Student Review: Long Range Marksmanship September 2020 – Tony

TL;DR: This class is fantastic! Dave and Donnie were amazing instructors and fonts of incredibly useful, and immediately applicable wisdom. The weekend only format lends itself to those with time constraints, and also in my opinion allows for ready repeatability (which I intend to do.) The course Max has at the MVT for long range is fantastic. If you want to shoot beyond the usual ‘tactical’ ranges, and get great hands on experience from some of the best instructors, this is the class for you. Do not pass up this opportunity the next time it comes around! Do not think that you are not experienced enough to take the class because several of us fell more on the basic end of the scale and Dave & Donnie did great things with all of us.

My background: 8+ years US Army Reserve in service support MOS and units in the 90’s, usually qualified as Expert on the pop-up qual courses. Shot in NRA high power and CMP rifle matches, middle of the road at my absolute best (usually bottom third), and almost exclusively on 100m or 200m ranges with the ‘reduced’ targets. Only shot on a competition range over 400m twice, never on a 1000m range. Never had to really adjust for wind, or bullet drop in my life.

My goal: get focused instruction from the ground up on how to engage targets effectively from 600-1000m and be capable of using my equipment effectively. I say this because while I ‘picked up’ lots of advice over the years at competitions and on forums, other than the Army’s BCM no one has ever ‘taught’ me to shoot – it’s been all experiential. I don’t want to waste time and ammo (which is approaching the price of gold these days) trying to figure it out on my own and I learn better in a structured, instructor-led environment versus doing it on my own.

Disclaimer: I encountered an equipment issue caused by ‘user headspace error’ which limited my ability to shoot on the second day. Even so, I still learned a tremendous amount on Day 2 by spotting for other shooters, watching everyone, and listening to all the corrections and advice coming from Dave and Donnie. I could have continued shooting since at least half my classmates and Donnie all offered me the chance to shoot their rifles, but I wanted to get better at using my rifle and optics (and if I hadn’t been a bonehead and knew my equipment better it would never have been an issue, so I suppose I was also punishing myself for being a dumbass.)

Classmates: There were a total of seven of us in the class, and ranged in age from college-aged to…let’s just say, not college-aged 😉 We also had a fair amount of spread in marksmanship ability, I won’t speak anyone else, but at the one end with ‘basic’ skills we had me, and at the far end we had a couple of dead-eyed shots who clearly had spent a lot of time behind their weapon knocking the wings off of gnats. The important take-away from this is that everyone of us benefited from the class, and that no one was at a disadvantage based on their skill level. Your skill level is not, repeat **not** an excuse to not take this class – unless MAYBE you’re already a top-tier sniper.

Course layout: This was a two-day, weekend course. Day one started with standard meet up, paperwork, and meet and greet of the class. Then we dove into the classroom portion, which is where you learn the how and why of what you need to do. While the topic could certainly be extended to days, given all that’s involved, Dave kept it focused on what you needed to know and showed a practical approach that ensured that you didn’t get lost in the weeds. Along the way he debunked, and showed the reasons why it was debunked, so many long range/sniping stories/myths/urban-legends that have grown up over the years of the GWOT, which was both enlightening and entertaining. One thing that I hope he adds on the next iteration in classroom though is a more detailed example of finding and applying the ballistic information for a particular round to create your initial table, I had trouble with that ‘homework’ personally and some kind of example would have helped me (that being said, I appeared to be the only one since everyone else had their info on Sunday morning.) We covered the elements needed for successful long-range shooting, and what comprised them, e.g. physical things like position and breathing, as well as wetware things like wind estimation and ballistics dope (if you want more specifics, come out to the class!)

The afternoon of Day 1 was spent zeroing rifles at a 100m. This was also the start of Dave being able to tweak/critique/suggest changes to our individual positioning and get us to find our natural point of aim. This took a lot of the things that he talked about in the classroom portion and put them in play with each of us to improve our position and achieve a natural point of aim, while addressing any physical issues that anyone might have had that made things more difficult or uncomfortable. He also was able to spot/inspect/fix several scope issues that people were encountering, including a couple of parallax issues. After everyone got their zero dialed in for the day, we broke for the day.

Day 2 started earlier than Day 1 in our iteration with the goal being to have everyone and their gear at the top of the range well before the sun started heating up the valleys. They ran us and our gear out in the ATV’s in a couple of relays, so thankfully we didn’t have to hump all our gear up there. The range setup is pretty spectacular and crosses two valleys/hollows from the squadding area to the furthest target. There are three primary target areas with multiple targets in each area (although in the AAR there was discussion of spending more of Max’s time and money to add another area and expand the existing ones) with targets ranging from 200m-970m (these numbers based off of classmates’ range finders.) The squadding area has room for four shooters comfortably (more if you pack in,) but at the time we shot the foliage overhang impeded the ability to see some of the targets on one of the flank positions. In total there were eight targets spread between the three target areas, and they were at different positions within the area so you basically had eight different distances to work with to see the effect on your particular ballistics. Stacking four shooters on the pad isn’t difficult, but also putting four spotters directly behind crowds the area somewhat, so you have to be careful moving in and out of position to not interfere with another pair. The only downside that I saw with this setup though was in communication, as with the closeness it became difficult at times to correctly identify which correction/call was meant for whom.

We had amazing conditions for almost the entirety of the day, a little rain at one point, and some minor wind later in the day. However, this was a perfect day for getting data on one’s rifle/round combo! As spotters we missed out on the ability to work on our wind calls because there was so little wind. However, we were able to visually see some of the things that Dave showed on the board in the classroom portion and see how to use mirage as one of the things to gauge wind direction and speed. Dave also ensured that everyone had seen trace before the day ended and went over some tips/tricks on the best way to set things up so that you could see it with your scope as a spotter. As a shooter trying to get data for your weapon, this day was perfection, but if you want to work on your ability as both a spotter and a shooter to deal with wind conditions, this day wasn’t what you’d want. Can’t blame (or praise) Dave or MVT for the conditions though, but you can praise them for how they adapted to the conditions to make the most of the opportunities offered by the day.

Generally speaking, everyone paired up and started with the closest targets getting the offsets needed before switching off so that the other person could do the same before a pair would move on to the next batch of targets. Dave and Donnie provided spotting help for those without a partner and for those needing an extra (and expert) pair of eyes to help get corrections. The class had a mix of platforms, from classic bolt action, to bolt-action AR, to standard AR, to customized rifle. We also had a nice mixture of calibers, with .308/7.62mm, 6.5mm Creedmoor, and .223/5.56mm. At least one student had brought multiple rifles (including an amazing AR10 pistol (IIRC) that reached out the full distance.) By the end of the class, every rifle (except the .223) reached out and hit the farthest target, even the .223 was able to get talked onto the next farthest target (which at ~950m is pretty amazing for that platform, and shows how well the instruction went I think.) A really nice bonus for everyone was that Dave brought a cellphone adapter for his spotting scope and was able to video everyone hitting the ultimate (or penultimate in the .223 case) targets – made even more spectacular because one student had brought Magneto target indicator lights, so you knew when a target was struck (or when it was close – which greatly improved the experience for everyone I think, and something that anyone shooting on their own range might want to consider investing in – I know I am!) So, everyone will have video proof of their accomplishment to brag to their friends and family – with proper editing, everyone can even look like a stone-cold, first round, single shot badass. 😊 Which, in fairness, several of my classmates were!!

There really was no time limit on Day 2, Dave said repeatedly that he was there all day regardless and willing to remain as long as anyone wanted to continue shooting. No one was ‘hurrying us out the door’ at all, in fact it was the reverse if anything as everyone was urged to continue shooting to make the most of the opportunity. When everyone did decide that they were finished, we packed up and went back down the mountain in a couple of ATV relays again. We did our AAR in the classroom with Dave, Donnie, and Max (in the background) and talked about the great (lots of stuff), the good (even more), the bad (almost nothing) and how we’d like to spend more of Max’s money to make the experience even better the next time. One of Max’s questions though was that if it was such an amazing experience, how come the class didn’t sell out? I’m assuming that the suggestion that travel restrictions and ammo availability were the cause, must be the case because this was some high-caliber, amazing training (what you come to expect from MVT every time) with amazing instructors. Not only should this class have been sold out, there should have been people badgering Max to increase the class size or run the class again soon. Personally, I found that the seven-person class was fantastic for allowing everyone to shoot as much as they wanted, with down time only if you wanted it. With a ten-person class limit, there would be some enforced down time on Day 2 as relays switched off on the squad areas and I think that Day 2 would have gone a little bit longer than my class did – not that that’s necessarily a bad thing.

Unless it conflicts with something super important, like family birth/death or critical work project, I intend to sign up for this class again the moment that Max, Dave and Donnie agree to do it again. No matter what your level of current marksmanship, this class will 1.) teach you fundamentals that will improve all of your marksmanship, not just long range; 2.) give you the tools and background needed to get better at longer ranges; 3.) give you the confidence that you know what to do, how to do it, and why you do it for creating the data necessary to be a repeatable long range marksman; and 4.) be an extraordinarily fun time! If you have even an inkling of wanting to shoot better at longer ranges, you are doing yourself a disservice if you don’t sign up for this class when it’s offered again in my opinion.