AAR: VHA Course – Ft. Pierre, SD
June 14-16, 2010
This was the first of our VHA Courses, located at the Varmint Hunter Association Range in Ft. Pierre, SD and it was a great time. We had three students who traveled all the way from Virginia to attend and one local man from SD. But both had some long drives to come and shoot with us and we appreciate that. We had a mix of rifles and cartridges in the course, which gave a nice variety and every one of them performed fantastically. And this is no understatement. It was not an easy course.
Day 1: Classroom Instruction
Our training methodology consists of one full day of classroom instruction on the Rifle Platform/Cartridge/Internal Ballistics, External Ballistics, Marksmanship Techniques and Optical Adjustments. The purpose of this is to give all the information in a controlled learning environment, prior to the range, to better grasp the concepts behind long range shooting. By receiving the technical information at the beginning, this helps the student to understand the dynamics imparted on the projectile, both internally and externally, to be able to properly adjust depending on the Point of Impact. This also is aided with a Shooter/Spotter Team method. Having two individuals, working together to chart and document each individual shooting iteration, creates a learning environment where everyone is constantly engaged 100% of the time. The instructor will spot during our courses, but they do not just give the student the adjustments. We make the student think for themselves. The whole point of our methodology is for our students to be able to take what they learned and apply it to every platform/cartridge. And this course worked very well for that because three of our students went directly to a Prairie Dog Shoot in relatively the same conditions as what the course was run in. They were successful and that is our goal as a long range rifle instructional entity.
So the first day consisted of the classroom instruction and we sighted in at 100 yards. The beauty of the VHA Range is that they are a benchrest competition range and have concrete benches already in place. They have a lane set up specifically for 100 yard zeros and there was one gentleman there who was in the state to Prairie Dog Hunt and was sighting in his rifles. This is something to consider if you are in the area. The Varmint Hunter Association is very proactive in the sport and has great facilities.
Day 2: Known Distance Engagement
The purpose of the KD Engagements is to instill a strong fundamental base and also get the students used to working and communicating in a Shooter/Spotter Team Environment. Spotting is the most difficult part of long range precision shooting and we were all thankful for the environmental conditions. It was a beautiful day to shoot with very little winds. The Known Distance Engagements were out from 200 to 600 yards at targets of 4” to 6” in diameter. I mentioned that we had a nice variety of cartridges in the course: two 6.5 Grendels built by Les Baer and Alexander Arms, a stock Armalite AR10, and a Remington 700 in .308 WIN on a AICS Stock. What was interesting about this course is that we had two cartridges with different projectiles that perform well in the same ranges. The retained energy of the 6.5 Grendel next to the .308 WIN was impressive. We lost a couple of targets at 200 and 300 yards by either flipping them over or shooting them off and it performed spectacularly at over 1000 yards. This was my first encounter with the 6.5 Grendel and it is an impressive round.
By the end of the day, each spotter was calling and adjusting correctly which was a very important factor for the last day of the course: Unknown Distance Engagements. We also identified many of the shooters weak points, or focal points, and this translated very heavily to the UKD Day.
Day 3: Unknown Distance Engagements
The final day of the course was a little more of a challenge to the shooter but more so, the spotter. We started the day off in 8-12 mph sustained winds that grew over the course of the day to anywhere from 16-20 mph. This is typical of June in the upper Midwest. We have nothing to stop the wind here and as the day heats up, the winds will increase right along with it. Fortunately the winds were somewhat of a no to half value for the majority of the targets engaged, but it really was a great learning lesson on how the angle of the wind affects how much effect it puts on the projectile. Some targets were more of a 10 o’clock and some were a straight 12 o’clock wind. And this really made a difference down at the target area between a 123 grain projectile and 168 grain projectile.
Reading the trace is also difficult during days like this. The winds not only affect the perception of the atmospheric disturbance but it also affects the shooters themselves. It is hard to spot this elusive trace when the spotting scope is moving because of the high winds. But overall, all of the spotters did great with these constraints. The winds were high throughout the entire day, but they were consistent. As long as they stay consistent, you can work within those perimeters.
The farthest target, 11”x17”, was out to 1050 yards and by the time we worked out way out to that distance, the winds were pretty high, but again consistently. I was very impressed with how the shooter/spotter teams quickly adjusted, especially when this is the farthest any of them had ever shot before. The AR10, which we had diagnosed at about a 1.5-2 MOA accuracy expectation, was the first to hit and hit consistently. This was due impart to the shooter doing a great job utilizing proper techniques and the spotter doing a great job with holdoff adjustment. The 6.5 Grendels also performed amazingly at this distance with both rifles hitting consistently. Again, this is attributed to the shooter/spotter team combination and shooters doing a great job consistently. The Remington 700 AICS also did very well. The shooter brought his own loads and once was on target, did a rapid succession of 3 out of 5 shots at 1050 yards, which was impressive in 18-20mph winds.
I had planned on doing a side by side characteristic comparison of the 6.5 Grendel and the 6.8 SPC but there was really no need for it. The 6.8 SPC is not a long range cartridge and does not hold a candle to the 6.5 Grendel at the distances we were engaging.
Overall, this was another great course with great individuals attending. Dan, Danny, Eugene, and Dale made the very first VHA Courses a great success with their individual abilities and enthusiasm for the sport. The three Virginians then went to the Standing Rock Reservation to shoot Prairie Dogs and their report is as follows:
“…We did our weather checks and winds were 20-25 sustained, gusts to 50 on the first day (Thu), and 25-30 sustained, 47 gusts on Friday. It was challenging, but fun. Great practical application after attending your course. The key thing was the hold-overs required because of the wind and almost 360 deg engagement sectors…not enough time to change the scope, although Eug did that for elevation. So…after practicing a day of holdovers with you, we were very ready.
I fired all the rifles I brought. Grendel/6.5, R700/223, Smitty M&P15/223, and CZ-452/17HMR. I “blooded” all of them, multiple times. Engagement ranges averaged 100-200 yds, but my max range was 310 yds with the Grendel, which needed rezero’ing after our workout.
I hit targets to 300 with the R700, which I bought off Eug…former FBI agent’s personal sniper rifle that was tricked out by the FBI gunsmith. That thing’s a laser, and fun to shoot. This I used the first day in the morning, along with the Grendel for a few rounds around closing time.
The second day, I used my M&P15, which has nice optics, and when firing 77gr SSA OTM, it’s very accurate. Winds were really bad, and even so, the gun was fun to shoot because you had immediate reloads and could keep engaging, given proper recoil mgmt. I found holding my barrel down on the gun rest to be the only way to keep engaging rapid fire with a good sight picture. It worked well to adjust holdovers with the wind situation. I did go prone and get downrange a bit doing a low crawl. Got a few kills by laying low.
The 17HMR was a real joy (and cheap!) to shoot. While not as powerful, we really challenged ourselves with the holdovers because it needed such high/wide aimpoints. Some of the shots out to 200 yards had the PD off the scope’s FOV edge. Max kill range for me was 170yds, in a cross wind. I didn’t have enough scope to engage further…holdovers wouldn’t be within the FOV. I did engage 6 targets within 3 feet of each other, 3 on either side of a mound, with the HMR. Hit all of them, 5 kills, and one liimped to the hole. The issue with the HMR at range was having to shoot multiple times for a kill…not enough stopping power.
All in all, I fired about 1100 rounds last week. Outstanding course and immediate practical shooting experience. Going back to the 100 yrd range with nothing moving will seem boring!!”
We want to thank our students for shooting with and the Varmint Hunter Association for their outstanding facilities and range support during the three day excursion. For more information on the Varmint Hunter Association, you can visit their website or call 1-800-528-4868.