Through what we can only describe as a series of tragic mistakes and happenstance, our plan of sending Chris off to get kidnapped and sold into slavery in Paraguay via a Lebanese crime syndicate ended up with him at a 1MOA Solutions’ precision rifle course, and rubbing elbows with Adam Wilson. Of course and as usual, that plan is still on, but this AAR gave him at least a temporary reprieve. Mad Duo
So there I was, finger on the trigger, stock in my shoulder, left hand on the monopod adjustment, staring through a scope at a thousand yard target. And our instructor, that bastard, didn’t just want me to hit the target. He wanted me to hit its head. Everyone knows thousand-yard head shots only happen in bad novels and action movies.
This was on day two of 1MOA Solutions’ Precision Rifle Course, held at Red Stag Tactical’s range in Eagle Lake, Texas. When I heard about the class I got all excited at the prospect of making long-distance shots like I had in Afghanistan. The problem was, I don’t own a good long-distance rifle. So my options were borrow whatever I could get, or take my WWII Enfield to the course.
I borrowed a CMMG Mk3 AR-10 clone from an Army buddy. It had a badass new Trijicon scope on top; unfortunately, it was a badass Trijicon scope with a hunting reticle, no mil or MOA lines. And I only had 75 match rounds instead of the required 200, the rest was whatever craptastic ammo I could find at Academy. So while I expected to learn a lot at the course, my personal performance expectations were low. I figured I’d be able to hit out to 600 or so, and would watch other shooters hit at a thousand. I was just there to have a good time.
The other students were all civilians with no military background. I was the only one who had been downrange, been shot at, and shot at people. That DID NOT mean I was the most skilled or well-trained shooter. I went through Marine boot camp, picked up a secondary MOS of range coach (8531) and fired expert six times during my enlistment. In the Army I was lucky enough to attend the Squad Designated Marksman course and fire to 600 yards with M16A4s using optics and irons. In Afghanistan I was able to hit at 900 meters with my M14 and at 980 meters with a French .50 once. So yeah, I had some experience.
But I didn’t have a good grasp on the science behind long-distance accuracy. I had never used a Kestrel or other small arms ballistic computer (although I was familiar with the basics from my time as an Abrams tank gunner). As far as rifles went, I had pretty much been spoon fed whatever the Corps or Army wanted me to know, which wasn’t much more than the basics. In Afghanistan I was able to make long distance hits on static targets, always under ideal conditions, usually with French snipers talking me on.
But in this class I was going to have to get way in depth on accuracy. On that first day Adam sat at a table with us, passed Kestrels around and talked us through ballistic calculations. Two students were engineers, had really studied ballistics and had a level of knowledge way over my head. They and Adam had an intense, hard-to-follow discussion about mil versus MOA adjustments, G1 versus G7 scales and the ballistic coefficient of a laden swallow; my contribution to the discussion was something to the effect of “I like tacos.” If I had any illusions about my mastery of shooting, I lost them at that table.
So I went into the class with an open mind and tried to stay humble. And I learned a LOT. And shot far better than I expected. This two-day class consisted of a short period of classroom instruction on ballistic calculations, zeroing at 100 yards, a few accuracy drills at 100 yards, range estimation class, unknown distance engagements on steel targets, known distance engagements on steel to 1000 yards, unconventional position training, and a short discussion on useful accessories.
We had one slight problem: rain. No offense to the townsfolk, but Eagle Lake only has that name because “Buzzard Swamp” was taken. Heavy rain drenched the area for weeks before the class and the first day was a partial washout. Because we lost valuable range time we had to give up the planned range estimation class. The rain also flooded roads, prevented placement of some targets, got trucks stuck and created a pool deep enough to trap a tractor and nearly drown Adam Wilson (from the tower several hundred yards away we saw him standing on the tractor bumper singing “The heart will go on” while the driver yelled “I’ll never let go!”). That all sucked, but 1MOA and Red Stag are making up for the lost instruction time at a later date.
The instruction we did receive, however, was friggin’ fantastic. Here’s what I learned:
The right gear makes a huge difference. Prior to this class I thought my Afghanistan M14EBR was the One True Rifle. I expected my borrowed AR-10 to be decent, nowhere near as good as a 14.
Then Adam Wilson looked through my AR-10 scope and said, “This isn’t going to work. Use one of my rifles.” And he handed me his Ashbury Precision Ordnance Tactical Competition Rifle in 6.5 Creedmoor with a Surgeon action and Leupold Mk 8 3.5 – 25 x 56mm scope. It was kind of like telling a high school boy, “Your prom date is just so-so. Here’s Sasha Grey, take her instead.” I’ve never handled a rifle that accurate, and my eyes have been opened. A 7.62 anything just isn’t as accurate as a good 6.5; we had one 7.62 shooter, and as predicted he just couldn’t make the same shots a 6.5 shooter could (although he did hit at a thousand).
Shooting a precision rifle is a lot different than firing a carbine. Duh, right? Don’t get me wrong, the principles are the same. But little things make a huge difference. For example, during CQB-type carbine training we’re death-gripping our weapons. At SDM school I’m pretty sure I did the same thing. But in this course we learned to not strangle the pistol grip. In fact, Adam had us lightly hold the grip with just three fingers, without even wrapping our thumb around it. One student barely even touched the pistol grip; just about the only part of his strong hand touching the weapon was his trigger finger. And he was accurate to a thousand yards.
To be a good distance shooter, you might have to shotgun breach a tree. WTF do I mean by that? Well, when we were on the known distance range we fired at 300, 500, 700 and 1000 yards. Everyone hit at 300 and 500 with no problem. Then one student was nowhere near the target at 700. Adam couldn’t spot his trace or see a splash, so he had the next shooter try it. That shooter hit. Then I tried 700, and again, Adam couldn’t tell where the hell I was hitting. We went back to the first shooter. I was watching through my scope when he fired; I heard his rifle go boom, a small branch fluttered down and his round splashed into the mud far short and far right of the target.
I hadn’t paid much attention, but a few branches were hanging over the range. I thought they were too high to make a difference, and I had that tanker mentality about brush anyway: “Brush? Who cares? Just shoot through that shit!” Well, you can’t just shoot through that shit. Even light brush can totally jack your mojo. I wound up riding in a tractor bucket onto the range and blowing the branches down with a shotgun. Maybe someone thought that would remind me of my glory days on a tank. No, they didn’t make me do the gardening because my last name is Hernandez. I swear.
A scope is intricate as hell. One exercise we did was a “dot drill”, but not the kind pistol shooters might think of. Adam took targets with six inch squares and put a target pasty at the intersections of the squares. Then we aimed in on the lower left pasty from 100 yards to confirm we were on. Once we hit the 1” pasty, we determined what adjustments to make to hit one six inches higher while aiming at the original. Then we did the same for the pasty twelve inches higher, then the one six inches to the right of that, then down, then back to the original. For every shot we aimed at the original pasty and trusted the scope adjustments to put us on target. Most of us were just slightly off at first, but managed to settle down and put rounds where they were supposed to go.
The drill reminded me of Armament Accuracy Checks on my tank. We’d insert a borescope into the tank gun tube, aim at a set point and enter a specific range, air and ammo temperature, barometric pressure and ammo type to calculate a ballistic solution and put the borescope crosshairs onto another specific point. If the computer was working correctly (and we didn’t screw anything up) we’d always get the borescope onto the right spot. Rifle scopes work roughly the same way, and after the dot drill I had a much deeper appreciation for how complex, technical and accurate a good scope is.
So after learning all this, did I make the 1000 yard head shot? On day one we engaged targets at 200 to over 500 yards. I had amazed myself by making a head shot at 540. I hadn’t thought I was capable, and was surprised at just how easy the shot was. But a thousand yards on a full silhouette was hard enough; a head shot at that distance seemed impossible.
Then, on the second day, one student made a 1000 yard head shot with a $1000 Savage rifle and $300 Millett scope. Then another student hit a ten inch square at a thousand. Then I tried it; I aimed at neck level, held right approximately one target width for wind, checked off all the blocks for fundamentals of shooting, exhaled, held my breath, and fired. At 1000 yards, I had enough time to recover from the recoil and get the target back in my scope before the round impacted.
As I focused on the head, I saw a dark grey splotch suddenly appear on the target’s right cheek. Two seconds later I heard the satisfying ping of steel hitting steel. A no-talent, just average shooter with a hell of a rifle and two days of good instruction had just made a shot he would have called bullshit on if he had read it in a novel.
But what was the best thing about this class? ‘Murica, that’s what. When I was a kid my brother gave me a book about World War I. In the chapter about the US Army’s entry into the war, there was a picture of several American soldiers carefully aiming at enemy from a damaged house. The author, who was English, made a point about the American tradition of marksmanship and quoted a letter found on a German officer’s body: “Americans are the best marksmen in the world.”
Adam Wilson is helping America carry on this tradition. He took a group of average Joes and in just two days had us making hits at amazing distances. I’ll pass on what I learned to my soldiers and my children, the other students will pass it on as well. And we’ll help keep that tradition of American marksmanship alive.
The second best thing about the class? Trust. I have a friend who’s originally from Libya. During a conversation one day I asked if he had ever fired a rifle. He said, “Yeah, once.” He had been conscripted into the Libyan army, where he fired an AK once. Literally once; as a soldier he was allowed to fire one single shot.
“They took us one at a time to the line, made us fire one shot, then brought the next guy up. They were scared we’d turn against the government someday, so they didn’t really want us to know how to shoot.”
Many governments view all citizens as possible threats. While we have plenty of morons in our government who feel the same way, we citizens are still well armed and free to train with those arms. Civilian students can go to a class like this and get outstanding training from a military sniper, and the sniper doesn’t worry “those students will fight the government someday!” I’m a soldier and cop, and I didn’t worry about it either. Americans should know how to shoot. They shouldn’t be unarmed, helpless victims dependent on the government for safety. The civilian students in the class were allies, not enemies.
Bottom line: I definitely got my money’s worth from this class, learned a LOT, and had a hell of a good time doing it. If you have an interest in long range shooting and can spare a weekend, this class is for you. And if you hurry, you can get into 1MOA Solutions’ Squad Designated Marksman course on April 25th-26th.
Mad Duo, Breach-Bang& CLEAR!
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Chris Hernandez Mad Duo Chris (seen here on patrol in Afghanistan) may just be the crustiest member of the eeeee-LIGHT writin’ team here at Breach-Bang-Clear. He is a veteran of both the Marine Corps and the Army National Guard who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is also a veteran police officer of two decades who spent a long (and eye-opening) deployment as part of a UN police mission in Kosovo. He is the author of White Flags & Dropped Rifles – the Real Truth About Working With the French Army and The Military Within the Military as well as the modern military fiction novels Line in the Valley and Proof of Our Resolve. When he isn’t groaning about a change in the weather and snacking on Osteo Bi-Flex he writes on his own blog, Iron Mike Magazine, Kit Up! and Under the Radar. You can find his author page here on Tactical 16.