Our six hour drive to Colville in the northeastern part of Washington State seemed to take forever, but when we arrived we quickly realized it was worth every mile; it is a gorgeous, mountainous region along the Columbia River. My husband Charles and I signed up for a three-day precision rifle clinic with instructor Carl Taylor, owner of In Motion Targets. In Motion Targets manufactures moving target systems used for law enforcement and military training, as well as for precision rifle competitions across the country. Carl has a very long history of sniper experience as a Marine Chief Scout Sniper and is currently with the Department of State Anti-Terrorism Assistance program. He also has been a television personality, filming Team Dark Horn, which features shooting tips and hunting skills. Currently he is filming the first ever reality series of team precision rifle competitions which will be aired on a cable network in January of 2016. He teaches clinics to civilians, law enforcement, and military. As a precision rifle competitor himself, Carl has tons of knowledge to share.
Not only do you need to understand the “gaming” of the sport, but more importantly you need to know your rifle inside and out. You need to know your zeros, ballistics, and wind reading skills, which are determined by the terrain and which direction the wind is blowing. Currently the precision rifle matches have become a product of new, expensive, and bulky accessories. Carl is old school. He brings in some of his field training and shows you that you do not need to be dependent on all of the fancy new gadgets. Weight is a big issue in this game. You have to carry everything with you. A backpack full of ammo, extra clothes, food, water, range finders, tripod, rear bag, and more. Not to mention slinging your 15-pound rifle over your shoulder. A popular new accessory is the Wiebad bags: a very light but bulky pillow you can strap on arm for extra stability used in awkward positions. I have these. We also recently bought a stupid heavy tripod with the HOG saddle system. That alone is 10 to 15 pounds. Carl’s point is that you can still compete well and win with basics and knowledge of your own ballistics and the environment. The class was three days long and worth every penny and minute.
Carl leases land from local ranchers and has permanent steel targets set out from 100 to 1,000-plus yards over a large area of the hill side. The first range day you are hanging out in someone’s wheat field with the occasional cattle roaming through. The second range area was further north up the Columbia River about an hour in area called Crown Creek. This stunning private property had a proper range set up but used the natural landscape hiding steel targets all the way up the mountain to about 1,200 yards. The cool part is there was an old western town set of buildings with a saloon behind the range. The saloon came complete with horse tie ups out front, and even a steel target out front to determine if you’ve had too much to drink so you should not “get back on your horse”. The best part is going inside the saloon to view all of the photos and memorabilia everywhere. I can’t tell you the exact location of this property or I would have to kill you. Not really, but there is a reason for that. “Secret Squirrel” military groups get to use the place on occasion to blow off steam. The owners of the property, Steve and Sally, built this not to make money but to give back. The inside of the saloon is full of knickknacks of trophy heads, photos of regulars, funny posters, war props, you name it. You could spend hours just looking at every detail. The bonus round is that you can see all of the steel targets on the range from the upstairs windows of the saloon. Yeah, I’ll let you imagine what they do with that.
The clinic was a smaller class size. What was nice for me is that the entire class was made up of people I know. The class included my husband and some of the guys and ladies from MEGA Arms and Killer Innovations. We covered the skills gamut from beginners to competitors. We were all using similar rifle builds with the new Orias chassis that these two companies have designed. We also all are shooting the same caliber of 6SLR. This made making wind calls and instruction from Carl quite a bit easier. I think the only differences between us were barrels and optics. Day one we spent most of the day “building” our rifles. Not everyone had zeros yet and stocks and scopes had to be set up for length of pull and eye relief, etc. You don’t realize how important all of those details are. If you are not set up perfectly comfortable with your rifle that can make or break your shooting day. I personally like to be “one with my rifle”. I know from high power competition that I want to have a position where my cheek is firm yet relaxed on my stock where I can see my sights or scope without any straining of my neck. Looking through the scope you do not want to see any shadows. You want a perfectly clear view. Not to mention the correct eye relief so you don’t voluntarily give yourself a black eye. Carl explained focusing the scopes, the parallax, MIL vs. MOA and ranging targets. Many times at matches you are told you cannot use range finders to acquire distances of targets. You have to use the reticle in your scope and you are given the size of the target. With a formula you can do some math and you can figure out the distance. With that formula he also gave us a great cheat sheet you can quickly glance at without having to get your calculator out. Another method is to get a MILDOT Master which is also a great tool that does the calculating for you.
Once all rifles were set up and zeroed we used day two to range all 23 targets up the wheat hill side and use our ballistic software info for elevation. One trick Carl has is to print out a topography map of the terrain ahead of time. We were shooting up hill and there were strange flat spots and valleys that really messed with your wind calls. Topography is your friend. There are certain personalities the wind has on terrains like this and at different times of the day. Cool morning’s vs hot afternoons will give you down or up drafts as well as wind values left to right. I can’t tell you how valuable this information was. Carl then brought out of the accessories he uses for the sport. I could fit them in one hand. His tri-pod system was a super light Polecat. He had a mono-pod version as well for the back end of the rifle for extra support. A total weight of a few ounces and I witnessed firsthand that they are as stable as the bulky heavy tripods. Need to shoot off of the side of a tree or post? Tie a looped rope to the front sling attach. Slip your support wrist through it and grab the side of the tree. The rifle hangs in the loop and with the stock in your shoulder you have instant support. If the tree is not too wide you can put the waist band of your backpack around it and use the pack as support. And of course Carl owns a moving target company so we spent quite a long time practicing on that. He set it out at about 400 yards and gave us the average of lead time for the three-mph steel target. Most every match I have been to uses these movers. Shooting it over and over again made my day. My most priceless takeaway from Carl was a two-inch by six-inch piece of cardboard.
A large cardboard target was set out at 25 yards with an orange dot for each of us and with our names above each dot. Aiming at our own orange dot we moved our sites from 100 to 600 yards in 100 yard increments. The bullet holes made a nice ladder up from the dot. He then cut out each of our targets from the cardboard and handed them to us. What is this thing I asked? Recently at matches there have been stages with “Loop Holes”. The shooter is put about 25 yards behind a board with a small hole cut out of it. The hole could be as small as two inches. A steel target is set beyond the cardboard and could be as far out as 500 yards or so. For the stage, you need to shoot through the hole to the steel target beyond without hitting any part of the board that you are shooting through. You lose all of your points for the stage if you hit the board. You need to know the trajectory of your bullets so you know where to position your sights through the hole. Now with this piece of information I have on my little piece of cardboard I will know where to hold. This was genius.
Day three we used the natural terrain of the Crown Creek area range. We were paired up in teams and were given a long prep period to find and range targets. They were all numbered and all were different shaped steel targets from 100 to 1200 yards up the mountain side. We had to shoot groups of targets in prone, standing and off of a bench. You could not use any seating for the bench shots. With 17 targets to find we were then given an amount of time to engage and score targets. We had plenty of time and there was no stress involved. It was an opportunity to work as a team and spot for each other calling hits and making wind calls and adjustments. I am proud to say my partner and I came in second by only one point. The day and class ended at the Crown Creek Saloon with the owner Steve. We were supplied with ice cold beverages and were immersed in great conversation about the weekend.
Information and clinic schedules can be found at www.inmotiontargets.com.
By Annette Wachter. Originally published in the August 2015 issue of GunUp the Magazine.