By Chris Upchurch, Suarez International Staff Instructor
Last weekend I was at the Guerrilla Sniper taught by S.I. Instructor Scott Vandiver in Blakely, GA. This was a really great class and I have to say I had a real blast.
I really enjoyed the Guerrilla Sniper class I took from Eric Pfleger last year in Ohio. When I heard Scott Vandiver would be brining this class to Georgia, I knew I wanted to get in on the action. He was generous enough to let Alex Nieuwland and I come down to assist, and to send some rounds downrange as well. He is far more knowledgeable than us about long range shooting, so our assistance was mostly along the lines of grunt work (putting up targets and the like) and keeping an eye on students, spotting for them, etc.
I made some pretty major changes to my gear after the previous GS class. My Savage Model 10FP shot well, but I had some eye relief issues and I definitely hit the limits of the Burris scope I was using. I decided that a new scope would provide the biggest bang for the buck and after some careful research I got the Leupold Mark 4 LR/T 3.5-10x40mm with the front focal tactical milling reticle and M5 turrets. That's a bit of a mouthful. To break it down: This is a 3.5-10 optic. The reticle is graduated in mils, but it uses hash marks instead of dots, which I think is considerably superior. Front focal plane means the reticle is always going to be the same size in relation to the target, regardless of zoom level, so you can use it to hold windage or elevation at any zoom level. Unlike most mil dot scopes, which have their adjustment in MOA (or fractions therof) this scope adjusts in 0.1 mil increments, so you can do everything in mils, there's no need to convert back and forth between different systems for scope adjustments and reticle holds.
Compared to the Burris Fullfield I used last year, this is just a huge improvement. The only way of reliably adjusting for range with that scope was the Ballistic Plex reticle, which only went out to 500 yards (although I kludged together a solution to get it out to 600) and had no markings to help hold for wind (Kentucky windage all the way). The Leupold has turrets that allow reliable, repeatable adjustments for elevation and windage and graduated reticle, allowing many more options for dealing with drop and wind. I really need to thank Eric Pfleger for letting me have a look through his similar scope at the GS course last year, and giving me some advice on what to get.
The other big problem I had at the previous class was with eye relief. I'd mounted the scope as far forward as possible, but I was still scrunching my neck back uncomfortably to get a good, shadow-free view through the scope. After the first day of class I went to Walmart and bought a recoil pad, not to reduce recoil, but for the extra 0.5-0.75 inches of eye relief it provided. Duct taping the recoil pad worked, but it looked pretty ghetto and I could still use a bit more eye relief. I was also a bit disappointed in general with the Savage's factory stock. It was not very sturdy (load up the bipod or the sling and the forend curved) and by the end of class the mounting screws had come loose enough for the action to rattle around in the stock a bit. I should note that my rifle is an older model, Savage's newer Accustock factory stocks are much nicer and higher quality.
The Savage is a nice rifle, but one of the disadvantages is that it doesn't have the same level of aftermarket support, including stocks, that the Remmington 700 does. After looking at quite a few options I decided on a Bell and Carlson Tactical Medalist A2 style stock. It's certainly not as good as a McMillan or Manners, and doesn't have the same level of adjustability you can get with those, but those cost quite a bit more and I decided I was better off investing my limited resources in the scope rather than the stock. It's also a rather big, benchrest-y stock, but I figured since my rifle has a 24-inch barrel with a fairly heavy profile, it wasn't going to be a svelte, lightweight GS rifle anyway. The upside is that the Bell and Carlson was available in custom length of pull for a very reasonable price. It's also built like a rock, with a full length aluminum bedding block and fiberglass construction, a tremendous upgrade from the crappy plastic factory stock.
Rounding out the rifle, I also added a TAB gear sling and an adapter for a Versapod bipod. The Versapod replaced a really crappy Chineese knockoff of the Harris bipod that had come with the rifle and broke at the GS class even though all I really used it for was to hold up the rifle when I wasn't shooting.
One upgrade that did not make the cut was a 20 MOA scope mount. After I put the Leupold on my rifle I found it didn't have enough adjustment to get me all the way to where my ballistics software said I had to be for 100 yard. It bottomed out around 2 mils short. I could work around this by combining this adjustment with holdover using the reticle, but it would have been nice to be able to get the crosshairs on target at that range. I bought a EGW picatinny rail scope mount with 20 MOA of built in adjustment. Problem was this mount was about a quarter inch higher than the Burris mounts I'd been using, enough to screw up my cheekweld (which was just perfect). This is where the adjustable cheekpiece of one of those higher dollar stocks would have come in handy. With my current stock setup, however, I decided that a great cheekweld was more important than an improvement that would only come into play at 900+ yards. So off it came and I went back to the old mounts.
Another big upgrade I made was to my ammunition. I shot the last GS class with Prvi Partizan 175 grain FMJBT Match ammo. I was actually quite pleased with it's accuracy, but I could not for the life of me find a source for the bullet's ballistic coefficient. I even tried emailing their customer service department, but received no response. I really wanted to come to the next class with a good computer generated ballistics chart as a starting point and for that I needed a reliable BC for my ammo. Looking around for high quality match ammo with a published BC, I decided to try the Hornady A-MAX ammunition. It was priced relatively reasonable (for match ammo) and has a good reputation. It shot very well though my rifle at the 200 yard range I have access to here in SC, so I decided to make that my primary ammo for this class. I also brought along some of my remaining Prvi for shooting up in close range drills and other applications where accuracy wasn't as paramount.
I also made some upgrades in some of my ancillary optics. I bought a Leupold Mark 4 Spotting Scope with the Horus H-36 reticle to replace the little fixed 20 power spotter I'd picked up for $50 on ebay. Far more costly but much better optical quality and I figured the mil reticle would integrate nicely with my mil-mil scope.
To mount this I got a nice new tripod from Precision Rifle Solutions. PRS's contribution is a very well made saddle for use as a shooting support, the tripod itself is made by SLIK. I got the medium tripod, which extends up to sitting height. I figured I'd rather have the smaller and lighter tripod. Rather than the rather basic ball mount that comes with the tripod I bought an Manfrotto 322RC2 joystick head (which can be attached to the SLIK tripod using a 3/8 to 1/4 adapter) which I figured would be better for use with the spotting scope. I also got a couple of extra quick change adapter plates for it so I could switch back and forth between the spotter, shooting rest, and an adapter for my rangefinder. Speaking of which, I also added a Leica 1600 laser rangefinder to my kit.
For support gear, I brought a TSD Guerrilla Sniper bag, as well as a Eagle Industries ruck with a S.O. Tech rifle saddle attached. A TAB Gear shooting mat and rear bag completed the ensemble. I'd also picked up a Triad Wedge rear bag to try as well. For binoculars I'm still using the Burris pair that came free with my old scope.
Alex Niewland brought his new Savage Model 10 Precision Carbine (he'd shot my Savage and like it so much, particularly the trigger, that he got one of this own). His rifle is set up much like mine with the same Leupold scope and Versapod bipod (he seems to like letting me do the research and try the gear, trying my stuff, then copying my setup). The biggest differences between his setup and mine are 4 inches less barrel length and the fact that his rifle has the Accustock, which is far more satisfactory than the stock mine came with, so he hasn't replaced it with an aftermarket stock.
Steyr Scout in the foreground with Scott's Accuracy International behind.
Mauser in .308 with a nice laminated stock.
The other rifles in the class were quite varied. Some students brought multiple rifles, others only one. These included a PSL, Steyr Scout, a pair of Mausers (in 8mm and .308), a FAL, an S&W M&P 15 AR, a Savage in .270 and a Remington 700 in .243. Scopes varied quite a bit as well, including a two power scout scope, 12x fixed magnification, a Weaver mildot variable, two German fixed 4x DMR scopes, and a pair of Burris Fullfield scopes similar to the one I used at the previous class. In addition, Scott had his own enormous collection of rifles with him. He had so many that even on the third day he was pulling out new guns I hadn't seen earlier in the class.
Remington 700 in .243 with a Savage in .270 in the background.
The class was held at the American International Marksmanship Academy in Blakey, Georgia. This is an enormous facility that has sprung up there in the past year (and is still being built out). They have a 1000 yard range, a 2000 yard unknown distance range, several smaller ranges, more than a dozen pistol bays, skeet shooting, a breaching house, a drop zone, on site lodging (still under construction) and plans for more stuff that isn't even started yet. They're clearly spending some serious cash to construct a first class facility, and they're hoping for military and police contracts to provide a return on that investment.
I raved quite a bit about Thunder Valley Precision, the venue for Eric's class last year. This facility is every bit as good, but in different ways. One big difference is that this is divided up into different ranges, so we moved around quite a bit to take advantage of different facilities and keep out of the way of other activities that were going on there that same weekend (including a police sniper match, IPSC match, and a skeet shooting competition). This facility has some great potential and I'm looking forward to seeing how it develops and what sort of things S.I. can do there in the future.
We gathered at the range on Friday morning. The day was overcast and it would sprinkle on us on and off throughout the day, but nothing too serious. We kicked things off by signing a couple of waivers (one for the range and one for S.I.) and promising on video not to sue. Everyone introduced themselves (quite a varied group) and talked about the rifles and optics they brought to the class.
Scott went through the basics of the prone position and we did some preliminary dry work to make sure everyone was doing it right. In addition to the traditional prone position he also demonstrated the Hawkins, SBU prone and rollover prone positions. This led to some discussion about how rolling the rifle left or right affects the impact of the bullet relative to your crosshairs.
Traditionally, we start this kind of class out with some shooting at 100 yards to check zero and confirm that everyone has the fundamentals down. There had been a lot of rain lately and the 100 yard line on the range we were using was a big mud pit. The 200 yard line was up on a small berm so it had stayed much drier, so we began there. Because of this a lot of people ended up with a 200 yard zero (which is not necessarily a bad thing). Since my rifle was zeroed at 300, I dialed in my 200 yard hold under and confirmed that I was shooting dead on with that correction.
We did the zeroing on paper, but after everyone had their zero set up correctly Scott put out some steel to give us some more immediate feedback on how we were hitting. With these in place he ran through the sitting, kneeling, and standing positions, giving the students some trigger time in each. As usual, these were not the student's favorite positions. Nevertheless they are vital in circumstances where vegetation or micro terrain make prone unusable. If you can get more support, that's obviously better (and we saw a lot of ways to 'cheat' and support our rifles later in the class), but you still need to be able to shoot from these positions using only your own body for support.
While the students were shooting some of these positions, I brought out my AR. Alex and I are doing a private AR class so I wanted to get a little work in with that. Even with iron sights, banging steel at 200 was no problem.
After a pause for lunch, we stepped the range back to 300. This is my zero range, so I was able to just leave the at it's default setting. Everyone was able to get on target fairly easily. Scot really emphasized recording your dope at each range so you could refer to it later.
We continued stepping back in 100 yard increments, getting everyone on target at each range and recording dope for each range. At 500, I ran into a bit of an issue. The vegetation on the 400 yard berm in front of us was just high enough to obscure the targets from a prone position. I could have moved left or right to avoid the vegetation but I figured I could make this a learning experience. I had a taller bipod with me (one I normally use with a magazine fed rifle like an AK or AR so I can shoot it with a 30 round magazine inserted). I used that, at it's highest setting to get enough elevation to shoot over the weeds. This raised up the buttstock too high for my rear bag to work, so I put the stock on my rucksack (with the rear bag on top of it for elevation adjustments) and kind of lay with my chest on the bag to make the shot. This was a bit more difficult and considerably less comfortable than regular prone, but it was still very stable and I was able to make the hits.
Scott used this as a chance to explain using your partner as a shooting rest. You can sit with the spotter in front, resting his rifle on your shoulder. As long as you get your breathing properly in sync, it works pretty well. One element that he added that I hadn't seen before, but really liked, was that he put his rucksack on his lap and sort of hugged it to stabilize the torso and support the stock. This would also work well for shooting from any sort of sitting height support, like a low wall or window, tripod, shooting sticks, etc.
We finished off the day by shooting at 600, where a guerrilla sniper is supposed to be able to deliver torso shots. This was the maximum distance that I'd been able to make a hit at the GS class last year, and I struggled quite a bit to achieve that much. This time hitting at this range was downright easy. I was even able to hit an 8" plate on the first try, which is roughly equivalent to a 600 yard headshot. Some of this change from the previous class may be due to better skills on my part, but I think a big chunk was thanks to better equipment, particularly the scope. Everyone managed to get on steel here as well, though some folks were having some more trouble than they were at closer ranges.
We adjourned for diner at a Mexican restaurant in town. Afterwards some of us returned to the range to do a bit of night shooting. Some students decided not to join us, but those that did were in for a treat. We started out shooting from the light of the headlights. This was actually pretty difficult. They shed so much light on the ground in front of the target it was hard to see the crosshairs on the much darker target and berm.
We also took this opportunity to compare muzzle flash among different rifles and ammunition. Alex and I made an interesting case study, with identical rifles and ammo except for barrel length (20 vs 24 inches). Scott was pulling one rifle after another out of his trunk to show flash (including one with a suppressor). Oddly enough, the best flash suppression performance came from an M1A with the milspec flash hider (a long birdcage).
Scott wanted to illuminate the targets with some candles, to model how Soviet snipers shot Germans warming themselves around candles at Stalingrad but the wind was blowing too hard for them to stay lit. He ended up using a chemlight instead, which didn't really shed as much light. This was very difficult to shoot, since the fine wires of my crosshairs were almost invisible. Even the thicker wires at the outside of the reticle were difficult to see except for the one above silhouetted against the sky. I could just barely make out the ends on the left and right edges of the scope (your night vision is actually more sensitive in your peripheral vision than in the center). I took a shot using the top, left, and right posts to estimate where the crosshairs were and managed to get a hit. That's 250 yards without even being able to see the crosshairs!
Some folks had illuminated reticles, which solves the crosshair visibility problem. However, it can introduce another. Even at the lowest settings the illuminated reticle on some scopes is bright enough to mask the target.
Scott also used this as an opportunity to break out some 5.56mm tracer rounds. They were pretty impressive (almost light blaster bolts from Star Wars). He managed to hit the steel at just the right angle to send a couple arcing off to the right. I need to get me some of these!
Next up Scott illuminated the targets directly with a battery powered light, which was downright simple by comparison. Shooting is easy when you can actually see the crosshairs and the target!
Finally, he put the light behind the targets, backlighting them. This made them kind of hard to see at standing height, but once you went prone, the vegetation blocked the light, making this a lot like the chemlight illuminated shot.
This night shooting was pretty cool. It's not something we did in Eric's class last year, nor has it been done in any other GS class to my knowledge. This was a really great bonus.
We started out on Saturday shooting some windshield glass. Windshield glass can affect the trajectory of the bullet, and not in the direction you would think. Shooting into a vehicle the bullet is deflected downward. This effect is less noticeable with high powered rifle rounds (too much speed and mass to be deflected much). The other interesting effect is cratering on the inside of the glass. Windshields are actually two sheets of glass laminated together. This keeps the windshield from coming apart when broken (keeping you in the vehicle during the sudden stop and keeping that deer you just ran into out). When shot, particularly with rifle rounds, a circle of the inner pane of glass around the bullet hole shatters into tiny chips and gets hurled into the passenger compartment in the wake of the bullet. Thus, even if you miss the driver, the shower of glass shards is probably going to ruin his day, especially if he isn't wearing any sort of eye protection.
Next up this morning were close range drills. A sniper rifle isn't the tool you want to use at 5 yards, but if it's what's in your hands, you need to be able to use it. We went through some point shooting, snap shooting and pistol transition drills.
Scott had some stepped barricades that allowed firing from heights from crouching down to a very low prone. Shooters with bolt guns were able to use the Hawkins position, but those with semi-auto had to use SBU prone in order to get low enough with their dangling magazines. Scott took this as an opportunity to have everyone shoot with their rifle rolled over, first at 45 degrees, then at 90 degrees and see how the bullet impact relates to your crosshairs.
Another addition to the class Scott added that hasn't been seen at previous GS classes was a moving target. He had a little cart with a steel plate mounted on a pole that he could pull back and forth with ropes and pulleys. We shot it at about 100 yards, with the target moving at walking pace. Scott explained two different methods for shooting movers: tracking and trapping. In tracking you swing along with the target and press the shot as you swing. Trapping you hold the rifle steady and press the shot as the front edge of the target crosses the crosshairs (at least at this distance and speed). We tried both methods and everyone was able to get on target at least half the time. Some folks went four for four on the mover.
Our last exercise before breaking for lunch took advantage of a cinderblock structure on the range. It's intended for military and LE to practice breaching (including explosive breaching), but we used it to practice shooting from cover. We used a couple of vertical I-beams to practice shooting around right and left hand cover, using the I-beam for support. It was interesting to see how foreign the idea of shooting from the support side shoulder was for most students. For the S.I. instructors present, it was really no big deal.
The breaching structure happened to have an exterior window, interior door, and another interior window that all lined up pointing downrange, so we took advantage of this to simulate a shot from deep inside the interior of a building. Despite seeing guys with their muzzles hanging out the window in the movies, this is how you really want to shoot from indoors. Throw in a pair of mostly drawn curtains and shoot through the gap between them and it would be almost impossible to detect the shooter.
We broke for lunch. Because there was a police sniper match going on at one of the other ranges, there was a food cart on the grounds where we could go for some chow. They had hot dogs with a delicious sauerkraut sweet relish.
After lunch we moved back to the 1000 yard range where we were on Friday and started back up at 700. As with 600 yesterday, I found this pretty easy. I ran into some more trouble at 800. There were some weeds downrange obscuring the bottom half of the targets, so our visible aiming points were smaller than usual, and you kind of had to guess where the center of the target was vertically. This was also where I found my actual bullet flight started deviating noticeably from the computer generated range card I was using for my vertical holds. The wind also kicked up and started gusting quite a bit, which didn't make it any easier. Nevertheless I was eventually able to get on steel.
I also got a chance to shoot Scott's Accuracy International .308 with a Horus reticle scope on it. The Horus scope is interesting, with the reticle pretty much eliminating the need to dial elevation or windage. I'm not sorry I bought the Leupold with the TMR reticle, but next time I buy a precision rifle optic I'm going to take a serious look at scopes with Horus reticles. As for the AI rifle, I should not have shot it . . . now I want one. The trigger is superb and the bolt closes as smoothly as a bank vault, it is clearly a fantastically well made piece of hardware (with a price to match).
After all the trouble at 800, 900 was a piece of cake, relatively speaking. The wind died down and I was able to use my dope from 800 yards as a point of departure for the 900 yard holdover.
Then we move out to 1000 yards, the limit of the range. One of my goals in coming to this class was to push my rifle and myself out to 1000 yards and get on steel. I was able to, but it was quite challenging. One of the things that made it particularly hard was the way the steel was set up. This range is set up for NRA highpower type shooting with target pits. The steel we were shooting was set up on the berm in front of the target pits, while the backstop berm was 40 yards beyond it. At closer ranges this isn't a problem, but at 1000 yards a .308 is dropping about 50" in that 40 yards. This means that if your elevation is good but you miss the steel left or right, the bullet impact on the backstop is going to be out of view, down behind the target pits. Similarly if you shoot over the target, your impact may be out of view or appear to be under the target. Wind was fairly light, but at this range minor variations had a substantial effect. I had also run out of adjustment on my scope, so I was both dialing and holding over using my reticle to get the necessary holdover to hit at this range. Another factor that may have increased the difficulty was that, according to my ballistics software, my load was going decelerating through the transonic range at this distance, potentially upsetting it's flight path. I was able to get a couple of hits, but I expended about 30 rounds getting them.
Much like the difference between all the trouble I had at 600 at the GS class last year and the easy time I had this time around, I think a lot of this may come down to having the right equipment. I'm sure there are people who can make a .308 work at 1000 yards, but I'm not there yet. A different steel and berm setup and an optic with more adjustment would have made it easier for me to get on target. Nevertheless, this range is clearly getting towards the outer limits of the .308s ability to make accurate, repeatable hits. Having the right tool, like a .300 Win Mag or .338 Lapua, would make hitting at this distance as easy as hitting at 600 with a .308.
Alex, sitting behind the .50.
Some of the other folks were getting frustrated with their tools as well, so Scott broke out the .50 to give them an opportunity to shoot something a bit more suited to this sort of range. By the time Alex and I were done wrestling with the .308 at 1000 yards the rest of the students had headed home, but Scott let us shoot the .50. I settled in behind it and held exactly where Scott told me too and slowly pressed the trigger. Recoil was substantial, but not as bad as some would suggest. I was shooting at a steel IPSC target with a swinger in the center. I managed to drill it dead center, right in the swinger. That's a 5" target at 1000 yards! Doing that on the first shot really puts my difficulties making the .308 work at this range into perspective. Sometimes it can be done with less than optimal equiptment, but it's a lot easier with the right tools (having someone as experienced as Scott to call the wind and the appropriate hold helps too).
Sunday morning came earlier than usual, thanks to the change to daylight saving time. Today we were on the unknown distance range. This is a 2000 yard range with several dozen targets scattered out at various ranges starting at about 300.
We began the day with some talk about gear (Scott had been saving this in case we got some really heavy rain and needed to get under cover). He talked about the various rifles, scopes, spotting scopes, rangefinders, bags, and other sundry gear.
A fine collection of rifles during the gear discussion. From left to right, Scotts Accuracy International .308, his 3-gun AR, Alex's Savage Model 10 Precision Carbine, a students 8mm Mauser with scout scope, and a Steyr Scout.
One thing that particularly interested me were the binoculars. I've been using a pair of Burris binocs that came free with a scope. They're quite serviceable (and considerably better than some el-cheapo pairs I've used in the past) but I've been thinking about upgrading. Scott had a pair of Leupolds with a TMR mil reticle in them. I'd been looking at this, since it matched my rifle reticle, but after playing with them I think I've decided against it. The binoculars are hard to hold steady enough to range with the reticle, and I don't think they'd really work as a substitute for a spotting scope with a reticle. The one thing it would be useful for is observing a target with the binoculars and talking someone with a mil rifle scope onto the target ("two mills left of the tree and three mils down" sort of thing). That's probably not worth the price premium that Leupold demands for the reticle. The glass, however, was visibly clearer than my binoculars, as were another pair of Leupolds I looked through, so I may be upgrading to one of their non-reticle models.
Since almost everyone had a laser rangefinder Scott had folks bring them out and pass them around for other students to play with. The thing that struck me here was the very wide variation in optical quality. My Leica was quite clear, with good quality glass. Alex's Bushnell was similar. Some of the others were very murky. Some manufacturers have clearly figured out that optical quality isn't something most of their prospective buyers check for, and are reducing their costs by using crappy optics. These might suffice against paper targets or brightly painted steel, but given a more realistic, harder to see target you might have a hard time seeing it to range properly.
On that subject, we moved on to rangefinding, but not with lasers. Scott got everyone a mildot scope or spotter and had them calculate the distance to five different targets from 400 to 750 yards using the mil formula. We ranged them with a laser to confirm, then shot them rolling thunder style (Scott called out each student one after another and they had a few seconds to hit that target).
During the first shot of this drill I messed up, or rather I discovered I'd messed up the previous afternoon. Normally I dial elevation and hold for wind using my reticle. Because I'd run out of scope adjustment at 1000 I dialed in the wind instead, so I could hold for elevation right on my vertical crosshair. The problem was I'd forgotten to reset that to zero after I was done shooting. So my first shot today was 1.5 mills off. Always reset your turrets to zero after shooting!
Scott had us reset our zeros to 500 yards and calculate our hold overs and unders from that point for 300-700 yards. He'd call out a target and we'd have to estimate range, apply the appropriate hold and fire. This was obviously much easier for those of us with graduated reticles so we could just hold the appropriate amount of mils over or under (it's also where a having the same adjustment units on the scope and the reticle really shines, because your new holds are just your old holds, minus the adjustment to get to a 500 yard zero).
During lunch, we put up some paper targets with faces on them (Bin Laden, Hitler, Saddam, etc.) at about 200 yards. Students were given a particular target and told to go make a headshot on that guy. This was one of the exercises I really loved when I took the class and the students seemed to have a blast with it.
When we were putting up the face targets, I also helped Scott scatter some 3D torso targets with t-shirts on them around the range for the students to try to spot. Unfortunately they'd blown over by the time we were ready to start looking for them. So they got to try to spot prone guys instead of sitting ones. Two were moderately difficult to spot, one the students needed some coaching to find, and the last one had fallen over behind some grass and was hidden so well that I couldn't even spot it until Scott went downrange to stand it up, and I was the one who put it there! After spotting the targets the students estimated range and then, of course, shot at them.
Next up was camouflage. Scott went through the list of 'S's that will get you detected if you're trying to hide and will help you detect others if you're looking or them: shape, shadow, shine, silhouette, spacing, scent, speed, sound, and spoor. Since Alex was wearing woodland BDUs Scott sent him to walk over towards the treeline to demonstrate how difficult it could be to spot someone. He stopped short of the treeline a few hundred yards away. Standing he was reasonably visible. The most visible parts were his hands and the desert tan boots he was wearing. Those desert boots definitely weren't suited to the very green environment we were working in. Interestingly, the ballcap he was wearing shaded his face enough that it didn't stand out the way his hands did. Kneeling he was considerably less visible. Prone, with his hands and boots out of view, he would have been very hard to distinguish from a bush, even with binoculars.
Scott directed Alex into the woods and sent out a student wearing Multicam so we could compare the patterns. This was a treed area, but it was overcast so the light was very flat, meaning there were no deep shadows. In these conditions the woodland pattern was darker than most of the background. The Multicam, on the other hand, blended in very well. The student was visible while moving but as soon as he stopped he was very hard to spot. However, when he crouched down and bent over, the shadow he created was more visible than he was standing up. Shadow is on the "S" list for a reason.
Now that the students had been educated a bit on how not to be seen, it was time to put this to the test. Alex and I drew the easy assignment during this exercise. We sat around back at the firing line and watched for the students while they had to move across the range to a prospective firing point. They did pretty well. I saw one head that was up a bit to high as they were moving down a draw (somebody needed to get a bit lower in his low crouch) and one face for a few moments at the edge of some brush.
Thus far, most of the students' shooting (with the exception of the barricade and window shots yesterday) had been fired from nice flat ground with no obstructions. Now they took some shots from positions that were more representative of unusual sniper hides. To simulate an urban hide in a crawlspace of other low place they had to make a shot from underneath a table, through a narrow slot between the underside of the table and a horizontal crosspiece beneath. Next up was a more rural hide, with the students shooting over the crest of a small vegetated berm that ran across the range.
This brought us to one of my favorite parts of the class: vehicle hides. The other students all shot out of the beds of their pickup trucks. Alex and I on the other hand, were driving mid-size sedans, neither of which has a generous enough trunk to shoot out of. Instead, I piled luggage and a couple of rucksacks on the driver's side rear seat, topping it off with a TSD sniper bag. The shooter sat in the rear passenger seat, shooting out the driver's side rear window. With Alex driving we pulled up and I was able to put shots on two steel targets quite easily.
We also worked some on coordinated fire. The idea is for two (or more) snipers to fire simultaneously, either to increase the chances of taking out one target or to hit multiple targets simultaneously. The important thing is for the shots to be close to simultaneous, so the target(s) won't have time to react or duck from the first shot before the second arrives. You do this with a simple countdown with everyone firing at the same time. After a few tries some of the students could fire close enough together that it sounded like a single shot.
For the final exercise, Scott put up some 2" circles at 100 yards. The goal was to get a first round hit on the target. This is close, but the small target was fairly challenging. I settled in, breathed deeply and pressed off a shot that drilled it about half an inch from the center. Frankly, I was quite pleased with myself.
This was a great class. The Guerrilla Sniper curriculum Gabe designed works really well and Scott did a good job presenting it. In particular, he did a great job taking advantage of the gear and facilities he had available: stuff like the night shoot, the mover, using cover as support, and shooting though the windows. Even though I'd taken this class before there was quite a bit of new stuff. Taking S.I. classes a second (or third) time, especially from different instructors, is always a learning experience, and the Guerrilla Sniper class more than most.
I was very pleased with the changes I'd made to my gear since the previous GS class. I'd been able to meet the GS minimum with my old setup, but the difference between that and my new rig was just tremendous. Shots that I struggled to make last year were almost monotonously easy and stuff that was beyond my capabilities is now within reach.
The scope, in particular was a tremendously worthwhile investment. Being able to accurately and repeatedly dial in adjustments and hold precisely with the reticle is a huge upgrade. Having both a mil reticle and mil adjustments made the math easy and is well worth the price premium. Combining these with a spotting scope that has a mil reticle in it makes calling corrections dead simple. I was also quite impressed with the Leica rangefinder. I was able to range a IPSC size steel target sitting alone on a berm from 800 yards and get the true range, not the distance to the berm behind it (in this case the tripod adapter also proved its worth, since there's no way I would have been able to hold the rangefinder steady enough to do this offhand).
The one part of my optics related setup I was a bit disappointed with was the Manfrotto joystick head. This would have worked fine with a spotting scope that didn't have a reticle in it, but it was very hard to line it up exactly with the reticle at longer ranges. When you release your grip on the adjustment lever to lock the tripod into place, it tends to move it a little bit to the left. The Horus reticle helped mitigate this because you didn't really have to get the center of the reticle on the target, any intersection of the mil grid would do. Moving the scope half a mil or so to accomplish this was easy to achieve with just hand pressure on the tripod. Nevertheless, I think I may still look for a different, more precisely adjustable tripod head. The PRS/SLIK tripod itself was just rock solid.
One big difference between this class and the previous one was that I spent almost all of this class shooting off a bipod, while I spent almost all of the previous class shooting off a ruck. A big part of this is the fact that I have a good bipod this time around (rather than the piece of crap Chineese knockoff I had last time). The other factor is probably that I wasn't able to get my bags well set up ahead of time. I had to leave on this trip less than 24 hours after getting back into town from a business trip, so packing mostly consisted in tossing stuff from previous range trips straight into the car.
The TAB Gear rear bag continued to work very well. So well, in fact, that I never really brought out the Triad Wedge rear bag except for show and tell on the third day.
Overall, I am quite happy with how my gear performed. After the previous class I had a long list of changes I wanted to make an new gear to buy. This time around any tweaks I make are going to be pretty minor.
The theme of my writeup of the previous GS class was that you can take this class and meet the GS minimum (200 yard headshots, 600 body shots) without a huge amount of gear. The theme of this one may be that more/better gear really helps you get beyond the minimum. That said, you still don't have to go as whole hog as I did. The one investment that will really pay off in spades is a really good scope. That made more of a difference than any of the other stuff I bought between the two classes. A mil reticle, good, repeatable adjustments (preferably in mils as well) and good quality glass provide a tremendous increase in capability. This, combined with a good rifle, a bipod or ruck, a rear bag, and the proper skills and hits at a quarter mile or more are astoundingly easy.
Guerrilla Sniper is truly a great class and I would highly recommend anyone interested in enhancing their long range rifle skills take it. Scott Vandiver did a great job with this class and I really look forward to seeing what he can do in the future at this excellent facility.
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