When Rod Hansen and John Markwell announced on the Sniper Country Duty Roster that a tactical rifle match was to be held in my native state of West Virginia I was thrilled. I simply could not wait to get there, take in the scenery around Seneca Rocks and participate in what would prove to be a great rifle match.
When I arrived on Friday I secured a tent site at Seneca Shadows campground, which offers a superb view of Seneca Rocks. After that I headed down to John's climbing store The Gendarme to sign in and grab a map to head over to John and Rod's place.
I headed over to meet Rod at his house. I later met John as well and we headed up the road to the most picturesque farm I have ever seen. The farm is owned by Joe Harper, who was kind enough to let Rod and John host the Allegheny Sniper Challenge on his farm. Joe is the proud owner of 850 acres in one of the most beautiful spots I have ever seen. Keep in mind, this is a working sheep and cattle farm. Over 1000 sheep are on the premises and Joe didn't even know how many cattle he had. So obviously safety was paramount as these livestock are a good part of Joe's livelihood. The match was paused a couple times to allow livestock to move (or be moved) from the target area.
At the farm we took a ride around part of the property and I got a little preview of the various target arrays that made up the course of fire. While on the property, Kevin Hillhouse from Wilson Combat was present firing his 45-70 Sharps rifle. It was really neat seeing some of the steel targets that Kevin was ringing at over 600 yards with iron sights. Below are John (L) and Kevin (R) next to Kevin's target.
It's pretty obvious why these guys are smiling when shooting these types of firearms at distances over 600 yards and ringing steel consistently. The target in the photo is a 'fatman' target. The dimensions are 24" wide by 33" tall.
The majority of the shooters decided to camp at Seneca Shadows campground in Seneca, WV. This is a really nice campground with showers, fire pits, and nice tent sites that offer a spectacular view of Seneca Rocks. We all rendezvoused at the campsite and prepared for the upcoming events. It was great to sit around the fire and chew the fat with all the competitors.
All events were unknown distance. Only target dimensions were given. Laser range finders were not permitted so the shooter's ability to correctly and consistently utilize mildots was thoroughly tested.
No sighters or zero checks were allowed on either day of the match. All competitors were expected to have an operationally ready weapon and support equipment.
The first two events of Day One of competition consisted of the cold bore shot and 5 shot group events. The cold bore shot proved to be a learning experience for several competitors. The shot was on a 1 7/8" tile. A 9" x 12" sign was there for us for range determination purposes. I estimated the range at 128 yards. There were more misses than hits. It was great how the event started out with the 'final exam' of cold bore combined with unknown distance. A cold bore hit was worth 30 points so it was tough coming out of the gate with a miss.
Second event was the 5 shot group exercise. It was also at unknown distance and all shots had to be on a 3" by 5" white card to score points. Several fine groups were fired that morning.
The group of 16 competitors was then split up and shooters 1 7 shot Sniper Golf with John Markwell, Brock Markwell and Jeremy. The balance of the shooters went with Rod Hansen and shot the field course over a huge pasture that backed up against a ridgeline that provided an ideal backstop. I was on the relay that participated in Sniper Golf first.
What a great course of fire! There is no other place that I have been where you can take 830 yard uphill shots and 150 yard shots downhill at 40 to 45 angle. We had plenty of opportunity to shoot cross-canyon shots where there is little to no indication to what the wind is doing. All targets were unknown distance and targets ranged from Larues to MGM flash targets, mini poppers (8" circles) and fatman targets (24"x 33"). Below is a photo of a cross canyon shot encountered in the Sniper Golf course of fire.
The shooting positions were not always ideal and may have been halfway between prone and sitting but not quite either one. Alternate shooting positions were well tested during Sniper Golf. If the shooter wasn't able to improvise it cost points.
Sniper Golf was designed to really test the shooter's field shooting abilities. All shots were UKD and the shooter was forced to improvise positions at times. There were uphill and downhill shots and shots that forced the use of a large boulder or a tree trunk (from a sitting position) as a support. It was a true test of a shooter's ability to adapt and do what was needed to have a first round hit.
The weather during Day 1 was something else. We got everything from the great conditions in the photo above to freezing rain and snow. By the time our relay was winding up Sniper Golf we had been burnt up (high 70's low 80's) and froze out (high 30's). The weather that Rod and John ordered up could not have been a better test of a shooter's ability to adapt to rapidly changing conditions. It also made for some interesting camping.
The final event in Sniper Golf was the Counter Sniper Event. This event consisted of a black and white 8" MGM flopper targets placed at an unknown distance. The shooter, while inside a 'hide', loaded the weapon and made ready. Then John introduced a little bit of stress. He would force the shooter to hold for what seemed like an eternity (but likely only a minute or two). Then John would call for fire by yelling SNIPER!...shoot, shoot, there he is, get 'em, get 'em!". The shooter had to engage the sniper first (white popper) then clean the observer (black popper) with a total of 2 rounds fired. If the shooter failed to have a first round hit on the sniper then you were assumed KIA. This event was scored as 20 points for cleaning it and minus 20 points for anything else.
Top photo is Paul Cockerham ready to engage waiting for the order to fire. Bottom photo is Andy Mussack waiting for the FIRE command.
After the events of Day 1 everyone went back to camp or their hotel and got ready to head over to Rod and John's to have a BYOB (the last B standing for Beef/Beer) barbeque and to recap the day's events. It was great to hear about all the competitors talk of shots we should have made and the ones that we couldn't believe we made.
At the end of the dinner, Rod and John raffled off all of the prizes that several vendors donated. Everyone was drooling over the Eagle Drag Bag that Jerry Mueller walked away with. Several other super nice prizes were raffled off including several HydraStorm Hydration Systems, Bruce Robinson's Mildot Masters, MGM Target gift certificates, and several Blackhawk nylon items.
The second day of competition found our relay changing places with Relay 2. Our relay went with Rod to do more UKD work on the main pasture and Relay 2 went with John to 'tee up' for Sniper Golf.
Rod's portion of the match was designed to test the dope the shooters brought to the match and to give those people that didn't have good data the opportunity to get it. Ranges varied from 350 yards to 1000 yards. There were 3 target arrays placed up on the hillside. Each array consisted of a Fatman, a Larue, and a 8" MGM flopper. The idea was to engage the targets in the order of decreasing size to test our marksmanship skills, ability to range and make wind calls. Each of the 3 arrays were placed at different places on the hillside. The group would engage all three arrays and then move back to longer range Firing Positions in the main pasture.
Our group really did well up until ranges started approaching 700 yards then there was some struggling going on. However, there were some that really rose to the occasion. Danny Mull must have sacrificed a few virgins on the alter of the Wind gods. I don't think he was off on an elevation or wind call all afternoon.
One of the highlights of the afternoon was Andy Mussack's attempt at the 1000 yard groundhog club. He didn't get in (I thought his last round was going to be a winner).
We finished up Day 2 on the main pasture as John's group was coming off the ridge from Sniper Golf. Our relay headed off the pasture and moved down to shoot on one of Mike Gibson's Precision Rifle Targets. What a great target! The T box and the center of mass plate flip out when the bullet strikes. The plate can then be reset by the same or another shooter. he 'precision parts' that require the sniper to focus are the T box and the center of mass follow up shot. The follow up center of mass shot only leaves about 1.5" of the plate exposed to score a hit and reset the plate. It is an excellent sniper/observer training aid. Unfortunately, this event didn't count for score, but it was more quality trigger time at UKD.
Interestingly, this match was self scoring (yes, that's right self scoring). Since all the prizes were raffled off the night before there was no motivation to be dishonest. Also, in a match like this you would only be cheating yourself out of a great learning opportunity if you peeked over at someone's elevation or wind turret.
Danny Mull was the winner of the match, scoring 561 out of a possible 710 points. He received handshakes and hearty congratulations for his victory from Rod, John and all of the competitors. Consequently, I think that Danny was 'blessed' when a curious cow came up to his rifle and licked the muzzle.
The competitors finished in the following positions: