AAR: “The Amtac Shooting Combative Carbine Course” (Bill Rapier), East Granby, CT, Nov. 4-5, 2019

Last week, I was fortunate enough to get to train with Bill Rapier again. For those that may not know, Rapier is a retired Nayy SEAL and the owner and lead instructor of Amercian Tactical Shooting Instruction, LLC. Back in 2017, both Robert and I attended his Integrated Combatives course in Pennsylvania. I didn’t make it back out the next year for his carbine course, so when I saw it was being offered close to home, I decided I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. Cost of the class was $676.00, which I paid in full. The class was held at the Hartford Gun Club in East Granby, CT. Being November in the Northeast, weather is always a gamble, but we were lucky with mostly overcast days and cold mornings that warmed to a comfortable temperature by mid-morning. There was a brief period of rain on day two, but not enough to even require rain gear. We started with 17 students on day one, but I think we only had 16 on day two.

Day 1

Unfortunately, I was about a half hour late to class after being sandwiched in the middle of a three car rear-end collision on my drive to the range. Life happens, and things could certainly have been worse. Thus, I missed the introduction and most of the safety brief, but managed to get there just before Rapier started to cover the fundamentals of marksmanship. Most of this was review for me from previous courses, but a much needed and welcome review. I did learn a few new things that I will be changing when it comes time to zero rifles in the future.

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Rapier explaining and demonstrating a supported prone position…

We started shooting with five round groups at 100 yards to establish a zero. Before we even started shooting, Rapier had stressed that confidence in your zero is key to everything else. Most of the students were at least on paper, but some of us, myself included, needed a few strings of fire to get zeroed. (I had last zeroed my carbine with Wolf Gold, but was using bulk Federal AE that I was able to source locally for this class. Both 55 grain .223 loads, but wildly different POI…) Rapier showed us a good way to use a steel target to dial in our zero ourselves, and another way to accomplish the same with a safe backstop, by shooting into the berm.

With everyone zeroed, we then moved on to what Bill termed “manipulations.” We were expected to bring four standard capacity magazines with us each time we stepped up to the firing line. This made for a very organized and consistent format with adequate opportunities to hydrate and reload magazines. Rapier uses only PMAGs or Lancer magazines and loads each with 29 rounds, since they can actually hold 31 rounds. Likewise, he advocates downloading GI mags to 28 rounds. You should be able to push the rounds down so that the feed lip covers your thumbnail. This is to ensure that you can perform a tactical reload without undue difficulty.

Rapier introduced us to his concept of a “circle of awareness,” something he adapted from skydiving, and the specific sequence that he uses to load a carbine and confirm readiness. He advocates performing carbine manipulations in the workspace to facilitate a circle of awareness with optimum dexterity. This flows naturally with the “strike ready” position that he teaches. I had been exposed to the pistol version of this in his Integrated Combatives course and was pleased to see that it also applies with the carbine.

Early on during Rapier’s demonstrations, I noticed that it appeared that he was canting his carbine inboard when shooting. Indeed, that was a point of instruction and his reason for doing so makes a lot of sense.

We next worked on presentations from both strike ready and low ready, and practiced a very quick way to make a close range snap shot. At a few points during the day, Rapier prefaced his explanations and demos with the caveat that what he recommends is not necessarily in line with the industry at large, specifically Army doctrine. Nonetheless, he had good, well elucidated reasons for everything that he showed us.

We took a brief lunch and then Rapier spent some time detailing his thoughts on the various carbine weapon systems that are available and explained why he thinks the AR variant is the best. He also made some specific recommendations on how to set up and equip an AR carbine. (Mil-spec or better forged upper and lower, free float M-LOK rail, a good flash hider, and a quality optic.) He suggested an Aimpoint Pro or better (T1/T2) or a LVPO with true 1x and a daylight visible red dot, and explained why we might choose one over the other. He also discussed caliber selection and ammunition choices. I have actually been thinking about this a lot and will probably be standardizing on 62 grain projectiles after I deplete my stock of 55 grain fodder.

After lunch, we returned to the firing line and worked on tactical and combat reloads. Rapier showed us two different ways to perform a tactical reload and then discussed the combat or emergency reload for when the carbine runs dry. He advocated training to a level of proficiency so that the shooter recognizes the difference in recoil when the bolt locks back on an empty magazine. I mentioned earlier that Rapier advocates doing carbine manipulations in the workspace, and the combat reload is no different. This is one aspect where he differs with other trainers, in that rather than leaving the carbine shouldered, he brings the carbine into the workspace with the stock tucked under the arm and strips the empty magazine out before accessing a new magazine and reloading. His rationale for this is that his method allows for dynamic movement and makes a magazine that won’t drop free into a non-issue.

After practicing the reloads, we stuffed magazines again and Rapier talked a bit about the after action scan. Rather than confining this to simple instructions of how to scan, he began by discussing what we should say and do after being involved in a stateside shooting. His advice in this regard is fairly consistent with other civilian and law enforcement instructors that I have trained with. Keep things brief and pertinent, have a script, and don’t deviate from it until speaking with a lawyer. Don’t be holding a gun or have a rifle visible when responding authorities arrive on scene.

With that out of the way, Rapier showed us how he does a primary and then secondary after action scan, emphasizing that a downed threat should be reassessed to make sure it stays down. The secondary scan is 360°, and he emphasized the need to actually see what was behind us and not game it. I’ve written about this before. We practiced theses scans for a couple of magazines and were encouraged to actually visually check our gear on the benches behind us. Rapier emphasized this point by verbalizing “…and no one is stealing our stuff” every time he checked his six. In the photos below, you can see Rapier demonstrating the secondary scan from both a low ready and from strike ready.

The next block of instruction was Rapier’s take on shoulder switches. Based on prior training, I had largely concluded that the juice wasn’t worth the squeeze on switching to the opposite shoulder, but I may have to reevaluate that opinion. Rapier explained the history of how they started to use shoulder switches where he worked, and showed us a very deliberate way to practice the technique. He also made the point that if you can’t swap shoulders without thinking as you approach a piece of cover or a corner, then you’re not ready to switch shoulders. Time to practice!

The final block of instruction for the day was malfunction clearance. Rapier prefers a more nuanced approach rather than simply escalating through sequences. You should be able to recognize the difference between the bolt locking back, a click that signifies that the bolt is in battery, and the mushy trigger that results when the bolt is out of battery. Notably, Rapier keeps the magazine in hand during the manipulations that require stripping the magazine out to fix. For the dreaded bullet over bolt, he teaches the same method as Kyle Defoor, and credits it as “the Defoor method.” I would note that Mike Pannone also teaches a very similar approach to malfunction clearance. This was a good review that I was glad to be able to practice.

Returning to the equipment discussion from earlier, Rapier took advantage of the fading daylight and had each student step up to the line, state their ammo, barrel length, and muzzle device, and fire five rounds into the berm. This demonstration included everything from a simple crowned muzzle to a suppressed SBR. The award for most impressive muzzle flash went to a 7.5″ shorty with a muzzle brake!

After we were done shooting for the day, just as he did during the Integrated Combatives course that I took a few years ago, Rapier invited the students to bond over a shared meal and formalized a dinner plan at a nearby restaurant. As a serial student, I really appreciate this as opposed to the typical scenario where the instructor goes out to dinner with just the class hosts. Rapier is very big on development of tribe and fostering tribal relationships with like minded individuals, and eating food after a day of “work” is just one aspect of this. The majority of the class met up at a nearby barbecue restaurant and conversations and discussions continued.

Day 2

The next morning class again began at 0830. Fortunately, my commute went as planned and I was there early to get my gear and myself squared away. Rapier started with a mindset lecture, and laid out what I would describe as a philosophy of how to approach life. Again, tribal development was emphasized, as was the need to train to fix deficiencies and to avoid training in a bubble. Rapier gave us a deep dive into the concepts of awareness, willingness, and preparedness. This long discussion covered everything from training kids and family to diet and exercise, with specific recommendations based upon his experience. While I would not describe him as an evangelist, Rapier capped this lecture with some unique advice on how to die well… he advised that you should make sure that you are “right with god.” Rapier is an unabashed Christian, but not in an in-your-face kind of way. Rather, this final discussion point was an answer to a specific question posed by a student.

Next, Rapier covered the finer points of positional shooting, including kneeling, sitting, rollover prone, and a variety of improvised supported positions. He advised us that a carbine is not complete without a sling, and showed us some ways to increase our stability with a quick adjust sling. Having a rear QD is key. We were given some time at the hundred yard line to work on shooting at some steel from all of the above positions and whatever else we could come up with. This is one area where I feel that I need to put a lot of time in. I find it really difficult to get into a stable shooting position other than prone. The tips and tricks that Rapier shared will definitely help in this regard.

Next, we got one heck of an upper body workout when Rapier introduced us to one handed carbine manipulations. This is something that I don’t necessarily remember doing before, and it was quite instructive. I need to get in better shape! The key takeaway from this is that if you understand the concept of what you’re trying to do, you should be able to figure out a way to accomplish it. As proof of this, Rapier set up a bullet over bolt malfunction and cleared it one handed. We shot our standard load out of four magazines working both strong hand only and other strong hand only.

After a brief lunch break, Rapier gave us a medical briefing based on TCCC. This was essentially his thoughts on care under fire and stopping bleeding. One interesting point from this discussion is that Rapier has changed the tourniquet that he carries every day. I had heard of the Ratcheting Medical Tourniquet before, but I’d never actually seen one. As it has recently been CoTCCC approved, I will be picking up a few in the near future. The RMT is also available in a pediatric version, and I’ll be picking up a few of those as well since I have young children. Another attribute of the RMT is that no training tourniquet is needed. You can apply the one you carry repeatedly with no degradation in it’s effectiveness.

The next block of instruction was a brief introduction to shooting while moving. I say brief because our movement was limited to moving forward and backwards. Rapier had us split into two relays with one group shooting and the other acting as range safety officers behind each shooter to police the line. One big takeaway from this was that distance from the target dictates shot cadence and the speed at which you can move.

We then did some barricade work, from both the strong side shoulder as well as the other strong side shoulder. Rapier demonstrated a new way to pie around corners and barricades that I had never seen before and that is incredibly effective. I’m going to be intentionally vague here and simply suggest that you need to get to a class and see it for yourself.

The final block of instruction dealt with combatives with a carbine. This is another thing that I’ve had only limited exposure to, in a prior Defoor carbine class. Everybody on the range removed the bolts and charging handles from their carbines and stripped off all live weapons and anything sharp. Each student was checked and frisked first by a buddy and then by Rapier.

After ensuring a safe training environment, Rapier demonstrated muzzle strikes from the strike ready position and then let each student cycle through and practice a few muzzle strikes, striking a board taped to a Thai pad that he was holding. Next he showed a way to deal with an attacker that gets close enough to grab your carbine and push the muzzle offline. Again, each student was given the opportunity to practice strikes on a Thai pad held by Rapier. This was a good introduction, but as Rapier pointed out, we only scratched the surface. Indeed, we could easily spend days learning and practicing combatives. To that end, Rapier used an experienced student to help demonstrate a few other potential techniques with a training blade and SIRT pistol.

Before ending for the day, as is typical in his classes, Rapier set up a stress course for the students to run through. This involved a sprint, muzzle strikes, reassembling the bolt and charging handle in the carbine, loading, firing from prone, from kneeling, and from standing, shoulder transitions with a barricade, and multiple target transitions while moving, all on the timer. My only complaint about the class is that less than half the class was able to run through the stress course. We simply ran out of time. Being November, it gets dark early and range rules prohibit firing after sunset. As it was, the small steel targets at 100 yards were getting difficult to discern for the last couple of students that were able to run the course. Rapier completely owned this as his time management mistake and quickly got the remaining students on the line for some impromptu positional shooting as a group.

Finally, with the shooting done for the day, Rapier gathered us in for a debrief, addressed any questions, and ensured that he had covered all the things that the students had expected in the class.

I fired right at 900 rounds of American Eagle 55 grain FMJ over the course of two days. I used my BCM 14.5″ carbine with a Leupold VX-R Patrol in a Larue SPR mount and Blue Force Gear VCAS sling. I started out with my spare magazines stuffed in my pockets, but ultimately wound up using my Maxpedition dump pouch for my spare mags. (I suppose I should pick up one or two belt mounted magazine pouches since I don’t have any.) Stuffing a spare magazine in a pants pocket is a far more realistic scenario for me, and I did practice reloading from my pocket. Undoubtedly it’s slower, but more in line with reality.

Final Thoughts

I hadn’t really planned on a carbine course this year given where the carbine falls in my own personal hierarchy of home defense weapons, but I’m glad I was able to take this one. Rapier is an undisputed subject matter expert, and I learned a lot. Everything he presented to us made sense, and I’m going to incorporate his suggestions into my own practice regimen for the times that I take my carbines to the range. The AR-15 is after all, America’s rifle. Every American patriot (or partisan, if you prefer) should be competent with it. The Amtac Shooting Combative Carbine Course is excellent preparation.

Bill Rapier is humble and approachable, and he freely shares a wealth of knowledge in class. This was my second class with him, and it won’t be the last. He is on tap to return to the Northeast next year to teach his Force on Force and Responsible Armed Citizen classes, and I plan to be there for them. The training that Rapier offers is current, relevant, and realistic. You can’t ask for much more.


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One thought on “AAR: “The Amtac Shooting Combative Carbine Course” (Bill Rapier), East Granby, CT, Nov. 4-5, 2019

  1. I like how you (and Bill, apparently) emphasize the tribal aspect of what is happening. Having a tribe is vitally important, and it’s good to see that concept getting out into the community.

    On an unrelated note, how awesome of a last name is “Rapier”?

    Liked by 1 person

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