John Farnam On The Patrol Rifle, Part II

posted on July 28, 2015

Last week, we had a rare chance to pick the brain, so to speak, of John S. Farnam of Defense Training International. The number of serious pistol practitioners who are unfamiliar with Farnam’s work can probably be counted on both hands. Those unfamiliar with his rifle and shotgun work might require the doffing of socks, but we doubt it.

In any event, this week we finish our discussion of the “patrol rifle.” Loosely defined as an M4-pattern or pistol caliber carbine, it’s the long-arm backup to a patrol officer’s belt-carried pistol. John spends a significant percentage of his instructional time in this discipline these days, and we have discovered there’s a lot to know. Conveniently and unsurprisingly, he’s just the right guy.

American Warrior: Is there a decisive characteristic for the sighting technology of a patrol rifle?

John S. Farnam: If you remember the bit about distance—scenarios where the patrol rifle is likely to come into play—the field is pretty wide open. Iron sights will work just fine and have several advantages: They add virtually no weight, are admirably rugged and never report for duty with a dead battery. They demand practice, though, and a tendency to use them with one eye closed is a “tactical awareness” challenge for some.

Many chiefs like the detail a magnifying optic provides, but again, the overwhelming majority of likely shots won’t require them. As Jeff Cooper used to say, “A magnifying optic doesn’t help you shoot better; it does help you see better.” Especially at the distances we’re considering, he had a point. Also, magnifying optics generally condition you to stay in the optic longer, which in turn can set you back in terms of tactical awareness: Their field of view is necessarily small. [That’s] an important reason why sniper teams are generally two-man. 

Then there’s the potential for head-position/eye-relief problems: Beyond ~2.5x, these compound. An officer’s need to move as the tactical situation changes can compromise the eye/scope/cheek weld. No imagination is required to see why that is a bad thing.

Best? Some aspects are going to be personal, but I see a tremendous number of Aimpoint and EOTech optics. Both are tough and precise. Both are “fast” onto the target, and from target to target if need be. Battery life is excellent, too. 

The big plus in my mind, however, is overall field of view. Both-eyes-open is a breeze, and you can stay in the sight longer because there is so little obscuration around the sight. It gives good-to-great precision (depending on the shooter), but not at the cost of maintaining situational awareness. 

AW: And ancillary magnification for these? The 3x flip-ups, etc.?

JSF: There’s nothing wrong with them, but I don’t think they add capability in proportion to their weight and position on the rifle. We like to see the dot optics mounted well forward, as this enhances the downrange view around the sight. A magnifier reintroduces the head-position/eye-relief problems that these sights were designed to eliminate in the first place. 

Plus, remember likely ranges and .223/5.56 cartridge capability—with this factored in, the benefit is arguable.

AW: We’re fans of the interoperability between team members, too, given the fact that no diopter adjustments for vision differences get in the way of sharing or handing off a rifle. Any thoughts there?

JSF: Can I just say “yes”? <<Laughing>> As we tell students in our training, “Just put the thing on the thing and press the thing.” No complicated doctrine or technique there.As we tell students in our training, “Just put the thing on the thing and press the thing.” No complicated doctrine or technique there.

It’s my firm opinion, however, that each officer needs a rifle that is his or her own. Set up, physically kept, and maintained precisely for and by them. Otherwise, “everyone’s rifle” soon becomes “no one’s rifle.” Officers forced to use it will lack confidence in its sight settings and reliability in situations where they’ll need that assurance most.

AW: There’s been a surge of interest in Class III/NFA weapons and accessories in the last few years. Any impact in the patrol rifle space?

JSF: No doubt this will happen; indeed, probably already has. Long, ponderous rifles are out of popularity with police chiefs for all kinds of (good) reasons. The benefit is maneuverability in both cars and structures with shorter barrels, and reduced concussion if you have to fire in those confines (with a suppressor).

Unfortunately, chiefs have some legit gripes about NFA weapons too: They don’t want their departments in the Class III business because it adds a major administrative burden. The only alternative is then to let officers use personally owned versions. That rumble you hear? The footfalls of an army of lawyers if they ever have to pull the trigger. <<Us, laughing>>

There’s a possible downside as well. Not insurmountable, but important, and that’s reliability. Short barrels and cans bring “gassing” of M4-style rifles into play in a big way. As they are now from almost any quality manufacturer, M4s are superbly reliable. But you can foul that up in a hurry by shortening the barrel or adding a suppressor.

AW: That sounds like another whole interview?

JSF: Maybe it had better be. <<Laughing>>

AW: Before we quit though, give us a rundown on “your” patrol rifle/M4, the “Farnam Signature”

JSF: Well, only because you’re insisting … <<all laughing>>

I’ve written long and often about the Stoner System and its variations. I first started using one in Marine OCS at Quantico in 1967, and it was the rifle with which I went to war in southeast Asia. 

Today, I own a number of modern copies: STS, BCM, LaRue, Doublestar, DLS, DSA, et al. I also own XCRs, PTRs, SIG 556s, M1As, Krebs Kalashnikovs, and DSA/FALs, FDRs, et all.  All are fine fighting rifles, and most are set up to my personal specifications for patrol rifle employment and domestic personal defense.  

But not too long ago, my good friend Keith Everett of M4 Precision got hold of me and proposed that we start making the "Farnam Signature M4” as sort of an anniversary rifle. After all, I’ve been using one almost continuously for nearly 50 years—longer than most.  I now have, and am traveling with, the first copy of the FSM4. 

Keep in mind the FSM4 is not a “production gun,” and we surely don’t plan on going into competition with any major manufacturer. They’re just about all personal friends; but for dedicated operators who want a serious M4, pre-set up for serious purposes … well, enough said.

AW: That sounds like another long talk and a range session or two right there. How would we get one for evaluation?

John?  John?!?

Damn it; not again!


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