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Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Guerrilla Sniper II

Last weekend I attended the inaugural Guerrilla Sniper II class.  I first took the original GS class from Eric Pfleger in Ohio over Fourth of July weekend in 2011.  Last December I sat in on it again from Scott Vandiver in Georgia.  This is an area where I'm just a beginner and I'm really eager to expand my skills.  When Gabe announced Guerrilla Sniper II, I signed up immediately.


As always, GS is a relatively gear intensive class.  My setup hasn't changed much since the GS class in Georgia last year.  I brought my Savage Model 10FP in .308.  I've replaced the standard stock with a nice aftermarket one from Bell and Carlson.  It's topped by a Leupold 3.5-10 scope with the TMR reticle and mil adjustments.  This is a great scope and it's easily the best gear investment I've made.  I'm feeding it Hornady 168 grain A-MAX ammo, though I also brought along some Hornady 178 grain Superperformance, specifically for long range shooting (between the higher initial velocity and the heavier bullet I figure it should be bringing substantially more velocity at 1000 yards).  I also brought along some of my leftover 175 grain Prvi match ammo to shoot at closer distances where the extra accuracy of the A-MAX is superfluous. 

To support the rifle, I brought along a couple of Versa-pod bipods: one short one that I usually use with this rifle, a slightly longer one (sized for use with semi-auto rifles with 30 round mags), and a sitting height bipod.  For the rear of the gun I had a couple of TAB Gear rear bags.  I also brought a sitting height tripod that can accept either my spotting scope or a Precision Rifle Solutions rest.  Speaking of my spotting scope, my other big investment since the GS class was a Leupold Mark 4 12-40 with the Horus reticle.  As with the scope I am very pleased.  A Leica rangefinder and a Kestrel wind meter rounded out my instrumentation.  

To carry all this stuff, I used an Eagle Industries pack.  To aid in using the ruck as a rest I've put an SO Tech rifle saddle on it.  The pack also carried water (this is Arizona) and miscellaneous gear like sniper veils, a shooting mat, etc.

This class had a surplus of SI Staff Instructors.  In addition to myself (and far more knowledgeable than me about long range shooting) we had Eric Pfleger, Scott Vandiver and Dave Sauer.  I teamed up with Scott for my shooting partner, which was a pretty good deal for me given his skill and level of knowledge.  We were also joined by Dr. Keith Seto, one of the instructors for our medical classes.  With the instructors we had a total of eighteen guys, which was a pretty good group.  All the students were veterans of one (or more) Guerrilla Sniper classes.  The class was fairly heavy on the AR-10s and Remington 700s.  There were a smattering of M1As, a LWRC REPR, a VEPR .308, an Accuracy International, and a few others.  Interestingly, we had three folks in the class shooting suppressed rifles.


IMG_8845After the usual admin stuff and a safety briefing that emphasized the dangers of heatstroke and dehydration (it was forecast to hit 95 degrees today) we drove out to the 100 yard line.  Here we checked the zero on our rifles (everyone brought a well zeroed rifle thankfully).  This represented a majority of our shooting from the traditional prone position for the day.  From here on out Gabe really emphasized the higher, less stable positions: sitting, kneeling, and standing.  

We teach these positions in the GS1 class, but unless terrain or vegetation forces a higher position, most students stick with prone as much as they can.  Prone is certainly easiest, but outside of a nice flat groomed range, it's not always available.  Micro terrain and vegetation often prevent you from getting a good view of the target.  Gabe and I actually had just experienced this: we were out shooting a video on the SIG 556R at long distances.  Thanks to the very wet July and August we'd had in Prescott, the grass out where we were shooting was all about 2 feet tall.  Gabe did most of his shooting from seated, and standing - supported by the spare tire of his jeep and a tree branch.  We had a nice flat range here, so today it was the instructor forcing you to get up out of prone to shoot rather than the environment.



Just because you can't shoot prone doesn't mean your limited to the standard competitive rifle positions where you support the rifle entirely with your body and the sling.  Use anything you can for support: trees, vehicles, structures, rucksacks, tripods, your spotter's rifle, your spotter, whatever you can use to get more stable.  Scott Vandiver showed us a neat trick for this: most people only think about supporting the front of their rifle, which is a good first step.  If you can, support the rear of the rifle as well.  A good way of doing this when sitting is to put your rucksack on your lap and use it as a really big rear bag.  When kneeling with a higher support, use the ruck between your knee and elbow.  Support that rifle as much as possible.


I've got a sitting height Versapod bipod that I can attach to my rifle.  Before this I hadn't played around with it much, so I brought it out and put it to use.  Unfortunately, this experience with it was pretty disappointing.  The bipod wasn't very stable.  The long legs made it flexible enough that you couldn't really load it up, so it didn't provide much front to back support.  The tripod with the shooting saddle on it was much better.  I used that for sitting and kneeling, then switched to Scott's tripod for the standing shot (his is a full height model, rather than my sitting height one).

IMG_8896 (1)


After everybody shot from the various positions at 100 we moved back to 200 and then 300 and did the same.  As we moved back, standing became a lot less reliable for most shooters.  Kneeling and sitting were considerably better, particularly for those who were creative about finding support.



After everyone worked the positions at 300, we broke for lunch.  By this time it was getting pretty warm, so Gabe really emphasized drinking a lot of water.  He also suggested eating in the car with the AC on, advice that a lot of people took.

After lunch, Scott Vandiver gave a lecture on high angle shooting.  When you're shooting uphill or downhill, gravity doesn't have quite as much effect on the flight path of the bullet.  If you take a long shot at an extreme angle, you'll end up hitting high.  The way to compensate for this is by multiplying the range by the cosine of the angle from the horizontal (if they'd used examples like this in trigonometry class I would have been a lot more interested in the subject).  

You can find the angle in several ways: On the simple end, string, a small weigh, and a protractor (such as the one printed on the side of a mildot master).  There are angle indicators that attach to the side of your scope and read off the angle that you're holding the rifle at. Some ballistics apps you can download for your smartphone use the gyroscope and accelerometer built into the phone to calculate the angle.  Finally, many laser rangefinders will also give you the angle along with the distance.  Some of these methods give you the cosine directly, while others give you the angle in degrees and require you to consult the table or a calculator to get the cosine.



We drove over to the base of a small hill on the range.  Everybody geared up and we hiked hiked up to the top.  This elevated vantage point gave us the opportunity to do some high angle shooting.  Gabe had put out a couple of steels, one close to the base of the hill, the other a bit further out.  Using several of the methods described above, we established the range and angle to both targets.  Each student engaged them in turn.  


The terrain up here probably posed a bigger obstacle to our shooting than the angle.  This was not some nice grassy hill, it was a big chunk of eroded basalt.  Many students shot from a seated position, supporting the rifle on a rock or outcropping.  I ended up shooting from sort of a jackass prone, laying on my side (on a bunch of fairly pointy rocks) more perpendicular to my rifle than right behind it.  Field shooting definitely isn't like shooting from the bench or the nice flat range.  Nevertheless I was able to make the hits.  





After engaging the two targets at the base of the hill, Gabe had us take some shots at targets down at the 1000 yard line.  There wasn't really enough angle to worry about, but from our position it was around 730 yards away.  My first shot on this one missed (I didn't allow quite enough for wind) but I drilled it with the second.  Considering that at my first GS class fifteen months ago I couldn't even get a hit beyond 600 yards I'm pretty proud of this performance from a less than optimal position.  My shot was certainly not exceptional, however.  Some folks were able to peg the distant steel on the first shot, and just about everyone was able to get on target after a few rounds.


We hiked back down the hill and drove over to the 400 yard line and got back to work.  After a few minutes we noticed that most folks were down in prone, rather than practicing the different positions.  Gabe got everyone up off the ground and doing some work in kneeling or sitting.  At this distance, standing is going to be a little iffy for most folks, unless you're like Eric Pfleger excepted and have a lot of practice at this.  Sitting and kneeling are quite doable if you can find some support, however.





At each of the distances on the range Gabe had been doing a bit of shooting with the FS2000 he'd brought and equipped with a ACOG (one with a .308 reticle, which actually matches the heavy 75 grain 5.56mm ammunition he was shooting better than the .223 reticle does).  I'd put a few rounds through it at 200.  When we were at four, he took a few shots from the seated position with his back against the tire of his jeep.  He invited me to do the same.  The FS2000 is actually a very nice rifle to shoot from a seated position.  On most rifles your right hand is out near or just beyond the center of gravity when seated, meaning that hand takes all the weight.  With the FS2000 all the weight is back near your shoulder and all the support hand is doing is holding up the front end of the rifle.


At 500, Gabe brought out the FS2000 again.   Initially all his shots were going high, until he figured out that the proper hold put the ACOG reticle's 400 yard reticle at the bottom of the target.  The 75 grain Hornady Superperformance Match was actually shooting flatter at this range than the 147 grain .308 the BDC reticle in the ACOG was calibrated for.  He couldn't quite believe this, so he had me put a few rounds through it as well.  Getting hits at this range was rather challenging, as it was pushing the magnification of the ACOG and the wind kicked up a bit, which has a significant effect on the 5.56mm round, even the 75 grainers.  The distance was also challenging my ability to hold the rifle steady using just the magazine and my fist under the VFG.  However, if you put on a short QD bipod and add a rear bag and this would be one heck of a DMR.  Yet it's as compact as an SBR.  I am more and more impressed with this rifle.  500 yards with a bullpup!

Throughout the day Scott was having quite a few problems with blown primers.  He was shooting Hornady 168 grain A-MAX Superperformance Match and this load was either really hot or the primers weren't crimped in properly.  Finally I gave him some of my standard pressure A-MAX, which did much better.  The 178 grain Superperformance I brought for long range work and the 75 grain 5.56mm Superperforance Gabe was shooting both ran flawlessly, so I wonder if Scott just got a bad batch.

We finished up shooting at 500 and we wrapped up for the day.  After giving everyone a chance to shower and change into some clean clothes, we all met for dinner at a local restaurant.  As usual, the fellowship with like minded folks was one of the best parts of the class.  


When we got out to the range Sunday morning, it was pretty breezy, so Eric Pfleger gave a great lecture on reading the wind to take advantage of the conditions.  This is one of the most difficult and vital parts of long range shooting, and Eric has a huge amount of real world experience.

As Eric was talking about the wind, Gabe had put up some target arrays using police sketches.  We split up into four teams and Gabe gave the team leader a copy of one (or more) of the sketches.  The team leader had to identify the correct picture on their target array, talk their team onto the correct target, and coordinate their team member's fire in a single (hopefully simultaneous) volley.  


We started out shooting this at 300 yards.  This is a bit beyond our Guerrilla Sniper minimum standard of 200 yard headshots, but it's a distance that all of our shooters in this class ought be able to handle given their skill and equipment.  Introducing the complications of target identification and  coordinated fire, however, and it gets difficult very quickly.   

This exercise really places a premium on the ability to communicate effectively with your team.  Some team leaders were very direct and to the point, calling out the target and the firing commands.  Others not so much, so after the first round of this Gabe called everyone together and talked a bit about the roles.  The individual shooters are there to follow the team leader's commands, not to have a conversation with the team leader.  The team leader is the guy on the spot and he needs to lead.  This is not a democracy, it's a dictatorship.  After this conversation, the quality of the team leader-shooter interaction generally improved.


The other thing this exercise placed a premium on is good optics.  Recognizing a specific face at 300 yards is no easy task.  It really separated the high-end spotting scopes from the also-rans.  Several teams had difficulty with target identification.  It's worth noting that three of the SI instructors in the class had brought the same spotting scope: the Leupold Mark 4 12-40x.  This is some excellent glass and having a mil reticle in the optic makes calling corrections easy (particularly if the shooter has a mil reticle and mil scope adjustments).


Gabe threw in some curveballs, giving team leaders faces that weren't on their target arrays.  After we moved up to 200, he started giving out multiple faces to each team, some or all of which might be on the target array.  This required even more coordination, assigning shooters to specific targets, etc.  This exercise really highlights how sniping is a much broader subject encompassing many more skills than mere 'precision rifle' or 'long range shooting'.

After the team exercise we broke for lunch.  A student had asked Eric what was in his rather large ruck, so he spent the lunch break going through his gear.  If you're interested, his Guerrilla Sniper gear is a subset of what you see in his article, Plus the Kitchen Sink on WT.  This discussion segued into a bit of talk about camouflage, particularly camouflaging optics.


After lunch we worked on some moving target drills.  The range is in the process of installing a butts system, so they have a wide trench deep enough to stand up in right before the 1000 yard berm.  We had one team of students in the trench, safely under cover, carrying the targets back and forth while another group engaged from 100 yards.  At 100 you don't really have to lead a walking target much, but you do have to successfully track them as they move.  Scott Vandiver demonstrated how to do this effectively.  He recommended that instead of shooting off your bipod, you shoot off your rucksack, with the bag as far back along the forend as you can get it.  This allows you to get the maximum amount of angular movement without shifting your body much.



Next up was our final exercise.  During lunch, Gabe put out half a dozen steel targets in the field next to the range.  We would climb the hill where we did the high angle shooting, locate the targets, and engage them with coordinated fire from the entire class.  

Gabe made this a very student led exercise: he briefed the leaders of the four teams, who chose an overall leader and planned the operation.  We drove the cars back to the 1000 yard line to get them out of the way and set off for the hill.  This is where some folks with really heavy rifles were feeling it a bit.  Gabe's mission brief said that there was the possibility of opposition en-route, but it's not easy to hold an 18 pound rifle in the ready position while walking a third of a mile and climbing a steep, rocky hill.  




Once everyone was in position the students started glassing the area in front of us for the targets.  Three were fairly easy to find and these got shot in short order.  One was a lot harder, and the students weren't able to locate it until Gabe talked then on to it.  The last one was so well hidden that even Gabe wasn't able to locate it at first, and he'd put it out there.  Eventually one of the students managed to locate it and they engaged that one as well.  







With all the targets thoroughly shot (including one that the students had literally shot to the ground by knocking it over) we headed down the hill and back to the vehicles.  There we wrapped up the class, handed out the certificates and went our separate ways.


Final Thoughts

As expected, this was a great class.  Gabe did a great job teaching it, ably assisted by major contributions from Eric Pfleger and Scott Vandiver.  It was great to see Scott and Eric again, and I really enjoyed meeting Keith Seto and Dave Sauer.  

We had a great group of students.  Every one of them was a GS graduate and every one had the fundamental skills and equipment.  Often, I can look at a class and pick out the students who really might have been better off taking a more basic class but there was no one like that here.

Guerrilla Sniper II is really all about field marksmanship.  This is the class that takes you off the range.  It takes the fundamental marksmanship skills you learned in the original Guerrilla Sniper course and applies them in more realistic conditions: positions beyond prone, shooting from the field rather than  the range, engaging moving targets, high angle targets, and targets out in the field conditions rather than up against the berm.

I was really happy with how my setup ran.  I've refined this over the course of a couple of classes and there's very little I'd change about it at this point.  The investment, particularly in good glass, was really worth it.  That said, I'm probably going to be running a very different rig next year.  While I love my Savage, I really want to see what a semi-auto GSR can do.  I've got a PTR91GI which is going out to Investment Grade Firearms to get a rail welded on the top cover.   With the appropriate optic, that should make a nice semi-auto GSR.

Guerrilla Sniper II is a great class, and I highly recommend it to any GS1 graduates who want to take their skills even further.  Gabe will be teaching it  in Kingman again next fall.  Eric Pfleger and Scott Vandiver have the go-ahead to teach this class themselves, so keep an eye out for it in other parts of the country in the future.


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Great write up Chris, as usual!

Excellent writeup. Almost made me feel like I was right there and the photos were superb. I so wish my health allowed me to partake of these classes and workouts.
Thank you so much for the great narrative and making us out here who couldn't attend feel like we are still a part of it. Just fantastic! Semper Fi!

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The Suarez International Blog is a "warrior lifestyle" publication dedicated to the modern excellence-seeking martial enthusiast. Every article and video will feature the most up to date weapons, tactics, technology, and training methods available today. Not limited to merely "guns", we include articles on international adventure travel, extreme physical training, and living well in the modern world.