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THE ULTIMATE SNIPER by Maj. John L. Plaster USAR (ret.) [Book Review/Radio Interview]

Posted on 12 August 2010 by Cork Graham

You may be asking what a review on a sniper instructional book is doing in an outdoors magazine dedicated to effective wildlife conservation practices and game and fish cooking. What you might be missing is how the path of hunter to sniper has returned to hunter in the last ten years. It’s evident in the camouflage and even the equipment being used in the hunting community.

Hunter, Sniper, Hunter

Major Plaster uses the phrase “Close to the Earth” to describe that quality about the best snipers from around the world. This refers to the fact that almost all the best snipers, certainly the most recognized, had younger years based in the country, with a solid hunting background. Whether Russian snipers who hunted wolves in Siberia, or Austrailians who shot kangaroos, or American snipers who were raised hunting elk, deer and squirrels, all the highly regarded snipers had a solid background learning woodcraft in their youth.

How does this pertain to you, the hunter, just trying to do better in field? A lot!

In the last twenty years, the hunting community has benefited greatly by the equipment that has been developed for the sniping community. Previously, it was the sniping community that benefited most from what the hunting community provided. There’s this cycle that seems to have come completely around, where techniques and equipment gained through hunting were brought to the sniper schools of past: and now, the equipment and knowledge that is used in sniping has come full circle back to hunting…and anything you can do to be that more efficient in taking your game, lessening the chances of crippling or loss, is a level of effectiveness to reach for–good wildlife management and conservation practices demand it.

One of the easiest ties to recognize are the camouflage improvements to hunting clothing, advances in the military that were picked up and improved upon in the hunting community. There are also the improvements in rifles that make it almost a foregone conclusion that if you’re purchasing a new bolt-action rifle from a reputable manufacturer, you can pretty much expect it to shoot under 1 MOA.

A review of writings by Jack O’Connor would quickly tell you that in the 1930s and before WWII a rifle that shot 1.5 MOA was pretty good. And we’re not even talking yet about shooting technique and optics, of which the improvements in binoculars and laser rangefinders has been amazing! Sometimes snipers can even make good optical equipment purchases  through the civilian hunting market because the advances have come so fast in this hunter focused market—driven by a market that wants the best and has the money to pay for it.

And let’s not forget those skills taught snipers that every hunter can benefit from knowing and practicing: attention to detail, personal and environmental awareness; and  rifle, optics, and cartridge knowledge, and finally, but never least important–marksmanship.

The Ultimate Sniper

Of all the books out there, that takes a reader from the most basic skills to the most advanced, the latest updated and expanded the 2006 release of The Ultimate Sniper rises to the top. A large book with 573 pages, everyone of them worthwhile. It was written and compiled by sniper instructor and lecturer Major John L. Plaster, USAR (ret.), whose prior experience with MACV SOG in Indochina and starting a number of highly regarded sniper schools, are well-known.

Even though the sniper’s instructional tome is directed toward military and law enforcement snipers, there is so much information that applies to your hunting improvement. Here are just  few of what  The Ultimate Sniper covers.

Basic and Advanced Marksmanship

If only these sections were taught to everyone who picks up a rifle. In the basic section, Plaster writes about sniper attitude, proper sight picture, shooting positions and breath control, and one shot sighting in. With the advent of the Caldwell Lead Sled, I’ve found this to be one of the easiest to perform.

When Plaster gets to the advanced marksmanship techniques, there’s information in there that will improve your shooting skills immensely.

Get Support

I’ve lost count of how many hunters I’ve seen miss because they just brought their rifles up and fired off-hand. How much more venison would have ended up in a hunter’s meatlocker had they used a better shooting rest?

A sniper is always aware of the best shooting position, always on the lookout for the rifle rest. This can be as simple as shucking a backpack and dropping it down the ground to lay the rifle over (one of my favorites if the ground permits) or dropping to a sitting position—many drop to a knee, when a sitting position is much more stable…

Bring shooting sticks with you. Plaster shows you how to make your own. You can make them long or short. I carry a foot-long tripod made with wooden dowels in my hunting pack, and also carry a set of Predator-styx slung across my shoulder with a thin bungee cord. At a moments notice, you’ll have a much better shooting rest than an offhand shot could ever be.

That’s not to say I won’t take a quick shot at something close in the brush, or even running from an offhand position. But, it takes a lot of practice to do what is called “snap shooting.” Major Plaster co-produced and hosted an excellent video called The Ultimate Rifleman, which was directed specifically toward the hunter, and where he taught how best to prepare for a running shot on big-game. If you happen to find an old copy, snatch it up—you can find quite a bit of that type of information in the The Ultimate Sniper DVD that Major Plaster still produces.

Excellent skills deteriorate rapidly…if you come away from these sections on marksmanship with only one thought, it should at least be: practice, practice, practice!

Breath and Squeeze

The art of marksmanship is covered in great detail and every hunter will be well-served by rereading the sections dedicated to the integrated act of shooting. Using a chart and graph, Plaster reveals major components of excellent marksmanship: breathing, and trigger control, integrated with good body position and scope picture.

Like in archery, shooting a rifle requires follow through. If we all had to hunt with flintlocks like our ancestors, the importance of follow-through would be that much more apparent to the average shooter. Keep your eye on the target, sights on the desired bullet impact point, and a solid stockweld.

Know Your Round

One of the best things you can do toward improving your shooting skills is knowing what your bullet does in flight. I do this two ways, actually going to the range and shooting at 25 yard increments out to 600 yards with my hunting loads. Also, I use my ballistic software (I have copy of the Nightforce Ballistic Program that has a collection of factory rounds cataloged and the ability to type in values from a chronograph) to get a pretty good idea of travel of my bullets in their arch. I sight most of my rifles in at 1.5 inches high at 100 yards. If I run across a really close buck and want to shoot it in the neck, I aim a bit lower…little adjustments that can make a great difference when you know what your bullet’s doing in its travel.

BLACKHAWK!®’s Pro Marksman Folding Ammo Pouch with two windows for checking your dope before your shot, along with the sliderule style Mildot Master.

Expanded Awareness

Kim’s is a game that was first described in the story Kim, written by Rudyard Kipling. It’s a game that was taught to Kim when he was being trained to spy. It’s a game in a variety of forms that’s taught to spies and snipers and anyone involved in intelligence gathering. Its purpose is to improve memory skills. Attention to detail is also covered in it, which to a hunter is very useful.

Plaster has included a sniper’s version of the Where’s Waldo visual puzzle. I suggest using the Where’s Ivan as an example and sketch a herd of deer with a small buck and medium-sized buck and monster buck scattered within the herd. Then, give time limits to you and your friends to pick out bucks, and then try remembering where exactly they are in relation to the rest of the deer in the group.

Then, when you’re out in the field, scan for deer and remember what qualities there are in deer, or whatever your prey–what makes them stand out against the landscape? During archery season, and early rifle seasons, in the West, this is easy, as the red-brown and light brown hides of deer really stand out on green grass and foliage. Against the snows of winter, or the dry brown grass, a deer’s darker winter hide really stands out.

Train your subconscious to pick out inconsistencies. One of the best sighting techniques I was taught as a teen was to look for horizontal lines. Aside from the horizon, Nature normally stretches out in vertical lines, tree trunks rising to the sun, and hillsides washing downhill. When you see horizontal lines on a hillside, like the back of a deer, cougar, pig, elk, bear, or cow, it’s very apparent when you’re looking for it!  And how many of us have looked at a group of rocks, suddenly seen one of them shapeshift into a wild boar on the hoof, before running off? Pay attention…and use your optics!

Wind and Range

One of the most confusing for many hunters is estimating for wind and range. There are so many things in the environment that because of size, position, and distance can drastically effect a hunter’s ability to estimate distance: inclines, declines, objects much larger than your target. They’re all covered in this section of the The Ultimate Sniper.

And you might be surprised how much wind can effect your bullet even at ranges under 400 yards…but I’ll leave that to the reading.

Close to the Earth

One of the most important points to take is that about how the best snipers had a connection to the earth that went way back to their childhoods. From all parts of the world that has turned out some of the most impressive snipers (Australia, Scotland, Russia and the US) most of them had a hunting and woodcraft background that started in childhood. Close to the earth has relevance in a number ways. It’s the background of snipers, like Vasili Zaitsev (hunted wolves and wild boar in Siberia), Chuck Mawhinney (hunted elk and deer back in Oregon) and Carlos Hathcock (hunted squirrels and other game for the table), all well-grounded in a youth of hunting and learning wood craft. It’s the deep inner knowledge of how we are related to the earth, how we standout, and how we can blend in with this earth.

It’s also the level of awareness that almost seems psychic in its ability to detect and enable a sniper to be two or three moves ahead of the target. It’s almost innate in someone who was introduced to firearms as a hunter, as compared to just a competition shooter. Remember that the German sniping instructor sent by Hitler to hunt down Zaitsev was better equipped, but Zaitsev relied on his “cunning” as the Germans liked to comment, and is carried in the Soviet sniper’s motto: “While invisible, I see and destroy.”

Major Plaster puts forward a hypothesis that the reason there were hardly any well-trained snipers in the Iraqi Army during what would have been a great environment for snipers, the trench warfare during the Iraq-Iran War, goes out without a blip because an Arab society that historically had a reputation for longrange shots, was by modern times devoid of them because of an enmasse move of the hinterland population into urban areas–like in so many other parts of the world. They basically lost cultural skills instilled and developed through years of pre-service experience in the country.

By improving your woodcraft as a hunter, you will increase the number of successes while hunting. Every hunter would be best aided by reading the chapter on stalking and movement. Addressing “The Wall of Green” as the author calls it, is most often hard for new and experienced hunters: much like a stream fisherman who fishes an ocean coast for the first time and doesn’t know how to read the coastline for fish. It’s overcoming this, using the scanning tactics described by Plaster, that has led me to shoot a number of deer and feral pigs in their beds. You can see an example of this, when I’m picking out a wild boar that is only 10 yards away from me in deep brush in this episode of Cork’s Outdoor TV.

If you’ve ever had failures sneaking up on those open-land antelope in Wyoming and Arizona, the section on stalking will be very helpful.

Get The Ultimate Sniper, read it, apply the techniques, read it again and see how you might improve or modify the information for your own environment…no matter your present level, I’d be surprised if your skills didn’t improve—and get out there and practice, practice, practice!

Get your copy here:

Tips and Techniques directly from the Master

Major John Plaster is well represented on two websites. As an advisor at Millet Sights, he has written a number of articles to help the shooter. He has his own http://ultimatesniper.com, where he offers his books and has a shipload of information, not the least of which are pdf scans of historical books going back to mid-1800 printings about sniping. In the following broadcast of Cork’s Outdoor Radio we talk about some of the tips. This one would be helpful to a lot of hunters by helping undersand what your bullet can and can’t do—even if you can shoot that far, depending on what cartridge you’re using, you might not want to based on the information in this brief: TERMINAL BALLISTICS

For your daily commute on your MP3 player – Download and Enjoy MAJ John L.  Plaster’s interview on Cork’s Outdoors Radio:

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Wonders Optics 4-14×50 [Product Review/Radio Interview]

Posted on 24 June 2010 by Cork Graham

 
Cork Graham sighting in the WOTAC 4-14×50

With only a couple months until California’s coastal deer opener, it was time to not only check out the new custom loads received from Nosler, but also the Wonders Tactical (WOTAC) 4-14×50 scope (4th generation) I’d been given by their sales rep, Forrest Ebert. Just yesterday, I learned that I’d been lucky in the special deer draw with an X3B tag, so I’ll not only be hunting with the WOTAC scope for the first time, but also using it on my first California mule deer…good hunting luck on my side, I hope.

My first trials at the range were excellent. The glass is very clear, and the elevation and windage knobs turn easily without that mushiness scopes made in Asia can have. A number of target shooters had requested louder clicks to them, and WOTAC has made those improvements.

First trained on the MilDot reticle in the military, I was actually very impressed with the EPB reticle. For really long shots, those over 1,000 yards, I’d still recommend doing “come-ups” with the turrets (1/4 click MOA adjustments). But, for ranges under 1,000 yards, I can see how just raising or lowering, using the small hash marks along the main verticle line of the crosshair can be very easy and accurate.

Easy to use turrets and parallax correction

It was very fast to get on target with the adjustsment and longer hash mark at the bottom easily aids shooting for a crosswind. Would I use this scope to shoot an animal at 1,000 yards? No. Would I shoot a deer at 600-700 yards? Absolutely!

Ethical long range shooting will be covered in a later article, but you don’t have to start adjusting for elevation until 300-plus yards on a modern high-velocity rifle, a move from 300-600 is not that much of a challenge, especially if you’ve been practicing—and it’s all about practice!

What the hash marks (each represents a shift in 2MOA) do is make quick elevations using the reticle that much more effective. Let’s the take the new rifle I’ll be using this year. Sighted in at 200 yards, there’s a 68.8-inch drop at 600 yards with the 130 gr. Nosler Accubonds out of my .270 Winchester Model 70 Super Grade.

The EPB Reticle

All I have to do is check the wind speed (let’s say an afternoon 10 mph crosswind from the right). Then, raise the rifle so that sweetspot at the deer’s shoulder is halfway between the fifth and sixth hash mark. Compensating for wind, move the rifle muzzle to the right, so that target center is two and a half hash marks to the left (4.75MOA) of the vertical crosshair.

This is done with the scope zoom ring set to MOA. There is also a mark on the zoom ring for MIL.

Either MOA or Milliradian

What I don’t like about the scope are the turret screws. They are too small and always worry me that I’ll strip them in trying to make sure they’re tight. I’ve already read reports of stripped heads. Best would be to either have the turrets locked in with one larger screw, or to have a flip-lock system as can seen on the Premier Reticle scope.

Now it’s not a US Optics, Premier or Nightforce scope (And you know how much I love my Nightforce Optics™ 3.5-15×56mm NXS with MilDot!). It’s also not priced in the thousands of dollars like them, either. Like those higher-end scope manufacturers, Matt Wonders, the owner of WOTAC, offers a solid guaranteed. If you’re not happy with your WOTAC scope, contact them within 14 days of receiving it and they’ll either replace the scope or give you a total refund!

For a scope that provides good glass, an excellent reticle design that can efficiently turn your highpower 300 yard rifle into a consistent 600-700 yard shooter, it’s a very good deal at $329. If you’re looking to get a scope that you can accurately adjust your crosshair in the field for longrange shooting,  the WOTAC 4-14X50 is an excellent scope to start with.

Looking forward to putting it through its trials on a real hunt instead of just at the range!

For more information, or to order your own, contact Wonders Optics Sales Representative Forrest Ebert at email: ebco2009@gmail.com

For your daily commute on your MP3 player – Download and Enjoy the latest news at Wonders Optics (WOTAC) on Cork’s Outdoors Radio:

TOPICS: Wonders Optics Sales Representative Forrest Ebert talks about the history of Wonders Optics line of tactical, target and hunting rifle scopes.

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Get the Biggest Bang Out of Your Equipment

Posted on 04 March 2010 by Cork Graham

Cork Graham collects his shooting dope

Cork Graham collects his rifle’s dope

In an economy where many are actually wondering where they’re going to get their paycheck, getting the most out of what you buy is an utmost priority. When I received a review sample of the Blackhawk!®, as I do with any new set of equipment or clothing, I immediately went into that mode of how to get that best bang for the buck.

At first, it was hard as Blackhawk!® does a lot in making sure that a product delivers a variety of capabilities above the apparent. For example, instead of just offering a rifle case or a shooting mat, they delivered both. Actually, in the Blackhawk!®’s Long Gun Pack Mat with HawkTex™ they offered two capabilities, but delivered three: it also has a drag bag loop for it to be used as not only the advertised shooting mat and gun case, but also a sniper’s drag bag.  Remember what I said in a previous column about how Blackhawk!® answers questions before they’re asked? Well, they made it in spades with the Long Gun Pack Mat with HawkTex™.

BLACKHAWK!®'s Long Gun Pack Mat with HawkTex™, it's a gun case...

BLACKHAWK!®’s Long Gun Pack Mat with HawkTex™, it’s a gun case…

Constructed from 1000 denier nylon, and well-insulated by closed cell foam, it has a large compartment sealed by #9 YKK® zipper and sliders with silent zipper pulls. Easily able to fit a 50-inch rifle, it’s also adjustable by the appropriately placed straps and ties to snug up a normal sized scoped rifle. I really enjoyed the strap system that makes it a great pack scabbard. As for the drag bag capability, I would recommend adding tie-down spaghetti straps, all along the length, to be able to attach a Ghillie half-jacket as camo, or even local foliage directly.

An extra compartment on the outside of the case can carry a number of items (I carried my extra ammo and trajectory tables in the Blackhawk!® Pro Marksman Folding Ammo Pouch  inside), and easily fit the variety of hydration system options. There’s enough room for food, a space blanket, and water, along with 8 to 10-power optics and even a spotting scope in the pouch.

What really surprised me was how comfortable the Long Gun Pack Mat was when deployed as a shooting mat. The HawkTex™ really helps keep you from fighting to keep your elbows propped up and not sliding around, depending on the type of coat you’re wearing.

BLACKHAWK!®'s Long Gun Pack Mat with HawkTex™, it's a shooter's mat...

BLACKHAWK!®’s Long Gun Pack Mat with HawkTex™, it’s a shooter’s mat…

When the gun case is unfolded and deployed as a shooting mat, you not only have a pouch for accessories or a box of ammo sewn into the mat, but also another pouch that fits a shooter’s logbook for recording your rifle’s dope.

On the initial introductory ride with Michael Riddle at his Native Hunt Ranch, it worked perfectly as a vehicle scabbard, protecting my large objective Nightforce 3.5-15×56 NXS, keeping the dirt and drizzle out with no problem. It was during this same trip that I thought this would also make a great system to mount on a horse for my elk hunt planned for this fall.

There are two D-rings on the case that enable an easy mounting to a saddle. During the jerry-rigging, I noticed that another D-ring about five inches above the edge might help raise the makeshift scabbard a little higher, permitting the rider to have a more proper stirrup handling. That the open edge faces down (when the mat if folded into the form of a gun case) is perfect for protecting the firearm from any water or snow.

To utilize the product as a gun case or drag, there are three quick-release straps that retain the rifle in a centered position. For deploying the Long Gun Pack Mat with HawkTex™ as a rifle scabbard, I suggest either only using the two straps that hold the forestock and barrel, or don’t utilize at all them as I did: the sides do well in keeping the rifle inside with the barrel pointed down, as in the following photo. It makes it much easier to just slip the rifle in, barrel foreword, like a regular rifle scabbard, instead of restrapping every time you reinsert the rifle. I’d also recommend using actual webbing, say 3/4  or one inch, instead of jerry-rigging paracord as we did in the photo.

Those special forces operators who have to fight in mountainous terrain on indigenous horses, such as has been in Afghanistan, should find merit in the added rifle scabbard modification.

...BLACKHAWK!®'s Long Gun Pack Mat with HawkTex™, it's a rifle scabbard!

…BLACKHAWK!®’s Long Gun Pack Mat with HawkTex™, it’s a rifle scabbard!

So, the next time you purchase worthwhile equipment or clothing, be sure to think out of the box and get your money’s worth!

Get Your Dope

BLACKHAWK!®'s Pro Marksman Folding Ammo Pouch with two windows for checking your dope before your shot, along with the sliderule style Mildot Master.

BLACKHAWK!®’s Pro Marksman Folding Ammo Pouch with two windows for checking your dope before your shot, along with the sliderule style Mildot Master.

It never ceases to amaze me how often I meet hunters in the field who don’t know exactly what they’re rifle does, or think that 300 yards is a long shot for the average modern rounds: .270 Winchester, .30/06, .243 Winchester, .300 Winchester Magnum, .280 Remington, 7mm Remington Magnum, not to mention all the new rounds that have come out in the last decade.

All of them, zeroed at 200 yards can permit you to shoot without any adjustment out to 275 to 325yards, depending on the round. Adjusting for bullet drop comes in from 315 on up. That’s when knowing your ballistic tables becomes mandatory. Just being able to have a set of trajectory values at your beck and call really helps when you want to really start shooting long ranges effectively. Knowing what your rifle and the bullets it sends down range is what those in the shooting community call, knowing your dope.

Blackhawk!®’s Pro Marksman Folding Ammo Pouch is just what the shooter ordered. Manufactured from 1000 denier nylon (in digital camo, coyote brown, and olive drab), and closed with two velcroed and easily adjusted quick release buckles,  it holds 20 rounds. Described as holding 20 rounds of .308 Winchester (7.62 NATO) in the marketing material, it easily fits 20 .300 Winchester Magnum cartridges, and creates a perfectly angled box, enclosing not only my preferred long-range ammunition, but my Mildot Master, designed by the late Bruce Robinson. Bruce Robinson cut his teeth on woodchucks at impressive ranges.

An engineer by trade, and shooter and a tinkerer by aspiration, Robinson took his knowledge of what every engineer, mathematician, and scientist never left home without (before the advent of the modern electronic calculator) the slide rule, and used it to create what is now issued to every Marine at the graduation from sniper school. Along with a repeat business to member of the military and law enforcement, Robinson’s widow does well selling the Mildot Master to hunters and especially those who enjoy shooting ground squirrels, prairie dogs and other varmints at long range. Not only was I able to easily keep the .300 WM rounds secure and silent, but the ammo pouch made a great two sided retainer to hold that Mildot Master.

As an added bonus in the Blackhawk!® Pro Marksman Folding Ammo Pouch, there’s a loop for you to keep a pencil or pen to record your dope, but also two plastic windows on the inside of the loop. Using the Nightforce® BALLISTIC PROGRAM (I will be reviewing this well-designed product in detail soon) I was able to calculate my MOA and Milli-radian sheets for adjusting for wind and elevation. I placed those documents for easy reading in the clear plastic window pouches of the Pro Marksman Folding Ammo Pouch, truly a great addition to any shooter or hunter’s go-bag.

Related Links

  1. Blackhawk!
  2. Nightforce Optics
  3. Mildot Master

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