AAR: American Tactical Shooting Instruction (Bill Rapier) “Compact Carbine Deployment”, Lewisberry, PA, 06-12-20

A carbine course with a twist.  Those are just my words. 

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Bill Rapier

This course caught my eye as soon as it was listed back around New Years because it seemed like something just a little bit different than a “standard” carbine course.  The course is called “Compact Carbine Deployment”.  Here is the course description:

This course is designed build competence with your compact carbine. Whether this is in the form of a “truck gun” or “back pack gun” more and more responsible armed citizens are increasing their capability by keeping a compact carbine close at hand. Among other things, the Amtac Shooting Compact Carbine Deployment Course will cover:

  • truck/ pack gun considerations
  • strike/ low ready presentations
  • shooting and moving
  • shoulders switches
  • positional shooting
  • barricade use

There will be multiple dynamic compact carbine deployment drills.

This is a physically demanding course, you need to have a base level of proficiency with both the carbine and pistol to attend.

Why this course?

Okay, I don’t carry a “bag gun” every day or have a “truck gun”.  However, as I outlined in this article some time ago, I do take a “bag gun” on longer trips (to classes, to my in-laws’ house, on beach or other family vacations, etc.).  For me, I use the bag to simply conceal it within the vehicle and then moving the firearm from the vehicle to whatever building I will be in (house, rental unit, hotel, etc.).  I do not stroll around with a bag gun everywhere I go.  Nevertheless, increasing my capability with such a platform and actually putting more thought into how I would deploy and utilize such a platform seemed like a good thing to do.  Couple that concept with Rapier as an instructor in a one-day format an easy drive from my house and I was sold.  And so here is probably a good place to mention that the cost of the course was $325.00 which I paid in full.  Neither John nor I am affiliated in any way with American Tactical Shooting Instruction, Bill Rapier, or the venue, except as satisfied repeat customers.

The Venue

The course was held at the West Shore Sportsmen’s Association in Lewisberry, Pennsylvania (this is just a few miles south of the state capital, Harrisburg).  The range on which the class was held was gravel, well-kept, with a covered area for gear and to sit in the shade.  Parking was just off the range, so easy access for all of us (Port-a-potty was on the lot).  The maximum distance on this range was 50 yards. Weather was perfect:  low humidity with a high temperature in the low 80s and clear blue skies (even a slight breeze from time to time!).  In short, conditions were ideal for a class.

Gear

In the confirmation email sent to each student, basic gear requirements and recommendations were laid out.  Compact carbine or AR-style pistol (pistol caliber carbines were allowed as well, and I believe one student had one).  Four magazines for the carbine would be required along with some means to carry them (chest rigs, battle belts, plate carriers with pouches, and even back or cargo pockets in pants would all be fine).  We would also need a sidearm and just a pair of magazines for it as well.

Though I brought my Sig 556 SBR, I chose in this class to rely upon an AR pistol, as that is what I usually use as my “bag gun”.  For me, I typically use a .300 AAC AR Pistol for this purpose.  However, due to the cost of .300 AAC ammunition, I swapped uppers for this class with my 5.56mm 11.5 inch BCM.  The upper is equipped with a Midwest Industries MLOK rail/handguard, a 2 MOA Aimpoint T-1 red dot sight, a Surefire X300u mounted at 12 o’clock on the handguard, Daniel Defense fixed front and rear sights, and a BCM Mod 4 charging handle.  The lower is basically mil-spec with an ALG-ACT trigger, a third generation Law-Tac folding device, and a KAK Shockwave Blade/Brace on a KAK buffer tube designed to be used with the Blade. 

For a sidearm I brought along my third generation OD Glock 19, modified as per this article.  I used third generation Magpul 30 round magazines in the AR Pistol and factory Glock 15 round magazines in the Glock.  Ammunition used was Wolf Gold .223 55 grain ammunition in the AR and Federal American Eagle 124 grain FMJ in the Glock. 

John used his AR SBR, which, like my AR pistol, has the LawTac folder. His upper has a 10.75 inch barrel and was equipped with an Aimpoint Comp ML2. He also used Wolf Gold .223 ammunition. His sidearm was his now preferred Smith and Wesson M&P 2.0 Compact.

Though some students used battle belts, plate carriers, and chest rigs for the rest of their gear, I did everything from quasi-concealment:  Glock in appendix holster, spare AR magazines carried in a combination of my pockets and in HSGI tacos attached to a now out-of-production Raven Concealment Systems Moduloader which was attached to my pistol belt. 

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Me. Notice the abundance of gear!

I will also note here that other than one student who had some form of short Sig MPX, everyone else was using some sort of AR platform. There were no AK pistols, KelTecs, or other oddballs.

The Class

Including John and myself there were 16 students in the class.  Bill Rapier was the only instructor.  I will mention here that, besides John, I recognized at least four other students from prior coursework I have taken in the region (of those four, at least two have been in SEVERAL classes I attended). 

The class began at about 0830 with a brief introduction by Rapier about himself.  Not a lot of detail was provided which, given the type of work Rapier used to do, is not really a surprise (over 14 years in Naval Special Warfare Development Group, retiring in, I believe, 2011).  Mainly, he just shared how excited he was to be there and to share knowledge with like-minded men and women (there were two women in the class). 

Rapier moved through a brief syllabus, outlining in broad strokes what we would be covering during the day.  The general gist sounded a lot like what I had predicted in my own mind:  basic carbine skills and drills with the added spice of incorporating, at times, the bags from which to deploy our long guns. 

Next, we received a relatively brief but thorough covering of the firearms safety rules.  Rapier runs a hot range, which I for one appreciate.  I have said it before and will say it again:  I find it disingenuous to have instructors have people shooting guns with only a few feet separating one student from those to either side, yet insist that they unload their firearms every time they leave the line.  I understand liability is a thing and students sometimes do stupid things.  However, as Rapier said, it would really suck if a bunch of terrorists descended upon us at lunchtime and we all had empty guns.  Rapier reviewed how, when, and where to safely fiddle with our guns if needed (make repairs/changes/adjustments).

Following the safety brief came the medical brief.  This was quite thorough and one student was able to show the rest of the class a massive scar on his lower leg, the result of an accident that occurred cutting down a tree.  His use of a tourniquet on that occasion at least saved him a lot of blood and may have saved his life.  Rapier was pleased to see most of us were carrying tourniquets on our bodies.  A little more information on casualty evacuation might have been nice, but overall I was satisfied with the medical brief.

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With that, we gathered gear and headed out to the line.  I will note here that Rapier was very well organized in his presentation.  Each time we came to the line from a break of some sort, we were to have four loaded magazines for our long guns (from here on I will refer to them as carbines so as not to confuse them with our sidearms.  Some people had NFA-regulated short-barreled rifles while others, like myself, used “pistols” with various types of braces).  Things were not so regimented that we had to shoot a specific number of rounds.  Rapier might just say, “Okay, shoot two magazines trying this technique out”, so it would not matter if someone used twenty-round magazines, or had their thirty-rounders loaded with only 28 rounds.  But there was never a situation where you would find yourself scrambling to return to your gear 50 yards back because you ran out of ammunition. Considering this was only the second or third time Rapier has taught this new course, there were no “let me think about what’s next” moments.

We started at about seven yards reviewing Rapier’s “Circle of awareness”.  The idea here is to do things the same every time so that instead of focusing on something like loading, or checking the chamber, or some other mundane task, we could instead get these movements down to being automatic and could then focus more on what is around us.  Rapier takes a very “combative” perspective when doing anything.  He truly uses the same stance to fight from, to shoot handguns from, and to shoot carbines from.  Being ready and able to fight—no matter what is in his hands—informs everything he teaches.

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Stance.

We began by going through Rapier’s own specific routine for administratively loading the carbine.  We then got to fire a magazine or two at some small (2-3 inches in diameter) circles on the targets down range.  Rapier was careful to remind us about height-over-bore offset issues at this distance.  I was not super impressed with my accuracy (my wobble seemed rather pronounced), but considering I had not shot a single live round in months (COVID-19!) and was not even sure that my carbine was zeroed, I did okay.

The rest of the morning featured brief segments on different “fundamentals” punctuated by a magazine or two to try out what he taught.  So it was that we received a short block of instruction on stance (then shot), a short block on grip (and shot), and a short block on shooting with the carbine held at a natural cant (and tried it by shooting).  Rapier pointed out that he does some of these things different than some other instructors, and told us to try out what he was teaching during this class, but if in the end it does not work for us, then that is fine.  He did a great job, I thought, of explaining why he does each thing that he does.  Some I plan to try out on my own a bit more to see if the juice is worth the squeeze to make the changes.  Other things I will probably not really try again. 

After a break, we returned to the line to be introduced on the “strike-ready position”.  Here Rapier explained why he likes the strike-ready position, how to use it, WHEN to use it, and some misunderstandings in the shooting community about it.  He freely admitted that the low-ready position is faster and is also easier to teach someone with limited available training time.  However, the strike-ready position is definitely a bit more “combative” in terms of protection of the head and the ability to rapidly deliver muzzle strikes, so like so many things in this business, there are trade-offs.  We practiced mounting and shooting our carbines from the strike-ready position, even practicing what was essentially point shooting from that position.

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The strike-ready position.

We then moved on to the low-ready position, where again, Rapier was able to clearly articulate how to use it and when it might be better to utilize it.  We then got to practice shooting from a natural low-ready position, a compressed low-ready position (muzzle pointed just forward of our feet), and then what he called “cheaters’ low-ready”, with the muzzle only slightly depressed and still pretty much on target. 

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The low-ready position.

A brief Q&A session led to a discussion about what to do if you are ever in a shooting.  I must say that while some from the civilian sector might disregard the opinions of someone from “the teams” about such a topic, most of what Rapier shared was right in line with other instructors who are highly thought of in this sub-field. 

I knew from prior coursework with Rapier that he is a big fan of scanning after shooting.  However, I also knew from that coursework that he does not just pay lip-service to the scan, but executes a very deliberate scan that gives the shooter plenty of time and opportunity to take in what is going on (“circle of awareness”).  So it is shoot, assess through the sights, scan to both sides looking for other bad guys, then to the rear, then back to the front. 

Next, we worked though combat (emergency) and tactical reloads.  Nothing too crazy here.  What Rapier demonstrated was in line what every other carbine instructor I have studied under teaches.  He taught two different ways to execute the magazine exchange in the tactical reload (side-by-side and “forming the L”), and stressed that, on the combat reload, most people spend way too much time practicing them.  I believe he said that, with all the missions he ran over the years, he never executed a combat reload, but would always do a tactical reload when the situation presented itself. 

The final segment before lunch involved use of bags.  Rapier began by demonstrating how he positions his carbines in bags (he used a backpack for one carbine and a messenger bag for an even smaller carbine, which I believe was a Sig Rattler), how to manage slings, and then how to deploy them from the bags (can we deploy it without taking off the bag, as with some messenger bags, or do we need to remove the bag from our body first?).  Rapier then had us unload our carbines and bring our bags to the line.  We then practiced setting up and deploying our own carbines to see what works and what does not for our own systems.  We would partner up to give us more space and also so our partners could critique what we were doing.  Students used a variety of bags.  John utilized a Vertx backpack, whereas I used an old Nike slingbag.  One person used a guitar case, another either a mandolin or violin case, and I saw at least one tennis racquet bag as well.   After playing around with our bags “dry”, we got to practice deploying them and firing them live for a few magazines.  One note:  for safety reasons Rapier favors (as have I, for quite a while now) carrying in the bag with loaded magazine inserted (twenty-round magazines might come in handy here, depending on the size of the bag) and with chamber empty. 

Lunch

We broke for lunch around 1300.  I ate and stuffed magazines under the cover at the range, and Rapier ate with us while just engaging in some low-key chatting.  After a bit, he brought us all in to cover what he likes to call “what right looks like”, in this case, in reference to the bag or truck gun.  I am not going to go into all the specifics here, but he covered the pistol-caliber carbine, the .300 AAC, and the 5.56mm systems, the pros and cons of each, and how to set up each one to maximize their effectiveness.  I was pretty happy that most of the decisions I have made in these areas were in line with his advice.  He also added in a Q & A segment about plate carriers and armor and how to set them up, what to look for, etc.  Between lunch and these extended Q & A sessions, we came to nearly 1430 on the clock. 

Afternoon Session

The afternoon consisted of two major blocks of instruction and then two drills that we would perform twice each.  The first block of instruction dealt with switching shoulders/firing from either shoulder (of course, with the braced “pistols”, shouldering becomes a legally grey area, so I use the term “shouldering” in only a general way here).  This would most likely be utilized when shooting around cover.  Rapier has his own mantra to say in his head when making the switch, because there are ways to execute the switch that allow the user to maintain maximum, safe control over the carbine when the switch is taking place.  I liked it.  We got to practice this live for a few magazines.

The second block of instruction involved the aforementioned use of cover.  Rapier teaches an interesting technique for minimizing one’s exposure when shooting around cover in a close-range environment.  I was familiar with it because John was exposed to this technique when he took Rapier’s two-day carbine class last year, and he had already shared it with me.  It was interesting and could prove useful.  It would be easy for me to say that it isn’t really necessary, but I’ve never been on the two-way range.  If I ever am, I would imagine making myself a smaller target would be a priority.  Naturally, we got to practice this technique (from both shoulders, with the switch in between, as we had already worked through that block of instruction). 

The rest of the afternoon was spent doing two different drills, which we did one at a time, so it took a little while. We got to run the drills twice each. The first drill was a “get off the X” drill in which we had our carbines bagged and on our person and then our pistol (concealed, if that’s how we roll, which is how I did the drill). This would be the only drill that would involve our sidearms. On the command of threat, we had to start sprinting to the forward oblique, draw our pistols, and shoot a target while on the run (the target started out about 12 yards away but was probably more like 7 by the time we started getting rounds on it). We then had to drop behind “cover” (some barrels), access, charge, and deploy our carbines, and engage three targets about 15-20 yards away with a combination of chest and head shots. Rapier demonstrated first (he demonstrated EVERY thing we did all day), and then was with each student as we performed our runs, providing feedback at the end of each run. He was also right there to provide safety assistance as well, which I mention because a few students had some gear issues.

The second drill of the afternoon involved accessing the compact carbine as a “truck gun”.  A pickup truck of one of the students was brought forward and Rapier showed us how he stows a carbine in his own truck at home.  Again, after his own demonstration, we got to take turns doing two runs of sitting in the driver’s seat, belted in, and on the command of threat, had to release the seatbelt while accessing the carbine on the floor of the backseat (under a blanket), charge it, open the door, and then engage two targets 25 yards down range (the furthest we would shoot in this course–most of our shooting was at 7-10 yards) with a combination of chest and head shots.  We took the shots through the “V” between the open door and the A pillar next to the windshield. This was not so much a tactics drill but just a way to give us the chance to practice accessing the carbine and getting some rounds downrange. 

(I am going to post, on our Facebook page, videos of Rapier demonstrating these two drills plus one video of him just deploying his bag gun on a timer.  John and I are too cheap to spring for the “premium” WordPress account that would allow us to put videos in here.) 

We wrapped up around 1700 hours with some Q & A, and then some students went to dinner with Rapier.  I really like that Rapier makes that a regular thing at his classes, but I was close enough to home that I decided to just head straight back. 

I will note here that I fired 399 rounds from my AR Pistol and 11 rounds from my Glock 19, all without issues. 

Final Thoughts

I have said many times here on the blog that I am sick of standing in lines with 10-20 other students and blazing away at targets like I’m standing in the ranks at Waterloo.  So when I get the chance to take a class that is even a little bit different, particularly with an instructor who is a known quantity and covering a subject that interests me and could be of some use, then I am inclined to take it.  This class, though not cheap for a one-day class, gave me the chance to brush up on some carbine skills, some moving while shooting, a touch of vehicle considerations, and of course the bag work.  So I definitely thought it was worth my time and money.

One note about safety. When you have taken as many classes as I have, you appreciate an instructor who pays attention to safety. More and more of late I find myself watching the instructor watching other students. It was obvious that Rapier was quite vigilant when it came to safety, making sure small issues did not become bigger issues.

Moving forward, I will be making a few changes to my modus operandi when it comes to my bag gun. For one thing, I plan to ditch the KAK brace in favor of a SBA4 brace. Numerous other students were using them and they just seemed much more comfortable. Second, I will give more thought to how my AR Pistol is typically arranged in the backpack in which I usually carry it. On the off chance I need to deploy it from the bag into immediate action, it would be good to know how it is oriented within the bag and how I need to set the bag down in order to access it.

Rapier intimated that he might expand this course into a two or even three-day event in the future, as there is so much potential there, particularly as more and more people seem to be purchasing such firearms. From my perspective, it seems like this course can fill quite the niche not provided by most other instructors who lack dedicated “compact carbine” classes.

This will not be the last time John and I train with Bill Rapier, as he continues to deliver a quality product.

As always, thanks for reading.  If you have any questions or comments please post them below or on out Facebook page, as we always welcome civil discourse. 

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