Most guys I know train (or just practice) the stuff they’re good at. They’ll go to the range and run some drills, the ones they like, blow up a bunch of ammo, and figure they’re good to go. Not many of us, including me, train harder at the stuff we suck at.
I’m pretty good in stand-up fighting, having nearly 40 years in karate and holding fifth dans in two systems. My weak spot is the ground. A good high-school wrestler could tie me in knots unless I got really vicious. I went to Fairbanks, Alaska, this winter to train with my master, and we spent a lot of time on ground work.
I’m a better-than-average pistoleer, and pretty decent with carbine, shotgun, and submachine gun. Precision rifle is my weak skill, as it relies on mathematics and patience, and I have no talent in either area. I’ve had good rifle training from the FBI, Alaska State Troopers, Gunsite, and Thunder Ranch, but I still wasn’t getting it.
PRECISION RIFLE AT THUNDER RANCH
Clint Smith of Thunder Ranch fame reserves Memorial Day weekend for me and 11 of my black belts. We decided to do precision (again for me), since several of them had never shot past a couple hundred yards. Clint showed us what he thought was a very good, reasonably priced rifle.
He suggested a Remington Model 700 action in .308 Winchester, with a 20- to 24-inch barrel. He recommended the Magpul Hunter stock with magazine adapter kit. This allows Magpul five- and ten-round mags to be used in the gun. For glass, the Leupold Mark 4, 4.5X14, or 6X20 with the TMR (Tactical Mil Reticle), with Leupold rings and bases. For ammo, either Federal or Black Hills 168-grain Match.
I spent a few weeks reaching out to the various companies and was able to put together exactly that package. Rifle Dynamics sent a 20-inch M700, Magpul the stock and mags, and Leupold provided the 4.5X14 scope. I used Leupold Mark Four rings and standard Leupold bases. I needed match ammo for six of the guys, and Black Hills gave us a break on the price. The others all shot Federal.
One of the shooters was a retired Alaska State Trooper major whom I served with on the SERT team. He had to be different, shooting a .300 Win Mag with a Zeiss BDC scope. It’s the rifle he hunts with, and he wanted to make clean kills at distance. Clint christened him “Cannon Boy.”
For rifles, we had one Steyr SSG, two Winchester M70s, one S&W M&P10, one LaRue Tactical OBR in .308, one Venom Tactical, and one Savage M110. The rest were M700 Remingtons. We had the one Zeiss and one Nightforce, with Leupold glass mounted on the rest of the guns.
For those of you who don’t know Clint Smith, yes, he is “that old crabby guy who cusses on YouTube.” Clint is a USMC Vietnam combat veteran, former deputy sheriff, long-time Gunsite instructor, and master of about anything that goes bang.
With guys of Clint’s stature, you pay for his perspective as to why you do what you do. Oddly enough, he has logical reasons for everything he does, and he isn’t afraid to tell you why. He’s politically incorrect (Yay!), so if you’re delicate, don’t go there.
TRAINING DAY ONE
We assembled a crew of 12 solid shooters. All had law enforcement, military, or martial arts backgrounds, and all had extensive firearms training—not one safety violation in three days. TD1 is an orientation of a couple hours, where Clint explains what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. Clint has a verbal cyclic rate like an MG42, really quick, so pay attention. “Logic” is the word that rules everything he does, regardless of what is the latest, greatest cool thing. He wanted us to focus on the basics, do them well, and hit the target.
Once on the range deck, we partnered up. I shot with Mark Flinn of Rifle Dynamics. We both have neck problems, so we shot from the bench. Each team set up camp, shooting from bipods or rucks, spotting scopes with note pads handy.
Leupold was kind enough to loan us two TMR-equipped spotting scopes, so the spotter could call out corrections in mils, instead of favor left or hold left. I’m new to mils, so this was going to be a true learning experience.
Once squared away, we fired to confirm zero. The rifle deck at TR is at 5,700 feet elevation. Some literature states that at every 1,000 feet of elevation change, you can see a one-inch POI change. My rifle was zeroed at 2,200 feet, but there was no change; Eric Adams zeroed at 7,500 feet and also saw no shift. I asked Clint, who confirmed that he doesn’t see much shift either.
Shooting Black Hills 168-grain Match, my 700 produced a half-MOA group at 100 yards, so I was good to go.
The Magpul Hunter stock is interesting. It allows spacers to increase or decrease LOP and comes with different cheek risers. I had added one spacer but removed it after the first time I shot it, and the standard riser fit me perfectly. The angle of the pistol grip fit very well, and the magazine kit was a godsend.
The kit comes with two five-round mags, but I ordered two ten-round mags. This feature came in handy later, when we were on The Punisher. The system is inexpensive, the action drops in and secures easily, and adds the magazine capability. Accuracy was not diminished in any way.
Mark was shooting a Venom Tactical left-hand M700 in .308. Venom Tactical hand builds each gun. Mark’s gun was in an Accuracy International chassis that offered any combination of LOP or cheek rest imaginable. Mark was shooting Federal 168-grain Match and turned in a one-hole zero group. Venom guarantees quarter-minute accuracy and delivers it. I duplicated the group later. The rifle was very smooth; if you’re up to it, it may well be worth the money.
The rest of the morning was spent dialing DOPE (Data On Prior Engagements) out to 700 yards, shooting on steel. We started with the school solution of X minutes at X yards, which gets you close, and refined from there. Once each of us had three solid center hits, we documented it for that range. We then dialed back to zero and moved on to the next target. By lunch, each shooter had a solid record of the needed adjustments from zero to 700.
After chow, it got really fun. Clint has targets at all ranges in all kinds of sizes, shapes, ranges, and colors. On the small eight-inch plates, he’d give us the range and have us hit it. Some targets were set at odd ranges, which we had to range and shoot. By the end of the day, we were all pretty competent at 500 to 600 yards, but the wind currents at 700 gave some of us (read: me) some difficulty.
TRAINING DAY TWO
TD2 broke clear and sunny with no wind. Clint wasted no time and had us in position and ready to shoot by 0830. First order of the day was to dial in our 700-yard DOPE and hit the steel. Mark and I were on the left end, so Mark was first. His Venom Tactical center-punched the steel on the first shot. The gods smiled on me and my hit was two inches below his. On down the line, bang, smack as nearly every shooter made first-round hits. Only one had to fire three to get his hit—not bad for a guy who’d never shot past 200 yards. OK, now to mils.
A Tactical Mil Reticle has a standard center crosshair, and the elevation and windage have stadia lines in half and full mils. To my primitive mind, it’s a way to repeat and document holdover and windage adjustments.
For example, you have a full-factor wind from the left at four knots. Instead of “favor” left, the call is half-mil left. The shooter moves the crosshair left so the first half-mil stadia is center, then sends the shot. Once you get the hang of it, it’s faster and repeatable for follow-up shots.
We spent the rest of the day dialing DOPE on different ranges, then using mils to shoot the targets in front or behind. An example might be with 500-yard DOPE, hold one mil low on the 400-yard steel for a center hit. As the wind came up and got squirrely, we used half and full mils to adjust left and right.
The wind is crazy at the 600- and 700-yard targets, so the shooter might have to hold left on one shot and right on the next. The spotter would quickly say “mil left, send it.” If you wait too long, the wind might change and you’d miss. It was fun, exciting, and confusing as hell, but by the end of the day we were all becoming competent and getting good hits.
We ended TD2 on The Punisher. This training aid simulates shooting from a roof, through fences and windows at all kinds of angles, through culverts, you name it. The idea is to use cover, concealment, and support when possible, but to hit the target.
The Magpul magazines paid for themselves here, since I could reload easily. The Punisher is demanding, and I’m pretty sure I did a yoga pose called Monkey Licks His Butt, but it is a great stressor and tester.
TRAINING DAY THREE
TD3 was square range with the pistol, so I took Heidi Smith to the upper range to shoot her Hojutsu black belt test. Heidi is the UGC (Ultimate Gun Chick)—rifle, shotgun, subgun, handgun, and especially precision, she can do it all. She aced the test and then took the time for me to get DOPE on my old department sniper rifle. In ten minutes I had it all dialed in and recorded, from 100 to 700 yards. The old gun really shoots sweet, but I’ll change out the stock for the Magpul Hunter, as that stock gives me more flexibility with no loss of performance.
After three days at Thunder Ranch, training under the best teacher I know, I’m confident I can own the ground to 600 yards and do pretty well at 700 with either of my two rifles.
By confronting my ignorance, swallowing my pride and ego, and realizing my weak spot, I took the steps needed to fix it. I got good equipment, a great teacher, spent the time and money, and added serious capability to my skills. I’ve tried to keep up with this perishable skill, shooting at distance three or four times each month, both dialing DOPE and using mils.
The equipment ran the gamut of cost. The Venom Tactical was the most expensive, close to $6,000 with glass and mounts. The M&P10 was close to the cheapest, at about $2,200 with glass. My action was $400, the Magpul gear was $300, scope is about $800, so $1,500 or so. I don’t see a need for most of us to spend a lot, but if that’s your thing, the Venom Tactical was outstanding.
If you see a need for distance precision, buy a solid gun, good glass, great ammo, and spend some money on good training.
TRAINING BEATS GEAR
I talked to an Alaska bear guide the other day. He was guiding a bear hunter on the Alaska Peninsula and found a ten-plus-foot brown bear, the biggest he’d ever seen. The hunter had explained, for days, that his Whiz Bang Super Blaster in .338 Lapua had cost him $20,000, was sub-MOA a mile out, and that no living thing would need more than one shot. They stalked to 209 yards from the bear, which was stationary.
My friend moved ten feet away to glass the bear while listening for the “smack” when the bear was hit. Our nimrod, shooting from a rest, missed a bear the size of a Dodge Challenger three times! You can spend a gazillion dollars on gear, but if you don’t train your weak areas, you won’t accomplish anything.
Whether the target is steel, paper, man, or beast, no amount of money spent will offset lack of proper training. Once you’re very competent in one area, go work on your weak stuff.