Friday, December 30, 2011

FNX-9 - ambidextrous and rock-solid reliable

In March of this year I decided that I needed a new handgun for EDC (everyday carry) as well as concealed carry. Up until then I had been carrying my full size 1911 chambered in .45 ACP. As most of you know there are a myriad of handguns available on the market; however not very many of these cater to left-handed shooters as most handgun controls, such as the magazine release and safety, are designed for right-handed shooters. So off I went in search of a polymer handgun that would work well for a leftie. After some time spent searching I had narrowed my choices down to either the M&P 9 or the FNX-9, both chambered in 9mm. Each of these were excellent handguns, felt good in my hand, and came with all the features I was looking for, primarily the ambidextrous controls. I decided on the FNX-9 for a couple of reasons - first off, the location of the controls was almost identical to my 1911, and secondly FN Herstal has a rock solid reputation for reliability and durability that has been proven over the years.

Having carried a 1911 for so long I was a bit apprehensive about the grip size of the FN. Upon removing it from the box I immediately noticed how comfortable it felt in my hand. The FN comes with four different back straps so that the shooter can get the fit and feel the he wants. The grip of the FNX-9 is strongly checkered, which helps with retention during bad weather and adverse conditions (rain, mud, snow, ect.). I was also very pleased that it came with three 17 round magazines, quite a difference from my eight round 1911 magazines, and a bonus over other manufacturers who only include two magazines with their handguns.

One of the immediate limitations of the FNX-9 is that very few companies make a holster specifically for it. I did find one company, Arizona Gun Leather, who made a holster for the FNP line of handguns, and ordered one from them. While waiting for that one to arrive I still needed a holster to use. After some research I found that Springfield XD holsters work very well. The first holster I used for this handgun was a Fobus Paddle for the Springfield XD 4”. While using this holster I had absolutely no problems with retention while training. I also had no issues with the AGL holster after receiving it.  I have also used a Galco Concealable Belt Holster, made for the XD 4”, which Galco now makes specifically for the FNX-9.  A few months ago I started exclusively using a Comp-Tac Infidel IWB (in-waistband) holster, made for the XD. It works great, but I had to perform a few minor modifications to allow room for the safety selector and magazine release button.

On the range this handgun is amazing.  The sights are of the three-dot variety, one large dot on the front sight blade, and two smaller dots on the rear sight. The large front dot helps with front sight focus, because the two smaller rear dots just fade out. My FNX-9 has now had over 5,000 rounds fired through it since I bought it and the only failures it has experienced have been due to user error. The weight of the gun makes the recoil extremely manageable. I am not kind to it or gentle with it, either. After purchasing it I wanted to truly test it and put about 1000 rounds down range before it got it first cleaning. I perform very little maintenance on this handgun, and it still continues to run with no malfunctions. After a good hard range session I run a bore snake through it and throw some lubrication in it, and put it back in the holster.

The price point for the FNX-9 is about average (around $500) for a modern polymer framed handgun. In my opinion this handgun is an excellent value for those lefties looking for a user-friendly handgun or for anyone looking for a solid 9mm handgun. The only drawbacks that I have experienced with the FNX are the lack of holsters available and the price of replacement magazines. A replacement magazine for the FNX is $45. Other than these issues I would say the FNX-9 has easily held the FNH reputation. I look forward to carrying this pistol for years to come.

Real training sucks, EMBRACE the suck.
- John Pinnix

Monday, November 28, 2011

Ruger SR9 - underappreciated excellence

Shortly after its release in the fall of 2007, I picked up a Ruger SR9 9mm handgun. Ruger's first striker-fired handgun, it claimed to be one of the slimmest full-sized 9mm's on the market, and seeing as how it was made at the factory just around the corner from Independence Training, I had to try it out. At the time I was still carrying a 1911 chambered in .45ACP as my daily carry gun - a good solid handgun, to be sure, but certainly limiting in two areas: weight and magazine capacity. With a polymer frame and 17 round capacity magazine, as well as control locations based on the 1911 design, this new SR9 really intrigued me. Then I shot it.

Wow! Tame recoil, even for a 9mm, and the ergonomic design of the handgun made for an easily controllable shooting experience that made keeping rapid shots on target no problem at all for me. And what was better is that is really was slim - slimmer than my 1911, in fact - and it packed more rounds into that size. With plenty of training and field testing completed, including a nasty torture test that included sand, mud, and water, it was ready for daily carry . . . . and it's been my daily carry ever since.

As my daily carry handgun, it's also my instructor handgun, and that means it gets abused. Heavily abused. As in days of high volume shooting with little to no maintenance. Running courses in the rain, the sand, the snow, the cold. It's been drug through the dirt while doing ground maneuvers and packed in mud while shooting from alternate positions. I mean to tell you that this handgun has seen it's share of hard days. And yet it just keeps on running. It doesn't choke on any ammunition, even the cheap dirty foreign brands. It's fired over 8000 rounds, and it just keeps on doing what it was built to do - fire rounds accurately and effectively without a hiccup.

So why is the SR9 not as popular as Glocks, or XDs, or some similar pistol? I believe part of that is due to Ruger's politics in the past, when Bill Ruger was still alive. Some of the things he said and did left a bad taste in the mouths of gun owners. I believe that Ruger showing up pretty late to the 'polymer pistol party' is another factor. And yet another factor is the fact that this handgun has yet to be tested on a larger level by a big law-enforcement agency issuing them to its officers. But none of that means that this handgun should not be considered as a viable and affordable alternative to other handguns of similar design. I recently saw a brand new SR9 in a gun store for $429.00+tax - now that is one heck of a good deal on a brand new pistol. Bring up the point that the magazine release and safety are both ambidextrous, and you have an even sweeter deal.

None of this is to say that I don't have my complaints, however. I am not a big fan of lever-type safeties on striker-fired pistols, and even though the safety on the SR9 is in the same location as a 1911, it's not something I use. In fact I've modified mine so that it doesn't even move into the up or 'safe' position. Ruger is a big fan of safeties, however, as they also put a magazine safety on the SR9, meaning that without a magazine inserted, the trigger is much harder (but not impossible) to pull. This is also a part that be modified; in fact it can be fully removed, and I have done so.

Magazines are also not inexpensive, a problem which plagues many "unpopular" or non-widely circulated handguns. The cheapest I can find so far on factory 17 round magazines is $25.00, and that's when they are on sale. Normal price is generally over $30.00. To my knowledge there are no aftermarket magazines available for the SR9. Along the same lines, holsters can be difficult to find for particular styles, and some manufacturers don't have SR9 holsters available at all. Sometimes this can be solved through the modification of existing holsters, such as my Galco Triton made for a Glock 17.

But those complaints are minor when compared to complaints I've had concerning other handguns I've owned and/or carried. Overall I find the Ruger SR9 to be an exceptional piece of equipment, and I obviously would bet my life on that! Recently I decided to give my SR9 a bit of a 'makeover' and took it to my local gun store, STG Firearms, for a Cerakote refinish through their X-Works refinishing shop. I chose Flat Dark Earth for the slide and Coyote Tan for the frame, and I am very happy with the results. Turnaround time was about a week, and so far the new finish has held up very well.

If you're in the market for a new handgun, give the SR9 a good look. It's also available in a compact version, the SR9c, and in .40 S&W with the SR40. You won't break the bank, and it's quality that you can bet your life on.

Stay Aware, Stay Safe, Train Hard.
-Glen Stilson

Monday, October 17, 2011

Improvised Weapons: hit 'em with everything you've got

Have you ever watched a movie where someone is being chased and they are knocking down everything behind them, to try and slow their pursuer? Or perhaps they were grabbing everything they could and throwing or pummeling their attacker with it? If you've ever watched an action movie, then chances are you've seen that, especially if you've ever watched the Jason Bourne movie series - that guy is a master of the improvised weapon. And the best thing about improvised weapons is that they can be used anywhere, especially places where conventional defensive weapons like a firearm or knife may be prohibited: at the office, a restaurant, or the airport. You will never be unarmed.

The use of improvised weapons is an important skill since not everyone can or will carry a handgun with them everywhere they go and at all times, and that handgun may malfunction, run out of ammunition, or you may not be able to get to it in time. In addition, not every defensive situation you encounter will warrant the use of deadly force, and improvised weapons can be used to effectively defend against, demoralize, and ultimately deter or incapacitate an attacker. Whether or not you carry a firearm with you, you should always have some "improvised weapon capable" tools on your body. Here's a few examples:

In the above picture, you'll see what I carry with me every day. Nothing too out of the ordinary here - a pocket knife, a flashlight, a ballpoint pen, and a set of keys. And each one is available in a different pocket at a different location on my body. It's not cumbersome, and it's not uncomfortable to carry. And while each item is useful for its intended purpose, as weapons they are devastating. A pocket knife is obvious - edged weapons can be used for slashing or stabbing, and I prefer a stout blade from a quality manufacturer (this one is a Kershaw Boa). The flashlight can be used both as an impact weapon to strike with and as a distraction device to temporarily blind and/or disorient an attacker, giving you precious time to continue to strike or to get away. Keys are often recognized as improvised weapons, but more as puncture and slashing weapons than what I believe their greatest use is: as a flail. Whether your attacker is in front of you or behind you, especially if they have you in a hold or grab, you can use your keys as a flail to strike joints and soft, exposed skin. On my key chain I added a yawara, which can be used to jab and strike your opponent, and as a control device. It also makes a great handle for my "key flail," and really helps me to not lose my keys.

And what about that pen? The pen is one of the greatest improvised weapons because they are so easily available and no one thinks twice about someone carrying a pen - you can even carry multiple pens on your body in various locations without raising any eyebrows. At your office, your desk, in your junk drawer, on the airline, at the bank - no matter where you go it seems there is a pen. Unless you need to write something down, and then you can never find one, which is another great reason to carry a pen! Used as a striking and as a pointed weapon, you can stab, stab, stab to your heart's content. Eyes, joints, the neck, under the ribs . . . . just about anything soft can be penetrated by an average Bic pen. And there are many manufacturers who now make "tactical" pens which are made of various hardened materials and are specifically designed as weapons while still retaining the ability to be used as a normal pen and taken where other weapons may be prohibited.

While an improvised weapon isn't something you necessarily buy specifically for that use, you can place certain items around your home, office, or social setting in such a way that they wouldn't be readily identifiable by most people, yet they would still be close at hand. I took 20 seconds and grabbed every improvised weapon I could think of in that time frame around my bedroom. Here's what I came up with:

In just a short amount of time, I was able to come up with 6 items that would all be quality defensive weapons. A big book is a great tool - in addition to filling my head with good information, I can use it to beat the head of someone else. It can also be used as a shield of sorts against impact and edged weapons. A water bottle is not only heavy and makes a solid impact weapon, it can also be thrown easily, depending on your skill level, and when opened and splashed in the face of an attacker, it can give you that brief half-second of breathing room to continue your defense using other means. A pair of scissors is just like any other edged weapon, but combined with such a great handle their use as a pentrating weapon is nearly unmatched amongst normal household items. My wife's purse works great as an impact weapon when swung, especially since she, like many other women, has many items in there. Larger purses can be used as shields, just like a book, or as an entangling tool for arms or necks. A hot cup of tea of coffee can be splashed in the face of an attacker, and then the cup can be used as an impact weapon. And what about that big green prism? That's a souvenir from a vacation that I keep on my dresser - it's great to look at and has been strategically placed to be used as a heavy and pointed impact weapon.

And here's one of my favorite improvised weapons - the gun lock:

Not only are they free with most firearm purchases, but you can pick them up at a lot of shooting ranges and police stations. They are conveniently coated with plastic on the cable, and the lock is solid steel. I can carry one in my pants pocket without notice, then slip my hand in and come out with a solid piece of steel on a chain. They will pass through security checkpoints and are legal to carry everywhere - after all, it's just a lock. But as Steve Dorothy (one of Independence Training's instructors) says: "A few raps on the noggin with one of these and it's coloring books for Christmas."

Now there is more to using improvised weapons than just identifying them. You need to understand the limitations of such items - how long until that pen breaks, for example? How many times can you hit someone with a paint can until the lid pops off and the sides dent in? How many hits will a broom handle give you? And as with any defensive tool, it's best to seek out instruction in their use (Such as our Women's Self-Defense course). And once you've received that instruction, you need to practice, practice, practice so that if you need those skills to save your life or the life of a loved one, you'll be able to react swiftly and without hesitation. And you'll need to identify the improvised weapons available to you everywhere you go. How strong is your hairbrush, and does it have a pointed end? Can you use a salt shaker as a weapon in a restaurant? How about a ketchup bottle? How about a fire extinguisher? Are those stools at the bar bolted to the floor? Is that mail cart at work sturdy enough to throw, or to push someone where you want them to go? Are those tables thick enough to provide temporary cover against bullets? How about that bookshelf? You can ask yourself these and many other questions every time you step into a new place.

I like to play a little game - every time I go somewhere new, I take 20 seconds and identify as many improvised weapons as possible. I also check for exits and quick counts of people as well as general descriptions. The more you play this game, the better (and more creative) you'll get. Pretty soon it will be a natural thing that you do, and you'll be that much more prepared.

Do you have an idea for an improvised weapon? Have you identified something in your home or office that you think would be a great defensive tool? Share it with us in the comments section below.

Stay Aware, Stay Safe, Train Hard.
-Glen Stilson

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Kel-Tec PF9 and Remora Holster - what a combo!

I am a big fan of carrying a full-sized handgun, and I am not a large guy by any means. With the right holster you can conceal just about any handgun you want to, though sometimes the occassion calls for carrying something a little smaller. When I get into my exercise pants for my morning run or when I'm getting ready to hit the trails on a mountain bike, a full-sized handgun just doesn't quite fit well or feel comfortable, no matter which holster I use. Enter the Kel-Tec PF-9: a small but not too small 9mm handgun.

While this sub-compact handgun could fit in some pockets, I prefer not to carry that way and it may be just a tad on the big side for most of my pockets. Kel-Tec has long been known for their small, lightweight, reliable handguns, even if they are a little ugly. Some complain of the small Kel-Tec handguns "jamming" a lot, which usually means misfeeds and stovepipes, but most of that can be traced back to improper grip or improper maintenance, with the occasional poorly manufactured piece needing to be sent back to Kel-Tec. It is extremely important that when you shoot a small handgun you have a firm master grip with an effective upper body stance, otherwise you may experience some malfunctions. Which is, of course, the reason that we train with our firearms! You also need to pay special attention to the lubrication of these smaller handguns, particularly the PF-9. Instead of traditional wet or dry lube, I use Tetra grease on most of my firearms, including the PF-9, and have yet to experience any problems.

As with many sub-compact handguns, there is a decent "bark" when you are shooting. Muzzle rise, felt recoil, and a sharp report are to be expected, but I've had less of it with the PF-9 than with other small 9mm's, such as the Kahr or the Diamondback. The size if your hands will have an effect here, and the extended magazine baseplate may be a good option for a shooter with larger hands. I have also seen other PF-9 owners use a Hogue Handall Jr. slip-on grip for their handgun, though I found it unnecessary. And the accuracy from this little gun is fantastic! This comes with practice, but as usual this handgun can certainly outperform most users, and I found that all of the major brand self-defense ammunition that I use and carry fed reliably and shot accurately through the PF-9. It was not hard for me to keep a full magazine of 7 rapidly fired rounds in the center of a torso target, right in the "juicy goodness." And at around $280 out-the-door, it's a handgun that most people can afford. The only complaint I have about the PF-9 is the relatively low magazine capacity of 7 rounds, which means I definitely need to carry an extra magazine. If this is a major concern for you, you may want to look at the P-11, which is basically a double-stack magazine version of the PF-9, with 10 and even 12 round magazines available.

Yet even with it's small size, I found difficulty finding a holster that would be comfortable and stay in place while I was running and biking and participating in other active sports. Until I came across the Remora - what an amazing holster! There have been other holsters which have tried to accomplish what the Remora can, but they have fallen short in my experience. The Remora, however, is an amazing piece of equipment - it is a true "clip-less" holster, meaning that there are no clips, loops, or buckles on this holster to hold it in place. The outer material is a rubberized, non-slip fabric that stays in place, and stay in place it certainly does! In the first week I had the Remora, I took it with me on my morning runs, which span several miles over various terrain. It didn't budge and retained the PF-9 perfectly. I also took it on a few bike rides which also covered many miles over roadways and trails - I even crashed my bike (oops) and once I picked myself up, found the Remora to still be in place, properly retaining my PF-9! Since then, my PF-9 and Remora holster have accompanied me to every sporting event or activity in which I'll be participating. Easy to conceal, easy to keep in place, and with 100% retention, I am fully confident in my setup.

And of course no proper setup is complete without the training to go with it. I have shot several hundred rounds through the PF-9 while using the Remora, and even with repeated drawing and re-holstering, the Remora stays right where I put it - even when I'm wearing only track pants with a drawstring! And the price of the Remora can't be beat - I chose to include the reinforced top, to assist with single-hand use, and with shipping the holster was around $36. Remora also makes magazine holders for pocket carry of spare magazines, and as an added bonus it is all made in the USA.

Are the Kel-Tec PF-9 and Remora holsters the answers to your carry concerns? Maybe, maybe not, but they sure work for me, and I recommend them with no reservations. Take a closer look at the Kel-Tec PF-9 at Kel-Tec's website, and find out more information on Remora Holsters by visiting their website. If you have any questions, be sure to send the owner Alan a message or give them a call, and tell them that Independence Training sent you!

And above all, don't forget to train with your gear!

Stay Aware, Stay Safe, Train Hard.
-Glen Stilson

Friday, May 20, 2011

IFAK: the new standard for first-aid kits

There are many kinds of first-aid kits out there, from the small pocket kits to the large wall mountable setups. Each one has different options and can provide different levels of care, assuming that you are properly trained with the contents. What most of these kits lack, however, is real life-saving equipment; most of them are built to treat and alleviate pain from cuts, scrapes, burns and insect bites.

The IFAK, or Individual First-Aid Kit, was born on the fields of battle, and over time the contents and the training have gotten better and better. During the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the IFAK has proven itself so useful that the kit and the training for it, based on the Combat Lifesaver (CLS) program, are now standard issue for all military personnel going into harm's way. In fact Col. Ron Bellamy, a very well known former Army doctor, said this shortly after the end of the Persian Gulf war in the early 90's: "If during the next war you could do only two things, 1) place a tourniquet and 2) treat a tension pneumothorax (sucking chest wound), then you can probably save between 70 and 90 percent of all the preventable deaths on the battlefield.” And he was right - current research of our troops overseas show that this little IFAK, which contains the components necessary to do what Col. Bellamy requests, has saved countless lives.

January 8th, 2011 – Police officers in Tucson, AZ are the first to arrive on scene where a crazed gunman has just shot up a crowd of people at a political event, and the injured lay everywhere. Grabbing their IFAKs, officers begin to administer life-saving first-aid to those who had been shot. Once those victims got to advanced medical care, an emergency room doctor said this of the field care they received: “If you can say a success came out of a tragedy, then this is one of the examples.” These officers had received simple but effective training with their kits just a few months prior to this incident, and that day it saved lives. Though not a standard piece of equipment yet, more and more law enforcement agencies are starting to train with and issue the IFAK to their officers.

And it's not just the military and law-enforcement personnel that are carrying and using these kits - more and more men and women in the outdoors, be they recreational hikers, hunters, or serious backpackers, are starting to utilize this equipment. And for good reasons: not only can these kits be self-applied, but they contain the components that are most necessary for saving your life when serious injury befalls you, yet they are small and lightweight.

So what if you're not a soldier, cop, or outdoors enthusiast? How can these kits apply to you? Consider this: studies show that whoever puts the first bandage on determines whether that casualty becomes a survivor or a fatality. It's all about what we call "The First Five Minutes", or the "Golden Hour". The care, or lack of care, received in that time period is the most important to someone who has been injured, and in a major disaster or accident, it may be awhile before emergency service personnel are able to get to you. And did you know that emergency medics will 'stage' outside of a scene if it is deemed unsafe for them? That means that even if they get to your home, or your office, or to the location of a school shooting, they will not go in until the scene has been cleared by police. That could mean a long wait for you and your loved ones, and that long wait may not be possible depending on your injuries. Imagine how many more lives could have been saved on January 8th, or September 11th, or wherever the last vehicle accident or disaster was if more people there had taken the time to get trained with and carry something as simple as a small IFAK? I personally have an IFAK in every vehicle, on each level of my house, in my camping pack, in my range bag, and on my response vest. My strong belief in this kit has led Independence Training to start a course specifically designed to this kit, and we are encouraging everyone we can to get the kit and get the training.

So what is this kit? What makes it so great? Though the contents can vary a little based on kit and situation, here are the contents of the IFAK that we are currently issuing to Arizona law-enforcement agencies and private citizens who pursue our IFAK Life-Saver course.

1 - Durable, lightweight MOLLE pouch. This pouch is small enough to be easily carried but big enough to hold all of the supplies without bursting at the seams.

2 - Shears. Strong and sharp, these shears allow for the quick and easy removal of clothing or equipment in order to get to a wound.

3 - Latex Gloves. For the safety of the responder, utilizing gloves is important to make sure you do not contaminate yourself, assuming the have the time to put them on.

4 - Combat Application Touriquet (CAT). Forget what you learned in first-aid class - tourniquets do not come last; in the case of catastrophic bleeding (arterial bleed) they come first. The CAT is designed specifically to control bleeding, and its precision design, coupled with proper training, removes the danger of conventional tourniquets.

5 - Compression Bandages. This IFAK contains two 4" Compression Bandages for dressing a wound and putting additional pressure on it, if needed. Utilizing highly absorbent gauze material, the proper application of these bandages can often be enough to stop bleeding and secure a wound site.

6 - Quikclot Combat Gauze. A huge improvement over the older style powder, Combat Gauze offers a heat-free hemostatic agent impregnated in 4 yards of gauze which can stop bleeding from both arterial and venous wounds when applied directly to the source.

7 - Nasopharyngeal Airway (NPA). Designed to establish a secure airway in a patient, as well as opening and securing an airway through the nasal passage should a wound to the face compromise breathing.

8 - Decompression Needle. For treatment of tension pneumothorax, where a lung is being crushed by air inside the chest, this needle will insert a catheter that will relieve the pressure in the chest and allow the lungs to properly inflate.

9 - Bolin Chest Seal. In the case of any kind of puncture wound to the chest, whether from a bullet, getting stabbed, or being impaled on a large branch or other sharp object, the area must be sealed off to prevent air from entering the chest as well as entry of foreign material while still allowing air to escape the wound in order to help prevent tension pneumothorax. This chest seal, with built-in one-way valve, accomplishes just that.

These kits are fairly inexpensive and easy to carry, and should accompany you wherever you go. Just as with carrying a firearm, a fire extinguisher, or a spare tire, it's not about asking the question "When would I use this?" It's about asking yourself "What if I needed this and didn't have it?" What if this kit, and the training to use it, could one day save the life of you, your loved ones, or even a perfect stranger? What if you didn't have this kit or the skills to use it, and someone died because of it?

As for me, you'll always find my IFAK close at hand.

Stay Aware, Stay Safe, Train Hard.
-Glen Stilson

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Browning Alpha Max Flashlight: every defensive firearm should be accompanied by a quality flashlight

I have owned a lot of flashlights over the years, and some of them were certainly better than others. Some of my favorites, which are usually the brightest and most durable, aren’t even name brands. So when I started on a mission to find an everyday carry flashlight that was bright, lightweight, and would fit easily in my pocket, I searched everywhere - I considered every brand, every style, every price point. I even checked online with flashlight experts, hobbyists, and gurus, and finally I settled on the Browning Alpha Max.

When most people think of Browning, they think of firearms or knives, not flashlights. But the fact is that Browning makes one heck of a good flashlight! The Alpha Max is small but not too small, lightweight but durable, bright but not battery hungry. And it boasts a 100 lumen output on 1 AA battery that runs for 3.5 hours!

The first weekend after I got the light I was sitting around a campfire on a moonless night, and wanting to check just how good this new light was, I shone it over on a hill. As luck would have it, there was a little gray fox sniffing around and I caught his eye shine. He eventually scampered off but I was amazed that I was able to identify a gray fox at such a far distance with such a small light. How far of a distance? Well right then and there I paced it off, and two of the guys I was with paced it off, and we all three came to the same conclusion: 96 yards

This little light has not left my pocket since I bought it, and I have hiked in the snow with it there, rock-climbed with it there, instructed hand-to-hand courses with it there, and instructed at least a dozen firearms courses with it there, most of which involved working from the ground in the dirt and the muck. Not once has it budged from its spot, and there is not one scratch on the lens that Browning claims is “unbreakable”. Well so far, I believe them!

In addition to having a flashlight that is always handy to identify possible threats, use as a blunt weapon, or assist me in engaging targets under low-light conditions, I’ve found that it is also very convenient to have a light in case I need to look for my keys in the tall grass or find a Barbie shoe under the couch. And since this light runs on 1 AA battery and will stay bright for up to 3.5 hours, I’m not worried about the cost of expensive batteries every time I use my light for everyday ordinary tasks.

Every defensive firearm really should be accompanied by a flashlight, especially the one by your bedside and the one that you carry every day. And since you aren’t going to strap a 3 Cell Maglite onto your hip, you need to find a light that is small enough to carry but bright enough to get the job done. I highly recommend the Browning Alpha Max, and at the cost of around $45, it easily compares to lights twice that price. I bought mine locally Sportsmans Warehouse, and online I was also able to find a great price on

Stay Aware, Stay Safe, Train Hard.
-Glen Stilson

Monday, March 7, 2011

Arizona Gun Leather: a quality holster doesn't have to be expensive

I am a big fan of concealed carry, and I have always carried my handgun with a simple in-waistband (IWB) holster. Most of the time I have used a regular plain leather holster with a belt clip, though over the years I've tried a few different styles, including slim profile on-waistband (OWB) and even a cheap nylon IWB version. They all carry the handgun just fine and make it easy to conceal, especially with how I dress. I am an average sized guy, 5'9" and 165lbs, but I can still conceal a full-size handgun with no problems wearing my jeans and a t-shirt. It has been my experience that over time most of these small IWB holsters get worn down and a little floppy and start to make effectively training out of your holster a real pain, especially when it comes to doing any one-handed work.

I looked around and read a number of reviews in magazines and on the internet about various new styles of holster and a few guys I know recommended the Crossbreed or the Comp-Tac MTAC holsters, but I looked at them and thought "Whoa! That is a big chunk of leather! No way am I going to carry that around." But then I had the chance to work with a few MTACs and I gotta say, they kinda grew on me. I liked that it was easy to tuck in a shirt, if needed, and they were very adjustable for carry style and draw technique. Plus, I could get the re-holstering ability of kydex with the comfort of leather.

Then one of our instructors here, Steve Dorothy, turned me onto Arizona Gun Leather, where I discovered I could get what was basically the same holster that Crossbreed and MTAC offered, but for half the price. I was a bit hesitant because there was such a price difference, and I had heard a few horror stories about Arizona Gun Leather's production times, but I ordered one up anyway. I had to know if a quality holster could be made for such a price.

Once I placed my order, I was told it would take at least two weeks to get my holster made, but in just 10 days they called me up and told me that my holster was shipping; I thought that was awfully nice of them to call me. My new 'Hybrid' model holster arrived a day later and I was anxious to try it out. Wow - that leather was stiff! After taking the holster on and off at least 20 times (which takes some getting used to with this style of holster) I got the clips exactly where I wanted them: low ride but high enough for a solid master grip, and set at a slight foward cant. The fit was pretty tight so I loosened and then ultimately removed the retention screw. My handgun was still very tight, and then I discovered the problem.

They had not put in a cut for the loaded chamber indicator, so my Ruger SR9 was so tight I could barely get it out. I called up AZ Gun Leather and they offered to take it back and fix the problem, but I said forget it, why send it back when I can do it myself? A little razor blade work and it was good-to-go. The first day I wore it I squeaked more than a saddle shop working at full-tilt, but that went away pretty quickly once the leather started shaping to my body. It was a little stiff and I could certainly tell that I had a much larger holster than I was used to. But with a couple of days the stiffness went away, and now the leather is taking on the form of the SR9 and is actually becoming very comfortable to wear.

Just as with any other holster, dry practice and live fire practice are extremely important. This particular style takes a little getting used to, and the Kydex needs to be broken in a bit, but now my draw is just as fast and smooth as it was with my old, broken-in holster. And now I can easily re-holster with one hand, draw with my support hand, and retain my handgun in all conditions. I really like this holster, and I can't say enough good things about the craftsmanship. Everything on it looks like I ordered a more expensive holster. My only complaints are the initial loaded chamber indicator cut, and the lack of choices for the holster clips. They only offer one style and while they are sturdy and stiff metal clips, I would like the choice to put some lower profile plastic clips on. I may upgrade to some Comp-Tac or Crossbreed plastic clips later, but for now these metal clips certainly do the job.

Overall, if you are looking for a new holster or just want to see what some less-expensive (but still high-quality) options are, you should consider Arizona Gun Leather. They offer holsters, mag holders, knife sheaths, exotic leathers, and much more. Visit their website to see more.

EDITED 11-16-2011: Arizona Gun Leather has unfortunately been treating their customers very poorly lately. I have heard and read many negative reviews concerning their lack of communication and also their not delivering products. Please consider Comp-Tac or Crossbreed Holsters as a much better alternative to AGL.

Stay Aware, Stay Safe, Train Hard.
-Glen Stilson

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Primary Arms Optics: you don't always have to spend a lot to get a lot

When I buy a piece of equipment, I always weigh the price against the intended use. I have no problem spending a little bit of extra money when I think I am buying something that my life or my comfort level might depend on - firearms, hiking boots, ammunition, or mattresses, for example. And when it comes to the optics I put on my rifles, I am very picky about what I choose. I don't consider myself an optics snob, as I have always owned scopes and reflex sight systems on the mid level of the cost scale, and for the most part I have not had them fail me. As an instructor I am always on the lookout for equipment options that I can offer to my students, most of whom will not be deploying to Afghanistan or hitting the mean streets as a SWAT cop, and who also often have a limited budget with which to buy their gear. Enter Primary Arms, an optics company that offers quality optics at working man prices.

Recently I decided to add a red dot sight to one of my AR-15 rifles, and as I am a big fan of lightweight equipment I decided I wanted a micro dot. Now micro dot sights made by the big name brands sell in the $500-$600 range, and while I would want a piece of equipment like that if this were going to be my everyday battle rifle, I was interested to see what else was out there. Then I ran across Primary Arms, who offered a micro dot for around $100. Wow - that's a big difference. That's the kind of difference that makes a person think that the lower priced unit must be some piece of junk. But I read some excellent reviews, and then I watched a video where a guy took his Primary Arms micro dot, threw it down the concrete about 20 or 30 feet, picked it up and put it back on his rifle and not only did it still work but it maintained zero. Alright - that got my attention.

So I ordered one, and I also ordered the American Defense mount since I had heard that the mount it comes with leaves a lot to be desired. I was excited to really run this thing through the paces - it promised a lower 1/3 co-witness with my iron sights, a 3 MOA dot, and the American Defense mount was supposed to maintain zero if removed with the quick-detach lever and then re-installed. For $160 shipped, I had my doubts. So when I got it, the first thing I did was pull it out of the box and throw it against the wall. It stayed on and didn't shatter - so far, so good. Then I took it to the range.

Once I got it sighted in I began the abuse. First I dropped my rifle to the ground a couple of times and the sight maintained zero. I ran it hard for an entire day, firing from various positions, getting it nice and dirty, and putting about 400 rounds downrange. A few days later I taught a carbine course, where I ran it through a 300 round day. My zero was just as good as the morning I sighted it in, and the mount still offered a good, solid lock. I removed the sight and let it bounce around in my drop bag for awhile, then put it back on the rifle and BAM! it still maintained zero. Since then I have put it through the paces many more times, treating it roughly and making it earn its keep.

And it delivers everything it promises - a 3MOA dot, lower 1/3 co-witness, and a good battery life. And with cheap batteries ordered from places like, there's no need to ever be without power. I'm not a fan of the 11 brightness settings, as I don't need that many choices, but that's my only complaint. I can quickly engage marksmanship targets and torso targets very effectively from offhand position at 100+ yards without issue, and up close at CQB ranges the dot improves my engagement speed quite a bit over iron sights, not to mention the much appreciated low-light benefits.

I am not saying that this micro dot is any kind of replacement for a higher priced optic, such as an Aimpoint T-1, or that I would prefer this sight over an optic of a higher grade. But for the average shooter, competitor, or armed citizen, I say that Primary Arms is worth a look. They have many types of red dots, scopes, and various other firearms optics, parts and accessories, including most of the higher priced name brands. So if you're looking for a good red dot optic that won't break the bank, then take a look at the micro dot - it certainly has impressed me.

Want to find out more? Visit these links: Primary Arms and Primary Arms Micro Dot with ADT1 base.

Stay Aware, Stay Safe, Train Hard.
-Glen Stilson