Many of us keep rifles for self-defense at home. Some prefer simple solutions, like an M1 carbine or an AK clone without optics. Others favor more complex, more flexible solutions like an AR15 or a Sig 556 with a red dot, a light and a laser. Regardless of how you set up your weapon, it’s a good idea to know if you are proficient with it. The following exercise requires three rounds of ammunition, twenty cents worth of supplies and about five minutes of time, most of which would be spent walking to the target backer.
The required supplies are two paper or Styrofoam plates and two sticky notes. You can use either 3- or 4-inch variety—the difficulty of the exercise would not change from the substitution. Bring the rifle to the range and set it up in the exact configuration used at your home. If the red dot is turned off, it should be off at the start of the diagnostic test. If the chamber is empty, keep it empty. The same goes for the safety, optic caps and stock position. Set up three targets and get ready.
The closest target would be at 5 yards and consist of a sticky note on the target backer. This would be the rapid reaction part of the drill. On cue, you would get the rifle ready for combat and hit it with your first shot. The result would be considered barely satisfactory if you manage in ten seconds. Five seconds would be better and three ideal. Remember that a trained pistol shooter can do this in under two seconds from the holster. The small size of the target is a nod to realism, compensating for the target not moving, not shooting at you and the entire exercise not taking place in low light. You may end up firing without turning on your illuminated optic. Any position is permitted for this, though standing would likely be quicker than others and least likely to out a bullet over the range backstop. Back-up iron sights, laser or point shooting may have to do for the short time available. Remember the offsets—down for the optic or irons, up for the under-barrel laser. If racking the action or manipulating the stock slows you down, perhaps you would want to store the rifle in a different state in the future.
The middle target at 25 yards would be an 8-inch paper plate with a sticky note on it. You would have to hit the plate without nicking the sticky note. This is why the difficulty of the exercise remains similar with 3- or 4-inch notes—larger sticky notes make the 25 yard target harder to hit cleanly. The orange note can represent either hard cover or a hostage. To make this stage more difficult, put the note in the middle of the plate or at a 45 degree angle. Like the five yard shot, this may be taken from any position. Kneeling or squatting positions are fast and add stability, prone is likely take too long to adopt. Ideally, you would shoot this in ten seconds or less. A hostile at 25 yards is a credible threat if he has a ranged weapon, and ten seconds would certainly give him time to deploy it against you. If you had to turn on sights or unfold stocks for the close-range shot, the rifle would be already set up for this stage. This isn’t a hard target to hit, but the proximity of a “no shoot” adds difficulty. A flinch or greater than expected sight offset can result in a hit on the orange.
The third target would be set up at 125 yards. Appleseed marksmanship training strives to provide 4MOA accuracy. An 8-inch plate is three inches larger than that in every direction, 270% greater by area. It’s an easy shot, assuming you know where your far zero it and how great is the maximum deflection for point blank shot. If your sights are set up for no more than 3.5 inch rise or drop out to 200 yards, then holding dead center would get you a hit. If your long gun is a 45ACP carbine with a steeper trajectory, you may have to compensate by holding over or under. The time allowed for this target would be far greater, up to thirty seconds. Any position other than setting behind a bench would do. If your rifle has a bipod, use it. If you have a variable power scope, zoom it in. Aim, squeeze, bullseye! Collect your targets and consider the results.
Did you get all three hit cleanly? If not, why did you miss — was it not remembering to compensate for the sight offset or just being too shaky? Did you fumble any part of getting your gun ready to fire? Was getting into a supported firing position awkward? A checklist of all that went wrong would provide you with the practice regimen for the immediate future. If a malfunction prevented you from using the rifle, did you figure out out at once and switch to your handgun? Were you able to hit with the handgun, at least on the two close targets?
The logic behind with diagnostic stage is simple: speed, accuracy and power are important. You get the power by the virtue of using a rifle, so only speed and accuracy depend on you. If your weapon is optimized for distance, can you still use it well up close? If set up for close and personal, is it any good further out? Failing the 125 yard stage is far preferable to failing the closer stages as very few non-military conflicts occur that far out. The actual distances, 5-25-125 may be changed at will. If your range only goes to 100, use 7-20-100 or any other combination that makes sense to you. The key to picking the ranges is to avoid the exact measured distances at which your rifle was zeroed. If you shot the stages cleanly in 10-20-30 seconds, you can work on your time. If you missed quickly, work on the accuracy. If you fumbled deployment, consider practicing that. If you want to re-run the exercise, don’t use the same distances twice. The diagnostic is to tell you how well you do in an unusual situation under time pressure — don’t game it to look better to others. Keep it difficult to get better for yourself.
Once good at this, feel free to change up the routine. Use a tethered helium balloon in place of the paper plate. If you keep a shotgun instead of a rifle, try this with slightly shorter ranges — 5, 15 and 50 would be quite reasonable. The middle stage with a “no shoot” becomes the greatest challenge then. Three rounds of ammunition, two dimes’ worth of office supplies and five minutes could tell you much about your degree of readiness. Are you game?