Sunday, March 4, 2012

S.A.A.M. Learning the Art of the Rifle— Expert Training in the Texas Hill Country with the RUGER American Rifle

     The recoil of the 168 grain Hornady Match A-Max .30-06 rammed the rifle stock backwards, pushing it straight into my shoulder—in line with the prone position I had taken in the gravel shooting pit of the rifle range.
     “Riding the Bull” as Tim Fallon called it, I rocked back down onto the bipod and my rear support, a backpack, my cheek welded securely to the cheekpiece we had attached to our rifle stocks.
     If we were perfectly welded to the stocks of the .30-06 Ruger American Rifles, we would be able to see the reaction of the target to the bullet strike—in other words, going up with the recoil and returning to the shooting position while never losing sight of the target—some people call it “follow-through.”  Tim, ever colorful and an excellent instructor, makes it stick in your mind with defining metaphors like “Riding the Bull.”
     To my satisfaction, I saw the 12” steel gong, over 500 yards away, swing violently.  A  second after the muzzle blast died, I heard the distinct ringing “bong” of the heavy steel plate being struck by the bullet.
     We, gun writers all, had been brought into this rugged escarpment hill country some 80 miles northwest of San Antonio, Texas by Ruger to the FTW Ranch, a 12,000 acre exotic game ranch that offers trophy hunting for whitetail deer, and Asian and African plains and mountain game. 
     The ranch is home to huge whitetails, and wild introduced species, many of which can no longer be hunted in their native lands.

     Tim Fallon, the owner of this rugged, rocky landscape, saw a need for a shooting school for hunters and long-range rifle shooters in law enforcement and the military, and founded SAAM—Sportsman’s All-Weather, All-Terrain Marksmanship.
     SAAM focuses on hunter training for mountainous and plains game, and offers safari training which focuses on dangerous game hunts.  The schooling has gained such a reputation, military and law enforcement special ops are using the facilities to hone their skills at long-range shooting.
     Ruger Firearms had brought us to this game ranch and training facility to shoot and experience their Ruger American Rifle--the innovative bolt-action hunting rifle that incorporates numerous manufacturing designs to reduce cost, and enhance accuracy.  (
     The result was far more than a media “shoot” to try out a new gun.  Tim Fallon and his former SEAL lead instructor, Doug “Dog” Prichard, put us and our rifles through a three-day version that incorporated aspects of SAAM 1, SAAM 2, and their Safari Course.

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     The Jeep was almost sliding down the rocky, shale-strewn mountainside at a steep 15 degree angle when Larry Wieshuhn, our driver, stood on the brake.
     These Texas rock piles, small mountains in the hill country northwest of San Antonio, are treacherous and slippery, particularly when following another vehicle. The Jeep in front nearly slid off the road in front of us, and Wieshuhn slammed on the brakes.
     My new Ruger American Rifle, outfitted with a Harris bipod, strap-on cheekpad, and Zeiss 3 X 9 Conquest scope, broke through the bungee cord holding it upright in the gun rack, and came slamming down between me and Weishuhn, hitting the top of the dash with the barrel hard enough to ding the sheet metal.
     Mouthing a curse, I stood the rifle back in its stand and tied it in place, while trying to maintain my equilibrium in a tilted vehicle.
     I glanced back at the rear passengers on the elevated safari seat who were bracing themselves against the Jeep’s padded roll bar.
     Mark Gurney, Ruger engineer, and project manager on the new Ruger American Rifle, shrugged his shoulders slightly. “It’s OK,” he deadpanned, looking at the disgust on my face.
     “Even so,” I said, “before I get into another shooting contest with this crowd, I want to check it again.”
     The next range was located a couple hundred feet up on the top of another shale pile. It overlooked three intersecting canyons with target gongs placed on the sides of the canyons out to 1000 yards away.
     But because it is a distance and down angle range, there is a 100 yard test range next to it.
     I have seen blows like that knock a scope/rifle out of alignment up to 18” from point-of-aim. But in testament to the strength of the Weaver mounts (included with the package when you buy the rifle), or the quality of the Zeiss Conquest scope, the rifle only fired 1.5 inches high and 1” to the right—still in acceptable hunting accuracy.
     I brought it back to its baseline zero of dead point of aim at 100 yards, and fired two shots for group. They landed on the center of the 3” round orange target within ½” of each other. I was ready.

     Ruger had flown a group of 12 gun writers into this country about 80 miles northwest of San Antonio to introduce this innovative new bolt gun, and let us try it out while experiencing SAAM—Sportsman’s All-Weather, All-Terrain Marksmanship school.
     SAAM is the brainchild of owner Tim Fallon, owner of the FTW Ranch, who is also one of the world-class riflery instructors with the school.

     His cohort, compatriot, and chief instructor is Doug “Dog” Prichard, a 26-year Navy warrant officer, with 25 years in SEAL, most as a sniper-instructor.
     The FTW Ranch encompasses 12,000 acres and specializes in exotic game, whitetails, specialized accuracy training, safari and dangerous game training, and rocks. Lord, the rocks. This is a rockhound’s paradise.These craggy low mountains have an almost moon-like desert atmosphere, and Jeeps are utilized to go all over it, because you are generally going in one of two directions—up, or down.

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