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2013 Allegheny Sniper Challenge: Magnum Rifles, Short Barrels, Heavy Bullets and Shifting Winds!

The Allegheny Sniper Challenge has to be the number one precision shooting experience of my life. I remember reading an article by Jorge Amselle in the February 2010 issue of Tactical-Life, thinking how great it would be to shoot that practical rifle match. Little did I know that in September of 2012, I would be able to do just that! To top it off, “the mountain” (as it’s known to ASC alumni) didn’t let me down!

Even with a second ASC match under my belt, I can’t wait to go back and master the art of placing lead on steel in the most real world training environment that I have experienced yet. I was part of APO’s shooting team along with Mad “Matt” Peterson, our Product Development Coordinator and we both really enjoy this match.

At the last ASC event, I shot a TCR300 with a Schmidt Bender 5-25x56mm, LRA Light Tactical bipod with Ruag Swiss-P 220gr Target ammo. Definitely outstanding kit, however Matt and I decided to try something different this time around, based on discussions with a number of APO customers about building them short barreled magnums.

The 24” .300WM Tactical Competition Rifle is outstanding for clanging steel at 1200+ yards, but being fiercely competitive, we wanted a demonstrative handling advantage for true field shooting conditions you experience at ASC. This meant setting rifles up for both traditional prone AND unsupported shooting positions. So into the lathe went two custom ASW300’s with 24” barrels, and out came two compact, fast handling precision rifles with 20” barrels with combination muzzle brake/suppressor adapters. The SABER® MOD-1 Carbon Fiber series forend allowed us to custom position our 4” accessory rail sling attachment points, as a number of the ASC stages required strong sling shooting skills.

With our tactical rifles now more balanced and maneuverable, we were better able to get into sitting and kneeling positions while maintaining high levels of accuracy at long ranges. Even with 20” barrels, our .300WM rifles where able to punch out to 1250 yards at 3500 feet of elevation and remain supersonic with 220 grain RUAG Swiss-P Target ammo. The average muzzle velocity is right at 2575 fps for both rifles and they each weighed in around 13lbs without optic, bipod or sling.

Friday was the first day of the 3-day match and I have to admit that I was pinching myself. Nothing like doing what you love for a living, considering my day job is building precision rifles at Ashbury!

Rod Hansen and Jon Markwell split the field of 50+ shooters into two groups for the first and second days of the match. We started the match with Jon in “The Hollow”. As our group of about 25 shooters started hiking toward the first shooting stage, Jon was asked if we would be allowed to check zero’s? He grinned and replied, “Of course, in fact that’s where we’re going now”. I looked at Matt and winked…we had just passed the only 100 yard targets on-site, and where heading towards a really long ridge-to-ridge shot.

Anyone who’s familiar with Jon will understand what I’m talking about. A few more steps and we were in position, at which time Jon turns and announces that the “zero confirmation” will be a cold bore shot at 936 meters! This brought on chuckles and grimaces. I got down with my ASW300_20A2 and after ranging the target with a Terrapin laser range finder, I dialed in a firing solution acquired from a Trimble PDA using Field Firing Solutions ballistic software. 10.6 mils up and 0.3 mils left for spin drift. I waited for some other shooters to make their shots while one of the range officers named Brock spotted for them. I asked Matt if I could go first and stood by.

Brock called out my name and I crawled into position and snuggled up behind my rifle. The wind on the mountain is very tricky and many times very hard to see. I checked with Matt to confirm my wind call, and he agreed. I held .75 mils to the left and took the shot. Up until this point only a handful of shooters had scored hits on the Echo plate and these were on the edges and low.

Before I could follow up on my first shot of the match, Brock sang out: “ Good hit shooter! Dead center impact.” I couldn’t believe it and rushed off the line. This is when I knew it was going to be a good match! Matt made a similar first round hit using the same wind call.

We continued to move and shoot all kinds of stages throughout the morning. Many were shot at angles greater than 10 degrees, some were from the sitting position. There was even an 18 degree shot done off shooting sticks supplied by the range officers. I didn’t do as well in these shooting positions, however after midday we started taking prone shots and this is where the match started to get good. I had another first round hit at 740 meters in a stage on the back side of the course. Jon really likes pushing shooters out of their comfort zones. There was even a 40 degree “roof top” shot! We continued to hike up, down and around the lower portion of the 500 acre facility. It was hot for May with temperatures in the 80’s. I didn’t pack enough water and was soon rationing what I had left to make it through the day. Nothing like learning from your mistakes. You’d think I would know better after two deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan as a Marine!

We were shooting our way back to the main field when Jon gathered all of us up and announced there was a new stage planned for this year’s match. He pointed well up the ridge to a steel plate 10”x15” in size. The angle of the shot was impossible from the prone position. Jon went on to explain that this target was to be shot off our shooting partner’s back! I looked at him and cringed. Short barreled .300WM’s with muzzle brakes aren’t meant to be shot within mere inches from anyone’s face! Matt grabbed a set of muffs from somebody, covered his head and face with a jacket and kneeled down for me to shoot first. We counted down for him to hold his breath and I took the shot and the steel rang from the bullets impact! Not bad for the Field Firing Solutions ballistic software, the angle was 28 degrees and the range was over 400 meters. The final target of the day was an off-hand shot at 210 meters under 8 seconds. I’m proud to say that I made a hit in 2.89 seconds. Not the quickest, but I think it was good to go! Matt made his shot even faster in 2.63 seconds!

On Saturday we went up the mountain to the highest ASC shooting position at over 4000 feet above sea level. Rod was our guide this day and we set about the task of killing every piece of steel that came into our scopes. At one stage, we had 30 seconds to engage a 10”x10” plate at 350 meters. I made a first round impact under the time allotted by dropping my pack and wrapping my legs around it to give it some rigidity. Then resting my ASW300 on top, I slowed my breathing, fired and hit the target.

At another stage, there was an 805 meter pair of targets which we had to engage a large 15”x20” plate then follow up with another shot on a 10”x10” plate 5 feet to the immediate right. We setup, acquired a range and firing data. I went first. Now the idea is for the first shooter to gauge the wind, make a wind call and fire. If your wind call was good and the wind didn’t change, your teammate can use your adjustments and make a good shot. I looked at the targets, then the terrain and made an educated guess. My first shot was on target so I quickly operated the bolt and hit the second target. 5 seconds later Matt followed up my performance with his own pair of solid impacts back to back. 1-2-3-4, that’s how it’s supposed to be done!

From there we moved to my favorite shooting stage at the ASC: “The Bowl”. Half a dozen targets are visible from a ridge almost in the middle of the property. Target ranges varied from 289 meters to over 1100 meters. Targets were in all sizes but nothing was over 20” at the tallest point.

The hardest target was a popper at 1134 meters. I was able to make first round impacts on many, as well as a second round impact on the long 1134 meter target. The Powder House stage is one of the more difficult targets. It is positioned in front of an old shed that was used to store black powder during the Civil War. From our shooting position, we had to engage this target by shooting over the unofficial parking lot, a long stretch of field and then some trees. When I shot, the wind started pushing hard from left to right and I held 2 mils of left wind to take my first shot.

I missed half a mil off the right side, corrected and made a center impact. This impressed some shooters who called out their congratulations. This is one of the reasons I love this match. The people who shoot with you, want you to do your best. It doesn’t matter that you are competing against them, they just want to see good shooting and help all those who might need it.

The most challenging shooting stage of this match, in my opinion, was Patriot Games. There were six targets colored from right to left: red, white, blue, red, white, blue. The shooting position was an old, two-story building with windows on the second deck. You had one minute to run to the top of the stairs, pick up one of four cards that directed you in what order to engage the targets. Get the order wrong and you lose all 6 points even if you hit all the plates. I got the order right, but missed three targets! I need more practice at “holding over” for these type of engagements. The winds were not particularly friendly to Matt on Saturday, but we were on the range, both thoroughly enjoying ourselves.

Sunday was the last day of the match. Up until this point, we had not seen any bad weather. That day the sky was threatening and the fog was heavy. So heavy in fact we only shot three stages before all the competitors voted to call-off the match. I will say that it’s nice having Vectronix laser range finders on a day like this one, we could laze all our targets where others definitely could not!

Rod and Jon outdid themselves with the selection of targets and shooting stages. They continue to push shooters out of their comfort zones and are always thinking up new ways to increase the stress during shooting in order to improve the core of shooters who compete in ASC matches. And as long as I am able to attend, I will continue to strive toward becoming a better shooter.


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