I have just had a terrific experience that is a natural high for a newbie like me. I have just finished a four-day long-range rifle training course at the BadLands Training Facility in Grandfield, Ok. Bobby Whittington, Steve Suttles, and Mike Duncan run the course. Before I continue, I feel the responsibility to acquaint the reader with my previous experience and qualification to write about such things: none. Previous military experience: none. Previous law enforcement experience: none. Previous hunting experience: none. Previous rifle ownership: none. Previous reloading experience: none. Previous camping experience: none. Previous visits to Oklahoma: none. Sarge, whom we all know and love, has taken me to a range to break in the barrel of the .308 (note from Sarge folks this ".308" is an AT1-C24 with US Optics SN-3 3.2x17 on top!!) that I used in the course. He was also the one who talked me into going to this course. He could sell yellow snow to an Eskimo.
The morning I was to leave for the course, my significant other (who knew I was leaving town for continuing education, but not what type) found out the kind of course I was to attend. Can you imagine the kind of verbiage a pacifist would start to spew with that kind of surprise? Well I heard it all! Unfortunately, the day before we were to leave (9/11/01) cowards hiding behind women and children, as they usually do, chose to attack our country. Needless to say, the pacifist's verbiage was shut down in a nanosecond after we heard the news and was replaced with a more violent, aggressive position on her part (nothing worse than a convert).
The first day there I learned that Grandfield has no motel, but the BadLands headquarters is located in a full-size trailer. The guys at BadLands will let you stay there for free (ignoring all financial advice to the contrary). They provide a couple of mattresses, towels, shower facilities, and a full kitchen.
Bringing your own cot is not a bad idea as it is first come first served as far as the mattresses are concerned. There are motels near by (from Sarge closest motels are in Wichita Falls, Texas, about 20 miles away). Not staying in the trailer means missing out on all the free advice on anything shooting-related you don't need, from "experts" that are there learning just like you.
Steve, one of the knowledgeable instructors, also stays in that trailer. He is a man who not only talks the talk, but certainly has made the walk that no one can take issue with. In the evenings he was constantly available to answer any type of question you may ask, no matter how many times you may have asked it before. He is also there to answer questions in the cram session for the written exam that is administered with a certain amount of glee on the part of the instructors. Having him available full time, helping with all types of questions is worth the price of admission: $250. That is for four days, folks (glad I don't have their financial advisor).
The first day is all classroom work and no shooting. Classroom activities include the history of the military marksman reviewed via an informative video, and the origin of the word sniper. The concept of the sniper team is introduced, composition of the team is explained, each team member's duties are discussed, and the missions of the team are defined. The first of several KIM's tests are also administered.
The KIM's test is a training device meant to stimulate item recall and identification skills that are so necessary for military and LE personnel. Necessary and unnecessary equipment is reviewed, as is preventive maintenance and service checks on said equipment. Proper disassembly of the rifle and cleaning procedures are reviewed, as well. This may seem like a waste of shooting time, but if you have 9 different guys in the class (and we did, plus the 3 instructors) you have 9 different ways of cleaning a rifle, some of which can be harmful. Scope inspection and care are also included. Four basic fundamentals of marksmanship are explained (and you will see that again in written form), as is the proper "follow through" after the shot. You get trained to call your shot, indicating where you as the shooter think the target will be hit based on reticule position as the shot is fired. As expected, mil-dot usage, ballistics, and environmental effects on trajectory are also covered. I was fascinated while being taught to read mirage and range estimation. You are also given the 3 factors that introduce possible errors in range estimation. There are only two simple math formulas you have to memorize: the conversion of wind velocity to minutes of angle, and range estimation based on mil-dot readings. The effects of light, temperature, and humidity on point of aim are discussed. Proper set up and maintenance of your data book is presented, as well as the use of range cards, target sketches, and observation logs.
Next, we went outside behind the classroom and were taught the proper position for the observer. Sounds silly, but no one in our class got it right. No, it is not right beside the shooter where you are shoulder to shoulder, but to the right and tucked in close to his rifle shoulder, as if you are aiming the spotting scope down the rifle. This is the best way to see and evaluate the wedge-shaped trace pattern the bullet makes as it streams through the air. Seeing the trace allows the observer to give corrections to the shooter if he is off target.
I know that sounds like a lot of classroom theory, but there is also a lab course to accompany the classroom work. We actually went to a field without rifles and had separate exercises for mirage estimation, distance estimation, and mil-dot estimation (using our rifle scopes, of course). The course actually has separate ranges for each of these exercises. This is in addition the 1000+ yard range, complete with a three-story shooting tower, and a fifth range with the targets at unknown distances.
On the range these guys really demonstrated their commitment to teach and get you through the course. They will do what it takes to correct any bad habit you may have that could deteriorate your shooting abilities. Bobby was actually in front of an LE student just to the side of his rifle as it was being fired to find and correct a sighting error. Steve and Mike were lying in the dirt or the mud (as the case may be) to watch and correct a particular aspect of your shooting.
Because we were missing one guy (airlines grounded), Mike acted as the observer for the 9th student for the whole course in addition to his other duties. On the range and in the evenings these instructors were solving the myriad problems with rifles and/or scopes that would make any boat owner proud. I never realized so many things could go wrong. They were aware of each student's occupational background and structured their advice to help whether the student was military or LE.
As Bobby says, you can complete the course or you can graduate from the course. Graduating from the course is where the fun comes in. You have to pass the written exam (no one in our group had trouble with that) and you must qualify on the range, which is where the action is.
Qualifications are timed and are done from the prone position. To qualify you have to hit 4 out of 5 shots at different distances and target sizes. They are a 4 out of 5 group:
Once you qualified, you were free to shoot at 1000 20" X 40" silhouettes at 600, 700, 800, 900 and 1000 yards
On the second day you are required to do one cold barrel shot at 100 yards in a 1.5" box at 100 yards within 30 seconds. This is same drill is repeated every 100 yards out to 300, with the target box growing in proportion to the distance. From 400 to 600 yards, the targets are silhouettes. In spite of the fact that I had a .308 with a 168 gr. BDC on the scope and was shooting 175 gr. rounds (don't ask), I had the following experience:
Three-Hundred yards ate my lunch, though, as that is where the full effect of the mismatch between the 168 gr. BDC and 175 gr. rounds made its presence known. After many rounds and intense coaching by the staff I finally got sighted in at 300 yardsand 4.5" is one small box at that distance!
Needless to say, the silhouette metal targets where elephants compared to that 4.5" box at 300 yards. There is nothing more satisfying than the metal ping of a bullet striking metal following the shot.
I scored a hit on the most-distant target on the unknown distance range: the most gratifying metallic ping you could ever want to hear. (I could tell you the distance, but then I would die.)
Not bad for someone who could not hit the broad side of a barn.