So you think you have what it takes to be a sniper, eh? Even before my time in 2nd Ranger Battalion, I’ve been fascinated by the notion of shooting targets at great distances. The word Sniper alone had enough mystique and sex appeal to attract a horde of Rangerettes. The Ranger sniper section was a mysterious subculture that existed within the shadows of our compound walls. A small group of NCO’s that no one ever questioned about training agendas or participating in ridiculous duties that the conventional platoons had to. Maybe because deep down, we knew that the snipers were our best chance of survival in an engagement and therefore someone you kept happy. A good friend of mine in Battalion, Scott M, attended Army Sniper School and returned with honor graduate credentials. Through several late night discussions over a cocktail, I quickly realized that there was a lot more to the job of snipers than just shooting an accurate rifle well.
Now that I’ve transitioned from military to civilian life in Northern Michigan, I recently had the opportunity to rekindle that love affair. Fortunately for me, there is a long range shooting facility less than an hour away from my home. Marksmanship Training Center (MTC), located just north of Lake City, MI is a diamond in the rough with world class potential. The facility includes both 1000 Yd unknown distance and known distance ranges, a 100 Yd multi-purpose range and a 25 Yd pistol range. MTC is currently in a growth phase due to increasing demand and making further improvements to the facility as you read this. MTC plans to add a 200 yd rimfire range and several improvements to the 1000 Yd range including a permanent pavilion for shooters and spectators. Marksmanship Training Center offers not only precision rifle courses, but carbine, pistol and several other related blocks of instruction. They also host an annual Wolverine 5k competition that will challenge participants fitness, shooting ability, land navigation and many other critical skills.
Despite the reclusiveness of the long range community, I felt welcomed by the staff at MTC which consists of a collaboration of 8 former military veterans (USMC MSG, USMC FAST Co Designated Marksman, US Army Special Forces Sniper, and USMC Scout Snipers). All with a passion for their profession and a refreshing diversity of training and teaching personalities. This group of instructors all have recent operational experience in the private sector as members of ERT and PSS teams under contract with DoS Diplomatic Security Services and OGA force protection. What I’m saying is that they are current and up to speed with the latest techniques that have been working oversees keeping our guys safe.
Marksmanship Training Center: Long Range 1
The first step in this journey was to attend the 1-day Long Range 1 course. A prerequisite course dedicated to learning firearms safety, the fundamentals of shooting, range estimation, external ballistics, nomenclature and the equipment necessary for achieving our personal shooting goals. Due to long range shooting becoming more main stream, there exists a myriad of equipment flooding the market. The instructors helped the students navigate through the various rifles, scopes and hardware, demonstrating what to look for when selecting gear. With their guidance, my decision was made to run the budget friendly Ruger Precision Rifle which allowed me to splurge on the Sig Optics Tango 6 rifle scope, a decision I didn’t regret at all. Despite the absence of range time in LR1, it provided the necessary foundation and fundamentals for continuing on to Long Range 2
Marksmanship Training Center: Long Range 2
Long Range 2 is designed to improve and hone precision shooting skills for all experience levels. This 2 day course covered firearms safety, supported shooting positions, marksmanship fundamentals, familiarization of your rifle, internal, external, and terminal ballistics, data book familiarization, spotter responsibilities, range estimation techniques and scope theory. To the relief of myself and other LR1 graduates, LR2 was mostly spent on the range despite a few ballistic lessons that were better taught indoors. Day 1 consisted of practicing various drills on the 100 Yd range as well as achieving a precision zero which is important as you start stretching out to greater distances. The fundamentals of shooting were constantly reinforced as well as building your shooting position and achieving a good natural point of aim.
LR2 day 2 operations started with a recorded cold bore shot and reconfirming our zero from the previous day. We then moved over to the 1000 yard range and continued with some scope drills which were more difficult than anticipated. While in the prone and looking through our zeroed scope, the instructor (Clare W) would yell, “Up 3/Right 4….Up 2/Left 2…Down 5/Right 3″…and so on. Without looking at the scope turrets, we had to make the windage and elevation adjustments in quick order to keep up with his calls. At the end of the drill, we were told to look at our turrets. If your scope wasn’t back to it’s original starting point of zero, you effed up somewhere. This was a helpful drill as I found out later in the day as the spotter was making quick wind calls in the variable conditions. Up next were mid-range shooting drills, range estimation, shooter/spotter team responsibilities and use of our new data books. The amount of data that you can collect from a single shot is astounding and pays huge dividends down the road when you experience similar shooting conditions. Winds were variable and blowing 20-25 mph all day which frustrated some students in the challenging conditions. I enjoyed these real world conditions and it further reinforced the importance of my shooting fundamentals and confidence as I was able to hit silhouettes out to 998 yards.
Marksmanship Training Center: Ballistic Data
The 1 day Ballistic Data course was another invaluable lesson that really dug into ballistic software and the internal/external ballistics that effect a shot. I found myself back on the 100 yard range recording more cold bore shots and how they may differ from a group of shots. For a sniper and a hunter alike, the cold bore shot is where the money is made. In real world situations, a sniper or hunter patiently awaits the target to present itself. You may only get one shot and it will inevitably be through a cold bore. Every rifle and ammunition combination can present a different cold bore deviation so knowing were that first cold bore shot will impact is paramount to the success of the mission. Once we recorded our cold bore deviation, the students measured muzzle velocity with both doppler radar and a magneto speed chronograph. This data become more relevant when we started plugging these numbers into our ballistic software on our smartphones. I’m not a hand-loader but had consistent results with Hornady ELD Factory Match Ammunition. In fact, the deviation of this factory ammunition was on point with the guys who hand loaded their ammo.
After our obligatory food coma inducing pizza lunch, we dragged our tired asses up to the long range shoot hill for the remainder of the course. Here the students utilized Kestrel weather meters and ballistic software to plot solutions for our shots. This exercise was the culmination of the earlier ballistic data collection, zeroing, range estimation and wind reading. As we paired up and worked in shooter/spotter teams, we were quickly rewarded with several successful shots. One memorable shot was while I was spotting for another student. I chose a target in the 600-700 yard range and gave him the elevation and windage for the shot. He relayed to me that the target was almost completely obscured from his position by another silhouette in his line of sight…except for a small part of the head. Knowing that the trajectory of the bullet will clear the obstructing target enroute to its destination, we agreed to attempt a blind head shot. Once my shooter had his crosshairs where he imagined the target was, he sent a perfect shot downrange. I watched through my scope as his bullet trail passed over the obstructing target and impacted the designated target right in the center of the face making us both laugh like idiots.
It became very clear that the instruction at Marksmanship Training Center has made me a much better shooter in all disciplines. I’m fortunate to have access to a private 100 yd range nearby and expend a fair amount of time and effort trying to staying sharp with my Mk-18 and handguns. What I’ve noticed is that some of my core fundamentals had deteriorated over the years and needed reinforcement through professional training. Although I consider myself fairly well versed in the use of both carbine and pistol, what I learned in the long range precision shooting courses made me a more deliberate and intelligent shooter with any firearm. Long Range 1 & 2 were just the tip of the iceberg with relation to what our military snipers go through. What these courses did offer made me a practical and confident long range shooter. My future plans include becoming a member at Marksmanship Training Center and attending the advanced 3-Day Long Range 3 course next season.
Marksmanship Training Center offers more than world class instruction, they also host the Michigan FT-R and USA Rifle teams along with Michigan National Guard Snipers, various law enforcement entities and a solid membership base. Students travel far and wide to attend training at MTC so if you’re located anywhere in the midwest, consider making the trip up to Lake City, MI. And if you served in the 75th, you’re welcome to crash at my house less than an hour away…as long as you bring the beer and stories. Special thanks to my instructors at Marksmanship Training Center; Clare W, Greg O, Bob C, Dan “Ginger” and Rob M for allowing me to attend the courses mentioned above. You guys did an amazing job and I hope to see you on the firing line soon.