Making Rifleman at Valor Ridge

Reid Henrich made an impression on me the first time I saw him talking on a Youtube video when he was with Tactical Response as their director of training several years ago. He’s a Marine, former history professor, Full30 and YouTube star, and the kind of well rounded warrior-intellectual that I like to think would have got along famously with our Founding Fathers.

When he left Tactical Response to start his own shooting school in northeastern Tennessee I had high hopes that his new venture would take off…

It did.

As a matter of fact, Valor Ridge surpassed the number of students it expected in the first year in just its first three months in operation, and Reid and the Valor Ridge team have been working overtime to both improve the range facilities and teach sold-out classes.

Along with 15 other students, I drove up to Valor Ridge for a class this past weekend with Henrichs and J.J. Wittenborn.

There's nothing quite like a cheery liability waiver to help focus the mind on the task at hand.
There’s nothing quite like a cheery liability waiver to help focus the mind on the task at hand.

The students themselves came from as far away as Boston, New York, and Mississippi, and had professions ranging from doctors (a pediatrician and a anesthesiologist) to several mechanics, a weld inspector, an active-duty combat engineer, a minister, a personal trainer, a firearms instructor from another shooting school, a chiropractor, a software developer, and several others.

The class itself was Rifleman  I:

When lives are on the line, you want a rifle in your hands.  Make no mistake about it: this class turns out rifleman; people able to make precise hits on attackers at any distance, from across the room to hundreds of yards away.  By the end of this class, you will be astonished at what you and your rifle are capable of accomplishing.  The purpose of this class is to teach you an appreciation of the rifle, its history, and its ability in the hands of a good, trained rifleman. Beginners and experts alike will benefit from the course content.

From the start of class, you will be coached on shooting fundamentals.  Students will conduct accurate fire from the muzzle out to 300 meters, learn how to present the rifle from various positions, (traditional and improvised) learn how to manipulate the rifle under stress, on the move, and cooperate in team drills designed to forge your will into your rifle.   Marksmanship–accuracy upon demand– will be taught and emphasized at all times.  You will learn to hate misses.

Class material includes drills and instruction on:  properly zeroing your rifle, holdovers, compressed application of marksmanship, shooting at distance, (out to 300 meters) one and two handed manipulations of the rifle, low-light shooting, close quarters shooting, transitions to pistol, shooting on the move, stoppage clearance, positional shooting, (conventional and improvised) proper use of/presentation of the rifle from the sling, and team tactics.

I brought the new 10X Elite from M+M Industries as my rifle, the Hi-Lux Micro-Max B-Dot as my optic (a review on both as a system are forthcoming) and ran non-corrosive steel-case 123-grain Wolf Polyformance 7.62×39 as my ammunition [AK-Operators Union put up a “first look” of the 10X Elite‘s features, for those who are interested].

Valor Ridge’s Rifleman I focused heavily on turning shooters into marksmen. Almost anyone can shoot a tight group from a bench with little or no pressure. Those are shooters. A marksman, as Col Jeff Cooper defined it, is someone who can deliver accuracy upon demand.

If it ain't rainin', we ain't trainin.'
If it ain’t rainin’, we ain’t trainin.’

Day One was relatively easy. We sighted our rifles in at 200 yards and checked zeroes. We shot at ranges from 7-50 yards, which is where you would most likely expect to use a carbine in the United States in a self-defense scenario.

We went through standing, squatting, kneeling, and prone positions, learning how to use our skeleton to support and steady the rifle instead of muscles as much as possible.

We learned the most efficient ways to load and reload our rifle systems.

We went through presenting the rifle from low ready, muzzle up, and muzzle down positions.

Fighting from a squatting position typically presents a smaller target and more stable, accurate fire.
Fighting from a squatting position typically presents a smaller target and more stable, accurate fire.

Instead of firing a predictable number of shots in each drill or iteration of a drill, Henrichs and Wittenborn made sure that we we constantly shifted both our targets and the number of shots we fired.  Depending on the drill, we might fire a single shot at a one-inch square in the head of a target, or perhaps five shots to the heart, or any combination of shots to the head or the body from various ranges.

It was a very solid first day with what I felt was an unusually well-balanced mix of both practical shooting fundamentals on the range, and classroom sessions dedicated to attitude, marksmanship, and purpose.

I can’t express enough how important this balance is to developing an effective rifleman. Having the tools and the skills are important, but having a well-developed attitude and purpose is what often separates the living from the dead.

While Day One of Rifleman I was about learning the fundamentals and developing the proper mindset, Day Two was about stretching and applying those fundamentals, and exposing students to jarring things many of us have never dealt with before (I won’t give it all away; if you want the details, sign up for the class yourself).

We learned to fire relatively accurate shots with rifles with one-hand, from both sides.

Reid Henrichs demonstrates one-handed carbine shooting with a student's rifle.
Reid Henrichs demonstrates one-handed carbine shooting with a student’s rifle.

We learned to handle Type 1 through Type 4 stoppages, both two-handed and one-handed (including support-side one-handed), and having to handle these various stoppages and then get rounds on target.

Folks, you haven’t see a stressed-out shooter on the range until you’ve seen someone told that they have to clear a Type 4 (bullet-over-bolt) stoppage one-handed with his support-side hand only, then reload and fire multiple head shots with his rifle using his support-side hand only.

Intense? Yeah.

The stoppage clearance drills were nerve-wracking, and battered man, gun, and even the ammunition itself.

A "bullet-over bore" double-feed is one of the most difficult stoppages to clear in an AR-15, but can be done one-handed with relative speed, and a little bit of properly applied violence.
A “bullet-over bore” double-feed is one of the most difficult stoppages to clear in an AR-15, but can be done one-handed with relative speed, and a little bit of properly applied violence. This cartridge didn’t survive, but the gun was back in the fight in less than two minutes.

In addition to individual skills, Rifleman I taught rudimentary team skills, and gave us an idea of how to work in pairs, four-man fire teams, and even eight-man teams carrying out a live-fire advances and retreats.

"Moving!" Basic "fire and maneuver" team tactics were introduced, leaving us sucking wind and hunting for empty magazines in the long grass.
“Moving!” Basic “fire and maneuver” team tactics were introduced, leaving us sucking wind and hunting for empty magazines in the long grass.

Reid Henrichs and J.J. Wittenborn compressed an intense amount instruction into a two-day package with Valor Ridge’s Rifleman I, and did it in a fashion that always challenged the students, while simultaneously managing to be always supportive.

Unfortunately, I was there for just  the two days of Rifleman I. A good number of the students were rolling straight into Valor Ridge’s mid-range course, Rifleman II, stretching out to 600 meters with carbines using iron sights and red dots. I envy them, and will have to try to find my way back for a Rifleman II class.

Perhaps even better, I may make a four-day visit out of it, and take Rifleman I & II back to back. In my opinion, Rifleman I is sufficiently rich in content to be worth taking again.

* * *

Two of my fellow classmates for Rifleman I are Youtubers.

West Tennessee’s Jerry Ziegner brought a cameraperson who shot some video of our class, Jerry and posted a video interview with Reid Henrichs as soon as he got back.

AregularGuy—who has spent $20,000 of his own money (and 140,000 rounds of ammo) in firearms training in addition to his tax-payer funded military training (and who saved my bacon with loaner equipment on Sunday)—attended the very first Rifleman I class in June, and came back in November [He is an active duty soldier. Yes, he uses profanity. you might not want to view this video at work].

He did a great job capturing the experience with a musical montage in this video from the first Rifleman I class in June.

* * *

I want to close with some “inside baseball” stuff for Project Appleseed fans and instructors.

Appleseed is a wonderful American civics program cunningly disguised as a rifle marksmanship course, and the only criticism of it I’ve heard of it from fans and insrtuctors alike is that the program is a bit of a one-trick pony, with the equivalent of a single (if rich) “101-level” class.

I’d make argument that the Valor Ridge Rifleman I class is the logical extension of the Appleseed experience, and I would strongly encourage Appleseed students and instructors to consider Rifleman I as their “next logical step” in becoming well-regulated American citizens.

Maybe one day I’ll see you there, “on the Ridge.”