AAR – Costa Ludus CE01 – Wiscasset, ME 29-31 AUG 2013

Company: Costa Ludus
Course: CE01 (3 day)
Dates: 29-31 AUG 2013
Instructor: Chris Costa
Location: Wiscasset, ME – Wiscasset Rod & Gun Club

T1: Overcast, slight breeze, mid 70’s
T2: Mostly Sunny, humid, high 70s
T3: Slight rain in the morning, clearing, very humid high 70s

My Background:

Civilian, InfoSec industry, serious student

My Kit
Pistol – M&P 9fs, 10-8 sights, APEX DCAEK/RAM, SureFire X300U
Carbine – 11.5″ SBR, Geissele MK4 9.5″ rail, BCM Barrel, Battlecomp, Geissele SSA-E trigger, Rainier Upper, BAD ASS short throw, Raptor CH, Aimpoint Micro H1, Magpul BUIS
Holster/Mag Holder: Raven Concealment holster, FastMags for M4 and Pistol
Armor/Carrier: 10×12 ESAPI LEVEL III+, SKD PIG with MOLLE cummerbund, BFG pouches and Tourniquet Now
Med Kit: Dark Angel DARK, Pocket DARK
Belt: HSGI Padded belt, Ares Gear Ranger
Boots: Adidas
Eyepro: Smith Optics Elite Prospect, Boogie Regulator, Aegis
Earpro: MSA Sordin Supreme Pro X
Camera: GoPro Hero3 Black

Round Count: Approx 2100 .223, Approx 100 9mm over 3 days

Facility Notes: Thanks to Weaponcraft (Portland, ME) and Wiscasset Rod & Gun Club for hosting the event. The range is square, approximately 50yds wide by 90-100yds long.

Class Makeup:
Approx 22 students, primarily civilian and LEO. Many of the students had attended HE01 earlier in the week at the same venue, but I was unable to attend that course. As this was a carbine course, all weapons were M4 variants. Many SBRs, lots of frankenguns, a Kriss Vector, a Tavor. Some problems were seen with bad gas systems but these were rectified by the staff.

I am no means a a carbine expert, but consider myself an advanced student with a lot of room for improvement. I took this course for several reasons:
1) It is rare that we get top level training in my home state of Maine
2) There are varying opinions of Costa’s methods and I wanted to form my own through first hand knowledge, not rely on others
3) It’s ALWAYS good to revisit fundamental skills and find failure points

I took about 30 pages of notes in this class so this AAR would be detailed, and just to give folks an understanding of what was covered and how. Costa Ludus classes are sought after and I try to be as unbiased as possible in my review and just report what I experienced. In all of the topics below we shot MANY rounds to practice the technique unless otherwise noted.

TD1: 0730
Costa opened the day with one of the most thorough briefings I have heard in a carbine class. He has a certain presence while on the range and is intensely focused. That said, between drills and during breaks I found Costa to be very approachable, down to earth, and generally a really cool dude.

We would be spending the first half of the day zeroing our rifles so he was meticulous about going through the process. As we were zeroing, he spoke about the difference in zeroing at differing distances, and why he prefers a 50 yard zero with a 2″ holdover for CQB work. He talked about laser considerations and how to set proper alignment at distance.

He took quite a bit of time going through the components of the rifle (using mine as the example), and broke down each component: what was good, bad or negligible, why some guns are setup certain ways, and considerations based on our needs. He stressed quality over price, and that when purchasing a rifle, you get what you pay for. He had good things to say about the usual names that synonymous with quality: BCM, LaRue, Daniel Defense, Colt, KAC, and others, and stressed how good the Geissele triggers were. He talked about sights, stocks, rails, carrier groups, charging handles, ambi safeties like the BAD ASS, as well as sling choice (single point vs 2 point)

Body Position
Load the bipod equally and forward when zeroing. Many of us used backpacks or bags for support but the same concept applied.
Maintain good body position behind the gun with proper skeletal alignment (stock in line with strong side knee cap), and the support hand either resting below the stock with no tension, or using a very soft “buttery” c-clamp on the rail. Develop a good cheek weld, and “melt into the ground”. Pad of the trigger finger should rest on the trigger. He also told us to try resting the right thumb on the right side of the lower in order to isolate the trigger finger and reduce grip tension. For those with ambi safeties, we could rest our thumb on the safety. The other 3 fingers of the strong hand could be in a “half grip” with the fingers on the front of the pistol grip, not wrapped around it. This was all intended to remove tension from the firing procedure. He allowed us to find what worked best for ourselves, and did not hold firm to one method over another

Natural Point of Aim
Costa spoke about going through a “pilot’s pre-flight checklist” to find the NPOA. Get to the bottom of the breath stroke, the natural respiratory pause, find where the red dot in the optic is stable, close your eyes, slowly reopen them and determine if you need to shift your position to keep that dot on target.

Red Dot Sights
We discussed the red dot technology and the parallax free nature of today’s optics. We talked about why it is important, when using a magnifier, to zero both the optic and the magnifier. Costa said that he prefers to run a 1×6 optic with an offset T1.
He touched on mounts, like his preferred Larue 660 which allows a lower 1/3 cowitness with iron sights and how he likes to position the mount as far forward on the upper as possible BUT NOT on the rail. We then zeroed our iron sights and verified several times. For those guys that were running a fixed FS, he noted that the dot is independent and needs some additional consideration when zeroing. Costa prefers Aimpoint over Eotech, but said that the XPS line was the best in the Eotech series.

Costa obviously prefers the C-Clamp, extended style of grip, thumb over bore which puts the elbow in a good position
Body is squared to the target, not bladed, and the arms are symmetrical. Costa noted that the extended c-clamp grip is a natural evolution of the modern isosceles pistol stance slightly shifted for the carbine
Stance has the strong side foot offset to the rear (not obscenely offset, just enough to provide an aggressive stance) to allow for mobility
A 12″ rail is his preferred length due to the amount of rail available to grip
Goal is to keep the carbine as flat as possible while driving from one target to another
When shooting at distance obviously there can be compressed breaks when operating in close environments, but that distance requires individual shots. In both cases though, he emphasized control in order for us to get our hits.

Kneeling Supported
In this position it was advised to create as many contact points as possible, utilizing the sling for support. Once again he talked about the benefits of a 2 point configuration. He noted that the Magpul MS2 was originally configured as a 1 point sling with the ability for 2 point use, but was not a true 2 point sling. In the kneeling position, the shooter sits on the heel or strong side foot, collapsing the support elbow on the knee. It is important not to put bone on bone, but instead, use the triceps on the knee and roll it to maintain stability. At distance, you can use the C-Clamp on the rail just in front of the optic. Once again he stressed maximizing contact points on the body to stabilize the rifle, and went through a few lesser used body positions as well.

Sitting Supported
At 75 and 100 yards, he had us in the sitting support positions of “legs out” and “legs crossed”. In both positions, like the kneeling, he emphasized creating as much contact with the body as possible, with the elbows on the insides of the knees, and utilizing sling support. He also noted that turning the body about 30-45 degrees, rather than being perfectly square to the target would allow even more stability and comfort.

We had already covered prone using a bag or bipod for support. Without support, we used the magazine as a monopod and were told once again to “melt into the earth” and to use a soft c-clamp on the rail. Legs should be extended and flat. However, for those of us wearing plates, he suggested we cock our strong side legs a bit to raise the plate carrier off of the ground and provide a better platform. Some tips were given on using the sling for additional support in this position. Costa used the analogy of being out in the woods hunting with a gun with no magazine, and what would be needed to support and stabilize the gun.

Fast Prone
Dropping into prone quickly can be a soup sandwich if done incorrectly, and Costa took care to talk about muzzle awareness so that we stayed safe. The procedure is to get the rifle off of the shoulder, get the reaction hand to the ground, drop down as fast as possible. Costa demonstrated and hit the ground HARD, but it showed just how quickly the move could be accomplished. Getting up was the reverse process: Reaction hand pushes up, get into a kneeling position, a quick search and asses, and then stand.

Tac Reloads
Tac reloads occur when you have time and opportunity. Costa advised always keeping fully loaded mags in the best possible position, moving them forward into different or empty pouches when needed. He also advised that if there is time and opportunity and the mag is known to be only half full, to tac reload. he covered both the bullets forward and beer can grips, but in both cases a good index on the mag is essential. He covered the “L” form of the tac load as well as the split finger method. He allowed us to use whatever worked best for us. During all of these topics, he made special care to note any specific problems that southpaws may encounter and why getting an ambi lower may be a good idea, rather than performing some funky moves.

Speed Reloads
If the bolt is felt to have locked to the rear, it could either be an empty mag or a malfunction, and Costa stressed the importance of a quick check into the chamber to identify the source of the problem. Within combat distance, we would be transitioning to the pistol if our rifle failed (to be covered on TD2). Costa’s method is to perform a quick chamber check and if the mag is indeed empty, to get the rifle off the shoulder and into an upright position. The index finger is placed on the mag release and the gun is rotated quickly to eject the mag. If the mag does not come out on this move, a quick check for some other malfunction is advised, then strip and rip. The important thing in these evolutions was to check the gun and be sure of what is going on instead of making the assumption that the mag is empty. Costa touched on doing speed reloads in the prone position, but we would not be doing them in this class for safety.

We ended TD1 with a debrief, covering everything that we had learned. We noted how marksmanship fell apart in some of the kneeling and prone positions, the importance of a good stance, getting our hits regardless of distance, and styles of reloads. We wrapped up around 1600.

TD2: 0800
Day 2 would be a much faster pace than TD1, and once again began with a briefing of what to expect. We discussed bracketing targets at distance and how to use the size of the dot in the optic to understand target size and holdovers. We reviewed all of the Day 1 zeroing procedures, NPOA, breathing, and control. After three quick rounds of re-zeroing at the 50, we jumped into a dollar drill where we taped a dollar bill to the target and had 30 seconds to hit George’s nose from the 25. Closest to the nose won all the dollars. Focus was obviously on knowing your holdovers. I did not win.

We ran through the marksmanship drills again:
Standing at 7,15,25,50 yds
Kneeling/Sitting at 75 yds
Prone at 100 yds
This is where I was trying to iron out my NPOA issues

After topping off mags, Chris talked about “getting into character” and this is where he shines as a public speaker. He instantly demands attention and is able to ratchet up the level of his speaking with the right mix of intensity, gravity, and focus. He is also able to release the pressure with natural comedic timing. He talked about Target Zones, some history, what he has drawn for the Col. Grossman books, and how it is not natural for us to shoot other humans, but it is what we train for. We discussed areas of the body in terms of “timers and switches”, with timers being things like the femoral artery, and switches being parts of the body that would cause incapacitation (joints, brain stem, etc). We talked about how the pelvis is both a timer and a switch and can be used to instantly remove mobility from the threat and potentially allows you to ride your shots up to the face as the body collapses. Center Mass is also a timer/switch combo, since the heart can run for 60-90 seconds after being hit. The ocular cavity is typically a switch and causes instant end. As we talked about these regions of importance, he began to increase his passion and it got us pretty amped up for another long day. He ended his briefing by stressing the importance of being able to switch gears under pressure, saying “There is nothing defensive about a gun. Speed the fuck up when you need to, but get your hits”. Marksmanship trumped all else.

Once again, Costa talked about the need for quality equipment and some misconceptions in cleaning rituals. He tends to favor Frog Lube over other cleaning products and said that a well oiled gun can get through several thousand rounds before performance decreases are noted.
We covered failure to feed/failure to fire, short stroke/double feed, stovepipes, and bolt overcarry.

Double Feed
This is the “classic porn malfunction” where two tips that should not be touching are touching. To remedy, verify with a look in the chamber that there is brass, lock the carbine against the body, drive the charging handle forward. If it goes forward, you may be good to go. If it does not, lock the bolt to the rear, strip and rip, and keep the gun up. Finger the magwell to make sure any brass is removed, perform 3 racks of the charging handle, insert a new mag, push pull to make sure it is seated, rack then get on target. The whole procedure should take 5-10 seconds. In a severe case, you may need to “mortar” the gun by slamming th stock against the ground to get the mechanisms unstuck. BE SURE to collapse the stock or you run the risk of bending the buffer tube. Hit the stock as flat as possible in line with the tube to maximize the impact. This is where a quality stock makes all the difference.

When one round is not fully ejected while the other is trying to load, a stovepipe can occur. If not treated correctly, under speed, a magazine being ripped out of the gun could crimp the brass and cause a worse malfunction. General method to remedy a stovepipe is to treat it like a double feed.

Bolt Overcarry
This occurs when the casing gets stuck between the charging handle and the gas key. Racking the handle is no help. To remedy, try to lock the bolt to the rear, strip and rip. If the casing is still stuck, you may need tools to extract it. There are two methods that Costa notes: the Mike Panone method (using no tools) where you try to lock the bolt to the rear while manipulating the bolt release lever. The key to this method is IF you can get the bolt to lock to the rear. If the bolt locks, chop forward on the charging handle, muzzle down. This should loosen the casing. If tools are needed, put your hand behind the charging handle and try to pry the bolt with a tool. Since this is such a nasty malfunction, Costa just covered it and gave an example. We did not practice it so that we would not run the risk of damaging our weapons.

Failure to Fire/Failure to Feed
9/10 times this occurs due to bad ammo selection. Generally remedied with a “push/pull rack roll” or “tap rack”

After lunch we covered transition to the pistol. Costa noted that there is often an accuracy problem seen when shooters transition from the rifle (heavy gun/light trigger ratio) to a handgun (heavy trigger/light gun ratio). The tendency is to shoot low when switching to the pistol.
Costa talked about his hatred for the SERPA and how holster choice can make a world of difference.
As for the transition itself, he held no preference on ejection port in or out, but the important part was to guide the muzzle of the rifle straight down. After making the pistol shots, keep your blaster in your hand and with the support hand raise the rifle to see what the issue is (empty mag or malfunction) and then solve the problem.
Transition distance is personal preference, meaning, where do you feel comfortable engaging with your pistol
We would not be transitioning in the prone, urban prone, or supine positions.

Costa talked about shooting from the supine position by first talking about what we would need to consider in a home defense situation. He runs a handgun with a suppressor and a DG switch for most situations where he is awakened from sleep. For more alert situations (SHTF kind of stuff) he would prefer a rifle or shotgun for home defense.
For supine, it is vitally important to be aware of height over bore so that you don’t shoot yourself. Also, keep the legs flat and do not raise the knees for the same reason. He talked about sling choice and how to utilize both single point and 2 point slings in this position. While in supine, the grip, the magazine and the toe of the stock should be in alignment for best body position. For guys wearing a lot of kit, rolling into the urban prone position may be more comfortable.

We performed countless repetitions and variations of his version of the box drill, eg. 1 shot COM on target 1, 2 shots to COM on target 2, then head shot target 1, head shot target 2.

We ended the day with a steel challenge of sorts. 4 IPSC sized steel targets at 50 yards, with 15 yards between each. Goal was to shoot 5 rounds on target 1, bolt lock, speed reload, 5 shots on target 2, bolt lock, speed reload, then 5 shots on targets 3 and 4 from a full mag. Any misses and you were out. One gentleman and I were the only two to shoot it clean. Chris shot it in 17.55 seconds. The other guy shot it in 21.77s. I shot it in 22.34s, but had an issue with the tail of my VTAC sling getting caught in the magwell during a speed reload. So it goes. That was the end of the VTAC for me.

TD3: 0800
We started TD3 the same as TD2, with marksmanship drills and then the dollar challenge again. I lost another dollar.

Today would be very physical, with a lot of running. As I was one of the only guys running full plates, i knew it was going to suck in the humidity. HTFU.
Costa gave us a preview of running with the M4 either muzzle up or muzzle down, and how to control the weapon. More importantly, he showed us what would NOT be acceptable at all. He once again went through the safety rules and really got on us about stepping into character and being serious about how we were training. We talked about getting into position, remaining focused and vigilant, and the fact that shooting is an aggressive sport. We discussed how some teachings have been institutionalized (both right and wrong)regarding fine and gross motor skills. Costa said that a good shot requires both timing and thinking, and once again referenced “On Combat” and “On Killing” by Col. Grossman. We also reviewed the Jeff Cooper color codes, as well as Grossman’s. This briefing was all about learning to perform under stress, and how to compartmentalize your actions so that function is not lost. He used the analogy of how pilots train fine and complex motor skills through constant stress inoculation. He told us to expect more out of ourselves and to take what we were doing very seriously. He also noted that military CCTs tend to be some of the finest examples of multitasking under pressure.
As for mindset, he said to “rip out luck and make it about skill”

Facing Movements
For movement and position changes, Chris stressed getting the barrel around and coiling the upper and lower body independently so there are not big sweeping movements, but more center axis movement. Keep the stock loose and off the body until you snap on target.

Working Barricades
Don’t get magnetized and sucked into the barricade. Keep a soft focus and then snap onto the target as you see it. While kneeling at a low barricade, stay straight, vertical and symmetrical when at all possible. Take ground bit by bit while remaining behind cover to limit exposure. Depending on the side of the barricade, you may need to change knee position and what leg gets exposed. As for shooting up and over a barricade, height over bore becomes an issue, so SBU techniques can be used. Also, when shooting over the top, you can use the top of the barricade for support and clamp the rail (NOT THE BARREL). When standing and shooting around doors or around corner walls, use varying clamp techniques, or stand off enough to utilize cover/concealment. We tried every position multiple times.
We were using steel at varying distances for these drills. Thankfully, I brought 3 TacStrike 1/4 scale systems with me and we were able to use those at 25 meters. They took a LOT of abuse, but held up well.

Just after lunch, Steve Fisher from Magpul Dynamics showed up and hung out for about an hour, shooting the shit and watching some drills. It gave a lot of the guys a chance to meet another great instructor. Apparently there is some story with him and Costa that starts “Remember that night in Cleveland….”


After a debrief on the barricade work, we began the running drills. Once again, Chris reviewed techniques of how to run muzzle up or muzzle down, keeping it tight, and if by chance we fell, how to fall safely.

We went through several drills that had all of us sprinting several hundred yards, and in the heat and humidity, it took a toll on some of the guys. That said, it was a great way to end the day and the course.

It was good to get back to fundamentals and address some issues I have been having a longer distances. Shooting while kneeling was my weakest area for some reason, and I found that my NPOA while prone needs some work. I don’t feel like I will be shooting from a seated position at distance, but I’ll work on it anyway to keep the skill sharp.

I had a few instances where my MSA Sordins would shut off if the right ear was touching the stock and I fired. I’m thinking bad battery connector, so I’ll check it out or send them back.
I really liked my VTAC padded sling until I got the tail caught in my magwell during reload. I switched to a Magpul MS3 and it will take some breaking in.
All other gear worked well.

I went into the class knowing Costa’s reputation for techniques/style, round count, and personality. At no part of this course was I dissatisfied, bored, or left wanting to shoot. In fact, getting back to a fundamentals driven course was exactly what I needed to find some of my own failure points.

That said, I would have liked a bit more personalized instruction. I understand that there is only one instructor and 22 guys on line, some of whom need a lot more work on fundamentals than I do, but still, I am there to learn as well and would like to figure out the best way to improve my shooting. I also would have liked a bit more “what did you learn” types of discussion/debrief as a group, rather than just “here’s what to do, now go do it”. The adult learning model is such that each individual needs to internalize the instruction for themselves at their level or it ain’t gonna stick. We covered a TON of information in a short amount of time.

Say what you will about Costa’s business, celebrity status, or questionable photos fishing shirtless with a rifle, the guy is an asset to the industry. Highly professional, approachable, and surprisingly humble, he impressed me.
If you take one of his classes, you will cover a lot of ground go through a lot of ammo. There is no doubt. But aside from the few rounds I lost during safety/clearing, I don’t regret a single shot fired because I knew what I signed up for.