I had every intention of taking this course “someday”. While these days one can nearly throw a rock and find some ex-SOF guy teaching carbine classes, and I have trained with some of them, John Murphy of FPF Training is a known quantity for me (hereafter referred to as “Murphy” so as not to confuse the reader with this blog’s co-founder “John”). Having taken two courses from Murphy before (see here and here), along with at least five other classes he has hosted, I know two key things about him: he’s a wealth of knowledge and he knows how to teach. Discovering that I had a Sunday free in November that matched this course date, and recognizing that this Autumn has mostly been unseasonably warm, I felt like I might give it a try.
I had an additional reason for wanting to take this class. As John and I have written several articles about AR Pistols but never did major “testing” of one, I wanted to use one in a class. As this is billed as a true “basic” course, it seemed like an ideal candidate for such a test.
About two weeks before the class, I contacted Murphy to see how many people had enrolled. My hope was that only a few had signed up and that I might be able to check the weather the week before the class and sign up then. At the risk of coming off as a wimp, I really didn’t want to sign up and then have a blizzard roll through town. Murphy gave me a “dude, just show up” response and allowed me to attend for free, adding that yes, I could bring my AR Pistol.
For additional information about John Murphy, you may want to check out this video/podcast from Civilian Carry Radio by Modern American Shooting and Firearms:
As noted above, the class is billed as a true entry level class and is primarily geared toward the AR-15 platform. Here is the course description as copied from the FPF Training website:
This eight-hour class is designed to provide the novice a firm grounding in basics of safety, manipulation and marksmanship for military style rifles, primarily the AR series. Minuteman Rifle Course (MRC) is a basic class, plate carriers, night vision devices, lasers, etc. are not required. Optics (Aimpoint, Trijicon, etc. are welcome!)
· Cycle of operation
· Ballistics and zeroing
· Fundamentals of marksmanship
· The Big Four shooting positions
· Basic manipulation
· Graded marksmanship exercises
· Class sizes are limited to ten shooters to ensure plenty of individual attention.
Including me, this class consisted of a total of 8 students: seven men and one woman. Quick introductions revealed that carbine experience varied a bit, with one current or former private military contractor (who presumably had more than a little personal experience), me (with 88 prior hours of carbine-centric coursework spread out over 6 prior classes), to others with little to no prior experience. Cost of the course was $200, but, as noted above, my fee was waived by Murphy. As partial (minimal) compensation, I brought donuts for the class and also provided a battery to Murphy for a dead optic on one of his loaner carbines.
I was more concerned with potential cold weather and the gear I might require to maximize my comfort than fancy-schmancy tactical gear. Given the basic-level nature of this class, I decided to do all reloads from the pockets of my cargo pants. No pistol was required for this class, so I kept my Glock 19 worn in the appendix carry position loaded and situated exactly as it was for my drive to the class.
I brought the latest incarnation of my AR pistol, as described in this article. Due to the cost of .300 AAC ammunition, I decided I would mainly be using my 5.56mm upper (11.5 inch BCM upper with Aimpoint T-1). I brought along the .300 AAC upper as outlined in the above article just in case I had the time to play around with it (or if anyone else did).
The Training Day
Meet up for the class was at the usual gasoline station a few miles from the range. From there, we caravanned to the range and were directed where to park by Murphy’s assistant, Gary. We hauled all of our gear over to some tables that had been set up for us, did some quick introductions, and then we met in the classroom (heated!) for about 40 minutes.
Murphy began with a description of what this course was all about. In this case, the course would be about the safe and responsible use of the rifle/carbine by the civilian. We would be learning how to load and unload, reduce malfunctions, and apply the fundamentals of marksmanship to zero and then practice with our carbines. To put this class in perspective, Murphy brought up the recent church shooting in Texas during which a civilian utilized an AR-15 to engage and hit the shooter. The civilian in this case was not an ex-Navy SEAL, but merely a citizen like any of us who had to engage a bad guy at 20 yards.
Murphy next launched into a brief history of the AR platform from the early days of Eugene Stoner up to the present day. Obviously, a lot has been written about this history, so the lecture was thankfully just enough to whet the appetite of those interested without turning into a doctoral thesis. Following the history, Murphy went through parts/nomenclature of the AR platform, starting with the upper and then the lower. Accessories for the AR platform were also discussed.
Murphy also spent a bit of time discussing about magazines and loading/unloading procedures. Murphy described the magazine as the “Pez dispenser of death”, talking about the history of the magazine as well as the current state-of-the-art in magazine design and materials. I was pleased that his load procedures included the insertion of the magazine into the magazine well with the push-pull method to be sure the magazine is fully seated.
The classroom session was wrapped up with a brief description of marksmanship fundamentals, which included the acronym B.R.A.S.S.R., which stands for Breathe, Relax, Aim, Squeeze, Shot, Reset. I do not recall ever having seen this particular acronym before, but for a guy whose company name stands for “front sight, press, follow-through”, it seemed fitting. The final segment included a brief description of external ballistics and their importance as related to zeros, something we would experience on the range.
On The Range
We were on the range by about 9:05, and spent a little time practicing unload/reload procedures using magazines with dummy rounds (dummy rounds provided by Murphy). Satisfied that we could all perform the necessary manipulations, we moved to the 25 yard line to make sure our carbines were all on paper.
I should note that, before we switched to live ammunition, a fairly comprehensive safety brief took place. Murphy stressed that he values our safety (and repeat customers). While a mistake with a pistol could be a very serious problem, ballistically altering anyone with a carbine would be much, much worse. Accordingly, all of the firearms safety rules were reviewed and would be adhered to strictly. Murphy’s truck was set up as an evacuation vehicle and trauma kits clearly labeled for all to see. Throughout the day, Murphy and his assistant, Gary, were watching all the students like hawks and instituted certain procedures to help keep everyone safe. I saw no safety violations during the class.
It was at this moment that one of the more interesting things of the day occurred. Upon shooting his first rounds of the day, one student had a malfunction. Seeing an apparent double-feed in the chamber (and a great teaching moment), Murphy gathered the class around to watch him reduce it. Murphy had no issues reducing it, but when the student tried again to fire, his trigger appeared dead. After a little more fiddling, Murphy separated from upper and lower only to discover this:
At first, I thought that was a sheared off 5.56mm casing inside the Fire Control Group. But, it turned out that it was a 9mm casing! The story I heard later in the day was that the student had stored the carbine with the upper and lower assemblies separated in a case, and that the 9mm casing must have also been in the case and found its way inside before reassembly. Even with the casing removed, however, the carbine still would not function correctly, so the student swapped it for a spare (at least he brought a spare!).
On the subject of spares, I should note here that Murphy lent out both of his carbines to students. One of these students had brought a Springfield M1A, but either he or Murphy decided it would be better if he used an AR (he seemed to be lacking a sling, so I am not sure if there were other issues at play here). Another student had an AR equipped only with iron sights but was struggling with it. After Murphy tried that student’s carbine and found it “was the Indian and not the arrow”, he let that student use one of his optics-equipped carbines. Murphy also loaned out magazines as needed and had shooting mats for us all to use when firing from the prone, kneeling, and seated positions.
Once all the students were close with their carbines at 25 yards, we moved back to the 50 yard line to refine the zeros. This took the rest of the morning. While tedious, I am glad that we took the time to do this. In my own personal experience (and, no doubt, the experience of others), the zero is really the key to everything else. With a good, tight zero, even a person with my limited skill level can do solid work with the carbine. It is therefore always worth the time to get it right.
After lunch, we moved into more interesting drills. Many of these were variations on a theme, with Murphy’s preferred drill of the day being the Four-by-Five. In this drill, which we shot at least five times from various distances, we would shoot five rounds from each of four firing positions. The four firing positions would be what Murphy referred to as the Marine Corps “Kama Sutra of firing positions”: standing, kneeling, sitting, and prone.
Other drills we performed in the afternoon included some failure drills (two shots to chest and one to head), some S.O.B. (sight-over-bore) drills, Box drills (two targets: two to body of one, two to body of the other, one to the head of that second target, then one to the head of the first target), some turning and shooting (left and right), and even the Four-by-Five on reduced silhouette steel at 100 yards (love the ding ding ding!).
Along the way, Murphy was his usual self. His Marine D.I. voice works well over the volume of a bunch of carbines. Though I did not see many students experience malfunctions, I saw that the few that did occur were utilized as “teachable moments”. Also, other equipment issues arose, as at least two students had their optics turn into Weebles when they came a bit loose from their mounts (Loctite is your friend!).
We wrapped up shooting around 1500 hours and spent a little time “team-building” (policing brass). We did a quick review of key points, questions were answered, and certificates were distributed. I hung around for a little bit after class talking with Murphy and an up-and-coming instructor who stopped by near the end of class.
My main goal in going to this class was to get some time behind my AR pistol, review some fundamentals, learn a few new things, and have fun. I did not really meet my first goal. For some reason(s) which are entirely my own (and probably mostly sheer stupidity), I had trouble getting a nice tight zero on my AR Pistol. I arrived with at least a rough zero (I had only ever shot the AR Pistol at 25 yards at an indoor range), and this can be seen in the earlier photo of my first 5 shot group. I think along the way I cranked one of the adjusters on my Aimpoint the wrong way, and then spent the rest of the morning chasing that zero. After shooting 60 rounds, I switched after lunch to my backup, full-size AR, and shot well the rest of the day. I put exactly 300 rounds through that AR, for a total of 360 in the class. I experienced no malfunctions during the course in either firearm (utilizing Generation 3 Magpul Pmags and Federal M193 55 grain 5.56mm ammunition).
My other goals were all met with ease. I learned a few new things (B.R.A.S.S.R.) and was reminded of a few things (Loctite on optic mounts, don’t put pistol shell casings inside your lower, get the good zero, remember which way to turn your adjustment knobs on your optic!). Revisiting the fundamentals is always useful. I shot well (for me) in this class, and it was only when I failed in the fundamentals (rushing some shots, not breathing correctly, etc.) that I threw a few shots. But, because I shot well overall, the fun factor for me was high even in a class that was very basic.
In speaking with Murphy after class, he seems unsure at this point whether or not this particular course will be offered in 2018. If it is, however, it would be a worthwhile course for novices and more experienced students to take. While there are other options in the Northern Virginia area, I really like how Murphy has the emphasis on the civilian use of the carbine rather than “team tactics” and other such pursuits. The K.I.S.S. principle definitely applies here. Accordingly, if you are someone who bought an AR-15 or other carbine during one of the many recent “panics”, but have no real training in its use, this would definitely be a worthwhile first step in learning how to properly set up, zero, and utilize the carbine from five to one hundred yards.
Thanks again to John Murphy for the class and to my fellow students for helping to run a safe, fun class. In 2018, Murphy will continue to host, at his range in Culpeper, a “who’s who” of respected trainers from around the country. Also, for those of our readers outside the Northern Virginia area, Murphy is, more and more, taking his show on the road, so check out the FPF Training website to see if he will be visiting your area in 2018.
As always, thanks for reading. If our readers have any questions or comments, please post them below or on our Facebook page, as we welcome civil discourse.