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).
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.
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.