I just got back from a one-week Chandler Sniper Course held at Blackwater Training Center. Of the over 500 hours of training I've done in the past 18 months this was by far the most interesting and well-run firearms course I've attended.
Here's a summary of my experience for those that might be interested in learning to consistently shoot sub-moa out to 600 yards and further under field conditions:
Chandler Law Enforcement Sniper #111, as it is officially known, is taught only twice a year. The class was developed by Iron Brigade Armory, makers of the famous Chandler Sniper Rifle, and is conducted on the 5,200-acre Blackwater Training Center in Moyock, NC.
This five-day course was restricted to Law Enforcement and military personnel only but there is a three-day version offered as a Precision Rifle Clinic for anyone not in those categories. I'm told the primary difference is that there's more shooting in the Clinic and less coverage of things like communications and liability mitigation.
I can't say enough good things about the instructors for this course. They were extremely knowledgeable and willing to share the information they acquired through years of first-hand experience. I don't think there's anyone so experienced that they wouldn't learn a heck of a lot from this bunch. The Navy SEAL sniper instructor that sat on one side of me felt that way, as did the DEA firearms instructor on the other side, as well as the Marine Force Recon sniper in the row behind me. Everyone got more than they bargained for.
With eight co-instructors, there were almost as many instructors as students. All instructors were either retired or active duty military and/or actively employed in law enforcement. These guys have been there and done that but they don't talk about it - they SHOW you in practical terms how to apply the lessons they've learned. They watch you individually and suggest minor modifications to everything from equipment, and your use of it, to modifying positions, etc. in order to fit your individual idiosyncrasies.
As an example, after successfully completing an exercise, one of the instructors approached me and congratulated me, then he commented that he noticed my head tipping slightly as I worked the bolt and offered an alternative technique that would keep my head down. This attention to minor detail was constant and it paid off.
The curriculum was well thought out, well planned, and followed in military fashion. Nothing is more frustrating to an anal retentive engineer such as myself than standing around waiting for something to happen. During the entire week I never had to wait (except when they made us wait in anticipation of a simulated call-out hostage problem where we were rushed to the scene and forced to solve the problem with minimal briefing). The instruction was a model of efficiency.
Breakfast was served at 7:30 and class began at 8 AM. There was a one-hour break for lunch and another break for dinner. There was a night shoot each and every night. Except for the meal breaks and some classroom time we were either on the line shooting or in the pits working the targets for the other shooters (how did you think they got realistic speeds and behavior in moving targets?).
In addition to shooting from the 100, 200, 300, 400, 500 and 600 yard lines, we covered slow and fast moving targets out to 200 yards, hostage scenarios, shooting at night, shooting in the rain, creation of urban hides, shooting through glass (near and far), proper weapon cleaning, cold bore shots, data book maintenance, ballistics, a kim game, camouflage, rifle canting, steep angle shooting, communications, field sketching, and more. On the final day we headed to the range for the field final exam - a single shot - then to the classroom for a written final.
Almost all shooting was done from rigidly supported positions - mostly prone off a bipod or pack. This is certainly understandable given the nature of the student and their potential liability. They can't justify taking a shot unless they have taken every precaution. There were one or two exercises that called for shooting while kneeling or offhand just in case an emergency arose. Use of other devices for providing support was also discussed and practiced for those situations in which prone simply isn't viable.
The ranges sit on 5,200 acres of Blackwater-owned land surrounded by private farmland. The dirt road to the office and bunkhouse winds approximately four miles after leaving the pavement.
I stayed on the Blackwater property in their bunkhouse. The accommodations are best described as Spartan, clean, and functional. For this course I don't think one could stay anywhere else. I was up each day at 6 AM and never turned in before midnight so adding driving time to the nearest hotel would have significantly cut into sleep time.
They have several different size rooms available from semi-private to rooms for eight or more. Their bent toward military training is obvious in their accommodations. The beds were bunk beds and clean linen is provided once per week. Towels are provided (two per student) and fresh towels are provided every other day. A common bathroom contains four shower stalls, four sinks and mirrors and toilet facilities. Liquid soap and paper towels are provided. Anything more you must provide yourself.
I made a quick trip to Wal-Mart for slippers, shampoo, a mirror for my room, a coffee maker, some bottled water, and a few frozen TV dinners. Blackwater provides water coolers, a microwave, and a refrigerator in the recreation area (ping-pong and a TV) as well as a single phone line. The dining room is open for breakfast and lunch but you're on your own for dinner. Except for Wednesday evening you don't have time to make the trek into town for grub.
We did much of our shooting on Blackwater's 1,200-yard range but they also have about a dozen other ranges for pistol, shotgun and carbine.
Norm Chandler Jr., General Manager of Iron Brigade Armory, was on hand for resolving shooters' equipment problems. He demonstrated complete disassembly of rifles showing how properly bedded rifles return to zero on re-assembly and was even prepared for re-crowning and other contingencies. A number of shooters had equipment problems but Norm Jr. diagnosed the problems and got them all straightened out by the second day.
Often, it's the students that define the class as much as the instructors. I was very pleased to find that all the students were serious about learning everything they could. Five officers from Wisconsin even paid their own way and took vacation time to be there. I was very impressed by their dedication to their profession.
Instructors - Superb
Curriculum - Excellent
Hospitality - Good
Range Facilities - Excellent
Accommodations - Good
Food - Very good