One of the most important steps you can take as a precision rifleman is engaging in relevant training. Specifically, learning the skills and techniques necessary for proper rifle manipulation and shot execution. If you haven’t done this, you’re selling yourself short. These steps can go a long way to enhancing your shooting precision.
Taking the Steps to Enhance Shooting Precision
I’ve attended several “intro” classes, and I never fail to learn something new or be reminded of concepts I’ve let slip. Last year, I spent time familiarizing myself with the Modern Day Sniper website and curriculum while preparing a piece on its two instructors, Caylen Wojcik and Phillip Velayo.
After experiencing the space, I felt it was necessary to attend one of their in-person classes. Velayo informed me they’d be holding a class at Heart Mountain, and having been there once before, I knew I had to attend.
It’s difficult to describe Heart Mountain, and I won’t try to. Let’s just say it’s like shooting from on top of the world. You have to see it to believe it. The view is stunning and inspiring while delivering a low-key vibe of intimidation.
This MDS class, Intro to Precision Rifle, was longer than what I’m used to. Four complete days. And even that likely wasn’t enough time, but Velayo, rolling solo without Wojcik, did a phenomenal job of handling the task. Eight students, including yours truly, came together to bathe in the Kool-Aid of the MDS way.
What type of shooter attends an MDS class? In short, all types. The room was filled with shooters of all experience levels, from one individual with 50 years of shooting a rifle to an individual with no long range shooting experience at all looking to learn the shooting sport.
There was an LE team of snipers in attendance as well, along with avid hunters. The diversity of the MDS experience and commitment from its members carries over across all of its platforms—including the physical type.
Classroom stuff is classroom stuff, right? Yes and no. There was an immense amount of note-taking and a thorough explanation of the shooting process, ballistics, gear, mindset, and so on.
This classroom time seemed more spirited in the way of information and decimation than usual. I worked to keep pace and expand my knowledge. It’s amazing what little things you overlook when you become “experienced.”
The MDS curriculum breaks down the precision rifle shooting learning process into four segments across the four days:
|2||Y Axis—elevation ballistics solvers|
|4||Put it all together—evals|
Circle of Components
One particular portion of the instruction that I found useful was the discussion about the rifle and its components and how they all work together. Known as the Circle of Components, it reinforced the importance of not only having the right equipment but highlighted the effects of each component and its effects on the others.
This discussion on components is a must-have one. Your equipment, if it’s not up to snuff, can only work against you, never allowing you to properly learn or execute the shooting process. A couple of us found that out during the class, which is where you don’t want to find it out. It’s better to know that in advance. Get quality kit.
From there, we moved on to Modern Marksmanship Mechanics, which, as you likely can tell by the name, is the foundation of our shooting and what we would build on for the four days.
One thing I can’t stress enough is for you, the rifleman, to receive training and instruction from as many competent and qualified trainers as possible. While at the highest level, they are all teaching the same thing, there can be differences in the details and that became clear during the LOP (length of pull) portion of mechanics.
Many of us were taught that the proper way to fit the LOP to the shooter was to place the butt of the rifle into the crease of the elbow and measure that distance from the end of the butt to the trigger.
You then set the LOP, place your optic, and so on. Here’s the problem: that’s never worked for me. In fact, I have to run my LOP an inch or more shorter than this. It’s a baseline but not a hard-set rule, and Velayo was clear on this topic that it wasn’t necessarily a rule.
It’s important to look at wrist angle and make sure the shoulders and elbows are parallel and perpendicular to the bore. Bolt manipulation needs to be efficiently achieved as well. Thus, I need a short-set LOP to accomplish this.
Well Broken-Down Checklist to Execute a Precision Shot
Everything Velayo discussed was well broken down and labeled. The “Shooter’s Checklist” comes to mind, which is the steps we go through to execute a shot. This list included “grounding the rifle,” building body position, and bolt manipulation.
Each of these steps were broken down in depth, giving us much to think about. You can never hear this enough, and it’s not until it’s broken down in this manner that you stop to think about if you’re properly executing each step.
From there, we cover ballistics or firing solutions and dive into the elements that affect a firing solution. Such as wind, atmospherics, velocity, and so on.
Before heading up to Heart Mountain, we descended upon a flat range, where we would get our rifles zeroed for the coming drills and evaluations that we’d be executing for the remaining three days.
An important and often overlooked technique in precision rifle shooting is having the rifle in solid contact with the shoulder (more like the clavicle area). Shooters often lay on top of the buttstock to some degree, placing too much pressure on the support bag. This also creates a bad angle for the shooter/rifle.
Velayo teaches the importance of “building a bridge,” which requires the shooter to bring the rifle into the shoulder solidly without a bag. Once the rifle is solid and the target acquired, you use the bag only as a necessary support. It’s quite effective.
In fact, we shot groups using this technique without our bags supporting our rifles. It’s always fun and effective, and you’d be amazed at how well you can shoot like this if you practice the technique.
Timed drills were on tap later in the day, using the Modern Day Sniper 21 dot target. Each row of dots has specific instructions for the shooter, such as start standing and go to prone, engaging each target with one round. Each needs to be accomplished under a specific time limit as well.
It’s a good way to turn up the pressure on students so that they can evaluate the execution of learned skills. Each dot was 1.5-MOA in size, and it only counts if the shot breaks the circle.
To Heart Mountain
The remaining days were spent on Heart Mountain, shooting in the unique conditions that you only encounter on a mountain such as this. It’s beautiful but will kick your behind in a heartbeat. Cold, warm, no wind, 35 mph wind, sun, clouds—Heart Mountain dishes it all out in multiple-minute intervals. I love it. I hate it.
Targets range from the 350-ish-yard mark out to over 1,300 yards. If I recall, there was a mile target as well. The varying target arrangement provided a unique set of shooting challenges from the wind directions and vertical angles. Basically, you’re shooting out over ridge and canyon, and it’s deceptive in its size and topographical character.
It’s so expansive that targets are difficult to find even with their fluorescent paint jobs. Once you find them, they’re obvious, but up until then, they are cloaked in the breadth of Heart Mountain’s grandeur.
You’ll learn a lot about wind here. It may be the greatest lesson of all at this venue. Due to its sheer size, Velayo was able to show us how wind values changed simply by changing his shooting direction.
With winds snaking their way through the valley below, nearly every engagement of a different target brought a different wind hold. This is one of the most difficult aspects to teach the modern rifleman, as many venues lack the wind variety of Heart Mountain.
Shooting Instruction By Precision Demonstration
It’s one thing for an instructor to give you drills to work on, but it’s another thing for that instructor to show you exactly what’s expected of you. Velayo did an excellent job of demonstrating the tasks.
If we had to run a timed drill, he ran it first so that we could grasp the concept. That meant real-world, real-time execution and all that came with it—misses and malfunctions alike. Velayo made many things look easy, evidence of his time developing his skills.
His use of the Triggercam, wired to a monitor, allowed us to see exactly what a proper wind hold should look like, as well as recoil management. These are the tenets of the Modern Day Rifleman classroom.
We were tasked with several performance evaluations while on Heart Mountain. One was removing our optic, replacing it, and securing a solid zero within a short amount of time with minimal rounds.
The highlight for me was our impromptu NRL Hunter stage, where each shooter had 10 minutes to shoot several targets moving between shooting locations. You could only use what you carried, and anything you left behind could not be recovered and used.
This was particularly challenging due to the altitude and its effect on my body. That said, it was fun, nonetheless. We had to locate, range, and engage targets as needed. It was during this exercise that I remembered why I love this so much and how necessary a stressful challenge is to your shooting development. Not to mention it’s just plain fun.
The guys at MDS are serious about what they do and what they are trying to bring to the shooting community. Few educational spaces are as comprehensive, shooting-related, or otherwise.
For more information, please visit ModernDaySniper.com.
This article originally appeared in the September/October 2022 issue of Tactical Life magazine. Get your copy today at OutdoorGroupStore.com.