I have a natural talent for shooting. Though I’ve fired fewer than 5,000 rounds in my life, I have always been able to keep up with my military and law enforcement-trained friends at the range.
Of course, these are standard paper targets that don’t shoot back (I’m also not wearing 70+lbs of gear and walking miles at a time before getting into a surprise firefight).
I had always wanted to try my hand at long distance outdoor shooting, where wind, Coriolis and other environmental factors could really have an effect on bullet travel.
However, beyond two practice sessions shooting an M4 with iron sights at 200 yards, I’d never had the opportunity to shoot long-distance.
So when a local gun range offered a class called “Reach for 1,000”, which allowed for a truly long distance shooting experience, I jumped at the chance.
The class prerequisites said “This is an advanced level class. The student needs to know and be able to demonstrate safe gun handling, weapon system familiarity, and strong foundational marksmanship skills.”
What the hell, right?
Class started on a Saturday morning at 9am. It took me all of about 10 minutes to get the first lump in my throat.
As 6 participants sat around a conference table, our instructor asked us to share our names and shooting experience.
The first two shooters were retired military, one of them a former sniper from Ranger Battalion.
The next two were hunters who were looking to use this class to zero in the new scopes attached to their $4,000 rifles before heading off on a hunting trip.
Then there was a Recon Marine friend of mine who had agreed to come along. And finally, there was me. Not only had I shot thousands of rounds fewer than the rest of the class, I was also the only one without my own rife.
I had arranged to borrow a Sig Sauer SSG3000 .308 with a 5x30 power scope from the range.
The class instructor, a former Navy Seal instructor, was audibly annoyed by my lack of experience and verified that I knew this was an advanced course.
I assured him I knew, and we moved outside to the range course amid a flurry of eye-rolling and sighs from the others over my rookie status.
The first step was for everyone to zero their rifles at 100 yards. This allowed the students to make sure their rifles were accurate (small mistakes at 100 yards become target-missing mistakes at 1,000 yards).
The zeroing also gave the instructor a chance to watch the shooters for the first time. We all got into the prone position.
We shot three warm-up shots and then 5 shots to produce a measurable group. I had a half-inch grouping, including two shots through the same hole. It was the best group in the class.
We then moved back to 300 yards and shot a second five-shot group. This time my grouping was just less than two inches, but only a single shot feel outside of a one-inch group.
At this point, the instructor’s demeanor changed when speaking to me and it felt like the entire group let out a collective sigh of relief.
It was as if they were thinking “thank God this newbie won’t need to be babysat”.
It was now about 12:30pm. We moved all of our gear back to the 1,000-yard line, laid out our shooting mats, ammo, set out our weapons, cleared them and put them on safe and broke for lunch.
Around 1:15pm it was time to get on with the real reason I came here. It was time to fire a round at a target 10 football fields away.
The target is so far that it cannot be seen with the naked eye. It is so far away that it requires the instructor to act as a spotter as each of us takes our turn pulling the trigger – one at a time.
First, we were told to shoot a 5’x 5’ steel plate. Not only would hitting the larger target be easier but if you listened closely, it actually produced an audible “ding” when it was struck.
And wouldn’t you know it – I got to take the first 1,000-yard shot.
There I was, surrounded by people with infinitely more experience, scopes that cost more than my entire weapons system, and a retired Navy Seal waiting for me to pull the trigger.
I tried to steady myself as much as I could, but my heart was pounding. The only thing riding on this shot was my own pride, but I was petrified that I was going to be the first one to shoot…and the first one to miss.
Once I was cleared to fire it probably took me 15 seconds to pull the trigger, but it felt like 15 minutes.
More than once, I blinked to re-establish my sight picture through the scope. The front of the rifle rested on the bipod, and the back rested on my balled-up fist as I lay prone ready to take the shot.
Finally, I took three long, deep breaths. On the third breath, just before I let it out, I softly pulled back the trigger with the first pad on my left index finger.
Once the trigger was pulled, there was an eerie silence. After a second or two, I raised my eyes up from the scope. I had missed the target…or so I thought.
A little more than 4-seconds after I fired my shot (my estimate), we heard a faint sound. It took that long for the bullet to travel 1,000 yards, strike the target and send the sound back to us.
As it turned out, I had struck the 5’ x 5’ target about one foot from the top edge and just left of center.
I was the only person to hit the target with their first shot. I hit the larger target 6 times with ten shots.
After we had all had the opportunity to hit the large plate a few times, we moved on to the almost invisibly small man-sized targets.
These targets were significantly smaller and were much more difficult to hit. A spotter is absolutely essential at this distance.
Even looking through the scope, it was near impossible to see where the shots hit, or how much you were off if you missed.
Our instructor/spotter had to use his spotting scope, which looked more like a small telescope, to focus on the target before we fired a round.
Once he was focused in, he would clear us to fire. Once the bullet made an impact, he would let us know where we hit, or which direction to adjust for our next shot.
I had three hits in ten shots on the man-sized targets. The best shot the group hit just 6 shots in ten.
As the day came to a close, I was very happy with my performance. I was neither the best shooter, nor the worst at 1,000 yards and I was as good, or better than everyone at the closer distances.
But far more importantly, I was able to cross an experience off of my bucket list. I fired a total of 20 shots from 1,000 yards using a rifle I had never used before.
I hit steel on nine of them – 45% accuracy – not bad for a rookie shooter.
So as the summer heats up, grab your rifle, get out on the range and try something you’ve never tried before. You’ll be glad you did.