Sometimes at the range, the old saying “A penny saved is a penny earned” proves not to be true—at least when it comes to buying defensive products.

I attend any training class that I can, believing I can get something from every instructor, even if it’s what not to do. A few months ago, I attended a two-day carbine course. After a good safety brief, the instructor gave his opinions on accessories for a carbine that would see defensive use, and for the most part I agreed with his advice. When the instructor was talking about optics, a fellow student rolled his eyes.

During the first break, this student came up to me and asked what optic I was using, to which I responded an Aimpoint PRO. He said, “That’s expensive. I bought my red dot, sling and four magazines and only paid $85 for everything.”

As the day progressed, I watched my classmate become more and more frustrated because his sight would not maintain zero, shooting roughly minute of barn door. By the end of the day, it had gone totally Tango Uniform. He finished the day using iron sights that—surprise, surprise—had not been zeroed because he planned to use the red dot sight.

On the bright side, he was able to perform numerous malfunction drills as the followers in his magazines would bind and not feed, stick in the mag well, or not lock up.

Early on Day Two, his paper-thin nylon sling broke, resulting in the muzzle of his carbine striking the ground—hard. I thought he was going to cry. A short time later, we broke for lunch, and with the OK from the instructor, I helped him mount and zero an EOTech 512 I had with me. I also attached a Blue Force Gear sling and loaned him half a dozen Bravo Company magazines.

His performance after lunch was actually quite good, showing that he had listened to what the instructor said, but had been handicapped by substandard gear.

My classmate turned out to be a nice guy. He’d simply fallen for the “this cheap gear is just as good as the expensive stuff” line that I hear all the time (and get Letters to the Editor about almost monthly).

I realize that not everyone needs—or can afford—top of the line gear, but if a price seems too good to be true, it probably is. The price you pay for department store junk may end up being more than money—it may be your life and the lives of your family members.

Until next time, stay low and watch your back.

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