How to prepare for the 2016 Sniper Adventure Challenge

The Sniper Adventure Challenge is a 2 person team Adventure Race with Guns!

Scott DeCapio and I finished 3rd place in this years Sniper Adventure Challenge.

3rd Place Trophy 2016 Darrin Fink Memorial Sniper Adventure Challenge
3rd Place Trophy 2016 Darrin Fink Memorial Sniper Adventure Challenge

2016 Sniper Adventure Challenge Event

Here is what the match is about directly from Competition Dynamics:

You and your partner will undergo tests involving: land navigation; practical shooting with long-range rifle, carbine, and pistols; fieldcraft; problem solving; and other related tasks.

Two-man teams will be required to navigate at least 25 miles on foot to complete the course.

Along the way, there will be a series of tasks to accomplish to gain additional points. These tasks may include: shooting problems with long-range rifle, carbine, and pistols; problem-solving; physical challenges; fieldcraft; communication; target recognition; memory; and other tasks.

This year contestants had 34 hours to complete approximately 40 miles.  This covered terrain that was high plains, mountains, steep ascents and descents and crossed numerous streams.

2016 Darrin Fink Sniper Adventure Challenge Map bounderies
2016 Darrin Fink Sniper Adventure Challenge Map bounderies

The primary focus this year as in years past was land navigation by map and compass using UTM coordinates provided by the staff for each mission.  Competitors were only given the next missions coordinates when they had completed the previous mission.

The Sniper Adventure Challenge has a long list of required gear which you can find at the Event’s webpage here.  Just the required gear weighs in the neighborhood of 30lbs.

Some Required Supplies for 2016 Sniper Adventure Challenge
Some Required Supplies for 2016 Sniper Adventure Challenge

The way to win the Sniper Adventure Challenge is to gain the most points.  You gain the most points by completing the land navigation missions, by completing the other challenges and not incurring penalty points.

The 2016 Sniper Adventure Challenge was renamed this year due to the untimely passing of Darrin Fink to the “Darrin Fink Memorial Sniper Adventure Challenge”.  Zak Smith from Competition Dynamics has stated “as long as the SAC is run at the property in Douglas it will remain named the Darrin Fink Memorial Sniper Adventure Challenge”.

Challenges

The Sniper Adventure Challenge includes a number of obstacles other than the land navigation.  These vary from year to year, but most incorporate mandatory gear, or skills that are useful.

Some examples and possible challenges are:

  • digging a hole you can stand in up to your knee caps
  • digging a shallow grave
  • bringing a soup can of water to a full rolling boil
  • building an arrow from found materials that can hit a target
  • knife / hatchet / tomahawk throwing
  • building a shelter sized to protect a single person or your gear from a drenching downpour
  • swimming with your gear across a lake
  • carrying a log as a team up a hill for about 1.5 miles
  • flipping a large tractor tire
  • various shooting challenges
  • code-breaking / deciphering a cipher text
  • radio communication monitoring (listening for code words)
  • low crawl across a very open area while avoiding detection
  • force on force hostage rescue
  • dog arrest techniques
  • escaping zip ties
  • escaping handcuffs
  • being relocated during the night with a bag over your head and land navigating back on track
  • first aid scenarios

The challenges are fun, but you have to balance them with getting the land navigation completed otherwise you risk not officially completing the event.

Finishing

Officially completing the Sniper Adventure Challenge this year meant completing the first 5 land navigation missions in order.  You also had to locate the points internal to each mission in order.

In 2015 there were only 3 teams out of 30 teams that finished, and this year in 2016 there were 5 teams out of 38 teams that finished.

The layout of the missions this year was a bit different since there were no bonus checkpoints in each mission, and each mission had fewer points.  The Headquarters (where you got new mission checkpoints) was central this year, and had us traveling out to destinations, then back to HQ to receive new coordinates.

Preparing for the Sniper Adventure Challenge

Physical Training

Scott and I spent a lot of time training this year.  Both of us live in Colorado so we have access to a lot of rough high altitude terrain which made for great training.  We spent a lot of days hiking from 10,000 feet to 14,000 feet quickly with weight on our backs.  Most of these hikes were around 8-12 hours long.  In addition to numerous high altitude hikes we did a lot of individual cardio, strength and agility training.  We felt that we were well prepared physically to complete the course.

Navigation

Our navigational skills were very rudimentary when we started our training.  We read two books “Be Expert with Map & Compass” and “Wilderness Navigation” which helped some.  By far the best training we had in navigation was from Brian Whalen of Colorado Precision Rifle.  He gave us a 2 day course covering both daytime and nighttime navigation, and was extremely helpful for the SAC.  Brian spent 8 years in active duty Special Forces and certainly provided a very strong training in land navigation for both of us.

I also participated in Orienteering courses which provided some simple training.  Orienteering provides good practice in terrain association (comparing a topographic map to where you actually are) and in taking and maintaining a bearing.  In the Sniper Adventure Challenge you are given coordinates which you must then mark on your own map.  If you make a mistake in this – you could end up very far off the course.

Nutrition and Hydration

We also did a lot of planning and reading on hydration and nutrition.  I used a LOT of Skratch Labs Hydration mix and Scotty used some of the Hyper Hydration mix from Skratch Labs.  Skratch Labs was very gracious and spent time working with us to determine a good hydration plan.  We also learned a lot by reading two of their books “The Feed Zone” and “Feed Zone Portables”.  These books have a LOT of information on nutrition for endurance sports athletes as well as contain a lot of recipes.

We drank approximately 20 liters of fluid over the 34 hours of the race and I was still a bit dehydrated the day after the event.  We didn’t feel at all dehydrated during the event, and we were able to manage our calories well enough during the event to avoid any problems.  We did have to delay our planned meal at the cache bag until Saturday morning, but it wasn’t a big problem.

Based on our reading in the above books we planned to replace 100 calories every hours which was based on the estimated activity level and our body weight.

Gear

I spent a lot of time obsessing over my gear and planning for the event.  I have hiked in the past with heavy packs and knew that heavy = SUCKS.  I didn’t want to embrace the suck anymore than I had to, so my mission was clear – super, extremely, ultra, crazy light weight.

We made a couple of gambles in gear selection that ended up costing up time and points.

Gamble 1

The first was our choice of shovels – if you were there, you remember us, and I will come after your families for laughing like crazy at us…

The very first task when the event started was to dig a hole that was deep enough to put ground level at our knee caps.  We chose a shovel which was lightweight (.5oz) but very hard to use for digging the concrete ground in Wyoming.

Here is someone at the manufactures website holding one - so you get the idea...
Here is someone at the manufactures website holding one – so you get the idea…

We were only saved by scavenging a steel I-beam from the junk pile nearby and using it to break up the concrete ground and using the shovel to clear it out of the hole.

We weren’t the last team out of the gate, but we felt like we were off to a slow and bad start…

Gamble 2

I had been checking and rechecking my gear because I was pretty scared of forgetting something.  Scotty forgot to order his emergency strobe light, and 2 days before the Sniper Adventure Challenge when we did the thorough gear check we discovered that it was missing.  REI doesn’t sell military emergency strobe lights…

We took the gamble that 1 would be enough, and at the mandatory gear check on Friday night we lost 100 points.  Since the 2nd place team was ahead of us by 128 points, and the 4th place team behind us by 101.7 points it could have been a bad mistake.

Backpack

I was sponsored by AttackPAK this year, and worked a lot with them to flush out a design that works very well for the SAC.  It is a two pouch main pack with a PALS backboard.  It was a phenomenal pack.  The pack empty weighs around 4 lbs, and while it doesn’t have a huge capacity, it was plenty for all my training hikes at high altitude (cold and hot weather) and for the event itself.

AttackPAK at Longs Peak Keyhole
AttackPAK at Longs Peak Keyhole

Rifle and Scope

I wanted a light weight but accurate carbine (I was the carbine shooter).  When I RO’d the Team Safari match in 2015 I got the chance to shoot the JP Rifles JP-15 Ultralight .223 rifle.  The Ultralight shot very well, and only weighed 5.5 lbs.  It was the ticket, and I spent a lot of time carrying and practicing with the rifle.

JP Rifles JP-15 Ultralight
My JP Rifles JP-15 Ultralight 5.5 lb AR15

For a scope, I worked really hard to try to get a US Optics MR-10 to work, but in the end just couldn’t stomach carrying the extra weight (over 2 lbs).  At the suggestion of my friend Tim Kulin I looked at the Leupold MK-AR 4-12×40 Second focal plane scope.  It weighed under 16 oz !

One piece of gear that really helped was the Python from Sidewinder Industries LLC (developed by Marcus Blanchard).  Combined with the Storm-Proof waterproof and tearproof paper, my elevation data was very fast and easy to access which meant plenty of time left for Scotty to engage the with the Precision rifle.

Python with Bison Tactical Storm-Proof Elevation card
Python with Bison Tactical Storm-Proof Elevation card

Pistol

I started my research intending to use a concealed carry single stack 9mm pistol like the Kel Tec PF9 because of the very light weight (12.7oz).  A full size 9mm pistol like my Walther PPQ M2 Navy (25 oz) was almost twice the weight.  When I did the final calculations with the magazine weights (the PF9 only holds 8 rounds per mag vs 17 in the PPQ) I realized the weight advantage of the PF9 was nominal.  The trigger on the PF9 also was no where near as nice as the PPQ, so I went with the Walther.

I ran a 303 Arms Kydex holster with the Walther.  I did a small modification to the Kydex for positive retention and the holster ROCKED !  303 Arms is also the official SAC Holster sponsor.

Knife

For my training, I always carried a Surefire EW-05 Task Force Dagger fixed blade knife.  For the actual match, I swapped out to a benchmade folder the RO’s received from the Snipers Hide Cup of 2015, since it was less weight (glad I didn’t have to make a spear from it).

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