The very, very short version . . . what a fun day!!! Made solid hits at 435y and 500y and tagged a 16” steel plate at 800y a couple of times. Jim See is a very good instructor that is well worth your time and money! So, let’s spend some time on the details. This feels like a long post so grab an adult beverage and settle in!
I want to address this AAR in a couple different chunks.
What is the definition of “long range” shooting?
My weapon of choice. Why the heck are you shooting a short barreled .308 carbine? Increasing the accuracy of the LM-308 platform. Why replace the trigger group? Why that scope? Why a scope level? Why that bipod? What round for familiarization and what round for the coursework?
I want to chat a bit about Jim See, provide some links to his company and the company he shoots for and finally, an evaluation of his teaching style.
Homework. While I’ve spent time in the past reading about LR shooting and rifle shooting techniques – I really hit the books/videos/websites prior to start of this course. Let’s spend some energy on these resources as a starting point.
Sure Shot range is newish to our area – I’d like to spend some time on describing the range, its facilities and capabilities.
Finally, we’ll roll through the day – both classroom and range work. It was a busy day and while one might think the round count was a bit on the light side (I shot around 50 rounds) the learning that went on awesome.
What is Long Range Shooting?
It seems to be that the right answer to this is “whatever I say it is!” If you talk to most hunters it seems to be anything over 350 yard-ish. That is the most distant range it seems most are willing to say they are confident of making a solid kill shot on an animal. Of course there are those hunters who really work at their craft that will push this out to 400, 500 maybe even 600 yards. All that said, once these folks cross 350 yards, most see it as long range shooting.
Then there are the target shooters who typically practice at 500 yards and beyond with 1,000 yards plus just being part of their shooting distance. For these folks those distances beyond 500 yards would be defined as long distance shooting.
And then there are the real competitors – like Jim See. They shoot everything from 100 yards to 1,000+ yards. They are all simply part of the work that needs to be done. When I listened to Jim talk he put as much effort into the 100 yard shot as the 800 yard shot that we all had the chance to work on. I’m not sure he even thinks about “long range” – he’s more interested in bullet dope, ranges, elevations, wind direction, wind speed. I simply see Jim as a real, honest to goodness “shooter” regardless of the distance.
For me, I’m going to toss my hat in with those that feel that 350 yards or more is “long range”. My reasoning? It was quickly apparent that at the 500 yard distance wind was a tremendous factor and making the hit became much more a factor of being able to read the wind and compensate “on the fly” than being able to have a solid hold for elevation at the shooting distance. Your definition may well differ – no worries.
My weapon of choice.
Why the heck are you shooting a short barreled .308 carbine? Increasing the accuracy of the Panther Arms AP4 platform. Why that scope? Why a scope level? Why that bipod? What round for familiarization and what round for the coursework?
My weapon for the day was a Panther Arms AP4. This is my “heavy” rifle that was purchased primarily with personal defense in mind. Should the wheels come off in a truly big way, and defense of family and friends becomes a high priority, this type of platform is one I am familiar with, the cartridge is large enough to do real work over long distances and it also provides a solid hunting rifle should food gathering become a priority. (ok, tin foil is going back in the box . . .) Would I consider this a long range precision rifle? Probably not at first blush but after yesterday’s coursework I have no doubt that I can make a solid first round hit out to 500 yards easily provided all my fundamentals are solid.
I did do some work to enable me to be more accurate with my AP-4. First I added a front tripod. I mounted a Harris Bipod #5 Adaptor to the barrel guard. This involved drilling an appropriate sized hole centered on the bottom to the front guard just over 2-inches back from the front edge. I inverted the rear plate, slipped it inside the guard and screwed the mounting bracket through the guard and into the rear plate. This was a simple process requiring around 20 minutes.
Next I added a Harris S-BRM tripod. This had a number of advantages. The mounting plate “rocks” left and right so I could level the weapon once I was in my shooting position insuring I was level when I broke my shot. The extendable legs also have locking segments on both legs allowing me to “click” in each leg to identical lengths quickly and easily. Finally, just their reputation – they are widely acknowledged as making one of the best bipods on the market.
The stock trigger on the AP4 is “stiff” and somewhat variable from time to time. Replacing the trigger group with a more reliable one seemed a no brainer. I chose the Timney AR-10 4lb trigger pull group. Installation was very easy due to the trigger group being fully assembled in a solid aluminum housing. It required less than 20 minutes to remove the old trigger and drop in the new one. This is probably the single most important upgrade that I made on the weapon – it made a tremendous difference in my ability to shoot accurately.
Honestly, I could have chosen a better scope had I looked a few years into the future. I wasn’t thinking “long range shooting” or having to correct on the fly for variable winds. My mind set was much more in a close range, defensive shooting POV, with hunting as a backup need. My choice was the Nikon 6320 Prostaff 3-9x 40mm Matte Riflescope with a BDC reticle. The final result on the range though was nicely surprising. We’ll talk about this in more detail but by way of explanation our “final exam” was three 14x14 plates at 435 yards, 2 rounds on each plate in 30 seconds. I dialed in the dope on the scope, bagged up and was quickly rewarded by two solid first plates. After that I just lost it . . . but it was me, not the weapon or the scope. To mount the scope to the picatinny rails I used TMS Heavy Duty 1” mounts. Again, in hindsight there are much better choices I could have made but I have no room to fault the way the mounts performed during this course. To insure my scope was level, I added a Vortex Scope Level. While shooting at longer ranges a scope that has a slight cant to it can significantly impact the hit by a number of inches. The Vortex scope was solid insurance.
Finally, I added a combination of rear shooting bags that allowed me a range of adjustment from around 2 inches all the way up to around 10 inches. The idea of these are that you gently squeeze them for final adjustments of elevation before you press the trigger. If you rely on muscle control to provide a stable platform, over time you will see tremors in your scope because your muscles become tired. Using a good bipod and a set of rear bags help insure you have a stable platform before you break your shot. They definitely make the difference when shooting at these types of ranges.
I used two types of ammunition in preparing for the course and actually shooting during the course. For the precourse work I used Winchester .308 150 gr power point. It was very consistent throughout the 100-ish rounds I fired in preparation for the course. For the actual course work I used Hornady’s 178 gr, BTHP match cartridge. Its performance was flawless and the dope for the scope was very precise when dialed it in for 435 yards.
Jim is the owner/operator of Center Shot Rifles LLC of Decorah, Iowa. He is also a team shooter for Surgeon Rifles. He has two PRS season wins in 2015 with his most recent being a first place finish in the 2015 Heatstroke Open. In the 2015 Precision Rifle Series Jim is currently ranked 6th nationally. When he picked up his team gun and demonstrated specific things he wanted to clarify, it became quite apparent that his national ranking is well earned.
I arrived at the range a bit early just as John – the owner – was preparing to take our zero targets downrange to the 100y berm. Hands were shaken and introductions were made . . . and conversations began. I found Jim to be one of those instructors that are open, willing to talk, willing to share, intent on making sure everything he said and intended to pass on was understood. If any of us had a question he paused, thought a second or two and then jumped into as detailed a description as was needed to make sure the question was fully answered.
John is personable, obviously knowledgeable and has the ability to take what he knows and accurately share it with his students. He is NOT a “do it this way because I said so” but much more a “this works for me because . . . see if it works for you” kind of guy. He is a solid, clear, direct and experienced shooter and instructor. If you get the opportunity to take coursework from him, do it, without hesitation!
As I have said earlier, I am not a long range shooter. That does not mean in any way that I can’t become a long range shooter. Once I signed up for Jim’s course I “hit the books”. I began looking for foundational material. Since all the work was to be done in the prone position I looked for long range schools that published written material or provided online videos on how they taught this position. There is a lot of very good information out there and the vast majority of it tracked with what Jim taught.
I also ordered and watched the first 2 DVDs of MAGPUL’s “Art of Precision Rifle”. I must say I learned a great deal of the fundamentals from the first 2 DVDs and will make sure the remaining 3 are viewed in the next few weeks. There is nearly 10 hours of information in this series.
I also spent a fair amount of time on the JBM Ballistics website learning about how the bullets I was shooting would act over the 500 to 800 yard distances we would be shooting. They have a tremendous amount of information free for the taking – it is well worth the effort to spend some time on their website.
And, finally, spent a fair amount of time making sure I understood both the MOA and mil dot ranging systems. My scope is MOA but what I found was that while Jim was giving wind corrections, he invariable gave it in tenths of a mil dot. There in great value in understanding both systems well before you attend a long range school. As an intro to mil dot, Trijicon has as good an introduction as any out there.
There are dozens of ballistic calculator apps out there for smart phones. I have a Samsung Note3 that runs the Android OS. I chose the Strelok Pro app to use for this course. It’s very comprehensive allowing you to define specific guns, it has the ability to download specific cartridges and bullets, let’s you connect to local weather via the internet and provides clear doping information at the touch of a button. I’ll do a more comprehensive review later but I found that the Strelok Pro gave quick and accurate data.
Sure Shot Range and Gunsmithing
John Fetzer is the owner of Sure Shot. He built it on his farm in rural Iowa near Mount Auburn. It has been a work in progress over the past few years and currently has a 5-10 lane 50ft pistol bay with berms on three side, a set of steel plates located at 435 yards, 500 yards, 800 yards and two zeroing berms at 100 yards and 200 yards. He has a nice heated shooting building that allows full access to all these ranges during the winter and a heated classroom to round out his facilities. John is a friendly guy and quickly made all 8 students in this course feel like they were visiting a friend . . . which turned out to be exactly the case by the end of the day. He had a plentiful supply of water throughout the day and provided fixings for ham and cheese sandwiches during lunch.
The target group at 800 yards is new and we were essentially the first group to shoot on that part of the range. In Iowa there are very few ranges that offer targets at these distances. I suspect Sure Shot and John will see a pronounced increase business as word gets out about his facility. If you are in eastern Iowa and are looking for a great range to visit, give John a call!
Finally . . . to the course!
The day was an ambitious day! I’m not sure what Jim’s expectations were, but he was presented with a mixed bag of shooters that ranged from very new rifle shooters to one shooter who cleaned the dueling tree at 500 yards. The rifles we brought – and their associated optics – also varied a great deal as well. The criteria for the course was a rifle capable of shooting a 1-1.5 MOA group. So the specifications were a bit “loose”. Bottom line, by the end of the day – regardless of the weapon – we all were getting hits on the plates at 500 yards with we weapons we brought. At the 800 yard plates a couple got hits with the weapons they brought or, we were able to use Jim’s match gun – again, we all got at least a couple hits on the “large” plate – 16”.
John competes in the Precision Rifle Series and is a competitive shooter for Surgeon Rifles. Prior too many of the matches Jim offers a “Train-Up” course for the shooters. Much of what he covers was presented to us as the coursework for the day. His outline looked like this . . .
· Equipment preparation
- Position Building
- Wind Negotiations
- Elevation Corrections
- Performance evaluation! How to become a better shooter.
- Corrective Action!
While the classroom time was limited to about 2 hours it was packed with information covering rifle selection, optics, bipods, rear bags, the prone position, using the rear bag, gripping the weapon, proper finger placement on the trigger, trigger press, position building from everything from prone through cattle gates – it was comprehensive to say the least.
He also covered various types of range equipment, the Kestrel weather station, the JBM website and how to print dope charts for your specific cartridge and bullet, the use of ballistic phone apps to name just a few pieces of gear.
He also integrated stories from his various competitions to make specific points about everything from building positions when presented a wide variety of shooting problems to how to approach a competition and get the most out of each specific stage.
Jim knows his stuff, shared freely and I left the lecture portion much clearer on many aspects of what would be expected of us during the course of the day.
To the range
Our first stop was the 100 yard range – the shortest we would shoot all day . . . and the longest I had ever shot. We were asked to bring 9 rounds with us and we were each given a target with three diamonds on them.
I was asked to get into the “proper” prone position – directly behind the gun with the barrel drawing a line that passes slightly to the left of my right heel. I adjusted the legs of my front bipod, placed the rear bags and squeezed to come up on target. Honestly, this position was profoundly uncomfortable and I found I rushed my shot. After a couple rounds Jim just asked if it was comfortable to shoot this way – “Nope.” Said I. Then he just asked me to get comfortable – so I moved my body a bit more to the left, snugged in and found a comfortable spot. Full disclosure here – I’m a bit of a “big guy” meaning I carry far more in my gut than I care to admit. Even “comfortable” was a bit of a stretch but I could stay on target, quiet my breathing and obtain a solid sight picture and sight alignment. Obviously I need to work with this much more, but I was surprised that I actually found a spot the worked as well as it did.
Jim made a 2-click adjustment on my windage, had me send a couple more rounds – and came to the realization the issue was my positioning, not a scope adjustment. He took it off – now it’s back to the zero I came with – tweaked my position and I was done.
THIS . . . THIS RIGHT HERE . . . is why in person coursework from a knowledgeable shooter is important. All the videos you want to watch, all the books you want to read will not get you to where an instructor will put hands on you and work with your position behind the gun, fix the weld in your shoulder, work with the way you are gripping the pistol grip and refine how you place your finger on the trigger. THAT WHOLE PROCESS IS PRICELESS and simply cannot be accomplished via video – it needs a human touch!
Finally, we were off to the 500 yard line. THE 500 YARD LINE?!?!?!? I gotta admit my head did a bit of a holy crap!! I took out my Strelok Pro ballistic app on my phone, punched in 500 yards and touched the “reticle” button. This showed me what my reticle placement should be on the target 500 yards away.
When it was my turn I took up my prone position on the concrete pad, loaded on command and placed the spot on my reticle dead center but just off the left edge of the target. Then I sent a round down range – I missed left and low. Jim had me adjust to place the reticle centered and on the top edge . . . and I got 6 hits out of the remaining 8 rounds. To say I was surprised would be an understatement. To say I was pleased with myself . . . would also be an understatement.
We rotated 3 shooters at a time. This is the other thing that in invaluable in a live class vs just watching a video . . . you get to see how the instructor corrects other shooters, what suggestions he makes, how he makes “calls” to adjust elevation and wind (which was gusting throughout the day). And, you get to ask the “why” and “how come” questions as he does it. Let’s just say much learning – on the part of everyone – occurred.
Three of us brought AR platform guns and Jim wanted to make sure we had a chance to shoot a “real gun” (meaning bolt action) so he allowed us to run a half dozen rounds down his 6.5mm Creedmore competition rifle. Ever go from a Jeep (my gun) to a Corvette? Yeah . . . it was like that. So I got just a bit cocky and asked to try the dueling tree. I got 2 of the 6 plates. Jim wanted to “check his gun” so he settled behind his gun and cleaned the plates in about 15 seconds . . . obviously it wasn’t the gun! But just working his gun with his Vortex mil dot scope, his 16 ounce trigger pull . . . like I said, Jeep vx Corvette.
This brought us to lunch time. We all made sandwiches and ate while we chatted about the day so far, heard stories from Jim’s PRS competitions and then started to talk about building positions that are not “standard” . . . cattle fences, concrete walls, telephone poles, steel barrels, vehicles . . . and what it takes to get your gun stable enough to take that kind of shot.
Back to the range
We then moved to the 800 yard range. With my Prostaff scope and the AP4 combination, my weapon pretty much topped out at 600 yards with a 100 yard zero. Jim allowed all of us to send half dozen rounds down range at the 800 yard target set. They ranged in size from a 16” circle to an 8” circle (I believe). Jim went first and within one round just beat the small plate to death. Pretty darn impressive!
My turn brought my big “ah-ha” moment for the day. I was having a hard time even hitting the large plate – I kept hitting left – so far that I actually hit the small plate to the left. Then the light bulb when off – and I felt just plain stupid. When Jim made the wind call . . . I was holding off to the opposite side. No idea why I was doing this but my “head math” was just the opposite. Once I realized that, with his competition gun, my rounds dropped right on the large plate. I made an 800 yard shot. Again, pretty darn happy with myself.
Once we had all rolled through the 800 yard targets – with many doing VERY well, we moved on to non-standard shooting positions. Jim demonstrated telephone poles, steel barrels, barrels with the top cut out, cement walls and barricades . . . all with the fundamental idea that stability of the weapon is paramount. And, he demonstrated any number of ideas on how you would go about getting that job done!
Finally, it was our “test exercise” where we could put all of this together. Our shooting exercise was to put 2 rounds on each of 3 plates at 435 yards while building a position on top of a blue barrel. For this I used the Strelok Pro calculator to calculate that at 435 yards, with my cartridge and bullet, I had a 9” drop – exactly. I dialed it into the elevation turret and loaded my magazine with 6 rounds and waited my turn.
When you came up to the barrel you had about a minute to build your position with an empty weapon. Once done your took your weapon to port and waited for the starting buzzer. When it was my turn I adjusted the legs on the bipod, Jim suggested I slip a bag under the magazine and I squeezed the bag, the crosshairs rested directly center target . . . I was ready to go. I took the weapon to port and waited to the start of my 30 second run. “standby” . . . BEEP!
I loaded the magazine, set the bipod on the barrel, put the bag under the magazine, squeezed the bag until the crosshairs were on the target . . . and pressed the trigger. “HIT!!” I hear. Repeat. “HIT!!” Now I shift left one plate . . . and I just completely lost it! I could not hit squat again to save my soul. I sent 4 rounds down range – at the largest target I might add – without a single hit. Couple thoughts on this – I obviously let the “time” issue grind on me. And I forgot what I harp on to every single student – make each shot “deliberate”. I obviously opted for speed over good sight alignment, sight picture. I get it . . . which is yet one more VALUE OF LIVE COURSE WORK! As you watch videos of training for any type of shooting – including long range rifle shooting – it is all too easy simply seeing yourself making each and every hit that guy in the video is making. Sadly, life does not work that way. Standing behind a barrel, in a live course, with 9 other people watch just you . . . is a much better test that leaning back in your recliner as you watch a shooter in a video make hit after hit after hit . . .
And with that I had to leave about 15 minutes early. It was a great day! I proved out my weapon system, it will do the type of work I want it to do. I will more than likely upgrade the optic but for a $150 piece of glass I have no complaint at all. I’m happy with the rifle and while there are certainly more appropriate rifles for long distance – I will stay happy with the AP-4 for the time being.
Again, many thanks to John Fetzer of Sure Shot for his time and the use of his facility and many thanks to Jim See for a day of learning that’s, frankly, hard to get. Jim, it was great getting to know you, you ran a great and very informative class, and I look forward to your next visit to your next course offering.
And that folks, is that. If you have the opportunity to take coursework from Jim . . . send a check tomorrow! You’ll meet a truly nice guy and learn a great deal from a real shooter.