Seven Lessons from Sniper School

LAR-8 Operator equipped with a Leupold scope

This Rock River Arms LAR-8 Operator equipped with a Leupold scope consistently hit targets at 750 yards using the 150-grain HPR Precision load.

guns Dr. Martin D. Topper shooting tips

In our July issue, Dr. Martin D. Topper gave us some great tips that he learned from his recent encounter at HPR Ammunition’s two-day seminar hosted at the GPS Defense training facility near Scottsdale.

Dr. Martin D. Topper attended the seminar on behalf of Gun World, and his detailed, lesson-by-lesson report puts you right in the middle of the action.

Lesson One: In a dynamic shooting environment—be it hunting, sniping or competition—fiddling with the windage setting takes precious time away from engaging targets.

After learning the commands, we were shown how to properly get into the prone position. To do it correctly (and most people don’t), the shooter takes a push-up position with his or her face over the rear of the rifle’s action, and then slowly lowers down. If it’s done right, the butt of the stock will just touch the shooter’s shoulder. Once flat on the ground, the legs are spread slightly wider than shoulder width, and the feet are turned outward.

Lesson Two: If you expect to hit at long range, learn to establish a stable position.

I used a custom rifle from GPS gunsmiths built from a Remington 700. The finished rifle is fully “blueprinted,” which involves squaring and truing the action, bolt face, bolt lugs and recoil lug. The barrel is cut to 18 inches, and threaded for a suppressor. Other refinements are added, including a quality glass-bedded synthetic stock, enlarged bolt handle, increased capacity magazine and glass-smooth 3-pound trigger.

Seminar attendees also used Rock River LAR-8s. Rock River provided both the Predator and Operator models. These rifles had 20-inch barrels, two stage Rock River triggers, Hogue rubber grips, adjustable stocks and cryo-treated 1:10 rifling. Both rifles were built to shoot 1MOA at 100 yards. The GPS and Rock River rifles were equipped with Leupold long-range target scopes. These fine optics provided crystal-clear, distortion-free images of the target and precise, repeatable elevation adjustments.

HPR provided two loads. The first was a new .308 Win. load topped with a Barnes 150-grain TTSX all-copper bullet. HPR took a lot of care in choosing powders, brass, primers and determining seating depth when loading the TTSX bullets. Despite gusting crosswinds, we all scored solid hits at 750 yards. Of course, we had great spotters and really good rifles, but that doesn’t take anything away from the ammo. It was spot on. The top shot the first morning was Suzi Huntington, editor of American Cop magazine, who consistently placed shots within a few inches of each other on the half-size silhouette at 750 yards.

I’ve not had much occasion to shoot from the prone position over the past 50 years, nor have I ever needed to shoot at game further than 225 yards away. Still, I was impressed with the results achieved with a well prepared rifle, precision-built ammunition and a few hours of instruction. GPS Defense offers its introductory long range course and private lessons to civilians of good character. The cost is about $220 per day, and it’s a very good deal for a person who wants to learn how to properly shoot a long range rifle.

Lesson Three: Shooting good groups requires good equipment.

GPS Defense has been a military and law enforcement contract trainer since 1998, and we experienced some of their more tactically-oriented training. We used Rock River LAR-15 Elite Comp semi-auto rifles in .223 Rem./5.56 NATO and .45 ACP cal. Taurus 1911 and 9mm. M92 handguns for several tactical exercises. The guns were used both with and without Silencerco suppressors. Many people don’t realize that suppressors are legal for civilians to own in most states, and sales of them have increased markedly in recent years.

HPR provided the ammunition for these guns as well. The .223 round was topped with Hornady’s 75-grain BTHP match bullet. The .45 ACP and 9mm. loads had either standard JRN bullets or the well-respected Hornady XTP hollowpoint. HPR also provided a sample of their EMCON Emissions Control ammunition. These sub-sonic cartridges eliminate the bullet’s sonic boom and are especially designed for use with suppressors. The bullet’s total metal jacket design reduces lead emissions, and the cartridge’s low residue powder reduces fouling. This keeps suppressors clean and working at their peak performance. EMCON ammunition definitely maximizes a suppressor’s ability to silence a gun’s report.

Although the military and law enforcement courses are specifically-designed for government agencies, they imparted a number of lessons useful for anyone who uses firearms for self-defense. On the carbine range, we learned that even at 15 yards it’s quite possible to fire a fast double tap with a carbine and hit a target without lining up the sights for the second shot. The key is to lean forward, place the support hand as far out on the forend as possible and push the rifle firmly into the strong side shoulder.

Lesson Four: Rapid fire offhand shooting requires knowing and applying the fundamentals.

I’ve done many clearing drills with rifles and handguns in shoothouses, but I’d never used a suppressor indoors. Even though I’ve fired over a half-million rounds, follow-up shots were faster and more accurate without all the noise. I especially liked the Osprey suppressor from Silencerco, since its low profile allowed me to precisely aim the pistol by using the sights. On the other hand, silencers add about six inches to the barrel, so you need to be aware not to project the pistol beyond barriers where a hidden assailant could grab it.

Lesson Five: Suppressors are effective, as long as you adapt your technique to your equipment.

By a stroke of luck, the second day began with a major cold front that brought rain, hail, high winds and a temperature drop of 30+ degrees. We were cold and wet as we covered ground in very sloppy conditions. It was perfect weather to test our personal the limits and the limits of our equipment. Fortunately, I was prepared for changes in weather, having packed warm clothing and my Blackhawk Warrior Wear Light Assault Boots. I’d never used the boots in wet conditions before, and they simply did not slip when running various drills over wet canyon floors.

Lesson Six: Never count on perfect conditions.

While I’m used to dealing with rain drops on optical sights, I never had rain interfere with iron sights before. The aperture on my rifle’s rear peep sight, however, was just small enough to fill with rain. I found the quickest way to deal with the problem was to simply raise my head a bit and blow the water out. It works a lot better than shaking the rifle! Working in the rain provided valuable lessons and underscored the old adage “If it ain’t rainin’, you ain’t trainin’.”

 Lesson Seven: Learn to adapt your technique and equipment to conditions.

Every time I attend training I learn something new, and HPR’s seminar at the GPS Defense Sniper School provided seven good lessons on long range shooting, personal defense and operating in bad weather. I was also impressed by the performance of products from HPR, Silencerco, GPS, Rock River, Leupold, Blackhawk and Taurus. For those who are interested in further product information, contacts are listed in the accompanying sidebar.

Story and Photos by Dr. Martin D. Topper

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