Open Source Defense

Bob Keller’s Introduction to Tactical Rifle and Pistol: “Do you think staying alive is cool? Then you’re doing the cool stuff.”

Daniel Postilnik
December 20, 2020   |   9 minute read

Recently two OSD co-founders attended a Gamut Resolutions class taught by Bob Keller which he calls “Introduction to Tactical Rifle and Pistol”. “Intro” usually implies that the topic will covered in limited breadth or depth. In this case, nothing could be further from the truth. Over the course of two days, Keller ran our group of eleven students through the same fundamentals drills that members of The Unit spend 5 months on in initial training, and which Keller himself, a member of said Unit, ran through before every deployment.

Keller’s goal, as he states at the opening of the class, is to make us more competent — and even more importantly — confident, with the rifle. His own experience teaches him that believing you can win gunfights plays a big role in making it out of them alive. Going into this class I had only taken one other tactical rifle class, so gaining confidence with the rifle was definitely on my mind.

Ready, up!

The core activity of the class is comprised of “ready-up” drills, which are as simple as they sound: starting from low ready, bring the rifle up on command and hit a black dot on a white paper target (at varying different distances and dot sizes). I was surprised how difficult this was at first. There’s a lot to manage: steeling your nerves against the noise, concussion, and flying brass from everyone else on the line, tracking the reticle as you drive the rifle up aggressively, figuring out a repeatable index for the support hand and buttstock, minding the safety selector, and remembering to account for height-over-bore optic offset. The hardest part though? Keller reminding us repeatedly that missing the dot in a real confrontation could be a life-or-death matter.

In my limited experience, this emphasis on accountability for hits distinguishes Keller’s class from other offerings in the expansive “tactical training” marketplace. Other instructors may give you opportunities to rip through hundreds of rounds at targets an arm’s length away, or run you through complex scenarios designed to get your heart rate going. However, it takes integrity to tell students at the start of the class that “I’m not here to be your friend or to have fun”, as Keller does in his opening brief. He’s actually very approachable, but the point is that he refuses to stray from exercises that he knows from experience will help save your life in a gunfight.

Putting it all together

Eventually we added ready-up drills with multiple shots, reloads, malfunction remediation, transitions to weak side, and weak side reloads. Day 2 involved running the pistol through the same gamut of fundamentals drills. At the end of each day we put it all together for a single “run and gun” drill that put every fundamental to the test. Unlike the earlier drills, this one included the use of a shot timer, the final boss of range accountability tools. “If you’re not using one of these at the range”, Keller says, “then you’re not working on getting better”.

Course of fire: 3 hits strong side from cover, transition to weak side, 3 hits weak side from cover, run forward to next position, 3 hits weak side from cover, transition to strong side, 3 hits from cover, reload in cover, 3 hits strong side.

The course is demanding, but still paced to accommodate a range of shooting experience, with lots of breaks and opportunities to reload, recharge, and digest the last round of drills. And there is a LOT to digest. In his explanation of every upcoming drill or manipulation, Keller presents a kind of version history of the mistakes he has either made personally or witnessed others make, and advises us to examine our own habits. This is useful even for experts, and doubly so if you take newbies to the range.

Thanks to these tips, every student comes away noticing at least one bad habit carried over from dry-fire or static range shooting that could compromise safety or tactics under the stress of a real situation. For me, it was dropping the rifle to low ready or pulling the handgun back to high compressed ready (visible towards the end of the video below) immediately after finishing a string of fire. Other examples included rushing to re-holster; transitioning from rifle to pistol without considering its appropriateness for the situation; or putting both hands on a rifle’s pistol grip when transitioning to weak side. If anything, this course showed us that there is definitely a wrong way to practice, and it can have real consequences.

Course of fire: 3/2/4 hits on alternating steel targets with rifle (video starts late), run forward and transition to pistol, 3/2/4 hits on alternating steel targets with pistol.

Critique and Conclusion

If I were to offer some criticism of the course, it would apply to every “tactical” course out there: they prepare you for situations where you already know that you will need a firearm, and your goal is to apply overwhelming force to dominate the situation. For law enforcement and military personnel that’s a very plausible scenario, so it’s clear why a rifle is treated as primary and a handgun as secondary in that context.

In contrast, an armed civilian will be fighting their way out of a disadvantage every time, and in the overwhelming majority of cases will start and end an armed encounter with the pistol as the only firearm put to use. Keller’s course did not de-emphasize the pistol as a less important tool, but he copped to a personal preference for rifle in most situations.

The reason you should listen to Bob Keller’s advice about gunfighting of any kind is that he has survived hundreds of gunfights. Unfortunately there is no individual with comparable experience in gunfighting as an armed civilian; they would have to be the unluckiest (or luckiest, maybe) individual on the planet.

Maybe gunfighting experience isn’t the most important credential for an instructor teaching armed civilians, because there are so many other skills adjacent to shooting that are more likely to come into play: avoidance, de-escalation, or emergency medical aid. And if the worst situation does come to bear, the fundamentals of getting your gun up quickly, getting a good sight picture/alignment, executing a good trigger press, and reacquiring quickly for a follow-up shot will help keep you alive no matter what you’re doing with a gun.

Looking Forward

We had a great time at Bob’s course and I think I speak for both OSD co-founders in attendance when I say we have caught the training bug. These courses are always more fun with friends, so we would love to see some OSD subscribers join us at the next one. Keep an eye out for future announcements in the newsletter about courses we are planning to attend.

Follow-up notes

While the memory is still fresh, I wanted to make a list of my personal takeaways from the class. Hopefully these provide a more intimate view of the class experience than your typical after-action review.

  • My rifle did not malfunction once, nor did anyone other student’s. This was a marker of the overall experience level of the students as well as the quality of equipment. My random-parts 11.5″ build on an Anderson lower was definitely the jankiest thing there by miles, but it didn’t choke.
  • I out-shot everyone in the class by a wide margin when we did a 50-round diagnostic drill at 25 yards. This may have been where my USPSA experience gave me an edge. I wonder if some people got a bit psyched out by the distance, because otherwise their shooting was good enough at closer ranges.
  • The one critical failure was a in an M&P40 whose slide release lever sheared off. I’m surprised to have seen this, as it seems like a pretty rare failure.
  • Shooting my handgun with gloves turned out to be more difficult than without. Without gloves, your skin lets you know when you aren’t entirely in control of the gun before you press the trigger, which gives you the chance to fix your grip. With gloves (maybe I need different ones), I would always find out too late.
  • Before this class I was considering abandoning my CZ P10C because the trigger reach is just a little bit long, but I didn’t notice any ergonomics issues during the class and I don’t think my performance was held back in any way by the gun.
  • My Vortex Venom red dot failed towards the end of the second day. I initially thought this had to do with rain blocking the emitter, but after more research I found that other users have experience a similar issue which was resolved by tightening the battery compartment. Lo and behold, when I checked at home, the battery compartment was two turns from fully tightened.
  • In spite of its eventual failure, the red dot made a much bigger impact on my shooting than I expected. Once I had the dot in my sight picture, follow up shots, precision shots, and transitions were much faster. Having only two planes of focus to line up (dot and target) instead of three (front, rear and target) makes a huge difference as long as the rest of your marksmanship fundamentals are in order.
  • Most of the picatinny rail slots on the top of my handguard are probably not necessary for my typical purposes, and the way I had set up my handstop and flashlight pressure switch prevented me from getting a comfortable, repeatable grip with the support hand. Ideally I would like to find a lightweight handguard with a small section of pic rail at the muzzle end for a front sight. The mostly slick handguard on Bob’s rifle, made by Special Ops Tactical, was surprisingly comfortable.
  • Weak-side rifle reloads from a belt are almost impossible, but with mags on the chest they can be smooth as butter.
  • Two-point slings, for all their advantages, can cause serious problems when running the AR platform, especially when clearing malfunctions, performing transitions, and while wearing kit of any kind. I am strongly considering switching to a sling that converts from 2-point for carry or prone shooting to 1-point for dynamic shooting.
  • When I was struggling to keep my reticle on target for multiple-shot strings of fire, Bob offered a tip about tensing the body to bring the gun up but relaxing it to actually shoot. This made sense — after all, when shooting a pistol we don’t usually keep the arms completely rigid — and I had an easier time with follow-up shots when I put this into practice. For reference, I have a Midwest Industries flash hider on my gun, not a muzzle brake.
  • The muscles of the upper forearm are critical when doing reloads and malfunction clearing. The first thing we actually did in class was practice malfunction remediation (slap and rack), and I had a really hard time keeping the rifle up and on target with my right hand while working it with my left. I will definitely be adding something to my time in the gym to address this.

You can sign up for classes with Bob Keller on the Gamut Resolutions website.

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