On a cool dark Michigan morning, I found myself driving up highway 66. I was not quite sure what I was looking for since this would be my first trip to the Marksmanship Training Center. Locating a range for the first time can often be like an easter egg hunt. Thankfully GPS coordinates (+44.482147, -85.178525) for MTC were posted on the registration page.
As I neared the coordinates, I saw a small yard sign advertising the Guardian Long Competition next to a dirt road. A little further down the dirt road, you arrive at the gate to the Marksmanship Training Center. The large permanent MTC sign here makes is pretty unmistakable.
The Marksmanship Training Center is composed of a 100 yard multipurpose rage, 25 yard pistol/carbine bay, 1000 yard unknown distance range and a 1000 yard known-distance range. The 1000 yard firing line is an elevated mound allowing for excellent visibility downrange and a wide variety of targets. Use of MTC outside of scheduled matches requires a $250 annual membership.
This was my third Guardian Long Range Competition. I have been amazed at the laid-back atmosphere at every Guardian event. I truly believe these matches are an excellent introduction to the world of precision rifle competition. The shooters at the Guardian matches range in skill level from first time match shooters to seasoned pros. This year we had Bryan Litz from Applied Ballistics on the line. Bryan is no stranger to rifle competition, but is relatively new to Precision Rifle Series style matches. The Guardian is not a PRS points match, but the stages are similar to what you will find at PRS matches. They are generally composed of improvised firing positions from a variety of field obstacles with short time limits. Two to three minutes was the norm for the stages at this Guardian. Target distances were from 25 to 1000 yards.
Check-in was straight forward with the regular stack of waivers as well as an equipment and experience questionnaire. Guardian periodically posts stats on their Facebook Page showing the favorite rifles, cartridges, optics and other interesting information. Shooters were organized into squads and the whole field was sent to the Cold Bore stage.
The “Cold Bore” stage was fairly straight forward. Shooters were given an enormous amount of time to fire one shot at an Ace of Spades playing card 100 yards downrange. The stage was sponsored by B&T Industries. The shooter who placed their shot closest to the center cross-hair won a $200 gift certificate from B&T. Shooters were awarded 2 points for a hit inside the black.
I was fairly confident starting this stage. I was shooting my Accuracy International AE MkII in .234 Winchester. This is the same rig and ammunition that I shot at the Sniper’s Hide Cup. In fact it had not been touched since I returned from the Hide Cup. I have never had a cold-bore deviation with this barrel. When my squad was up, I got on the rifle and dry-fired for a couple of repetitions. Shooters were told to load a magazine and then assume a kneeling position behind their rifles. On the start signal, I dropped down behind the rifle and fired my shot. I was baffled to see that it was 0.4 mRad low and 0.1 mRad right of where it should have been. The shot felt good, but I shrugged it off and prepared for the next stage.
Weak & Strong
Immediately after shooting the Cold Bore shot, shooters loaded a magazine of 10 rounds and prepared for “Weak & Strong”. Shooters started off the gun. On the start signal, shooters assumed a prone position and fired five shots with the rifle in their right shoulder, then five more with the rifle in their left shoulder. The target was a row of ten 1″ diameter colored dots at 100 yards.
What is interesting to note is that there was no requirement to switch firing or support hands. On the signal, I started with the rifle in my right shoulder in a standard right-handed prone position. My justification was that I would be most comfortable and accurate from this position and take the five “sure” points. Then I could spend the balance of the time working on solid shots from the support side.
I made sure my first shot was as perfect as it could be, due to the doubt that the “Cold Bore” shot created. My first impact was again .4 low and .1 right. I quickly held high and left and punched the next four dots. I then slid the buttstock over to my left shoulder and punched three more dots before my time expired. Shooters were awarded one point for each dot struck. I rolled away with seven points and a solid zero correction.
Once our squad had completed the 100 yard stages, we moved to the 25 yard pistol bay for “Close Contact”. Shooters started with a magazine of three rounds in the rifle. On the start signal, shooters fired one round each into three cardboard IPSC targets, reloaded and fired three more shots. Shooters could use any position other than prone. A hit to the IPSC A-Box was worth 2 points. A hit outside of the A-Box was worth 1 point.
Initially, I had planned to go kneeling. Once I saw how large the scoring area was, I chose to remain standing. I would have ended with plenty of time if I had not had a feeding issue on my second magazine. I think I may have bumped a round forward on loading, and the bolt wouldn’t strip the top cartridge. It was pretty easy to fix. I just had to reach through the ejection port and slide the cartridge back. The AE then fed the round like butter. The jam caused me to rush the fourth shot and I almost dipped it out of the box, but not quite. I got all six shots inside the A-box in the allotted time.
Next to the 25 yard bay, MTC had set up a “scissor lift”. During this stage, shooters were required to climb into the lift, then load and make ready. The stage started when the lift began to rise. The target was a 10″ or 11″ plate at 217 yards. Either plate could be engaged. The targets were only visible after the lift began to rise. Shooters could engage the targets as soon as the lift began moving and had until the lift came to rest back on the ground to fire their five shots.
Shooters benefitted from being able to watch the run beforehand. It was pretty clear to see that you did not want to wait until the lift paused at the top. There was a definite sway to it when it stopped. It was more stable on the way up and on the way down. We were also told that one of the plates had a single strap and the other was hanging from two. If the plate on the single strap was swinging too hard, it was permissible to switch to the other plate.
I started the stage telling myself not to rush. There was plenty of time for five shots. When the lift began moving I was locked in pretty well and got my first shot off. It was a hit. I quickly followed it up and slung one off the target. The lift liked to twist back and forth and it definitely added to your “wobble area”. I sent four shots on the way up and one on the way down. I could have spread them out a little more and likely salvaged another hit. I felt rushed on the way up, because I did not want to me in the middle of breaking a shot when the lift hit the top.
The physical side of the “The Lift” was difficult due to executing the firing task on an unstable platform. Calculating the firing solution was simple. Some shooters were worried about the angle. However, with a large target and a close range it was not necessary to factor in the cosine.
Chair Force Sniper
From “The Lift” we moved over to MTC’s 1000 yard KD range. On the elevated firing line the staff had setup some astroturf squares with metal dining chairs on them. Each firing position had one chair. The Stage RO demonstrated three positions that the chairs were to be used in. The first position was upside down. Then on the side. The third position was upright. Shooters were given one minute of prep time to try the positions. The targets were three IPSC targets stapled to the uprights of the target carriages. Of course to make it interesting, one “hostage” IPSC was thrown in. On the start signal for each chair position, shooters were to engage each IPSC with one shot (three total). Hits to the A-Zone counted as two points. Hits outside of the A-Zone were worth one point each. Each hit anywhere on the hostage deducted three points. Shooters had thirty seconds to fire three shots. After each position, the targets were marked with spotters. Shooters could see their hits (or lack thereof) on the next position.
The actual range to the targets was given at the start of the match. It was 994 yards from the firing position to the target carriages. We had a gusting 5-10 mph full value wind that made things interesting. I managed to make five hits during the assortment of positions. Unfortunately, one of them was a perfect headshot on the hostage. My total score was a single, solitary point.
The “chair drill” is actually something I practice on our home range. If you don’t want to drag a barricade out to the firing line, it’s pretty easy to come up with a variety of positions on a chair. Adding the hostage into the mix with the wind was a bit dirty though.
Tree Stand Hunter
The last stage of the morning was on the 1000 yard elevated position. A wooden barricade on the corner of the mound had a tree stand strapped to it. A tripod was also provided, although the tripod feet had to remain on the stand. The shooter had to start on the ground next to the barricade. On the start signal, the shooter had to mount the tree stand, load and shoot two torso targets (389 yards and 588 yards) with two shots each.
There were not really any tricks to this stage. It was just a matter of getting your butt on the stand and getting the tripod setup in a rapid manner. Getting all three of the legs on the stand and getting the tripod set at the appropriate height was not going to be possible in the time allowed. Instead, I chose to put two feet of the tripod on the platform of the tree stand and angle it forward. This gave me a good deal of lateral stability and the ability to adjust my elevation quickly. I was able to get all four of my hits with time to spare.
The morning wrapped up well ahead of schedule. Lunch was supplied by Guardian and consisted of grilled hot dogs and chips. It was a nice chance to relax for a few while the squads were finishing up and while MTC was resetting for the afternoon stages.
The stages after lunch were in no particular order. They were all setup in the same general area and shooters simply mingled to whichever line was shortest.
The mover stage was fairly standard. Walkers had cardboard IPSC targets stapled to sticks that they held aloft from the pits, 700 yards away. The shooters went two at a time and were given designated target areas to watch. From the prone position, shooters loaded and made ready. The targets appeared on the right side and moved right to left, then back. Once the targets came back to the starting point, they dropped and the stage was over. Shooters had the time the targets were visible to fire five shots. At hit in the head A-Box was worth 3 points. The Center A-Box was worth 2 points. Any other hit on the target was worth one point.
The targets were moving fairly slow so I ended up with a leading edge hold versus my usual 1.5 mil hold. We also had a pretty stiff wind. I managed to miss all five shots, which was surprising for me. I usually do fairly well on movers. However I have not shot them as often this year as I have in the past. The key to moving targets is to maintain a good trigger pull while keeping your lead in mind. Most shooters prefer to dial wind for moving targets so you don’t get confused with a positive and negative lead.
Into the Hide
The Into the Hide stage was a diabolical one. The target was a steel KYL Rack, 343 yards away. To get to your firing position you had to “bear crawl” with your rifle, under a grid of electrified wire to a sandbag bunker. The target then had to be engaged with three shots from a 90 degree cant (ejection port or bolt up). The plates were worth 1, 2 and 5 points respectively. The shooter could engage whichever target he wished, without penalty. A miss did not zero out your points. Shooter could gain an additional point if they could get back out of the hide before the two minute time limit was up.
I had not shot this rig on a 90 degree cant for record, so I really just guessed at my dope. This is really something you have to shoot to determine the 100 yard zero for your rifle. You then need to add in your drop, but it will be in the horizontal plane of the scope (gravity ya, know!). I managed to grab my point for un-assing the hide, but that was it. I was in a solid position and got an adjustment on my first miss, but I dropped the next two just short of the gong.
Around, Over & Under the Vehicle
This stage was a blast. Just straight forward barricade type shooting. MTC had a Hummer parked on the firing line. Shooters started with a magazine of four rounds in the rifle. On the start signal, the shooter moved to the hood and fired two rounds at the torso target 757 yards away. The next position was two shots from under the vehicle, taking care not to shoot a tire. The shooter then moved to a pile of sandbags near the rear tire, reloaded and fired two shots over the top of the vehicle. Shooter were awarded three points for a first round hit and 1 point for a second round hit. 16 points possible.
On this stage, the key was to minimize your movement between firing points and get on target fast. The last firing point was a little tricky because of the height. At six foot tall, I was on my toes to try to hit with my bipod deployed. Dropping the bipod and using a bag would have helped enormously. However, I timed out before my last shot, so fiddling with the bipod could have cost more time.
The shooter began this stage seated in the driver’s seat of a full-size van. The rifle was placed behind the shooter, with a magazine inserted. On the start signal, the shooter had to move to the firing position between the first and second bench seats. Targets were engaged near to far at 289, 435 and 657 yards. Shooter were awarded three points for a first round hit and 1 point for a second round hit. 16 points possible.
I pulled a hugely stupid move on this stage. I misjudged my mechanical offset. In my entire shooting career, I can count on one hand the number of times I have screwed up mechanical offset. This was one.
I am no stranger to shooting in vehicles. When I climbed into my shooting position, I was able to get a very solid position with the forend of the rifle laying across the top of the rear seat. There was no severe angle to the position of the vehicle and the targets were on a fairly level plane. I did not take into account the fact that the rifle was heavy enough to sink into the broken down seat back.
I pressed off my first shot and observed my impact low in the ground. I re-evaluated my dope and fired another shot. Another miss. I transitioned to the next target, cranked my turret to the zero stop and came back up to the dope for the 435 yard target. Another miss low. At this point I slowed down and thought about what was going on. I was sure of my data. I was not a rev off. I timed out while trying to determine the problem.
When I came off the rifle and looked at the setup, I suddenly saw the issue. My bullets were just piercing the fabric on the top of the last bench. Had I hit the plywood on the back window, I would have seen/heard it and it is unlikely that the bullet would have stayed together. When the bullet passed through the fabric, it didn’t make a sound audible over the muzzle blast in the vehicle (I was wearing plugs and muffs), but it stayed stable enough to get to the target downrange. Seeing the bullet impact downrange caused me to initially dismiss any thoughts of shooting the barricade. Lesson learned.
Shooting the van seat was fairly embarrassing to me. I have setup and instructed others on how to construct vehicle hides and shoot from vehicles. Mechanical Offset is something I preach. When setting up a hide, I make shooters sight down the bore to verify their clearance. Why I didn’t at least look down the side of the barrel to check it beyond me. This is why I love competition. We get to make mistakes and learn lessons that would be catastrophic if lives were on the line.
Finally we come to the most hilarious stage of the day; The Black Pearl. This was a pseudo “boat” stage. A wooden spool has been scrapped and repurposed as a boat. More of a man-sized crib with some rocking action. Shooters were required to don a life jacket, then load a magazine. On the start signal the shooter would move into the “boat”, take a shooting position and engage two “ducks” downrange. The steel duck targets were at 349 and 502 yards. Shooter were awarded three points for a first round hit and 1 point for a second round hit.
Boat stages introduce a good deal of instability in your firing position. However, this had to be the easiest boat stage I have shot. Usually the “boats” are suspended by chains or ropes and they never fully settle. The “Black Pearl” used wooden rockers. As soon as you stopped moving, so did it. Also the axis of movement was perpendicular to the direction of recoil. This meant breaking the shot did not throw you into a swinging fit as some other boats are prone to do.
The strategy on any boat stage is to get into position smoothly and quickly. Allow some time for the boat to settle, then use as little movement as possible to complete the firing task. I became a little over confident and did not use all of my time. This caused me to drop two shots.
The afternoon session ended a couple hours early. This was in no small part, due to the amazing work that MTC and all the RO’s put in. I was also very happy to see that my fellow shooters were on-task and moving with a purpose. I had a nine hour drive to look forward to, so getting done early meant a chance of sleeping in my own bed. The awards ceremony went quickly and prizes were handed out to the top three shooters. Trophies were also awarded for Top .308, Top Mil/LE, and Top Woman Shooters.
As usual for a Guardian Match, the prize table was handled by raffle. Registered shooters received five raffle tickets. More could be purchased. Since this is primarily a charity fund-raising event, this is a great way to handle it.
I am happy to put the Marksmanship Training Center down in my books as another great tactical/long range facility. They are growing, and I think there are great things in store for this range. I am looking forward to my next visit.
The Guardian Long Range Competitions continue to be one of my favorite events. They are just fun to shoot. It is a low-stress environment with some creative stages that will have you smiling and laughing. What more can you ask from a shooting sport?
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