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Gunfighter Moment – Ken Hackathorn

It is beyond amazing the amount of ‘junk’ I see people hanging on their AR15/M4 style blasters. Some folks seem to think that if it’s for sale, they have to add it to their carbine. I keep thinking that the word has gotten out about this stupid approach, but apparently I am wrong.

So, here is my read on this topic. Put only what your need on your blaster. That means good sights: I strongly recommend a good quality red dot (Aimpoint Micro is my favorite). Backup iron sights remain on all my guns. If you live in an area where ranges can be longer than 100 meters, an optic (scope) may be warranted. A good 1×4 or 1×5 scope has merit. You will normally be set on one power, dialing up in power as range and time allows for. First focal plain scopes on carbines are brain dead; you can’t see the reticle for shit when it is on one power. Remember this isn’t a sniper weapon, second focal plain is what you need. A good two point sling is my recommendation. I have never been a fan of single point slings, they are quickly becoming only favored by those guys that have everything hung on their carbine except for a coffee maker.

I want my primary weapon to have a good trigger. Some AR platform makers offer good serviceable triggers, others feel like they have a broken hacksaw blade for a sear, backed up with a truck spring for a hammer spring. Bill Geisselle offers the ‘gold standard’ in AR triggers. I have a couple of Hiperfire Enhanced Duty Triggers that have proven to be outstanding and Paul Buffoni of BCM is about to release an enhanced GI spec trigger that if it measures up to everything else BCM offers, it should be a top choice.

A white light is critical; if you need your carbine in a low light scenario, you must be able to identify your target. Don’t go Cheap Charlie on this one; get a good light, mount it where you can operate it when your carbine is being held in the manner your normally fire from. Changing your hand position to activate the light and them having to move it back to your firing position is a mistake.

For the life of me I do not understand why so many folks think they must have a muzzle brake/compensator on their carbine. I realize much of this comes from the 3-gun gameboy world. Listen up, in the dark these things are terrible, indoors they are horrendous with a concussion that can be very disturbing, and if someone touches one of these comps off beside your head, you will have your chimes rung for sure. Yea,yea I here the crap about how they make the gun shoot “flat” and keeps your splits really low. If you are such a wimp that you can’t control the recoil of a 5.56 then I understand your needs, and splits, well they don’t mean sh-t in the real world. Keep your primary (carbine) simple, keep it lubed and running with good magazines and quality ammo.

Train, practice, and stay alert.

– Ken Hackathorn

Old Guy With A Blaster

Ken Hackathorn has served as a US Army Special Forces Small Arms Instructor, Gunsite Instructor, and NRA Police Firearms Instructor. He is currently an FBI Certified Firearms Instructor, Certified Deputy Sheriff with Washington County SO, Ohio, and a SRT member and Special Response Team trainer. Ken has trained US Military Special Operations forces, Marine FAST and SOTG units and is a contract small arms trainer to FBI SWAT and HRT.

Ken has provided training to Federal, State, and local law enforcement agencies and been active in small arms training for the past 25 years. He has written firearms related material for Guns & Ammo, Combat Handguns, Soldier Of Fortune, and currently American Handgunner and contributed to at least six other gun/shooting journals. Ken was also a founding member of IPSC and IDPA.

To see Ken’s Training Class Schedule visit

Gunfighter Moment is a weekly feature brought to you by Alias Training & Security Services. Each week Alias brings us a different Trainer and in turn they offer SSD readers hard earned words of wisdom.

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63 Responses to “Gunfighter Moment – Ken Hackathorn

  1. Airborne_fister says:

    So if I have an aimpoint and I use my AR to coyote hunt. Is a magnifier a bad idea? Or the fact that we go out late when the darkness has set in to get the dogs. Is an ir laser and lr light no good when I’m running NVGS?

    • Aaron says:

      Gunfighter Moment, not coyote hunter moment. Unless the coyotes you hunt are of the bipedal type that smuggle drugs across the border.

    • Dev says:

      I think what he’s saying is;
      – ensure the components that actually matter are top notch and in working order
      – stick to requirements when adding attachments

      Tired internet cliché alert:
      A bit like a car. It’s all well and good having all that BHP and torque but lugging extra weight around isn’t ideal and should be avoided if possible. Colin Chapman’s philosophy was to add lightness to his cars.

    • jellydonut says:

      This is aimed at people who hang shit on their guns because they saw it in a picture somewhere and thought it looked cool. If you are adding accessories for a specific purpose, and they work for you, I don’t understand why you’d feel affronted by this article.

    • Airborne_fister says:

      So like the guys running it and visible lasers, scopes with mini red dot off to the side, flash hiders/muzzelbreaks. Magpul everything. And a forward grip attached under the barrel but as close to the mag well as possible?

      • It’s all about flash hider brake hybrids now dude.

        • Airborne_fister says:


        • Airborne_fister says:

          So I have a suppressor from surefire. It requires a muzzlebreak or flash hider from surefire. Does that mean I’m in the bad guy crowd if I don’t use my suppressor all the time at the range? Or if I go to a state where NFA items are illegal?

  2. John Smith says:

    Not to mention the fact that the more you put on the rifle…the more it weighs. The older I and my shoulders get, the more that means. My little donkey gun (I call it rusty…..) has a laser on it and an IR capable light with a stubby little grip stop. All of this- because the folks I work for require it. The rifle that rides beside my bed at home….has a pistol light attached on a shot piece of polymer rail. Not only have I reduced weight but I have significantly reduced complexity, which I consider to be the foremost combat failure enabler.

    Long range days doing “up” drills with a heavy rifle have taken their toll and taught me a lesson that I won’t forget.

    Light and simple are the first words in carbine employment.

  3. Rob371 says:

    I think a lot of people don’t realize is that when you see guys downrange, a lot of times the weapon is configured for a particular mission set. I wouldn’t have the same set up for a daytime KLE as I would for an mission during a period of darkness. Granted, some units just throw everything on and dummy chord it, but most people that have the option will configure their rifle for the mission and weight is always a factor. IMHO.

    • Rob371 says:

      Also to add, I’ve seen a lot of “high speed” types do some legit stuff with bare bones rifles that most gun snobs would turn their noses up at.

  4. Tank says:

    I certainly agree with Mr. Hackathorn that pointless accessories are in fact pointless, such as the brass knuckles that attach to forward grips, or round counters, etc… Yet, I hardly think it is necessary that everyone who shoots an AR should spend nearly $300 on a trigger. Not everyone is an uber OAF gunslinger. Some people have an AR for home defense, or just to take to the range and shoot occasionally. That however, doesn’t mean that gun cannot be used in a tactical situation, while functioning flawlessly with a “basic” trigger.

    Of all the agencies I have worked for and with, I have never had a fancy upgraded trigger, yet was still able to get the job done. I have had both Geissele and Hyperfire triggers on my personal guns which were nice, but certainly not a necessity. On that same note, a single point sling was a viable option for years in combat. It was functional, and suited requirements. Mr. Hackathorn seems to staunchly defend his own opinions while labeling everything else as worthless, absurd, or asshat ideology. Mr. Hackathorn has an extensive background, with a lot of training, that is apparent. How many gunfights, deployments, or real life scenarios has he applied his assumptions and methods to though?

    I certainly enjoy most expert advice on this website. When I read Mike Pannone articles I usually come away with a sense that I learned something, or reaffirmed knowledge that I had lost. Mr. Hackathorn’s articles remind me of those career range instructors that preach tactical mantra and exert their expert opinion from decades of shooting paper.

    • 18Derp says:

      I guess “gunfighter once” means “opinionated forever”? I really don’t know why anyone would care what this or that guy hangs on their gun. I’ll worry about me. I’d take instruction from Ken, but this post does have a little bit of “old man yells at cloud” to it.

      The only thing I’m seeing actually to the entire topic of “hanging too much shit on guns” is he doesn’t like comps/brakes. Preferring a trigger, two point or second focal plane isn’t in the topic of “too much shit”. Article should have been called “What Ken likes”.

    • Airborne_fister says:

      When you have to go hands on with someone. Or you have to jump a fence how does that one point sling help you?

      • Trying carrying a critically wounded soldier while a SAW or M4 is banging against your legs because all you had rigged to it was a one point sling.

        I learned my lesson with both 3-point and 1-point slings the hard way.

      • Tank says:

        Yes it actually did help on 4 tours to Iraq in an light Infantry unit, hopping walls, chasing people through the streets, dragging my buddies on Skedco’s, etc… You may not like it, but I am also not preaching that your sling setup is wrong. I tried all sling version and it worked. I have since moved on, but it certainly was a viable option in combat. I wasn’t really worried about banging my knees when I was getting shot at, or my buddy was bleeding out, but I guess we all have different priorities.

        • It’s situational. Like all things. I definitely don’t regret using a 1-point sling. I think knowing the limitations and applications of gear is vital.

          While down range I ended up just using a Wolf Clip and a 2 point sling in conjunction with each other.

          • As someone who’s done 4 years in Iraq as infantry I’d definitely rather hear about what enabled you and hopefully vicariously absorb your experience. I think it’s interesting what unique situations shape peoples outlooks on mission.

            • Airborne_fister says:

              I started with a 1 point. In Afghanistan. Climbing up and down mountains with a sniper team that sucked. Switch to a bfg padded sling since I had a 203. That was the bees knees! The on me second time in Afghanistan tried using the bfg sling w/o the 203 no longer was it as nice. I had an m4 with everything attached. The sling kept getting caught in my gear. So I switched to a magpul sling. I know magpul has good stuff and not so good stuff. But it worked for charging into a house, or climbing up a mountain. So now on one of my ar’s is a magpul and the other is a bfg. They all have their benefits but a 3 point was the worst of them all. I hated that strap that rode next to the bolt release. And if I had to go weak hand to shoot around a buildings side. Yeah the sling had to come off of my body. Had a 3 point in basic. So not the master of a 3 point but started with that. But truly hated that 1 point pos and it was attached at the caster nut

  5. LM says:

    There goes Kenny again, making disparaging remarks about competition shooters. Competition in life makes everyone better. If ole Kenny was such a great shooter, he should be able to go to any of the USPSA or 3gun matches and clean up, right? Competition shooting is the best way for the average citizen to learn proper gun handling skills and safety. It makes you concentrate on getting your hits and working on speed. It makes you get off the X instead of going to a range and just standing there. If it weren’t for competition in life how would we push ourselves to get better. Why did ole Kenny help get started IDPA? Because he cant shoot and move. Remember, Kenny and his buddies made the rules up at IDPA not to make better shooters, it was so they could compete. My favorite rule they made up was FAILURE TO DO RIGHT! What does that mean? Its so their buddy who was an RO could penalize someone for no reason other than they just wanted to. Or another rule, you cant RELOAD ON THE MOVE. WTF? USPSA shooters still go to IDPA matches and clean house. Why? Cause its easier. Its that simple. Im sure ole Kenny is a fine class instructor, but until you actually go practice it doesn’t mean anything.

    • Bill says:

      Competition (shooting) in life makes everyone better, at competition shooting.

      • Traveler says:

        So you got someplace to practice where people shoot at you? So please tell us how to practice better than competing against others? The whole world would be interested since that’s all anyone on the planet knows since the dawn of mankind. How do you practice? The whole shooting world is ready for this new way of doing things.

        • Bill says:

          Force on force training.

          When it comes to competition, the only person I want to compete against is myself: As long as I come away from each range session, in no particular order, quicker, more efficient, safer and more accurate, against target of multiple types in decreasing size and increasing distance, I don’t really care what the racegunners do. And I equally doubt that participating in NASCAR would make me a better emergency vehicle operator. I can’t bump my way through a traffic jam and often have to turn right.

        • Larry says:

          You dont have to compete against others to get better. There are thousands of drills you can do on your own to get better….thousands.

          I am half Ken’s age or more and I agree with what he is saying. I absolutely hate comps/brakes. A few of my friends have the and when they are shooting drills we do on my private property I fade back and away from that stupidity. They may make you a milisecond faster but there are so many negatives. Super loud, crazy side blast, big flame. Worthless IMHO.

          I have nothing against gaming with guns. However it is like anything else. It gets so specialized that a simple Glock turns into something you would NEVER carry with all kinds of crap on it, flared mag wells, red dots, feather light triggers, slides all carved up to look like a race car and shave .001 ounces off of it, only to put some heavy tungston guide rod in the gun to keep the flip down.

          • Reformed Timmy says:

            Depends on the division. Production is essentially a bone stock G17 or 34 with some different sights and maybe a guide rod or something.

            Why do people who have never competed talk shit about USPSA?

            How can making hits quickly under a timer make you a worse shooter?

            Do you lift? Are you in shape? Do you train in a combative sport?

            If not, and all you have is a gun, oh lawdy.

            • Bill says:

              I work out, but not competitively. I’ve trained in combatives, but not combative sports. One of the worst trainees I ever had was an Olympic/World ranked Tae Kwon Do practitioner. When it came time to actually go hands on and hit somebody, he had so many training scars he couldn’t do it. And when he actually got hit, he fell apart.

              I shoot with a timer every range session. Guess I’m competing against it and the target.

  6. Diddler says:

    Man people take things out of context.

  7. xpoqx says:

    Yes, let’s all talk shit about the SME because we don’t agree with his opinions.

    It’s not like he has been doing this for most of his adult life and has more accreditations in this field than most of you could ever dream of. You guys seem like the type to talk about all this experience you have had on your gun because of your feild of work. Only to get smoked by some 13 year old at a 3 gun competition.

    • Bill says:

      And yet that 13 year old has never taken down a drug lab, conducted a felony stop, or done either a stealth or dynamic entry on a building, so if they smoke me at 3 gun, i’m OK with that, because it doesn’t mean anything in the real world.

      • xpoqx says:

        That passé non-chalant complacent type attitude about your personal defficeny in necessary and required skills for the line of work is absolutely terrifying.

        Someone has out preformed you in skills necessary to your line of work. Tell me how that “doesn’t matter in the real world” when “in the real world” your job and life at some point will 100% come down to your ability to shoot.

        Man if you can’t fucking shoot I don’t want you anywhere near me with a firearm, especially providing me back up for “taking down drug labs, conducting felony stops, or doing a stealth or dynamic entry”.

        • Bill says:

          I can shoot, in such a manner that is appropriate and necessary for my job. I don’t get a trophy for “winning,” and I get dead if I “lose.” Do you think that breeds complacency?

    • Tank says:

      So accreditations equates to real world experience? Or do we just care about who has the thickest binder full of shiny certificates. You can be a grandmaster paper shooter all day long, that doesn’t mean you won’t shit your pants and cower when someone is actually shooting back at you. I am sure Mr. Hackathorn can improve my shooting skills 100% of the time, but don’t tell me what should or should not be on my gun, and what works in combat. I will leave that to the combat veterans and people who spent their lives fighting real targets, not paper.

      • Diddler says:

        I’m pretty sure Ken was an 18B before most of us were alive. I’ve been wrong before though.

        • Jim D says:

          Ken was not an 18 series guy, he’s just been a trainer for decades and was brought in to teach. To my knowledge he was never in the military, just LE.

  8. Igor says:

    I agree with everything you say, except the muzzle breaks. Living in NY State, muzzle break is the only option. Flashhiders are forbidden.

  9. Chill says:

    Gunfighter moments should be “no holds barred.” I’m not reading SSD or Gunfighter Moments” nearly everyday to have my opinions and beliefs coddled, and my preconceived notions reinforced. I’m not a “comp” shooter or LEO, so as an outsider I’d say y’all can take things way to personal.
    I have not yet payed for a $200-300 trigger but when you break down the action of shooting, this gunfighter moment is spot on. Optics and trigger control. Those would be the two most important elements to good shooting, it makes sense to pay for quality on a weapon. The light and sling add obvious capabilities to the user.
    Don’t get me wrong, a muzzle brake can feel nice, but not necessary. Unless 5.56 is the biggest caliber you’ve used? For Cowboy action shoots you’ll use softer, slower loads for shooting fast. I’m not bashing people who use muzzle brakes or use low fps &psi rounds for their sport, both making shooting “more controllable,” but neither are necessary. Keep em coming SSD.

  10. I’m surprised at the frenzy this post has whipped up. I thought it was trendy now to run fairly trim guns.

    When I first started out in the military I hung a bunch of stuff on my primary weapon. I wanted to experiment and understand what was good and bad in different situations.

    The longer I’ve served the less complicated my long gun became. For my situation and my job I realized I only needed a few basic accessories. This is what works for me and my limited experience though.

  11. Marcus says:

    It’s just amazing. An SME, a man with unquestionable credentials stops by on his own time to impart some knowledge, at least the best one can in a few paragraphs, and the unmoored criticism abounds.

    I’m sure he got a good laugh out of it, but the fact is he’s right. The gear should fit the mission and for most people the objective will be home defense. Trimmed down gun, with a good light, simple optic and improved trigger all help in a high stress situation where most users will not be well-trained.

    I’ll depart slightly on the use of a muzzle brake because for some of us that’s a legal requirement. But the point is well taken.

    Thanks Ken, I truly appreciate the wisdom.

    • John Smith says:

      Was thinking the same thing.

    • Joe says:

      “stops by on his own time”…he’s not Mother Theresa, there’s such a thing as advertising.
      His comment on first vs second focal plane shows a lack of understanding of the value of first focal plane and the prevalence of scopes with both a first focal plane reticle and second focal plane red dot.

      • Marcus says:

        Honestly- is the circus in town?

        I believe Ken’s point was that for the mission he was discussing, SFP is more appropriate as it relates to the reticle. That is, FFP at 1x power is relatively useless in a home defense scenario (for the reading challenged, smaller than an SFP reticle).

        There is some obvious merit to his point that a smaller reticle in a high stress HD situation is less useful than a larger reticle at that distance.

        But you may have missed that and the comment about not being a “sniper weapon”, an obvious allusion to most that we’re not talking about ranging.

        Is there some room for cogent, material debate? Yes, of course but not in a three paragraph article. And not in the peanut gallery, er, comments section.

      • Diddler says:

        No way man. The list of companies that produce a true day-light bright dot in a low power variable is countable on one hand. Without a bright dot a SFP ret is a must or a FFP is rendered useless at 1x. At 6x and below, everything is too small for miling and making holds. Most people aren’t going to hold 2.3mils on 3x because they can’t see it, so who cares if the ret is SFP if you have to crank to max power to get use out of it? With lower mag ranges the utility of FFP is lost.

        Just because Ken is old and challenges some opinions doesn’t make him not relevant.

      • SSD says:

        I’m kind of curious. How much do you think Ken pays me to share these with you?

    • Washington says:

      “If you are such a wimp that you can’t control the recoil of a 5.56”

      That’s not wisdom that’s an out of touch old man with a fragile ego yelling at clouds and assuming his personal preferences apply to every other person on the planet

  12. chooch says:

    SCAR hvy with iron sights, but I’m rural. Everything I need and nothing I don’t…but to each his own. Good advice for many in this post I imagine, esp. If you live in an urban area. A curmudgeonly delivery perhaps, but get over it, this fellow has age and experience worth listening to, so thanks for your time and perspective KH, and your tireless efforts to find-fix-finish commonly seen errors/foolishness.

  13. Paul McCain says:

    Why would any possibly disagree with Ken? Sure, the gun-gamers leave with some butt hurt, but who cares?

    KH is dead-on correct.

    I’d rather carry more ammo than load the M4 up with as much tacticool gear as possible.

    • I don’t disagree with Ken. For some reason I think people were expecting Ken to have a little more delicacy, which he did not.

    • Jim D says:

      Well, for starters, saying that “splits don’t mean anything in the real world” is completely argumentative and borderline false.

      There seems to be a pretty big disconnect between pre and post 911 guys when it comes to the speed they deem acceptable with a gun. Ken has never pushed for quick times on things, while most of the guys I know who’ve spent a lot of time on target in the GWOT certainly do.

      Ken is just marketing himself to his audience, which is NOT guys who want to learn how to run their gun faster.

      • Just to follow up…Jim D. your comment is purely idiotic.

        Ken and trainers who know what they are talking about are not opposed to speed. They are opposed to speed at the expense of accuracy.

        If you don’t get this point, you need to remain in your tacticool “I wanna go fast” Ninja range-warrior crowd.

  14. Alex says:

    I think the post is primarily directed toward first-time AR owners (particularly those who while they may be inclined to do competition shooting, will likely make home defense its primary role).
    In that case, if you can only have one rifle, it only make sense to configure it for the role that could save your life. It doesn’t mean you couldn’t take it a match, but if I could only afford to feed one AR, I’m gonna make sure it’s properly set up for saving my life.
    Then again, that’s just me.
    YMMV. All three of my ARs are set up for defensive use much like Ken’s recommendations and I regularly take them to matches to continue to keep myself sharp.

  15. Jsockamotto says:

    You can always tell who the ‘Non-shooters” are in the comment section. Statements like, ” Its not the real world” or ” Comp shooters are “gamers.” I can pick out the real gun guys just by looking at the comments. Joe, xpoqx, LM,18derp, Traveler Rob371 are shooters. If you want to understand how comp shooting makes you a better shooter “IN THE REAL WORLD” contact Frank Proctor, former SFSpecial Forces Advanced Urban Combat Course instructor and Pat McNamara, former Delta. If they cant convince you no one can.

    • Bill says:

      By definition competition shooters are gamers. I’ve been to a couple SWAT Challenges and Roundups, can I be a gamer too?

      • Contract1 says:

        So you have been to a couple of SWAT challenges. That’s the extent of your shooting/gun knowledge? No one is going to SWAT guys to ask how to shoot better, except weekend range shooters. You probably should stop trying to comment about something you have no idea about.

        • Bill says:

          Uh, no, those are the only “competitions” i’ve been involved in. Are you implying that SWAT cops can’t shoot?

    • lcpl1066 says:

      This is because the best people look outside their profession for SMEs. Who here would turn down a chance to train with the Olympic track team because they don’t know what it is like to run with SAPI plates or disregard a UFC fighter’s combatives advice because he has never had to deploy a blade in CQC? Completion shooters are exactly that. As people that shoot for a living they without a question have learned valuable lessons. Appreciating their lessons isn’t going to change doctrine. As for rifle weight, that is what the gym is for.

  16. Uncle Dan says:

    I’m 56 and have just under 6 years until I retire. I can’t use my elder-friendly work gun (Colt’s Commando with just Micro/SF Fury/MagP rear flip/sling) for weekend varmint control by policy.

    So I built a gun around a skinny 16-in. DD middy and a 2.5x Leupold. It weighs 6 lbs. 9.2 oz. empty. Any varmint more than 30 lbs is easily smacked inside 300 yards.

    Looking at some lighter parts even now. Mission drives gear.

    • Uncle Dan says:

      Gonna build a Form 1 SBR .300 soon and shooting <5 for a handier truck/Ranch Rifle in my dotage…

  17. bloke_from_ohio says:

    This thread is full of silliness. From folks disparaging the SME’s background and age, to arguments about cops and SWAT guys not being able to shoot. It is full of failure. The whole thing reeks of a contest of anatomy size.

    What is most interesting about these types of threads is how often folks get upset when the author is not actually talking to them. Some folks can only have comps or no muzzle device due to laws and or geography. Similarly, some folks have required bits that have to hang on their weapons by unit or agency policy. In either case, it should be obvious that Mr. Hackathorn is not talking to them, but rather those of us with a choice.

    Those of us with a choice must think long and hard about what we want our weapons to do and about anything we choose to hang off them. Ken, along with many other instructors, is simply advocating minimalism and giving guidance about his suggested setup. Should such advice run counter to your own experiences, then you are free to ignore it. But, given that this is not unusual advice and the people espousing it generally have years of experience, taking the time to reevaluate your contrary position is not a bad idea.