When initially invited by fellow Spotter Up contributor Michael Lake to attend his 2-day M4/AR Armorer class at Badlands Tactical Training Facility in Grandfield, Oklahoma I had no idea what to expect. The first thing I did was map the location online. To a guy born and raised in New York City, this place was as far from anything like that as it gets. Now that is not a derogatory statement for people who train seriously that also means ZERO distractions from the goal and purpose of being in Grandfield.
Badlands was a short 5-hour drive in the countryside from my San Antonio, Texas location. I was informed the lodging would be provided by Badlands once I arrived. Upon arrival I was greeted by the Owner Bobby Whittington himself first and the other members of the Badlands Cadre. Bobby personally gave me a tour of the entire facility. Badlands has refitted and renovated what used to be an assisted living facility to be their bunkhouse, classroom, and dining facility. Now this main facility doesn’t include the shoot house they own (less than a ½ mile away), various weapon bays, known and unknown distance range for long range precision classes, along with a 15-mile land navigation range.
The provided lodging is not only for the students, but the Cadre also stay there during class. Convenience aside, the true purpose behind this is to provide a fully immersive training experience to the students by providing them 24-hour access to Cadre in the event material may have been beyond the individual level of understanding or to go deeper into the material. Something I’ve never seen before within a private organization.
Day 1 AM
Walking into the classroom all the students arrived at a very organized set up complete with a manual (it had space for notes along with all the slides we covered), basic armorer tools, and a blank sign for the students to write their name. It was very clear that the instructors wanted to know who YOU are.
We began the class at 0800 with an overview of the experience and expertise of the Cadre at Badlands beginning with Sheriff Whittington followed by Michael Lake. From there we went on to the students’ introductions to get to know each other along with our purpose for attending the class. Sold out with 12 students, all were either veterans of public service or were currently active duty Law Enforcement or Military. 4 of the 12 served at an upper level management or senior leadership position within their organization.
Getting into the class we dove into the history behind the AR15 & M4. Over the last 50 years there has been no shortage of both innovations and growing pains with regards to the AR platform. Mike was thoroughly knowledgeable to not only why the AR15 was built by Eugene Stoner but also various contributing innovations that came out of the public and private uses of the using the AR platform. What specifically stood out to me during the AR15 & M4’s history was the immense contributions made by companies like Magpul and Knights Armament Co.
Before we carried on into assembly/disassembly, Mike also covered the “five arenas of combat,” a topic addressed in every Badlands class. Although typically applied to the various battles one may find themselves fighting after an armed confrontation, such as civil suits, the media, and policy issues, in this case it was applied to how these might affect an armorer or end user who has performed work or modifications on their own rifles. Mike was able to cite various cases to support this. A strong emphasis was placed on keeping a proper log, both as a civilian end user as well as a unit/department armorer. Now while this may seem small and innocuous if neglected, keeping a log is a very cheap and very good insurance policy for any and all armorers. This includes shooters who do their own work on their own black rifles.
From logging we learned an overview of the basic functions in every part of the AR15/M4. This led us into basic field stripping. This is a skill I wholeheartedly took for granted. Being a Soldier since I was 18 years old I can’t remember what it was like to NOT know how to field strip a rifle. However, it’s very true that unknown numbers of people are spending any amount of money on black rifles not knowing how to perform this basic task. While I’m aware there is always YouTube, it is quite a different thing to take a class such as this and really understand what deficiencies if any you want to look for during a field strip. This is just simple preventative maintenance to ensure your individual rifle remains serviceable and in the fight.
Day 1 PM
We started diving further into the deeper understanding of AR15/M4 by learning about how the gas system functions and how exactly it fires rounds. This was done with moving cinematic photos. Mike was able give a sort of “X-Ray” vision into what is happening inside the rifle before, during, and after the trigger is pulled. We also covered the various select fire modes as well.
Now that we’ve covered most of the “operator” level maintenance with regards to field stripping the rifle at this point we went on cover maintenance above the operator level. With Magpul being such a huge part of much of the innovation for the AR platform it’s no surprise that their armorer’s wrench was recommended by Mike during the class. Not out of some paid endorsement of any kind but simply because it was/is the best tool to his knowledge on the market for intended purpose. Mike maintained this consistency and integrity to his recommendations throughout the course. Directing the class to products that are perfectly adequate to accomplish a desired task as opposed to simply buying high end tools.
Following the same process for field stripping, separating the upper and lower receiver; we were talked and walked through the complete disassembly of the lower receiver. Mike gave careful and precise instruction throughout the entire disassembly that made the process remarkably smooth (especially for anyone else like me who never done this before) and free from issues such as lost parts or silly injures. One thing I thought was important that Mike went over (especially with him being an engineer by trade) is how springs break down. Now there are quite a few misconceptions out there about the breakdown based on constant compression or extension, but Mike squashed that misconception by informing the class that it is the constant cycling not specifically compression and/or extension that wears down springs.
Following the reassembly of the Lower the class then went on to cover the different accessories for the upper. Everything from lights to lasers and Scopes of all kinds. Regardless to the level of use to the rifle, the general consensus for proper fitting of accessories was to keep the weapon light and all the electronics simple. Mike also covered common issues from other after-market kits such as .22lr conversion kits. He recommended to just change out the entire upper if a rimfire AR is desired.
The last thing we talked about was a “get well kit” for the inside of the rifle pistol grip. Mike recommends keeping an extra firing pin, cam pin, extractor assembly, and gas rings. This is lifesaving advice if you need to fix your rifle bolt quickly. If the maintenance can be done by you and at your level than why not? It’s a no brainer. This was the final block of instruction for day and we went on to conduct an AAR with Bobby and Mike.
Day 1 AAR
The feedback from the day 1 AAR was quite positive from all the students. Some students had attended armorer classes/courses prior to attending this class and regarded this one as far superior to the others. My feedback was along the lines of that I believe being the relationship become being an armorer and a shooter is identical if not the exact same as the relationship between being a jumpmaster and being a paratrooper. The same way going to Jumpmaster School makes you a better Jumper going to Armorer training makes you a better shooter by having a depth of knowledge that goes beyond operation.
There are two things that I think are tremendously important to mention following the conclusion of Day 1’s training. The first is that Bobby Whittington himself conducted the AAR along with other Cadre members taking the class. Also of note is the Cadre immediately went to the 1000-yard range to do their own training. The mood on the range was positive and encouraging.
You could feel the trust they all had together as well the confidence in each other’s respective skills. I was even able to get on the rifle with Mike being my Spotter.
Mike: Spotter Up!
John: Shooter Ready!
Mike: Send it!
Never having used the rifle, the glass, and being a total novice to long range precision shooting; I was dialed in almost immediately and consistently hitting steel at 1000-yards.
Day 2 AM
The smell of hot coffee fills the hallways; Day 2 begins. Today we covered all things upper receiver.
We immediately dove into the material starting off with deep discussion on the bolt carrier group. From here we able to go back into history with how firearm manufactures would work with policy makers by building bolt carriers that were unable to support select fire lower receivers. This is where I came to jokingly refer to the difference between a subject and a citizen is the type of bolt carrier in your rifle. Then we went on to discuss the bolt and the extractor. Mike went into detail on the extractor on specific faults and/or failures.
Moving forward we began to discuss the muzzle. How to remove the flash hider along with the differences between muzzle breaks and flash hiders. Mike gave some insight into how to remove various types handguards and how to install them without pinching your hand.
Mike was just full of all kinds of good information no not to make this a painless process but also where to buy special tools that make assembly and disassembly much more streamlined than before. His personal experience with building, teaching, training, and competing with black rifles made it easy for him to provide context as well as specific events for certain repairs or preventative maintenance.
Also, his experiences inspecting rifles for illegal modifications for a police department. One of the products he recommended is the Geissele reaction rod, which does have a bit of a high price point, but it more than proved its worth if you’re a serious armorer or weapon maker. Mike recommended from experience parts from unbrandedar.com as well.
What stood out to me during the disassembly of the upper was that while the lower is disassembled and re-assembled back-to-front and front-to-back respectively; it is exactly reversed for the upper receiver. Pointing this out became handy knowledge or principled knowledge for the students during the assembly process if they ran into issues during functions checks. Upon completion of the talk through and walk through of disassembly/reassembly of the uppers we broke for lunch.
Day 2 PM
The afternoon started with a lecture on details for precision work on installing the upper parts. The other subject covered was going over the head space and timing of the AR platform, including when and how to use gauges. Mike ran the class through questions and exercises for diagnostics with some common AR issues. The questions of the class weren’t about how to use any of the diagnostic tools but about when to use certain tools. Mike was able to connect answers with specific experiences he had doing repairs.
Mike also covered storage with details about environmental concerns or lack thereof along with misconceptions about how to store rifles. It was also great to hear about “rack safe” storage. Revisiting the cycling as the reason why springs fail/break.
At the AAR for day 2 there were very interesting comments and feedback that I felt compelled to leave in the review. Every single student felt that the instructors were very much invested in making each student better. All the students left the class with a bottle of Gunzilla CLP, the Badlands AR/M4 armorer manual, and a CLEET (Oklahoma Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training) accredited certificate.
Generally, what I took away from the class is if you know how your rifle functions, and I mean really know what makes it cycle, it’s very easy to diagnose and fix any issues. Most all of the problems that you may come across have a solution of ensuring proper assembly, replacing faulty or broken parts with a new part, or cleaning the current part.
The class far exceeded the cost of tuition and my expectations. In this industry it’s common to refer people to mainstream trainers with classes in $750-$900 for no real reason beyond that they are a mainstream player. We see a class at a great price and assume the training is of lower quality but that is NOT the case with Badlands.
If I can walk away from 2 days in a pure classroom setting feeling like I’m a better shooter because of it, then I’m really curious about what I could learn in one of their live fire classes. Badlands is a very well-kept secret in my opinion.
Get in and train with them before the secret gets out.
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