Competition Dynamics Sniper Adventure Challenge AAR - ITS Tactical

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Competition Dynamics Sniper Adventure Challenge AAR

By Arthur Guo

So its been a few weeks since Competition Dynamics’ Sniper Adventure Challenge 2013 and my team is finally recovered from all we endured during our 32-hour, 40+ mile slog across the New Mexico high desert. I consider myself fortunate to have been able to participate and am proud of every team that showed up to challenge themselves, especially those in Endurance class. For a look back at our preparations and gear selection for the competition, please see my previous preparation article.

SAC 2013 was definitely a challenging, professional and well-run competition. Like all creative competitions though, it was not without its quirks. Any teams that “quit” prior to the time cut-off time of 34 hours could receive a ride back to the finish line and retain all points earned up to that point. There was no penalty for quitting the race early. This gave all teams a fair chance of doing well without any medical consequences while de-emphasizing the endurance aspect of the challenge. We definitely had our pre-conceptions of what would be important during the competition. Here’s a look at what worked and what didn’t for our team.

Navigation and Travel

First off, minimizing weight cannot be emphasized enough. The total course mileage was over 40 miles of on foot travel over often rough, rocky terrain and changing elevations. The New Mexico desert is unforgiving and harsh. While none of the terrain was particularly steep, the rolling hills were composed of hard, broken rock that constantly threatened to twist or sprain ankles. The vegetation was invariably sharp and it seemed like everything tried to cut or poke you, especially during the moonless night.

Land Navigation At Night

Ounces mattered. Many teams suffered fatigue and exhaustion simply by being over encumbered. We needed every weight saving trick we used and could have benefited from a few more. The largest savings, of course, came from our primary weapon choices. Trading down to the AIAW .308 and .223 Colt SBR weapons from the AIAW .338 and Rock River LAR-10 .308 combination saved us over 10 pounds each in weapon and ammo weight. That 10 pounds was critical in allowing us to continue hiking well past when many teams could go no further.

We also used the more lightweight and comfortable Osprey backpacking packs instead of our Eberlestock Gunslinger packs, saving about 3 pounds each. In general, we opted to stay as close to the required gear list as possible. However, we still ended up carrying loads of 42 and 48 pounds each including water, food, weapons and ammunition. We could have benefited from even more aggressive weight reduction to go faster on the course.

The Suunto magnetic declination adjustable sighting compasses we used proved to be very effective. Magnetic declination adjustment is pretty much mandatory to maintain navigation efficiency in a race. It inspires confidence being able to set the declination and never have to worry about it when transferring an azimuth from real world to the map and vice versa.

While my team elected to plot every mandatory and bonus checkpoint on our map as soon as the race started, spending an additional 40 minutes at the starting line, most teams took off as soon as they plotted their first point. Looking back, this decision cost us several hours as our team got stuck in the confusion and traffic jam of teams waiting to shoot at checkpoint #2. The more efficient strategy would have been to plot points a few at a time as we progressed in the race.

Once the moonless night descended upon the course, we generally used the stars to help us maintain our heading instead of repeatedly looking at the compass or referencing intermediate points we could not see. Pace counting supported by the laser rangefinder was instrumental in navigating to difficult checkpoints in the dark.

Sniper Challenge Terrain

Another critical piece of our travel kit included trekking poles which maximized our on foot mileage and also doubled as shooting sticks during the first shooting stage. In that stage, steel targets were arrayed in a valley from 300 to 1200 yards and many targets could only be seen from a seated position.

Weapon Performance

I was impressed by the performance of my Colt LE6946CQB short barreled rifle. I fired Hornady 55 grain A-Max rounds from the 10.3″ barrel and achieved consistent 600 yard hits on torso sized targets. While there is argument about whether short barreled rifles can deliver sufficiently lethal amounts of kinetic energy at longer ranges, the overall accuracy of the bullet and weapon are generally unaffected by shorter barrels as long as the projectile achieves stable rotation leaving the muzzle. Matching the twist rate of a quality barrel to bullet weight can ensure that stable rotation.

My partner’s Accuracy International AW .308 also performed admirably. However, the exposed turrets on the Schmidt & Bender PMII scope got turned unpredictably by the process of stowing the rifle in the backpack, leading to several missed shots. This just emphasizes the imperative to always check your scope turrets before firing.

Since much of the rifle scoring relied on first round hits on unknown range targets, knowing your dope was critical. While my team did use a Vectronix magnified laser rangefinder to quickly and accurately range targets, we were not prepared with density / altitude tables to accommodate changing atmospheric conditions over the 34 hours of competition. Thunderstorm conditions on the first day affected the barometric pressure significantly.

With daytime temperatures approaching 100 deg F and nighttime temperatures of about 70 deg F, the temperature difference affected both muzzle velocity and air density. Having a Kestrel device or an ABC-type watch (such as a Suunto Core) along with range tables taking into account variables such as temperature, density / altitude and muzzle velocity would have improved our first round hits. An ABC-type watch would have been particularly helpful due to its small size and its function as a backup compass.

In the end, long range shooting is worth less than 10% of the total possible points. Prioritizing adventure race fundamentals like weight reduction, physical fitness, navigation and nutrition over long range shooting is the way to go at this competition.

Other Gear Considerations

The mandatory gear list for the challenge included the requirement of a “shovel,” with no further clarification or detail. We carried a spade with a 3′ handle, a midget shovel of sorts and made quick work of the Gravedigger stage. Each team was required to dig a 6′ x 2.5′ x 1′ hole in the dry, hard-packed desert soil. Many an E-Tool were thrown down in frustration during that event.

Sniper Challenge Grave Dig

Our clothing selections of white Outdoor Research Sun Runner caps and white Columbia long-sleeve tech shirts were by no means “tactical.” However, they kept us cool and protected from the sun during the long hours of exposure. Most of the teams in contrast wore coyote, some shade of dark green, or Multicam and probably felt a lot hotter than we did. Also, our Arcteryx LEAF rain gear was light to carry and bomber during the thunderstorm on the first day. Arcteryx has always been a solid choice despite the cost.

The best blister management strategy is blister prevention. Many endurance athletes use moleskin and mole foam successfully. I highly recommend Leukotape, a waterproof fabric medical tape, as my blister solution. Leukotape is light, thin and low friction. I covered the blister prone areas on my feet with Leukotape and went about 28 hours before I started to feel the first hot spot. By the end of 32 hours, I had blisters on the pinky toe of each foot, but no blisters on any area covered by Leukotape.

While this year’s competition emphasized orienteering over the unique challenges, shooting and endurance aspects, I still very much enjoyed it. With many lessons learned, I look forward to how Competition Dynamics improves and evolves the Sniper Adventure Challenge in the coming years.

Editor-in-Chief’s Note: Arthur Guo has been a peace officer in Southern California for the last nine years. He’s worked a variety of assignments in Law Enforcement and has been a SWAT Sniper for the last four years. Arthur is also an avid rock climber and mountaineer.

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  • JCrist

    Great write up.  This was on our list for this year but we anticipated another September event.  The move to July 4th sunk the opportunity.  My shooting partner and I did the Survival Trial in Raton and your words of scorched earth and rugged terrain made my ankles hurt again!  Great job and congrats on one hell of an accomplishment

  • Looks like a good time! Great write up.

  • Tierlieb

    Andy of Vuurwapenblog seems not to have enjoyed the whole thing. What’s your take on the issues of lodging, course layout, vehicle support in case of emergencies and the shooting part of the sniper challenge only amounting to 10% of the score?

  • Jojima

    @TierliebI didn’t have a chance to speak with Andy after the competition, but from his writeup it seems he didn’t enjoy this year’s event in comparison to last year.  I did not do SAC in 2012, so I don’t have the same baseline to judge from.  That said, I agree with his observations, but excused CD on many counts because SAC is such a new, but logistically complicated event.

    I slept in the same converted stables and found them to be mediocre, but adequate.  I didn’t expect much to begin with though.  There was A/C and after 34 hours out there, any kind of shower felt great.  The housing billet included 2 nights lodging and 3 days of food.  The total cost per person for the entire competition including the housing/food billet was $507 which I thought to be reasonable for the event, if not a great value.  

    IMO, the scoring system is broken and problems were compounded by the course design.  I don’t agree with having only 5-10% of total points in a “Sniper” competition be from shooting, but this was clear from last year’s event.  It was a big part of our decision to carry smaller caliber weapons and give up shooting points to save weight.

    What wasn’t clear before the event was the new penalty for “skipping” checkpoints added this year.  This penalty was only applied to teams who did not “quit” early.  Teams who received fatigue or medical related transport to the finish line (many within 16 hours of the start) were able to submit their scorecards, but received no penalty for “skipping” all the checkpoints between where they quit and the finish which was listed as a mandatory check point.

    This wouldn’t have been an issue if not for the course design incentivizing skipping empty checkpoints.  Traffic jams at early checkpoints, too early cut off times, and the vehicle breakdowns meant most teams were able to participate in only 3 of the “challenges” and almost no shooting.  This combined with the misconception that teams who “quit” would be out of the score standings led the remaining teams to skip checkpoints to get more value and fun out of the event by going for checkpoints with challenges.

    I thought the event was run safely.  Nearly all the required gear items were medical.  Every team carried enough supplies to treat severe trauma including gun shot wounds.  I’m not sure if every team had first aid training, but embarking on ANY wilderness travel has the same risks.   Teams should be prepared for a several hour wait to get help in the wilderness.  As far as I know, no team suffered serious medical issues on the course and every team that wanted transport got it eventually.  There’s a delicate balance between a course rugged enough to be challenging, yet accessible quickly enough by vehicle.

    Anyway, I’m not sure what the perfect solution is, but it is definitely not simple.  The ideal is some finely tuned balance amongst game theory, safety, and challenge.  I’m sure CD will get it down eventually, but I might wait to see how the next events go before I’m out there again.

    • Jojima All of this is very interesting to me because I’ve never done an event like it. Well, I’ve done a few small things and certainly know how new events often have little hiccups but they tend to get smoothed out over time. 
      But what I’m most curious about is the 10% overall score for shooting. From my outsider perspective, I didn’t find that too far fetched. How much of a sniper’s job is actually shooting (when on a mission)? I honestly have no clue but I was under the impression it was fairly low. 
      I could easily be completely wrong but I’d be interested to hear what someone trained in that respect share their input.

    • Tierlieb

      MikePetrucci That argument has been made by several people. I agree it seems quite obvious. I’d even say the amount is even smaller than 10%. But when shooting is needed, it needs to count. You won’t find a sniper team switching to lighter weapons because it will make the trip to the position easier, right?
      Or another way to put it: “[War is] Months of boredom punctuated by moments of extreme terror.” – military training still does involve only a little in dealing with months of boredom and a lot of dealing with the moments of terror.
      If it was me, I’d make the sniper part count 0%. I’d use it as a cut-off instead: You either pass or fail the whole thing.

    • Tierlieb

      Jojima Thanks for the detailed reply. Seems to that if one wasn’t there for the competition (like Andy), but to test oneself (like you seem to have done it), one could enjoy it.

    • FiberOpticRabbit

      @Tierlieb Jojima Yet it’s called a ‘competition’ run by ‘Competition’ Dynamics. If you are charging people a bunch of money for an event, it better be something that can’t be done  otherwise. If you want to feel the suck, you can get a bag and walk around in the desert for free.

  • music86man

    Questiom , how did you carry your rifles if not in a bag with a scabbard? Did u just strap it to the side?

    • Jojima

      music86man For both rifles, we just stuffed them in the backpacks and packed stuff around them.  I put the 10.5″ AR muzzle down in the main pack.  The pack could easily close over the top with the buttstock collapsed.  The Accuracy International was stored muzzle up with the stock folded.  The folded stock made for a stable base in the pack.

  • music86man

    Thanks! I had the gunslinger but figured it would be too heavy, traded down for the x3 lo drag but didn’t know how y’all did it.

    • Jojima

      music86man We tried the Gunslinger II on training hikes, but it was too heavy.  7 pounds for just the pack.  We went with Osprey backpacking packs, about 3 pounds each.

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