd mags (I brought 35 of them)

Rifle Sling: Specter Gear "Two-Point Tactical" for the M1A

Tac Vest: an old Blackhawk MOLLE

Mag Pouches: three Tactical Tailor single-mag pouches, attached to the vest

Sidearm Holster: Blackhawk "generic" drop-leg

Hearing protection: ear plugs and Peltor electronic muffs (LOUD! I was double-protected all week...)

Problems and Equipment Failures

Ammunition: The M1A started giving me problems on the morning of the second day, not going completely into battery on random occasions. Typically, the bolt would "lock-in" when the hammer dropped but it wouldn't fire the round. (And that's a Good Thing...) This happened independent of the number of rounds in the magazine, so they weren't suspect. The first diagnosis was too much lube, but that wasn't it. I replaced the recoil spring. That wasn't it either. We had the opportunity to chronograph our ammunition and the DAG was clocking-in at measly 2650 fps. That didn't seem right and a quick call back home to the wife confirmed it. She scoured my range notes and found that my "normal" ammo -- Aussie mil-surp -- was pushing 2800 fps. I should have caught this anyway since the ejected DAG cases were barely landing forward of the muzzle when shot from prone. So, the DAG was underpowered and I knew what to do: cleanliness is next to godliness! I performed a full cleaning of the M1A every night and again during lunch, and used grease only in the op-rod's roller channel. Break Free went everywhere else. The failures-to-go-into-battery (FTBs?) all but disappeared after that. (I could usually tell when it was getting close to lunchtime or the end of the day simply by the one or two FTBs I'd start to get...) I'll be using my remaining DAG for matches and save my (more reliable) Aussie for the zombies!

That said, the DAG ammo is *very* accurate, more so than the Aussie. And there were no duds.

Rifle: None, not even after 1050 rounds in 5 days! (Total round count on this M1A is now very close to 2000...) The composite stock sure took a beating, though, and I'm glad I didn't put one of my nice wooden stocks thru this torture. I had to keep tabs on the screw holding the rear sight's elevation knob. It had a tendency to back out. Lok-Tite is the cure, I suspect.

Mags: Nada. Not a single malf could be traced to the CMIs. I had a handful of those Korean mags and they worked fine, too.

Notes and Misc

Number of students in the class: 7

Age range of students: mostly 40-somethings, with a 30- and a couple 50-somethings thrown into the mix.

Number of instructors: 3 the first two days, then 2 thereafter

Knowledge level of the instuctors: on a scale of 1 to 10, an 11.

Patience level of the instructors: (see 'Knowledge').

Rifles: 3 FALs, 3 M1As, 1 AR-10. One of the M1As was a back-up to an AR-10 that was back-up to an AR-10. (Follow that?) At one point or another, all three AR-10s went Tango-Uniform, two of them down for the full ten-count. Not cool. Everyone -- except Yours Truly -- ran an optic of one flavor or another. Aimpoints and ACOGs were the norm. Both of the other M1As were "Scout Squad" models.

Ammo consumption: 1050 rounds.

Fitness: This is not a course for someone that's out of shape. I've been lifting weights 1x or 2x per week for the last three years and I'd really wished I'd done more. Gunsite teaches reloading "up in your workspace" and holding the M1A in front of my face with only my stong-hand for countless tactical reloads had me plum tuckered out! Workouts should emphasize biceps, shoulders, and lower back. Do your stretches, too. It'll help a lot while getting back to your feet from position. In preparation for the class, I'd lost 25 pounds since October. I was grateful for my sub-200 lb weight, especially when dropping into prone!

Lights: The night shoot involves using hand-held and/or weapon-mounted lights. Not wanting to mount anything to the M1A, I'd brought a 205-lumen Fenix light (AA batteries) only to discover that, unlike Surefires, the switch doesn't activate the light until it's released. Grrrr... Nice light, but not "tactical". Lesson learned.

Transitions: Switching between my M1A (with its two-stage trigger) and my 1911 (with what is effectively a single-stage trigger) had me all over the target with the sidearm. It was rather embarrassing, actually. Perhaps my XDM is a better companion to my M1A than the 1911. (Yes, I know: heresy.)

The assistant instructor had one of the new "heavy" (7.62x51) SCARs. All I can say is, "Interesting...."

So, tha-tha-that's all folks -- thanx for hangin' in there through all that verbiage! I loved the class, even though it took a lot out of me. And I certainly don't fear the irons any more! Hope this helps anyone else considering the class.


(who earns a living from neither Gunsite nor Springfield Armory...)