In August 2020, I attended GUNSITE Academy’s 250 Pistol Course. I had applied and received the Jeff Cooper Memorial Foundation’s scholarship (for more information, please visit jeffcooperfoundation.org) for free tuition to this baseline course all students must take. I attended and was one of 23 students broken up into two classes. At the end of the course, I earned the “Silver Chicken” which is the silver raven pin for shootoff winner. Upon completion of the course, I swore I would attend another class in the future to further my studies in the ways of the late great Lt. Col Jeff Cooper. I set aside some funds, ammo, and time and by September, had my deposit down on the 270 Rifle course.
I’ve attended my fair share of tactical carbine courses and long-range precision rifle courses. I enjoy marksmanship on all levels and from pistols, to shotguns, to carbines, and my benchrest bolt guns, if it has a trigger, I’m going to practice with it religiously. Firearms training is part of responsible ownership and in line with our God-given right of protection. As a self-defense advocate, I’ll always recommend training with firearms just as much as you train in striking, grappling, and with edged weapons. Years ago, I became fascinated with the practical bolt-action rifle. Afterall, it is this style of rifle I carry hunting and I’m far more likely to need to utilize my skills with one of these in the field than I will in a home defense scenario or highway shootout. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll train for all scenarios and I’ll never give up my ARs. That said, I can’t count on my fingers and toes how many times I’ve carried my Remington 700 into the field but I know how many times I’ve needed to fall back on my training with a carbine or shotgun inside my home. Could those scenarios play out, possibly. Will I carry my rifle hunting again, absolutely. To further my understanding of the practical bolt action (a non-heavy barreled rifle chambered in an intermediate sized caliber like .308 or 6.5 Creedmoor) and in particular, the scout rifle, envisioned by Lt. Col. Jeff Cooper, I attended GUNSITE’s 270 rifle course in August 2021.
The scout rifle concept is meant to be a Jack-of-all-trades instead of a master of one. My particular rifle is a Steyr Arms Scout with a Leupold 1.5-5x33 with a fire-dot reticle. It is chambered in .308 and it is equipped with an Andy’s Leather Rhodesian Sling. I carried this rifle along with 500 rounds of Hornady American Gunner ammunition to the course. To support the rifle and my person, I wore a set of Oakley eye protection, Howard Leight hearing pro, a Wilderness Tactical dump pouch and since I trained at GUNSITE previously with my Wilson Combat CQB, I carried that as well in a Simply Rugged Holster throughout the week. The Scout Rifle is not the only type of rifle that can be carried to the 270 class but it is one of the most popular. In addition to the gear, long sleeves and pants made the most sense for training in the desert along with hydration additives like Liquid IV and LMNT rehydration salts. Knee pads helped with hasty kneeling positions on rocks and spent brass and a shooting mat with a rear bag gave me a better platform to shoot from when we pulled out the 50 caliber ammo cans with the heavy sand socks for front bags. Each day started with a liberal application of sun block and throughout the day, I hydrated with copious amounts of water. Taking care of yourself and your rifle is part and parcel of training a full week in the high-desert of Arizona.
Each day of the 270 rifle course started at 8am. My instructor, Gary Smith, is one of GUNSITE’s top guys and a fellow long-range shooter. The course was small, only 4 students enrolled, and this made the instruction even better with more hands-on training. Since we had smaller numbers, we had the opportunity to run the steel-target simulator twice completing what is called the “Military Crest” with targets out to 300 yards. Our training consisted of basic marksmanship and zeroing. 3 out of 4 students elected for the 50/200 yard zero with the rounds impacting on point at 50, 1.5” high at 100, on at 200 again, and slightly low at 300 yards. We moved into learning how to access the rifle from various slung positions (American, European, African) and dropping into hasty shooting positions like kneeling, sitting, prone, Hawkin’s prone, and braced. We worked all manner of drills including pairs and emergency reloads. Since we were using practical rifles, we needed to let the barrels cool in between strings of fire. If they were too hot to touch, they were too hot to shoot. Throughout the week, we practiced aspects of the school drill which included 3 shots to the head at 25 yards, 3 shots to the body at 50 yards, 3 to the body standing to kneeling or squat at 100 yds, 3 to the body standing to seated at 100 yards, and 3 from standing to prone at 200 yards with various time constraints. Each day wrapped somewhat early thanks to the smaller classes and thankfully so. When I took the course, it was at the height of monsoon season and each day we experienced severe rainfall and wind.
What Worked and What Didn’t
Every student experienced some sort of firearm issues throughout the week. One student had trouble with his rifle dropping magazines with each round fired, another had a loose scope base, I had trouble with my front scope ring coming loose and causing my groups to open up. Malfunctions happen to the best of us and what these issues reinforce is the need to truly know and inspect your rifle which is part of ownership. On the bright side, what worked were our rifles when they were properly torqued and fed. All students improved throughout the week. I’ll admit it here, even though I shot a 63/75 on the school drill one day that didn’t count, I shot worse the day it did. I’m pretty sure the fact my rifle didn’t group well (attributed to cleaning the barrel and not fouling it before using it again) got to my head and monkeyed with my standard shooting routine. On a positive note, my variable power optic had sweet spots for various drills. I found at 25 yards, the 1.5 power served like a traditional red dot with the illuminated reticle. At 100 yards, I shot it at about 3.5x power and out to 200 yards, I cranked it up to 5x power. Additionally, the sling I chose worked well in supported positions as it has a semi-formed loop to easily thread my arm through and place it high on my tricep. What also worked well for me was the push-fed rifle I was using as it made speed reloads exceptionally fast.
Where do I begin? This course was enlightening. Gary Smith owns a Steyr Scout and he is an avid hunter. He imparted so many practical tips like little nuances to raising and lowering your body position to achieve a better sight picture. I took this course to learn more about the Steyr Scout as Cooper designed it and I also took the course to make myself more capable with the practical rifle for hunting purposes. I achieved both of these learning from the best. The goal of the course set forth by our instructor was improving the probability of first-round hits on target and I know the training definitely helped as all students became excellent shooters by the end of the week. Our training was reinforced by the student shootouts throughout the week. The first was the “duck of death” which involved students shooting at a human silhouette target at 100 yards starting from a slung position. I utilized African carry which my late mentor Marty said he preferred in Vietnam for the speed he could get his firearm into action. While I started with this and didn’t deter from it, other students tried different methods with less speed. For this, I won the 2021 challenge coin. In another shootoff, we engaged a target at 100 yards standing, 150 yards kneeling, and 200 yards prone. I could have shot better if I had a couple rounds at the ready for a speed load. Admittedly, the heat got to me and I had a few “dead man’s” gun moments where my rifle went click instead of boom. Regardless, I won the shootoff and earned my second silver raven pin. In the moment, I was disappointed by my performance and let out a few sighs of frustration. I know now these were excellent teachable moments and I’ll learn from my training.
Lt. Col. Jeff Cooper was ahead of his time and was a pioneer in the field of firearms training. He believed every man should be a rifleman and even though he is known for his 1911 and pistol training, I was informed he enjoyed teaching the 270 rifle class the most. He thought it was not unreasonable for people to learn how to shoot targets out to 300 yards with ease and have first-round hits every distance out to that range. He knew the rifle could be used to put food on the table or defend the homestead and this is true to this day. I know I’m more capable of this thanks to the training I received at the 270 rifle course and I’ll continue to wear the silver raven pin with distinction to honor the training I’ve received. This course is one more folks should take if they own a rifle and want to improve their marksmanship capability.
Kevin – very glad you made it back out there. Thank you for the effort you put into this write-up.
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Kevin Estela is a Survival Instructor at Estela Wilderness Education. Kevin is a frequent contributing writer for publications such as RECOIL, Athlon Outdoors, and Beckett Media. He is a Sayoc Kali Associate Instructor Level 5, as well as a BJJ Purple Belt.