*Review: Storm Mountain Training Center Basic Sniper Course*
10 September 2000
My experience with Storm Mountain Training Center in Elk Garden, West Virginia began one year ago when I signed up for their Long Rifle I and II courses. I attended the classes and quickly learned that the instructors were very capable of teaching students to hit reliably at distances up to 700 yards in various wind conditions. The Long Rifle classes covered long range marksmanship. No tactical information was presented in those classes. As well, the students were not put under any type of stress. The subject of this review, the Basic Sniper Course, was an entirely different animal.
Stress and Learning:
ÖWe must provide our students with the most realistic training
available in all but the most basic level of instruction. By doing so
we give them the ability to cope with the stress which is thrust upon
them in a real situation. The student will revert back to the way they
were trained in all stress situations. If you gave them a no-stress
training regimen, I guarantee they will not react in the same manner
in which a student who has been trained with induced stress will
Dr. Rodney D. Ryan, President, Storm Mountain Training Center, Tactical Shooter, The Introduction of Stress in Training, March 1999, Vol. 2, No. 2, pg. 73.
The instructors at Storm Mountain believe in stress; both physical and psychological. So if a student gets selected for a little discussion about a favorite hockey team while on the range, he should just resign himself to the fact that the result of the discussion will not last forever. Usually there is someone in the class who will screw up to the degree that the whole class will be PTíd. However the instructors will make up a reason if none is available in the interest of inducing stress. Time limits are placed on everything, such as moving between training stations. If one is informed that they have 5 minutes to get to the repelling tower for range estimation and field fire, the student should make every effort to be there in 5 minutes because stragglers will be dogged, and blatantly lazy people will cause the whole class to be PTíd. That said, instructors warn students of this on the first day of class. Students are warned that the instructors will try to pressure students into screwing up any way possible, and are told right up front that the way to avoid screwing up is to ignore the instructors in those situations.
The Basic Sniper Class is a five day course that introduces the student to the fundamentals of marksmanship, ballistics, and skills required for military and police style sniping. There is no prerequisite for the course so some time is spent learning basic marksmanship for those who might not be experienced with a rifle. According to Dr. Ryan, the course is modeled after the U.S.M.C. sniper school philosophy with some elements of Army and Police training added. This author has no military or law enforcement experience so readers should take that into account.
Day one of the class consisted of the PT test, and four hours of class time before lunch. The PT test consisted of 50 push-ups in under two minutes, and a mile and one-half mile run in under 14 minutes. If the student fails the PT requirement he is sent home without a refund. After lunch was an additional hour of class. The students without partners were then assigned partners similarly unencumbered. The author of this article got lucky in that regard in that I was partnered with a Marine currently serving as an LEO for the Reno Nevada PD, sent to the course by his department. After we were assigned our partners we were marched out to the 100yd. range to make sure all rifles had a good base zero established. The final hour of day one was spent on the long-range course establishing a range card on the targets and ranging targets between 250 and 700 yards using the mil dot ranging method. Note: Mil dot ranging is what is taught at this school. If a student shows up with an alternate ranging system in his scope, the student must have that system down, because they teach mil dot ranging and only mil dot ranging.
At the end of day one students were itching to give their rifles a try at long- range so the range went hot; which served to teach how bad beginners are at mil dot ranging. Targets that were 700 yards away were initially ranged at 1000 yards, but us grasshoppers didnít know that at the time.
After day one the class composition consisted of the following:
25% Range estimating and field fire (shooting at ranged targets)
25% Stalking training
10% Cold bore shot logging
10% Concealment excersizes
10% KIMS games (memory training)
10% Target detection excersizes
10% Various PT and rock crunches
We were told to carry 250 rounds of ammunition (of course that varied depending on which instructor the student asked; another stress thing) with us at all times, as well a pre-specified list of equipment totaling a about 50lbs. between gear and ammo. The schedule for day two was to be as follows:
09:00-09:30 Cold bore shots and log
09:30-10:30 Concealment excersizes
10:30-12:30 Range estimation and field fire
13:30-14:30 Target detection exercises
14:30-15:00 Kims games
15:00-17:30 Range estimation and field fire
17:30-19:30 Stalk #1 (non-graded orientation stalk)
However, we were asked to show up at 07:00, so we did. But problems started right away. One student had not returned. His partner was still with the class but he advised that his bud was still in the hotel room with a very sore shoulder. It turned out that it was more a bruised ego. The instructors proceeded with the class but told us that lunch was going to be spent getting this student back to class, and that the effort would be partaken by the whole class. The mission was accomplished, and the student was back after a little collective encouragement.
Then our problems really started. After lunch students began getting a handle on how much ammo was going to be expended, what gear was really going to be needed according to the class schedule and thus how much we really had to carry. So the e-tool got ditched along with 150 rounds of ammo, the poncho and liner (thanks to the weather channel) etc. etc. Why not get rid of a little weight? Well, because the instructors will get into your pack and decide that if the student reduces his "stress" by carrying a lighter load, the instructors will compensate. And they did. Welcome to the world of "Rock Crunches". Find your instructor a rock, and carry it with you at all times. Run 100 yards with your rock, drop and fire. Another 100 yards, with your rock and fire, etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. Get the picture? To top it off we were dropped off at a barn and instructed to prepare range cards for all approaches to the barn without our gear. We were thrown a package of cheese crackers as the instructors motored off, and told weíd be expected on the zero range at 07:00 the next morning. Fortunately the temperature that evening was expected to be a little too cool for the instructors to feel comfortable about leaving a group of wet students out, so we were relieved at 22:00 and sent back to our motel rooms for gear repair and a little sleep.
One surprising aspect of this school was the emphasis on sniping skills other than shooting. The stalks were especially fun, since it got the instructors off the studentís back for a while. Basically the student is set out a couple of miles from a target area, briefed on the boundaries, and given a time limit. The goal was to get within +/- 100 yards of the target (an instructor with a high quality pair of binoculars) and fire two blank rounds from the same position without being seen. Three things complicated this proposition; first, was terrain. The stalks were set up to be difficult. They were routed either all up-hill, or through semi-populated areas where students couldnít afford to be seen. Second was the time limit, which on one stalk forced this student through an almost never-ending patch of wild raspberries. Said student passed that stalk (barely), but ended up digging thorns out of his body for the next week. The third complication was the fact that the second shot was taken with an instructor touching the student.
Days Three and Four:
Days three and four were similar to day two, but with less PT time since the students now had a good idea of what was expected of them. Students met at 07:00 on the 100 yard range each morning to log cold bore shots. Students were advised that one of the tests on day five was to put a cold bore shot through a 1" square ceramic tile at 100 yards. Sounds easy, but making the shot with the knowledge that a miss means flunking the class is harder than it sounds. Time on the long distance range was spent refining mil-dot ranging and getting all our data in the shooting logs for use on test day. All stalks at this point were graded with the grades counting towards graduation.
At one point on our first stalk my partner and I totally screwed up by wondering out in the open directly in front of the observation tower. We were big-time busted. Our only chance relied on the fact that we were too far away for the instructors to collect us in a timely fashion, so we ran for it. Thatís when we learned that cheating was a good thing.
The Kims games got more interesting. Imagine 20 guys hopping around on one foot in a circle trying to memorize twelve items placed on a tray in the middle of the group. Oh Öand we had to sing the Gilliganís Isle theme song while doing so.
Day 5 (Test Day):
Cold bore test:
A cold bore shot is basically a shot fired from a cold bore. If one takes the time to log the placement of the first shot out of a particular rifle he will discover that it is always a little off from the shots fired when the barrel is hot and dirty. Every rifle has a different cold bore pattern, but the good news is that it is very consistent. The bad news is that if a particular rifle prints 1-1/2" high at 100yds it will print 10-1/2" high at 700yds. Its something the student needs to learn to take into account. Each student had three cold bore shots logged up to test day. As mentioned earlier the test was a 1" square target at 100yds. My rifle consistently shot 1-1/2" high on the cold bore shot so I took my time, aimed 1-1/2" low and squeezed the trigger. The shooting gods were with me. Four out of the twenty students missed.
All the stalks between day two and test day were graded. Each student needed a cumulative total of points to pass the class. Students were awarded 80pts for getting one shot off without being detected, 90 points if they got the second shot off but got busted (observed), and 100 if they got both shots off without being detected. If a student got busted before he got a shot off, he got goose eggs. The only students in trouble at this point were the ones who had been previously busted without getting a shot off. Since my partner and I had the foresight to cheat on our first stalk and run before we could be rounded up, we were not in a difficult position. We both got off our first shot, which was all we needed to graduate.
Field Fire Test:
The field fire test was at a total of eleven targets of various sizes at ranges between 225 and 720yds. The targets were at known ranges as weíd spent the previous 4 days ranging and collecting data on the targets. There were seven targets out to 545yds. If the student hit each of those targets on the first shot, the student passed. There were four additional targets at 670yds, 670yds, 695yds, and 720yds respectively. The 720yd target was a bonus target. Students were awarded 10pts if they hit a target on the first shot and five points if they hit on the second shot. 70 points was a passing grade. My partner and I each scored a 90 by missing one target each completely, and we both missed the bonus target.
Kims Games and Observation:
In between the cold bore, stalk, and field fire tests were final memory retention and observation tests. These were not that difficult and did not take much time. The instructors did make all students repeat the memory test with the explanation that several students had screwed it up and they didnít want to flunk anyone because of a failed Kims game.
Impressions and Conclusions:
The most important lesson I learned was the sniperís most important weapon is not his rifle, itís his legs. All that expensive gear ainít worth anything if you canít get it to where it needs to be. By the end of day two this studentís 39 year old frame was dragging.
My impression of the class is that it is serious training, and worth the price ($700.00). I canít say it made me a sniper, but then again it was only a beginning level class. The four students who failed the cold bore test were given another chance with a three-hundred yard shot into a 6" circle and all made the remedial shot. All 20 students earned the "successfully completed" certificate as opposed to the "attended" certificate. We were told that it was the first time that every student had passed. We were also told we got a little more attention because out of the twenty students there was not a single case of someone complaining about or requesting a new partner. Apparently this was the first time the instructors didnít have to deal with that problem so they cut us a little slack. Two students (MPís in the U.S. Army) were kicked out of the class for not being team players, but they were let back in after they begged. The whole incident was probably just mind-games for the benefit of the class.
All -in -all Iím glad I took the course.
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