What a SEAL sniper taught me about long distance shooting

Makhaira Group is a professional bunch of guys who know their stuff

Have you ever fired a rifle at distances of 200 or even 300 yards? Ever mounted a scope, locked it down and dialed it in? Are you familiar with terms like MOA, windage, and hold over? Despite nearly two decades in law enforcement and being a handgun instructor, I had no experience with long distance shooting. Fortunately, I found a class nearby and got some professional instruction—and when I say “professional” I don’t mean my hunting buddy Earl showed me what he does when he gets buck fever. No, I attended a training by Makhaira Group.

Makhaira Group
The word “makhaira” (pronounced “muh-kai-ruh”) comes from the Greek and it means “fight” or “a battle.” It refers to a bladed weapon from ancient times. Makhaira Group is a northern Colorado-based company that offers firearms and safety training to civilians, law enforcement, and military. The classes range from Counter Child Abduction to Tactical Rifle, Tactical Pistol, and Long Range Precision Rifle. The instructors of Makhaira Group are top-shelf subject matter experts, starting with company founder and former US Navy SEAL Sniper, Mark Hotaling.

I wanted to learn to shoot long distances. I felt like I probably couldn’t do much better than to learn from a SEAL Sniper. On the learning scale, I was full on conscious incompetence. I knew that I didn’t know anything. Google and YouTube are great but can only get you so far when it comes to hands-on skills. Over the years I had been assembling a rifle that I wanted to take hunting when my search and rescue responsibilities were no more. I had cobbled together a Remington 700 SPS Tactical chambered in .308, a Harris bipod, and Burris 4 x 14.5 Fullfield II scope. I showed up at the class full of anticipation.

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Back to School
The day started with ominous weather; overcast skies blanketed the farm country near Nunn, Colorado. I arrived at Great Guns Sporting and followed the signs to the Makhaira Group class. The day’s agenda was scheduled for two hours of class, a grilled lunch, then five hours on the range where we would ultimately shoot out to 300 yards. Despite being brief, the classroom portion was very informative. I began to get more comfortable as we covered some familiar ground—the fundamentals of shooting. I learned these become even more important as you start reaching out to greater distances.

Mark had a clear command of the subject and broad diversity of teaching people all over the world. He interspersed class content with actual war stories, quotes from famous shooters, relevant history, and anecdotal evidence from a lifetime of shooting. I took copious notes about specific ideas and different gear I would likely need.

After some great burgers, we were off to the 300-yard range. Mark patiently helped me properly install my mount and scope with Loctite after leveling the shooting bench. Once installed, we started shooting at the 50-yard line to make sure we were on paper. From there, we pushed out to the 100 and began dialing in our scopes. Shooting three rounds every time, we worked to establish groups and adjust. My Burris scope is equipped with quarter-minute adjustments, this means I had to turn it four times to move an inch. Shooting consistently high and left, I adjusted my scope right 28 clicks (windage) and six clicks down (elevation). I put my next group of shots near the bullseye.

We then moved out to 200 yards. At this distance I could really tell when I messed something up. One of the lessons taught by Mark and Taylor Post, another instructor, was that you are the biggest variable. By focusing on fundamentals, a good shooter can begin to eliminate or at least mitigate some of those variables. Mark said to shoot on empty lungs, thinking “squeeze, squeeze, squeeze, squeeze…” as you slowly apply pressure on the trigger until the surprise break. He said if you can’t get the shot off in 3-5 seconds, resume breathing. I never knew how important breathing was for long range. It’s not just your body’s normal rhythms you have to account for, but the amount of oxygen it takes to run the eyes. Visual acuity fades with declining oxygen, I experienced this but had been taught how to cope.

We eventually moved out to 300 yards and began shooting. Here everything was dramatically amplified. A tiny error of squeezing the strap too hard could throw you off greatly. After accounting for wind, I was happy with my grouping. Another instructor, Tim Fox, was spotting for me and described my groups as not being a hostage sniper shot, but great for a deer or elk. I knew exactly what he meant and was glad I was aiming for the latter and not the former.

On the range the time we invested in the classroom really paid off. The lessons became applied knowledge. Mark talked about Carlos Hathcock and developing a shooting system or program—having a series of thoughts and movements you go through every time you shoot. I learned about parallax. Mark described this as a driver seeing a gas gauge as half-full, whereas the passenger sees half empty due to perspective. We learned how to eliminate this largely by using our cheek rests. Mark described the shooter’s position of cheek on comb (top of the butt of the rifle) as one of the greatest sources of failed shots. Applying all this knowledge was great on the bench, but not practical for real-world shooting.

I got down on the ground prone and took my time. Everything was different, the rifle was on a new place in my shoulder, my cheek weld felt weird, and I had some parallax issues that weren’t there before. Taylor said in the classroom that the closer to the ground, the more stable we would be. He was right, I was not comfortable, but accurately drilled my target at 200 yards. I also shot with elephant sticks. This was a good compromise and more likely method considering the terrain where I live.

The weather ended up being perfect. The skies cleared and the temperature was in the 70’s. It was nice during our long walks to review or move our targets. By the end of the day I was really impressed with everything I had learned. I had accurately delivered rounds to my target at distances of three football fields away. Makhaira Group is a professional bunch of guys who know their stuff and provide safe training at an affordable price, without a bunch of swagger and ego. I’m glad they offer alumni discounts. I’ll be going back. 

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