This year I had the pleasure of competing in the 2016 Sniper’s Hide Cup. The “Hide Cup” was shot on private property near Colville, WA. The location is notable for being the most scenic I have ever shot in. There were lush mountain sides and deep valleys. One hundred and forty eight shooters turned out to brave the weather for two and a half days of “field” shooting.
Although the match did not technically start until Friday morning, shooters were required to attend a “Safety Briefing” on Thursday evening. Shooters also had the option to check the zero on their rifles on one of the open firing lines. The check in and safety brief was conveniently held in the same location as the Shooter’s Camping area. Allowing quick setup once business was out of the way.
During registration, shooters were given the option to pay an extra $30 on top of the $275 entry fee to reserve a tent camping spot. RV spots were available (without hookups) for a bit more. Since I had planned to drive out from Indiana, camping out was a no-brainer. Typically matches held in small towns end up far away from the better hotels and I really hate getting up earlier than necessary. Camping at the range allows for a bit more socializing and a more relaxed morning.
Friday morning came early with the threat of ugly weather. We had just enough time to get up and dressed before the rain started. We huddled under the large events tent and waited to be directed to our stages. At this point the rain was coming down so hard that it was almost impossible to hear Frank Galli as he briefed us on the morning’s events.
As it turned out, there was a technical problem with the electronic scoring system. The targets were all equipped with wireless transmitters that communicated with a WiFi router. The system was intended to allow the targets to communicate and score a “hit” directly to the iPads that each of the Range Officers carried. This was supposed to minimize the scoring errors that you routinely get when tired RO doesn’t see your impact on the steel. Unfortunately when the Router was powered off for the evening, the sensors all powered down as well. In order to “wake them up” the range gophers would have had to go out and turn on each sensor manually. The call was made to just go with paper scoring for Day One.
The weather and the technical issues had us rolling out on a late start. I can’t say that I was disappointed, since the delay allowed the worst of the weather to pass by. In my haste to pack, I remembered my excellent Arc’teryx Theta AR hardshell, but neglected to throw in any rain pants. While Crye Precision Combat Pants are great for hot/dry matches, they don’t repel a bit of rain. I ended up resorting to an old backpacking trick an fashioned a “rain skirt” from the heavy trash bag I usually keep in my pack. This resulted in a huge amount of humor for my fellow shooters, but it succeeded in keeping my important bits dry in the low-50 degree weather.
Once the squads were split up and the stage order was handed out, we caravanned out to our first stage. I ended up in Squad 17 and was assigned the D and E series as our morning and afternoon stages. I jumped in the Subie and headed back down the mud and potholed road out to the main road and the half-mile drive to the parking area for D Series…….or so we thought. After waiting to meet our RO’s to guide us up to the stages, we found out that we were in the wrong area. Back into the vehicles and up the road another half mile we went.
Once we were in the correct assembly area we were advised to wait because the stages were not ready. There was some issue with the moving targets.
Sometime around mid-morning were were split-up and directed to our individual stages. The RO’s took care to try to evenly distribute shooters at each of the five stages on each Series. The goal was to quickly run shooters through, then rotate groups. Our squad ended up being broken down into a group of five shooters. I would later learn that this was the best thing to happen all weekend. Once we had an idea of where we needed to go, the morning became a blur of activity.
Most of the stages had the same general format. Shooters were given the location of three or four targets. They were then given a few minutes to range the targets with whatever means they had available. Once ranges were calculated, shooters could then use whatever they brought to build a stable firing position. For many stages, the shooter could not pre-position gear. It had to be setup on the clock. Shooters were then given three minutes to engage their targets in the order the RO advised during the brief. First round hits were worth 15 points. Second round hits were worth 10 points and third round hits were worth five. Most targets were engaged three times before moving to the next target. RO’s were generally good about giving you the hit if you broke the shot AS they were calling “time”. However if you snuck one in after you heard “time”, the points were not awarded.
I found that the scoring system and the general stage structure was very good. In many Precision Rifle Series matches, you only fire one round at each target. This overlooks the value of the second round hit. It takes some skill to develop the ability to spot your impact, trust the bullet, correct and fire another shot under the stress of the clock. Allowing three shots on each target gives you the ability to analyze your execution of the shot and the environmental effects before you sling another. Often you would see shooters miss all three times in exactly the same spot off the target because they did not read the impact and adjust.
I liked that the scoring system places a greater value on the first round hit. Our first stage on Day 1 had two targets at greater than 900 yards. I was able to clean the stage and felt pretty good knowing that my system was reliable enough to travel 2000 miles in the trunk of a car, and be dead-on at long range with the first shot.
Moving targets were scored slightly differently and most had some type of static target to either start the stage or to “confirm” the mover. This is a really good setup for long range mover stages in windy conditions. They static target allows you to confirm your wind call separately without having to worry about the lead on the mover.
Although it was not mentioned in the match description, a laser rangefinder was almost a mandatory piece of equipment. Target sizes were not given and in several stages shooters were not allowed to put the rifle scope on target before the time started. However, teamwork was encouraged and in most stages shooters could share the ranges and wind calls before a shooter’s time began. In our squad, all of us had rangefinders of varying levels. Occasionally I had difficulty hitting a far target (1200+) with my Bushnell Elite 1600, but my squad mate, Kevin was able to hit it with the Vectronix Terrapin.
One fact that became very apparent on Day 1 was that this truly was a “field match”. Field Matches contrast greatly to matches held on improved, square ranges. On most rifle ranges, firing points are built to allow for prone shooting positions. A bipod and rear bag are generally all you need. In field matches, there are natural obstacles to prevent you from going prone. In the case of the Sniper’s Hide Cup, almost every firing point was surrounded by knee high grass. Those points that were not surrounded by grass were shooting at severe up or down angles, in piles of rocks or off of fence posts. Field matches test well rounded shooters and are more like what you would encounter in real-world hunting or military sniper engagements.
The second fact that was apparent to us was that a shooting tripod was the hot ticket to maximize your options. Thanks to my squamates, we came up with some pretty creative ways to use a tripod. Topping almost every tripod (my own included) was a Shadow Tech HOG Saddle. In my case, I used a Manfrotto 055xprob tripod to mount the HOG Saddle on. The HOG Saddle is a machined aluminum piece of art that allows you to clamp the forend of your rifle securely onto your tripod. When paired with a camera ball-head you have the freedom to swivel the rifle onto any target in your field of view. There were other systems in use at the Hide Cup, but the HOG Saddle had the added benefit of being able to attach to any rifle without any modification.
Thankfully by the afternoon of Day 1 the rain had all but dissipated. The original plan was for shooters to come off the range and back to the assembly area for lunch. However, the late start and the long distance back to the assembly kept us shooting through lunch. A lunch of fried chicken and party subs were ferried out to us on the back of pickup trucks and four wheelers. It was a grab-and-go luch, eaten on the way to the next stage. B&T Industries kindly sponsored lunch for all three days of the match.
Once we had shot all five of the Series D stages, we moved up the valley to Series E. The original plan was to shoot a pistol stage on Series E. Since it was obvious that we were far behind the timeline, the pistol stage was dropped. This information was much to the chagrin of shooters who had taken the long walk back to the parking area during lunch to retrieve their pistols. I had strapped my Glock 17 on in the morning and pretty much forgot about it for the duration of Day 1.
Series E stages were much like Series D, just at a higher angle and a little more dense brush around the firing positions. One stage had shooters engaging targets at 90* to each other from a steeply slanting hillside. Not only did this stage require a solid and versatile shooting position, but also the experience to switch up your wind hold on the fly.
Day 1 was a long and tiring day. As we finished up our last stage it was creeping up on 8 pm. A quick check of my activity for the day showed that we had walked over 3 miles between the various stages and one run back to the car for ammo resupply. Since it was getting late and I had no desire to fire up the camp stove, our squad attacked Tony’s Pizza and Italian Eatery in Colville. The sign promised lasagne and that sounded just fine. It turns out we were not the only group of shooters with lasagne on the brain. Soon the place was packed. The food was great and the staff was just fine with a gaggle of muddy, smelly shooters in their dining room.
I returned to the Camp/Assembly area after dinner to find that my tent had only taken on a little water from one of the vents. Thankfully my bedding was all dry and my trusty Wally-World air mattress kept everything well out of reach of the little puddle. If you decide to take advantage of the tent camping opportunities, make sure you bring a set of ear plugs to sleep in. RVs and no hookups invariably mean you will hear generators. I also learned that cows dislike generators and will spend all night loudly mooing at the generators to shut up. I have been exposed to cows for most of my life and generators for quite a bit of it. It wasn’t until that night that I realized that I had never been exposed to both at the same time. Thanks to the long day, sleep came quickly.
Dawn came to Day 2 of the Snipers Hide Cup and brought with it spectacular shooting weather. After a quick brief at the assembly area, we learned that there were some changes as to where our squads would shoot that day. We also learned that the pistol stage on Series C would be canceled. Frank Galli told us that he had set the match up with 25 stages knowing that he could drop some if time became an issue. Day 1 put us a little behind and there was some misinterpretation with the intent of that stage allowing some shooters an advantage over others. The verdict that it would be dropped completely was met with some groaning from shooters who cleaned the stage on an ugly day.
Filled with the excitement of shooting a clear and sunny day, we piled into our vehicles and headed up the mountain for A, B, and C Series. We would shoot B and C, then finish with A on Sunday.
The trip up the mountain was via a potholed dirt and gravel road that traversed numerous cattle gates. Farm rules applied. If you opened a gate to go through, you closed it behind you. More than once cows eyeballed us from the side of the road. At the top of the road was a grassy parking area. Most rental cars would make it this far without problems, but I would recommend an SUV for this trip. My little Subaru Crosstrek worked out great and was able to get to wherever we needed to go, to include driving across open pasture on Day 3.
Once we reached the top of the mountain, we could look across the Columbia River and see clouds at eye level. It was a marvelous sight. We started off with a moving target stage from the prone position that was about as perfect as you can get for a field match. Although it was still difficult to spot misses I was able to put in a much better performance than on the Day 1 mover stages. After several stages most of us found a 1.5 mil lead sufficient before factoring in the wind. The In-Motion Targets are fully adjustable for speed so that may not be the lead you need the next time out.
Day 2 was an easy day for us. While the shooting problems were all challenging, the stages were arrayed in a close circle allowing for a short walk to each. We quickly got into the habit of finding a stage that wasn’t occupied and getting it knocked out. With five shooters, we had just enough time to get the range brief, get our dope and then roll through. There was not a lot of down time. At lunch the stages were shut down and shooters returned to the assembly area for lunch. This was a good call since some shooters missed the meal wagon on Day 1. Lunch was pizza and it was good!
The rest of Day 2 sped by, but not without controversy. When we approached the “Loophole” stage, one shooter was arguing with the RO’s. We dropped our gear and began to assess the stage. The “Loophole” was a hole cut in a piece of cardboard and suspended by t-posts at approximately 25 yards from the shooter. The objective of the stage was to engage the 200, 300 and 400 yard targets from any position you deem fit, THROUGH the loophole. If your bullet strikes the cardboard, you receive a zero for the stage.
Two groups had shot the Loophole stage on Day 1 without issue. When we approached the stage on Day 2, shooters had not been as successful. It was hypothesized that the lack of rain and wind had allowed the grass to stand a little taller than it did on Day 1. When assuming a position behind the loophole, targets 1 and 2 were not visible. If the wind blew, you could get enough movement in the grass to see a dark shape….but not ID it as a target. The 400 yard target was fully visible through the loophole. Carl Taylor, the Match Director and Host of the match was called for a ruling. He advised that the stage was exactly as he had set it on Day 1 and when he sighted through a shooter’s rifle he ruled that it was the same level of difficulty as it was for the first two groups.
Later we learned from Frank Galli that this stage was intended to make it almost impossible to see the first two targets and was intended to be extremely difficult. I don’t have much of an issue with that, as long as the difficulty is the same for all shooters.
When it was my turn to shoot the stage, I couldn’t see the first two targets no matter how I set my position. I made the decision to burn the first six rounds and then take the points I could on the last target. The RO ruled that because it was a timed stage, you could not just “skip” the first six shots and go to the last target. You could only engage the last target for points with your last three shots. I got into position and fired nine shots into the 400 yard target. The first six “sighters” were answered by “HIT, Wrong Target”. After the sixth, my squamates yelled that the next ones counted. I slowed my pace just a hair and rang the 400 target with the last three. I walked away with a “sure” 30 points out of the 90 possible. It was not ideal, but many shooters scored a zero on that stage.
The last stage for Day 2 was the “Window” stage. Shooters could build a shooting position behind the barricade with whatever they had at hand. The muzzle could extend through the window, but no piece of gear or the shooter could touch the barricade. The shooter had to engage three targets with three shots each. The window was high enough that all but the longest bipods were useless. Even a super-tall bipod caused problems for rear support. As an extra-fun bonus, targets could not be ranged or glassed with a rifle scope until time started.
At this point, our squad was just focused on having fun. We were getting a bit goofy and collectively decided that the best way to attack this stage was with the “mountain of shit”. We piled all of our bags on top of each other, effectively creating a “shooting bench” to act as a rear support. We then used a tripod with a HOG Saddle to support the front of the rifle and another to hold the LRF to range the targets. Ken Lin of Team GAP went first and turned in a respectable number of hits. Then it was my turn. While I was refining my position, I noticed I was still wobbling a little more than I wanted in my “double kneeling” position. I was a little surprised when Ken slid the RO’s cooler under my butt. I glanced back and the RO just shrugged. I plopped down on the cooler and was solid. My time started and I was able to bang out some good hits coming just shy of cleaning the stage. When we were done, I commented that I was surprised they allowed us to do that. The response was that other squads talked about it all day, but no one actually attempted it. They didn’t tell anyone else they “couldn’t”.
Now I can already hear some of you calling “foul” on this. Take a moment and remember that this is the SNIPER’S HIDE Cup. It is a “field” match. In the real world we use what we can. I have setup in an empty kid’s bedroom and used tubs of toys and a bean bag chair to build a shooting position solid enough to engage a hostile suspect. I love matches that support creativity. Don’t get pissed when someone else takes an advantage you didn’t think about. Just store it in the back of your mind and consider it a tool for future use.
Day 2 wrapped up and the conversation turned to important matters, like food and beer. The gang all saddled up and hit TJ’s Tavern in Kettle Falls, just up the road from the match. They had a good selection of beer and the steak was good to go!
Day 3 promised to be another lovely day. Shooters were anxious to knock out their last series of stages and then hit the road. No matter how much you love shooting, maintaining a high level of concentration for day on end takes its toll.
The last five stages our squad had to shoot were fairly straightforward. The shooting problems were easy to understand. Getting solid positions and making the hits were a little more difficult. The “Farm Implement” stage had shooters sitting inside a rust pile of metal that used to perform some necessary task. Unfortunately time and weather stole any hint of what that task was. Now it is just something to try to tear apart your gear and rip your flesh. I regret that I don’t have any photos of the “Farm Implement” that is mainly due to the fact that I was keenly watching muzzles during the stage. Due to the shape of the implement, often your muzzle would be pointing at a piece of wood or steel and a squamate would be shouting “MUZZLE, MUZZLE!” This was another stage of three targets for three shots each. Ranges were not terribly far, but getting good support on the obstacle was difficult. Each of us tried something slightly different. The best position was found when Kevin dropped his internal frame pack across a portion of the “implement”. When I tried it I was able to get a dead solid position. Unfortunately I also managed to stuff 11 rounds into my 10 round AICS magazine. This caused significant problems with chambering my first cartridge when time started. I had to strip the magazine, dump a cartridge and reload. I somehow still managed to hit all three targets with my shots and cleaned the stage.
One of my favorite stages to shoot on Day 3 was the “Fencepost”. Shooters were required to setup a shooting position using a seven foot tall fence post as support. The targets were downhill and the grass was tall. This required at least a high kneeling position. Some portion of the rifle’s forend or bipod had to contact the fencepost. Here again, Ken Lin’s creativity jumped in and he suggested dropping the bipod over the barbed wire strand and then using a tripod as a rear support. This ended up being a perfect shooting position and I was able to make 8 out of 9 hits. I dropped the last one because I got cocky and rushed the shot.
One final stage I will mention was sponsored by Falkor Defense. Shooters were allowed to set their rifle in position, then stand. The stage started with the shooter standing near a fence post with a Falkor AR15 in hand, magazine at the ready. On command the shooter had to engage three targets (100, 200, 300) with the dot sighted AR15, with two shots each. When the AR ran dry, the shooter grounded it and then got on his rifle to engage the long range steel with three shots each. The Falkor AR15 worked perfectly, but the identifying the targets in the shadows proved difficult for many shooters with the 1x dot sight. Scott Parks from Vortex was able to clean the AR stage and as a result, awarded the rifle. However, showing the class-act that Scott is, he asked Frank Galli to raffle off the rifle to one of the other shooters in attendance.
Shooting the Falkor Defense AR15 was enjoyable, but nothing could match the hilarity of watching my squamate Joe Bocklage, running downrange to shoo cows out of the impact area. The area the match was held in was fantastic, but cows were a bit of a concern. They don’t have much fear of high-powered rifles and could wander into the line of fire if you weren’t careful. With a $2500.00 price tag attached to each one, everyone was pretty keen to keep an eye out.
With Day 3 done, shooters all returned to the assembly area and enjoyed a final lunch of fried chicken and subs. Ashbury Precision Ordnance and Juniorshooters.net fielded a team of four fine young men who put on an outstanding performance at the match. Each of the Juniors were shooting custom 6.5CM rifles furnished by APO. Frank Galli was kind enough to separate the prize table out with a section just for the Junior Shooters. The RO’s who suffered through some ridiculous rain and then the heat of Saturday and Sunday were given a chance at their own section of the prize table. This was done “raffle style”. I felt this was a nice touch since all of the ROs were volunteers and matches like these are not possible without their support.
Finally, the scores were in and Nick Gadarzi took home First Place and a certificate for a new GA Precision rifle.
I want to thank Frank Galli, Carl Taylor, all of the ROs and of course all of the sponsors for making the 2016 Sniper’s Hide Cup an absolutely awesome match. This is definitely one worth driving cross-country for.