Last week I took the Precision Rifle 1 Class from JP Enterprises, held at their Blue Steel Ranch in Logan, New Mexico.
The purpose of this class was to learn more about long range shooting. Because most of my rifle shooting background was 3gun competition, I’m reliably accurate at 200-300 yard targets, and though I’d hit targets at 500 to 600, that was really inconsistent, and I wasn’t very good at it. I’d tossed lead at 1000 yard targets for kicks and giggles, but had no idea what I was doing, and couldn’t hit anything at those kinds of ranges.
The PR1 class is all about learning to hit longer range targets, all the way out to 1000.
The further out you get, the more you have to hold over for elevation, and the more wind pushes your bullet around. There is a science to long range shooting that most shooters never learn. A regular .308 drops like 35 feet at that range, and it takes a while for the bullet to get there, with wind shoving it around the whole time. PR1 teaches you how to assess and account for these things. Gun folks call long range shooting “weaponized math” for a reason.
JP Enterprises is manufacturer of high end, top tier, rifles. They built a custom gun for my Monster Hunter series (the Cazador) so they invited me out to their training center so I could learn how to really shoot it. As a novelist when I do any sort of training, half the time I’m learning stuff to help myself improve, and the rest of the time I’m picking up cool stuff for characters to know to make them more interesting. So I’m a sucker for this kind of thing. Then I plugged the class which caused a bunch of my readers to sign up too, and that was fun.
Blue Steel Ranch is in Logan, New Mexico. It’s a couple hours from an airport if you fly in (you can ship your ammo right to the ranch to be waiting for you there). I drove 13 hours down from Utah with my friend Dave, listening to Dresden Files audiobooks. They put you in pairs, so I would work as Dave’s spotter while he shot, and he would spot for me. There are hotels in Logan, but the ranch also has a bunk house you can stay in.
The instructors were excellent. The lead was Brian Whalen, former Army Special Forces and a sniper instructor. He really knew his stuff, and was able to convey it in a way that the students could actually retain and absorb it. Plus, since the classroom portion could be dry, Brian kept it entertaining. Then there was Dave and Aaron, assisting, and both of them were extremely knowledgeable. (and because we had multiple Daves, my spotter was Beard Dave, and the instructor was Big Dave, because he was a former Marine and SWAT cop who pumps a lot of iron).
I’ve taught a lot of CCW and basic pistol classes, so I’m opinionated on what makes a good shooting instructor. Part of it is getting the information across in a manner that students can absorb it, but they’ve also got to be able to read the room and tell when people are lost or not. When actually shooting they need to be able to watch a student and diagnose their issues. Then it isn’t enough to just talk, a good instructor has to be able to demonstrate on demand that they can actually perform the skills they’re telling you about.
These guys were all solid.
Instructor to student ratio was good too. I believe there were 12 students, but since we worked in teams, that meant for all the actual long range shooting portions there were 6 shooting, 6 spotting, so it worked out to one instructor on 2 shooters at any given time.
The class goes for 3 days. The first day is mostly classroom, going over equipment, ballistics, range, wind, etc, followed by going to the range to get good zeros and to adjust equipment as necessary. The classroom stuff is like drinking from a fire hose of information.
I’ve been shooting rifles for most of my life, but I learned more about how to get a reliable, consistent prone that afternoon than the rest combined. I’d just never thought about it before. It was flop down and go. The instructors helped me out, and my group sizes shrank.
Also, sand socks… Holy moly, what a difference. I’d never used one before. It’s a little bag you use in your support hand while prone, placed under the rear of your stock. Night and day difference in comfort and consistency.
A lot of us managed to screw up our equipment somehow. Bipods and scopes were adjusted. Stocks were changed. For me, I had just gotten a new suppressor, and didn’t realize that there was oil in the threads from the factory, so couldn’t figure out why I would start shooting a good group, only to have my zero start to vertically string. Brian diagnosed the problem, I degreased and cleaned the threads. It was good. But then decided that I was really going to torque that thing on there to make sure, and managed to twist my float tube to the side in the process. I swear, I was like Lenny petting the bunny this class. Once that was fixed I got a good zero and was ready for the next day.
On the equipment, if you are going to take the PR1 class, don’t hesitate to contact the instructors beforehand and ask them questions. I wish I would have. It would have saved me some time and frustration working with gear that wasn’t quite right.
The second day started out with checking our zeros and testing cold bore shots. Then we used ballistic software to build range cards. Being able to have all your data right at hand is absolutely vital, so once you know the range of your target you can dial in your drop and wind without having to mess around.
Then it was off to the range to try and hit targets from 400 to 1000. This was where all that class room rubber hit the road. While one of you was on the rifle, your partner would try to read wind and spot impacts. Then an instructor was watching as well, providing corrections and feedback. Judging the wind is the hardest thing of all, because it could be going ten miles an hour left at the target, but thirteen miles an hour at a 30% angle before that. It was the first time since college I had to think about cosines!
But we did it. We worked those targets. It was awesome. I’m pretty sure I giggled when hit the 1000 for the first time. (we’ll find out, that was all recorded and will air on an episode of Shooting Gallery on the Outdoor Channel). Hitting a thousand is rewarding. There is also a 1,300 yard one if anybody is feeling ambitious. A couple of our guys hit that one.
The rest of the second day was spent shooting, reviewing, correcting, and improving.
Then the third day it got challenging, and the class headed out to the desert to shoot from a rim across a valley filled with targets. This is where you’ll be thankful you brought knee and elbow pads, because all of the shooting positions are improvised. The hardest part wasn’t hitting the targets, it was finding them (and they went over some really helpful tricks for scanning) and then keeping sight of them while you get into a position solid enough to actually hit them.
To give you an idea, in one position there were six targets from 500-800 yards. I was having a hell of a time because it turns out my back/neck is super inflexible, so I was really struggling with what the instructor referred to as “shit sandwich prone”. For this part my regular old Harris bipod didn’t have enough adjustment to get the right angle, so I was laying on my backpack to get my body up high enough. This was killing my neck, which made everything else start to quiver, so it was like as soon as I got into position a clock started, and when it ran out, I wasn’t going to hit anything.
But with Dave and Brian spotting and telling me wind, I’d find them, adjust the range, adjust for the wind value given, and boom. If they saw the impact of the miss, I’d adjust accordingly. (I love my Horus reticle now). It took me several minutes to find and hit all of those, and I’ll tell you, I felt like a total bad ass when I finally got that last one.
So then right after that, to demonstrate how this stuff could be done by a pro, Brian shot that same array, with Aaron spotting, and cleaned the six of them in thirty five seconds without a single miss. Yeah… Wow. That’s humbling. I think I need to come back for PR2.
Shooting on the rim was educational. You could have targets at approximately the same distance, but with a hundred yards between them, and the wind value for the two of them would be different. I felt pretty good about how I performed a few times, but then I totally screwed the pooch on one set. I spent too much time in a crappy position looking in the wrong place. Then I hit the ones that I could see, but I simply couldn’t find the last ones. But in the process I learned a lot about my weaknesses and what I need to work on for next time.
PR1 was a blast. I feel far more confident about my ability to hit long range targets. I recommend it to anybody who wants to learn about long range shooting. I look forward to taking their PR2 intermediate class in the future.
EDIT: to add, I forgot to explain the reference to Shooting Gallery. The first two days of this PR1 class were filmed, and will air on an episode of Shooting Gallery on Outdoor Channel sometime next season. Because I’ve been a regular on Gun Stories for the last couple seasons they thought it would be fun to do an episode of me taking this class. I’ll post when I have the air dates.