Recently I had the pleasure of spending seven days at GPS Defense Sniper School in Arizona with some of the best in the business. I attended their five-day Sniper/Counter-Sniper (DDM) course and their two-day Advanced Sniper course. Whether you’re new to long-range diplomacy, or you want to freshen up your skill set and learn a few new things, GPS can help you out. I certainly learned a lot during my time there.
Prior to discussing the courses I took at GPS Defense, I think I should give a little background about myself. I was in the Army for six years, five of which I spent as a sniper. I graduated from U.S. Army Sniper School in July 2005. I deployed to Iraq later that year as a sniper, and then again in 2008 as a sniper team leader.
After my military service I went into private contracting with Triple Canopy as a Defensive Designated Marksman (DDM). I graduated in October 2010 with my WPPS DDM Certificate and then spent two and a half years as a Private Military Contractor (PMC). I now design products for Tactical Concealment while going to college. I was recently contacted by Lincoln Osiris, President of Pipe Hitters Union, and asked to attend these courses and conduct a thorough review for MOTUS. Of course, I jumped on the opportunity. Here’s what happened:
The first day of the Sniper/Counter-Sniper (DDM) course starts with a breakdown of the basic sniper platform, a Remington 700 with a Leopold MK4 optic. Instructor Corey Clancy, a former Marine with countless hours behind the gun, goes over the proper setup of whatever sniper system you’re using. This way, the rifle is set up to the user. Now there’s no excuse for bad shots.
The staff does a great job of explaining the fundamentals of marksmanship to get even the novice long-range shooter grouping well and dialed in. While this part might be a little remedial for those with experience behind a long gun, it never hurts to reviews the fundamentals. Once the group has completed zeroing and grouping, the fun starts: shooting and collecting DOPE (Data On Previous Engagements). This is essential to being able to engage targets at later dates.
The next few days of the course start out at the 100 yard range. Students confirm zeroes and practice grouping, which are key components to reaching out and touching someone. Unlike the first day, Instructor Corey and Lead Instructor Jesse Johnson, formerly of Ranger Battalion, throw the class a curveball in the form of alternate firing positions and stress shooting. Sniping is an art that requires shooters to be proficient with many skills before they can engage a target. Students at GPS learn about how the gun operates (internal ballistics), target detection, and range estimation. Instructor Jesse expertly breaks down the material for novice shooters.
The first scenario is a target detection lane, where shooters practice the art of finding objects in a variety of situations while shooting unknown distances and drawing a range card. I really enjoyed the way GPS set up the unknown distance ranges. It was very difficult. The harder the training, the easier the real-life execution. The day wrapped up with every sniper’s favorite game: KIMS (Keep in Memory System). This teaches every sniper how to identify and memorize multiple objects down to the smallest of details.
Just like the pervious days, day three begins with zeroing, grouping, shooting alternate firing positions, and stress shoots. GPS builds shooters’ confidence by increasing the distance a couple hundred yards each day, and then reinforces the lessons by repeating them multiple days in a row. After zeroing, grouping, and shooting, Instructor Corey gives the class a time limit to write down the ten objects from the day before. After this panic-inducing exercise, there is another target detection lane, which is different and more difficult than the one from the day before.
The next exercise is the unknown distance. Each student can only use the mil-relation formula to find the distance of the targets. At the end of the day there is another KIMS game, to be memorized for the next day.
The fourth day reinforces the earlier days’ activities. It starts with the 100-yard range, target detection, and unknown distances, and ends with another KIMS game. This day also includes the favorite activity of every hunter: field craft.
Field craft is essential to a sniper for engaging targets without being seen. Course attendees learn how to properly build a ghillie suit and how to “veg” it up. Instructor Jesse skillfully explains how to use vegetation and the background to make yourself invisible to an enemy observer. After the field craft instruction, trainees go out into the bush to test their new knowledge. The instructors give the trainees time to pick a spot and create a FFP (Final Firing Position). Once the time is up, the instructors get behind glass and attempt to walk the spotter on to the snipers’ positions. It’s not easy to make yourself invisible!
The day concludes in the classroom with an advanced ballistics lesson. Learning the details of ballistics and holdovers helps snipers become more efficient in a combat zone and get the greatest economy of motion.
The last day of the five-day course is the most exciting. Unlike the other days, this day starts out with an OP Order. Instructor Jesse gives the class a scenario that tests what they’ve learned over the last four days. The terrain in Arizona is unforgiving when stalking up to an objective, which adds its own set of challenges. Once every team sets in and takes out all the targets, the mission is over. I was already elated at this point, but the day got even better.
After finishing up the last KIMS game, we were on to shoot a man-sized silhouette at 1400 yards. With a .308 and enough experiences, you can accurately engage targets out to 1600 yards. Arizona’s altitude allows most shooters, even novices, to reach out to 1400 yards. Instructor Corey was able to get everyone to hit the terrorist steel at over three-quarters of a mile away. This distance tests all of your fundamentals, as well as your ability to use holdovers and read wind.
At this point, those who aren’t moving on to the Advanced Sniper course receive their certificates of attendance or completion.
Day six is the first day of the Advanced Sniper Course. Everything the students have learned in the basic course transfers to this one. The day starts with stress drills and alternate position drills on the 100-yard range. This is followed by more shooting with the DOPE that each shooter has collected over the last five days, and an emphasis on using mil-holds to engage the target. This is also the point when each sniper and sniper team is on their own for making proper wind calls.
After a full day of engaging targets with range cards and the DOPE collected, the students put it all together in a new mock village scenario. Getting into a stable alternate position to engage multiple targets requires some ingenuity. Students learn the value of tripods and backpacks.
This was one of my favorite days as it was the day of high-angle shooting. It starts in the classroom where the students get introduced to the “rule of three” and the formula needed for high-angle. Once classroom instruction is complete, the students head out to shoot true high-angle shots. If the stress shoots are painful, this unknown distance range will really put your skills to the test. After spending the majority of the day here, the group moves back to the patio for self-directed activity. Whether it’s friendly competition, racing through the targets for best time, or just chatting with the instructors, it’s a great way to end the training. And of course, everyone receives a certificate of attendance or completion.
GPS Defense Sniper School creates an environment close to what you would experience at sniper schools in the military. Instructors Jesse and Corey are some of the best in the business and have years of combat experience to share with their students. Even after being a sniper for the last decade, I learned some new techniques that I will implement not only in my teachings, but in real-world environments.
GPS Defense also offers some perks: prior military service members (veterans) can use their GI Bill benefits to attend and law enforcement officers can receive their POST certification. I really like the school’s focus on fundamentals and raw skills, rather than the high-speed technology (ballistic software and range finders) that many sniper schools focus on today. GPS Defense teaches students how to engage targets at great distance, and they push you outside of your comfort zone. I recommend both of these courses, hands down, whether you’re a novice or a veteran.
Article written by Guest Contributor Chad Marr
Photos courtesy of Jordan Sherwood / semperfiarmor.com