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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.

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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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Hunting Hollywood for a GRATEFUL NATION [Radio Interview]

Posted on 25 May 2010 by Cork Graham

Tim Abell on assignment for GRATEFUL NATION
Tim Abell on assignment for GRATEFUL NATION in Namibia

 

With such a thick anti-hunting attitude delivered in so many films these days, except those written by hunters themselves, such as playwright and screenwriter David Mamet, it’s hard to think that Hollywood was once a hotbed of hunting, fishing and other forms of wildlife management. This was when Clark Gable took David Niven up to Grants Pass for steelhead and then later studio public relations photos of Carole Lombard and Clark Gable often captured them with a string of mallards and snow geese proudly held up to the photographer. In a black and white studio promotional photo, Ginger Rogers lay seductively, with a cane pole and in cutoffs and flannel shirt, like a tomboy on a lush lawn, a full stringer of rainbow trout by her side—probably taken at her 1,000-acre Rogers’s Rogue River Ranch purchased in 1940, that I had the opportunity to see last week on a trip for steelhead and salmon with my friends Paul Winterbottom and Jeff Manuel, in a drift boat loaned by mutual friend, Dave Dedrick. Even interviews of Fred Astaire, included a reporter being told that he was going up to his duck club east of Los Angeles to take care of a coyote problem.

As a writer, I’ve had the opportunity to meet and become friends with those contemporary actors and stars who still shine not only as actors but also as hunters. Some I’ve had a long hunting and fishing relationship with, like my wild boar hunting buddy Patrick Kilpatrick. Some I’ve even had the help and endorsement of, like the dear departed Charlton Heston, who was kind enough to write a plug for the inside cover of my memoir that went to #2 for three weeks in 2004 on Amazon.com. Over the last couple years, I’ve come to know and admire an actor by the name of Tim Abell, who so reminds me of that dashing adventurous actor reminiscent of a time when Hollywood’s elite lived such amazing lives off the set themselves (Errol Flynn, David Niven, Gary Cooper, Jimmy Stewart, Lee Marvin, Audie Murphy, Clark Gable and directors John Ford and William A. Wellman quickly come to mind) that sometimes their film roles seemed to not even come close.

To say that someone like Tim Abell is a military veteran, hunter and member of the Screen Actors Guild is very refreshing. Haven’t you also gotten fed up with actors who are terrified of guns, or prominently tout their anti-gun or anti-hunting status, but hire well-armed bodyguards, eat meat killed by someone else, and make their millions off movies in which they kill people by the truckloads on screen? An ex-Army Ranger, Abell, knows exactly what those real bullets do in real-life. A hunter and solid conservationist, he understands clearly where his sustenance comes from.

One of many of Cork Graham's war memories: Las Aranas, El Salvador; 1986

Cork Graham’s Cold War memories: Salvadoran Navy SEALs — Las Arañas, El Salvador; 1986

Born and raised on the East Coast, near Quantico, VA, Tim Abell learned to hunt with his Marine uncle and even took his first deer on the Marine Corps base. And after reading the book that has inspired so many young American men since the Vietnam War, Robin Moore’s Green Berets (made into a film by John Wayne in 1968), Abell enlisted in the US Army and became a Ranger. While in university, seeking a degree that would offer him the opportunity to try for a full commission, Abell found a love for the arts, specifically theater. And the rest is history as many are oft to say of those who make it in Hollywood.

While putting in his dues, and not finding many willing to speak openly about their affinity for hunting or firearms, Abell’s hunting went by the wayside as he went through the required networking parties and dinners, keeping mum about hunting and shooting. But when called out on the floor about beliefs that don’t fit perfectly with the rest of the Hollywood-types programmed by the anti-hunting industry (PETA/HSUS), or more accurately unwilling to speak up for fear of ramifications to their own employment (doesn’t this remind you of the fear during the McCarthy years?), Abell speaks his mind when asked…even when it might not get him invited again to the same house…

It takes guts to speak up in Hollywood these days, the pendulum swing of the McCarthy Red Communist hunts of the 1950s gone completely to the other extreme: it’s not those who supported the Soviet Union during the Cold War who are blacklisted now; but instead, those who support the 2nd Amendment of The Constitution, hunting as a solid component of wildlife conservation,  the United States’s right (like every nation) to defend itself, and those men and women serving in that military action…Is it truly being patriotic, or military-friendly, when it’s convenient, as so blatantly with the change in attitudes in Hollywood after the recent sweeping win at the Academy Awards of a military movie: Hunt Locker?…It’s easy to be patriotic when the masses are with you; it’s courageous when they aren’t.

…As one who enjoys studying cycles of history, I’m very intrigued by how long it’ll be before that pendulum swings once again away from that anti-hunting, anti-military mass thought, it had swung to in an unnatural extreme during the 1970s and 1980s and back to the pro-hunting, efficient wildlife conservation practices it espoused during the 1920s to 1960s.

Surprisingly, Abell found his way back to hunting while working on his first break as a ex-Marine sniper Benny Ray Riddle on Bruckheimer Productions’s Soldier of Fortune for NBC. As they were filming in Canada, co-star Brad Johnson invited Abell on a hunt into Northern Canada for caribou and black bear. For Abell, the adventure was like breathing fresh air after too long a time submerged. From then on he was part of the small, but proud to be publicly recognized as those in the film business who also hunt and believe in the 2nd Amendment of the United States Constitution: Tom Selleck, Charlton Heston, Patrick Kilpatrick, John Milius, Steve Kanaly, Gary Sinise, Adam Baldwin, DB Sweeney, to name a few.

To say Tim Abell became a hunting enthusiast is an understatement, as I’m sure anyone can relate to, who is passionate about hunting, been away from it then once again renewed that bond with such an important part of the human psyche as well, because of fund from taxed hunters, so supportive of all animals. To correct all that anti-hunting malarkey taken for fact, all of hunting taxes and fees go to the buying and supporting lands for ALL wildlife, while most, if not all, of the money collected by anti-hunting groups such as PETA and Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) goes to advertising…if these anti-hunting groups actually succeed in wiping out hunting in the world, it’ll be the wildlife that suffers the most!

GRATEFUL NATION

Abell's succcess .338 RCM on wild boar on GRATEFUL NATION

Tim Abell’s succcess with a new .338 Federal on wild boar on GRATEFUL NATION

For many the idea of having combat veterans out in the field, hunting with a firearm, may seem out of place. As a combat veteran who attributes my own healing of four years in the Central America War, through the immediately following experience as a subsistence hunter, living with and learning from a Native community in Alaska, I am thrilled that people are beginning to get it…again.

Until the Vietnam War, hunting was an activity that a majority of combat veterans participated in upon their return home: it’s one of the reasons that the bolt-action and semi-auto rifles took over as the hunting rifles of choice in America after WWI, from the previously preferred lever-action-many of those returning young men were introduced to bolt-action rifles in the military (explains why presently so many black rifles have become hunting rifles with so many hunters introduced to firearms an assault rifle). The surge is what led to the megamillion dollar surge in business for hunting, fishing and camping products manufacturers from 1920 to 1970. As a combat veteran myself, I noticed how being in the woods with a rifle brought up memories of war that I was able to confront on my time as compared to a sudden sideswiping PTS (post-traumatic stress) flashback or nightmare.

corkalaskahunting

Cork Graham healing war memories as a subsistence hunter in Alaska, circa 1990

Later, as a counselor specializing in helping veterans and other types of trauma survivors dealing with PTS and the symptoms of what I prefer to call the PTSR, I truly understood how going into the field, carrying that firearm, much as might have occurred only weeks and months before in battle, but now instead hunting game for the table, creates a new subconscious imprint, in the healing of the wilds, on an activity that if not dealt with, comes up weeks, month or even many years later in an uncontrollable event.

For some this uncontrollable event can be as benign as becoming completely overcome by a seemingly uncontrollable mega-wave of sadness and guilt, for others it can manifest as an uncontrollable rockslide of rage that ends in someone getting killed. For many though, especially those who’ve drunk the Kool-Aid disseminated by anti-hunting groups, the fact that hunting can actually help a trauma survivor confront and overcome the contemporary effects of conscious and subconscious memories and interpretations of the past trauma seems so contrary to what many think.

That Orion Multimedia, LLC. produced Federal Premium’s Grateful Nation was brave. That ESPN2 would broadcast a program that touches on the controversial subject of putting a firearm in the hands of a newly returned combat veteran (much less anything that brings the reality of a war nearing 10 years long into American public’s living room in addendum to daily news), and have them go through a form of healing and self-awareness spurred on by the host’s questions, on camera is amazing!

The premise of Grateful Nation is very simple and like we used to say when deep in a fierce fight: the quickest path to victory is a forward-moving straight line—keep it simple, stupid (KISS). Invited out on a hunt, the combat veteran is followed by the camera crew as Abell asks the right questions at the right time to open up a world that the majority of the viewing public have only learned of through the images and words, often distant from those combatants actually being reported on, to support a news producer’s theme.

Abell makes this much more personal, which actually might turn off many because of the graphic description. Personally, I’m very much for it. There has been a great avoidance in the world about dealing with the realities of the world, much of it starting with children led to believe their hamburgers and fish sticks come from a cellophane wrapping machine, instead of a steer getting a cattle prod to the brain, or a salmon a metal club to the top of its head and a quick evisceration.

There’s something very honest about knowing where your meat comes from, and knowing what your sons and daughters are getting themselves into when they go off to war. Do I think this stops war? No. Even with all the news stories, books, and broadcast over the last 50 years, there are more wars happening around the world now than there were during the Cold War. My hope is that the American public gains a better awareness of what a combat veteran has gone through and recognizes it, and lets them deal with it in a healthy and effective manner (and not only offer politically correct, and often, ineffective options) during their homecoming.

For those of us who remember vividly how unjustly military personnel, and especially Vietnam veterans (takes a lot of mass harassment for a veteran to not even be willing to mention military service on their job resume—the case for many returning Vietnam veterans, a historical fact forgotten by many), were treated in those 15 years after the fall of Saigon, Grateful Nation is a media and cultural waymark long overdue…something to ponder as we come upon Memorial Day, an annual event meant for remembrance of those we’ve lost in war, either those right next to us in combat, or far off in a distant land.

For your daily commute on your MP3 player – Download and Enjoy Tim Abell’s interview on Cork’s Outdoors Radio:

 Topics:

Track 1: Tim Abell talks about Grateful Nation and next production at Flying B Ranch.

Track 2: Tim Abell reminisces about first times hunting, enlistment in the US Army and achievement of Rangers, paying dues in Hollywood, and return to hunting.

Track 3: Tim Abell chats about pro-2nd Amendment/hunting Hollywood players, and upcoming film projects he’ll be participating in.

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Let All Active Duty Hunt and Fish Anywhere as Residents

Posted on 08 March 2010 by Cork Graham

How I wish we had resident privileges when I was serving...

Cork Graham, circa 1987: “How I wish we had resident privileges when I was serving overseas.”

Holly Heyser over at  her blog NorCal Cazadora has come up with an idea that has been pushed many times in the past, but perhaps this time it might just get enough momentum going: Let all those who serve on active duty in the military be charged the same hunting or fishing fees as residents, no matter that they might not be presently residing within that state.

As an example, if you’re serving in the US military in Iraq and you want to hunt Alaska, you should be permitted to fly to Alaska on your R&R and walk into a sporting goods store, show your active duty card and pay the same fees to hunt as a resident Alaskan, even if your driver’s license says you reside in California or Texas, or wherever.

If  you’re prepared to spill your blood in defense of our homeland, it should be remembered that you’re spilling it for your country, not your state. The least each state can do is permit a woman or man in the service of their country pay a resident’s fees wherever they desire to participate in hunting or fishing. Some states permit this: all states should allow this!

Read more here at Holly’s blog: http://norcalcazadora.blogspot.com/2010/02/soldier-and-hunter-with-brilliant-idea.html

Go over to her site and comment, and here, too: we might just get a real wave of support going in a manner it hasn’t succeeded in the past…I think it’s time, don’t you?

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