In mid-August, early one Sunday morning, my friend and fellow law-enforcement sniper and I boarded a flight from Ft. Lauderdale to Arco, Idaho. We had been invited to CheyTac’s factory and training facility to learn first-hand the capabilities of the CheyTac .408 weapon system. We had the same desire: to learn and experience long-range shooting.
We both have had our share of operational sniping, but to be able to shoot beyond 600 yards was a novelty. While my friend had developed and incorporated the use of big-bore rifles into his agency’s special weapons teams, and was one of the folks that helped our team establish our program, the use of these types of rifles systems for special application is relatively limited in the law enforcement special operations community. The opportunity to train with experienced long-range shooters and new weapons platforms was not an occasion we wanted to turn down.
Learning the Ropes
We started our three days of instruction in the office, with an in-depth explanation of the history of the company. CheyTac’s origins are rooted in the simple idea of developing one of the more accurate, long-range, big-bore bullets. The folks at CheyTac not only wanted to design the most accurate bullets for long-range shooting, but also a weapon system to deliver it. The .408 round, which CheyTac has developed, is incredible in its performance—as would be proven at the end of our three-day school.
Along the way, the folks at CheyTac also developed a comprehensive Advanced Ballistics Computer (ABC), to help drive this system. This is a hand-held computer that, when information is fed in, will spit out super-accurate adjustments for your scope. It was developed and the data compiled during testing at Yuma Proving Grounds using Doppler radar and meter-by-meter down-range drag and ballistic coefficient data. They shot a lot of different rounds with an array of rifles and a very accurate system to record the results.
Our instructor was retired USN Seal sniper, Chris Kinney. We were each given a small, hand-held computer with the ABC software and given step-by-step instructions on how to use it. The user of the ABC software enters: bullet weight, velocity, temperature, altitude, direction of target in relations to true north, wind velocity and direction. This was accomplished by the use of my SUUNTO wristwatch, a rangefinder and a Kestrel wind meter. At first look it seemed like a very complicated exercise in snake oil, smoke and mirrors, but after practicing in the parking lot for about 45 minutes it was like playing a video game.
In the afternoon, we took our department rifles and went out to the short, 100-yard range. This was to check our mechanical zeros and corrections. We also checked the velocity of the ammunition; this would be critical for us to be able to get accurate data from the ABC software. We checked both our .308s and our .50-caliber rifles. After a few hours of shooting, we headed back to the workshop to clean our equipment. The factory may have seemed modest but it was immaculate, well equipped and complete. We had several minor repairs to perform on our rifles after shipping, but we were thankful to have them at all. We almost didn’t get our weapons because of a major hurricane that traveled through and past South Florida the week before.
Our homework that night was to practice with the ABC computers and be ready to figure our dope out at the range. Both my partner and I were initially a little skeptical as to the accuracy of the ABC computer. As I sat and began to practice with the computer I fed in known distances for which I had the correct adjustments/info for my personal rifle. The feedback was right on.
With a minimal amount of training, the ABC software is very simple to use. The software provides a list of ammunition with their related velocities. Our guns and ammunition were within the range of the listed data, which allowed us to just plug in the “variable” information. The best part was that the computer gave the same info as my personal range card did. Guess I was on my game!
With Range Comes Wind
In the morning, we drove almost 20 minutes to the next town and entered the long, flat range. This is the same range where the long-distance group record of 2,314 yards was achieved. It is a 3,000-yard, flat range with 8-foot-by-8-foot target backers.
We decided that we would put the computer to the test. We wanted to pick an arbitrary distance, range it and have the computer give us the corrections. We drove to the 436-yard line and fired our cold-bore shots from our .308 rifles. We both shot minute-of-angle groups. The computer allows the shooter to program the wind estimation at the muzzle, the target and the mid range. Due to the terrain of the flats we had wind at the target blowing left to right and mid range blowing right to left and then doing a little swirl. Both Dave and Chris were very knowledgeable at reading the wind and estimations. It truly is an acquired skill, but experience is the best teacher.
We decided to head out to the big bore or what we referred to as, “the big boy ranges,” of 1,000 yards and beyond. Shooting at the 1,000-yard line was fun—and a challenge. I was shooting the Barrett M82A1 and my partner was shooting the McMillan Tac50. The AP rounds that I was shooting had been giving me some problems because of variations in their velocity that ultimately affected their accuracy. With the assistance and experience of Chris and Dave we figured out the problems and fixed them.
My partner was shooting Amax rounds from Arizona Ammunition and they performed great. The novelty came when we shot the .408. With the Barrett and the Tac50 there were some good target indicators by way of blast. With the .408 it was almost like shooting our .308s.
As the day progressed so too did the winds. We worked our way out to the 1,500-yard line and boy was that fun. In basic sniper 101, we always tell our students: set your turrets to zero when you are done shooting at distance, so when you get to your next shooting position you can make an accurate adjustment. At 1,500 yards there is quite a bit of adjustment being put into your dials. The ABC computer told us we had forgotten to correct out turrets. After several missed rounds we realized the computer was right. We re-adjusted and were able to take our shots and make some nice groups. We finished the day feeling strong and confident in both our weapon systems and our long-range skills.
Very important factors that come into play when shooting at long distance include Coriolis effect and spindrift. The latter is what happens when a projectile spins after leaving your barrel and how it drifts at certain distances. The former explains what happens to your bullet based on the direction in which you are shooting in relation to the curve and spin of the earth. You could try figuring this out with a slide rule or use the ABC. After getting very comfortable with the computer I commented, “hey this thing is pretty easy, it’s not like it’s rocket science.” Both Dave and Chris turned to me and with a smile said, “Yes it is.”
In fact, they were right. When CheyTac tested their weapon (M-200) and bullets, they went out to the Yuma Doppler radar testing facility. This allowed them to track the bullet’s flight from the moment it left the muzzle to when it finally hit the ground. That means they knew exactly what the bullet did during sonic and sub sonic flight. This facility is used to test all kinds of ordnance—and rockets are one of them.
On day three we decided that we would exclusively shoot CheyTac’s M-200 rifle. Driving to the range, we were glad that we had rented a four-wheel drive vehicle. As we arrived at the top of a small mountain, we realized that this was game day. We unloaded our equipment, our rifle, ammunition, ABC computer, Kestal wind meter, rangefinder and spotting scope.
Chris helped us set up our shooting position and then pointed out the 11 steel targets we were going to engage. We needed to use the spotting scope to find them as the closest target was 962 yards and the others extended out to 2,245 yards. We were shooting from one side of the valley to the other. The two closest targets were 24 inches by 36 inches, and they got progressively smaller. Out past 1,100 yards we were shooting 12-inch-by-16-inch steel plates. At 1,355 yards we even shot a 12-inch-by-12-inch target.
I almost forgot to tell you that these targets had anywhere from a two-degree incline to 10 degrees, and out past 1,000 yards that makes a huge difference!
My partner and I figured our distance, range, wind and adjustment in about 10 minutes. We decided that we would take turns on engagement of the targets and see how well we had developed our observer skills along with our shooting skills. We had an average of 10 to 15 mph wind at the rifle, almost 25 mph over the valley and about the same at the targets. With the first nine targets being hits either on first-hit engagement or within three rounds, we were feeling pretty good about our skills. We also found out that the observer was as important as the shooter and truly this was a two-man job.
As we set up for the two 2,245-yard targets, I was a tad bit apprehensive. I had never shot beyond 1,000 yards on anything other then man-sized targets and we were engaging head-sized targets out to 1,500 yards. To make the situation even more challenging, the wind really picked up.
I loaded five rounds into the magazine. I found my frustration rising as it took a little under four seconds for the bullet to impact the target. My rounds were drifting around the target and just missing the plate. I went to get off the rifle and give my partner a try.
He looked at me and said, “Get back on the rifle, and I’ll give you directions.”
We waited for the wind and he said, “Favor, low left.”
I held and squeezed. Four seconds later we saw the bullet impact the plate.
It should be noted that we were shooting the rifle with a suppressor on it and did not have to use ear protection. And we had just shot sub-minute of angle at 2,245 yards.
We continued to shoot and put almost 180 rounds on target. Even so, you never would have known we had been shooting a big bore rifle all day. The rifle systems were accurate and just plain fun to shoot. In retrospect, we would have liked to take a shot at the long-range group record, but we had to get back to work in South Florida. (Two Marines, shot a 16-5/8-inch group at 2,321 yards in July of 2004.)
I have no doubt that the weapon system produced by CheyTac is truly one of the premier long-range sniper weapons of the future. I am also a believer in the company’s ABC computer. We look forward to the release of more CheyTac products.
The hospitality and knowledge of the staff at CheyTac was genuine and sincere. Several times while we were cleaning in the shop, I found Dave on the phone long-distance, late after office hours, answering questions and troubleshooting. The staff’s care for the customer and the sniper community in general was impressive. It was obvious that CheyTac truly is a leader within our community, and it showed not only in the quality of the product, but also the people who produce it. I can only say that my total experience with the company and personnel was excellent. I look forward to the advances that CheyTac founder Dr. John D. Taylor, CEO Corey Kupersmith and their entire team will bring to the shooting and sniper community.
The CheyTac ABC software system is based on applying live variables (range, weather, bullet) to pre-collected and verified trajectory data. Instead of the user being required to manually enter caliber, bullet weight, ballistic coefficient and rifle twist, all of that data has already been accounted for. By live-firing every bullet in the included bullet library, CheyTac has collected detailed trajectory information for each bullet using Doppler radar. There are three primary benefits to this system over the standard ballistic forecasting method:
Accuracy. To predict where a bullet will go, you first have to figure out how it will get there. The “how” includes determining bullet speed, maximum distance and the variable Ballistic Coefficient over the flight path. Since a bullet’s BC will change substantially over the duration of its flight, entering an average does not allow for the accuracy required for precision long range work. The CheyTac ABC calculates a solution as a function of BC over distance. By drawing on live-fire Doppler radar data, the ABC knows exactly how the bullet will perform over any distance within which the shooter is capable of making a shot. With this information, it then applies any variable the user has data for: temperature, air pressure, multiple winds (up to three), etc. This method has resulted in a substantially more accurate solution than one finds with a standard manual-BC entry.
Speed. By having bullet data pre-loaded, the user has less data to enter before acquiring a solution. This allows for much faster setup and change in target. CheyTac has equipped the ABC with a number of default values that allow for a solution in seconds, should it be required. Keeping in mind the intended use of the product, the unit has been designed to be a dead match for current sniper doctrine as it is currently taught in U.S. Military schools today. One of CheyTac’s founding members was a principal instructor at Fort Benning for a number of years prior to his retirement. Close collaboration with talented current members of the U.S. armed forces with wartime experience as well as the Canadian Special Forces has lead to the current v2.0 release.
Scalability. To make a first shot, the user is only required to select a bullet and then enter range to target. Every variable entered after the first two will increase the accuracy of the solution. This allows for operation of the product even if not all data is available. For short to medium range shooting the defaults along with a wind estimate may be sufficient. However, the additional screens for data input will give the shooter a cold-bore shot expectation of a first-shot kill out to the maximum distance of the supersonic range of the projectile.
All of these benefits are related to having real live-fire data preloaded in the ABC. Without that data, more user-input is required for even the most basic solutions.
One of the more important decisions a purchasing unit has to make is based on the intended use of the product. ABC software is a warfare-grade product; it must be used on a warfare grade platform. There are a number of RPDA units in general distribution.