The 2018 Mountain States Tactical Officer’s Association (MSTOA) conducted their annual meetings at Fort Harrison, which is on the west end of Helena, Montana. I was invited to come instruct at this event by a friend of mine whom I met last summer while he attended our Backcountry Hunting Course. Colton Bagnoli is an officer with the City of Kalispell, and a new member of their sniper team. I’ll always jump at a chance to be in Montana, any time of the year, so I hopped in my truck and made the day-long drive from eastern Washington over the continental divide, which is a spectacular trip.
MSTOA provided a week for their members to participate in several training events. As you can surmise, the state of Montana, as well as all the other mountain states, is comprised of several small police departments and Sheriff’s Offices where training time and funds are limited, even for special weapons and tactics teams. The average law enforcement sniper gets about 8 hours a month to train and maintain proficiency, so having 4 full (and consecutive) training days is a huge benefit to any small agency sniper team. The learning curve steepens dramatically, and being totally immersed in your craft for 4 days is a tremendous contribution to the learning experience. Knowing that I had this much time to work with, I created a somewhat intermediate program of instruction, not knowing the experience level of the guys that would be attending. Creating a training outline that challenges both senior members of a sniper team, and not have that training tempo leave new guys behind is a tough situation. Truth be told, it usually ends up being a sink or swim event for the new guys, which isn’t always a bad thing either. More on that later.
We started off day one with a brief presentation on sniper engagement case studies which basically discusses all the recent/modern trends seen in law enforcement sniper engagements throughout the nation. The data that contributes to this presentation comes from the American Sniper Association’s Police Sniper Utilization Report which is a publication that comes out every 2 years and it summarizes all the data from law enforcement sniper engagements that have been reported within the nation. This is a pretty important collection of data if you ask me, and it ALWAYS blows my mind when I ask students if they’ve ever heard of it and on average, 80% of the class has no idea. That’s a problem, bigtime. It’s no secret that law enforcement snipers are always doing more with less, and are grossly misused, or not used at all. I hear lots of complaints about training time, budgets, and gear. Using the PSURep publication would be a great way to compile actual data from an accredited source to help you fight for what you need.
After the lecture we moved to the range and knocked out a quick refresher on the Fundamentals of Marksmanship. Some people will say another class on the fundamentals is a waste of time, especially for advanced students, but I disagree. It’s always good to refresh on the skills that are literally the foundation that we build on as shooters, so hearing the same things over again sometimes you can pick up new information as a result of a different delivery. The students shot a series of fundamental marksmanship drills to get warmed up and get their minds where they needed to be. Once those were completed, the students shot a couple stress drills which reinforce the importance of training to shoot with an elevated heart rate and under a very tight time limit. We rounded out the day with a demonstration on rifle cleaning.
Day 2 took us out to a great range in Townsend, Montana called Broadwater Rod and Gun Club. I had no idea this range existed until now, and it’s a great training facility. With a huge array of targets out to 2,000 yards, and an incredibly helpful and friendly staff, this range should be on your short list to visit in Montana. Training on day 2 focused on establishing some baseline performance standards for marksmanship with shooting some more fundamental warm up drills. In order to get students set up for success on the remainder of the course, we make sure that they have solid elevation data to work from in order to accurately engage targets out to 500 yards during a portion of the course’s qualifications. To start, the students get a lecture on external ballistics, where modern advancements in the science of the projectile’s motion through the air are discussed. A large portion of this lecture included learning about Hornady’s new 4 DOF ballistic solver which uses an advanced method of calculating bullet trajectory using a drag coefficient vs mach scale over the traditional BC method. Students found the program to be much more user friendly, and incredibly accurate. Being able to validate a bullet’s trajectory out to subsonic flight distances within 10 shots or less is a huge advancement for most Law Enforcement snipers.
Discussing external ballistics wouldn’t be complete without an in-depth discussion on wind reading techniques and making fast and accurate wind adjustments. At the Broadwater range, wind reading was particularly tricky as the range has a lot of terrain that directly influences the flow of the wind, and a lot of that terrain isn’t visible from the firing line. With solid data, and some baseline instruction on wind, the students shot a practice Urban Unknown Distance qualification course from their tripods. With an array of 10 assigned targets from 200 to 500 yards, students had 10 minutes to locate and establish ranges to those targets and be ready to engage them. That seems like a lot of time, and it is for someone who is intimately familiar with their equipment and how to manage it, and their time. For those that haven’t been exposed to this type of training, this exercise can be stressful, but a valuable learning experience at the same time. One thing that I see as a major trend in the LE sniper community is a lack of equipment management skills. What this is a result of is improper training techniques taught at various basic sniper courses throughout the community. Always shooting from the prone position, and not being taught where to store things for easy retrieval like your data, ammo, rangefinder, binoculars, etc is something that will bite you on a call-out.
Day 3 continued out at the Broadwater range, and we kicked the day off with a fundamental warm up drill. Immediately following the students received instruction on alternate shooting positions. Alternate shooting positions are defined as anything that isn’t prone. This would include props, barricades, and tripods. From this class, the students come away with an in-depth understanding as to why the tripod is one of the most important pieces of gear they can carry next to a rifle and a radio. The tripod is the only piece of gear that a sniper can carry which will provide a stable shooting platform in just about any situation. From here, the students were able to have about an hour of open range time to work through these various positions and props to work out the kinks and get some instruction on how to tweak positions to get the most support. Natural Point of Aim is key here; understanding what it is, and how to manipulate it is the secret to unlocking your potential in being successful from alternate shooting positions. Once students were feeling somewhat comfortable with the shooting positions, we again shot a scored unknown distance course of fire that included the use of alternate positions. I see this as being incredibly important to a sniper’s proficiency. When a shooter has confidence in their capabilities from an alternate shooting position, they’ll spend less time looking for a perfect prone position, which will make them faster on the next callout.
Keen observation skills are also extremely important for snipers, and many don’t focus on maintaining them. Taking an hour of your training time, once a quarter perhaps, and setting up a simple observation exercise pays off through keeping the mind focused on how to be an effective observer. Observation exercises are easy to set up, and when you get good at it, two people can have one set up in less than 30 minutes. Look for another blog post on a how-to for observation exercises.
Wrapping up day three, the students got a period of instruction on obstacle clearance, which is often confused with the super top-secret black ops famed “Loophole Formula”. If you can’t pick up on the sarcasm, insert it now and re-read that last sentence. Let’s get one thing straight here, there’s NOTHING secret about understanding the bullet’s flight path prior to it crossing the line of sight. This period of instruction is always eye-opening in the sense that students A) never get taught how to ensure that their bullet will clear an obstacle, and B) how easy it is to make sure you have ample clearance. If you want to learn my method, you’ll have to enroll in a Kalinski course….
Day 4 brought everything full-circle with a little mini-competition that was essentially a version of our LE Sniper qualification course. The rest of the entry guys still training at the National Guard Post in Helena were working on their own competition, so we did our own internal to the snipers. We included command fire from tripods, a 21 Dot Drill, barricade drills, a stress shoot, and an Urban Unknown Distance shoot. When it was all said and done, the increase in the scores from Day 1 and Day 2’s baseline shoots was dramatic, with the average shooter increasing scores by30%, up to 55%. In just 4 training days, that’s an impressive jump in proficiency, especially considering some of our students had just recently passed a Basic Sniper course.
The Mountain States Tactical Officer’s Association is off to a great start, and this last training event showed that the future is bright for better events year after year. The staff at MSTOA is a great group of guys, and their sole focus is ensuring that their members receive an awesome week of training. They bent over backwards for me, and the rest of the instructors that came out to provide instruction. I’d like to extend my thanks to the staff of MSTOA, and a big shout out to Colton Bagnoli for making me aware of this event and inviting me out to spend a great week training with an equally great group of guys.
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