This past weekend I had the opportunity to take the Gunner Marksmanship class in Kearneysville, WV. When looking for training it is difficult to find courses that don’t require significant amounts of travel, and it is extremely nice to have John teaching a class only an hour away from my home.
My goal in taking this class was to improve my shooting, and specifically to learn what is needed at distances past 100 yards, the longest I’ve previously shot. While this class covered less overall material than others I have taken in the past, I learned and improved more per round fired than in any other class I’ve taken previously. I’ve tried to capture what I remember as I remember and from my notes below.
The structure of the class is such that John front-loads as much information as possible for each topic. While in many classes learning is like drinking from a fire hose, but John has distilled the information down to simple and easy to understand principles. There is plenty of time to ask questions and take copious notes – I have 5 pages worth, mostly from day 1. Topics discussed included: Scope placement, length of pull, bolt guns vs. carbines, First Focal Plane (FFP) vs. Second Focal Plane (SFP) scopes, eye relief, parts of a scope, types of iron sights to use if needed, zeroing distance, and more. John teaches from experience and many of the things he’s passing on are contrary to “commonly accepted” knowledge, but they work.
After laying out the class format and going over the information listed above, we were instructed on how we would be setting up our targets and zeroing. John then took video of each student as we shot from the prone in order to do video diagnostics. Once everyone had shot, he went through each student’s video and diagnosed what they were doing right and what needed improvement and how to improve it. I think this is one of the most helpful aspects of the class; not only does each student get to see what they’re doing right and what they’re doing wrong, the repetition while getting to see everyone else’s diagnosis sessions really drives the principles home. When you’re shooting, it’s easy to think you’re doing things correctly, especially at this early stage in the class. But with video evidence, you can see exactly what you’re actually doing.
Once we finished the diagnostic sessions, John lectured on the principles of shooting from the prone including lining up the body with the rifle, spreading the legs while keeping the shooting knee cocked to reduce/eliminate the influence of the diaphragm, how to properly hold the rifle, how to load the bipod and why. We then moved on to zeroing our rifles. As soon as we began zeroing and I implemented what we had just learned to the best of my ability, I saw a marked improvement. First, the scope did not dance around as much as previously and any motion from breathing was virtually eliminated. Secondly, it was immediately obvious that self-spotting was possible because the gun, and therefore the scope, was not jumping around with every shot. After three 5-shot groups, we made the adjustments and confirmed zero. Those needing further adjustments adjusted and shot again until a zero was obtained.
Another concept that was covered was “historical zero,” looking at the non-taped back of your target – which allows you to see what the trend for the shooter and rifle is over a longer period. I’m a program manager in vaccine development, and my testing and evaluation SME has always stressed the importance of long-term trending for precision and accuracy in our testing platforms. The “historical zero” is precisely this concept translated to shooting, and it’s something I’ve never encountered before which makes perfect sense to me.
Once we were zeroed on paper, we moved on to exploring dope. John provided us with general drop in milliradians, inches, and MOA for distances from 200-600 for the calibers the class was using. He was careful to let us know that every rifle/ammo combination is slightly different and these are ballpark figures which we could use to start, but that we should all learn the dope for our rifles ourselves. We learned how to read wind and equations for calculating dope based on distance, wind speed, and caliber; as well as how to start calling dope as spotters.
We spent the rest of day 1 putting the classroom learning into practical use from 0-400 yards.
Day 2 began with a second video diagnostic to see what we’d improved and what still needed work. Then John took us out to 500 and 600 yards. Once I learned my dope for 500 yards I was able to compensate based on my rifle and the ballpark estimates and my first round to the 600 yard target found its mark. In a day, John’s training made it so that I – a shooter who hadn’t gone beyond 100 yards previously – was able to hit a 12×24 inch target at 600 yards with my first shot. More impressively, by applying the principles that we were taught, two other students who were using red dots were hitting the 600 yard target as well! As the day continued we learned to shoot as teams; as a spotter, how to direct the shooter onto a target; and participating in some friendly competitions. John also performed video diagnostics on our kneeling position. We did not get to the standing position due to time constraints, but in my opinion that took nothing away from the class.
Overall, I found this class to be extremely helpful. John’s method of distilling the science and “art” of distance shooting down to simple principles which even a desk-riding office worker like me can employ to get hits out to 600 yards is nothing short of impressive. The video diagnostics allow you to see what your brain and ego initially refuse to believe are a great tool for students’ improvement. John’s personality, patience, and “bedside manner” make him a fantastic instructor from whom it’s easy to learn.
I look forward to taking other classes from John in the future, and hope he’ll continue to visit the mid-Atlantic region in the future.
My only regret was that I forgot to collect my zeroing target to keep around for historical zero purposes.