Oct 29, 2011

Marine Scout Sniper Basic Course - Known Distance Course

A Marine prepares to fire his M40 sniper rifle during the Known Distance Course portion of the Scout Sniper Basic Course on Oct. 5. Students in the course fire at targets ranging from 300 to 1,000 yards away, developing the skills needed to become Marine Scout Snipers.

(Story and photos by Sgt. Christopher Zahn)  QUANTICO, Va. - It takes a highly refined sense of skill to put a round in the center of the target every time. There are a countless number of small details that must be executed perfectly, breathing cheek weld, trigger control, eye relief and shooting position are just a few of the factors that can make the difference between hitting the target, or a miss.

From 1,000 yards away, those details are even more critical. A small error from the 300-yard line will usually still hit the target, at 1,000 yards that same error can throw the round off by several inches.

For the students of the Scout Sniper Basic Course, honing these skills is an extremely important test in the early stages of their journey to be a Marine Scout Sniper.

For 15 days, the students shoot the Known Distance Course, which requires them to hit targets from 300 to 1,000 yards with their M40 sniper rifles. They have to pass this qualification to move to the next phase in the course and become HOGs, or hunters of gunmen.

“Before we get them into more realistic shooting, we need to make sure that they can at least grasp the basic fundamentals of marksmanship, which is really all the KD range is about,” said an instructor for the course.

The shooters have more factors under their control on the KD range than just the distance.

“[The KD course] provides the ‘crawl, walk, run’ mentality of instructing and teaching shooting,” said an instructor for the course. “They are shooting from the prone position, they have ample time to identify the target. We account for all the atmospheric conditions and there is a shot spotter that shows them exactly where they hit, so they can make adjustments if needed.”

          (click to enlarge)
Because while the lessons instilled on the KD course of fire are important in their own right, they really serve as the foundation for the more advanced skills the students will learn on their journey to wear the coveted hog’s tooth, the 7.62 mm round given to all Marines upon graduation from the course.

“[Shooting] under stress, in combat gear, where there is no shot spotter to show you how far away you missed the target, with limited visibility and limited engagement time to get that target down,” added the instructor. “It’s all about building from the ground up and working slow.”

The instructors throw as much variety as they can over the course of the 15-day evolution. Some days they will shoot in the morning into the afternoon or the afternoon into the evening. Other days the shooters will start from the 300-yard line and work their way back. On especially challenging days they will start at the 1,000-yard line and move forward. When a student’s first shot of the day comes from that far away, it really tests the knowledge they should have learned by that point.

“Mainly, its ensuring that they make a good, solid, wind call,” said the chief instructor for the course. “That they are able to read the winds, judge the atmospherics with the temperature and barometric pressure and then feed all that data in to make the calculations to get that first round in the black.”

Once these students pass the KD course of fire, they have the basic foundation of skills need to move onto the more advanced shooting techniques such as unknown distance target engagement and the all-important stalk.


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