Training to Win

The National Patrol Rifle Conference & Competition (NPRC) founded by Sgt. Jeff Felts (Ret.) of Center Mass, a full-service training company and firearms dealer, started as a local competition near Detroit, Mich., in June of 2000. Over the past 10 years, the NPRC has become a nationally recognized shooting and training event attended by law enforcement officers from around the nation.

During my first NPRC in 2006, I brought along my duty Rock River AR-15-type carbine and a non-magnified Eotech holographic optic. The courses of fire were demanding in terms of accuracy, judgment and movement. We had to run hard, breath slow, control our triggers and make the time requirements. Although I finished in good standing, I recognized there was much more to study: fitness, tactics and gear—in other words, the foundational issues of patrol use on the street.

During the next five years the NPRC’s staff and advisory board developed courses of fire even more duty-related. In 2009, it was decided to make a classification distinction between iron sights, red-dot, non-magnified optics and magnified optics. This decision wasn’t about gamesmanship but an attempt to determine what works best under stress and difficult conditions that patrol officers face every day. The division of scores would be studied to see what, if any, type of sight system was superior among a large number of officers. Bottom line: If you want to win at the NPRC—and on the street—you have to regularly train hard. Competition has great benefit if for no other reason than that it forces you to prepare. Having the NPRC as a goal in June, it’s far easier for me to focus my training efforts during the winter months. This past year, I teamed up with Deputies Art Huffstuttler and Kimberly Heath of the Will County (Ill.) Sheriff’s Office. Both are accomplished shooters and instructors. Having them as training partners made a big difference to me in keeping on track.

My Preparation

We spent many weekends working on close-range, rapid-target acquisition because it’s something we might face when making a vehicle stop on patrol. We moved further back to 50 yards, then to 100 yards and beyond. Each distance represented some aspect of our working environment (e.g., the distance of a hallway at the high school, a perimeter cover point on a bank where a gunman has barricaded, the length of a parking lot facing an active shooter incident). We tested ourselves using our daily carry gear: The NPRC isn’t about gaming for a score. It’s about what you’d use on patrol.

One key issue I learned over the years: Should deadly force be required, any threat I can see faster and more clearly, I can engage more effectively. Bottom line: Magnified optics allow me to meet the test most effectively. There are a number of scopes that work well and combinations of red dot types that make use of a separate magnifier. My partners and I have used Eotech and Aim Point red dot scopes with movable magnifiers mounted on LaRue swivel bases. Last year I used a $200 Millet DMS -1 variable-power scope to prove that optics don’t have to be expensive to be effective. This year I changed to a more expensive Elcan Specter, 1–4x scope. It’s truly a personal choice, but one to take very seriously.

Each scope was carried on patrol daily in a squad car roof rack or trunk for nearly a year. These weren’t scopes added to the patrol rifle a week before the NPRC to gain some competitive advantage. It either has to work for duty use or it’s not considered. The maximum optical magnification allowed at the NPRC is five-power, which is consistent with patrol rifle use.

The courses of fire were varied, and I’m going to share the specifics as well as the lessons learned in each one.

#1 Static “Pool Gun” Marksmanship

The distance course was either fired at 50 or 100 yards, competitor’s choice, using shared or “pool” rifles. Ten-iron sight, AR-15-type, 16" barrel carbines of various manufacturers were sighted in by local Marines and SWAT officers. By luck of the draw, each competitor used one of these patrol rifles for this stage. My partners and I shot on the 100-yard target, as these gave the shooter more points than the 50-yard targets.

Our scores were good, with Kim Heath’s being the best. For her last two shots, she moved off the chest and targeted the head, making two center hits. Bottom line: Pool guns can work for multiple officers if that’s all you have. Learn to first use iron sights. That’s a basic skill. You may have to pick up a rifle in a fight that isn’t yours. Make good use of it.

#2 Interactive Alley

In a low-light, enclosed tent, the officer faced the CAPS shooting simulator at 15 yards. The officer dealt with three scenarios with limited time to identify threats and engage and defeat a deadly force aggressor. The test was to deliver fast and accurate fire against a moving offender who was armed and either shooting at you or others. I used my optic along with a LaserMax UNI green laser that I’ve carried for two years. The optic allowed me clear sight on the threat at one power and the green laser verified point of aim under stress. The combination was very effective and allowed me to make all head shots.

#3  Around the World

On this one, the time limit was three minutes. The officer had to run 100 yards, move to a barricade and fire one round standing unsupported, one round kneeling and one round prone. Kneeling and prone had to be from opposite sides of the barricade. Then the officer had to get up and start again for a total of 10 times. This was a smoking course of fire that required a head shot into a 5" circle at 50 yards for maximum score.

Bottom line: We run on the street and must have the ability to control our breathing, sights and trigger to make solid hits. We may not get the choice of shooting position and must be capable of standing, kneeling and prone shooting wherever and whenever we have to fight. Learn to pace yourself and find the speed that allows you to succeed. Run too hard and you blow your oxygen and are gassed out. Run too slow and you don’t finish. Train for the longer head shot; it may be all you can see.

The up-and-down movement was intense for a non-stop three minutes. Although I had been training doing “Crossfit”-type air squats, my butt and quads were sore for days later, an indication that I better train harder. In this course of fire, magnified optics are a huge upgrade for me. I could see clearly, and I concentrated on my breathing and trigger control.

#4  On-call Hostage Rescue

The time limit was 25 seconds to run 100 yards, load your patrol rifle and make ready. On command, the officer rises from behind a barricade standing unsupported and has 5 seconds to fire one round on each armed offender 25 yards away. At the end of the five seconds, the officer must be below the cover barricade. The officer repeats the sequence on command 10 times and must reload after the first 10 rounds are fired. Targets are head shots on two armed offenders—one standing clear of hostages and one holding a hostage close as a shield.

The point: We may face more than one threat. With limited time from a position of cover, we must be able to get on target quickly and make fast head shots to end the threat. Again, optics ruled because targeting is much faster and detailed.

#5  Stack ‘em Up

Time allowed: One minute and 15 seconds to fire 20 rounds with a mandatory reload. You’re a responding officer who faces a deadly force threat at 15 yards. The course of fire simulates a situation where another officer moves in front of you as a gunman appears. To protect the forward officer from a threat he can’t engage, you must get a clear line of fire and stop the threat.

 The officer must work around a simulated partner that may get in front of the muzzle of his patrol rifle. A rope is used by a range officer to pull a simulated police officer in front of you as your attempt to engage the threat. When blocked by your partner you can’t fire. This requires you to move quickly to get a clear line of fire and engage.

The point: We’re trained to keep our muzzle clear of anything we won’t shoot. But in the CQB environment, it’s not so simple. We must not shoot our own officers or innocent persons, and we can’t fire without a clear recognition of the threat.

 This wasn’t an easy course of fire and caused me the greatest trouble in getting good hits. I made a mistake in thinking I could use my laser without getting a good cheek weld and looking through my scope. I couldn’t visually track the laser fast enough. Lesson learned: Use the scope with both eyes open, as I had trained, and try not to substitute equipment for technique.

Lessons Learned

Fitness is essential to our mission as police officers. We’ll often have to exert ourselves before the fight even starts. Strength, stamina and oxygen uptake are the elements of my workouts and training. In training, I run with my rifle, ammo and gear vest, shooting through training cycles that suck away my oxygen. It’s an unending cycle that cuts no slack. I’m not a great example of holding to hardcore training, but I do something nearly every day. The time to get fit was yesterday, and continues today and tomorrow.

Accuracy is the goal. A single round can end the threat. Fast shooting without effective hits is useless and, in what we do, dangerous. My basic requirement is a combination of ammo and patrol rifle that delivers at least 2" groups at 100 yards. My carry gear does better. Although we aren’t building sniper set ups, many of today’s patrol rifles are amazingly accurate. I look for a patrol rifle that’s both reliable and accurate.

A great example is the LaRue Stealth AR upper I’ve carried on duty and used for the past two NPRC events. Mated to my Rock River lower receiver, Mark LaRue’s Stealth is the most accurate patrol rifle upper receiver barrel I’ve used, delivering a sub-minute of angle accuracy with quality ammo. It runs like a well-tuned engine, without an operating failure to date.

Proven competence with equipment develops needed confidence. Knowing I can deliver center head shots with my patrol rifle well beyond 100 yards from multiple positions makes me a believer and allows me to focus on the threat instead of my gear. My confidence proved itself at this year’s NPRC.

Optics are critical. Based on more than 30 years of working with optical sight systems on AR-15 rifles, I strongly believe that optics should be the primary sight systems on law enforcement patrol rifles. Iron sights should be part of the rifle as backup to the optics. You make the choice—Eotech, Aimpoint, Safariland, Trijicon, Millet, Leupold, S&B. Prices run from the low $100s to the couple of $1,000s. Quality optics may cost more than the patrol rifle and may be well worth the expense. It’s a knowledgeable buyer’s market.

Among the cross section of shooters, the highest scores were achieved with optics, with the magnified types holding the edge. There are exceptions: The great Lt. Kevin Cates of Durham, N.C., used a full-size AR-15 and iron sights for a stellar second-place-earning performance.

In Sum

The NPRC is an exceptional opportunity to test yourself and your gear. It’s open to all law enforcement officers and military personnel. Register today ( and set your goal of making the Detroit run. No matter how you finish as to score, you will be the winner as the real competition is coming on the street, and you’ll be ready. 

National Patrol Rifle Conference & Competition
June 5–7, 2011

Detroit, Mich.

$129–$349; register by April 1



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