Years of shrinking budgets and shortfalls have led to greater and greater cuts for the training budgets of many law enforcement agencies. Some agencies deal with these cuts by sitting back and doing less. Others develop ways to remain proactive and develop training opportunities. The purpose of this article is to share one such means that my agency has pursued, and explain what worked and didn’t work for us. Hopefully it will inspire other agencies to come up with their own ideas.
DEFENSE LOGISTICS AGENCY
Recently, my agency has utilized the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) Disposition Services to request and be issued various items such as MSA headsets, tool kits, protective eyewear and optics. Formerly referred to as the DRMO and DRMS, agencies have worked through their State Coordinators to request used government equipment through this Federal Agency. The acquisition of this equipment is just one of a number of ways my agency has been able to obtain items we never would have had an opportunity to use otherwise, and maximize a shrinking training budget. The program available to law enforcement is through LESO, or Law Enforcement Support Office, and called the 1033 program. States each have a coordinator who works with this system with varying requirements at each.
The M261 conversion kits we received through the DLA/DRMS system are a replacement bolt system that replaces the bolt carrier group (BCG) and allows the use of less expensive .22 LR ammunition. The kit cycles by blowback instead of gas and is similar to the more commonly known Ciener design that is also still commercially available. One can search for them through the DLA system, which may take awhile, or seek units for sale on the surplus market or commercial copies.
TRAINING WITH .22s
Some say that training with .22s helps develop bad habits due to different recoil characteristics, and that only full-powered .223/5.56 rounds should be used for LE training. My experience is that, in order to adapt to slashed budgets, many fundamentals and skill sets can be taught using .22s, and officers can still use their .223/5.56 ammunition for a smaller portion of their training.
The lower recoil .22s aid shooting on the move techniques, reduce flinching, and encourage correct and more stable shooting positions with persons of both small and large statures. The muzzle blast of the 5.56 may not be much behind the gun, but it can impact the shooter to the side, causing a distraction to him.
The M261 uses a ten-round magazine that inserts into either a 20- or 30-round aluminum USGI magazine and is held in place by tension of the magazine spring. I installed mine in training magazines or ones that I retired from active use. (I refuse to do hammer therapy on my magazines, as I can always find a training purpose for them.)
One disadvantage common to most .22 conversions is the lack of a follower that engages the bolt catch when the magazine is empty. As a trainer, I made sure the course of fire gave the shooter plenty of opportunities to work on their tactical reload skills. By forcing the shooter to do tactical reloads more often, the odds are greater that in a real shooting, they will remember to do this when they have an opportunity.
Black Dog Machine LLC (BDM) makes synthetic magazines for a number of different .22 conversions. They were on sale for $20 each on their website. I inquired about LE pricing and, after being given a very attractive quote, I was able to order double what I had intended. The magazines have a stated 25-round capacity, and I felt these might also withstand the ground impact better when ejected from the mag well. The USGI inserts tend to fly out when the spring compresses during landing.
I was very impressed with the size and heft of the BDM magazines. They are made with a removable follower and spring, and the body is two halves that are screwed together. I was sometimes only able to load between 22 and 25 rounds before the tension was like loading the last round in a Glock magazine. Over the course of my personal testing, this became easier, especially if I slid the cartridge back instead of stacking them on top of each other so the rims did not catch.
Before I set up a program for kits to be used by officers, I established three areas I wanted to test. I looked at reliability, accuracy and for any variances that would interact negatively to established fundamentals.
Reliability can be tricky with .22s, as they can be finicky to feed. Bullet profiles and differing quality controls can make accuracy and reliability with some .22s a challenge. A gun chambered in .22 LR may be reliable with one .22 load, while another model may not be so. Two identical models chambered in .22 LR may not shoot to the same accuracy levels, and different lots will add another variable to everything.
I fired about 2,500 rounds through varying weather conditions over the course of five months. My method was informal and not scientific, but I took note of any trends that in my line of work would be known as a clue and paid attention.
I found (no surprise) that the conversions needed to be well oiled just like the .223/5.56 BCGs. This is more important with the .22 than the 5.56, since the .22 is more prone to malfunctions. I had previously noted the wear points on the kits and made sure I kept those areas well lubed.
There are still many agencies that only use basic lubes and/or outdated methods, so I used both WD-40 and some DRMO CLP that I had been issued some years ago. It functioned, but they needed to be reapplied after 200 to 300 rounds. For many officers, this will likely not even be a day’s training, but trainers need to be aware of it.
Twenty-twos also inherently made the gun very, very dirty. I finally broke down and cleaned my patrol rifle when I began to experience trigger pull issues near the end of the evaluation. The Cleaning portion of the CLP seemed to turn the residue into a thick mud. With these kits in the future, I plan to use lubes that only lubricate, and leave the cleaning to other solvents.
Another issue I noted was that malfunctions do happen. Regular maintenance is a must to make sure screws are tight and the wire cartridge guide is in place and not binding, as well as cleaning the bolt face.
Ammunition selection is also important. I regularly experienced failures to extract and feed with Remington bulk ammunition, especially with the BDM magazines. One result of this is that a shooter gets a lot of repetitions with transitions to their sidearm. I noticed a lot of failures to fire with firing pin indentations with bulk ammunition. With today’s quality controls, this was disappointing but not surprising.
I had the most difficulty with Remington brand bullet profiles, both HP and Solids. My best overall reliability was with Chi’s Mini Mags, which are more expensive. Winchester 40-grain Solids, CCI Blazer and Federal 36-grain HPs and 40-grain solids performed acceptably for training purposes, with aminimum of failures to feed or fire.
I also informally checked to see if I would have problems with my gas tube plugging by seeing if .223 ammunition would malfunction in it. I didn’t experience any during my evaluation, but feel that a trainer should still have his officers end a training day by verifying their weapons function with .223/5.56 ammunition by re-zeroing and/or doing a qualification or drill the trainer feels is appropriate. It is a benefit to experience the feel of duty loads again at the end of the day.
Accuracy does suffer slightly with the use of these types of kits. A .22 diameter bullet needs to jump through the barrel insert and engage .224-diameter rifling. One will not experience exceptional groups with these but will see two- to three-inch groups at 50 yards. This is wholly acceptable for what one is trying to accomplish in training. During one evening’s drill session, from 25 yards I fired 200 rounds that were contained on an 8½” x 11” piece of paper, with the majority of rounds making a five-inch jagged hole. For training purposes, this is equitable to center mass of a threat.
These kits will likely shoot lower than what the initial zero is. For my duty Aimpoint optic, I use a LaRue mount that returns to zero when I re-mount it, so I keep a DRMO M68 Aimpoint sight (another acquisition we have been fortunate to obtain) zeroed in for the difference in point of impact using the .22 ammunition. For shooters who do not have this flexibility, one will need to change—instead of confirm—their zero at the beginning of the training. Have each shooter write down on an index card what windage and elevation changes they needed to make. At the end of the day, make sure each one moves his adjustments back to the initial duty zero and confirms it. This is a step that cannot be forgotten nor emphasized enough.
The final area I looked at for evaluation is any variances that make training with a conversion kit different than with standard-caliber ammunition. Ones I identified early on were the need to reload using the charging handle versus the bolt release, issues with limited capacity when using magazine inserts, and the need to rely on tac load skills versus speed loads. I made sure to limit my shooting strings to less than ten rounds at a time to encourage the tac loads, and allowed for additional time due to malfunctions and the need to reload magazines more often. I found that using the BDM magazines helped with the capacity, but they also did not feed Remington ammunition well.
There were frustrations involved with my evaluation process. If we lived, worked, and shot in a time when reliable ammunition was cheap and plentiful, I doubt I would have made the investments I did into this system. The reality is I will not likely see that type of ammunition supply in my career again. These kits, along with other kits such as the Ciener design or dedicated rifles like the S&W M&P 15-22 series, are now valuable tools.
How a course of fire is designed and run needs a bit more attention to detail when using these kits, as well as careful monitoring to make sure that bad habits do not develop as a result of the lower recoil.
With that said, I found that using the kits is still an advantage for training purposes. The ability to use lower-cost ammunition really can’t be argued at this point, and the disadvantages of this system are minor and outweighed by the needs of training.
With proper planning, quality conversion kits, and decent high-capacity magazines such as those from Black Dog Machine LLC, one will not only save money, but will use the savings to shoot more. And more trigger time is never a bad thing.