Here is one more, then I will give it a rest for while.
SNIPERS HELPING HUNTERS
Through your scope you can see the huge buck tense his body as he swings his head in your direction. Ears erect, nostrils flared, he is taking that last look before he lunges into heavy cover. He is farther than any critter that you have had a chance to kill. Panic swells in your mind as you wonder where to place the crosshairs. Then a black thought pushes away the indecision - you have no right to pull the trigger because you don't know where to hold for a clean kill. As the crosshairs wobble he swings his huge rack and is gone. Deep inside you know you made the right decision butů
With a sad heart you slowly pace the distance to where he stood. You want to know just how far away that buck really was in order to justify your passing on him. Maybe you also want to know that he was not as far away as he looked. Four hundred and thirty paces gets you to his tracks. Since you know that your pace is less than a yard you call it four hundred yards. Too far, but was it? You had the time to make a shot, you simply did not know how.
Another year, another huge buck. You have been sitting in a ground-blind for over six hours. You know that an active scrape line crosses the old logging trail you are watching. Before dawn you placed a doe decoy near a scrape and doped it with fresh "hot-doe" scent. The decoy is standing at two hundred and thirty yards but you can see at least three hundred yards further down the old trail. The only decent spot to hide is in a slight bend in the trail. Otherwise you cannot see the decoy or active trail because of dips in the terrain. You would like to have been closer but there was not much choice, so you opted for the long shot.
Shadows start to work their way across the trail. Suddenly you are aware of a highlight in a shadow patch some distance down the trail behind the decoy. You slowly bring your binocs to bear, and instantly catch a tiny movement as a huge whitetail buck twitches an ear. The entire animal leaps into focus and you wonder how long he has been standing there. After a brief look at the huge rack you note that the buck is only a few yards from a large grey stump that had earlier caught your attention. Since you had lasered the distance to that stump you know how far out the buck is standing.
Slowly placing the binocs down, you glance at the sketch that you had drawn in your little field note-book when you got settled in the blind. The drawing confirms that the stump is four hundred and ten yards away so you quickly check a drop chart and decide that you will need seven and one-half minutes of elevation for a four-hundred yard shot. You turn the elevation turret, watching for the seven minute mark and add two clicks. You decide that wind is not a factor as you find the buck in the field of view. With complete confidence that the bullet will hit within inches of your point of aim you slowly tighten the trigger.
Two four-hundred yard shooting opportunities with the same shooter and equipment. The difference is that the second opportunity occurred after the shooter had gained two important ingredients for success - skill and knowledge. Long range shooting SKILL and the KNOWLEDGE required are not easy to obtain these days as few hunters shoot as much as they would like, nor do they have access to suitable places to shoot long.
Fortunately there is an excellent way to learn the basics of long range shooting - several tactical training facilities throughout the country are offering special courses for hunters and target shooters. Before you get excited about the term "tactical training" you should understand that although these courses are derived from military long range instruction, they are not intended to be military training. Hunting and the "black art" of sniping share a common objective, the accurate placement of a single shot into a vital area of the target. The ability to place that shot is stressed in the training, and believe me, there is a lot of knowledge to gain before the skills start to develop.
I have been fortunate to take a couple of long range shooting courses in the past several months. How worthwhile are they? Let's just say that every student I met was completely satisfied with their experience and most have returned a second time to further polish their abilities. There are two types of courses offered, basic long range shooting instruction and long range shooting training for hunters. The first style of course is more military based, focusing on sniper-style basic instruction. The second course is oriented more to the needs of hunters, with the primary difference being that shooting is restricted to six hundred yards. Let's look at each type of course and what is offered in them.
Most basic long range shooting courses key on marksmanship, wind and mirage reading, firearms maintenance, shooting positions, optics and the many factors that effect accuracy and shot placement. Students learn to use the Mil-dot system that is employed by the military so Mil-dot equipped scopes are pretty well essential. Mil-dots are a wonderful hunting tool when they have been mastered. They provide accurate distance readings without concern about battery life and/or weather conditions that hamper the ability of laser rangefinders. They do require the use of mathematics although there is a great little device called a MILDOT MASTER that essentially eliminates the need for a pocket calculator or pen and paper. Mil-dots also necessitate that the user has knowledge of the size of the target being ranged, so hunters must make an effort to learn certain body dimensions of the critters that they are seeking.
Another military based tool that is stressed is the data book. Most hunters are not accustomed to keeping detailed records of our shooting - certainly not a record of every shot fired. The military has learned that this is a necessity for snipers, so that they can eliminate as many variables as possible as they decide how to set their scope for a long shot. I found that the data book instruction was surprisingly useful and I have since used it in my hunting. Obviously the "data" required includes zeros at various distances with whatever rifle, scope and ammo combination that you are shooting. Techniques for drawing field sketches showing lasered distances of key landmarks observed from your blind or shooting position are also taught. I use this idea every time that I set-up in a blind overlooking a long range shooting location. The little drawings provide a huge amount of confidence as I can instantly determine how far away critters are when they show up.
Long range instruction keys on wind reading - there is a saying that "the wind owns the bullet". Since bullet drop is relatively easy to determine, wind drift is the biggest challenge that the long range shooter must face. Instruction includes nifty methods of determining wind velocity and the effects that wind direction has on bullet flight. Again the dreaded MATH enters the game, but there are simplified charts and easily remembered "dope" to apply when shooting in wind. The use of mirage as a wind indicator is also explained, although there is only one way to learn to read mirage and that is through experience. If range flags are present instruction on determining wind strength and direction will also be covered.
These courses have quite a lot of classroom time before hitting the range. When the students do get on the range the first thing that they do is determine their one-hundred yard zero. Then they progress down-range, determining the essential zero information for whatever distances are offered, usually out to 1000 yards. Students do a lot of shooting, during which they will be assisted by the instructors and tutored if they have problems. Specialised shooting, as at moving targets and from elevation will probably also be tried. During their time on the range students must adhere to strict safe firearms handling rules and they also are expected to utilise a unique "dialog" to ensure perfect communication with their shooting partner.
The objective of the long range hunter's course is to extend the shooting ability of the average participant so that he can take full advantage of the capability of his rifle/scope/ammo combination. This probably means that the participant will increase his field shooting ability from two-fifty to three hundred yards out to five to six hundred yards. The long range hunter's course is quite similar to the other course but with more emphasis on meshing the shooting instruction with hunting requisites. Classroom time is somewhat shorter, although most of the basic long range training is covered. A key point is that scopes must be properly focused and adjusted for parallax so the proper method is shown. Most hunters arrive itching to shoot, so the instruction is continued on the range. Mil-dot ranging is taught by field instruction and since most hunters do not have Mil-dot scopes a method to use duplex reticles for Mil-ing is taught. Animal targets and life-sized decoys are used for Mil-dot instruction rather than human silhouettes.
Since marksmanship is essential to long range accuracy the students are drilled on breathing, trigger control, body position, cheek weld and other basics. Shooting from treestands and other elevated positions is practised. Shooting at moving targets is also taught and practised as this is a key element for some types of hunting. While the students are shooting they are encouraged to keep good notes on their scope settings and windage corrections. This accumulated information and knowledge will be useful in the future.
I recently attended a unique long range hunter's course put on by Bobby Whittington and Steve Suttles at the Badlands Tactical Training Center in Grandfield Oklahoma. A group of students gathered to premiere the new hunter's course and to provide feed-back to the instructors. Participants ranged from hunters who had never shot long in their life to law enforcement trainers who teach SWAT snipers. The class size was kept small, only three pairs of students so that the instructors could spend a maximum amount of time with individuals.
Randy Brooks, co-owner of Barnes Bullets and his daughter Jessica Treu partnered on the course and the progress that they made was very impressive. Neither person had shot long under field conditions, with the exception of Randy's recent 540 yard shot on a Marco Polo ram in Russia. Randy admitted that although he had practised with his .300 Weatherby to that distance he was pretty apprehensive about the distance of the shot. The "Barnes Folk" came to learn and they had their eyes opened during their visit to the Badlands. Randy and Jessica asked a lot of questions as they learned the Mil-dot system, wind measuring parameters, mirage reading and details of precision marksmanship.
Bobby and Steve covered a lot of material in their lectures using a variety of visual aides, handouts and hands-on demonstrations. Steve's son Eric, a wildlife biologist by trade, did an excellent presentation on whitetail deer management. Although the classroom instruction was top-notch, by the end of the first day everyone needed to get outside into the warm Oklahoma sun. We drove out to Bobby's 1000 yard range and spent a couple of hours confirming zeros and "warming up" for the coming days. Since my partner Richard Poaps and I had arrived a couple of days in advance we already had our zeros. We let Jessica and Randy clang some bullets off the 1000 yard gongs - just to whet their appetite.
The next morning we finished the classroom instruction and headed out to a huge pasture and spent a couple of hours on our bellies, ranging a bunch of targets with our Mil-dot scopes. With repetition the accuracy of our readings improved significantly to the point that we were ready to use the Mil-dots on the range. After lunch we returned to the big range and combined Mil-ranging with zeroing our rifles and a new complication, reading the wind. As distances started to get longer the wind became a significant factor and Bobby and Steve coached the shooters who were having difficulties.
George Gardner and Marty Bordson from Kansas City were shooting an assortment of long range rifles that ranged from an accurized semi-automatic AR-10 in .260 Remington to three different custom rifles
chambered for the mighty .338 Lapua. Randy and Jessica were shooting a pair of Savage Tacticals in .308 Winchester and Richard and I had an assortment of .308's and .300 Winchester magnums. In total the six participants had no less than nineteen long range rifles plus my little out of the box Sako 75 in .300 Winchester magnum. Although most of the rifles had been rebuilt, actions included Winchester M-70, Remington M-700 and 40X, CZ-550 Rigby, CZ-700 M1, Savage 110, H-S Precision, Dakota Arms, Accuracy International and the Sako 75.
Optics ranged from Unertle, U.S. Optics, Nightforce, Schmidt and Bender, Swarovski, Kahles, Leupold, Redfield, Bushnell all the way to a sharp little 3x-9x Cabela's scope that was equipped with a rangefinder reticle. Virtually all of the scopes were mounted in Marty Bordson's Badger Ordnance rings and bases. Badger Ordnance mounts are setting the standard for precision and ruggedness and they have become a favourite with the tactical crowd.
During the ensuring shooting we practised Mil-ranging decoys, shooting from a ladder-stand and shooting from the big tower. We used a variety of positions although most serious shooting was done from a low prone with the rifle supported by a Harris bipod. We used small sandbags or "sandsocks" under the toe of the butt for elevation changes. All shooting was carried out in pairs, one person on the gun and the other spotting. Naturally we took turns as spotter and shooter and the days passed too quickly.
What is the value of such a course? Jessica Treu hit it on the head when she told me, "The best thing that I got out of the course was confidence. They taught me to hit targets that I would not have believed possible. When five hundred yards starts to become - easy, you have learned a lot about long range shooting!" Anyone who is serious about long range shooting and hunting should make an effort to attend a shooting class. Going back to school to learn to shoot long is well worth the effort. When the shot of a lifetime comes you might have to tell yourself to "Send it!", but you will be confident that the bullet will go exactly where you aimed.
The MILDOT MASTER is available direct from Bruce Robinson by contacting him at MILDOT ENTERPRISES, P.O. Box 1535, Los Lunas, New Mexico, 87031. His phone number is (505) 565-0760, web site is www.mildot.com.
BADLANDS LONG RANGE SHOOTING COURSE
The Badlands Tactical Training Center in Grandfield, Oklahoma offers courses on long range shooting for hunters, target shooters and law-enforcement personnel. Badlands training covers basic marksmanship skills and keys on fundamentals such as accurately correcting for wind, reading and understanding mirage, light changes, shooting at angles, firearms maintenance, and the use of the Mil-dot reticle system for range estimation. The objective of the training is to extend each student's confidence zone to the maximum potential of his equipment. The four-day course is very reasonably priced and guaranteed to improve your shooting skills. Check out www.snipernet.net,
or call Bobby Whittington at (580-479-5559). Bobby can also be contacted by mail at:
Badlands Tactical Training
Rt. 1 Box 530