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Dry fire training has long been an exercise used by military and civilian shooters to improve marksmanship skills even though it does have some inherent limitations. First, you have to manually re-cock your rifle each and every time you complete a cycle, so you can’t practice follow-up shots. And, second, it allows you to focus on shooting mechanics, but it’s difficult to see progress until you actually put holes through paper.
For AR shooters, the Mantis Blackbeard Trigger Auto-Reset System was designed to address both of those problems and more. The system resets the trigger after every shot and shoots out a laser beam to show the point of impact. Plus, it works with Mantis’ training software that collects performance data and offers guidance for improving shooting technique.
In this review, we’ll look at the Blackbeard system and the accompanying Mantis Laser Academy app, how it works, and what we liked and disliked about it.
The Mantis Blackbeard
What makes the Blackbeard so special is that you don’t have to make any major modifications to your rifle to use it. All you have to do is swap the bolt carrier group with the Blackbeard BCG and then insert the Blackbeard battery pack, which looks like a standard AR magazine.
Unlike other training kits that use an auto-resetting trigger housing group, the biggest advantage of the Mantis Blackbeard is you get to use your existing trigger for dry practice. This allows you to train with your actual trigger, be it a standard mil-spec trigger or a highly-tuned Geissele option, and ensures that you learn muscle memory for the exact amount of pressure required to break the trigger.
The Blackbeard re-cocks the hammer by using a small motor that activates with each trigger pull; it displays a point-of-impact using a laser, and it connects to the battery pack via electrical contacts. As a result, the Blackbeard will work with any standard AR rifle, it’ll re-cock the hammer every time you pull the trigger, and reset up to 10 times per second.
Not included in the Mantis Blackbeard kit are the almost-required Mantis laser targets. While they’re basic target designs, they’re equipped with a QR code in the corner that gives you access to the Mantis Laser Academy app. By pairing the kit with the target, you can also use the Mantis software to score your shots and monitor your progress. You can buy the targets for about $25 or download and print them for free.
Setting up the Mantis Blackbeard
Preparing the Blackbeard system to fire is easy. Just remove your rifle’s BCG and charging handle and replace it with the Blackbeard BCG, which is shaped like a BCG and charging handle merged together. After that, insert the battery pack, and (assuming you remembered to cock the hammer) it’s ready to go. Charging the battery is easy, too. It’s as simple as leaving it plugged in overnight.
The first time you use the Blackbeard, you’ll need to zero the laser. Mantis said it comes pre-zeroed, but you may still have to align it with the barrel. Zeroing it requires the use of a hex wrench, which comes with it. You just flip a switch, which is accessible through the ejection port of your rifle, turning the laser constant-on (instead of momentary on), and you adjust it for elevation and windage as you would your sights.
However, the Mantis instructional video is very clear that when the laser and your sights are zeroed correctly, the laser will appear just below the reticle. That’s because the laser beams out in a straight line whereas a bullet arches as it travels downrange.
The laser on the MantisX is “zeroable” in the sense that you can adjust it for your particular weapon system to ensure that you don’t get false reflections off of the interior of the barrel, and for micro-adjusting the laser to correspond with the point of aim on your optic that has been zeroed with live ammo at a certain distance. The laser of the Blackbeard system SHOULD NOT be used to boresight your AR with, as it is not precise enough for that purpose.
Using the Mantis Blackbeard
After charging the battery pack, I loaded the Mantis Blackbeard system into my Daniel Defense DD4MV7 PDW equipped with a Holosun 503 ACSS zeroed for 50 yards. The system was the standard red-laser version. When I tried the trigger, the pull was totally unaltered and felt like it did when the rifle was equipped with live fire components.
Using the Blackbeard, I opened the app on my smartphone, which I mounted to a tripod. Selecting a drill was easy. After you tap the drill of choice, the camera scans the QR codes on the target and populates the information on screen to track your shots. The app gives you clear instructions on what to do for each drill, and scores based on how well you shoot on the target in the time allotted. Additionally, you can manually select a target by designating an area of the screen as the center of a target shape of your choosing, so you can make something as simple as a pizza box with a dot drawn in the center of your target.
The largest issue I encountered was that the lighting had to be just right. Anything approaching daylight conditions, especially with my white walls, was too blown out for the app to detect the laser, so I had to go into a dimly lit hallway in my apartment and hang a target on the wall. This limited solution worked during the day, but at night, my overhead light blew out the camera, being too bright for the camera to detect, but even on maximum ISO and shutter speed settings, complete darkness was similarly difficult to train in.
Then comes the issue that the camera on my phone has difficulty tracking quick repeated shots that are close to each other, as with a hammered pair, often interpreting them as being the same shot, just unsteadily fired, hence the green lines in the photo. Shooting outside is basically impossible, since the app needs to be able to detect the laser of the Blackbeard on the target, and struggles to do so in direct light. Finally, the app misinterpreted nearly every sudden flash of light as a laser shot, registering a gunshot when a passing car reflected light through my window and onto the target.
What we like about the Mantis Blackbeard
The Mantis Blackbeard does exactly what it’s intended to do, which makes it an outstanding tool for dry-fire training. Another benefit, though, is it works alongside other Mantis training tools like the MantisX motion tracker. With this combo, the MantisX app grades things like trigger control, muzzle control, and even grip issues.
Additionally, by making the weapon unable to chamber or fire a live round, it ensures the safety of those practicing more so than a laser unit shaped like a live round would. By not interfering with the trigger of the host weapon, the Blackbeard ensures that you train with your trigger pull every time, no matter how finely tuned or bog-standard it is.
What we don’t like about the Mantis Blackbeard
The Blackbeard works; however, to use it to its full potential, you have to pay extra money. Buying the app is another cost to consider. While you get six free-to-use drills, including calibration when you download the app, when you factor in the paid app to unlock the other drills, the Blackbeard system and access to the paid app will cost $300, which excludes phone accessories.
The free version of the app is a good proof of concept that shows how the system works, but is little more than a teaser of the full potential that the other drills bring. The free version offers the ability to do free shooting on a target of your choice but offers none of the coaching and variety that the full version has. The Blackbeard system is part of an ecosystem of Mantis products that are designed to work symbiotically — and require that you purchase more than just the single product itself.
Additionally, the Mantis Laser Academy app doesn’t work as well in the dark as it does in the light, which makes training low-light difficult, which is a realistic scenario for defensive shooting practice. The app doesn’t work in brightly-lit rooms or in daylight either, meaning that you can’t use it near windows or outdoors, further restricting use.
A final issue is that the “zeroing” on the laser bolt carrier group has no real way of ensuring that your adjustments are precise, not being terribly delicate or having any clicks for adjustment, which can make the zeroing feel imprecise.
The Mantis Blackbeard is an outstanding training tool that makes dry-fire practice that much more authentic while offering the safety, ease of use, and cost savings that dry-fire brings with it. I recommend that any AR-15 owner who has issues scheduling range time, difficulties with ammo costs, wants to practice engaging targets in their home environment as a trainer for a home defense scenario, or who just wants another way to train should consider purchasing the Blackbeard.
However, the caveat is that the costs of the very finicky Laser Academy app, a good tripod, and mount for your mobile device are unavoidable to get the most out of this system. If you want to regularly train with computer-aided scoring, the cost of a MantisX rail attachment is another cost to factor in, which sharply increases the total cost of this system in its effective form to roughly the current cost of 1,000 rounds of 5.56.
FAQs about the Mantis Blackbeard
Q. How much does the Mantis Blackbeard cost?
A. The Mantis Blackbeard costs between $200 and $250. The price increases by the type of laser. According to Mantis’s website, the no-laser version is priced at $199, the red laser at $219, the green laser at $249, and the infrared laser at $249.
Q. What are the benefits of dry-fire practice?
A. Dry-fire practice allows the shooter to focus on grip, sight alignment, trigger control, and timing the first shot after drawing the weapon from the holster. These are all essential to ensure that the shooter can not only get the first round off in a defensive encounter or a shooting competition but can do so accurately.
Q. Does the Mantis Blackbeard have problems?
A. Early adopters of the Mantis Blackbeard system reported significant issues ranging from seizing in the motors to poor plastic molding and manufacturing standards. However, my test sample was fine. Still, I’d advise you to purchase a new Blackbeard system as opposed to a used one and to inspect it before using it. That way you could return it if you discover a problem.
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Matt Sampson is a Task & Purpose commerce writer. An 0861 in the Marine Forces Reserve and a Virginia native, he worked in tactical gear retail in his past life and is an avid firearms enthusiast. The farthest the Marine Corps has sent him from home is California.