Practical Carbine Skills You Are Not Practicing

The modern semi-auto carbine is a proper do-it-all gun, equally at home putting lead on target at two yards or 200, and its nimble handling, adaptability and modest weight both ammunition and gun itself make them one of the most efficient and attractive options for preppers in a defensive capacity.

For simple home defense or serious SHTF survival in a situation where there are no cops or soldiers keeping the mutts at bay, keeping a good carbine by your side is a great idea.

M1 carbine

Update: Tim wrote a follow-up article with the top 10 carbine drills you can practice to improve your accuracy.

But as nice all-around as these guns are, I have seen far too few of their owners who can take advantage of their prodigious capabilities. In this era of shooting fast and looking “direct-action” good on the ‘Gram, we have, collectively, let much of the traditional skills of field riflery, as opposed to square-range skills, atrophy.

This is a shame culturally but more importantly a serious weakness if you plan to protect family, home and hearth with a rifle or carbine.

A real world problem that you need to solve with a carbine will usually require more than a fully extended c-clamp grip and .12 splits to solve. In this article, I’ll make a case for resuscitating the skills of the classic rifleman so you are better prepared to handle problems in the real world.

The Carbine Game Does Not End at 25 Yards

But it does for some people based on what I have observed at ranges all over the South: shooters only performing simple drills that they do well and look good so they feel good, shooting rifles only at distances that are well, well inside handgun range, doing nothing but standing engagements and transitions to pistols.

You might be the very best dude or dudette in the state when performing those modern day katas, but you are in for a rude awakening if you think that is all there is to getting hits and surviving a rifle fight in the world.

Don’t think me Judas; shooters, even motivated ones, face very real training limitations at their home ranges and I acknowledge that. Home defenders will naturally want to train predominately for the fight they are anticipating, i.e. one at down-the-hall distance and that makes perfect sense. But for us, those who claim we want to and will be ready when a crisis looms, reasons start to turn into excuses with fancy fenders.

If you want to be ready, if your proclaim yourself “prepared” you had better be. To do that, you’ll have to do what it takes to actually be prepared. If that means driving an hour or more out of your way to a patch of land or a range where you can stretch the distance and your legs, then you have to do it. If it means hauling the targets, barricades and more goodies that you need with you, do it. Don’t make excuses.

Your carbine is not a magic wand: you cannot wave it in the general direction of the threat and vanish it. If you are going to problem solve in the 360°, two-way, irregular, lumpy, bumpy, wet and dirty range of The World, you had better start training accordingly.

Differences between Field and Range Shooting

It should go without saying, but some people fail to conceive of or genuinely don’t know what they’ll be up against in a proper SHTF situation versus a comparatively “simple” home invasion. Make no mistake, facing a violent attack in either can see you wind up d-e-a-d dead, but the complexity and variables in the former make the latter pale in comparison.

What’s the longest possible shot you’ll have to take in your home, or if you want to get into nitty-gritty, potentially on the grounds of your property assuming the situation warranted it?

In a home invasion you will still need to confirm your target is in fact a lethal threat (and that that shadowy figure is in-fact a threat) before shooting, but the parameters of the engagement are otherwise simple- armed bad guy in your home leaves little room for doubt or misinterpretation. It is so much more complicated out and about in the world.

The ranges, anywhere, will be longer. You may very well have cause to employ cover or see it employed against you. In a SHTF scenario the likelihood of ambush from organized scumbags is significantly higher, especially if the niceties and plenty of a functional society is grinding to a halt or annihilated entirely.

You may have cause to observe with your scoped rifle an unknown “bogey” from a distance and prepare to engage accordingly, something you would never do in a typical self-defense encounter.

If you are stretching the distance, you’ll to rest the rifle instead of hold it up. Unfortunately you will but seldom be able to drop on your belly into the prone position and maintain both mechanical index on and sight of your target, unlike your local frying pan-flat and trimmed known-distance rifle range.

Stuff will be in the way, and making use of other traditional, non-traditional and downright weird shooting positions will be essential for a successful shot.

Consider something as elemental as shouldering a rifle. You might have to hold your rifle up on a target for an extended period of time during a SHTF situation, far longer than the three to five seconds it takes to run a drill at the range or shoot a stage at your local action match.

Your modernized carbine that you have prudently kept sparsely equipped with goodies will still weigh, loaded, in the realm of 7 to 8 ½ pounds. That gets heavy fast when kept shouldered and on target.

Even if you paid strict attention to trimming fat and splurged on components made of lightweight materials or those designed to cut as many ounces as possible, a 6 lb. gun will fatigue you fast when held aloft.

Techniques are also not immune to scrutiny, either. The current vogue grip when utilizing a rifle is to extend the support hand as far as it will go along a (lengthy) forend and then wrap the thumb of that hand over the top of the handguard. Sometimes called a “c-clamp” grip, this results in great mechanical advantage over recoil and excellent follow-up shot capability.

What is typically not factored into the equation is what I mentioned above, specifically how tiring and how quickly that exact position breaks down if you need to maintain it. I can hear some of you already saying “I’ll just barricade rest my rifle, problem solved!”

Really? Try this simple test: drive your rifle into a barricade on the range using a foregrip, the handguard, whatever you want. Now, maintain that far-out c-clamp grip. Good. Now wait. Keep waiting…

It won’t be long before that support arm starts getting really tired regardless of how much weight you alleviate using a rest. It simply does not work over a longer period of time compared to a grip where the support arm and hand are closer to your trunk.

Does this mean you need to scrunch up with a little-bitty elbows tucked posture and a grip on the magazine well? No! It does mean you should adopt a happy medium to best achieve both ends. In the world versus on the range or at the match, there is one metric of that is so often overlooked when assessing a technique: sustainability!

Into, Over, Under and Around

Compared to a square range with its total lack of obstacles or nice, plain and square corners, the world past the parking lot has all kinds of snag hazards, irregular shapes, oblong corners and deliciously complex craters, cracks and crevices that will help or hinder you depending on the situation and your understanding of the situation.

Peeping out around a plumb vertical corner to take a shot is one thing. Getting into position behind a car when to shoot under it when you are standing on the curb next to it is another, and that does not take into account really treacherous terrain like destroyed buildings and rubble, dense foliage and undergrowth or just tall, wild grass.

Shooting in and around vehicles is another complex and challenging requirement that is rife with opportunity for the untrained and inexperienced to fatally screw up. You have never known snagging till you have to dive in and out of a vehicle with a sling flapping free.

Moving in and around terrain sets like this is an entirely new experience for square-range raised shooters.

Is a Cutting-Edge Setup Really Best?

The gun-sphere collectively has made enormous strides in the refinement of firearms technology and techniques used to employ them. It is true that there is nothing new under the sun, but we have put one hell of a polish on the tools and methods pioneered by those who came before us.

This is definitely a good thing, but unthinking adherence to any method or piece of equipment without considering the context in which it is used can be a recipe for disaster.

One of my favorite upgrades for my personal rifles is a full-length (or nearly so) handguard. I have come to like being able to reposition my hand anywhere along the length of the gun and find good purchase, and an extra barrier between the smoking hot barrel and my legs is always a boon when the gun is slung.

Factor in the gobs of extra real estate for accessory mounting, and it seems like a no-brainer, auto-include upgrade, right?

On the range, yes. On the street or in the field, maybe: Big, round, wide handguards that run nearly to the end of the barrel are much harder to maneuver through a small opening or port for shooting compared to a plain, dangly barrel.

Oh, you’ll never shove your barrel through a small port or hole to make a shot? Call me back after you have to shoot through a windshield from inside a car. That big tube will make the process much more difficult.

Wide handguards also work both ways in a physical tussle. It is much easier for someone to grab and gain leverage on a wider surface than skinny (hopefully hot) one.

As to dealing with a hot barrel bouncing around burning the daylights out of you when it is slung, if you use a proper sling (QA two-point) and proper technique this risk is greatly mitigated.

Please understand, I am not being a grognard here; I admire and use the best of the best cutting edge techniques and technologies and I admire them, but I employ them when it serves me and supports my mission.

I am not much of a joiner otherwise and will not slavishly and unthinkingly get aboard the hype train just because some celebrity trainer uses it or a world-class shooter endorses it.

Oh, I’ll listen to them all right; they are the best for a reason, but I alone am the arbiter of what is best for me if I am being truthful with my assessments. You should do the same.

For all the hundreds and thousands of baubles, gadgets and doodads available for guns these days, when it comes to fighting rifles there are only three that I consider mandatory:

1. Sling

A good sling will give you a place to put the rifle when you are ready to go hands-free, but it also assists with tasks like weapon retention, and can even be used to help steady your shot when firing from an unsupported position. Of all the sling types you can choose from, a non-bungee quick-adjustable two-point sling is best for a carbine.

2. Light

You will in all reality be facing your foes in the dark, be it a large building with the power cut off or on your block after sundown. You must, must, must be able to identify your target, even in a situation as grim and chaotic as a WROL/SHTF scenario.

There are too many tales of well-intentioned defenders gunning down loved ones or non-threats because they failed to verify their target visually or challenge them in the dark.

3. Optic

What optic you should choose for your defensive gun is a broad topic best covered in another article, but you should have a red dot sight at the minimum and probably a low-power variable optic for a general purpose carbine. No other upgrade will do so much to help you shoot your best.

Everything else you might slap on your rifle is either a “nice to have” perk or unnecessary.

Drills to Pay the Bills

We have all heard the adage “Train how you’ll fight” so often we could puke it, but we have only heard it so much because it is so very, very true! If you aren’t working the skills you’ll actually be using, you need not expect to reap any benefit from the work you didn’t do!

I’ll be publishing an expanded list of practical rifle drills to get you on the fast track to success in a truly practical environment, but for now here are a few of my favorites to help you break free from your square-range blinders with your carbine.

Note that many or all of these may well require special equipment and setup to perform, and you probably will not be able to do these on your basic everyday shooting range in your hometown.

Don’t let it pass! Find someone with land you can practice on. Drive the hour-plus drive it takes to get to the range that will let you practice this way. Heck, buy or develop your own plot of land into a passable training bay so you can save time and money.

1. Dealer’s Choice

Get a training buddy to call this one for you, or lacking that grab a set of cards and assign the suit, number and colors to the variables in this drill. Setup two or more VTAC-type barricades (Google it) and one or more targets downrange.

Have your partner call a sequence/draw a card corresponding to the barricade, the port on that barricade and the target you are to shoot. Then run to the shooting station, set up your shot and fire. Add complexity with greater distance, multiple positions in one evolution or other modifiers.

2. Basic Standards Drill –This one will separate the riflemen from the groupies. Set a standard silhouette at 100 yards with a 5×5 square in the center.

At the start signal, you have 20 seconds to fire 15 shots: 5 from standing, 5 from kneeling and 5 from prone. All shots must hit the 5×5 to pass. Make this drill your measuring stick for basic competency. If you cannot pass this drill reliably and consistently, you have plenty of work to do.

3. Shift Up Shift Down

You may certainly have to switch from close, fast and brutal shooting to long distance shooting at a moment’s notice. Practicing to balance the speed and accuracy requirements for both is essential.

Place two silhouettes, one each at 15 and 50 yards, then place a half silhouette or, if you are pretty good, a head at anywhere from 100 to 150 yards.

Engage the middle target with 4 rounds, the close target with 8 rounds and then the farthest target with two rounds. No misses allowed. Vary your par time to make this challenging depending on your targets.

4. Figure Four

Set up a series of flat squares, cones or markers on the ground in an ‘X’ pattern (like the 5 side on a six-sided die). Each should be at least 20 feet apart. Set up a bank of targets down range.

Practice moving from one cone to the next, engaging each target in a determined sequence and varying your movement. It is important that you move corner to corner across the center of the X, stopping at each cone.

You might kneel at each station, keep the gun in the shoulder or raise it to the shoulder depending. You’ll end up moving forward, backward and side to side, placing emphasis on footwork and task-stacking.

5. 150 Yard Bulls

It is dead simple, but it ain’t easy. There is nothing that will make you better all around than working dead-tight accuracy standards at extended distances. Shoot this one from various positions to keep it challenging, and if you are getting cocky throw in some time constraints.


You might be God’s gift to guns on the square range, but if all you do is practice and train in the sterile box you might be missing some valuable components to your frame of reference when forced to move about in the world. Make sure you are taking care to bone up your field skills with your rifle so you can place your lead with precision when the time comes.

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1 thought on “Practical Carbine Skills You Are Not Practicing”

  1. Mr. McKay you Sir are going to cause all of these range ninjas to head for the hills . I have been preaching the same things to others for years . training is a great thing , but only if done the correct way. I love to see them with there high tech gear and cant hit a target at 25 yards let alone 200. Or the weapon quits running because they wont oil it . I have seen some carbines with so much junk hung on them that an M1 Garand is a lite weight. Thank you for this article you seem to have a lot of working knowledge in our field if you are ever in Florida let me know and I will buy you a cup of whatever. Keep a tight 360 Peace out.


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