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US Optics Academy Long Range Shooting Class

Recently I had the opportunity to attend a US Optics Academy long range shooting class.  The class was held in the mountains of Apple Valley, California, about 2.5 hours east of Los Angeles. I was no beginner to long range shooting but I saw it as a good opportunity to refresh the basic skills and techniques that many of us may wander from in our shooting experiences. It was also a good chance to spend some quality time behind various US Optics scopes and see what they are like. I already had a favorable view on their scopes but since I was in the market for one, I paid special mind to them in order to help narrow it down.

The intro course is a 2 day event and the students are housed in a lodge nestled in a valley in the mountains. It was a very nice place to stay, with all the amenities you would expect of a normal residence. There were eight students total and two main instructors supported by one or two other members of the US Optics team.  Both instructors were former Scout Snipers with a lot of practical experience with the various methods of long range shooting. Before we got to the firing line, there was a detailed classroom lecture on the fundamentals and details of optics, ballistics and shooting technique. With that over, we picked up our gear, made our way to the firing line, and after a detailed safety review, got to zero our weapons. During that process, the instructors made little corrections to form as needed.

Once we were all zeroed, we were given various drills to complete. It was obvious then how the little mistakes I made affected my shooting and how correcting those improved my grouping.  Little challenges pushed me out of my comfort zone, which was good.  Many of the drills were there to highlight any bad habits that I had.  One particular one was to settle on your target, take your breaths, close your eyes and squeeze off the round.  The point of that being that your position should not require any effort to maintain.

Another drill made me take a shot, then get up and retrieve the next round of ammo from my hat, laying inverted 10 yards behind me.  This timed drill was meant to teach you how to settle and focus for your shot even while under physical stress as well as setting up your position the same way each time.  After all, consistency is accuracy.  A few games brought some competition and merriment to the group and once the sun went down, we packed up, had a quick debrief and went to dinner in town.

The next day, after a large breakfast, we all gathered for a classroom session before heading out to confirm zero and move up to the side of a ridge overlooking the Lodge and the canyon.  The first thing I noticed, besides the spectacular landscape, was the wind.  The instructors had told us to bear in mind the path that wind will flow down the canyon and up the cliff face that we were on.  The wind at the ridge was a constant 15-20 mph gusting over 30.  Lucky for me, it was very nearly a direct headwind, which brings its own issues beyond bullet path.

It’s always good to wear eye-pro when shooting but here, you didn’t really have a choice.  Wear it, or get blasted in the eyes with the dust getting kicked up.  This brought up a thought that I spoke with US Optics about afterward.  I was impressed that even after a full day of shooting there, the objective glass was not scratched one bit. Even after I hastily wiped some dust and sand out of the objective lens with a gloved finger, the glass was perfect.

We all paired up and took turns with our partner for spotting and shooting with each instructor assisting us as needed, checking for form, and helping to spot the fall of the rounds. The normal shots topped out at 1000 yards but there were some informal targets at over 1500 yards for those brave enough to try, or those shooting .300’s and .338’s. To spice things up, some team and individual oriented competitions took place, adding a bit of enjoyable pressure to your shots, which is something I can’t get during a normal range trip.

One favorite was one where you shot a target and a point was awarded based off of how far it was, but your turn ended when you had your first miss. The macho thing to do is go right to the far shots that way all you need to land is one or two hits and get a lot of points. But since you can’t hit the same target twice, the logical thing to do is start at the closest target (200 yards) and walk your shots out.

Overall it was both a fun and informative trip.  Not only did I get formal long range training in a beautiful part of the country, but the other students and instructors were great to work with.  Also, I got to spend some time behind what has become my favorite scope brand.

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