Lessons Learned: Precision Rifle Training After Action Report
It’s a been a busy two months since the Sniper’s Hide Team Challenge in Colville WA. Two blocks of classes in Alaska, some mixed in private instruction and a Class with Long Gun Training in Upstate NY. All told in this time period we saw 90 shooters come through the Sniper’s Hide Classes. (Link to Team Challenge AAR)
It’s a nice mix of students, everything from your typical hunter to your experienced 3 Gun Shooter. That also means a wide spectrum of equipment. There are lessons here that I want to pass on, both good and bad things to take away.
Shooting a precision rifle is not cheap, it’s a considerable investment to get started down this road. So mistakes can be costly.
By far this is your weakest link in the precision rifle system. (Next to the shooter) Mechanically they run from dead nuts accurate to abject failure and everything in-between. Understanding your scope and testing it’s ability to not only track, but return to zero is super important. We continue to see problems in the scope department.
It’s not limited to a specific brand, but I will say you get what you pay for. Spending more money does not give you a pass, but it does limit your exposure. In a word you are playing the odds here so taking it for granted because you bought something the “Pros Use” means very little.
Students unfamiliar with their product can really slow a class down. I recommend you get familiar with your scope. That means knowing what reticle you have, whether it is in the first or second focal plane and how to manage the basic adjustments. We go though a lot of this in class, by at least reading the manual we can be on a solid foundation together. If you are still not sure, bring the manual and any tools that came with the scope. There is such a wide variety out there, having the manual is a great reference point.
We have taken to returning to 100 yards at the end of each training evolution. Why do we keep coming back to 100, it highlights which scopes are not tracking true or returning to zero. In all this, we easily see a 20% failure rate. High, I know, but this is reality and not one off anecdotal internet crap. That guy claiming his scope is the greatest thing since sliced bread probably never shoots past 200 yards.
We even had Targets USA build us a scope testing device between a series of classes. We designed this to quickly and accurately test the students scope. In our Alaskan PR 2 class, we removed every students scope, tested it and then tracked the return to zero capability. Quality equipment works!
This image is the “after” effect.
Yes this target was his very first group after removing the scope and testing it. Solid equipment will give you solid results, Vortex Scope with NightForce Rings.
Tracking errors averaged 1.75% to 3% across the board. Only 33% of all scopes tested tracked 100%. Imagine what that means when trying to use your ballistic calculator. This is reason they let you adjust the click value in ballistic programs. At 1.75%, you would change your .250MOA scope to .255 and believe me this matters. When a guy asks why doesn’t his ballistic computer match his dope the first question should be, “did you calibrate your scope”.
The Kahles Scopes during the course consistently scored 100% during tracking tests.
This brings me to rings. I started a small fire when I mentioned a lot of these problems were directly related to Vertically split rings. Immediately people started calling, writing, asking me to expand and clarify which ones worked and which ones didn’t.
The short answer, spend the money and get quality rings. Shitty, $100 vertically split rings, regardless of the manufacturer are not designed for a precision rifle. Oh sure, they tell you they are, what else would they say. But they are not, they were a qualified problem. We began noting it and sure as hell, each set of vertically split rings we saw created an issue.
Torque can definitely be an issue here, as we cannot know what each ring is torqued too, but there just to many problems with combination for everyone to be a torque problem. You definitely need to understand the torquing spec’s of your scope rings and follow those guidelines as it does make a difference. Don’t believe me, test your scope with the proper torque setting and then test it after increasing the value by 10 inch pounds or more. The order in which you tighten this stuff can have a difference too.
If it hurts your feelings because you happen to “own” this stuff, I can’t help you. This is the straight scoop, so if they work for you, drive on and ignore me. But if you want to do things right, I recommend you avoid them. Learn from the mistakes of others in case because it probably not “If” only “when”.
We are currently developing a more detailed white paper on these rings to help shooters understand the issues. Look for this update soon.
These are the most valuable player for the precision rifle shooter. Guys are learning quickly how versatile the tripod can be.
I just posted a video about tripods and there are definitely some dos and don’t with them. When buying a tripod, you have to look at Weight Ratings, and the heads you use. This matters a lot. It’s the difference between, good, and great. With the right tripod we had guys consistently hitting a 10” Plate at 1000 yards from the standing. Once they go from the cheap camera shop special to a real tripod with the proper weight rating they can instantly see the difference. You need at least a 35 – 40 Pounds in rated weight limits. The Manfrotto and Sliks a lot of people have are only rated for 12 to 15 LBS vs the Really Right Stuff tripods I use at 50LBS.
Clearly everyone who tried it loved the Really Right Stuff tripods I have and without a doubt they declare the heavyweight champion. But not everyone can afford the Really Right Stuff gear. The next best option is the Hog Saddle tripods. They work great, and can hold their own for 1/3 the cost.
My recommendation for the shooter on a budget, get the Hog Saddle Legs and the Really Right Stuff Heads. You do not save that much by price shopping heads and much of the deviations comes from the top. The cheap heads have a lot of play, and are hard to keep steady. I know guys are having good success with the knock off Feisol Legs, they are a RRS copy. But again, opt for the better head or RRS leveling base. It will work. Everyone who shoots off mine hate me for letting them try it. I carry Really Right Stuff tripods to all my events.
I doubt I will travel without one ever again. Tripods are the answer in a more situations than I can write about here. It’s been reported a few match directors are outlawing tripods during competitions. I find that foolish. Tripods are an issued piece of kit for the military. Tripods are light, versatile and adaptable. If you want to limit equipment, try, 1 rear bag, 1 pillow, and include a tripod.
It’s not something you just walk in to, they still require practice, but mastering a tripod will certainly help in other situations.
Fundamentals of Marksmanship
At the end of the day the fundamentals still rule the day. Sure you can jump on the current bandwagon of competition shooters teaching free recoil methods, but why.
Competitions, at least the one we held at Rifles Only since the early days were designed to test a shooter’s fundamentals. Today they are more interested in compromising those principles versus teaching these core tasks correctly.
Our classes are not high speed low drag events, they are designed to instruct the student on the core fundamentals of marksmanship as they were intended. Doing it right works every time, and is not reduced to aligning the stars during a lunar eclipse. Context matters, what they get away with in these competitions is probably not gonna serve you well under practical shooting situations.
Not shouldering the rifle, trying not to influence the trigger by reducing the pull weight and tapping the shoe cannot be the answer. Follow through is still a fundamental.
We’ll be addressing this more, but if we can take a student with a 20” 5.56 Rifle and get them consistent hits on an 8” plate at 700 yards off a tripod using the fundamentals, it just goes to show these work. Even in Alaska the guys where consistently hitting a 10” plate at 1000 yards from the standing off a tripod.
Square the shooter to the target. Place their hips behind of their shoulders. Focus on the fundamentals of marksmanship, to include follow through. End results; hits on target, sure maybe not in 20 seconds but certainly within 30.
Each evolution teaches us something new. Doesn’t matter who the shooters are, where we travel to under what conditions. We see it all. Shooting is an “If – Than” proposition, “If” you do this, “Than” that will happen.
Fads come and go, solid training, good equipment and a solid understanding of the fundamentals of marksmanship will help you rise to the top.