A small lodge masquerading as a mining camp nestled in this encapsulated valley, surrounded by mountains, trails and seemingly randomly placed hunks of steel with tell tale pock marks of long range hits. In this modern day where we can get just about anywhere fairly quickly, this trip out to the middle of nowhere did more than just take time, it made you think. It made you anticipate. As we drove down the sand and dirt road up and down the hills and mountains, the anticipation does it’s very best to make you start wondering “does anyone even know I am here?”
Now that the stage has been set, know that this is an awesome setup for a long range training camp. While some may say vast and long stretches of land, or even big and sloping mountains are optimal, this snake shaped valley is a sniping jungle gym. Surrounded by multiple elevation changes, constant and unpredictable wind shifts, heat, cold, barometric pressure changes as well as angles of shooting made this location an experienced shooter’s dream and a beginner’s nightmare. There are so many twists and turns that if you have zero experience in long range shooting, ranging, wind estimation or even proper trigger control… you have some learning to do and quick. This is where Lead Instructor Tyler Hughes comes in.
Tyler is a veteran Marine Scout Sniper who has had the opportunity to take and complete (to my civilian knowledge) Every, Single, Sniper School and Training that the United States Marine Corp. has to offer. What’s worse is I am pretty sure he has memorized all of it too. This means Tyler knows the question you are going to ask, he knows where the zero should be and the DOPE to get the round there (pick a round, any round). Furthermore, he knows when you need to know it as a seasoned instructor should. Mr. Hughes is an encyclopedia of Long Range and Ballistics knowledge and has utilized this playground for some time now with his company Max Ordinate Academy (MOA). So based on the day of the year, time of day and barometric pressure conveniently on his wrist… he knows exactly where the bullet is going to go before you pull the trigger, as long as you are pulling it right. He is that teacher, the one who had eyes in the back of his head. The one who has seen everything, several times over. The one who has mastered his craft and still seeks to learn more.
Day one began with something unusual compared to all the trainings I have been to over the years. There was breakfast? George, part of the U.S. Optics staff had coffee, eggs, bacon, sausage, hash browns, fruit and everything you could need to get through the morning and then some. Up before everyone else and all set and ready to go first thing in the morning. It was awesome. Not some caterer or grumpy line cook, but a genuine and happy guy was a welcome face and personality every morning. We got all gassed up and braced ourselves for some classroom time. Or in my case, dreading it. I don’t do so well in classrooms.
Classroom time at U.S. Optics Academy was not all too bad actually. We received an official looking and well-built Range Kit that contained everything we would need to DOPE (Data On Personal Equipment, for us regular guys… a diary for your gun), catalog and estimate range while out on the line with Tyler later. We also got a really informative how-to by the head mounting wizard at U.S. Optics Chris. I think it was a really great segment because there is a drastic difference in shooting a 168gr. projectile 100m at your local club, to 1000m+. Every little detail, right down to how level your glass is to your scope ring height and more. From bare rifle to fully equipped with a USO ER-25 this was a great breakup to looking at slides, doing math and discussing the finer points of focal planes and ballistic coefficients. Day one in the classroom was not bad at all as Tyler speaks in a manner that makes all the information and knowledge he is transferring to you easy to digest.
Utilizing this newfound knowledge, after lunch we went to see it in action as we set up to chronograph and zero all the rifles. U.S. Optics had their wizard and others on hand to mount, bore sight and fit scopes to each shooter on hand. Again, making sure that all the hardware is on point so Tyler and you can focus on technique and knowledge… not fixing or fighting equipment. That’s a good thing too because it isn’t like you see in the movies or on TV. There is a lot of detail and moving parts (you + Equipment) you have to learn and focus in order to be consistent and get your hits as the distance stretches the capabilities of the rounds. Perfecting groups at 100m is great, but any inconsistencies will start shaking themselves loose as you head out past 300, 500, 800m. Getting it right and consistent is a great building block towards working up in distance. I see it now, although my frustration at the time (I am not patient) was rattling me pretty good.
Now, I know this is an After Action Report but I think any further dissemination of the course at this juncture would be a disservice to both U.S. Optics Academy and Tyler. We covered so much ground over this course that it was like drinking from the proverbial fire hose. The personal attention Tyler shows to each student, the information covered and the repetitions in real life application made this course not just invaluable to new Long Range Shooters; but also far more than a “brush-up” for those that are experienced. Like I said, this place is an obstacle course for all that shoot in Apple Valley. Can you clear the obstacles? Absolutely. The great thing about it is that there are hurdles for all skill levels available in even the entry level course. There was a wide array of weapon systems and shooters and everyone took some new found knowledge away.
The facilities were great and all you needed which I found amazing. I don’t need crazy amenities, hot tubs or fancy decor when I am laying in the dirt all day with over a dozen other dudes. They keep you well fed, plenty of beds for everyone and everything is done as a group for the most part. This is a great facility and training structure not just for the individual, but also for a group dynamic. And due to the valley you are in, you have no outside distractions to look at/worry about as all cell service and data is gone the moment you enter this amazing off-the-grid wonderland. Not so good for media… but fantastic for the learning experience.
If you wanted the chance to get damn good with a long gun at distances further out than your local 100m-300m ranges then put this Academy on your to-do list. Learning from Tyler has been a long awaited experience for me and he did not disappoint. Taking a course at U.S. Optics Academy was a memorable and inspiring experience to expand our own knowledge and push us out of our comfort zones. Highly recommended for beginners and the experienced alike. Check them out here at http://usopticsacademy.com/