Dark Gunfighter with Talon Defense
During the last week of October in 2016, I was able to attend a three day Low-Light Counter Ambush / Vehicle Defense (Dark Gunfighter) course with Talon Defense. This course was intense and focused heavily on fighting in and around vehicles in low-light and no-light situations. Chase Jenkins was the instructor and is the owner of Talon Defense. This course was held in Oconee County, Georgia and hosted by our friend and guest-instructor Clark Sparrow of Sparrow Defense.
There were 17 total students in the class, including myself. However- out of all the students enrolled, I was the only student who had not previously trained with Chase. I've heard stories about his classes, so I wasn't completely taken off-guard as to what we would be doing.
Day 1 began at about 14:00 with everyone doing some basic drills so that Chase would be able to gauge the skill level of each of the participants. Being the only person that Chase had not previously taught, I figured he was paying specific attention to me to make sure that I was both capable of handling the pace of the course content as well as my muzzle awareness, trigger-finger discipline, and other safety concerns. Whether he was actually paying specific attention to me or not is unknown, but I intentionally tried to place a little more pressure on myself by keeping this in mind.
Chase doesn't believe in warm-up exercises, so we immediately went into a drill where he partnered us with someone for a one-shot standoff. Chase would provide indication of a threat, and the goal was to beat your partner out of the holster and place a chest shot on a VTAC target before your partner could. The first person to accomplish the task was the winner. The point of this exercise was to see what our skill level would achieve without warm-ups, since that is how you'll fight. I was paired with Clark Sparrow, and our times and shot placement were roughly equivalent (which isn't necessarily an endorsement of our outcome in this exercise).
Next we worked our way into some skill-drills for further assessment by Chase. Day One was heavier on handgun, though the rifles did come out a little later into the evening. We worked several drills for slide-lock reloads, malfunction corrections, and other basic manipulations to ensure that we were all ready to work in the dark with a sub-conscious level of gun handling. From here, we worked our way into positional shooting. Because this course had a specific focus for fighting around vehicles, Chase had us work positions that would be later used in/around/under the cars. We worked both sides of what I refer to as "urban prone" and also the supine position. As we got closer to sunset, Chase also provided a brief overview of a few of the free-hand lighting techniques that we would need to use both with the handgun and the carbines. Note that this is not a beginner class, and it is not an "introduction" to low-light weapons manipulation. It was assumed that each participant was well-versed in low-light weapons manipulation, so the overview of lighting techniques was more to ensure that we were all using the same vocabulary more so than to explain the intricacies of the techniques.
As night-fall set in on Day One, we began a series of "dot torture test" drills that would make sure that everyone there would be sore for at least three days after the end of this course. Chase made sure to reiterate to us that it won't be the "100% version of us that gets in the gunfight." Rather it would be a time when we were sick, distracted, physically tired, etc. To simulate the effects of physical and mental fatigue, Chase fatigued us.... Quite literally. This section of the course is what I affectionately referred to as "crossfit shooting" because of the similar exercises found in CrossFit workouts. We were constantly being changed from various positions while trying to address the problems at hand on the dot torture. For instance, Chase would provide the following instruction for a block of firing exercises:
- There are 15 dots on our targets, approximately 5-6 inches in diameter and organized into three columns and five rows.
- Chase would call out a pair of numbers, for instance: "4, 7"
- We would have to add the two numbers, which would tell us everything we needed to complete the string of fire as follows
- 4+7 = 11... We would need to find the 11th dot
- 11 / 2 = 5.5.... We would need 6 hits on the 11th dot
- The 11th dot happened to be in the 4th row, which meant that we would need to shoot from urban-prone position on our left side and utilize the Harries Lighting technique
What happens if anyone in your group didn't complete all of the above criteria in an acceptable time-frame? Burpees.... Full kit burpees on gravel, to be exact. Needless to say, we all got our chance to shoot under physical fatigue while problem-solving the mental challenges he faced us with. We were physically stressed, and in between each string the conditions of the problems would change. For instance, instead of adding the two numbers to find the dot we would be instructed to use the first number as the row and the second number as the column. He would also change the round count so that instead of dividing the total, we would actually fire the total... So "5, 2" would mean that we would shoot 7 rounds at the dot in the 5th row and 2nd column while in the right-side urban-prone position and utilizing the reverse-Harries lighting technique. This would be done with both rifle and handgun, dictated by the ammunition available in either. The point being that Chase would be forcing you to think while physically fatigued in order to simulate stress and body-alarm. It worked wonderfully and we were all pretty broken down by the end of the first training day...
The second day kicked off again at about 14:00, and began with a ballistics demonstration on the vehicles. Chase intricately went through a demonstration of which areas of the vehicle would potentially stop a bullet and which parts would not. He would also explain why we use certain positions to hopefully maximize the cover available to us and minimize the chances of being struck by a round coming through the vehicle. The moral of this section was to get your ass out of the car if it's being shot at. "The car is your coffin if you stay inside it." We would fight our way out of the vehicle and then seek a position of better cover. He shot the car with 9mm, .40, .45, 12 gauge slugs and buckshot, 5.56, .308, and several other random calibers. Vehicles provide un-reliable cover, with certain points being more likely to stop a bullet than others. This demonstration also served to explain how the trajectory of the round will deviate as it passes through the different windows as well as to dispel some myths about fighting around cars.
After the demonstration we began focusing on shooting out-of the vehicle from inside it. Accommodating for the trajectory deviation, we worked out how to engage immediate threats as we cleared our seat belt, opened the doors, and retreated to a better fighting position (outside of the car). All of the drills from the night before would immediately make more sense as the positions were second-nature to us at this point. Chase could instruct any of the participants to hit their right side, and they would immediately drop to a right-side urban-prone position to engage a threat positioned on the other side of the car. Note that the point was not to infer that one should immediately drop to the ground when engaged in a gun fight, but rather to be able to fight from that position if the situation dictated or if we were to find ourselves on the ground inadvertently. We worked this drill two at a time to both maximize the number of repetitions that we could burn through as well as to get used to maintaining hyper-vigilant muzzle awareness when working around other people. For instance, a temple index is not the correct technique for a person in a kneeling position when their partner is standing next to them... Likewise, a muzzle-down position wouldn't be ideal for the person standing when his partner is in a low-kneel beside him...
Day 2 had less physically challenging drills than the previous day, but was heavier on the implementation of the positions drilled ad nauseum on day 1 around the vehicles. This was a great asset as everyone was fully competent in each position that Chase wanted us to shoot from and it was immediately obvious how the positions were pertinent when applied to a vehicle as cover. Day 2 also contained more drills for navigating the firearm around in the vehicle, which was especially challenging when manipulating the long gun in the driver's seat. The steering wheel is in the way and there is a constant effort to ensure that the muzzle never covers your partner in the passenger seat. With some practice, it becomes second nature to be able safely manipulate a full-size carbine in the cab of a vehicle, though admittedly the short-barrel rifles were easier to handle. Another lesson of day 2 was the sensory overload that can occur when shooting inside of a vehicle. The firearms are noticeably louder when trapped in a confined space (specifically the rifles with muzzle-brakes are awful in a car), and there is a significant amount of glass flying around as the bullets pass through the windows. If you have never sat in the front seat and fired out of the windshield of a vehicle, then you haven't experienced the concussive pressure from the muzzle blast, the ear-splitting noise, the glass flying toward your face, and the obstructed view of a shattered windshield. It's a unique experience, to say the least. We continued to work from inside the vehicle (and how to get out of it) for the remainder of Day 2. The final drill was to work from right to left and back with a partner in with the cars configured as in the picture at the top of this review. There were multiple targets down range (more so than what is pictured in this image) and we were forced to work from every conceivable angle of both cars while moving below the horizontal lines of cover provided by both vehicles. It required communicating with your teammate, providing clean hits on the designated targets, a multitude of firing positions, every manipulation and malfunction correction that we have worked up to this point, and quite a bit of cardio exertion. It was a fantastic exercise that pushed our personal skill levels as well as our kit as we quickly weeded out exactly what worked and what didn't. Configurations of kit and actual components of gear were sure to change on many of the participants as a result of this exercise.
The third day kicked off at 10:00, and we picked right up where we left off with some more work on the inside of the vehicles. Being day light, it was easier for everyone to manipulate their gear and test some of their configuration changes. The exercises would be engaging multiple targets from inside the vehicle and with a partner. This was challenging in the sense that muzzle-discipline becomes paramount and temple-indexing the firearm while moving becomes a requirement to avoid muzzling your partner. Of course the targets were placed at odd angles around the car, challenging both participants to have to stretch, lean, move, and adjust in order to safely engage them with their partner. In addition to the loud noises of your muzzle and flying glass of the windows, we now can add your partners muzzle going off next to you and his brass hitting you in the face. Focus and mental clarity are the deciding factors for success in this situation.
There was a lot of discussion regarding the content we had learned so far, and several people shared the lessons that they had picked up on up to this point in the course. This was valuable as people would explain which pieces of gear were not acceptable and what configurations worked or didn't work. This provided everyone the opportunity to learn about gear that they were considering and to share the experiences of the other participants. It also lead to a few belly-laughs as everyone kept the mood light and enjoyable.
We then headed down to the range for Jamie Wiedeman of Surefire to provide a demonstration of the various suppressors that Surefire offers in their line up. Jamie had joined us every day and provided lights, gear, and other equipment for us to test out and beat up throughout the class. This was a perfect way for guys to try out various items on their weapons prior to purchasing them to see what they preferred. On the 100 yard range, Jamie showed off both the Surefire line of suppressors and his superb shooting skills. Jamie spent 21 years in the Army, with much of his time being in the 75th Ranger Regiment, Special Forces, and Delta. He is truly a master of his craft and a pleasure to be around. There were also representatives from Daniel Defense and Tru-Spec who provided test equipment for the course which was a unique and fantastic addition to the course as a whole.
After the demonstration, we headed up to the cars again to put our skills to the test in the final exercise. There were 7 positions spray painted on one car and two positions on the other car. There were 4 targets placed down range at approximately 85 yards. One participant would start in the passenger seat of each vehicle and at the indication of a threat, the exercise would begin. They would have to engage the threats from inside of the car until being able to fight their way to a better fighting position. From each position, an instructor would yell out a different position number as well a target that had to be engaged prior to being told to move to yet another different position. The constant movement induced by the instructors forced everyone's heart rate to go up to a point of distraction. The heavy breathing made it more difficult to get the shots on target at the longer distances. Many of the shots would be taken from under the vehicles, making the longer shots even more difficult. There was forced tourniquet work, teammate communication, sharing of ammunition, long range rifle and handgun work, and all the while a constant requirement of fixing malfunctions caused by the instructors. This exercise lasted between 6 and 10 minutes for each group, and everyone seemed exhausted at the end of it. It was a fantastic way to test the skills that we had been developing over the past 2.5 days.
As always, I like to provide my summarized feedback in "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly" section of any after-action report that I write. Please see my thoughts below.
This was my first experience training with Chase Jenkins, but it will not be the last. This course tested my abilities and provided a different aspect on several topics regarding fighting around vehicles and fighting in low-light environments. Chase is a fantastic instructor with years of applicable knowledge that shine through his instruction. Furthermore, he's a humble guy with a quick-wit and a dry sense of humor that everyone enjoyed. This class was physically and mentally challenging, but a pleasure to be a part of because of the positive attitudes and wise cracks throughout the training. Chase doesn't yell at people in a demeaning way similar to some other instructors, but rather would call out a person by name and say "Don't worry, John- everyone's doing it right but you..." It was a light-hearted way to correct the students without discouraging them, and provided a non-intimidating reminder to everyone around the person being corrected.
As civilians, we are constantly around cars in our day-to-day lives, and it is imperative that we gain a working knowledge for being able to fight around them if we are serious about prevailing in a violent encounter. Though this course is not a beginner course, for those that are at the necessary skill level- it is one that I highly recommend.
This course is not a beginner course. I want to emphasize that... It is not a beginner course. If you're not very familiar with how to manipulate your firearm in the dark as well as how to fight with various lighting techniques, then you don't need to kick off with this one. You'll get left behind, and worse- you'll be unsafe to those around you (immediately before getting tossed out of the course for unsafe weapon-handling). So for "the bad" part of this course, I would say that you need to be an advanced gun-handler prior to getting involved in it both for your personal gain and for the safety of the people around you.
Furthermore, this course requires that you be at least somewhat physically fit... Trust me, I'm no gym rat, and I should lose about 20 pounds to consider myself "in shape." However, if the thought of running your equipment in full-kit with a high heart rate seems like torture to you, then you should probably sit this one out. It's for the people who are going to challenge themselves physically and mentally without complaint or discouragement.
This section will expand on the physical challenges in the course. At this point, it's likely obvious that throughout this entire course you're going to be up and down a lot and getting in various positions as quickly as you can. This means dropping down with a reasonable amount of force. In this particular range environment, there are rocks all over the range that have been kicked out of the various firing lines. That means that we were landing on rocks a lot throughout the up and down movements of the course. Also, there is a large amount of shooting that is done, meaning that if you're not landing on rocks then you're almost guaranteed to be landing on spent brass. Lastly, there are a lot of windows that have been shot out of cars, so there is glass all over the place. Keep in mind that automobile glass is designed to crush in such a way that it is less likely to cut you, but it's still not comfortable to land on. The "ugliest" part of this class would be the bruises that we each sported as we walked away at the end.
Keep in mind though, that this is a necessary evil. Physical and mental stress in this kind of course are designed to increase your chances of survival in a violent encounter. They are bruises- not gun shot wounds... Keep it in perspective and get your mind right. Think about the problem at hand and don't worry about that rock digging in to your shoulder. You can rub that bruise later, but right now it's time to go to work on the threat in front of you. Furthermore, the tumbling around of this course forces you to evaluate the equipment you choose. From belts and chest rigs to weapon-mounted lights and ammunition selection, we were able to see exactly what worked under high-stress situations and what didn't work. I truly believe that breaking gear in training is a large part of the value of training... Better to know that your light mount isn't durable enough to stand up to true stress in training as opposed to when the targets are actually shooting back!
Pictures and Videos
Please note that the below video is from the same course but from December of 2013.