Perhaps your grandfather taught you to shoot at a young age, or maybe you did a stint in the military where you learned the basics of rifle marksmanship. So, what good is attending a shooting school if you’re just a hunter? For most, the essence of the hunting experience lies only partially in the taking of game. To some, it’s the least enjoyable aspect when compared to time in nature, camaraderie with fellow hunters and providing food for freezer and family. So, is there really a reason to focus on shooting?
SUB MOA Shooting
First, each time you enter the field to harvest an animal, you carry the moral responsibility to make an ethical decision on the range within which you can make an effective shot. In practice, knowing one’s limits within the conditions and terrain is both the key to more successful hunting and respecting the obligation to the life you intend to take. But what if your hunting aspirations extend beyond a tree stand or elevated blind and ranges beyond 100 yards? If elk, mule deer or antelope of the western United States are your quarry, the odds of you stalking within your typical “eastern” comfort zone without a massive dose of luck and a corn feeder are slim. Significantly longer shots are typically necessary.
Ultimately, good marksmanship coaching is invaluable to any hunter at any range. And the SUB MOA Shooting Institute focuses on extending a hunter’s capabilities beyond 500 yards, while establishing reasoned limits for a variety of realistic scenarios to help hunters make consistent and accurate shots at distances where they feel confident of success.
Going SUB MOA
The SUB MOA Shooting Institute grew out of a need recognized by Justin Richins, a hunting outfitter and manufacturer of precision rifles. “We show hunters that with a quality platform, understanding of ballistics and conditions, and mastering fundamentals, they can extend their ability to take game at longer ranges,” Richins said. “The maximum range varies from hunter to hunter and can change dramatically with wind and terrain. Our goals are to make hunters better shooters, give them the tools to make better ethical shots, and teach them how to read environmental conditions so they can make informed decisions and accurate shots at various ranges.”
SUB MOA Rifles
The SUB MOA shooting course is unique in its association with SUB MOA rifles, as it equips each shooter in the class with an identical platform. Each student uses a SUB MOA “Dirt-Nap” bolt-action rifle chambered in 6.5mm Creedmoor with a Huskemaw 5-30×50 scope, a bipod and a suppressor. For our course, we fired Hornady 140-grain ELD match-grade ammunition. The rationale of the standardized rifle is to provide a platform and caliber that is 1,000-yard capable, thereby focusing the students’ time on learning long-range shooting skills rather than fixing individual rifle issues or adjusting to caliber performance differences.
The SUB MOA Dirt-Nap rifle features a highly finished Remington 700-style action with a hand-fitted barrel. But two elements make the setup notable. First, suppressors not only make the all-day shooting gentler with respect to the fatigue of recoil, but they also significantly mitigate, if not wholly eliminate, the need for ear protection. In other words, there’s no dealing with ringing ears and induced flinching from the repeated impacts and overpressure of a large-caliber rifle while you are trying to focus on trigger control and optic adjustments and alignment. There’s also no guy next to you with a muzzle break sucking your eyeballs out each time he fires a shot.
Talking The Talk
The choice of a second-focal-plane Huskemaw scope is no accident, either. The Tactical 5-30×56 has two features that aid in the SUB MOA method of teaching. First, the high magnification optics adjust by 0.33-MOA per click. The steel targets on the known-distance range sit at 100-yard intervals (500 to 1,000), cut 3-MOA wide at each respective distance. For example, the 500-yard targets are 15 inches wide and 15 inches tall (1 MOA at 500 yards is about 5 inches, so 3 MOA is 15 inches). The school cuts the targets to scale larger at each distance. This relative visual proportion between distances allows shooters to make wind calls and hold adjustments precisely using the 1-MOA hash marks in their reticle at full power. It also allows each shooter’s spotter to make downrange adjustment calls for their shooters that immediately translate within the scope. More on that shortly.
Getting Extremely Dialed In
Finally, the Huskemaw scopes have a bubble level inside the scope that enables shooters to check the cant without taking their face off the stock and eye out of the reticle. Inside 200 yards, cant isn’t a significant factor, particularly for hitting a target as large as the vital areas on most North American big game animals. At 500 yards and beyond, it becomes a significant factor. Cant, or tilting the rifle off a vertical orientation, moves the point of impact of the bullet in the direction of the cant and downward.
Worse, the point of impact errors from cant increase over distance. According to Bryan Litz, 1 degree of cant creates approximately 5 inches of lateral displacement at 1,000 yards. So, extrapolated to a barely discernible 5 degrees of cant (without a level indicator), a shooter would induce a 25-inch point of impact change, even if the middle of the crosshairs were perfectly aligned with the center of the target. In the SUB MOA class, “check your bubble” was a familiar and helpful verbal reminder from spotters to shooters.
What Spotting Teaches
If a shooter and a spotter harken images of military snipers, you’re not alone. But if you’re not fighting al-Qaida, what’s the point of a guy behind a big spotting scope telling you what to do? It’s because learning to be a spotter makes you a better shooter. First, you have a front-row seat to what your shooting partner is doing correctly or incorrectly, such as proper body position, trigger control and sight alignment. Second, you also get arguably better shooting repetitions by watching the bullet’s path (trace) on its way to the target and simultaneously calibrating your eyes and mind to how much a 1-MOA adjustment changes the point of impact at varying distances. It takes much more concentration to be a spotter than one would expect.
Further, unlike a shooter, you’re not worried about holding a rifle, squeezing a trigger or aligning sights. What you are required to do is observe your shooter before, during and after the shot. Your partner will make mistakes, and they’ll burn into your mind why you shouldn’t repeat them when you see misses that burst into clouds of dust instead of metal splatter and gong sounds. But most importantly, being a long-range spotter makes you feel the conditions (wind, humidity, temperature, etc.). You have to estimate their impact on the bullet’s path. Then you give your shooter proper information for either optics adjustments or reticle holds. When you’re back on the gun, those insights will translate into enhanced self-awareness and interpretation of shots down range, especially when you no longer have the benefit of a spotter.
Bench To Mountains
Shooters start on SUB MOA’s range in a pristine valley near Henefer, Utah. The facility has a covered shoot-house where multi-bay bench rest stations and a level, flat slab look across a valley at target racks at 100-yard intervals from 500 to 1,000 yards. The work of marksmanship fundamentals begins here. Each student arrives with a different skill set. The uniform conditions allow the instructors to make personalized adjustments as they learn to shoot and spot.
The SUB MOA Shooting Institute incorporates constant feedback loops into its instruction. The format gets the maximum value out of each shot. Shot-by-shot coaching from instructors and time on the heavy glass as a spotter makes for an intense day of learning. In addition to establishing their rifle’s DOPE (Data Obtained on Prior Engagements; i.e. adjustments to the optics at various ranges) at the benchrest position, students also run through the targets at each distance in the bipod supported prone position and again off shooting sticks. The day doesn’t end on the range. After dinner in the lodge, the instructors lead a feedback and learning session. They discuss the day’s lessons and preparing the students for the next day’s challenges.
Day Two of the SUB MOA schools is truly unique. The skills learned on Day One are put to the test in the steep valleys and mountains of central Utah. The bench rests are gone. Shooters must utilize the bipod, natural materials such as limbs and rocks, or shooting sticks to make shots from 400 yards out to 1,300 yards. Altitudes range from 4,000 to 9,000 feet. Students experience the variations to the bullet’s flight path caused by thermal energy moving heat up and down a mountain face as the sun rises, changing both the temperature and the density altitude (the altitude relative to atmospheric conditions). They’re also tested by gusting winds that might move in two or even three different directions between the firing position and the target.
We shot the course in July, so the day’s increasing heat changed conditions quickly. It made updates to optic adjustments logged in the cool morning an enjoyable challenge. Again, without our spotter/partner’s to help make wind calls, we would have spent much more time slinging lead down range than honing skills and logging useful repetitions.
Does the SUB MOA school turn average shooters into 1,000-yard wizards in two days? No, nor do they intend it to do so. But what they do accomplish through an intensive and concentrated course of instruction, along with challenging geographic locations and shooting scenarios, is to build shooters shooting skills and confidence in shots they can take at extended distances. For more information, visit submoafirearms.com.
This article is from the April-May 2021 issue of Tactical Life magazine. Grab your copy at OutdoorGroupStore.com.