March 29, 2022
“You guys came here for knowledge, and I’m going to give it to you,” said Larry Vickers at the start of his 2-Day Advanced Handgun Course. Vickers often offers back-to-back classes on different subjects when visiting a location, and I had just completed his 2-Day 1911 Operator Course the day prior. I saw the contrast of shooting a class with an iron-sighted Model 1911 and a striker-fired pistol equipped with a red-dot sight as an opportunity for me to explore their respective advantages, and to test my own abilities when using them under instructor- and timer-induced duress.
“Stress inoculation training” is defined as a form of cognitive-behavioral therapy. It is used by firearm instructors to teach students coping skills for managing stress and anxiety while still engaging a threat. Stress inoculation during shooting is not something you can effectively do by yourself. It often requires another person to impose unexpected stressors on your environment, which is why I seek out training from reputable instructors. I’ve also learned that it’s during these events when one’s equipment seems most likely to fail. You’ll learn how to overcome the unexpected, what works and what doesn’t.
Vickers is known for his fidelity to the Glock pistol. Though he appreciates the M1911 that he once served with as a soldier, he recognizes its shortcomings and claims his 1911 course is a “Glock-appreciation class.” To add, Glock offers LAV-suffixed serial-numbered pistols through Lipsey’s, the distributor, in limited-run configurations. The frames were first Gen3 models with the rough-texture frame, second generation (RTF2). It is largely unknown to the public, but Vickers’ former unit, the 1st SFOD-D (Delta) was carrying the Glock 22 with RTF2 frame and FDE-colored magazines with plus-two-capacity baseplates starting in the mid-2000s following his retirement.
Besides the low-production RTF2 frame, Vickers’ Glock pistols are enhanced with Vickers Elite components, which had been developed years prior as aftermarket parts produced by TangoDown. The parts include an extended magazine catch, Vickers’ dimpled magazine baseplate, and a flared slide-stop lever. The package also features a Vickers Elite Battlesight manufactured by Wilson Combat with Vickers’ thin-bladed front sight with gold bead. These parts are delivered in the box with each pistol as a supplement to various LAV-serialized Glock models for local dealers to install. In 2018, Lipsey’s began offering a limited run of Gen3 Glock 17 and 19s with RTF2 frames colored in flat dark earth, and the offerings continue to expand to other models with Vickers’ input.
Enter Wilson Combat
If you study up on the history of practical pistol shooting and how it impacted skill and equipment development, you’ll recognize many of the same famous names in the circle of Vickers’ friends: Ken Hackathorn, Rob Leatham and Bill Wilson. Prior to Wilson Combat, Wilson was a champion shooter and pistolsmith going back to the 1980s. In 1996, Wilson, Hackathorn and Vickers were among the founding members of the International Defensive Pistol Association (IDPA).
Vickers teamed again with Wilson in 2018 and created the Vickers Elite Package for Glock pistols. Through Wilson Combat, Vickers asserts his belief that a Glock is the finest choice for a polymer-framed general-issue handgun, and the Gen5-series in 9mm is now the best of that brand. However, he also believed that certain treatments could make it better.
Wilson Combat’s gunsmiths take the Gen5 pistol and laser stipple the Vickers Elite pattern around the grip, adding touchpoints to the frame above the triggerguard. For this article, I ordered the G45, which features a compact G19 slide atop the larger-capacity G17 frame.
Vickers told the class, “You have to make a concentrated effort to pull the trigger straight to the rear.” I’d say that if the trigger is as good as the one on this G45, that’s likely not a problem. Wilson gives these pistols a so-called “duty-action tune” complete with Vickers’ TangoDown flat-faced trigger. (Let’s pause for emphasis.) I will argue that Wilsons’ effort produced the best trigger available for any Glock. If you want to know what the accuracy potential of the lauded Glock Gen5 Match barrel is, you have to experience Wilson’s trigger work. Saying that it measured 4 pounds on a gauge does not describe the short takeup, the wall that breaks like a proverbial glass rod or the quarter-inch of travel that follows in reset. One-and-a-half-inch five-shot groups are possible from 25 yards on a bench if you can do your part.
As with Vickers’ limited-edition models, the Wilson Combat Vickers Elite Glock includes TangoDown’s magazine release, grip plug, basepads on three magazines, trigger pad and slide stop. The difference is that it’s not a dealer installing these parts. One of Wilson Combat’s gunsmiths builds each gun before thoroughly testing it to verify its superior trigger, accuracy and reliability.
On top of the slide are five longitudinal serrations forward and behind the ejection port. This is reminiscent of the old-school serrations a shooter would find on a custom bullseye pistol to reduce glare. It’s a subtle touch that enhances the Glock pistols as much as the forward slide serrations introduced on the Gen5. Wilson’s slidework is complete with the installation of Vickers Tactical blacked-out Battlesight at the rear with U-Notch, and typically a green fiber-optic in the thin, front blade.
Unique to my order were a set of Trijicon suppressor-height sights, which were necessary because I also requested my G45 to be fitted with the new Aimpoint ACRO P-2. The shark-fin front sight was a compromise to cowitness with the rear within the ACRO’s window. On the range, the combination worked great, but it does require attention to the sight groove with your holster selection.
Aimpoint ACRO P-2
Wilson Combat doesn’t offer the Vickers Elite Package for Glock pistols with an Aimpoint ACRO, but it should. Vickers personally approved of the ACRO and I’ve seen one installed on the same Wilson Combat model that inspired this build.
“Red-dot-sight pistols are the future, and they’re here to stay,” Vickers said. “But there’s definitely a learning curve to it. If you raise your game with a red-dot sight and go back to using irons, your standard sights will appear rock steady, so that’s a plus.”
Though Glock offers MOS models with adapter plates, Vickers explained that he prefers having a gunsmith machine the slide to accept a red dot. I do, too. The advantage to using an ACRO over another red dot sight? There are many.
The ACRO attaches by a rail grabber clamp and recoil lug crossbolt that locks down to a plate mounted with four screws on the slide. This tough and clever design handles recoil better than two screws and bosses that other red dots use.
The ACRO P-2 is the next generation of ACRO, new for 2021. Just as tough (and longer lasting), it features a CR2032 battery on the left side of the aluminum housing. The battery is capped behind the redesigned activation touchpad.
Another benefit to shooting an ACRO-equipped pistol over other red dot designs is the closed emitter. Most red dot sights for handguns are designed with an exposed emitter, which means that moisture and debris can fall between the emitter and the lens to interrupt the sight’s function. With a closed-emitter design, the electronics and lenses are protected within a housing and support aiming, even if the front of the objective lens is obscured.
A challenge when using a sight with an open emitter is training to find the red dot. Most raise the sight higher than factory iron sights, which changes the relationship of your eyes and your normal presentation. It may take 1,000 draws in practice to learn how to point a pistol and find the sight, but the ACRO features a tube-effect that aids a shooter in instinctively finding the dot. If you can see through the window, you’ll see the dot. If you can’t, your brain quickly adjusts your grip angle to see through the tube.
“I’ve got a drill for you.”
Vickers assessed our pistols in the class before shooting began. It was interesting to track performance trends through students of various skill levels. There were three Glock 22s in .40 (carried by the active law-enforcement students), two SIG Sauer P320s, three HK VP9s, an FN FNP-45, a Beretta 92FS, a Springfield Armory XD9 and a Walther PPQ. Of the 16 students, four used red dots including myself and Vickers. Most of the pistols shot well, but some required zeroing.
Like the previous 1911 Operator class, shooting started after the safety brief, zero check and the “Ball-and-Dummy Drill.” Vickers used this time to discuss fundamentals and to tweak the grip and body positions of several classmates. There was the usual focus on accuracy first with five, 10 and 20-shot groups fired at the 10-ring of a B-8 bullseye target. This progressed to timed pairs and triplets followed by increased distances and challenges with longer strings that forced reloads. The G45 produced the tightest group of the class again and again, and my confidence was high.
Vickers taught using several of his own exercises mixed with drills such as the “Total Control Drill” developed by Rob Leatham. From 25 yards on an IPSC target (clean of the B-8), students had to draw and shoot five shots within five seconds. If you can keep them in the C-zone, Vickers defines your skill level as “adequate.” If you keep them in the D-zone, he considered one a “marginal” shooter. If you can keep rounds in the A-zone, you’re an “excellent” shooter, and if you’re willing to risk no-point misses and successfully make a few in the head box in addition to the A-zone, you were “exceptional.”
“I’ve only seen Rob Leatham keep all shots in the head at that distance in that time, which is where the name ‘total control’ comes from,” Vickers said. “I’ve only managed it a few times.”
During the drills, I often had to replace my B-8 bullseye for shooting a single-hole group within the 10 ring. I enjoyed the “Distance-Is-Time Drill,” where we shot 10 rounds at 5 yards within 5 seconds, then backed up and shot 10 rounds at 10 yards in 10 seconds, and finally 10 rounds at 15 yards in 15 seconds. Every miss adds 1 second to your time. I managed to use the Wilson-Vickers G45 to clean this drill twice — with time to spare — and even beat Vickers once.
The drill that tested students and their pistols was “The Humbler.” It features a 70-round, 700-point aggregate. Vickers said that members of the Unit sometimes shot this drill in training at 25 yards, which sets back even the best of shooters. The drill is shot entirely using a B-8 bullseye and uses the target’s true scoring. It’s debated as to whether anyone has ever shot a perfect score at 25 yards, but Vickers and Leatham have come close. I wasn’t far behind him with this pistol.
Vickers implements this drill with a handicap for students. By the second day of training, most classes are comfortable shooting it from 15 or 20 yards. There are 11 strings from the draw starting with a 10-round string of slowfire with 10 minutes to shoot it. I borrowed from my bullseye pistol experience and easily kept all 10 rounds in the A-zone. The second pair of strings stepped up to five rounds in 20 seconds each, which was a moderate pace. String three featured two rapid-fire strings, five rounds in 10 seconds each. It was much easier with the ACRO-sighted G45 than with my 1911.
Series four, five and six are strong-hand-only stages. Starting out with five rounds shot slow fire in 5 minutes, followed by five rounds from the holster in 20 seconds. Stage six was shot in rapid fire, five rounds from the holster in 10 seconds. Stage seven, puts the pistol in the opposite hand for five shots while shooting slow fire. “This is where the wheels fall off,” Vickers accurately predicted.
Stages eight and nine are kneeling stages. Stage eight is five rounds in slow fire, and stage nine is timed fire, five rounds in 20 seconds. At this point, shooters who attempt this drill need to be mindful of the backstop. If you have a short berm, pay extra attention and know what’s beyond the target from low positions. Stages 10 and 11 are the same as eight and nine, but from a prone position. Due to our backstop height, we shot these from kneeling. My score? 679.
The last test of a student’s development each day was a precision drill that reconfirmed a shooter’s zero and emphasized accuracy. The target was a 1-inch square pasty. Vickers challenged students to put five shots from 5 yards anywhere on the pasty. The smallest group that touched it wins. I printed a .475-inch group on Day One, and even after nearly 1,000 rounds had been put through the G45 (with no malfunctions), I shot a .75-inch group on Day 2.
Though I won the first day’s test, I lost Day 2 to another Glock shooter: Andy Feltovich. Feltovich was a testament to Vickers’ training. He learned to shoot as a novice from him years ago and continues to attend several courses a year. He’s a devotee, and I was proud to lose to him. At the end, it was I who was humbled.
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