Monday, May 12, 2014

Little, Yellow, Different: 5.11's Training Barrel

Like I said on Friday, my main reason for buying any training gizmos at all for dry fire was the desire to combine two traits my pistol simply cannot match:

1. Extra safety margin: make it as unlikely as possible to fire that "oops" round in dry fire, and
2. Do this so conveniently that dry fire is not made more difficult or tiresome.

The first thing I picked up for that purpose was a 5.11 yellow training barrel. This is a simple little yellow hunk of plastic that retails for about $10-$20 (it's currently $17 on Amazon.) At that price, it's going to whup on the SIRT pistol and the Laserlyte packages in the value category, and it really does represent great bang for the buck if you don't have one of the other two. However, now that the SIRT is in my home, I have to confess that the 5.11 barrel gets a lot less use. Some of that is likely temporary, as right now I only have one example of my carry/competition gun, a Gen4 Glock 17. A few months ago, when I began to think seriously about how concealed carry was going to change my approach to handguns, I only owned one example of my carry piece, a Springfield XD in .45.  Among the considerations that pushed me away from that gun (caliber/cost, concerns about Springfield reliability, ambivalence about grip safeties, difficulty finding accessories) the inability to get a 5.11 training barrel to fit it was prominent. When I made the switch, I picked up a 5.11 barrel right away, but when there's only one pistol to match it in the house, one encounters the first difficulty with the 5.11, namely . . .

You will field strip your pistol a lot.
If you're doing dry fire with your carry/competition pistol, you need to break it down and install the 5.11 in place of the barrel each time, then replace the barrel when you're done. It becomes a bit of a pain.  Again, this would be mitigated if I followed the advice most of would give, buying one or even two "backup" copies of the pistol so that one is dedicated to dry fire. That pistol could have the 5.11 in it all the time. Not only would that make it quick and easy to grab it for a brief dry fire session and toss it back where it came from, but if one locked the barrel in the pistol safe, it would essentially make the pistol with the 5.11 installed an inert, non-gun object that could be left lying on the counter, an oft-cited advantage of the SIRT. That would be nice, because other than this one issue, it's hard for me to come up with many downsides of the little yellow chunk, at least for home use.  If I had to find one more, I guess it would be that . . . 

There's no visual feedback to the user or a coach.
The SIRT and the Laserlyte pieces both give some confirmation of trigger discipline by projecting a laser dot; if your dot moves around, elongates, etc., then you're disturbing your sight picture with the trigger press. I don't know if this is a big deal, frankly, because I find that I don't want to look at the laser when I use the SIRT, and I don't have a coach. If I had someone else tracking the dot and giving me feedback, I could imagine making much better use of that feature, but as it is, the 5.11 is on a level playing field. So, what are some of the advantages of the 5.11? Well, for one thing . . . 

It provides instant visual confirmation that the gun is inert.
This is an important advantage over dry firing the pistol, but depending upon who's around, it could be an advantage over the SIRT or the Laserlyte inserts (in your "real" pistol) too. The SIRT is visually very close to a Glock 17 with a paint job, and the Laserlyte inserts make it obvious that the muzzle is obstructed, but only from the muzzle end. Actually, as I write this, it occurs to me that I never asked whether the Laserlyte inserts are designed to preclude the loading of ammunition. They have long "tails" that I could imagine blocking the chamber, and it stands to reason, but . . . I don't know. Hmmm.
Anyway, the 5.11 barrel doesn't have that issue. Both the exposed chamber and the muzzle are replaced with bright yellow plastic, and the muzzle is clearly not even a tube (surely no accident there.) Visual checks are near-instant, and even people from outside The Tribe are at ease, because they can instantly assure themselves that I'm not holding a g . . . g . . . g . . . gun!
Now, don't go letting that lull you into a sense of peaceful security that leads you to point guns at your palms or nothin' (I'm looking' at you, J.A.) but it's nice to have.

It uses your pistol's trigger, controls and sights, not approximations.
The SIRT is excellent at being a G17-shaped object that's roughly the right weight, uses standard sights, has weighted magazines, and has a trigger that pretty closely approximates a striker-action with a fairly light weight, a break and a reset. It does NOT feel the same as the trigger in my actual Glock pistol, being much lighter and with a less-defined break, plus no trigger safety. The grip is smaller than the grip on my G17 (I use the medium beavertail backstrap, but I've been wondering about the large lately.) And of course, although I can practice reloads with weighted magazines, I can't run or release the slide on a SIRT. The 5.11, in contrast, allows me to do all of the things a SIRT can do, plus running the slide for malfunction drills or reloads from empty. The only things that really favor the SIRT in this area are its ability to simulate reset and its weighted magazines. Otherwise, the 5.11 really is more versatile. Incidentally, I've tried the "rubber band trick" to fool the Glock into resetting the trigger, but I've never made it work yet. I could just be doing it wrong; maybe it's about getting exactly the right thickness of rubber in there. But for whatever reason, I haven't gotten it to work, and if I ever do, the 5.11 will shoot up in estimation.

It's installed in your pistol, so it absolutely fits in your holster.
I don't know that this really deserves its own individual, bolded line on a blog nobody reads, but it does matter. At one time, I thought it was a notch in the Glock's favor (as opposed to other 9mm service pistols) that it matched the SIRT, so I could use the SIRT in the same holster as the Glock. As it turns out, the SIRT doesn't fit my Glock holsters perfectly, and I actually use it without the holster more. I don't think that's been a big drawback for the SIRT, but if there's an advantage there, it clearly goes to the 5.11 barrel.

It's dirt cheap compared to a SIRT or a Laserlyte module.
I know, I've already pointed this out, but it bears repeating. Cheap things that work well should not be dismissed just because they're cheap. That's the definition of good value. A good friend was complaining the other night that Army units, in his experience, tend to point weapons at each other in CQB training. If you want to do something like that safely, and you need to do it in large numbers, there's not going to be a "cheap" option, but these little plastic gems are probably going to be the "cheapest" compared to "blue guns" or SIRTs or the like.

The verdict:
I don't use the 5.11 barrel nearly as much as I do the SIRT these days, but I'm not getting rid of it. I can imagine, at some point, having it more or less permanently installed in my second pistol, or maybe my third, and at that point I think it will be much more viable as an any time, any where tool on a par with the SIRT. In short, I like the 5.11 training barrel very much and I should very much like to be friends with it.

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