Continuing our series looking at some of the more fringe things you can do with a gun, this issue regular rifle competitor Will O’Meara attempts one of the toughest challenges of all
With all the lockdown restrictions I didn’t get the chance to compete in any Precision Rifle Competitions this year. I had entered another European based sniper comp for serving and retired Military and Law Enforcement Personnel, but this too was cancelled.
So, the net was cast a little wider and me and a buddy got chatting about what competitions were out there that looked interesting. We were looking for a challenge and something far enough away on the calendar to allow the corona pandemic time to calm. The Mammoth Sniper Challenge, which is scheduled for January 2021 seemed to fit the bill.
Most of you have probably never heard of the Mammoth Sniper Challenge and to be honest it is only something that really hit my radar about two years ago, but when it hit, I was immediately interested.
The mix of physical demand allied to shooting has always appealed to me and during military training cycles I always excelled in biathlon style shooting scenarios, i.e. run and shoot. I enjoy difficult tasks and I enjoy training for a goal, so this competition was always going to be on the bucket list—and there’s no time like the present.
March and shoot
The Mammoth Sniper Challenge is not new, it is well established and has been touted as the toughest civilian shooting challenge out there. So, what is it? It is basically a three-day march and shoot competition.
Over three days you must cover a course of over 30 miles, this course is punctuated by shooting stages that demand strategy and precision in both long range rifle and pistol.
To add a little spice to the mix you have to carry all your gear; food, shelter, ammo, everything and there is a time restriction—you must maintain an average pace of sub 16-minute miles between stages. Doesn’t sound too bad? Well that’s what I thought, 3.75 miles per hour doesn’t sound that fast….
So, for training session number one I stuffed 45lbs in the pack, strapped the Garmin to my wrist and hit the trail. I was interested to see if I could keep the pace without running.
What I quickly discovered was that on flat ground I could keep a pace of 14.30 minute miles by walking as fast as possible, if you add hills then that time increases, if you add weight the time increases, if you add soft ground the time increases…hmmm.
When I did Special Operations Selection there were a series of known time/distance/weight tests that you had to complete on the first week of the cull; Sub 45 minute 10km in running gear; 21km mountain march “fore-man: aft-man” with 45lb pack in about 4 hours 15 minutes; Tank tracks hill circuit of about 7km in 45 minutes with 45lbs; Track walk of 5km with 45lbs, 400m ascent in under an hour; and all of these on little or no sleep, rest or recovery and punctuated by various other tortuous activities and tests all day every day. If you wanted to get to phase two of the course, then you had to pass all of the tests—no exceptions.
Part of the mental preparation for these back to back tests was confidence. I gained confidence and the belief that I could achieve success by training hard and rehearsing the tests.
When I rehearsed the tests I always wanted to have a time cushion—if the cut off was 4 hours 15 mins then I wanted to be able to do it in 3hrs 30 mins, if it was one hour then I trained until I could do it in 45 minutes. This meant that I needed to be about 25 per cent stronger than the pass requirement.
This approach worked for me, for known tests I knew I had it in the tank, even when my body was exhausted. For unknown tests I knew I had done the hard work and that, if others before me had done it, then I could do it too.
Part of building up to these performance levels was my training plan, it wasn’t complex, it was just consistent. In preparing for Mammoth I have adopted the same approach—build a program to make me 25 per cent stronger than the minimum requirement.
This means I have to be able to cover each mile in 12 minutes with the prescribed weight. In theory you could train with heavier weight but in my experience, this can lead to injury. What I will be doing is carrying heavy stags off the hill and this will build the pack strength aspect.
On the topic of pack weight—here is when some strategy needs to come in—extra gear can reflect insecurities or inexperience and there are a few maxims to remember; you pack it—you carry it; ounces make pounds and pounds make pain and; travel light—freeze at night. I have experienced the harsh reality of all!
For this event I want my pack to be as light as possible, but I also needed to get good sleep at night and be well fuelled so that I can make good decisions in the shooting stages.
No food and no sleep equals poor brain function! The competition will be held in Georgia in early January, and an online investigation tells me that the expected daily temperatures are between 4 and 18 degrees, there’s a 30 per cent chance of rain, with four inches per day being normal when it does rain, average winds are about 6mph, there’s a chance of snow, and daylight hours are between around 8am and 6pm. This tells me that I need gear to stay warm and dry and that the nights will be long and cold!
In an ideal world my pack would come in under 30lbs, add 6lbs of food, 6lbs of ammo, 12lbs of rifle and your water and suddenly we are rapidly approaching the 60lbs mark…let’s breakdown the kit list.
The list looks pretty crazy but most of it is essential gear. There are a few decision points that need to be made that relate to weight and a few that relate to carriage of gear. On the weight side we need to decide on using two one-man tents or a single two-man tent between us.
This decision is linked to the tripod because our one-man tents use the Spartan Tripod as their support structure/poles. The Spartan Tripod also acts as trekking poles and as a long bipod. Both my team mate and I are fans of trekking poles so we may well reach a compromise by using the Spartan System and lighten the tripod by using some pro-legs where possible (pro-leg is about 1/3 of the weight of a standard tripod leg).
The sleeping bag is a good place to save weight, I normally run a synthetic bag for hunting trips due to its resistance to water, but this may be a good opportunity to either run a down bag or a light synthetic bag bolstered by my Kifaru Lost Parka Insulation Layer.
Another consideration is a spotting scope—yay or nay? I am leaning towards nay, thinking that we both have x25 riflescopes that can be used to spot and we can bring bino’s, that are ok for spotting, great for target acquisition and can also have LRF built in.
I think we will most likely make the spotting scope decision after some training where we test both approaches. A general overview of our training plan might look like this;
- 1 range day per week
- 1 heavy pack day per week
- 1 speed pack session per week—targeting 13-minute miles with 55lbs
- Hill sessions on alternate weeks
- 1 long slow run per week
- Crossfit style WOD 4 days per week
- Daily mobility session
- Test and retest a simulated event once per month
As I write this, we have 16 weeks to Mammoth, which is a great timeframe to have to train for an event like this. On the shooting side we will practice disciplines such as; Know your limits; alternate position shooting; multiple target engagement; unknown distance/target milling; loop-hole shooting and more. Skills to practice will include pistol shooting, magazine changing, move and shoot, holdover shooting, sniper/spotter dialogue, and wind calls.
Success in these types of events generally hinges on good decision making. You need to be able to digest the stage briefing, make a plan, adapt the plan on the fly, communicate effectively, keep calm and keep the brain engaged.
This can be practiced through scenario-based training sessions and ideally you have someone set up blind stages for you so that you are forced to plan, improvise, adapt and learn.
There are a couple of motivating factors that make me excited about this competition; the challenge, training, team work, comradery, adventure and the growth and experience that it will foster in me which in turn will feed into me being a more effective hunter. Right now, I’m off to cut my toothbrush in half and to figure out how much that spare pair of socks weighs…
We’ll revisit Will next year and find out how he got on