AAR: Off the Reservation
April 30 – May 2, 2010
NRA Whittington Center, Raton, NM
I’m a little bit behind on this After Action Review of the first Off the Reservation Course at the NRA Whittington Center in Raton, NM. The course itself was a great time and everyone, including the instructor, learned something new about their rifle, ammunition, and optics. So, it was a good course. We had students from both Texas and Chicago who all drove to the course so we are appreciative for that. The NRA Whittington Center is a great place for this type of training and everyone was appreciative of the beautiful scenery. Our camp area is in the canyon where we shoot and it is a beautiful, remote area that makes for a great 3 day wilderness style training vacation. We also had cabins available for students who would rather not stay in the training area. Also Tom Cecil, of Mr. C’s Barbeque, did the catering for the course. And as always, Tom’s cooking expertise is greatly appreciated.
Day 1 – Classroom Instruction
We occupied the Cooper Range Walk Building for the classroom instruction and its 500 yard range for sighting in the rifles and gathering data at 200 yards. We had a variety of rifles but were all on the bolt action platform.
- Savage .308 on a McMillan Stock
- Savage .308 on a Choate fixed Stock
- Remington 700 chambered in .308 WIN
- .300 Weatherby Magnum on a AICS Stock
- Desert Tactical .243 Winchester
Our classroom instruction took care of most of this day and we covered everything from Internal/External/Terminal Ballistics, Marksmanship Techniques, and Optical Adjustments. The only thing lacking from this day was a Maintenance Lecture, which is very important. But we have an online video that outlines the procedures, so it did not detract from the course overall.
One of the students brought a chronograph with him, so we chronographed the ammunition at the temperature and elevation differences to update ballistic tables. Several students had ballistic programs built into their phones and got a chance to test the theoretical vs. real world data with some good results throughout the course. Most were way off, but I didn’t get a chance to really go through the programs with them so I don’ t have specifics on it.
The weather this day was windy, cold, and had weather systems moving in and out of the area very fast. The temperature stayed around high 40’s to low 50’s throughout. Even though we were indoors for the day, it set the tone for the remainder of the course.
Day 2 – Known Distance Data Gathering
We began the day at the Café for breakfast and then moved out to the canyon range for a day of Known Distance Data Gathering. The range itself has firing points on one side of the canyon, engaging targets set at 400, 600, 800, 1000, and 1100 yards. The firing points are set on the switchback roads leading up the canyon and they are a hike, but nothing too difficult. This class did a great job and I think we all learned a little bit about our current physical conditions. All of our Off the Reservation courses are open to shooters of all age categories and physical abilities. We have vehicles on standby for those who cannot make the hike, although again, it isn’t difficult.
Our courses are set up in Shooter/Spotter Teams and everyone started right off of the bat communicating to each other. Data books were used extensively during the course and I was impressed with how each spotter kept track of the shooter’s data. Most of the time I have to keep reminding everyone to do this. By the end of the first day, everyone had the opportunity to spot the atmospheric disturbance of the projectile, or trace, of the round and was able to consistently adjust the shooter and track the impact of the projectile. Again, very impressed.
We finished the day off at 800 yards and broke for dinner at the Café. The range was prepped for the final day’s Unknown Distance Engagements and several additional steel targets were placed on the range at varying distances.
Day 3 – Unknown Distance Gathering
The final day was Unknown Distance Gathering. We took time to properly gather data at 1000 yards, from what we ran out of time with the day prior. Then we set our optics to 600 yards and started working hold-offs in both elevation and windage. We still had target reference points to orientate off of, so the students weren’t shooting blind. But it was still difficult to judge both the distances and the wind based on this bracketing method. Range estimation is a difficult thing to master. By the end of the day, we had personal records shattered for long distance hits out to 1100 yards, several consistently.
Both shooting days had a wide mix of weather. Each morning we would start off at 60’s and 70’s with very little clouds in the sky, where t-shirts were worn and sunscreen was put on. Once the afternoon rolled around, the temperature would drop down into the mid-40’s and storm clouds would roll in, bringing both wind and snow. At one point on the final day’s shooting, we had to take a break from firing because lightning was striking over the firing line – in a snowstorm! I have never seen anything like that in my life. But, that is the beauty of shooting at the NRA Whittington Center. You truly do not know what you’re going to get.
The rifles performed well, for the most part. I was particularly interested in the Desert Tactical Stealth Recon Scout Rifle. I wanted to see how well it performed for the design. I’m not a bullpup fan, but it does have its merit. This particular rifle performed real well during the first day of shooting on the Known Distance Range. The second day, the student who owned the rifle got set into his position and pulled the trigger and nothing happened. I could hear the firing pin fall but there were no marks on the primers. Without taking the rifle apart, I had the student try another lot of ammunition. Same thing. So, we took the rifle apart and the firing pin had broken. Never in my over 10 years of working with these rifle platforms have I seen this happen, especially in a rifle with less than 200 rounds through it.
Does it mean that it is a garbage rifle? No. More than likely it is a heat treat issue to harden the firing pin that has made it brittle or it’s the wrong material altogether. And it may not be either, but there’s definitely an issue. This is an easy fix with a replacement firing pin with the correct hardness. But it is something that should be taken into consideration for those of you who already own one. I will post an update to this problem and what has been done to fix it later.
This course was a success on many different levels. The Off the Reservation instructional format helped reinforce the material taught by taking the shooters into an unrestricted environment. It forces each one of them to really focus from shot to shot and working in a shooter/spotter team keeps everyone engaged at all times. This also reinforces the understanding of internal/external ballistics and to help diagnose accuracy issues. Now, everyone can go home now and progress forward with their long range shooting hobby and relate everything they did at the course to additional platforms and cartridges. Everything is relative.
I like being in the Northern New Mexico landscape, especially with those who have never been there before. It’s like stumbling upon an oasis in a desert of 45 minute work commutes and city skylines. It’s a refreshing break that helps put life back into perspective.