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.