Last year, AJ and I sat in these same hills listening to elk bugle under one-hundred-percent illum while navigating excessive mileage trying to earn a finish at the Sniper Adventure Challenge.
This year, those elk nearly ran me over while AJ and I were trying to do the same thing. I like traditions and so far, thanks to the elk, we were off to a good start. To think that thirteen months ago we didn’t know each other.
AJ and I met speed dating-style on the drive to the Q Creek Ranch in Wyoming after my original partner was called away to work. After a few phone calls, I landed someone crazy enough to jump in at a moment’s notice.
We had heard from guys that it by far the most difficult event of its type in conus – so of course we wanted to toe the line. To add credibility during our due diligence scrub of the event we discovered that guys we knew from tier one, two and three jobs have been before and gave rave reviews. We wanted our turn.
After thirty-six hours we placed second and had a long list of to-dos in our performance review. For me though, seeing competitive shooting stages run in a style like this resonated with something inside me and I knew was hooked.
The remainder of the year I researched competitions and everything that goes into them. No, I’m not an internet ninja and I don’t take shit as gospel from chat rooms and message boards. I am a tactile hands-on learner and invested in the time reading ballistic textbooks, sniper course curricula, and thousands of dollars in gas driving to the grasslands to collect my own data. The end result was that I treated this like a graduate school program testing gear, testing science, and testing myself.
We did everything we could to prepare to step it up and get the first place that we missed by what amounted to a single shot last time.
Spoiler: that didn’t happen.
What makes the Sniper Adventure Challenge so rewarding is preparing for the unknown. You really know nothing going into it except for a minimum packing list and the starting location. This is rare because as events grow, people tend to want more and more information – the hard part is sticking to your principles and maintaining that mystery. Competition Dynamics is the only event company I have heard of that hasn’t jumped to the dark side for financial gain and scalability over integrity.
The SAC attracts a very small contingent of people high enough in character to toe the line of an event that they know they may not finish, a fact that doesn’t seem to matter at all. What matters to this contingent is doing what can be done in the time allotted.
The first separator was what we dubbed the “Downed Pilot” but in reality, the CD guys didn’t name anything.
“Pick up this fence gate, put a competitor on it, and carry it down this road until
you come to a hanger – only four teams per gate – GO.”
AJ and I looked at each other and almost in sync said, “find the Rangers.”
There was a team of Rangers we had met the year prior and we knew that experience in these types of evolutions meant speed and efficiency. These guys were the real deal, they could do everything and did it with jokes, smiles and fun. Every time we saw them, no matter the situation, our spirits were lifted. The only downside is that at even the slightest sight of water, they get naked. So if you’re not into that, then that’s something you’re going have to deal with I can’t get enough of them.
Aside: Thanks Dave and Tom. You’re what this shit is all about.
Anyway, we were right about finding them. We came in first, received a long list of grid coordinates to plot and locate and were off before most of the other teams had landed their pilot.
Being able to navigate with map and compass is certainly essential to success in the SAC, but also being able to think of efficiency in route selection. We did a pretty good job here and found ourselves at the first shooting stage just before sunset.
Shooting is fairly self-explanatory so I won’t go into too much detail.
Remember your fundamentals.
Soon we were off on a quick jog five or six miles to the next set of challenges.
The highlight of the next stage was the house clearing. We were restrained, broke from them, fought a hostage taker, took their guns and cleared a few buildings to rescue a hostage. During this stage, I learned that Airsoft pellets get stuck under your skin but come out with a little pinch.
Several miles later we rucked up to a cow pond with a floating raft from which we needed to shoot a target.
The next day we met up with the Rangers. We swapped some stories and rolled into the final challenge stage. Some mental games, puzzles, memory games, and stuff I can’t remember anymore led us to the final mission.
It was the final mission that I remember most – it was surreal.
We were at the top of a rounded mountain with the wind blowing in strong from the east when I heard what sounded like thunder. It’s not unusual for thunder to roll in in those parts, but when I glanced to my right, I saw a huge herd of elk about a hundred meters away.
Behind the largest bull I’ve ever seen were thirty to fifty cow elk. And they were running straight for me. They turned north and ran in front of me. I spent the next few minutes dumbstruck. Maybe awestruck.
The previous year AJ and I had sat for thirty minutes in the middle of the night listening to them bugle all around us in the full moon. I wondered then if I had had a tag would I have been able to take a clean shot – the answer is no. They were too fast and had watched enough movies to know that serpentine routes tricks bullets into misses.
At that point, we went dry (black) on water. For the next five hours, we navigated and changed routes to try to locate water with no success. Finally, we stumbled onto a mostly evaporated cow pond and scooped the sludge into a filter and gulped down the most satisfying chocolate-colored water ever.
Drop dead time hit at seven pm and almost immediately an RO pulled up in a truck and took us back to the ranch. The event was over and no one knew how anyone did. The next morning, we gathered for results. Our team came in third place behind two of the best teams of competitors we have seen. Those teams crushed the event and earned every bit of what they won.
Here’s the cool part. No teams actually finished. There were awards for performance, but not one team finished the assigned missions. So, like it is many years, the SAC was a black event, with no one earning a finishers patch.
Competition Dynamics runs a shit hot event. In fact, all of their events are well-run and very difficult. If you think you’re a good shooter – show up at the Steel Safari; if you think you’re a good run and gunner, show up at the Team Challenge; if you think you’re a good field person hit the SAC. Until you do, keep your opinions to yourself.
ROs, Staff, and Q Creek Ranch personnel were fantastic as well. Sponsors handed out so much gear to people that I wouldn’t be surprised if everyone earned back what they paid for registration and travel – seriously. The thing is, as a SOFLETE community member you’re probably thinking about this and I would say that you will do yourself a disservice if you don’t. But that’s just me.
Go get your own experience – that’s what life’s all about.
What will 2019 hold?
Will you be there with us?
Chris Way is an adventure athlete, competitive shooter, rock luchador, and a white belt in professional adulting.