Familiarity breeds contempt.
It also paradoxically breeds a fight-winning firearms mechanical manipulation foundation.
Obviously the shootist’s ability to fluidly and reflexively operate a firearm is directly proportionate to his performance in battle, but never has this been hammered home to me more than during a recent range session.
Invited to partake in a shooting familiarization session with the Kel-Tec KSG shotgun, I took advantage of the situation to zero a Ruger Mini-14 and crank some rounds and check the slug zero on a 12-gauge Saiga. Even though the Saiga shotgun speed loads are different than the AK rifles—and since the main thrust of the range session was to work with the Kel-Tec—my gracious host allowed me to run the Mini-14 and Saiga first.
The Ruger has a custom-fitted front sight, but since the machining and fitting had been performed by the Robar Company, it was no surprise that the weapon took eight rounds and ten minutes to zero. The Saiga was dead on with slugs, so only about another ten minutes were spent mowing some weeds with a mix of bird and buckshot.
Total range time frame on both these familiar weapons was possibly 20 minutes.
Then it was on to the Kel-Tec—and an hour of frustration and self-humiliation. Even though my total prior experience with the KSG was a ten-minute instructional dissertation over a cup of coffee, I’d been in this situation with other unfamiliar weapons before, and managed to stumble-bum my way through a range session. Would I have chosen to go to war with the weapons without a lot more time on those guns?
Absolutely not. But at least I would have felt halfway competent in an emergency battlefield pick-up situation with them.
I will never again believe that line of thinking, the “OK, we’re going to fam fire these guns for 20 minutes in case you ever find one and have to use it for real” syndrome. For yours truly, it’s not only “No,” it’s “Hell no.”
Another bitter lesson learned.
While I don’t think I’m a heaven-sent gift to the world of firearms and tactics, I didn’t fall off the turnip truck last week either. Self-diagnosis after the fact, however, elucidated two flaws in my prior way of thinking. One, as stated above, is that I’d been in this situation before and had gotten away with it, probably out of pure dumb luck. And two, I’d previously operated the South African NeoStead, which is a similar weapon to the Kel-Tec, so I thought I’d be reasonably competent.
You can’t run a Kel-Tec KSG with a NeoStead brain, primarily because the latter is action open with the forend forward, while the KSG is “normal,” à la the Remington 870, with the action closed when the forend is forward. In addition, the shotgun’s owner had chosen to fit a vertical foregrip to the weapon, a feature that I’ve despised on a pump gun for 30 years because I personally can’t shoot worth a tinker’s damn with this attachment. It causes me to have to “flag” out my support-arm elbow and use my entire arm to operate the slide, instead of a vertical elbow, which utilizes only my forearm and wrist for forend cycling.
So right off the bat came cycling problems—one mental, one physical.
Then came all the other secondary personal manipulation problems, such as a cross-bolt safety that’s pushed from left to right to fire—opposite to virtually everything else I’ve fired. And the selector lever to switch magazine tube feeding, which I’d pre-planned to manipulate thumb-down, fingers-up prior to live firing the weapon—and swore blind that’s what I had indeed done. That is, until I was shown on video that I’d done the opposite.
And it went on and on for an hour, one goof-up after another.
But enough of the whining about personal incompetence, and on to the point of this article. To clarify absolutely to the reader, yours truly thinks the specific weapon mentioned is well designed, well fabricated, will make a fine fighting weapon, and that all the problems encountered were operator error and not due to any manufacturing or design flaws. The criterion of the article is operator competence or—in this case—incompetence.
Again, this author isn’t claiming to be a nuclear physicist, but if I can jump without hesitation from a Garand-type weapons system to a Kalashnikov to a Remington 870 and to a Colt or Glock pistol, I must have at least one remaining operational brain cell, or alternatively I have total familiarity with those weapon systems.
And for all of us, that means reflexive manipulation capability—not only for delivering projectiles, but also for loading, unloading, malfunction clearances, automatic ability to put on the manual safety when transitioning to a secondary weapon, etc. If we don’t have this, we’re operating primarily on luck when running an unfamiliar weapons system in a gun battle. (And yes, immediately upon returning to my kennel, I spent 15-plus minutes working out with a Remington 870.)
Moral of the story?
In a battlefield pick-up situation, make sure that (a) the weapon isn’t booby-trapped (it may have been intentionally left there by the enemy), and (b) you are mentally and physically capable of competently operating the weapons system. Otherwise you’re probably better off hurling rocks. And only 20 or 30 minutes of familiarization isn’t familiarization—it’s merely self-delusion.
When you dance with Death, you’d better make sure you and the orchestra are working off the same page of sheet music.
Louis Awerbuck is Director of the internationally acclaimed Yavapai Firearms Academy. Course information and schedules are available at their website at http://www.yfainc.com