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After Gary (my range buddy) and I both obtained distinguished graduate ratings in the Tactical Shotgun course earlier this year, we decided it was time to plan a trip for the rifle course. Gary had taken the course several years ago and I was itching to give it go as I'd not yet had the chance. I made room reservations at the casino/motel and we signed up for the first weekend in December. With any luck, the weather would be reasonable. If it wasn't, we would have our regular rain gear with us.
We left Phoenix about 10:30 AM the day before our class was scheduled to start. It's roughly a 5 hour drive to Front Sight and that gets us there later in the afternoon with plenty of time to get the next day's lunch (Subway sandwiches) and check in to the motel. The new Hoover Dam bypass bridge was finally finished and we speculated that it shaved at least 30 minutes off of our travel time. Gary was all set to snap some really cools photos from the bridge but found that the design eliminates any such thing. You can't seen anything but sky when you are on the bridge. So much for that photo op.
We were at Front Sight the following morning at 7:15 for check-in and weapons inspection. Ammunition is checked with a magnet to ensure steel core bullets are not being used. Why? The steel targets don't like them. If you show up with steel core ammo, you'll be asked to go purchase lead core bullets from either the pro-shop or perhaps back in Pahrump at the Walmart. Our weapons passed inspection as did the Hornady training ammo we brought. After the obligatory paperwork signing and the first of several lectures, we were out on the range.
We had some folks that were there for the two day rifle course. They get all of the training packed into those two days but don't get the trigger time that the 4 day participants accumulate. Day #1 was spent at the very introductory levels for gun handling (safety is VERY much stressed), sight alignment, sight picture, trigger control, follow through, etc.
Day #2 morning was spent getting everyone's rifle sighted in for a 50 yard zero. I had arrived with mine setup for a 100 yard zero but it didn't take long to get the ACOG adjusted for 50 yards. Having been shooting for well over 40 years, it was 2nd nature to me for trigger control, breathing, etc. Some of the folks in our class were first time rifle shooters. Getting a group at 50 yards....tight enough so that one can determine where the sights needs to be adjusted, can be a challenge. After everyone was satisfied with what was happening at 50 yards, we moved back to 200 yards to see how it looked. I should mention that the 50 and 200 yard shooting was done from the prone position using a sand bag or two and an ammo can (the bags are stored in the ammo cans). We had more trigger time in the afternoon along with another lecture in the big classroom building. We also worked on our malfunction drills along with emergency reloads.
Day #3 has us back in the classroom for the tactics
lecture. Later in the morning, we were back on the range getting more
trigger time. We also got a chance to work on our close contact shooting
as well as hostage taker head shots, which would be part of our skills test.
15 and 25 yard head shots as well as 15, 25, and 50 yard body shots were
practiced. It wasn't long before the timer came out so we could get use to
the time pressure we would be seeing during the skills test.
Here is what is affectionately known as the "War Wagon". It is a mobile building that is pretty much permanently located at about the 75 yard line on the 400 yard rifle range. It provides some protection from the elements, be it those cold winter winds or the hot summer sun. Gary snapped this photo during the lunch hour. That is me with the box in my hand. I was getting some exercise picking up some .223 brass to feed my reloading habit. Most of us wore knee and elbow pads while on the range. We are allowed to assume any supported position (kneel, squat, sit, or prone) from the 50 yard line and out further. However, the time pressure (3 seconds) at 50 yards pretty much prevents one from going prone. Some of the younger folks that still had good working joints made use of those supported position. For me, it was either offhand or prone.
The 3rd night of any four day course includes a night shoot. I've been through several of them with both a shotgun and a handgun. Gary and I opted to skip the night shoot and spend a little time cleaning the ARs for the following day's skills test.
Day #4 was more practice, including some dry
practice, another check of our rifles for the proper 50 yard zero, and finally
the skills test which started shortly after lunch. When all was said and
done, I missed my DG (distinguished graduate) score by just 10 points.
Gary was only 7 points short of his DG.
I racked up a total of 22 lost points (you want 0 for a perfect score). I left 13 points behind on the head shots which were at 15 and 25 yard. A properly placed head shot lies within a 3"x4.5" rectangle. I knew the 25 yard head shots were going to be a weak area for me as my practice sessions in Phoenix indicated I was not solid in this part of the test. For the body shots, I dropped only 6 points, which was pretty good, given there were 75 points worth of body shots. My close contact and hostage head shots were right on the money so no penalty there. I lost 3 points for going too long while clearing one of my malfunctions.
The reason the rifle skill test is such a challenge is due to one being able to lose points really easy. A perfect shot is 5 points. A shot on the target but out of the preferred area (thoracic cavity or cranial ocular cavity) costs you three points. If you go long on time, it is another 3 points. So.....you can actually lose 8 points on a poorly placed shot that took you too long to make. If you think that is bad, malfunctions and reloads can be what really takes its toll on your overall score. You can zero points for doing your reloads and malfunction clearings correctly. However, if you did every one of them as poorly as possible, it would cost you a total of 60 points. There are 120 points total (perfect score) you can achieve. You can only miss up to 12 points to DG and no more than 36 points to graduate. Anything more than 36 points earns you a certificate of completion. Of the 36 students that stayed for the entire 4 day course, Gary finished in the number 3 slot and I was number 4. That is OK with me. Our range master informed us (after the skills test) that the practical rifle course averages a 1% DG rate.....and DGing it on your first attempt is not at all the norm.
So that, in a nut shell, was my introduction to the
Practical Rifle Course at Front Sight.
The instructors did a good job and I appreciate their persistent efforts to make
everyone a better shooter. I'll be back, later next year, to capture that
DG rating. After that, there are several other rifle classes I look
forward to attending. That reminds me, I've got an advanced tactical
shotgun course coming up later next year that I'm really excited about taking.
Hope to see you there at some point in time.