AAR PM30 Off the Reservation – July 10-12, 2010

AAR PM30 Off the Reservation

NRA Whittington Center

Raton, NM

July 10-12, 2010

When asked how he got to be such a good shooter, Simo Häyhä, the prominent Finnish Sniper of the Finnish/Russian White War replied, “Practice.” (Simo Häyhä the Greatest Sniper)  When I read this, I thought there could not be a more honest answer.

Mr. Häyhä is credited with over 500 confirmed kills as sniper with 200 unconfirmed, but Mr. Häyhä was not alone in this venture.  His time fighting during the Winter War lasted approximately 100 days and there were others working along with him.  The work the Finnish Snipers did during that time echoes today.  There is immense pride among the Finnish people and especially among the family members of the Finnish Snipers.  We were honored to have one of those family members in our last OTR PM30 Course at the NRA Whittington Center.  His journey consisted of previously tracing the footsteps of his grandfather in Finland, harboring a desire to learn long range precision shooting.  This brought him to New Mexico and to the PM30 Course.

The course itself had shooters from all over the country, with a wide variety of backgrounds.  Some were previous students from courses years ago, some were military instructors looking for a new perspective and location to shoot, and some were avid hunters working on the characteristics of their rifle platform to see what it would do at the distances.  Regardless of reason, we were honored to have them all with us at the NRAWC and the course was a great success with 3 inductees into the 1100 Club.  This is a good thing.

Day 1 – Classroom Instruction

This course started off just as every other has at the beautiful NRA Whittington Center in Raton, NM.  Some rain clouds on the horizon, with some small drops of rain coming down as we met at our rendezvous spot on the evening of July 09, 2010.  Everyone was on time and anxious to get to the campsite to get set up.  I was anxious to get a fire going because that’s the best part.  We stay up in one of the Backcountry Canyons, which is approximately 10 miles from the front gates.  This gives us the opportunity to conduct the type of training that is met in the real world.  This is very important because it shakes off the chains of constraint and allows us to optimize our courses of fire.  It is also a wild area and we get to see a variety of wildlife in their natural setting.

The first day is classroom instruction and we sight in our rifles.  We utilize the Cooper Range Walk for both classroom and sighting in.  This gives us the ability to garner a solid 100 yard zero and gather some data between 200-400 yards, as long as the weather and light conditions hold.  We ran into a heavy, but very fast, rain deluge that put our additional shooting on hold for the evening, but did not affect the overall course.  No one was washed out at the campsite and again, another campfire fixes everything.  The classroom instruction went well and everyone picked up the material very quickly.  This was apparent during the next two days on the range.

Day 2 – Known Distance Gathering

The rifle platforms utilized were:

Barrett M98B – .338 Lapua Magnum

Sako TRG – .308 WIN

M1A – .308 WIN

Custom PM30 Rifle – .308 WIN

Knights SR-25 (vintage) – .308 WIN


Nightforce NXS – unknown magnification

Leupold Mark IV with M3 BDC Elevation – Fixed 10X

Vortex RAZOR – 5x20x50mm with MOA Reticle

The first day always begins at 400 yards.  After breakfast, with everyone’s gear packed to move, we began the 1000 feet altitude ascent in our shooter/spotter teams.  Base camp is at roughly 6000 feet and our firing points are between 7000-7500 feet ASL, so we took our time moving.  The movements are not long but the altitude is what makes it challenging.  But without the altitude, we wouldn’t get the majestic views and challenging engagements across the canyon.  This is what makes the course.

Working in Shooter/Spotter teams for the first time is challenging in itself, especially with someone you had never met before.  Communication is very important and you want to do well for the shooter, so they are not shooting blind.  Spotting is the most difficult part of long range precision shooting and it is a skill that takes a lifetime to master.  Calling winds challenges shooters from every background when engaging targets across the canyon.  Winds do weird things and travel in strange directions at unforeseeable times.  But each time this happens is a learning point.  We take that with us wherever we go.  Both shooters and spotters became proficient in reading the trace of the round, some it took longer in the day and some picked it up right away.  Regardless of when it happened, it happened.   Everyone knows what to look for in this atmospheric disturbance and how to properly utilize it to adjust the impact of the round.

Data books were also introduced on Day 2, in a practical manner.  We cover it during the classroom portion but actually use it during data gathering.  This can be somewhat technical but a rhythm is developed throughout Day 2 and Day 3.  The Data Books are very important because they are the reference material from those individual shooting iterations.  The Spotter writes for the Shooter and vice/versa when they change over.  So, it behooves everyone to be as detailed as possible and communicate in a manner that can be reference at a later date.  Overall, everyone did fantastic with this.

We engaged targets at 400, 600, and 800 yards throughout the day and into the evening.  We finished when the light conditions were too dark to positively identify the target at those ranges.  It was a good lesson in sight picture and how light conditions affect how we perceive the target.  The rain kept up with us throughout the course, with the exception of the final day.  We did beat the rain down on the firing line but it caught up to us at the base camp and we shut the fire down early.  This was a good thing though because everyone was tired from the day and was in need of a good night’s rest.

Day 3 – Unknown Distance Gathering

Breakfast at the NRAWC is one of the best times of the day.  Tom Cecil is the man in charge and his cooks do a wonderful job of maintaining morale with their cooking.  After a few cups of coffee and some eggs, potatoes, sausage and pancakes, we head back to the training area to finish out the day.  The targets change from Known Distance to Unknown Distance and the Shooter/Spotter teams must now identify the targets in a specified area by creating a terrain sketch and estimating the range to each.  This day we set our optics to our 600 yard setting and utilize the reticle units of measurement to hold over/under the target.  Most had Mil Dot reticles.  The Vortex Razor had MOA increments in the reticle and it worked fantastic.  I was very impressed with the company matching the reticle to the optic’s units of adjustment.  The Razor performed great overall and we recommend this optic.

The teams did well with their sketches, identifying the targets, and ranges.  There are several reference points from the previous day that helps but it is difficult to judge distance in terrain like that.  Spotters were key on this day.  Their adjustments have a base, knowing what 1 mil equals in MOA, but nothing is definite and the external factors especially weigh in heavy.  But overall, everyone did absolutely fantastic.  Spotters were communicating very well with the shooter and each shooter themselves actively employed the course information and it reflected consistently at the target area.  We had three inductees into the 1100 Club and we are very proud of that.  The targets are roughly 1 – 1.5 MOA at 1100 yards, which is not an easy shot whatsoever and we had over 50% of the course impact at that distance.  Our hats are off to that feat.

PM30 – July 10-12, 2010

Overall this course was one for the history book.  We are very proud everyone who attended and thankful for the opportunity to get to spend time with each individual who decided to make the journey to shoot with us.  It is a journey too.  We hope that everyone came out of the course with what they came to get.  Times like these are few and far between in life and we hold on to them because our days are not certain.  Spending time outdoors, with good friends and family, make memories that will not be easily forgotten.  Thank you again to everyone who participated for making this class a great experience for everyone.


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