CJTC Designated Marksman course AAR
Class: Washington CJTC Designated Marksman
Dates: May 17-18, 2021
Location: Okanogan County Sheriffs Office Range facility
Instructors: Doug Tangen and Jeff Hall
Recently I was afforded the opportunity to attend the aforementioned class here in Washington State, to my surprise. Being on the private side, the ability to attend our local law enforcement courses are subject to individual instructor approval, and I was given the green light a few weeks before class.
Pre-course planning was on me, due to the gear list being rather sparse (in my opinion) initially. The rifle I used was a BCM 20 inch barreled upper on a Barrett Rec7 lower. Trigger was a Geissele SSA, and optics setup was a Primary Arms 1-6 SFP with their ACSS reticle, with an offset Holosun 507C. The requisite 500 rounds of ammunition I used was Hornady’s TAP GMX solid copper 55gr 5.56. I confirmed zero the week prior to attending, and gathered DOPE for my rifle and these loads out to 700 yards in stable conditions (clear, 70*, no wind).
Day one of class began at 0800 on the 17th of May, with introductions and a rundown of the rifle each student was using. I was quite surprised at the range of rifles and glass that were present, with some students using M&P Rifles with extreme budget glass like Vortex Crossfire 1-4 or Cabela’s AR-223 line, and at the other end of the spectrum a few Sons Of Liberty, PWS, KAC, and Geissele rifles with Nightforce, Kahles, Leupold, and similar setups. All students were using either red dot and magnifier or an LPVO as called for by the gear list. After introductions, we dove into the presentations and this is where my mindset was changed. Coming from a military and private contracting background, my thoughts on designated marksman centered around precision sub-700 yard engagements-to include dialing DOPE in my optic and more shooter’s math. The role taught in this class diverged from that, highlighting the role of a patrol officer as designated marksman to bridge the gap between your standard officer and SWAT sniper’s arriving on scene. Focus was on 300 and in point-blank shooting, utilizing the reticle of your LPVO or red dot in conjunction with a magnifier to take well aimed shots beyond the scope of most standard patrol rifles. The instructors also highlighted that there is only 2 things that are controllable in these situations-the ammunition type used and the barrel length of the DM’s rifle. All other factors are environmental and situational. This led to probably one of the better ways of wording unpredictable circumstances I have heard personally, from Jeff Hart; “It depends.” This really highlights the variance in this line of work, even with these two simple words, because it really does depend on a wide range of circumstance. The reason we train is to mitigate the surprise of this circumstance.
Other topics covered in the PowerPoint were positional shooting, trajectory differences in ammunition and other rifles, recommended optics, and why the designated marksman role calls for a magnified optic over use of iron sights. This optics discussion also highlighted on the drawbacks of iron sights and why optics have taken over the market as such-particularly low-power variable riflescopes. Another consideration brought up was cost, and the fact that a large majority of the officers there-and others across the states- purchase their own optics, so cost to performance factor is a huge thought.
Our first bout of live fire began at 1000 that day, after a safety brief. Offset-zero targets were utilized to get rifles on at 10 yards, then we pushed back to 50 yards to set zero for the class. It was this moment that I truly came to appreciate the quality of barrel Bravo Company is putting out, with the 55gr Hornady it was more than capable of printing under 1/3 inches at the 50 yard line, translating to approximately a ¾ MOA barrel so long as I did my part. For the most part, rifles were consistent across the line at approximately 1-1.5 MOA, with no failures of weapon themselves in the course.
Next, we began diving into positional shooting. There was 14 different shooting positions demonstrated, allowing officers to find what works for their body and equipment mechanics as well as adapt to a broad range of situations. This is where I very quickly learned that I need to work more dry fire and live standing precision shots, because I didn’t feel that I was shooting to what I am capable of and have shot in the past. Personally, I found the best non-prone position was cross-leg sitting. I was able to maintain an acceptable level of accuracy using this and the position known as ‘small boat prone.’ After working through the positions, we broke for lunch.
Upon return from lunch, we found ourselves back on the range at the 5 yards line. The afternoon’s period of instruction began with close range ‘hip fire’ accuracy, to simulate not being able to completely shoulder a rifle or draw sidearm. What this showed is using an index point on your body allowed you to maintain center of mass accuracy at 5 to 7 yard and in shots, should the situation dictate. Proceeding from this, we moved to shouldering the rifle to acquire a sight picture after a hip fire engagement- creating distance and using the weapon to dominate the situation. This was a new concept to me, and one I’m not sure I would ever use but as mentioned earlier, it depends. I can see an application for the technique, it was just odd and different from my prior experience to not attempt to create distance and acquire optics immediately. Next, we moved on to acquiring the optics straight off and engaging up close using our magnifiers or LPVOs.
Closing the first day we finished with what is called a one-hole drill. This consisted of 5 well aimed shots, with a focus on the fundamentals of marksmanship. The reason for this is so we closed out the first period of instruction with a focus on the basics. I can see value in this, because high level shooting in my opinion is simply performance in the basics to a level of unconscious competence. Having this be the last thing in the shooters mind after a class highlights the importance of these basics.
Day 2 began as with the first, at 0800 on the 18th. We arrived in the classroom, took accountability, and we headed out to the range to confirm zero. I didn’t have and qualms with my setup, and to my observation there were no issues among the class. Following this we moved to the 250 yard line to begin engagements on targets from elevated positions. We worked from 75-250 yards in positions other than prone with no time limit to begin with, highlighting the need to build a strong position for accurate engagement at distance. For this, I worked the positions I needed to reinforce, and managed to meet the accuracy standard-although still short of my own goals.
Next began more positional engagements, this time using the VTac Barriers to make the shots. For this, I knew my personal favorite in the sitting position was not going to cooperate- due to the inability to move quickly and effectively in and out of positions, and I was forced to adapt and work more of the other positions to make my shots. I found the small boat prone and braced kneeling to be most effective when working barricades with the length of the 20” barrel. After this initial bout of fire, we taped off the front lens of our optics and began engaging with occluded sights. It was a learning experience to be sure, and I found I can consistently and accurately engage to 100 yards with an occluded LPVO using both eyes open shooting to superimpose my reticle on the non-occluded eye.
Returning from lunch we set up for our final exercise. This consisted of 2 portions. The first was an unknown distance engagement on steel IPSC 100% targets, the instructor made a numbered target call and we engaged within 3 seconds. We engaged 5 targets then pulled off the line to prep for the 2nd portion.
After all the students finished with their engagements, we moved off the line and grabbed kit to begin the 2nd half of the final. This consisted of an approach to target maintaining concealment (while not being spotted by the instructor), finding a shooting solution and engaging, then egress. It was after this I noted a failure of my Harris bipod, one of the nuts backed off and I lost the right leg of the bipod. This concluded the coursework and we returned to the classroom for a short graduation ceremony.
Now, the failures I experienced. First thing I noticed was a feeding issue from my 20rd Surefeed Magazines. After the first night I took them apart and lubricated them, noting no anti-tilt followers. No further issues after lubrication but its something I noted. Next, the optic. I was impressed with the Primary Arms for what it was, but I did note some degree of chromatic aberration when shooting in direct sun. This was alleviated by using an index card to make a sun shade. From what I have seen, anecdotally, this is common to some of Primary Arms low to mid tier offerings- something to note and would cause concern for duty use. Otherwise, reticle is true and daylight bright (unlike the Kahles I had the opportunity to get behind.) Finally, the bipod failure referenced above was on me, I have since Vibra-Tited the nuts and added that to my PCC/PCIs.
Overall, I enjoyed this class and learned a bit to add to my toolbox. I would recommend this to any Washington officer that may find themself called to employ precision marksmanship before arrival of a SWAT trained designated sniper. If you don’t have any background in precision engagement, this course is a fine primer for officers and will establish a good foundation for continued education. As far as takeaways, I would highlight the importance of equipment checks for all shooters, particularly those in precision roles. I would also take serious consideration magazine choice. I will be relegating my 20rd Surefeeds to flat range or training magazines henceforth and switching to Magpul PMAG 20s. Glass is yet to be determined, I have problems with some glass coatings and my prescription so I have to get behind several (current frontrunners are Steiner and Leupold).