Behind Lines is Marco Vorobiev's training company and this year he decided to do a full-on winter course detailing many of the tactics and techniques used by the Spetznaz in Afghanistan during the 1980's war. Marco served as a Dragunov marksman for about 2 years near the end of the conflict and this class was designed to show some of how they trained and fought in the snow.
First thing about Marco is how down to earth he is and how easy he is to get along with. He's friendly and makes a point to talk to students on their level of expertise, he doesn't act like you have to be a high speed operator to understand what he's teaching and also listens well to questions. Just like most of the exceptional soldiers I've met he struck me as being highly intelligent, well versed in his material and able to explain things so they made sense and you could take something away from the training. I personally enjoyed his teaching style and what he had to offer, and the class itself was full of things that I was interested to know more about. He had a good way of speaking to the group about the topic at hand and also tailored the one on one instruction on how the topic applied to each student.
I discovered the class wasn't really about the Dragunov at all, it was all about how a DMR type rifle is employed...the specific rifle doesn't matter, only what it can do and how it's used. In essence the Dragunov itself wasn't what was important and you didn't need one for the class. We had 3 AR's, 2 PSL's and only one Dragunov, IMO we all did about the same shooting wise. Another thing is that this course wasn't a beginner's marksmanship class, it was assumed that students had a certain level of proficiency with their chosen rifle. At first I was more or less expecting some deeper insight into the SVD and PSO scope but came to find out that really none of that was covered. I realized pretty quickly why...there actually isn't anything magical about the rifle or scope, everything you need to know about them is basically common sense and the Russians really don't have any mysterious tricks up their sleeve... that he taught us anyway
I'll also say that the class was really about simplicity...rolling around in the snow for 2 days will really highlight flaws with your gear choices, weapon handling abilities and even the choice of rifle to some extent. It wasn't how to be a commando, it was about how a rfle squad moves and deploys in combat conditions and how to engage targets from short range to long across the width and depth of an engagement area. Much of it was plain old horse sense and focused on simplicity rather than flashy moves. I found it to be very enjoyable and learned a few interesting shooting techniques. A subtler point that stuck out to me was about movement...both yours and the target's and how to think about the DMR in a less than pretty one shot one kill mentality.
Day one started at 100m checking our zero and making minor adjustments. A perfect zero wasn't required for what was being taught, rather the principle of rapid relatively accurate fire was most important, not being able to put two rounds in the same hole. The first series of exercises focused on shooting multiple targets rapidly. We had 6 lanes set up (one for each of us) with 4 small targets per lane. Marco would hand out a shooting order...1.3, 2.4, 5.1 and 6.2 for example. That mean your first target was in lane 1 and you were shooting at small circle #3. Second target was lane number two, circle #4, 3rd target lane 5 circle #1 and so on. We had 35 seconds to shoot 24 rounds which for a Dragunov meant two reloads...at 3-5 seconds per reload I was looking at about 25 seconds for 24 rounds. Wasn't easy, the best I did was 22 rounds and 2 mag changes. I could usually get off 20 rounds and be ready to fire the first round of the last mag right as the whistle blew and time ended.
What surprised me about this exercise was how accurate I was at speed and how relatively tight the groupings were at that rate of fire. I was getting most of my rounds into a 6" circle on each target and I literally had only enough time to put the chevron in the black and squeeze off two rounds quick before I moved to the next target. What the technique demonstrated was that many things in shooting are automatic when done at high speed, basically the less you think the better you do as an average. No you don't hit one MOA at that speed but you are able to put two kill shots into a target rapidly while using a scope...they don't have to be pretty, they just need to get the job done - again, nothing fancy, just a practical way to take advantage of the semi automatic design of the SVD. Another aspect of the drill was to acquire multiple targets spread across the width of an engagement area...its a lot harder to swing the muzzle back and forth across many targets when shooting at that speed, and that lesson is one I found particularly valuable. It's a complete break from the way I've learned to shoot a scoped rifle which is to take the time to breath, aim, squeeze one round off and then shoot again. This is much more like the Pavlovian response beaten into me by the US Army M16 training where as soon as you see a target you tend to reflexively aim and shoot, the fundamentals are there in the background and should work automatically. They definitely seemed to work during this drill.
Another thing I took away was the rapid fire itself. Marco stressed the rapid doubletap for getting the highest practical chance to hit, not using deliberate slow fire for maximum accuracy. Certain parts of doubletap are situational dependent obviously, as in you probably wouldn't do it if the target were at 500m with just his head exposed for example, but his intent was to show that even an optically sighted rifle can use the technique to good advantage, particularly in a skirmish with multiple moving targets. Again I wouldn't say this was a must use technique for everyday life but it did give me more insight into what a DMR can do in the right hands. It was also good for increasing confidence in your rifle...the technique works and when you see the results it gives you a new appreciation for your rifle because you actually can put down a high volume of relative accurate fire. Another insight was that my groups varied between which target I was shooting at...certain angles of shooting gave tighter groups than others which is something that I hadn't ever noticed shooting at the same target repeatedly during slow fire on the range in Texas. Not an earth shattering observation but it demonstrated differences in body position and the effect it has on accuracy.
During the first day we also hopped into the back of a pickup truck to shoot on the move. This was to simulate engaging from a BMP troop carrier and while I really doubt I'd be on top of a BMP during SHTF, once again I found the exercise to be useful. It's not easy to shoot with an optic from the back of a truck bouncing through the snow, the reticule flies all over the place and it's hard to get any kind of sight picture. Something new occurred as well...eye relief on a PSO scope must be taken into account. From the bench it's always right, in the real world you have to learn fast how to reflexively get lined up correctly...not easy either. Nonetheless I hit way more than I thought I would and noticed something subtle here too...with practice it IS possible to hit from a moving vehicle and while it probably won't be a common occurrence in real life, it also increased my confidence with the Dragunov because again, it does work and it is possible.
The first round of truck shooting involved driving back and forth parallel to the steel targets we set up at 100m. The second run was much harder, which was shooting prone while driving towards and away from many many targets. While the first run was only two targets, the second was about 8 spread out somewhat horizontally and to about 50-75m in depth. The truck brought us to point blank on some and closer to 75m on others while we were bouncing around in the back. While using the optic we had to enage all the targets as fast as we could, reload and continue to engage. I found this to be really tough because of how far the rifle had to swing back and forth due to the close ranges and how huge the targets were in the optic. Logically I would have thought it a better idea to use irons at closer ranges but the point of the exercise is that your optic can be used at any range, on any number of targets while stationary or on the move. It reinforced the first moving drill and added on to the rapid fire drill we did from the prone position earlier in the day.
In actuality I can say that because of these first exercises I will probably never look at my drag the same way again...I won't be subconsciously burdened with shooting it like a scoped rifle, now view it now as a rapid fire multipurpose rifle that can be used in several 'unconventional' ways to good effect. It's a very interesting experience I must say.
Marco cooked us a great lunch of boiled buckwheat and canned ham, horrible tasting Russian canned fish, good Russian bread, hot tea with condensed milk and some snacks. It was a great time with all of us shooting the sh*t and talking about whatever, informal and friendly...kind of like an infantry squad in the field I guess, which fit in with the class. Food was good, the fire was nice and the company pleasant, it was nice way to warm up and prepare for the next round of shooting.
After lunch we got into our winter camo gear and went on maneuvers like a rifle squad, occupied a battle position, proofed it and did a range card from our position designating targets, fields of fire, distance and obstructions. This was actually identical to my training as a tank commander in the Army and I felt right at home. From the battle position we engaged multiple targets from 150m to about 350m. I was doing pretty well and then mysteriously my zero disappeared. Thanks to good spotting by Voron I was able to adjust fire and use my second chevron to get back on target and continued doing alright for the rest of the day. I'd say under other circumstances the loss of zero might have soured the day but I decided to roll with it just like I'd have to in real life, overall I was happy with my shooting and it didn't interfere with the training. It was also during this period that I learned snow is a real PITA for a sloppy ex tanker like me, I continually had foggy lenses, snow in the mags and had a couple failure to feeds due to somehow getting snow up in the magwell. I caught Marco giving me the stink eye a couple times and had to admit I was pretty hamfisted with the drag, but it was a good reminder of how to take care of your rifle because you have to count on it. What can I say, I'm still a CDAT at heart.
We did a few more maneuvers and then broke for dinner and while the sun went down we prepared for the night fire familiarization part of the class. Marco had a 1PN34 and a 1PN58 on his SVDS and SVD so the students could get a taste of what Afghan era night fighting was like. I had brought my own 1PN34 and was pleasantly surprised to see the zero was still good. Without the lens cap the optic did very well at 350m...targets were easy to see with just a bit of background light from someone's car and I got a much better sense of what the 1PN34 can really do at night under the right conditions. I think everyone had a great time shooting in the dark. Prior to the sun going down Marco broke out his semi auto PKM...now that was a blast :)
Day two involved a lot of simulated infantry stuff...dismounting from the BMP, combat rolls in the snow and jumping off a moving vehicle. I think we all pretty much agreed a couple iterations of each brought the point home...rolling in the snow sucks. We also broke into teams of three and did a simulated contact drill where we were 'engaged' and had to take cover and lay down fire, duck under cover to reload and coordinate breaking contact. Another variation of the drill was transitioning to our secondary weapon, in this case most of us had AKS74's. I never would have thought it but there is a technique to slinging the drag and deploying the AKS74 for close combat and to lay down suppressive fire to disengage from contact. It's not easy (especially when prone) but it is possible with practice and was something that Marco explained the Spetznaz did in real life. They all carried some kind of defense weapon and had to know how to get the drag out of the way in a hurry. Again I'm impressed with the Russians emphasize on simplicity...despite the drag being 4 feet long it can be efficiently slung quickly and there's a reason they learned how to use the technique.
In the afternoon we drove up the range a ways and shot targets out to 500m which was the furthest practical distance we could get on the range. Not as far as I'd hoped and not as far as I've shot in real life but it was fun and I think good practice for all of us. We had trouble with the 500m target because it was lost in shadow as the sun was going down, but I think all of us hit it at least once. Marco had said at the beginning of the class that we would continually improve over two days and IMO he was right, I believe all of us got better and certainly ended up with more confidence in our rifles. I had a blast and I think everyone else did too.
I'd encourage anyone interesting in more dynamic shooting to take a look at Marco's class. It's not intended to teach fundamentals ala Appleseed for example but I think its useful for improving marksmanship skills under a variety of circumstances. I certainly found the class worth the time and money.
Battle position and engagement