This past weekend Nick and I took Buck Doyle/Follow Through Consulting’s Recce Rifle Class. You can’t talk about his classes without first talking about the location. The ranch that the class took place on is located smack in the middle of a series of National Parks in Southern Utah that attract folks from around the world. The backdrop/backstop for the shooting locations are an amazing red rock cliff. None of the shooting positions we used could be termed a traditional range, but that was the real beauty of this class. Every direction you look is a vista of stark beauty. That being said I am not sure I would want to be there in the middle of the summer for a class. Personally, I would sign up for his earlier or later season classes.
To understand the class, I feel like you first need to understand what a Recce Rifle is according to Buck. The purpose of a Recce rifle is for defense and to break contact, in that sense it is not a gunfighting rifle, but is a gunfighting rifle with that purpose. These rifles, according to Buck, are for use during intelligence gathering missions, and those missions happen largely in the field so you need to adapt to your environment. As a civilian, that doesn’t have a whole lot of bearing on my uses. Instead, I think of the Recce rifle in much the same sense I do a general purpose rifle. It is setup to do a bit of everything well. Not to heavy not too light, not too magnification not too little, etc…
My original plan was to use an AR308 that I had built, but as I was working to get it sighted in I had teething issues (probably the subject of another post). After a couple of range sessions, I decided the smart plan was to just go with one of the AR15s that I already own. That eliminated all the stress of getting a rifle ready, as I had two to choose from that I already know are good to go. I chose my Gen 1 S&W VTAC because it has a better trigger, and also a bit more weight further out so it holds steadier offhand. That being said the rifle was put together back around 2007, and it needed a bit of an update, and an optics switch. I bought a NF NXS 2.5-10x24 to go on the AR308, and I just pulled it and put it on the VTAC. I also switched out to a more modern light setup, my current preferred grip, and then had to address the requirement for an offset sighting setup. My original plan was for the NF to go back on the AR308, so I pulled a T2 from another rifle (actually out of the box as it wasn’t mounted yet) and put it on a scope mount. There is no doubt that it was a sweet and very quick setup. However, the more I worked with the rifle, the more I liked it, and I finally decided that it was going to stay setup as is. With that in mind I pulled the T2 and put on angle irons. I added a piece of picatinny rail for a bipod and it was good to go. One thing about going with the 5.56 vs the 308, I saved a lot of money on ammunition, and recoil is almost non-existent so I could just focus on learning. For those reasons alone, it was a good switch.
A bipod was a required component, and I initially tried to make a Harris I already had to work during the run up to the class, but it was just way too high. I spent some time looking at videos and such, and decided to spend the cash on an Atlas, and I am happy that I did. The versatility in positioning was huge for the times I actually did use it. I am not at the point that my rifle will wear a bipod all the time, but after the class I see its uses, and having one in the pack makes some sense to me, but more on that later.
The next question was gear setup. As this is a brand new class offering from Buck there wasn’t much out there in the way of information. I knew I needed a light pack with water, snacks, gear etc… I also knew that I needed at least 3 magazines on me. The pack was a bit of a no brainer for me. The Umlindi is our best pack for using with a slung rifle due to the way it sits lower. It also has the ability to run a belt, and capacity to add more water. As we were planning to be in the desert in May, and I had no clue how long we were going to be away from vehicles or what temps were going to be, water was a definite concern. I have long wanted to experiment with a belt as a setup for classes and such, so I used a combination of FS Boa Pouches, Tacos, and BFG stuff to set up a belt. My current go to kit bag is a V2 Original, but for the class I wanted the ability to have a mag or two on my chest, plus all the other stuff I wanted handy. That being said I didn’t need all the stuff in my regular KB load out (for instance gloves and a beanie), so I decided to set up my Heavy as a lighter setup. With the gear set up it was just time to work with everything for awhile to make sure I had the bugs worked out. At the last minute, I was able to add an Admin Pocket, which is pretty sweet. There wasn’t really any surprises with anything as I have been using the rifle, Umlindi, and Kit Bag for a long time, but knowing stuff was dialed meant I wasn’t fighting my gear at all during the class, and was comfortable with it from the word go.
I will freely admit that I had some trepidation going into the class. I haven’t spent a bunch of time doing formal precision shooting at longer ranges, and honestly I don’t really enjoy shooting groups so staying focused is always a struggle. Along with that, I just haven’t done much rifle shooting period for a few years. It turns out this is a field rifle class that is focused on getting fast, quick hits, at distance, and that immediately made me feel more comfortable. We never shot a group, we never dialed, and we didn’t spend a bunch of time working perfect positions. This class is a field rifle class not a range class. The closest we got to a range was shooting mag monopod from a sand/dirt pad, which was mostly flat.
I was a bit off-put by Buck initially, but as I got to know him I learned he simply doesn’t like lots of talk and noise. He says what needs to be said, and that is it. That makes him seem standoffish to start, but there is a Zen simplicity to it that I can certainly appreciate. The other thing is that this class was not as structured, but rather had a looser more relaxed flow. Let’s get out there and figure out how to make it work for you was the way he did things. Other than about a 30 min talk at the very beginning of the class giving background and philosophy of the class there wasn’t really any class room or lecture time. Just quick talks between shooting. That meant that the class was pretty fast paced, and you were learning on the fly so to speak. It was clear to me after half of day one that you want to be comfortable with your rifle, gear, and how to make hits. If you struggle with that from very simple positions at known distances then you will struggle even harder when you remove those factors.
We spent about 10 minutes with everyone confirming zero on steel, but from then on, it was into it. First, we spent time working magazine monopod, shot cadence, holding, laying in a nice grassy field. Then shooting from a sitting position, at that point Buck said use whatever you got with you to make yourself more stable (packs for Nick and I in other words) From there we progressed to working from cover, how to approach it, how to get your rifle up and ready, and what you do afterwards. Buck is a big fan of KISS and very slow and deliberate work when you aren’t shooting, which comes from a wealth of experience of in a variety of environments. He never really told a war story, but did use brief points from his past to emphasize why you should or shouldn’t do something.
From there it was hike and shoot time. We never got more than about .25 miles from the vehicles, but were out there for several hours at a time. Heat wasn’t too bad, but having water was good thing. Basically, we would walk along a rim until we got to a spot, and Buck would point out the targets we would need to hit and then say you can set up from here to there. Find a position you like, get stable, and then practice working through the targets dry. Once everyone was happy he would then have us shoot the targets in certain orders, round counts, etc… while working up and down the line making suggestions on how to get more stable, position, etc… The basic premise is that you guesstimate range, hold, and adjust based off your impact. The challenge is to maintain a high cadence of shots, but to do it slowly enough you could process the impacts you were seeing to adjust. If you can call your shots you have an easier time, because then you know if you pulled the shot or if the range/wind was culprit for not making the hits. When I called a pulled shot I basically shot right away again without waiting to assess. When I called a hit, I took the extra instance to read impact and adjust. Buck is not a fan of shooting one shot and then spending a lot of time adjusting. His experience is that gives the target time to get away or shoot back. Whereas if you are constantly shooting until you get the desired effect it keeps them down. That means you start shooting and adjust on the fly until you get the desired effect.
That was basically the rhythm of the class. We would spend time working magpod prone (including buddy drills), barriers, and then we would hike and shoot. As we worked the barriers, he started adding in the angled sighting systems in near and far drills that got more difficult. Again not being comfortable with your setup reared its ugly head.
Take aways, I don’t think that a bipod is really more stable for me then shooting off a pack. That being said it gives you a quick adjustment ability that a pack doesn’t. In some locations, it also gave me the height that I needed, which my pack didn’t, or in one place I was sitting on my pack to get my body high enough to use a nice big rock to shoot off. The extra weight on the rifle is not something I am a fan off, and if I am walking and carrying I don’t really see myself with the bipod on the rifle, but if I am going to sit somewhere and shoot then it would go on as needed. My solution was to have it easily accessible (back pocket of the admin so pack had to be off). Out of the vehicle or case might be a different story. After working with the Atlas in the field, I just don’t think I would be happy with a Harris. In no location did I have a perfect front on setup, in most cases the legs were different lengths, and where angled and canted to make the position work. I will spend a bit of time thinking about how to carry it available, but out of the way.
I never ended up using my belt setup, as I was either just shooting with my kit bag and my pack was in the Jeep or I was shooting off my pack. I guess a few times I reloaded off the belt when the pack was off, just because, but really my Heavy was the answer for me for mags and stuff I wanted immediately available. A quick note, during Recce Patrols they carried two magazines on the body and the rest in the pack. No more than 6 in most cases because more was just too much weight in the environments they were working. If I did the class again, I would probably run without a belt just to make it quicker off and on, but it was really a big deal as I just put it on as we walked.
I hate sunscreen, but like shade. Having ear pro that allows me to run a shady hat was huge.
Having a setup you know and like is a huge thing. I am not sold on busy reticles. I like simple. The NF performed wonderfully. The reticle allowed me to hold very easily, but didn’t make it so busy that it was distracting. I also was a big fan of the throw lever as it allowed me to quickly adjust magnification by touch. I worked targets from 2.5 to 10x just to see how it was. Buck made the point that if the targets are close enough a lower magnification power is the way to go so you never have to come off the scope to drive to the next target. Otherwise, he wants you off the optic to find the next target, drive the rifle, and then back on the optic. However, the reality is that you could shoot this course with a red dot. There isn’t a target out there you can’t hit with a RDS, but there are some at longer ranges he doesn’t have folks running a RDS shoot at due to being able to see enough detail to legitimately shoot in the real world. That was the point he made, a magnified optic helps you see and process information. It doesn’t help you hit. That was born out by a guy who in the class who started out struggling with his issued VCOG. He changed uppers to a 11.5 with RDS and was hitting very well. I continue to like a 2-whatever for field use.
I almost took three slings to the class to experiment with a VTAC, Pig, and VCAS. In the end, I decided to just take the VCAS as it is the one I always end up coming back to. That was a mistake. There were several times were I wanted a tighter cinch, and the limited adjustment of the Vickers didn’t let me do that. I am going to experiment more with a VTAC and PIG. Really if the center strap of the PIG doesn’t bother you then it is probably the best answer for a field scope, which is not a surprise give that is what our friend designed it for.
So the million dollar question, do I recommend the class and Buck. I heartily recommend this class if you have any interest in working a rifle in the field in a realistic way, but don’t have the experience. Buck imparts excellent information, and I really appreciate his simple, methodical approach to things. Don’t expect to hear Buck talk a lot, but what he says is well worth listening too. I can’t speak to his other classes, but my guess is they are also great for learning.
There is lots of little things still running through my mind, but in the end I want to impart a review of the class, not the material coverage in the class.