A few days ago I addressed the argument of whether or not hardware matters, and stated that I believe that it clearly does. The question, then, becomes to what degree does it matter? Is there a point of diminishing returns, or a point at which the juice just ain’t worth the squeeze? The answer is yes. Some may have noted the irony in my last note that the guy who always says “just go shoot the damn gun” has a post which extols the virtues of advances in accessories and gear. To be sure, this is a constant conflict. There is a push/pull between adding accessories and accouterments that improve our abilities and compliment the task at hand vs. using a crutch or attempting to “buy skill”.
Randy Cain, in a recent carbine class I attended, said “I think you ought to be able to use the gun the way it comes out of the box”. I resisted this for a long, long time. But I took that class, where he said those words, with an iron-sighted gun, wearing round plastic handguards, and an M4 stock. I cheated a little and added a two-stage trigger, which in hindsight I not only wish I hadn’t done but believe offered me NO advantage given the task at hand and due to my lack of familiarity with the feel may have even been a detriment for me when shooting fast up close. It took my being there, in that environment, with that gun, to see the wisdom in his words. And I’ll tell you something, even sitting there with that gun on TD1 when he said those words, I was still shaking my internal head and thinking “yeah, yeah, yeah”. My mind was very much changed by the end of TD3. I’ll be writing more about the experience in an upcoming issue of SWAT so I’ll end it there and simply say I don’t want to scoop myself.
So why do we add accessories to the base carbine? To look cool? To impress our buddies at the range and online? To make the “evil black rifle” even more “evil”? Or is it because we’ve mastered the basic tool, in the applications (or a reasonable facsimile thereof) we intend to use the tool, and found the basic tool lacking? We see people say “I use a red dot scope because it makes me faster”. Does it? How much faster? Have you tested it? Have you even used the iron sights enough to find them slow? Have you been taught, or discovered on your own, the tricks and tips to using irons quickly at close range? Or we hear “I find irons/RDS to be too inaccurate at distance so I use a 1-x magnified optic”. OK. How much shooting have you done at distance with irons or an RDS to identify this shortcoming? And is the ammunition and gun you are using even capable of exceeding the accuracy potential of the RDS? I can tell you that in that same carbine class I mention above some of the tightest groups at 200 yards were turned in by a shooter using an Aimpoint Comp M4. This was on a line with shooters running ACOGs, various other Eotechs & Aimpoints with magnifiers, and low-power variable scopes.
We should identify a need, or a lacking, in the basic tool and then seek out an accessory or an improvement that addresses that need or that lacking. We identify that need or that lacking from actual use, not from what the internets tells us to put on the gun. If you can’t identify why a 13” long free-float rail system is better for your type of shooting, based on shortcomings you discovered while shooting the gun, you might save the money on the tube and install and instead invest it in ammunition and training. I get weekly emails from people asking me “I just bought an XYZ carbine, what’s the first accessory I should add?” My answer? Training. They say “Ok, yeah, I get that, but what’s the second accessory I should get?” My answer? Practice what you learned in training. Usually this is where the emails stop. But sometimes, maybe 1 out of 10, I get that guy who just had a lightbulb moment who says “cool, who do you recommend and where can I go to learn things the right way?” Aha! Eureka! Zounds! There’s someone that “gets it”!
That graph of diminishing returns is not fixed in place. It slides and moves based on your own application, skill level, familiarity, and even your health and age. What a 25 year-old with 200 rounds of training can do at 200 yards with an iron-sighted AR is far different than what a 55 year old can do with a lifetime of shooting. It has nothing to do with skill in that case, it is simply a fact of life and aging. Additionally, as our skill level increases we begin to reach the limits of what we can do with one piece of equipment. In the previous note I mentioned sports equipment and musical instruments as examples of this. What a neophyte pool player or musician can get out of a top-level cue or violin is far different than what a professional with years of training and practice can do with with same tool.
We constantly hear from the shooter that says “I can’t afford to buy a quality base gun and attend one of those fancy training classes, so I’m just going to stick with my POS and teach myself.” Ok. Good luck with that. The problem is that too often this guy doesn’t just have the one POS, he has a dozen. And all of them are covered with pounds of stuff from the Crapco catalog, adding weight and cost for features they can’t even figure out how to use, nor are they of a quality level that allows them to survive long enough to show any benefit. This is illogical. This shooter is lying, and more importantly than lying to me he is lying to himself. No amount of accessories, especially the cheap ones but even the good ones, is going to fix a basic flawed logic stream that led him to that point.
Get a basic, quality, AR. Get 10 magazines. Get 2k rounds of quality ammunition. Go take a class. If you have to sell off that old wooden gun in the back of the safe, do it. If you have to sell 10 of them, do that too. Drop the family off at Disney World and drive 1 hours SW to Southern Exposure Training Facility and visit Randy Cain for three days. Go shoot the damn gun, but first learn HOW to shoot the damn gun. If all those old guns in the back of the safe collecting dust are more important to you than getting training, that’s fine, it’s your money, your time, your life. Do what makes you happy. But you also just proved that amateurs put an emphasis on hardware while professionals put an emphasis on software.