Practicing The Practical
Soccer Ball Hits Are The Goal.
Like a lot of guys who grew up shooting and hunting, I’ve found myself, over the years, spending too much time on one or two shooting disciplines to the exclusion of others. Concentrating mainly on banging away with revolvers, autos and various shotguns, I confess to letting my rifle skills sort of fall by the wayside. Now, as a recreational shooter, I’m not talking about plinking with a .22 or smacking steel plates at (relatively) short ranges with whatever AK, AR or Cowboy Action levergun is lying around.
I’m talking about using a serious, scoped bolt-action at distance.
I don’t do a whole lot of big-game hunting so, like many of us, I generally head out to the range once or twice a year to check the zero (off the bench, naturally). I’ll set the rifle to print dead-on at 200 yards if necessary, and maybe take a couple of pops at an inviting dirt clod at the 300-yard berm, just to figure out what I might expect should the buck of lifetime show up there someday.
My feeling on shots much past the magical point-blank distance (usually a bit under 250 yards with the stuff I use) is roughly in sync with Woody Hayes’ (or was it Darrell Royal?) opinion of the forward pass—“Three things can happen, and two of them are bad.” I’ve seen things go sour when one of those endless ballistic variables decided to rear its ugly head. Or when the shooter just plain tanked things. “Shoot at hair, never at air,” seems to me to be a pretty sound piece of advice.
But—even in an era of mind-bogglingly accurate AR’s—a scoped bolt-gun still rates as an outstanding long-range power tool. And I feel kind of guilty for owning one and not stretching its envelope—sort of like the guy who only uses his high-end Porsche to run to the supermarket.
I recently had the opportunity to visit Gunsite Academy in Paulden, Ariz., to take a 3-day course in practical rifle shooting under the supervision of Ed Head and Mike Moore, two instructors with a singularly no-nonsense approach to achieving field proficiency. Essentially, the course was hunting-oriented—although, it being Gunsite—certain tactical techniques from “less-sporting” courses were applied. These included speedy reloads, squaring the body directly toward the target instead of employing a “bladed” conventional offhand stance, and working the bolt hard without removing the butt from your shoulder. You are free to shoot from any position you want, and you are equally free, of course, to live with the results! I stuck with a self-imposed limit of 100 yards for offhand shots and generally went to bipod-prone for everything beyond.
The need for smoothness, uniformity and no wasted motion were continually pounded into us. Although hunting certainly can’t equate to combat in terms of stress levels, you will, in moments of excitement, automatically revert to the gunhandling techniques you’ve practiced repeatedly. And the shared goal of Ed and Mike is to ensure those techniques are the most efficient and effective ones.
In the interests of gear and ballistic uniformity, our class—comprised of assorted gunwriting and magazine types—was issued 22-inch barreled Ruger American bolt actions in .308, topped with Redfield 3-9×40 Revolution scopes. The issue ammo was Hornady 168-grain A-Max Match (which was to prove pretty spectacular across the board).
The first order of business took place in a classroom, where Ed and Mike—with the assistance of reps from Hornady, Redfield and Ruger—familiarized us with the rifle and scope, and gave us the trajectory lowdown on the load. I was pretty happy with the out-of-the-box trigger pull on my rifle (a crisp 4-1/2 pounds), but Mike obliged some of my more persnickety classmates by adjusting theirs downward a touch. The Revolution scopes feature the now-standard .25-minute adjustments and straight-ahead 4-Plex reticles. No mil-dots or math-major grids here. We weren’t there for a precision sniper class.
The name of the game was field shooting in hunting situations, using the type of baseline setup most hunters would actually carry. The 2,700 fps load would, theoretically—if set dead on at 200 yards—hit 2 inches high at 100, 8.40 inches low at 300 and 24.30 inches low at 400. Of course, reality seldom precisely matches the neat little table on the ammo box, but those figures do put you in the ballpark.
The first order of business was to zero our rifles from either prone, using the short folding bipod we’d grafted on to the forward sling-swivel stud, or from a sitting position using the Bog Pod. All groups, incidentally, were 4-shot ones—in keeping with the capacity of the American’s detachable polymer magazine.
A practical package, Ruger’s American topped with a 3-9×40 Redfield
Revolution is capable of accuracy (below) far out of proportion to
its price tag.
The slings we were using are more properly referred to as “carrying straps.” At Gunsite, a slung rifle is analogous to a holstered pistol—if you’re not actively involved in shooting, your shoulder is where the rifle’s got to be, unless you choose to rack it.
Once everyone had their zero, we were good to go, hitting several of the 2,000-acre facility’s seemingly endless array of ranges over a 3-day period, each specifically designed for something different. If you’re the type who gets bored banging away at the same square range day after day, I can pretty much guarantee there’s no end of imaginatively-tweaked setups here designed to keep you on your toes.
Of course, with founder Jeff Cooper’s military credentials, it’s not too surprising several of the ranges are named after iconic Medal of Honor winners—Samuel Woodfill, Hermann Hanneken and Alvin York. And considering the late Colonel’s fondness for African hunting, it’s equally fitting two of the evocatively-named ranges—the Vlei and the Donga—reflect his passion.
The Vlei can best be described as sort of a “sporting clays” setup. You walk along a wide track in a brush-filled draw in the company of an instructor. Every couple of steps you take reveals a formerly obscured steel silhouette target. Your challenge is to make a first-round hit in as short a time frame as possible. The Scrambler provides a less leisurely approach. You know in advance where the firing positions are located and are free to use natural rests from any position that strikes your fancy, but you must “scramble” against the clock to complete the course of fire. You are allowed two shots at each station. Missing them both adds 5 seconds to your time and presents interesting reloading challenges with the American’s 4-round detachable magazine.
The record, we were told, is 31 seconds and was set by a Marine packing 60 pounds worth of full “battle rattle.” Needless to say, the record still stands. Our final class “shoot-off” consisted of hitting a 100-, 200-, 300- and 400-yard steel silhouette in order. The fastest gun won, which in this case was operated rather well by outdoor writer/photographer Ron Spomer.
A final word about the Redfield-scoped Ruger American “package gun” we used. Every now and again a major company puts out a “sleeper”—a rifle capable of shooting way out of proportion to its price tag. Remington’s late, lamented Model 788 (introduced in 1967) was one, as was the original Savage Model 110 (introduced in 1958). The retail on the Ruger/Redfield combo is $679 and the real-world price is expected to be in the “mid-500’s” or less. Our Gunsite instructors were very high on it. My particular rifle was sub-MOA, and rewarded me with a softball-size cluster on the 400-yard steel from the prone position. To be honest, I still don’t know if I’d want to take a poke at a game animal at 400 yards, but it’d be awful nice to be packing a rifle capable of it.
By Payton Miller
2900 Gunsite Rd., Paulden, AZ 86334
3265 West Old Potash Hwy., Grand Island, NE 68803
Sturm, Ruger & Company
411 Sunapee St., Newport, NH 03773
14400 NW Greenbrier Pkwy.
Beaverton, OR 97006