I arrived in Keyser, WV., at approximately 16:30 the Friday preceding the match and checked into the hotel. It is interesting to see a bunch of guys wearing woodland BDU's and carrying various sniping accouterments casually walking around the hotel and parking lot and NOBODY giving them a second glance.
The week leading up to this event saw my partner for the event Al Ostapowicz drop out to a critically ill relative and my wives' grandmother passing away. On top of that I was coming down off less than a week old case of the Shingles, located anatomically at what is called the S-3 nerve endings at the ripe young age of 38! To paraphrase that ancient Chinese curse, "Yes, I do live in interesting times."
After dragging my nonessential gear upstairs, and checking out the room, I went off to Storm Mountain. Twenty minutes later I was in the "front" of the office chatting with a fellow competitor and taking in the beautiful scenery. Being a "flatland" West Virginian, coming up this way is always a way cool experience. I had hoped that the leaves were starting to change color for some great views and photo's - but not yet.
I then drove down on the range road and was met by Rod Ryan and his son Jake busily zooming around on a John Deere Gator 4x6 making ready for the match. After brief formal introductions, Rod graciously allowed me to putter around the ranges and take in the scenery and different range layouts under the caveat I was out before 18:00 hrs. No problem there! Watching Danny Basso running around with this demonic grin and a chain saw wiping out the local ecosystem at Rods command certainly reinforced the point.
Kent Gooch, Rick Boucher, and Bruce Robinson were busily working at what will be, for the Carlos match, the mid-field area and I decided to leave them to their pleasantries. Driving around to the back ranges I observed very well designed and carefully constructed ranges for moving targets, sub-gun, and stress type tactical stuff.
Arriving back in Keyser, I drove to Franceso's restaurant for a bite to eat and hook up with any of the Duty Roster folks/ match competitors that might show up. (This place has become a near cult "must eat at" for those in town for a Storm Mountain class, or this fine match.) I ordered up my usual "mutant" 1/2 lb. hamburger with a side dish of calamari accompanied by a Coke Classic and sat back to enjoy the meal.
Sure enough within minutes, the second wave of competitors arrived and I got to meet "Doc" King, "Tony P.", Danny Basso, and few others. Before and during the meal, all things shooting and tactical were discussed and then Tony entertained us with a number of really interesting stories from his trips around the world with the military.
As I began to load my gear into my car a gentleman next to me started up this "mile long" 4X4 pickup truck with New Mexico tags bearing "Mil-Dot" and began to wipe the condensation from his windows. He asked me if I knew how to get to Storm Mountain and introduced himself as Bruce Robinson. He is such a down to earth and low-key kinda guy I felt like I'd known Bruce for twenty years as we chatted.
I made it to Storm Mountain at about 07:00 and began to get my gear sorted out, double checked my payload of mandatory items, and humped it all over to the check-in station. I then slogged my gear over to the side of the "Big" tower and began to take in the scenery and people. The first familiar face I saw was Paul Coburn a.k.a. Lito from S/C, Harold Rolls, Fred Fischer, and some more that looked awful familiar but I just could not place.
John Markwell was one character that I recognized immediately from my IPSC days in the very early 1980's. We chatted about some of the other notable "old timers" like Gary Greco and John Pepper, past matches, and memorable little things like me blowing out the overhead lights at an indoor combat match with the muzzle blast from a 6" S&W 629 with some hefty loads. Ah the good old days!
I formally met Mike Miller of Tactical Intervention Specialists, Rusty Rossey and his Autauga Arms teams, Jim LeMay, Pat Lakin, Tony Yakowski, and a buncha others too.
Rod Ryan gave us a welcoming speech and talked a little about the match and the wonderful sponsors who have stood behind him and continued to support the event even after Carlos passed away. I hope you will COMPLETELY support the sponsors of this event and have listed them at the end of this article. It really angers me that shooting related companies would back out of supporting such an important cause with all proceeds going directly to assisting the family of the man who has done so much for the Sniping community. This event had brought us all together from literally all around the USA, and the World. A fine shooter from Switzerland, Mr. Kreissibucher added a little international flavor to the match. A true European gentleman and heck of a shot from what I saw him do.
Rod then turned the event over to Kent Gooch who gave us a safety protocol speech, match agenda and broke us down into two groups: Alpha Team and Bravo Team. Alpha consisted mainly of the individual competitors and a few teams while Bravo was entirely two man sniper teams.
As luck would have it Alpha started with the "optional" 6 round rifle zero, so we humped all our gear down to the sight-in range which is somewhere around 3/4 of a mile from the rally point at the rappelling tower. Arriving at the range, we were allowed to uncase our rifles and prep behind them. Downrange were a number of full sized Mil-Park targets with Storm Mountain's Zero/Mil Relation Practice targets stapled to them.
I had two great guys, Zarkovic and Carlos Santillian, to my left and right on the firing line. "G-man" was shooting a muzzle braked Accuracy International rifle in .300 Win. Mag. and Santillian had a Choate stocked Savage in .308 Win. and a Tasco Super Sniper scope on top. Dave Whidden walked the line and gave each of us a designated target (e.g. Target 4 lower left) to fire on when the line was ready. On the fire command G-man cut loose with his rifle and the blast darn near put me in Carloss lap.
I lost my first shot and figured it was cutting the black, reloaded and fired again, still nothing. This was beginning to make me real nervous, then 4 times more and my target was still unscathed. I quickly glanced at my scope settings and they appeared to be correct - Uh-Oh!
Fortunately, this was to be the only live fire event for Team Alpha for the day and all other events would be field exercises. We cased our rifles, donned our packs and headed down the hill to the staging area for the Stalking event.
This was one event that I did not look forward to, and I almost backed out due to my existing affliction, and the very poor anatomic location for horizontal activities. In fact, between the InBrief and Group split, I mentioned the reasons for my hesitancy to Mike Miller and Jim LeMay and they both encouraged me to continue. Jim even gave me two blank cartridges for the event, which my teammate was going to supply had he been there. Thats a true sign of genuine shooter solidarity in my view!
As I stood there looking out at the sunrise and rifle ranges and reflected on what this match was all about, and what Carlos N. Hathcock II had been through during his life, I got a quick grip, kicked myself in the ass real hard (Ouch!) and got a positive "Can Do" attitude.
Kent gave us a briefing on what we could expect, showed us the boundaries for stalk and the FOP line which was marked with yellow safety tape. The smarter members of Alpha group were already putting on face paint at this point and getting into their Ghillie suits. And I am talking about real Ghillie suits, good ones, both home made and production versions.
Our observers would be Kent and Rick Boucher who traveled up to help out for the event. This would be no "cakewalk" for any of the competitors. Both gentleman do this stuff for a living, and I've heard they take particular pleasure in "busting" the students in some form of advanced Sniper Instructor Ju-Ju.
Me, I just had an Olive Drab M-65 field jacket, BDU's, and boonie hat. I wiped a little brown and green stickpaint on my face and hands and we were given the ten-minute warning for prep time. I went over critical stuff here like checking my Camelback was full, then checking my Camelback, and again verifying water in Camelback. No field IV's for peteR please!
We were given the green light and headed into the woods down a series of well-worn paths that the attendees of the LR III course seemed to be real familiar with. Over a barbed wire fence, down some hills, past a pile of sun bleached bones of some kind, up a creek bed, and to the base of the hill starting our stalk area.
I picked the same egress point as Mike Miller. Dumped my pack, hit a canteen for a couple gulps of water, put on my head net and then gave Mike about a fifteen minute head start so as not to "bust" him when I stumbled out into the field like Inspector Clouseau in disguise.
Mike had broken right after leaving the tree line, and as he slithered off his suit and drag bag was hissing in the grass. I wondered how far the noise would travel, and if Gooch and Boucher could hear it at the OP.
I peeked over the edge, shot a quick compass fix on the rappelling tower, and bellied my way out into the field totally expecting to be busted right then and there! Now my Eagle DB-BS rifle bag was covered with burlap of the absolute wrong color and texture for this field so I flipped it and left the bottom up. Yep, BURLAP SIDE DOWN!
As I twitched across the grass, brambles, briars, thistles, and assorted other fauna quietly muttering "Spiders, Snakes, and Bee's OH MY!" I began to hear an occasional "BANG" as someone took a shot. The occasional range command to "Freeze" gave me a chance to gulp up some water through my Camelback and gather my thoughts.
Next thing I knew the yellow tape was actually behind me! A sudden compulsive urge to jump up and start dancing and yelling, "Who's Da Man" could barely be contained. More bangs and "Freeze's" began resulting in clumps of grass getting patted on the head, standing up and walking off the field.
Another fifty yards of dirt sucking and I could see the base of the tower and almost got busted by raising my head instead of using the damn compass. I got behind a decent looking shrub, uncased my rifle and slipped the barrel through the left center of the bush and popped the lens caps open. No shot! I was missing a clear view of the observers by less than ten feet. With rifle now recased I slipped laterally over and shortly began to hear radio commands and the crunching of feet, the radio squawking "Left face, forward", "Left, forward", "Little steps, Little steps" "Right there! - BINGO peteR is busted.
The walker asks my name and as he radios it I heard laughter and a gravelly voice say "Peeeeeete . " I stumble down the hill both elated to make it that far on my very first observed stalk with two TOP GUN OBSERVERS, and physically wiped out from the crawling. I had a round ready to go and safety off but the lack of a clear shot resulted in "He who hesitates is lost."
Now it ain't over yet, the hill still has to be climbed to the OP, and as a little extra something both of the straps on my ALICE pack decide to begin to give up the ghost and break loose. And I didn't even notice the straw for my camelback leaking lifes vital fluid down the front of my shirt and pants.... My ass was totally kicked, and the day was still young, with more events to be run. I ended up with 40/100 for my efforts and was happy to have participated and done that well, all things considered.
You better be in good physical shape, have a good terrain blending ghillie suit, and very deep and intimate understanding of the ways to maximize the use of the land to your advantage. When you set for a shot take it quick, and don't hesitate.
The first phase of this match required the competitors to judge the distance to ten metal targets (either FBI silhouettes or Military E-2) by the naked eye, or non-ranging reticle type optics, and write them down on a list within a specified time limit.
Luckily for Alpha team, this course began at the end rally point for the stalk and Bravo team got to go first, after they had humped their gear back to the rappelling tower from their last event. I used the time to refill my canteens, take pix, and banter with various competitors.
The next stage was to do the same with a ranging type reticle in either a spotting scope, binoculars, or scope sight. My score being a substandard 30/100.
I would HIGHLY recommend that you obtain a Mil-Dot Master for such an event, and also for use in the field. I did not have one and I struggled to keep up with the rest of the A-team. The equipment listed as "suggested" for the match was clearly thought out and proved to be very necessary. The need to practice goes without saying....
This one was pretty cool. Alpha was squadded around a folded up woodland pattern jacket that was lying on the ground and told we were to observe a number of items for a brief period of time and then write them all down. To add a little fun to this, the insidious "Mister LiWanag", our R.O., had us walk in a sloppy circle around the items, near the drop off for the edge of the hill, listen to REALLY bad jokes, and then switch directions of rotation as a group.
We were then sat down for two minutes or so, and listened to more bad jokes, had to remove our shoelaces, hand them over to the next Alpha team member to our immediate left, to take off our boots, throw them over our left shoulder 3 yards, then retrieve the laces, re-lace our boots and then were given the sheet to write down an accurate description of the items like five column per item and ten items. The ones I was able to list were within the time limit were:
Bianchi UM-84 Holster OD, Multi-purpose tool, Signaling Mirror on cord (or) the Lensatic Compass on cord, Epinepherine pen box and 30 round AR-15 magazine and then I ran out of time.
I was later told the solution is to list all the items first and then go into the description of each which makes complete sense if your brain is functioning at full capacity which mine certainly wasn't!
We moved downrange with full gear to an area called the slag pile and our R.O. "Meat" had us drop our gear and got us situated with backs to the target objective, heels on a yellow spray painted line and told us what gear we would be needing for this event. We were then broken into two sub-teams and were given a sheet of paper with a blank grid map and a table for listing the targets discovered through observation skills.
"Meat" casually briefed us, with his heels halfway off the cliff, about what we were to do and the boundaries of the objects in question. Mike Miller finally made mention that he might want to move just a little closer to us, or end up down below....
The target area was surrounding an old barn, silo, decrepit station wagon, and a concrete slab with support columns jutting from the ground. I'll estimate the target area at about 1/2 city block in size. This one was going to be fun too! The sun was shining over the target area into our eyes, and the ground had a number of non-ergonomics properties which made my Eagle DB-BS rifle case feel like a feather bed. After ten minutes we switched to the right side of the OP and I continued with my point nestling in a spine twisting little depression in the slag. My teeny-weeny 12x binoculars and fatigued strained eyes had a devil of a time with this and I scored a whopping 15/100 here.
Get a good compact (remember that you will be carrying it all day) high optical quality spotting scope and tripod, and practice both your observation, and detection skills, every chance you can. I did not, and it killed me!
This ended the festivities for day one and we got to slog all our gear down one hill, back up to the rappelling tower, and then to our vehicles for debarkation. After the short drive back to the hotel, I took a well-earned shower, checked my gear over, and went back to Franceso's for dinner.
Saturday night saw quite a few more people showing up to socialize and by 7:00 the waitresses were hustling around the tables. I had a chance to chat with Bruce Robinson and learned a quick history of the evolution of the Mil-Dot Master. My buddy Dave Rolls of Slope Doper fame also showed up accompanied by his brother Harold, Fred Fischer, Mike Miller, Sgt. Cox, and a number of very interesting folks. I hung around for a while, jabbering with them, and then departed for a trip to pick up some more needed goodies at Wal-Mart.
First item was plastic zip strips to fix the harness on my ALICE pack, which now had become chronic in releasing the straps at the worst possible moment throughout the day. After talking to Rusty Rossey and a bunch of his guys I got the idea that a tactical vest with butt pack might be the way to go in reducing weight and conserving energy during all the walking we were doing. I will pursue this subject further when time is available to me.
I literally dragged myself out of bed with every muscle from my skull down begging for mercy, hit the shower and dragged my gear to the car arriving back at The Mountain about 7:05AM. Glancing around I got the idea many other folks were beginning to feel it too. Not many folks were moving as spryly as on Saturday morning.
The Inbrief was given and we grabbed all our gear and headed for the sight-in range to do the three shot group exercise. By the time we got there we were all happy to dump the packs and prostrate ourselves on the ground.
We were once again assigned targets and prepped for the event. I had found my problem during the sight-in shoot simply being my scope having exactly two rotations of the dial (24 M-O-A!) above my 100 yard zero. This being the result of a failure to return the elevation the prior week while checking things out at longer ranges. In a word: DUH!
The line went hot, and G-man once again nearly capsized me with his first shot from that A.I. .300 Win. Mag. equipped with a muzzle brake and his 220gr handloads. My first shot went high about 1 1/2" and the following two were centered within a half inch of each other. Unfortunately the wild CBS went just a hair out of the white diamond into the black and I lost any and all points. It must have been the fickle winds of fate since my rifle had up until that point never wavered from within 5/8" of the rest of the group with any ammo shot through it.
I dunno, this is the first time my rifle has ever shot that wildly that I can recollect with over 200 CBS shots going easily within a 1" circle at 100 yards. My guess is the physical stress and discomfort played a great part in it. I did nothing but run a single patch through the barrel so oil fouling can be discounted.
The shooting Gods must have taken some pity on Alpha Team, as we only had to walk about 300 yards to the next firing points.
Five line-drawn head targets with a series of concentric circles 1.5 inches and three inches in diameter denoting the Brain stem area from the side (around the ear canal) were affixed to a Mil-park type target. The distance to the target was 69 yards. Speed was a medium walk (3-4 mph).
On the command the targets would travel at about 3 miles per hour across the range and had to be engaged. The moving target event consisted of engaging a target with one shot per run. One target traveled right to left and the other traveled left to right. Engagement had to be made between two 55 gallon plastic barrels with about fifteen yards of separation.
Let me assure you this was no cake walk and correctly estimating the lead and then hitting inside an approximate 3" circle, or smaller still, 1.5 inch "XRing" from the prone position can be a whole lot of fun. I got lucky, having shot a bit of 10M air rifle running target in the past, and nailed three of four shots for a 30/40 score on this one. Many others weren't anywhere near so lucky. The ability to track, lead, and/or trap a target requires either really good coaching, or a lot of practice to be done successfully.
I used a fixed Harris bipod and do not believe it was a handicap with the exception of the fourth shot when a rubber foot on the bipod dragged causing me to snatch" a shot. But the flaw was again me, and not the equipment.
The stress event was something I had been looking forward to shooting, up until I found out it involved the rappelling tower....
I have two severe dislikes/fears: heights and needles. Our favorite R.O. "Meat" and Rod Ryan acted as our guides for this event and walked us through the first three shots to be taken at ground level.
All competitors were required to single load their rifle at each station for safety reasons which is a nice latent touch for additional stress as well.
Tips for climbing the multitude of wooden ladders were given and completely absorbed by all of Team Alpha.
Carlos Santillian decided to add to my distress by crooning a few bars of Shania Twains "Honey I'm Home" to keep me right at the razor edge of cracking. He claimed it was fitting for a tower type shoot....
The first shot was to engage a resetting 8" plate from a prone position, then move to the wall of the rappelling tower and fire a round from a standing supported position at a "Mini Me" sized torso target. Then run around the tower and enter it to engage a target specified by the "proctor" located inside through a window.
Next, a ladder climb to the second floor and a repeat with another "proctor" specifying the target to be engaged. Then up another ladder, to the third floor for the same thing with another "proctor" designating the target. Fourth floor, the same thing except with a body part touching a large plastic cooler, then finally climb a ladder to the "Top of the world" for the final shot downwards at a steep angle on the last target to stop the watch.
Of course our RO. "Meat" had to yell down, "Hey Rod, watch this..." and then make the top of the tower shift as he shook it. Yeah Baby! Yeah! That made my day even more complete.
Did I mention the fact that the "Proctors" would give each shooter verbal stimulation at each Firing Point in the tower:
I managed to hit all seven targets with one shot apiece, and then descend to mother earth without oxygen administration being necessary and was very, very happy with my performance. I had taken time during the earlier rest period to do a quick check on the tower with my Slope Doper and figured angles from 20 - 30 degrees at less than 110 yards should not present a serious problem. Working on upper body strength and cardio-vascular exercise are both highly recommended after shooting this event.
The last phase for Alpha was the Field fire event and for this we retired to the rear firing berm. From atop this rise you get a majestic view of the majority of the open range area for Storm Mountain and surrounding scenery. Our objective was ten little white dots located at random distances in front of us. Those dots were in actuality, the life sized B-27 and E-2 targets used earlier for the range estimation event with some additional yardage tacked on.
Walking to the range, well dragging would be a better term, I ran into Mr. John Pepper taking in the sights and people. John is the man who developed the "Pepper Popper" for those with IPSC/IDPA roots. His skill with a .45 Auto is legendary in the Washington DC area, and from my vague recollection he KNOWS the way of the rifle too.... It was nice to see him in West Virginia at such a prestigious match.
Kent Gooch and Rick Boucher were our spotters and Alpha was broken into two sub-teams with the two man groups firing first. The individual competitors got a break to relax and check their data books and stew. We were brought onto the line and briefed. We would be given a number (I was #5) and fire on the specified target in order of shooter 1 to 9, or reversed 9 to 1.
We would first be given a period of time to "dope" or range the targets and apply it to our optics. Then we went to heads down position and as our number was called came up on the rifle and target, and fired the shot at the specified target. "Hit" or "Miss" was called out by the R.O. normally before the impact was heard, then back to the heads down position.
Once all shooters completed a target series, the next target was doped and the process repeated until finished with target #10. I managed to hit the first target solidly very quickly after the command to fire was given, and only hit once, or twice, once the range increased.
The lack of practice in ranging and shooting long range took its toll here with a score of 40/100. Again my "milling" of the targets was far from as accurate as it could have been with a Mil-Dot Master. My data book only had approximate widths of 18" and 24" and not heights for targets. I now firmly believe using both dimensions may have gotten me a few more hits.
This was the culmination of two days of fieldcraft and precision shooting. In addition to having some beautiful trophies for the first and second place shooters in Individual there was also a Team trophy.
Top individual was "Doc" King followed by that .300 Win. Mag. shooting "G-man" in 2nd and Mike Miller in 3rd place.
The team awards went to LeMay and Herig. These two can really shoot let me tell you! 2nd place team went to Huskey/Smith, and 3rd Team to Danny Basso/Jake Ryan.
After the trophies were handed out a raffle type drawing was done for a truckload of donated goodies. Dave Rolls gave some very limited production run Slope Dopers, Bruce Robinson gave a batch of Mil-Dot Masters, Mike Miller donated some of his outstanding slings, DeMilt Associates donated a batch of mouth-watering goodies. Some exceptional ghillie suites were given away, some of the $1,000 resetting targets, gift certificates, and after that I had a hard time keeping up and have to apologize to the sponsors.
The final raffle was for an absolutely beautiful Tac-Ord rifle in .300 Win. Mag. caliber with "Doc" King winning which was a fitting end to the event. I had to depart after the group photo and return to everyday life, married, with children; and missed saying goodbye to a lot of new-found friends.
I had a total blast with virtually each and every minute being a learning experience. While some of the match was very frustrating to me, it was all a result of ME NOT DOING MY HOMEWORK.
The folks running the event, and those competing, were all top of the line friendly, easy going, in behavior and demeanor. I hope Rod Ryan, and the Crew at Storm Mountain will continue to make this match a traditional event well into the next Millennium and I hope to meet you all there next year!