Maybe your idea of adult fantasy camp is lacing up with a professional ballplayer, mastering a hockey slap shot, or going full shred with Metallica. For me, it was attending the SIG Sauer Academy, where SEALs, SWAT teams, Special Ops, and other elite shooters hone their skills. I had a chance recently to join what SIG calls its Chalk program, in which they bring in SIG retailers for a “full immersion” experience at the academy. (In military terminology, a chalk is a group of paratroopers that deploys from a single aircraft. Given the intensity of the program, it’s an apt moniker.) The company figures if a retailer has actually used the product, he can better describe its features to an interested customer.
The SIG Sauer Academy, located in Epping, New Hampshire, is also open to the public and you are not required to own or use a SIG firearm to take instruction. The academy offers a wide variety of courses, ranging from beginner level to expert, in self-defense and competitive shooting.
We had the option to do a full day in pistol, carbine, or long-range precision shooting. After sampling carbine and pistol (where the instructor corrected my grip), I selected the long-range rifle program, for two reasons. I did want to learn how to shoot at 1,000 yards, but I also wanted to really learn how to use a scope equipped with ballistic turrets and a milliradian reticle. Instructor Andy Roy and his team immediately set about demystifying this scope and in doing so delivered the single best explanation of parallax I’ve ever heard.
If you can’t quite grasp the importance of the parallax knob, do this: place a box of ammo about six feet away. With both eyes open, hold up your thumb so it centers on the box. Close one eye. Then open that eye and close the other.
You’ll see the thumb jump back a forth across the box. Now, move that box so it’s only one foot away. Repeat the exercise. The thumb barely seems to move. That’s it. All the parallax knob does is move the focal plane and reticle on long-distance objects to eliminate that “jump” so you can place an accurate shot at distance.
That done, Roy and his team had us sight in prone at 100 yards. Roy noticed my shots strayed a bit to the right.
“You’re gripping the grip too hard,” he said. “Relax.” Then he told me to place my right thumb alongside, rather than around, the grip. “That’ll help keep you on target.”
When Roy and his team were satisfied we were on at 100 yards, they had us focus on price tags on string taped to the bottom of the targets. They were swinging in the wind.
“See if you can hit the tag,” Roy said.
It seemed impossible, but I actually cut a corner of one of the tags. And the importance of the exercise?
“You can’t always control your environment, whether you’re a sniper, a competing precision shooter, or a hunter,” he said. “Sometimes you just have to go with what nature throws at you.”
Once we established the 100-yard zero and set the screws on the elevation turret, we backed up to 300 yards.
“Now we get to the math,” Roy said. “Don’t worry, we’ve done that for you. It’s based on SIG ammo ballistic charts.”
After we turned the turrets the required clicks, we started shooting. Then we repeated the drill at 750 yards. Same thing, turn the turret back to zero and come up the required amount. Soon thereafter, we heard the steel targets ringing in the distance. By late afternoon, we were doing the same at the 1,000-yard targets.
It’s an intense day, and at end I was utterly exhausted, mentally and physically. But I had learned a lot, not only about SIG rifles and optics, but also about trigger control and breathing techniques.
A SIG rep told me the morning before we hit the course that the bus rides back to the hotel were usually quiet, with people napping or just thinking about the experience. Not us. We were like a joyous high-school football squad heading home after a big win.
That evening I traded stories with the pistol and carbine shooters. I figured I shot around 250 rounds of 5.56. The pistol guys estimated they shot more than 1,000 rounds. And the coolest thing of the day? One retailer told me they belted him into the driver’s seat of a car and taught him how to shoot out the left and right windows.
“It’s a lot harder than it looks,” he said. “That belt really restricts movement.”
One of the carbine shooters said the best part of his day was learning to shoot on the move and handling transitions in close quarter battle drills.
By the way, all day long we could hear the pros doing their own training all around us. Full shred? I’ll take full auto any day.