Thoughts and Reflections on My Week of Advanced Training

We had been awake since 0600 the previous day, and went to sleep right after the debrief and cleaning up a bit, which was at about 1100. At 1600 or 1700 we woke up hungry. Dinner was chicken fried steak, mashed potatoes, and these rolls that are served hot and basically self digest on contact with the mouth. That was a food coma to contend with the most decadent Thanksgiving meal. Come to think of it, this was exactly one week after Thanksgiving. On top of all that, we dined in the “Winchester Room” which was adorned with classic lever actions and Winchester regalia.

By that time there was some kind of ice precipitation falling from the sky. We just get regular snow up where I live, and it is generally cold enough to be dry and powdery until it compacts into ice. This Texas stuff was more wet on the outside, but harder on the inside. It was beginning to accumulate on the ground, which had me worried about driving 2000 miles home, through the Texas panhandle, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho in my front wheel drive Chevy sedan.

We still had a few things left on the list, urban hides, vehicle hides, and some shooting and a final zero check which we were planning to get done on Friday (the following day). For the rest of Thursday evening we set about the difficult task of digesting all the food we ate, washing it down with some beer and conversation before turning in again.

Friday morning we woke to still more of the ice falling from the sky. The doors to our barracks were pinned shut at first. I decided in my mind that if I didn’t get started towards home I probably wouldn’t be getting out any time soon. I didn’t want to miss out on the additional course material, but I needed to be home to get back to the day job, so I started packing stuff and took a load to the car. That turned out to be the decision that everyone made.

At home I can usually brush the snow off my car, or defrost the light coat of ice from the windshield pretty easily. In this case my car was fully encrusted in a quarter inch coat of ice. There was really no where to grab the doors to pry them open. I found a spot missing ice on the rear passenger side door, and luckily I had a wooden door stop in my bag to use as a wedge to get the door cracked open. It was a lot like breaking into a locked car (don’t ask), except the only lock was ice. I finally cracked the ice enough to get the door open, and the rest were much easier from the inside. I ran the car for about an hour straight before it was in any condition to be driven (all windows and lights exposed). It took me about that long to be ready to move out anyway.

Time to leave meant time to say goodbye. These were all such great people. I couldn’t find words to express my gratitude in having such a good bunch to spend a week with, and for Russ to extending the invitation to an opportunity that so few people get to experience, and even for those people comes along so rarely. Russ is definitely the real deal as a shooter, a warrior, and a man. Allen, another instructor, is just as much the real deal, but was very reserved and held his viewpoints back a bit as “just another point of view”.  He’s humble in comparison to his abilities and experience. Chris, the third instructor was younger, and just extremely technically adept and on top of the cutting edge of technique and equipment. The other trainees were just a great bunch of guys- fun, but very professional and capable. Matt, my “sniper partner” for the week, is a very sharp guy with a lot of integrity and promise in whatever he decides he wants to do in life. As we were all driving off I realized that we didn’t get a group photo.

As I drove away I found the roads to be well within my capability as a winter driver. This left me some mental space to reflect on what I gained from the training. I was sore enough for me to know that I had done some good work. My confidence level was through the roof. It may seem pointless and excessive to run trainees through a 29 hour cycle. Regardless of how it seems, putting it all together in a realistic scenario, without the ability to call “kings X” at a nice stopping point was invaluable. It told me that if I had to do this for real, I could get it done from beginning to end. Sure, there are some things I would need to work on to ensure an appropriate level of probable operational success, but that is just life. I need to constantly keep upping my game until success is the norm, and failure would be extremely improbable.

There is a lot of technical knowledge in the field of sniping, even non-military sniping, that goes beyond shooting.  The shooting has to be there.  That’s a given, but most of the things a sniper does have little to do with shooting.  It’s a discipline that calls for versatility and an endless curiosity and will to improve at the craft. 

This course and our field training exercise went to the edge and perhaps slightly beyond the scope of a typical law enforcement mission profile.  That’s why it’s called an advanced course.  It’s all about contingency planning, and I think that a lot of that was intentionally build into the course.

My gear got a pretty good shakedown.  I got a lot more realistic idea of what might work and what probably won’t.  I learned some things to watch out for, like uncapped, non-locking turrets moving from their zero, which was a real “duh” moment, but sometimes it takes a moment like that to bring home something obvious.  I’m pretty well impressed with how well the Remington held its zero even with all the incidental abuse that it received.  Even the scope was fine once the knob was turned back to where it was supposed to be.  As for the cold weather, I’m putting some thought and research in how to be better equipped and prepared, which also should have been obvious to me, considering I live in a colder climate than the class was held in. 

A lot of the things I learned weren’t explicitly in the course outline.  Some things have to be learned by doing, and some things encountered in life may seem contrary to what the “book” says until you understand why the book says what it says, and when there are exceptions.  The map is not the territory, and sometimes it takes some perspective to orient one’s knowledge of the map to find an understanding of the territory.  The structure of the class left plenty of room for all of us to learn some real hands on lessons. 

Russ is a valuable source of training to military and law enforcement personnel. If you fit the bill and are serious about pursuing training with him, contact me.

A 26 Hour Training Day, Part 3: The Cool Down

First of all, Merry Christmas! 

Now, back to our scheduled programming…

We met up with the other team after some modern orienteering magic. It was approximately 0300 by that point. The cold front had arrived. It was in the low 30’s and there were small amounts of intermittent sleet. Being out in the 20’s or 30’s is generally not that bad. The difference between maintaining comfort while moving in those conditions and remaining completely still is huge. We had about 4 hours minimum to stay in position like that. We reached a point of uncontrollable shuddering. This was the first time in my life that I had ever been grateful for the body heat of another man (don’t worry, no cowboy hats or exclamations of “I can’t quit you”).

Matt was using a piece of borrowed camo netting as a blanket (I don’t know if that’s sad or funny). I remembered how hot and sweaty I had gotten only 18 hours earlier in the day in the ghillie suit. I had brought the top with me and decided that it would be better wearing it than not wearing it so I put in on just for warmth. I also had rain gear that I tried to use to break the wind a bit, but that really didn’t help. What I was really wished I had brought was my wool West German pants, my down coat, a space blanket, and some hand and foot warmers. As it was, my pack was almost bursting at the seams. With some re-prioritizing what I took I could have fit all of those things except for the coat, and could maybe fit a fleece top or something to add another layer. When you’re working outside it’s necessary to be on top of what the weather is predicted to do.

The four of us stayed in position for about 4 hours like that. There were regular radio updates about the mission, and we had to give regular reports on movements in the area (steel targets don’t move too much). Near first light we were told that the “people” (steel targets) were now deadly threats to the imaginary informant that was feeding us information. There were 3 targets visible. The team leader began assigning teams to cover particular ones. I could see two of them from my position and volunteered to cover target 4, which was the farthest one I could see. I had ranged it at 324 yards. I consulted my FDAC (I had decided to leave the iPhone in the barracks due to the possibility for noise, light, loss, and the probability of damage) and put in the 1.5 mil correction. We knew our position, almost directly to the south of the target would have a negligible wind correction due to the dominant winds coming in from the north, and in this case, at dawn, there wasn’t much wind to speak of, so I didn’t fuss with that knob at all (there’s a slight but crucial mistake there, even though I really didn’t need a wind correction).

We were all so cold that the big guy from Mississippi eventually let command know on the radio that his core temperature was getting low.  It was brought up later, how did he and his partner check their core temperatures?  Maybe what happens in Texas should stay in Texas.

The position with the concealment and field of vieww that I needed did not afford any support for my shooting position. This is a lot like life sometimes. The ideal thing that you hope for just doesn’t happen and you have to adapt. How does that Rolling Stones song go? In this situation I was not able to use the sling due to the bulk of the ghillie suit. Normally thick clothes don’t affect my sling tension enough to matter, but the ghillie is thick on a completely different level. The position that was left, given all these factors was unsupported open leg sitting. This isn’t my go to sitting position, but I understand it well enough to get a decent shot off if I need to.

I found that I was able to hold my reticle’s center dot inside the target. The commander began a short count for coordinated fire. This seemed to happen rather suddenly, but when you think about it, how is it going to happen it real life? Is the guy downrange going to say, “Um, I’m getting ready to kill this person here, to my left. You might want to think about how you’re going to stop me. I’ll wait until you are ready and hold still so you have a nice shot,”? Probably not.

I called the count out so Matt could hear it (I did not know it, but he couldn’t hear what I was saying). We did not both have a radio, so I did my best to convey to him what was going on.  At the beginning of the count I noticed that my dot was fuzzy. Wind was blowing into my eyes. I blinked it out as well as I could and pressed of a shot on the count. This was, in effect, the one shot qual course that represented the sum of the class material. We had applied everything they had taught us up to this point to get us into position and ready to fire. If this shot turned out to be a miss it was all for nothing. The only thing on the line in this case was ego, but it was enough to make the event “exciting”. This has a nice side effect of getting rid of the unnecessary thought processes and paring the experience down into a single, vivid moment.  In this case it was a 13 hour movement culminating in one shot.

My finger pressed the trigger on the count as if it happened automatically. I had taken time to put an ear plug in the ear that did not have a radio earpiece in it. Given that the radio ear piece is not hearing protection, the report of the .308 going of was not any louder than normal. I wonder it the earpiece actually did something or if it was auditory exclusion. There were several dings of bullets on steel, some loud, some faint. We were told to mark our firing positions and exfil. It seemed strange to be so efficient. No muss, no fuss, just keep going about your tasks.

We quickly gathered up the gear in that location and moved back into the trees, well out of visual range of the target site. This had the effect of lessening the “realness” of the exercise. Although I knew this was make believe ahead of time, the fact that it was full length, real time, and run well enough to be a rather accurate representation off all of the things that might happen if it were real, it had felt at least somewhat like what I might imagine the real thing to be like. I think that’s saying something about how well Russ had designed the training.

We had to make a brief pit stop so Matt could recover his cached gear from the top of our little mountain. On his way up, upon seeing the hill he we climbed and descended just a few hours earlier, he wondered how we had gotten up and back down that thing with all of our gear in near total darkness. He said it was a steep hill of loose shale (that explains why I slid down on top of my rifle).

FTX Morning
Happy to be on my feet again and moving. The ghillie top and the head cover are not there for camouflage at this point, just warmth.

The walk back to the forward rally point was steep. My rifle was heavy. It took probably an hour. But at least I was warm again- not hot, not sweaty, just warm enough. It was still in the low 30’s with a good breeze. After reuniting with the other teams we were told that Russ was out in his truck and would give us a ride back the rest of the way. That was welcome news. We met up with him and I was literally amazed at how long the drive was.

At debriefing it turned out that I had hit target 4 closer to the edge than the center of the body. They called it a “screamer shot”. I really had no idea about the state of my rifle after being dropped and fallen on, the quality of a blurred sight picture, the possibility of a branch or something in the path of my bullet, and the accuracy of my lasered range given the brush between me and the target. On top of all that my position was not one that would have been my first, second, or even third choice. I did get a hit, but the thought occurred to me that this was a stationary steel target that had been motionless for hours and standing straight up and broadside. Even if the exercise had felt somewhat real at the time, I did not have a set of eyes, or a definite anatomical target to hit. 324 yards is not long range by anyone’s definition anymore, but this shot proved to be anything but a guaranteed hit on a one way range with big, motionless targets. What I do on my bipod at the range is hardly relevant to what happens when even simulated real life occurs. How much more difficult would that shot have been if the target were moving?

As a short post script, this is what I saw on my windage turret the next time I took my rifle out for zero confirmation.

IMG_4795
That would be 0.5 mils right.

The last time I had shot it prior to the field exercise, it was definitely set to zero. I am fairly certain that I did not reset it or check it prior to firing my one shot cumulative final exam. I believe that in the process of getting carried through the back country, dropped, and fallen on, my wind turret was moved right about half a mil.  There is a definite disadvantage to uncapped turrets, as handy as they may be most of the time. 

My “screamer shot” was on the right side of the target. Half a mil at 324 yards is approximately 6”. The targets were 19” to 20” wide, half of which would be close to 10”. Assuming that I’m correct that my knob was off at the time of the shot and that my deviation was to my right (the target’s left), I believe that accounts for at least some of the horizontal deviation of the point of impact from my point of aim. It’s not an excuse, it’s just a diagnosis of something that I legitimately messed up on. In the precision rifle game, obsessive/compulsive behavior is somewhat of a requirement. The requirements go up if an innocent person’s life is riding on that shot.

The exercise was over, and for the most part the training.  I’ll recap my thoughts in one last installment.

 

A 26 Hour Training Day, Part 2: Night of the Cat, Flight of the Turkeys

Picking up right where I left off with the field training exercise. We were given a surveillance mission. The objective was approximately 5 kilometers away from our insertion point and we were to approach on foot at night. Each of the 4 teams was to take up a different position relative to the target location. The terrain wasn’t super difficult, but did have some changes in elevation both up and down. There were also the thorny bushes, cacti, and rocks.

Chores were delegated out. I volunteered to work on route planning with Matt. I could see that for Matt that was like a fish being thrown into the water. He’s a sharp guy, he’s had some training, and he still does orienteering type stuff for fun. The other guys took care of other aspects of the plan. The team leader put them all together and briefed us and the “command staff” on the entire thing. We briefed it back to ensure that everyone was on the same page.

We began walking in at about 1830. We made good time, and were able to stick to our established route. There were some folks with some good land navigation skills. Matt, not even one of the snipers, was one of the better at this, but Brian was also very good. I felt that this made us a good team because we each had strengths to make up for the other’s weaknesses.

I realized within about the first 100 yards of the walk that I could not realistically hold my NOD to my eye and hold my rifle. I also realized that due to the change in perspective when using the NOD, it was not much easier, if at all, to walk overland with the NODs than it was without. I decided to forego using them unless I needed to see something in particular, or to take security during a stop. I found it very interesting how although my eyes couldn’t see the surface, or much of anything, how I was still able to know enough about the terrain through instinct or intuition to keep myself from falling down a cliff or walking headlong into a mesquite bush. Frequently I would walk right up to the bush and realize it was there within probably inches of contacting it. It seemed that vision has to do with more than just what is taken in by the eyes.

About 2 hours in, one of the snipers said in his thick Mississippi accent, “Y’all, there’s a big cat out there.” A few of the guys were incredulous. He persisted, “I ain’t foolin’ with y’all.  There’s a panther out there.” More incredulity, then someone else saw it. A large cat with a big curved tail about 2/3 the length of its body. It disappeared and we began walking again. Then someone saw it again a few minutes later, walking parallel to our course. It was probably a mountain lion, but they said it looked black. There are supposed to be panthers in Texas, or it’s also possible that it could have been a jaguarundi. I wasn’t really worried about it because it was unlikely to attack so large a group, but it was slightly unsettling. We moved on and didn’t see it again, but about 5 minutes later there was a large ruckus to our left, which just about caused several of us to involuntary lose several pounds of unnecessary waste matter (though it did not!). It was a rafter (not a flock, gaggle, or murder) of wild turkeys taking flight after being disturbed by us. Miraculously, there were no breaks in muzzle or finger discipline despite the scare.

By 2200 we had made it to our forward rally point, and were ready to break up to move into our respective positions. One of the teams would be heading the same way as we were almost up until we were in position. It took about another 2.5 to 3 hours of rather difficult terrain to get close to our position.

When Matt and I reached the position corresponding to where we should be on the map, we realized that we were not even remotely in a position to see the target site. He had been largely responsible in getting us to that point, and I think he was starting to get tired, wanting to get hunkered down for some rest before first light. We started moving closer to the target site. After 45 minutes or so we heard someone coming. We had been told that there were roving patrols, so we hid behind a bush until we identified the sound as coming from the other team operating in the area. They had also found their pre-determined location on the map to be no good. We moved forward together for a bit, then split back up to find new positions.

Matt and I ended up on the top of a small hill approximately 100′ higher than the surrounding terrain. I could see some of the target area. We were both sweaty from our hike and a cold front was heading in (this would be the Texas ice storm that was all over the news). I changed out all my sweaty clothes (the only thing being carried over was the pants) and put thermal underwear on, for a total of thermal tops and bottoms, thick wool socks, Multicam ACU style tops and bottoms, a wool watch cap, and a fleece Cabela’s RealTree pattern balaclava. Changing clothes completely was very cold, but it was brief and the wind dried my skin out almost completely. I also put on heavier gloves for the time being to keep me warm. It was about at this point with the new gloves on that, holding my rifle by the barrel, I suppose my grip wasn’t the same as it had been with nomex gloves, my rifle slipped out of my grip and fell to the rocky ground. That’s generally not good.

I took over the radio from Matt (there were only enough to supply one per team) and began communicating with command while observing what I could see from the target area. Another team used IR lasers to mark the two targets they could see. Initially I could see one marked fairly well through my NODs and one seemed to be slightly obstructed. Later the targets were marked again and I saw nothing. I noticed that there appeared to be a tree partially obstructing our view. The team we had just been linked up with reported that they could see at least 3 targets, and that we could take a position near them that we could use to observe from. Matt was taking a snooze break, so I decided to wake him up and move our location.

Moving wasn’t hard for me, because I was still awake and my gear was still pretty much packed up. Matt was not pleased and decided to cache some of his gear rather than packing it down our little mountain. While moving down the hill, I slipped and fell on my rear. My rifle was kind of half trapped under me, while I held the barrel to my right and tried to keep the muzzle clear of the rocks. Sliding down a rocky hill on top of your rifle is generally not good.

To be continued…

 

A 26 Hour Training Day, Part 1: The Warm Up

We started day 3 at 0900 at the stalking lane. I was looking forward to correct the errors that I had made during the previous stalk on day 1. This time the snipers operated in pairs, and I was paired up with Matt. Because Matt was not really there as a student, he had not participated in the previous stalk, but did walk around with one of the instructors as he walked the stalking lanes around us. I think this probably gave him a good perspective of how it is supposed to work.

For this stalk I borrowed Russ’ ghillie instead of trying to make the burgandy one fit. Matt helped me attach some local vegetation to make the suit work better. He just used a set of Multicam BDUs. We were probably 400-500 yards north of the target location. No matter how good the suit is, it isn’t magic, but for me this was about learning about camouflage.

The idea of this stalk was to get within 100 yards or so, close enough to make a positive ID and a “shot” (yelling bang). The stalking lane was just east of and adjacent to the “road” in. Our plan was to take a route approximately 100 yards further east of the straight line of sight down the stalking lane to the target, then work back in towards the target at a southwest angle.

A compass and paying better attention to the reference markers (just as power lines paralleling the road would have helped. We mistook a truck parked near the road for the target truck, which put our path almost straight down the stalking lane instead of skirting the edge of it. With the instructors using spotting scopes and binos, we were not using the terrain as advantageously as we could have been.

A second mistake was that we wasted time early on by going overboard on stealthy movement techniques, when distance and obstacles should have done some of that for us. By the time we were getting near the target we were pretty short on time.

The last mistake was lack of confidence in seeing the shot. I could see Russ pretty clearly, although not by facial recognition. Part of the problem there was that I had put pantyhose over my objective as a field expedient anti-reflective device and it interfered with my image clarity. I could see that it was him by his outline, and that he was at the rear of his truck glassing with binos. I would have had a clear shot, but we had been warned that we would need to get close enough to recognize a fairly small object. I insisted that we get closer. Matt took my word for it. About 10 yards closer and we were spotted, first by his boonie, and then by me being in the sun. We learned that the small object would have been a Copenhagen can, which would have been easy to spot. It was still a good learning experience. The temperature at that time was in the 70’s and I was completely soaked in sweat, as if I had a barrel of warm sea water dumped on me.

The previous day’s stalk had claimed my rifle scope’s ocular lens cover and one of my binocular (my wife’s binoculars) objective covers. This days stalk broke my rifle’s objective lens cover. This stuff will shakedown gear like nothing I’ve seen before.

Following the stalking exercise we were given a surveillance mission. I will continue that in the next installment (3500 words is just too much. It was way too long a day to fit into one article without re-creating the exhaustion for you).

Shaggy Gets the NODs

For the second half of day 2 of the class, we began with a discussion of mission planning, overland movement, and fieldcraft. The idea with mission planning is to have a good plan, and to plan for contingencies. Russ went over the particulars of what that should look like. As for the fieldcraft stuff, I took the opportunity to get some of the details fleshed out (stuff that was probably obvious to everyone else).

As it got dark the people with night vision equipped rifles get set up for a night shoot. This technology is not completely new to me, but using it on a rifle is, and I find it fascinating. It turns out that there are widely varying grades of quality of this stuff, and none of it is cheap. Even with a significant expenditure, some of this gear does not live up to expectations. Still, I was able to get some hits out to 300 or so in nearly complete darkness (new moon) with a night vision equipped AR. That’s pretty neat. There were issues with wandering zeroes on IR lasers and poor resolution on the PVS-22s.

After shooting, we practiced overland movement at night with NODs (night optical devices- it took me a few days to find out that they weren’t talking about sleeping). Walking around with NODs is slightly disorienting at first, but not as bad as the 8x binoculars I wear while playing soccer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-rRK7vlBG8A (I’m in the green suit with the skilled moves, 1:33 to 1:40).

One of the guys wearing NODs found a hole about 2′ in diameter, 3′ deep, and walked right into it, dropping like he stepped into a trap door. That was the only water to be found at all. We all told him that the divining rod was a bad idea. Another guy stepped into a sizeable patch of cacti. All this was in relatively harmless terrain. I was walking like Shaggy from Scooby Doo in order to keep from tripping.

A lot of this stuff was new to me, and I was learning a lot. I was looking forward to the next day’s big field training exercise. To be continued…

Favoring Fishtails: LE Advanced Sniper School Day 2, Part 1

I woke up pretty sore in my legs, shoulders, chest, and back from the previous day’s stalk. It got me thinking that regular stalking would not be a bad as part of an exercise regime. Note that while I had generally been keeping up on my physical training, in the weeks leading up to the class I had been sick for some of it, and super busy for the week just before. I had not really slipped, but I was not in the regular exercise groove that would have kept me from getting sore for the most part.

We went to the range and had a discussion on coordinated fire. This is when two or more snipers fire simultaneously at the direction of a team leader as part of a coordinated larger movement. Following the discussion we were given a compressed window of time to prepare to fire on an array of targets placed at 200 yards downrange. Being that I was odd man out, Matt, a friend of one of the instructors, acted as my partner. After a brief count 8 rifles barked out simultaneously. A neat side effect of the coordinated shots was that we were knocking down the stationary steel IPSC silhouettes (they’re not supposed to fall down). I would score a nicely centered up head shot, watch the target fall during recoil, and have the bolt cycled before the target hit the ground.

The instructors noted that all of the shooting we had done up to that point had been in the prone position using bipods. They also noted that in most cases in real life setting up in prone isn’t possible. Paper targets were set up with a 5” outer square and a 2.5” inner square and we went back to 420 yards. The only rules were that we couldn’t use the prone position. Even if we had wanted to use prone, there was tall grass blocking the view of the targets from the ground.

I worked with reverse kneeling for the first several 3 shot groups. I used my BMF (Bag, Multi Function) as a front rest with the bag mounted on the Harris bipod. On the rear of the rifle I had a Magic Sack to brace the rifle on my right leg. Neither of the bags add anything to the perceptible weight of the rifle.

IMG_4793

IMG_4797

My typical 3 shot group was just under 2 MOA. I was generally calling my shots somewhere within the outer 5” square. Being that my rifle now seems to shoot 10 shot prone groups at just at or slightly above 1.5 MOA, 2 minutes from a field position sounded pretty good. It was then that I remembered that I was comparing apples to oranges. John Simpson did some work with a computer simulation that would take a shot group of any given number of rounds extreme spread and extrapolate the size of a group with a different number of rounds. Without slipping any of John’s trade secrets, suffice it to say that it tells what we should already know. If you keep firing after 3 rounds your group will get larger.

The wind was similar to the previous day. The first time I used the wind from my location, ~4 mph from 11:00 and plugged it into Shooter. I put in the 0.3 mil left correction. After a walk to the targets I found that my group was centered up at approximately 6” left, strangely almost equal to my correction, indicating that had I left my sights alone I would have been centered up. I walked back to the firing line figuring that I would be good to go if I set the windage turret to 0.0 and held dead center. My next group was approximately 5” right. This went on all day.

I figure that my experience with horizontal deviation could have been due to on or both of two likely causes: chasing pieces of a larger group and the wind changing. I figure that there was some of both, but based on my observations throughout the day, I believe that that the larger component was wind was subtly changing direction. The corrections I was making were 15 to 20 minutes old by the time I fired the next group.

If you stand in one spot with the wind coming from a general 12:00 direction you will notice that the direction shifts from moment to moment, probably something in the neighborhood of a shift from 11:00 to 1:00. A full value wind (3:00 or 9:00) is much easier to account for, because even if the magnitude varies the correction will still be in the same direction. The point of impact will be off by the difference between the inputted correction and the actual necessary correction; this might play out to be the difference between a 10 mph dominant wind condition and a 14 mph gust. At 420 yards my ballistics program tells me that, given a 3:00 wind, my 10 mph correction would be 0.9 mils and my 14 mph correction would be 1.3 mils, a difference of approximately 6” at 420 yards.

If the wind shifts from 11:00 to 1:00 between the time a correction is figured and the time a shot or group is fired, the wind effect and the correction will be compounded, essentially doubling the error. The correction for a 10 mph 11:00 wind at 420 yards is 0.6 mils left. Its mirror image, a 10 mph 1:00 wind requires a correction 0.4 right. The numerical difference is due to the spin drift function being turned on. When I turned it off the correction for both was 0.5 mils. If I’m shooting in fishtailing conditions in a constant 10 mph wind (I might as well be shooting with the tooth fairy) that is fishtailing from 11:00 to 1:00 between my sight input and my shot, I’ll be off a full mil, which at 420 yards is just over 15”. Even with only a 5 mph breeze I’ll still be off a half mil.

It’s tricky wind conditions like these that make Russ’ advise to favor or hold to one side of the target effective. He also recommended that I use the tall grass about midrange as a wind indicator. Of course, this was already something I “knew”. This brings to mind that one of the things that kept happening repeatedly was that I would hear something that I already knew, but it would come to me with a different emphasis or insight that had not made it so important before. The reason I think holding or favoring is good advice is that it encourages the shooter to define the hold based on real time conditions, rather than trying to mechanically apply a book number to a dynamic situation. Russ’ combat experience also reinforced to him that simple methods that can be applied under stress are vastly superior to complex ones that are too difficult to apply on the two way range.

After getting consistent results from supported reverse kneeling, I noticed that one of the snipers was getting very good groups, consistently sub minute (probably 3”). I asked him what he was doing to get such consistently good results. He was shooting from a supported standing position, bagging his rifle in on a truck tool box. I decided to try something similar, so I used a cooler near the rear of the truck bed to rest my front bag on, and put my rear bag on the wall of the truck bed. I could tell that this was much steadier, giving me a wobble area of approximately 2” at the 420 yards we were at. This position is essentially what has been called “parapet prone”, and was used in trench fighting. It has more in common with prone as far as technique and steadiness than it does standing.

On the last group of the day, my windage turret was set to zero, and I stupidly and bull-headedly used the last group as my wind indicator, when I could plainly see that the grass was telling me the opposite. There obviously comes a time when experience trumps theory, and I would have been better served to pay attention to what my eyes and little voice were telling me.

One thing I noticed with both of the supported positions was that the rifle’s recoil impulse was consistent and the deviation of the sight picture through recoil was minimal in comparison to my bipod prone position. Similarly, movement of the rifle through recoil was minimal, my called shots were consistent with their placement in the groups, although my groups showed uniform horizontal deviation from the wind. I suppose the idea that I’m trying to convey is that the positions were solid. This was likely due to getting my body mass square behind the rifle and leaning into it a fair amount. The tension resulting from the forward lean also means that the firing hand can release its grip to cycle the bolt and there is still sufficient tension between the rifle butt and the shoulder to keep the rifle stationary through the bolt cycle.

The shooting part only made up the first half of day 2. I’ll cover the remainder in the next article.

LE Sniper School, Day 1

I packed up my shooting gear, all of the field gear I could think to bring, and a borrowed ghillie top, since I don’t own one and it seemed like a good idea. I thought it was interesting that the ghillie, although apparently well made and expensive, did not match the terrain in my area (it has a significant amount of burgandy jute- maybe a wine country color?).

It took me two and a half days to drive to Camp Bowie in Brownwood, Texas. All I can say about the drive is that if you like to have a beer with your dinner, Utah doesn’t have the best selection of beer, and Lubbock is too big to easily settle on a good place to eat unless you like driving around in circles.

Camp Bowie is a big piece of land that has mesquite (thorny stuff), cactus (prickly stuff) and fire ants. There is also a 1000 meter known distance range.

The other students were snipers from a county Sheriff’s department in Texas. I was impressed with all of them as people. These are not the folks who are going to come after anyone’s guns if it ever comes to that. There were six of them, divided into three teams. I was odd man out, so Matt, a non-sniper friend of one of the instructors filled in with me when necessary. We all slept in the same room at Camp Bowie.

The day began with some official introductions. Of course there is Russ, who I spoke of in the previous article. One of the other instructors was Russ’ sniper partner in the military, and is now a firearms trainer for a mid-sized police department in Texas. The 3rd instructor was another military sniper. There was a total of 7 students.

Prior to firing our first shots we were told to find 1 round and keep it with us. Then we walked a few hundred yards uprange and began doing runs and fireman’s carries back toward our rifles to get the heart rate up. When we got back to the firing line we did jumping jacks for a minute or so. Then we were told we had 8 seconds to get one shot off on the 1” square 100 meters downrange. I fumbled with my earplugs and didn’t make the time limit. For whatever reason, no one else made the time limit either. We were then told to reset and were given 6 seconds to make the shot. We were all much faster, but no one made the 6 second limit. We were allowed to make our shots. Mine was about 1” low of the intended point of impact. I made a zero correction, 0.3 mils up, which kept my elevation on for the rest of the course.

Next we shot steel IPSC silhouettes that were randomly set up at distances from 200 to ~825 yards. It was explained that while these targets are outside of typical law enforcement distances we should understand our trajectories at farther distances. I was able to get distances on most of them with my rangefinder. It was not able to range the target at eight-hundred-something yards, so I had trouble hitting that target. I was getting a false reading about 100 yards behind it and was seeing strikes that appeared to be next to it. Everything else was relatively trouble free. Get a range, estimate wind, input appropriate changes to the turrets, and press the trigger. I was able to get consistent head shots out to 326 and easy body shots to 524.  The fact that the targets were stationary and inanimate made them easier than live targets.   I don’t think there was anything between the 524 and the ~825 targets.

The wind at the range was a little tricky. It was a very low value wind, coming from nearly 12:00, but fishtailed along the length of the range. Sometimes the wind at the shooting location was of a smaller magnitude than what was downrange, and it couldn’t be counted on to provide the right solution to get a well centered hit. A fishtailing range can cause the shooter to input a small correction in one direction that actually compounds the effects of the actual total wind.

It took me a day or so to begin to get a feel for the wind. A strategy that Russ discussed for shooting under rapidly unfolding and stressful situations was something I haven’t done much of, which is favoring and holding using the target as a reference. This is an approach that takes some experience applying, but could be more useful than dialing in a hurry or applying a definite mil hold if the data is not easily available to reference. The primary purpose of the morning’s shooting was to get everyone tuned in and refreshed.

Following our range time, we set out to the “stalking lane” for some stalking practice. Stalking is something I have very little practice, and no prior instruction in. Unlike the shooting part of it, I was in unfamiliar and uncomfortable territory. I had no practice with the ghillie top I borrowed, and needed some assistance in applying vegetation to it.

I am somewhat familiar with stalking and camouflage theories, but it’s not always easy to bridge the gap between knowledge and application. Different situations require different movement techniques. Low crawling offers the best concealment, but is exhausting and slow. Unless it’s actually necessary it’s a waste. Route selection is crucial, but knowing what the route will offer uprange is sometimes not as obvious as it seems like it would be.

During the stalk I began to get a more intuitive grasp of how to move and where to go. I began to get hopeful that I would make it past the “finish line”, which was a marked line approximately 75 yards from the target, where I would be allowed to “fire” a shot and wait to see if I could be found. I made it to approximately 15 yards from the line. The purple suit turned out to be not a good match for the terrain, and eventually got me burned. In addition to the suit color, there is a shadow under the sniper’s hood, which for an experienced spotter is an indicator that stands out.

This stalk saw the loss of the left lens cap of my binoculars, and the ocular lens cap of my rifle scope. I was also very dirty and sweaty. My rifle had a serious layer of dirt.

Day 1 showed me where my strengths and weaknesses were in terms of skillset. Hitting things with a rifle is something that I’m fairly comfortable doing. Stalking was at the other end of the spectrum for me, and was quite humbling.

Gettin’ Schooled

It turns out that this blogging thing brings with it some unique and very interesting opportunities that are not available to just anyone. I get correspondence from some very cool people from all over the world. About a year ago a got a message from a guy named Russ Clagett in Texas. Since then I’ve been talking back and forth with Russ regularly.

Russ was a police sniper until the early 2000s when he went to Afghanistan and Iraq as a sniper. He then served as a Master Gunner with the 36th infantry division. Prior to his career as a police officer Russ was also in the Marine Corps and was part of their marksmanship team.  Russ is also on the advisory board for the American Sniper Association, and is the author of a book called “After the Echo“.  By the way, Russ never submitted a resume of this stuff to me.  He has always presented himself to me as a normal guy.  I just happened to find out this stuff along the way.   I have come to find out that on top of these qualifications, he is the real deal, knows his stuff, and has been there and done that, so to speak.

For some reason Russ began reading my blog regularly. We’ve been having a regular email conversations since. Recently he offered me the opportunity to attend an advanced LE Sniper course he teaches. Obviously this isn’t an opportunity that comes along for anyone, so I jumped at the chance, both to meet Russ and to get some training that I would likely otherwise never have access to. All I had to do was to get myself to Texas for the training.

Over the next few posts I’ll go over my experience training with Russ. I was very interested to see how I held up against Texas law enforcement snipers. Stay tuned.

 

Working the Problem

After the last range session I got to the work of improving my issues. The reduced time that I’m allowing myself to load and fire the rifle is the main thing right now that is decreasing my precision, and therefore reducing my hit probability on my theoretical 4” target. Something else that didn’t help was that not keeping up on my shooting over the summer set me back a bit.

I divided the work into two categories, shooting and gun handling. My gun handling cost me time, which not only put me over my self-imposed time limits, but also increased the pressure on executing basic firing tasks. In terms of time, it’s primarily an gun handling issue. The process of firing a shot can be compressed, but only inasmuch as can be done without compromising the ability to hit the target, whereas everything leading up to that shot can be streamlined. Like so many aspects of shooting, improvement often comes with the removal of the extraneous rather than the addition of some enhancement.

Something else that I needed to work on was re-working my order of operations in gun handling, due to things I have learned or realized. One of the things that was recently re-emphasized to me via John Simpson is how drastic a target indicator that the scope objective lens can be. That changed the sequence of gun handling and gave me something to re-tune. The minor glitch that occurs after re-sequencing the preparation to fire a shot will go away with some repetition. Purposeful repetition also has a way of trimming the extraneous movements.

The first thing I practiced was getting my index in various positions, supported and unsupported, without hurrying. It was similar to practicing slow and smooth dry draws. I just wanted to get up, get down, index and repeat. A major issue at the range had been not immediately being able to settle down into my index. That leaves a choice of taking extra time to fuss the natural point of aim, or trying to muscle it, which just won’t turn out well.  Repetition helps burn in the feeling. It wasn’t that difficult to get a feel for the positions with a small amount of time and attention.

The next step was to begin compressing the allotted time. I had considered using a shot timer to practice with, but my watch has a timer that seems to be more convenient, since I already use it for wind sprints and kettlebell. I set the timer for 15 seconds and practiced getting my position set and executing solid fundamentals to fire one dry shot. A compressed window is something that is not too hard to get used to.

The practice of repeatedly going from a carry state, magnification set to low power, scope caps closed, etc., etc., to “firing” a dry shot in a short period of time is an effective way to work through some of the glitches.

It’s easy to let the habitual use of what is comfortable and familiar induce a rut without even realizing it. I tend to practice offhand frequently because it doesn’t involve a lot of physical movement, but I also tend to keep my offhand dry fire brief because my rifle is heavy. There are other positions, such as rice paddy prone, kneeling and the mid-level supported position, that have been habitual for me lately. To ensure that I’m keeping a well balanced regimen I decided to make use of my chart to assist me in a random selection of position.

Chart

The thing about the chart is that it’s oriented in terms of the height required to suit a particular terrain instead of specific positions, the exception being the two versions of supported prone. So kneeling versus squatting, in this case, comes out to personal preference.

The other side of the coin in addressing my last range visits is not letting the sense of urgency rush me into missing. This is where Pete’s “smooth, unflustered, quick, clear, and emotionless” state of mind comes into play (Lessler, 40). There’s really no trick to executing the fundamentals of firing a shot. To use the driving analogy again, if the light’s red you do not go. If the light’s green, apply pressure to the accelerator while letting the clutch pedal out. It shouldn’t require any thought. If the light is green, I go, and the mechanics take care of themselves. There’s no worrying about when the light might change, or inching forward, because I’m nervous about time. Obviously I don’t run the light. If I see the sight picture that I need to see to fire in order to hit the target, I fire. Until that happens, I don’t fire. Thinking of trigger actuation in that context has actually been very helpful for my shooting.

Getting to the point to where I see what I need to see to get the hit is the part that requires practice. What I need to work through is where practice leaves off and where performance begins. Stay tuned.