Tuesday, March 26, 2013

First things first at Quantico

When I asked the Jim where there was a good place to overninght in Quantico he immediately opened his front door and offered me a spare rack.

His wife, being a Marine wife for the better part of two decades didn't seem to bat an eyelash over it and greeted me warmly. I suppose after almost 20 years in the Corps I should not have been surprised. Service wives that survive service marriages are, for the most part, pretty unflappable.

What I should add is that I wasn't the only one the door was open to. There was another guy around my age that he was putting up. This means that they put up two old men along with the accompanying nightly farting and snoring.

I arrived the afternoon before as it is fitting for an out of towner to at least offer to pitch in and I helped get targets ready for the following day.

You have to remember that this is a family and that is the core and there are other things to do besides entertain a couple of old men.

So I rejoined the Boy Scouts and helped out a little bit with moving a few bags of mulch his son had sold as a part of a fund raiser.

I didn't do that to be a nice guy, but to see the fluid dynamics of a family in action. I have no kids and enjoy watching the process of kids growing up and dads being dads.

Anyone can be a father, but it takes a real man to be a dad and my host proved to me that not only had he served as a good Marine but he was a good dad. A lot to be said for that.

We had an couple of interesting things happen delivering the mulch. I met a retired Sergeant Major that was one hell of a shooter but wasn't able to get to the match.

We also delivered mulch to a place and when we tried to pulll out of the driveway there was a string of cars a mile long. I explained to the boy that Elvis Presley had been seen a week ago in Manassas and had been taken to the hospital where he died the following day and that the string of cars was his funeral procession and we'd be stuck there for six hours.

For some reason he found that funny. Of course when we drove a few doors up and delivered to a house on the opposite side of the road when we tried to leave there was yet another string of cars coming. I explained that the funeral procession had taken a wrong turn and had whipped a U-turn and was retracing their path and we'd be stuck another six hours.

Anyway we returned home at a decent hour and crashed.

I slept pretty damned good and was awake when my host was. We both woke up at the hour called Oh-Dark Thirty and decided to do what shooters have done since Day One. We took off then and there and headed to the range with a quick trip to the local 7-Eleven for coffee and a breakfast sandwich.

At Lexington Green before the Revolutionary War back in 1774 there was a musket match and every single shooter showed up an hour early having finished a breakfast consisting of one cup of coffee, three cigarettes and a half-eaten breakfast sandwich they bought at Ye Olde Seveneth- Eleveneth.

Also at the 7-Eleven I broke a fifty into fives. Everyone and their cousin seems to show up with big bills and the change is appreciated. I was later thanked for this.

There were waivers and registrations forms to fill out, scorecards to pickup and the usual things. Unlike my local club or Camp Perry the system was a little different here. There are little differences everywhere. It pays to pay attention.

While filling out the forms someone asked me if I had ever shot there before and I said I had in either October or November. He said he didn't remember me and I then told him that it was October or November of 1963 when I was a 12 year old Boy Scout. That dropped his jaw.

I was also informed that $20 would buy me a pit puller so I didn't have to pull targets. A deal at twice the price.

It was also cold as hell and I wore a pair of hooded sweatshirts over my wool shirt and I was still chilly. My shooting jacket on top of that made me fairly comfortable.

There were a lot of Marines standing around with their hands in their pockets. I noticed it and jokingly asked them what the Sergeant Major would say. They smirked.

Anyway, we started at the 300 yard line. Most of the shooters were civillians but there were a few Marines which didn't surprise me. What did surprise me for a minute or two is that the Marines were all ammo techs and armorers. I had figured there would be a few scout/sniper types but I guess they wanted a day away from shooting.

I can see why the ammo techs and armorers showed up. They build rifles and make ammo but never get to shoot. What made me grin is that every armorer there was shooting a rifle he had built at home with his hands when he had the time to tinker in his basement or man-cave.

The ammo was supplied by the ammo techs and I looked at the headstamps. They were civillian and obvious handloads. Most likely made by some ammo tech in his basement or kitchen table.

Women, do not marry an ammo tech or an armorer unless you want a vise or a loading press bolted to your kitchen table. These guys take their work home with them and experiment a lot. I can hear it now. An angry wife demanding her husband unbolt the loading press from the kitchen table because her mother is visiting as she readys a tablecloth to hide the bolt-holes.

I fared halfway decently on the 300 and was pleasantly surprised that the little chart I made had me dead on at 300 having arrived with a 200 yard zero. Seven clicks up and dead on.

We wandered back to the 600 yard line and I adjusted my sights and was pleasantly surprised that I was pretty damned close. Elevation was good, but I had misdoped for wind.

After we shot the first course of fire, it was decreed that we would shoot another string after lunch. We broke for lunch which was supposed to be a barbecue but was anything but.

It was more of a big game dinner that should have been served in a pine paneled lodge somewhere with moose, elk and tiger heads on the wall.

It was delicious and sitting out in the cold wondering what the rich folks were having made it even better.

Someone started to ask about my pink CMP baseball cap and was interrupted by a face that looked familiar. "You don't want to go there," he said. "It'll be the most embarrassing moment of your life."

"It's a trap," chimed in a Staff Sergeant. He turned to me and grinned. "Breast cancer awareness, right?"

I nodded and said nothing.

One of the things I noticed about the Marines was that the lowest ranking man there was a corporal. It was a pretty mature group so I didn't feel the need to slap down some Pfc or Lance Corporal by guzzling down 8 ounces of iced tea out of a Jim Beam bottle and handing them a full one and telling them to help themselves.

Actually it was refreshing to be around professionals. Today even most corporals are pretty squared away and are nodbody's fool. It's really rather nice to be around professionals for a change. It was sort of like someone left the kids at home.

We returned to the 600 yard line and then it happened. The Staff Sergeant pointed to his personal rifle, an M40a1 and asked me if I'd like to use it for the 600 yard string and I jumped at the opportunity.

When I reached for my ammunition, he told me to use his and explained they were tailored for that specific rifle. He had a lot of it like most shooters. I was told I'd need about 120 rounds but brought 250 in case someone needed some.

My first shot was an 8 at 9 O'clock and instead of adjusting the scope I held over 1/2 of a mil for windage and then promptly hammered 4 consecutive Xes!

The 10 power Unertl scope was crystal clear and later on at the 1000 yard line I was also able to see the scoring rings.

I wound up with a 192-7X score. While not a winning score by any means it was a personal record at 600 yards. The wind shifted on me a couple of times. I am convinced having a full belly of venison helped.

For non shooters, anything over about 300 yards is all about doping for wind and while I am not a stranger to doping with iron sights I am fairly new to doping with a scope. When you get to the longer shots elevation is a given. You are supposed to know where to set your elevation ahead of time.

Of course, thermals can shift elevation a bit but they are nowhere as powerful as crosswinds as a rule.

I was on cloud nine as I had broken my previous high score at the 600 yard line so I fished into the bag beneath my stool and dug out a small trophy and awarded it to myself.

Shooting for most of us is a sport of self improvement. We generally shoot against our last score. For years I kept that trophy in my bag or at the clubhouse where I often shot and even though it is a little five-inch tarnished cup it is my prize to myself.

One of the guys chuckled and said it was a good idea. As I write it is sitting on my mantle.

Incidentally, the X-ring I was shooting at is only three inches in diameter. That's a half-minute of angle.

The match ended on a good note and we ambled home and I got cleaned up and to my surprise, his wife had pretty good meal set up for our return. While I was still pretty full from lunch, I managed to eat some and it made me grin.

Jim's wife is a good cook and cooks old school. She couldn't give me a recipe because whe made it in her head as she went along. The meal was topped off with fresh molasses cookies.

Bad weather was predicted for the following day and I considered running for home but decided to take a chance and we all hit the hay early. I dropped a couple asprins before bed as I felt something might be coming on but woke up feeling fine.

The next day we were scheduled to shoot at 800 yards and we followed the same course of fire. We actually reshot at six hundred and wandered back to the 800 yard line.

When asked where I had parked I deadpanned that I had found a space with the letters 'C.O.' on it and the Marines grinned. By this time they were on to me. They realized I knew my way around a military base and had parked in a safe place.

"Wonder what the Sergeant Major would say if you took his place?" asked a Sergeant.

"Oh, that's an easy one," I replied. "I'd just say some guy with a single chevron and crossed rifles bet me $100 I didn't have the balls to park there so I parked it and took his money. If ya got change for a Franklin, I'll split it wit ya."

"I wonder what would happen then?" chuckled the Sergeant.

"If it was one of us, he'd be pissed, but I bet if he was dealing with him he'd just walk off shaking his head and park somewhere else," opined another Sergeant. "He'd tell the Old man and they'd laugh about it. One thing for sure. They'd go looking for the Lance Corporal."

Jim Land showed up and I got to meet him. One thing Jim and I have in common is that we got our hearing protection from Celeste Dennison at Camp Perry. She's a wonderful Texas woman that has a wonderful laugh and shares shooter humor. Celeste has been making hearing protection there since the Roosevelt administration. The TEDDY Roosevelt administration. They are the best hearing protection out there.

Celeste has been making earplugs for so long she can tell you things about your infancy. I heard her tell a guy that an a baby he likely slept on his left side. When I was getting mine done she told me I had been dropped on my head.

Jim Land, Major USMC (Ret) is the guy that put the sniper program together in the early 60s. He trained Carlos Hathcock and others. He's an interesting man.

Several of the guys were shooting vintage rifles as was I. My rifle is a 1966 model M40 but a couple of the guys were shooting either 1903 Springfields or Winchester Model 70 with the old Unertl scopes on them. The Unertls have to be reset between shots.

I asked Jim how the hell they were so successful with such primitive equipment. He laughed and said he had been asked that question a number of times by today's scout snipers. He told me that back then the gear was state of the art.

I have seen the picture of Carlos holding the target he shot in 1965 and by the standards of today it is only good, not excellent. Back then it was unbelievably good. However, technology has changed. In 1975 they changed targets to make them more challenging. By then the technology had started to take off and the old 5V targets became obsolete.

I once said that and got dumped on by every Marine in the house but it is true. Someone else told me that the rifle Carlos used in Vietnam was capable of holding 2 minutes of angle. I believe it. Mine is capable of 1/2 a minute. This shows how technology has improved things.

I wonder how Carlos would have made out with today's equipment.

Too bad I'm not capable of using the rifle to its potential of I'd be a world-class champion. Oh, well. I'll get better with time I suppose. I figure I did OK by not embarrassing myself too awfully bad.

Another sidebar here is that one of the shooters had gotten himself into an argument with an IED in Afghanistan and had no legs. He was talking about an upcoming job which is what handicapped people are supposed to do instead of feeling sorry for themselves.

He was simply another one of the guys that was expected to take care of himself as best he could. We helped him do only the things he couldn't do for himself. He'd get a push over rough ground in his wheelchair and helped him cross a ditch or two but otherwise he took care of himself.

He was like a cat getting into position and seemed to be shooting well with an 1903 Springfield and old Unertl scope.

Guys are like that. We make sure we don't rob a guy of his independence and he got around by himself OK for the most part.

Anyway, the following day we shot at 800 and I did well enough not to embarrass myself too much and when things settled down I looked at the Marine and innocently asked him if we were going to move back to the 1000 yard line and he snickered. "Let me check," he said.

He asked the Range Officer and pointed out it was still pretty early. The RO asked the guys and of course, it was like throwing bloody meat to a hammerhead shark. Two minutes later the whole push of us was headed back to the 1000 yard length.

I did OK in that I hit the black often enough at the 1000 yard line. I have a long way to go. Incidentally I used the M40a1 there as my M40 didn't have enough clicks for elevation at 1000 yards. You really lob then in at 1000 yards. I figured I could have held the mildots two over and been able to pick up 20 clicks that way but the M40a1 was handy and the Staff Sergeant insisted. Never argue with a Marine Staff NCO.

Still, at 1000 yards doping for wind is closer to witchcraft than anything else. It is a long way and it is possible for the wind to change directions several times between the muzzle of the rifle and the target.

After that things broke up and I had weather coming so I had to leave without saying good bye to Jim's wife and kids. I had planned on setting up my Prc 320 there afterwards but the weather predictions prohibited it. I had to run and run fast.

Some advice here. Do not program your GPS until you get off the base. Mine took me down a dirt road that ended at a public road in BFE. It would have saved me a lot of time if the dirt road wasn't gated shut. I had to retrace my steps and lost a lot of time having realized I was hopelessly lost.

There are about a gazillion ways on and off of the base but only a couple have open gates of any sort. GPS does not know which ones are open or shut.

Running around the training fields with a rifle and ammunition in the truck isn't a smart thing to do as you are supposed to go from the gate straight to the club house.

Clearing post, I set the GPS to Front Royal, VA and 10 miles out reset it for Breezewood, PA and ran US 522 because you only spend about 10 minutes in Maryland that way. Maryland has screwed up gun laws and while I was 100% legal under federal safe passage laws, I don't trust the Maryland State Police. To get there go to Breezewood and plot a course tor Berkley Springs, WV. There you type in Quantico, VA and you are good to go.

A few miles short of home I ran into the predicted snow but managed to arrive before it got too bad. When I got home the furnace had died and I had to fire up the space heater and sleep under a pile of blankets. It's up and running now.

Thanks to Jim, Andy, Brian all of the locals, non-locals and Marines for a great time and everyone else that helped me out and showed me the ropes.

Special thanks go to Jim's wonderful wife for putting me up without batting an eyelash and opening their house up to me. She shone brightly as a splendid example of a Marine wife.

To find out why the blog is pink just cut and paste this: http://piccoloshash.blogspot.com/2009/12/my-feminine-side-blog-stays-pink.html


  1. I've never had much of a problem with traveling in Maryland with a firearm.

    Of course, it's probably because I've never gotten pulled by a trooper while traveling in Maryland... But that's semantics. =o)

  2. I have been stopped there twice over the past few years. Neither time was I carrying a firearm but both stops were nothing more than fishing expeditions.

    Both times I had the feeling that if a sealed bottle of wine or a loose.22 round had been seen I would have been torn apart and searched. It struck me that the stops had nothing to do with public safety and everything to do with revenue enhancement.

  3. You went through my home town if you went through Berkeley Springs.