Central War Gaming Blog

Central War Gaming Blog

 

Monday, June 6, 2022

Get off the Road! A Guide to Bushwhacking

Bushwhacking is, broadly, the practice of going cross-country, instead of always following roads and trails. The term is a backformation, to create the action a bushwhacker often performs. Many like to say that this is all derived from the way you move through the woods off trail, hitting (whacking) branches to get them out of your way but that's a terrible way to get through the woods. 

Instead, it's most likely an inherited word, from something like the Dutch bosch wachter meaning a "forest keeper," in the sense of a game warden, groundskeeper etc but back when people owned whole forests. 

People familiar with the woods, and who become comfortable operating within them, do not stick to roads and trails, but are able to go anywhere, cross country, picking the best route through even literally trackless wilderness. 


Why does it matter how you get there? 

I or others have often brought up road movement with students while moving, or in AARs as being a bad thing, only to be challenged. Does it really matter? We got the mission done, after all. 

Well, remember that in much training we're not so full-spectrum. There aren't always ISR platforms, ground sensors, and land mines. To get the focused training done on time, proving that your road movement is dumb with even just an ambush would be counterproductive as we'd have to reset everyone and start the lesson again. So it can sometimes be hard for everyone to understand the risks they are taking.  

It is not just direct risks to your team — being detected and then ambushed, attracting fires, or simply triggering land mines / IEDs — but broader problems of exposing yourself to enemy observation. Simply being seen in an area can reveal information about the current disposition of your unit, and future plans your leadership has. 

Roads, Trails, Paths

Road travel is always limited, and especially dangerous for tactical purposes, but each tier of road has it's own unique purposes and risks. 

Note that in all cases I am talking about tactical use, not operational; if you are walking along with thousands of others as the whole Brigade rolls down a road, there's little risk to your fire team individually. 

I also am talking for this whole article about generally temperate zone stuff below the treeline. We've done lots of off-trail stuff in arid regions in the Mid-East and North Africa the past 20-30 years. These are very different environments, especially for the benefits and risks of each. 


Roads

I classify all roads the same. Anything designed for vehicle traffic of any sort from trucks to jeeps to bicycles is "a road." Higher traffic and higher speed roads generally have more of the problems but they are the same class of problem. Namely that roads are relatively straight, clear and unobstructed, and generally have no overhead cover so are nearly impossible to move down without being seen. A very twisty vehicle road has sight lines often hundreds of meters long. Highways may make you visible for miles. 

They also have drainage, bridges, cuts and fills, and otherwise are often hard to get off rapidly and into cover even if the surrounding terrain otherwise has any to provide. 

However, roads are often unavoidable. There may be no other way through an area, such as for river crossings, marshes or flooded fields, large rivers, or other impassable areas may only be conveniently crossable — without other equipment such as getting boats — without using the road. 

Roads in very high threat areas are not just mined, but often are very heavily mined in margins and drainage ditches because they would otherwise be ways to mitigate the visibility. This is why we all know the drill to cross roads; that is a hint we should to that more, instead of traveling down them.    

Railbeds 

Railway lines, whether live, disused or abandoned are often also useful and necessary, or inviting to use. They are even worse than most roads as they are always very very straight (trains don't turn tightly), and are cut and filled even more, with many more bridges, again because trains can't climb steep slopes or turn tightly. The roadbed is raised for drainage, and it is hard to travel on or adjacent to the roadbed due to the gravel ballast that the track is laid on. 

Despite the risks, all those bridges, cuts, and even tunnels can often be advantageous. A rail link may be the only way across difficult terrain without very long delays or very long movements so may be worth the risk as for roads. 

This is also a good time to mention that some stuff has changed over the decades. WW2 era guides on using roads and rails are outdated as standards of construction and technology have changed. Railways, for example, have many fewer signals, and do not store as many tools locally, so there are not 10% of the sheds and piles of spares. There are also increasingly few telegraph lines and those that remain are derelict, so you can no longer hijack them for your field phone.  

Trails

Trails, unlike roads, are only for foot traffic. You might find bikes or even carts, but they will at least in part have to be walked or pushed. Trails may be bumpy, steep, have sharp turns, and may even be impassable part of the season. 

However, foot trails are the primary way of moving people and goods in much of the world still. There are still — formal, and with signs the government maintains — foot trails in parts of Europe and the UK, separate from the road network. 

These are well known, and while they often go through scrubland or woods so visibility is lower than open roadways, they are often improved over time. They may have long straight stretches, bridges and other areas of long-distance visibility. Being well-known means they are often mapped, and always known to locals so may be full of traffic, which slows movement as well as letting everyone in the area know you are there. 

Of course, as with all predictable paths, this also exposes you to ambushes, though on well travelled routes you can often avoid mines by following locals or carefully inspecting the ground to see where they have gone off trail briefly for un-obvious reasons. 


Goat tracks 

At least as I was raised, natural trails — sometimes beaten in by people but short of actual real trails — as well as actual animal trails, are called goat tracks. Even animals naturally gravitate to trails! These are useful in that they are trails and so go somewhere, mostly reasonably efficiently, and when in the woods can be very hard to find from the air, or by enemies that stick to trails themselves and so on. 

They will often be much slower to travel on than other trails, and can be loud, as well as presenting significant risks for night travel. Animals either are often shorter or being quadrupeds can bend down more easily so branches at standing height will be in your way, and you have to go around or crouch down regularly to traverse a goat track. 

Goat tracks are made by walking through the woods repeatedly. They are what happens when you bushwhack over the same ground too many times, so watch for that yourself; think if the same route over and over is the best plan or a giveaway. 

Those you encounter are often shared by the local wildlife and population, but also split and join up constantly. Why? Because a boar can fit down a track much shorter than a deer, and may want to go different places for their forage or rest. You probably want to go none of those places, so be careful selecting goat tracks for your travels. 

In addition, they are still trails. They can be seen with sensors, which is bad for being found but good for you to pick them out with thermal or night vision. Goat tracks can be fairly easy to follow at night with NODs, as long as you don't get off trail. 

Of course locals or enemy who have saturated the area will already know all these as well, and can plan for you to use them, or even lay ambushes. Mining is less likely as it will be ineffective if animals currently use the trail, and set them off all the time but there are ways around that, so it's not to be discounted entirely. 

Rights of way

A trap many fall into when going cross-country is making things easier by using once-cleared areas like rights of way. The space under power lines, or over pipelines, for example. However, even old ones are on maps, or known to the locals. They are again predictable, so expose you to risks like ambushes. 

They also often are harder to traverse than they seem at first, as they are cleared of tall trees so those not taken over by grasslands are entirely covered with brush and scrub; depending on where you are, this may be very hard to traverse. 

In addition, rights of way are straight and the lack of tree cover makes you visible from long distances and from the air. Rights of way are a trap, not a trick, and should be treated as linear danger areas, to be crossed carefully, not traveled down. 

Bushwhacking

Cross country travel is very often the best way to get somewhere, for the opposite of all the reasons above. It is unpredictable, so impossible to lay detailed ambushes or set mechanical obstacles (though large area ones can be set, across a whole valley for example). 

Dense forests are the best, as they provide the most cover, the greatest benefit. But they are very different environments than hiking down trails in dense forests, than open grassland or scrubland. You will go very slowly, can be very loud, and can easily get lost. 

Yes, you can easily get lost in a few hundred meters of dense trackless woods, and completely end up going in circles. 



Sun, trees, and verges

Why are woods good to hide in? I mean we assume that they are good, and some things like overhead cover are obvious but why else? Darkness. 

Woods have trees that make the forest floor darker. This means if you stand inside there, you are darker than the outside. In addition, the verge (the transitional edge of... pretty much anything outdoorsy) is protected from the worst storms such as damaging winds, but has more light, so is almost always very overgrown. Looking through this into even the only slightly darker forest beyond can make you nearly invisible. This is why you set OPs and sniper hides in such places, crawling into the brush at the edge or cutting then erecting netting, to see but not be seen. 

Much the same effect can be gained when walking through the woods. A bit less so with modern sensors, such as thermals and radars. The darkness doesn't impact them, but the broken image — more broken, more concealed the further into the woods you are — makes it hard to detect and track you, and hard to identify even if a return is seen. 

Note that anywhere there is light there will be additional growth, so you will need to work through the overgrown verge at clearings and even around open water or wide enough rivers. Plan your movements accordingly, and look at the type of vegetation you can expect, avoid moving in and out of open areas, and if you need to access a pond make plans for how to get to the bank.


Moving cross country

I mentioned up top you don't whack the bushes when moving cross-country, so how do you move? Around things. One thing I notice when bushwhacking is my neck gets tired, as I don't just scan for enemy left and right, but also look up and down a lot. Down, to make sure you step somewhere reasonably clear, instead of on a branch that will crack, a rock that rolls away, or through a thorny bush. Up — well, level — to assure you can fit your body and pack through and under the branches. 

In much of the world you can just run headlong through the woods, but there are areas such as many places near me, where there are thorny vines that tangle, and entire 10 foot tall brambles that will stop you no matter what. Do not try to muscle your way through the woods, but be smart, and careful instead. 

Lift your feet, and plant them deliberately. There's little point in sneaking if you also are cracking branches or causing rock slides every few seconds. 

Use all your terrain association skills, to understand exactly where you are. Remember in dense woods you can't see very far, so cannot tell what part of the hill or valley you are in by looking around at the hill itself, but have to use hints about relative slopes, and refer to the maps. 

Limited sight lines and moving around brush makes it very, very easy to get lost. You can easily end up literally going in circles, so navigate very deliberately. Pick your bearing then find a unique tree (or rock, or whatever) as far away as you can clearly see, and head towards it, even if you must move around a lot to get there. Yup, that might mean stopping every 30 m of travel to take another bearing. Plan ahead and make sure the compass is easy to get to (wrist compasses work well for this), and have the route planned and memorized so you know where you are trying to go, and when to change bearing. 


Moving as a team

You will further want to really, really lean into all your land nav and patrolling tasks for the whole team. Point is just point, second is compass, then somewhere back there you have backup compass, a separate GPS/ATAK guy, a pace counter, and so on. Everyone has very clearly defined zone to scan, and must stick with it. 

You will usually need to travel in a single file. For all the usual reasons, of reducing frontal area from detection or unexpected meeting engagements, to conceal numbers for those you bump into, but also due to the expected difficult terrain. You will find and use one path through the woods, and only one, leaving the smallest impression that you were there. As the terrain gets more difficult, and as it gets dark — even with night vision — close up ranks, all the way to being arm's reach apart. Even in daylight, if the terrain is bad enough, being able to immediately help each other from falling, or climbing or so on, will often be more beneficial than being spread out to reduce casualties in an ambush. 

Naturally, you will move to other formations as needed. Not just as you move to roads, open fields, or into attack, but even simple things like cresting a hill, you may wish to spread out a bit (if not put the whole unit on line) to give a greater chance to observe the enemy first and bring fire to bear. Or, not, if you need to remain sneaky above all. It depends on the mission, but single file is going to be the default, and that will impact how rapidly you can move people across land and into an objective. 

Remember to work as a team. Help each other out over obstacles, hand off gear when tangled or someone will have difficulty climbing or traversing something. Simply turn around, and point to obstacles, hazards, or indicate the path forward. 

As team leaders, take lots of listening halts. Don't be too gung ho, because you will wear everyone out, and miss opportunities to observe things. During these, re-brief everyone on the plan. Where we are going eventually, where we are now, and where are we going next. Point out any deviations from the original plan, either already done, or expected now you are on the ground. 


Don't touch anything

Of course I mean with your hands. With your feet, you still want to be careful about how you walk and where to avoid making too much noise, falling, or becoming entangled.

But with poor footing, or on slopes, people tend to want to stabilize themselves. Don't. Don't reach out and grab a tree or branch. Why? Well the least risk but sounds-good and tactical is: it makes the tree move. Even pretty good sized trees can, just when grabbed, move several feet up top. That may give away your position to the enemy.

More prosaically, you are at risk of injury, and not doing your job. 

If you grab enough branches, you will get banged up, cut, get a thorn in the hand. Gloves help but only so much and now you must wear gloves full time. That slows you down if the job is fiddly stuff like navigation, or comms. 

Humans intrinsically look at what their hands are doing. If using a tool, the tool becomes an extension of you, so using the rifle means you look where it's pointing. But if you grab a tree, your eyes are looking — even if briefly — at where you are grabbing the tree. Now you can lose track of the navigational target, of the person in front of you, and you aren't scanning your sector. 

You might think of the whole method of moving branches aside and passing them to the next in line so they aren't smacked in the face. That. Don't do that. All the same I said above, but now you spend time on passing it, and there's a pretty good risk you mess up the handover so someone gets a branch to the face. 

Just go around, under, etc. Sure, sometimes you have to move branches, but try not to. And if you do routinely, because the route is awful or everyone is in big packs, think hard about the impact that is making, and if maybe you should give up and go on trail for a bit. 

Up and down

Steep slopes are another, related issue. They are hard, going up and down, so the first option is: don't do it. Use your map reading skills to plan routes where this doesn't happen. Use "contouring" methods to climb slopes across, at an angle, so your climb is shallower, and longer. 

If you must go up a steep slope, even just a short one climbing out of a creekbed, it often will be loose and hard to maintain footing. Remember, you are sneaking so want to not grunt, scream, or even just make the trees shake or cause a rockslide. Go slow, lean forward, and use rifle butts or just hands to help climb. Help each other stabilize, pull up over obstacles, and climb. 



Speed vs sound

Moving cross country is above all, slow. I can move on trails, with a load, at 4 mph, for a long time. That's unusually fast, and on trail even for just moving without keeping a watchful eye on the enemy, 2 mph is safer. 

Bushwhacking, off trail? 1 mph is a pretty good speed for just moving, with all the navigation and breaks baked in. Also periodically taking listening halts, scanning for enemy, sneaking up to high ground? Half that, or slower. 

Sure, you can go faster. Totally. If you are willing to trade effectiveness. You will be easier to spot, and much, much louder. You will start getting tangled, and bump into things, and trip, and everyone will be tired. 

Set expectations and if a tight time hack is critical, take the visibility trade off and move as far as you can on trails. Always remember that; you can pick and choose the best way to move based on localized threats and needs. Often it is a good idea to move on roads or trails at first, then move cross-country across open ground, to get to woods for the final (or at least the most sneaky-required) portion of the movement. 

Water courses

Much like rights of way, water courses (streambeds, dry intermittent streams, or just drainages and swales) may seem like a good way to move cross country. They are generally clear of brush, go a predictable place, and are in a depression so you are further concealed from observation. 

However, some of these are actually bad. They are predictable, so if a good route in, the enemy can see it and set OPs, or ambushes. Mines are hard to lay in such features, but especially off-route mines are not impossible. 

They are often very loud; from splashing, or loose rocks, and leave signs of travel for anyone following or who crosses it. The reduced visibility of being in a depressed and twisty course means you will be surprised at trail and road crossing, and have limited options for addressing the new linear danger area as you are already constrained. 

And the overall depressed area means an enemy that finds you, can easily maneuver on you without being seen, and position themselves to hold high ground. Imagine further you are traversing a long bend in a creekbed, and the enemy is positioned on the high ground inboard; they can bring you under fire for a long time, and for long distances as you try to escape the beaten zone. 


The military crest

When I talk about following water courses I mean any low ground, as water runs downhill. But you must do the same for the other side, the crest or ridgeline of high ground. 

Often there are trails along crests, as they are easy to navigate (going downhill to the side? You are wrong and can easily adjust) and provide a great view. So first, we're avoiding trails, right? 

Even aside from the trail issues above, in the densest woods and the shallowest of rises, standing on top of it is more visible than not. The military crest is a somewhat complex concept that involves reducing the area in defilade (not visible to you) below and is mostly taught for setting OPs and ORPs and setting base of fire. But it is a key navigational tactic for cross-country movement that is not really ingrained enough. Most importantly for movement purposes is that you are at least 6 vertical feet from the top of the terrain feature. 

6 feet because that's how tall the typical tall person is. 10 is safer, and easier to figure out. How is it you figure this out? We're back to land nav skills; you are gonna get very familiar with the topo maps and often enough they have 10 ft contours so, you are gonna walk one narrow brown contour line below the crest. Ideally, you won't stand there in the woods and count lines with a bit of stick, but will figure this out during the route planning before you set off. You should generally know how far off the crest to stay, and what other features to look out for. 

Most areas share a common topography, so once you get the gist of one hill, you know all of them for at least a while. Also note when it will change, such as when you climb out of a river valley area or move from foothills to mountains. While long campaigns of course will change terrain, even within a small area, you may move from one type of terrain to another, and must understand that for lots of applications of terrain association, siting and concealment, as well as bushwhacking. 


Natural lines of drift

The easiest path through an area is called the natural line of drift. Think of the way water flows through the path of least resistance. For a particular objective, considering terrain and obstacles, and for a particular way of moving. As a kid on your bike, riding through a drainage ditch to cut between your house and your friend's might have been a natural line of drift, because for your mode of transport it was the easiest way to get there. Same as highways for cars since driving back roads for hours is more tedious

As discussed, through the woods, you will go around brambles, go up and down the steepest slopes at angles, and cross creeks straight on. Natural lines of drift will be populated by goat tracks, but as I mentioned, these are not always useful as the path of least resistance for a fox is going to be different than that for a human. 

Be aware of natural lines of drift, and think about how to use them. Casually hiking for recreation, or moving your squad with no threat, you should use these principles to make things easier and more entertaining. But moving tactically, to avoid detection? You should make deliberate choices to avoid the easy path, so your route is not predictable and you do not have meeting engagements with enemy forces not being so careful. 

Use the same analysis of the terrain for setting bivouac sites, sentry posts, and OPs. Be able to watch over nearby trails and other natural lines of drift, but do not actually camp right on one, so no one trips over you in the night. 

Reducing spoor

Okay first, spoor is too often used as a euphemism for wild animal poop. It is actually any trace at all by which the progress of someone or something may be followed. Anything. It is both a joke we make, and true that tire tracks are truck spoor, and so on. 

You know most of this. Avoid walking through open muddy areas, or other places you will leave footprints. Don't cut down poles or firewood near camp. Carefully pick up your campsite — and listening halts — when you leave. 

But when traveling, often people forget this. We break off branches to make travel easier, break or cut fences, and walk blithely through tall grass. Everything you move through and step on leaves a trace. Often, a very small one, but a field of grass or forest floor of leaves will absolutely show your path, if viewed at the right angle or with the right platform (it is really easy to see tracks from overhead, like aircraft and drones). 

So how do you reduce your spoor? Well, my principle of going around instead of through it is part of this. Don't break branches. Consider spoor as well as effort when picking a path, so go around areas your footprints will disturb the forest. Skirt grassy areas, where brush or grass is shorter and won't leave an obvious trace. 

There is a lot to this but the best thing is to be aware. Look behind yourself and see what you are leaving behind. Often a best practice is for one of the more experienced people to be trail (last is the line) so remind them to watch for this, and see how much trace you are leaving, then discuss how to improve it — as a team, and for the particular terrain — at the next listening halt. 

Remember that much of the mystical nature of indigenous people knowing what wildlife is up to, or finding you easily, is simple familiarity with the terrain. Think of how small a change you would notice in your yard, or on the drive to work. To you it is just "a forest," but locals notice every tiny change, so don't leave any for them to find, and when you must then try to do it off those natural lines of drift where no one is looking. 


The limits of not being seen

When using dangerously-obvious land — around a water course or a long ridgeline the enemy could guess — seems the best or only way out, try instead to use it as a handrail — a guide you keep at "arm's reach." You stay parallel to it, but somewhere hidden, such as halfway up (or down) the slope to one side. When possible, take shortcuts such as cutting across bends in a river, to shorten the trip and gain high ground to give visibility to threats you are approaching, or which may be stalking you. Cross ridges not at the center of a saddle, but well up it, keeping the whole area in sight to avoid or flank and surprise enemy OPs or ambushes. 

But even that may be difficult. Very often you have no option but to walk hard against water courses, to cross high ground, or walk through a tall grassy area between them. As you move more and more into economically-active areas (whether housing, industrial, or agricultural) the only remaining woodland is that which is hard to develop, or banned from development, usually due to steep slopes, periodic flooding, and so on. The only woods though an area may be the verges along a water course, or a very obvious hill. 

At some point, realize there is little value in trying to hide, and maybe you are making your life more dangerous. The enemy has eyes, and maps also. They will assume approaches of scouts and raiders through here, and take appropriate actions. 

Always plan out your movements with the big picture in mind, thinking of risks, and ways to mitigate them. Plan them, or communicate this to higher command, before you get tied up in the minutiae about operating at the small scale, moving from tree to tree. Maybe it's best to just go on roads with trucks, maybe you need to go old school artillery barrages beforehand. Don't make assumptions of any one course of action or tactic. 

Instructors, and leaders, must do better

As I said early on, the whole reason I am writing this is that people in the field are all too often deeply unskilled at walking through the woods, or so unfamiliar with it they never even think of simply cutting cross country. I blame a lot of this on instructional focus, and the reduced time most armies spend in the field. 

When a whole afternoon is an abundance of time for a lesson, we cut corners. We get ride, and move down trails. We set the training site right off road, and practice our patrolling, observation or whatever it is, on road or trail. 

While there's little to be done about changing the culture enough to get more training time, it is important we train like we want everyone to fight. If your expectation is having light forces, or scouts, then make a point of having everyone move cross-country — and properly, quietly, using all these techniques. 

If you plan for it, and have permission depending on training facilities, it is often easy to add on small extra tasks to keep everyone sharp on these skills. For example, if you have three lessons to give, have them at different stations in the middle of the woods, then have the students use land nav and bushwhacking skills to move between stations. 

These do not have to be long movements. In fact, frequent and bite-sized training is more effective than annual big exercises, much less Powerpoint days. Make sure the tasks you expect your students to perform are regularly practiced, so they become ingrained, and are used when really needed. 





Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Zipper Pulls

Small things are not important, until they are. 

Zippers are a good example of a thing I often improve and customized, because factory zipper pulls have always sucked. The pulls are (almost always) metal tabs like this: 

Often small. Slippery. Clang on each other or everything else. Zinc or (rarely) mild and un-heat-treated steel, they also just break off. A lot. 

Some are plastic or rubber covered sure. These for example are nice and big and have enough rubber they are fairly silent at least. This is issue gear. Plenty of the stuff in my examples is provided is top tier brands and/or issue stuff for western militaries.

The standard hotness in zipper pulls is adding paracord or neat zipper pulls. ADDING. To the metal tab. Like this:

This is a "value added feature" and when all works, is useful for gloves, cold weather, etc but it doesn't totally silence it, and it doesn't mitigate the problem with the metal pull itself breaking. I you don't care, you can buy these add on pulls from several places like: 

 https://milspecmonkey.com/store/hardware-diy/155-itw-zipline-alpha.html

https://countycomm.com/products/zipper-pull-hi-viz-zombie-green-3-pack

I find that replacing the pull entirely with something else is a much better solution. 

Locking Zippers

Let's take a brief aside to mention there are such things as "locking zippers." These are automatic, so you may not have noticed them but if modifying the zipper pulls, you need to know this. 

The "locking" is not a security feature like a padlock (though they make those also to be confusing!), but a method of keeping the zipper from unzipping itself. This is typically found on clothing, instead of pouches, packs, bags. They usually only prevent movement one direction. So you can zip up, but the lock prevents stress or load items (bags you wear across the body) from causing the jacket to unzip itself. 

They work by having the zipper pull tab interact with a little spring-loaded bit inside the part that looks like the pull passes through. Look REAL close, and you can see it. So close, I can't get a good photo. Test for it

Now, cutting off metal pulls (or having them break) with locking zippers MAY work to replace with cord. But sometimes it does not. Or it works irregularly. This seems to have to do with the type of cord being used; it causes the system to hang up, the cord snags or catches the outer slider passage before it can move the lock lever enough, etc.  

So, it's your risk to totally replace locking pulls with cord. If broken, there are replacement pull tabs like this, split setup. You can also usually thread on a small but sturdy split loop, like a key ring. Then, tie cord to that, and if the ring is small enough and the cord is thick, it will also be pretty silent still as it's hard for the metal ring to bang into anything.



The best I normally get from the gear maker now is like this. Replace the zinc tab with a loop of paracord.

Not... bad. It is almost impossible to break, if it begins to fail you can fix it. You can repair in the field if smart enough to bring spare cord, and is silent. But not optimal as it can rotate around like this. Out of position it's hard to find, hard to identify as a zipper pull, etc.

Some try to get around this with knotting or as seen here, shrink tube, sometimes all the way up. It's... okay, but is a lot of work and wears. Shrink tube is nothing like the sturdiness of nylon cordage so that will break away some time.

This is an alternative method, tie the loop down up near the zipper pull.

This is similar though the halfway-down knot is a bit far away so it sometimes also snags, gets out of position such as under the storm flap and I cannot find it. The plastic silencer at the end is hard plastic so can become loud under some circumstances, but it's not terrible.

Also note that this is not just a cord keeper but you can use those add on zipper pulls as total replacements instead of adding to the metal pull. Install the same way, looping through themselves, but direct to the slider. 



Okay now, check out this one. To the left is a new low in attempted-tactical pulls. It's a loop... of elastic! It snags on everything and doesn't stay snagged but the elastic makes it worse and worse. (Also note how poorly tightened the knot was. At LEAST inspect all zipper pulls when you get your gear to make sure they work and will stay working!)

But let's now look to the right hand zipper from above. That is the Correct Way to to do them, I say. I am right: 

  • Cut off whatever pull tab is already there and throw it away. If a metal one, cut with wire cutters, then bend up till it clears the zipper pull body. Do not use force on the pull body itself as that is fragile and important.
  • Cut a loop of paracord or similar about 3x longer than you want the pull to be when done. Fold in half, shove the fold through the zipper body. You may need to use a punch to push through and/or needlnose/hemostats/tweezers to pull it through:
    • Smaller zippers need gutted cord or smaller cord.
    • For real safety items, consider fire-resistant cordage like Kevlar. It doesn't melt, and cutting is a whole thing, but paracord-sized cord is available and it works well for things like this.
    • Always-wet items (boating, diving) will usually want to use hygrophobic cord of some sort. 
    • You can also decide if you like stiffer cord or like it to flop a bit.
    • Longer is also fine, IF it won't get in the way. Very long pull loops are good for winter, dive stuff, etc but make sure they won't snag. Loops snag.
  • Pull the folded end of the cord through about halfway.
  • Put the two loose ends through this loop.
  • Pull the loose ends, tight. Tie the two loose ends together. Done! 
    • If you want a long cord with less loop to snag, tie more knots along the length, including clever things like a series of cobra knots to make a grabbable chunk of stuff with no closed loop.


Video on how to make a snake knot: 


Tuesday, April 19, 2022

How to Clean Optics

We use optics of all sorts every day. Well, most of us. Glasses, sunglasses, etc. are optics. But often we go to the range or the field, and have to use dots, scopes, lasers, night vision, and more. A lot of those we paid good money for to get the best optical clarity, and use in terrible conditions. How do you keep them clean? 

First, assume every environment is dusty like the desert. Dust is made of stuff that includes microscopic abrasives, so best to assume even your house has dangerous dust from the most desert/lakebed/wasteland. Also, it gets you used to the right procedure, so you remember the proper methods, buy the right cleaning materials, and carry a bit of stuff with you.

I was taught:

  1. Air over brush
  2. Brush over wiping
  3. Wiping always wet
Get a small blower with brush from a camera store. Like this one: 

Actually, finding this picture I just learned that the brush comes off the end. But all of these types all work assembled together, so you can blow / brush as a unit and at the same actual time.  

Keep the lens level (pointed sideways) or actually point down a bit to have gravity help (why knock stuff free to have it stay there!?), but not so much you can't see what you are doing. Blow as much off as you can. IF you must, use the very very soft brush to wipe away more, then blow that off also. Occasionally flick the brush to get the dust off it as we'll discuss more in a minute. 

If convenient (not too big a gun or optic), etc I'll often finish with the lens pointed straight down, and give it a few good squirts of the blower to have gravity take one more help to knock loose bits off the lens entirely. 

Get a bigger one for home or if you have a big optics case. I like this Giotto one because it's a rocket and is very very good:
Lots of air, deals with most issues. The rocket bit also means it stays upright as shown so doesn't get dirty etc. They make several sizes of this rocket blower. The mini is fine for most things but if you want bigger rockets, go for it as more air moves more stuff.

Do NOT use shop air (e.g. a compressor). That's too much, can damage things, and shop air has (a little) oil in it which defeats the purpose. 


For more dirty, such as when it rains (or just condensates) on your dusty lenses, you wipe. Wet. Always wet. Wiping dry is also called "sanding." Don't sand your lenses. Turn the optic lens up (and don't forget, you probably have to clean both ends, so do one, then the other), flood the area with Windex (or similar, but not like denatured alcohol, as that can dry out the rubber seals holding the lenses in, etc). Use a disposable wipe and go in a very tight spiral from the center outward.

The edges are the most dirty so you want to clean them last, and... they are also less important optically if they are dirty or even scratched. May be other stuff with optics going on, all I know is people like Zeiss above do big NO NOT THAT symbols for any pattern other than spiral. Believe them.

Don't use microfiber cloths etc, as dust is bad stuff like we mentioned. The cloth absorbs some of the bad things, so you want to toss them if at all possible (same for hand washing actually. Get rid of the bad things). Hence the cleaning the brush off periodically also. 

I like Kimwipes. They make a lens-specific one but I am unclear if it's just a different box label as I have used both, they seem identical. 


I first used these professionally, cleaning scanner beds and cameras for work I did with Hallmark, which is another type of optic and the results matter, so aside from being a nerd for scopes and night vision, I've done this cleaning where people judged my results. 

If you need to get visible ickiness out of the corners, wrap a wipe around a Q-tip, and (starting gently, plenty of liquid) go around the edge of the lens, where stuff gets trapped. The stick in the image with spirals above is doing that, but we can normally just use a slight wad of the wipe on your finger. It's fine. 

This wiping is going to end like window cleaning. Okay, we'll also not assume you know how to clean windows. You blow / brush to get all the chunks off, then wipe once to get big dirt, then spray with a bit less liquid, wipe around in circles pretty fast to get all the dirt and residues off, so it's perfectly clean. Then... it should do this visible flash drying you see when good window washing. If spots (large or pinpoints) exist as it dries: it's not clean. Do it again. If it evenly flashes from wet to dry across more or less the whole lens surface, it's clean.

For emergencies, in the field, etc. these liquid-impregnated wipes are my backup. I still try to brush or blow off first, and they are less optimal than the full procedure. But they are pretty good, and also have anti-fog properties so are good for eyepro, glasses.

I suspect all the lens cleaning wipes from legit optics makers are the same thing in different packages, but snazzy ones like Zeiss that I used to find disappear a lot. These seem consistently available.

Speaking of field use, I am not a big fan of LensPens. They are too good at trapping dirt. I do keep on on my LBE when I need to brush off bad things, to avoid using my fingers just that once. I use it only when I absolutely have to, and first I flick it a few times once deployed so any schmutz it accumulated from previous cleaning or just being in the bag I have given a good chance of knocking off. 



Then use it pretty gently. More velocity than pressure, and the same spiral motion, center outward. Don't use the flat pad on the other end, at all. Ever. If yours comes off (some do) take it off and throw it away. 







Tuesday, April 12, 2022

We Supply Airsoft Pellets for Swift Fox 22

Yup, that's one of those questions we get a lot, so here's the details. You don't bring pellets, we do. Why? Two basic reasons: 

  • Logistics. CWG events are very concerned with operations, not just tactics. Ardean and Kitoy ammo is marked per side, and doesn't work in each other's guns per the rules. Each side's ammo is provided in labeled ammo cans that are stored on field and have to be moved around in the cans to simulate the real world logistics. 
  • Aiming. We don't use bright colored pellets (at least for rifles) so you cannot easily see and walk them on target. We want to simulate real weapons fire, so you must use your sights then either get an effect on target, or fire again. Issuing dark ammo solves this for us without you having to get specific stuff, and us checking on that. 
  • Teamwork. Everyone on your side (or at least a lot of them) uses the same ammo so again to the operations side, has to work together to handle ammo supply. 

Note that we aren't like most paintball games, and just provide the ammo. We don't sell it, but enough for the entire event is provided as part of the game fee. Some is not in convenient places, but it's all out there on the field. 

For those that really care, like who want to zero their guns and stuff, what are they? Well, it depends: 

  • Ardean rifles use the heaviest pellets, 0.30 for their .30-caliber 7.62 NATO rifles. 
  • Kitoy rifles use slightly lighter 0.25 pellets for their .223 caliber (it's close!) 5.56 NATO rifles. 
  • Machine guns are totally different, and use a mix of white and glow in the dark pellets, at a 4:1 ratio. Sadly a ratio, so there will be random bursts of each color due to the way feeders work. Unlike rifles, this simulates tracer, day (white) and night (GITD, since you DO have a tracer unit on your MG as required, don't you???) 

The pellet weights do even sometimes matter, so at extreme ranges the Ardean rifles will go a bit further. It's not a perfect simulation of the two cartridges, but every bit helps. We also issue twice as much ammo to the Kitoy for their lighter rifles and more magazines on the body. Remember, the unit of issue for Ardea is 4 mags on the body, 1 in the gun, 6 and 1 for Kitoy. 


The Initial Issue ammo is what we provide as a big pile to you at the Assembly Area to load mags after chrono (chrono is performed with white 0.2 g pellets we provide also). Unload the chrono pellets and load up your battle ammo. Ardeans get 300 rounds per player, Kitoy gets 600 each. Remember that spare ammo has to take up the space it is would in reality, so if you end up with half a bag of Initial Issue ammo because you use realcaps, do not stuff the little baggies in your pocket, but put them back in an ammo can for transport. You can also just leave them with your Ready Bag, as long as you use the ammo only for reloads there, such as when recovering from wounds at the Aid Station, and don't carry it around. 

Specially trained personnel with high tech equipment load your initial issue boxes, and place them into marked ammo cans.

What about the GDL? For now, we're doing that with minimal changes so they are using the same pellets.  That works as: 

  • No change to machine guns. If it simulates a belt-fed MG, then use the MG ammo.
  • 5.56 and less powerful (SMGs mostly) then use the 5.56 0.25 ammo. 
  • 7.62 M43 (7.62x39) or larger uses the 7.62x51 ammo. 

Don't steal ammo. Just like you don't take anything else when you ransack the enemy bases or kill them, don't take their ammo caches even if low on your own supplies. Pretend it's incompatible even if you are a GDL player using that ammo, and ignore it or "destroy" it with a note if time permits.   

Any more questions? 



Monday, April 4, 2022

What's a Ready Bag, and How Do I Use It?

Central War Gaming events lean hard into "light infantry" methods, for several reasons. "Light" is a reference to the weight and bulk of the total lifting and logistics tail required to move and support a unit. An APC is a lot heavier than the troops inside, and need ammunition, fuel, parts and repair centers; but the end result is the old joke that individual light infantry soldiers carry the heaviest packs. 

We also allow for a "ready bag," and it has been very helpful for many of us, but seems to still be a point of confusion for many participants. For many units at Swift Fox 22 — not least the GDL — this will be even more important than before.



There is going to be a supply point, for each faction. It may be at your basecamp, or near (but not quite colocated with) the aid station, or it may b somewhere else entirely. 

It will be a pallet with your resupply ammunition, at least one 5 gallon water jug and maybe other things. 


It will also have room for you to put your ready bag. Another bag, or box, with extra stuff. 

The backpack/ruck/bergen is required for the Arden and Kitoy — and suggested for the GDL. In it you should carry everything you know you will need for sure in it, and some specific required things like water, first aid and so on.

But you don't have to carry literally everything you might need. Say, the spare uniform. If you think one is good enough, put the spare in the ready bag in case you fall in a pond. If it seems nice, and dry, you can put some of your more extreme cold weather gear in the ready bag instead of the ruck. 

It's airsoft, so the guns are terrible. If you want to bring a spare, you don't ruck it around, but leave it in the ready bag. You can bring stuff into the field, have available, but not have to carry it with you.

(Remember, there's no going back to the car for something you forgot once the game starts).



Also remember reloads. You can carry ammunition into the field, but cannot make more. A 40 mm shell, or rocket, can be loaded into the launcher, but to recharge it with gas, and load a new projectile is something that can't happen in the field. 

We pretend you are going back to the supply point to get more ammunition, but you may instead use supplies you left there to to recharge them all. 

(Yes, if your stuff leaks, you can bring spare gas into the field to top off. We're not monsters). 


The supply point and your ready bag is often near the aid station because then it's close to you when you are dead and recovering. I also bring some spare snacks, a water bottle, and anything else I might want for comfort in my ready bag. 

When killed, I can go rest in more comfort than I might otherwise. For example, in the aid station I'm static so a warmth layer just for this loction is useful to not get cold. You may choose to even have a spare meal and the required heating and eating gear, so you can fully replenish yourself even if your ruck is far away, or just to avoid using the portable ones. 

If any of this seems a little unrealistic, remember it is a game. Not in the sense that it doesn't matter, but that it is compressed in time an space, and that other resources are imaginary. You can't attack enemy aid stations not for morals, but because they are supposed to be actual aid stations, with medics, and guards with fixed machine guns.

Likewise, the resupply point is not really just a pile of stuff, but there are logistics staff, and maybe even — depending on your scenario — vehicles moving in and out of there bringing you more supplies through the event. That's why you can have a rocket launcher with three reloads only, but go get three more reloads as many times as you want. 


Technically the ready bag is not required. If you want to ruck in everything, go for it. 

For the GDL, there's even more room to maneuver. You will have a basecamp so as far as we're concerne you can carry ONLY the ready bag of stuff, and use LBE or assault pack for what's needed in the field. 

As always, talk to your chain of command and ask what else they require of you, and plan for other team gear you may have to carry before you decide for real 

Sunday, March 6, 2022

If You Don't Like Rifle Grenades, You Don't Understand Rifle Grenades

The rifle grenade is almost entirely missing from the mind of the American servicemember or weapons aficionado. That’s because of project SALVO, which went nowhere but did give us project NIBLICK which begat the 40x46 hi-lo 40mm cartridge and eventually the M79 (it took a while to get a useful launcher) around 1961. 

The 40 mm launcher has taken over the throw explosives over there role worldwide for some convenience, and a lot because of my usual argument for the prevalence of the M4/M16: the US became the only superpower. Plus things like consolidation destroying many entire national arms industries, the easy choice becomes “buy whatever mature system the Americans make.” 

40 mm is fine, but the one bad thing it has caused is a lack of imagination. We think rifle grenade technology stopped being developed in 1954 so Korean War rifle grenades are what is being talked about. No one even considers what else is possible, far too often. 


Japanese soldiers firing old school big steel ENERGA rifle grenades off their Howa Type 64 rifles in the late 1960s.That's over 50 years ago. 

The Mythology of Rifle Grenades

A lot of people dismiss rifle grenades because of beliefs that are out of date or wrong. Let's look at those first:

  • Inconvenient — You have to carry blanks. Turn off the gas system, maybe change other things about your gun to fire
  • Needs a launcher — In fact, that you can't just shoot them off the muzzle then, but you also have to carry the grenade launcher adapter and first mount it on the end of the rifle first 
  • Dangerous — If you use a live round instead of a blank, that will ignite the grenade and blow you or your squad up. This is not just a danger but a fear so troops ca be reluctant to use, or flinch more. 
  • Ruins the rifle — If a bad guy pops up close you can’t shoot them with your rifle. 
  • Recoil — Use it wrong and they knock you down or dislocate your shoulder. 
  • Heavy — Rifle grenades are huge and heavy. 

The MAS49/56, the french service rifle more or less from the post-war rebuilding until the FAMAS, had a standard 22 mm lug and a gas cutoff system integral with a grenade sight. The earlier MAS49 had a grenade launching adapter as well.


The Truth of Rifle Grenades

So one by one, let's discuss each of these points: 

Inconvenient

Nope, they don’t use blanks anymore. Most rifle grenades are what is call the Bullet Trap style. Exactly what is printed on the tin, there’s a trap, you fire live ammo and the gas AND bullet impact force are used to propel the grenade. Some — like the TELGREN and the JAPANESE WHAT??? are Bullet Thru, which also is entirely explained. Self- sealing hole down the middle, snags all the gasses and I presume a bit of bullet inertia also. Means you can’t accidentally use some AP round that might go through the trap but mostly lighter weight, as no trap. It does make the payload design hard, apparently, as you can imagine. 

Needs a launcher 

Nope. Not a thing. I mean, maybe for commies but let me introduce you to: 

...the 22 mm muzzle device. 

You ever noticed how all NATO rifles have the same diameter muzzle device? G3, M16, same basic outer shape. Why? Rifle grenade launching. Sure, dedicated orgs like the French have additional stabilizers back on the barrel for /better/ grenade launching, but all normal rifles, with normal muzzle devices, can launch normal rifle grenades for like 50 years. Grenade launching adapters are not a thing. 

The spring is like a gasket or detent, which the grenade snaps on to so it has force to overcome to launch and doesn't fall off, but still can be removed by hand if not fired. 


Dangerous

No such thing as explained above. So blanks needed so normal ammo will do fine. Safety has increased for ordnance generally so if somehow you shoot an API round it still should not ignite the grenade primary charge. 

The current French issue AP-58, a bullet trap rifle grenade

An early bullet trap, before and after firing, from a Mecar rifle grenade.

Ruins the rifle

Besides being old (no adapters, no gas system shut off anymore) this is an armchair commando comment because in wars what do you bring: All you friends with their guns. See this guy walking around with a rifle grenade mounted? Because he’s got friends with rifles without grenades mounted. 

Some KNLA forces in Myanmar maneuvering in a city, one with a rifle grenade on his M16 for an extended period of time.

Also, how’s an M79, M320, or even just the weird grip of an M203 give you the instant ability to shoot someone with a rifle? Even if you notice (aiming at someone far away, etc) my favorite solution in the very unlikely case this comes up: shoot em with a grenade! 



Recoil

Again very old information and also sort of irrelevant. If you are a WW2 soldier with a big adapter and heavy steel rifle grenade you also had what they call Training. You know this essentially turns your rifle into a mortar so you place the butt on the ground. 50s-60s soldier? You are told to let it free recoil. Hold it at the waist and not let the butt touch anything. 

A re-enactor unloads the ball ammo from an StG-58 and rapidly fires two training anti-tank rifle grenades at a tank target. Between the mortar-style butt on ground and modern shoulder methods were many of these free recoil methods. 

And in both these cases, hard to forget as the grenade sights don’t work if you try to shoulder it anyway! But today, no danger. Mostly because the grenades are amazingly light. Some lighter than an M203 round. You know recoil is mass+speed so light rounds going not that fast is not that much recoil. The plastic construction also is like plastic stocks vs wood on a shotgun; they flex and soak up recoil. Yes, that works. The heavy payload end being squashily attached to the gun spreads out the recoil impulse to the gun, then, to your shoulder. 

A Marine tries launching a rifle grendade off a FAMAS. This is someone unexperienced, at full recoil. He's just fine. 

Some appear to have elastomeric attachments and the TELGREN telescropes. You extend it to fire, but on firing it collapses back down, which is super duper spreading out the recoil impulse over time. 


Weight

Again, old data, like saying all American guns are heavy compared to modern Chinese guns and using a BAR as an example. Exactly the same. Modern rifle grenades are crazy lighweight, and as compact as they can be so easy to carry.


Things Rifle Grenades Excel At

Mostly, being spigot launchers. Fundamentally, that’s the most important one to me. You are’t restricted to things that fit into a barrel, the requirement the outside of the projectile be able to handle in-a-barrel forces, or carry around a cartridge case or otherwise propellant to launch that. 

The full range of rifle grenades from one maker. Note how they are all different sizes. The size needed for their capabilities. 

So, rifle grenades are available in different formats, like HE or AT. Flares and smoke. BIG flares; need some illum? You can parachute flare rifle grenades with similar properties to 60 mm parachute illum.

You can do really weird things. I can’t find one this moment, but “Ambush Breakers” used to be issued to a few armies. A rifle grenade, but it doesn’t launch. Instead it fires a claymore-like wide-dispersion shotgun blast off the end of your rifle! No special weapon system, just second in line in your jungle patrol has this mounted and is part of the immediate action drill. 

A favorite of mine I SIMON, adopted with minor safety changes by the Army as the M100 GREM. It fires a moderately low-explosive charge at standoff, so you can knock down doors entirely, and with a reduced chance of destroying the whole room (and all occupants) beyond. Wide, long, odd shaped. Don’t need to make a new giant launcher for it as it’s a rifle grenade. Just stuff on the end of your M4. 

The French and Japanese (two who issue rifle grenades to their entire armies) both use HEDP rounds. They blow up and can destroy equipment and kill troops in the open, but also have a shaped charge that is large enough in diameter they can defeat armor of anything short of a fairly modern tank. 

A 40 mm can't do that no matter how hard it tries. HEAT warhead penetration is a function of diameter and 40 mm simply isn't big enough around. 

Cultural norms vary even to things like understanding rifle grenades. Japanese comics have Type 06s mounted pretty regularly, and otherwise rifle grenades are used in pop culture combat, not just 40 mm grenade guns. 


Rifle Grenade or 40 mm? 

A lot of this is about mindset. How does your army want to work. Like claims the MG42 is better than the 1919 or BAR are… asking the wrong question. They were each fine for the ways the armies worked, and switching guns would have been bad. 

The US seems to like having grenadiers. IF we’re fine with 40 mm payloads, that works then because they carry what like 2 dozen grenades? But what if you don’t like grenadiers, and want most of your squad to have the ability to fire explosives to 300 m range? Then, rile grenades are a much better choice than a grenade gun.


Similarly, rate of fire is often brought into the conversation, for the relatively fast reload speed of M203/320, and the immediate firepower of the Milkor MGL (M32A1-MSGL in US service, finally), but of course it's the same conversation. If only one person is firing grenades, then their firing speed matters; if the whole squad is firing, then you can either mass fires or have everyone fire serially with discussions of wind and range, to adjust fire for each follow-on shot in the same way. 

Weight alone, you can carry 10-11 Telgren (for example) for the same weight as 10 M203 and an M203PI. Over that load, the M203 gets the benefit. Under it, the rifle grenade. 


Then it’s how you approach it. If you like having a grenadier designated, then a standalone 230 or Milcor with 36 rounds on him is likely a good idea. If you want everyone to be able to lay explosives, then everyone with 1-3 rifle grenades is good… OR, mix and match. Which is what we’ve lost with so so very much emphasis on the 40 mm. Why not have both, so you can carry not just breach grenades, but redefine what “organic” fire support means and bring bigger boom, smoke, or illum to the platoon or squad level.  


Future Concerns — Suppressors: 

Since I like to think systems, one issue that is going to be arising is suppressors. French love rifle grenades but I have also see whole platoons issued with small suppressors. 

They may bring us back to all grenade guns or maybe… adapter like issues? You can’t shoot rifle grenades from suppressors or brakes. This seems solvable though, for example just put a 22 mm flash hider on the end maybe? But, worth keeping in mind if planning on equipping your army with rifle grenades as you may also want some to be suppressed. 





Polyvalents: 

An idea that was actually fielded for a while in the 70s was the polyvalent grenade. That is just a big word that means it's configurable and multi-mode. 


See?! You can carry a hand grenade, and add a tailcone to it, now it's a rifle grenade. There are a number of other multi-configuration grenades around, like those with removable fragment sleeves, and now there are a few that are stackable to change how much they go boom or even become Bangalore torpedoes. So... it makes me wonder if things like this may come back some day. 

A similar French one spanned the introduction of the bullet trap and became suddenly 2" longer with a big, obvious steel trap screwed between the tail and grenade. While it was a bit clunky, it also points to another value both rifle grenades in general can have, and polyvalents specifically: they can be any shape so things like this can be done. 


Other Photos: 

Too much to choose from for the article above, so I tossed more of them down here. 




The formerly French issue APAV-40, with the shape charge and bullet trap visible in the cutaway


A French soldier from the 1st Regiment Marines Infantry (RIMA) fires an anti-tank grenade from an assault rifle FAMAS during a training session at the Forward Operating Base Tora in Surobi district
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