U.S. Optics has long been a strong contributor and supporter of long range shooting. Given our relationship goes back some 15 years that is saying a lot. Headed off to compete in the North American Sniper Championships in the early 2000’s they provided two of their latest long range scopes for use on mine and my partners rifle. Contributing to our 3rd place finish they were a huge advantage. Over time their scopes have continued to improve, adapt, and change with the times resulting in the ER25 used today. So when asked to attend their inaugural U.S Optics Academy I jumped on it.
Originally designed as a means to focus on their product, U.S. Optics wanted a simple two day class providing basic skills in scope operation along with some long range shooting. Several media members were invited to participate in the official introduction of the course. Loading up the Desert Tactical SRS, along with their 175 grain ammunition I made my way to the event. U.S. Optics provided an ER25 scope a couple weeks in advance allowing me to get it dialed in.
The class is taught at Tyler Hughes facility in Apple Valley California. Tyler is the owner and operator of Max Ordinate Academy where he teaches not only the U.S. Optics Academies, but a number of his own schools ranging from basic to advanced courses. He also offers an Airborne Gunfighter series. The facility is nestled in the high desert of Apple Valley California. Set in a secluded canyon it provides a well controlled training experience with lots of wind, and just a bit of dust. Along with a range deck close to the cabin, it is possible to get out to 1500 yards. There are other ranges, along with some high angle shooting available. The 100 yard range deck is well surfaced in sand and a light gravel making it pretty comfortable.
His cabin is a large self contained facility that supports as many as 20 people in a communal bunk style lodging. Cots with mattresses are available, along with a couple bathrooms and a shower. Meals are taken care of in the large kitchen, while a common room facilitates down time after the class including a pool table. A classroom is located in the basement that can double as a theatre with a large television. If you are not interested in the camping experience hotels are only a few minutes away in Apple Valley. There is no Internet, and phone service is spotty. That can be a blessing or a curse depending on who you are, just be aware. Having bunches of gun writers with no Internet is a goat hump for sure, but most may enjoy it. Driving to the upper deck / long range allowed for full service from just about any provider.
Tyler is an excellent instructor with an exemplary history that includes not only training, but significant combat experience. He has attended numerous schools, taught just as many, and was an instructor at the Marine Corp Sniper School West in Camp Pendleton CA. He is also an experienced precision rifle competitor. His credentials are impeccable, and it showed in his knowledge and presentation of the material. Having listened to lectures on Minutes, MOA, and the like during a couple dozen sniper schools Tyler keeps it simple making it as clear and concise as possible. He covered basic scope build and operation, differences in first and second focal planes, along with basic operation. Math lectures were kept to a minimum and clear. Wind reads and holds and formulas were covered as well as I have seen. His demeanor is low key, confident, and professional. Content was probably a bit ambitious for a two day school, given he normally does this in three, but my guess is that will improve with further classes. Just be prepared for a ton of solid information. Data books are provided so take notes, or be prepared with a phone, iPad or similar for note taking. All of it will prove valuable at some point, it just may take awhile to kick in.
Most of day one involved getting scopes mounted, set up to fit each shooter, then properly zeroed. Especially when shooting at long range a proper zero is critical. Skimp on time here and you pay the price moving out to long range. Basic marksmanship was covered, along with how to properly shoot groups. Some gentlemanly competition occurred along with quite a bit of fun. Towards the end of the day most everyone was zeroed, their scope knobs slipped, and ready for some long range shooting. Prior to calling it a day we spent a couple hours shooting out to as far as 1000 yards testing our zeroes and elevation adjustments in preparation for the next day. It allowed me to get solid holds out to 900 yards with the Desert Tactical.
Our second day started with a confirmation of zero prior to making our way to the long range. Each shooter was able to get “on” from 300 to 1000 yards. Wind calls and spotting was handled by a partner providing an introduction to sniper / observer operation. Tyler and his staff corrected errors in calls making sure everyone was able to get some solid elevation (dope) out to as far as 1000 yards. All said and done everyone who wanted to reach out that far was able to do so.
Desert Techs SRS A1 is one of my favorite precision rifles, has been for years. This particular rifle is the latest generation, and my personal rifle. Generally used in 6.5 Creedmoor a 22 inch .308 barrel was borrowed for the class. It was also equipped with a Desert Tech .338 Suppressor and a new Elite Iron Bi-pod. All of it was placed into an Arcteryx Leaf Khard 60 pack. Everything needed to perform each day was in the bag. Removing the suppressor allowed it to fit. Although a bit heavy it carried well and balanced nicely in the pack.
The rifle was as accurate as one might expect. My last zeroing group put 3 rounds into about .40 inches. A later test of the best 10 shot group put them into 7/8 inch. The angle to target is elevated making a solid rear stock position problematic, so that was pretty good. My guess is the rifle can do better, at least it has before. It ran smoothly, performed flawlessly, and remained consistent throughout. Its only drawback remains its difficulty single feeding. You cannot just drop .308 based rounds on the magazine, they need to be partially fed into the chamber. Takes some practice but it still slows things a bit. Thankfully this is primarily the purview of competitions and training time. Other than that the DT is a tack driver, and worked accordingly at the class.
U.S. Optics ER25 was set up using an EREK knob along with a Horus H-59 reticle. Built to use in precision rifle matches, it has incredibly clear glass, and the knobs are dead on precise. During the course I was able to confirm the reticle subtends accurately with the elevation knob. Testing on a couple of other rifles it has remained consistent. The UMQDS mount is very solid and has proven to return as close to zero as it gets. Both on my Seekins Precision, and the DT it changes less than .25 inches when removed and reinstalled. Given that is about the limits of my accuracy as a rule it might as well be absolute.
Attaching to the bottom rail the Elite Iron Bi-pod cradles the rifle allowing it to pivot 360 degrees around the barrel. There is no rocking side to side, it pivots in a circle. Shooting at a very deep angle on the 200 yard target it was possible to lock the legs in at 45 degrees and get low to the rifle. The serrations on the front lock nicely into barricades. Whether in the dirt or on the mat the legs just don’t move or bounce, it may be the most solid bi-pod ever used.
Some Final Thoughts
While no one learns to be an expert at long range shooting in two days, or becomes a true “wind whisperer” in such a short time, the U.S. Optics Academy provides a solid base from which to build. Tyler offers some advanced classes as well as U. S. Optics and this two day course will serve to motivate you to attend. Tyler has a ton of solid information and experience to pass on, its just tough to grasp it all in two days. It leaves you with the ability to understand how to run your scope, and use it at extended ranges in some challenging winds leaving you wanting more.
If you are looking to pick up a U.S. Optics scope this is an excellent venue. They offer scopes to borrow; this way you can test one prior to deciding on a particular model. U.S. Optics employees cover mounting, proper setup, and operation giving you a huge heads up on a new purchase. They are there to answer any questions in person. Especially when buying the higher end scopes it is a huge advantage to do a bit of flying before the buying – having the people that build and install them on hand is a huge advantage.
Conditions were pretty challenging, good for you and your gear. Dusty and windy, it is anything but pristine making it a true learning experience. I have taught 10 year olds to hit steel at 1000 yards on a calm cool day at a level range. This range makes you think, and that is good. Given Tyler’s longer classes you will come away with a very solid skill set, and these two days get you primed.
Whether you are looking at a U.S. Optics scope, or just want to put your existing glass to the test the trip is well worth it. Take the time to attend their Long Range Precision 2 along with more training from Tyler and you will develop some excellent long range shooting skills.