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“Hey, Bob! You want to come hang out in a former maximum security prison in south Florida for a week and shoot guns from helicopters and get ambushed by robots and then shot with UTMs while a major hurricane is bearing down on the region?”

Okay, that might not have been the exact way Daniel Defense pitched the writers event at Altair Training Solutions this past summer, but that’s pretty much how it ended up when the event rolled around in early October.

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Sponsors such as Oakley, Kühl, and Solomon were very generous with eye protection, gear bag, pants, and shoes, and of course, Daniel Defense, M-TEK, Nightforce, Surefire, TNVC, and Trijicon brought the toys. RUAG provided all the ammunition for the event, whether it was for the the long range or down to inches.

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Here’s a shot (courtesy of Surefire) of the precision rifle range at Altair Training Solutions. You’re not going to see the end of the range, because it’s two miles away.

It was here that we went to work with Daniel Defense DD5V1 and Ambush rifles mounted with Nightforce optics.

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It was my first time shooting a .308 on the AR platform and I absolutely loved it.

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We had a wide range of steel targets we worked from as close as 100 yards (which were stupid easy to hit) out to 800 yards, where crosswinds running in three different directions (up close it was blowing left to right, right to left in the middle distance, and blowing left to right again at the end of our effective range) made getting consistent hits tough. We began from prone (John Johnston of Ballistic Radio, below), but started experimenting with different field shooting positions, including standing, sitting (me, above), kneeling and braced as the mood struck us.

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After lunch we had a friendly competition involving some running and gunning. Starting from a standing position, we had to go prone, engage targets at 200 yards, run to a four-wheeler and make hits on targets from a modified squat or kneeling at hundred yards (John Snow, below) and then hand the gun off.

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We then had to sprint to the shooting tower and climb ship ladders to the third floor, where we had to engage targets at 300 yards from a table well back in the room.

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After making two hits there, we safed the rifle, ran down the length the of tower (made of shipping containers stacked four high) and went outside to climb another ships ladder to the top of the fourth shipping container in the stack to engage targets from prone at 400 yards (Andrew Wright, below).

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Considering my bad knees and screwing up by engaging the wrong target at 300 yards on my first shot, I was pretty happy with my time.

altair precision rifle times
After the competition, we went back and showered, watched weather reports—Hurricane Matthew was brewing off the coast and potentially heading in our direction—and then we had a massive German buffet provided by our ammo provider RUAG before we collapsed back in our rooms (Altair has very nice condos on site), fat and happy for the evening.

We had to change up our schedule a bit thanks to Hurricane Matthew’s approach, and so after breakfast in the prison mess hall the next morning, we went outside to see our “ride” arrive.

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It was going to be a morning of aerial target interdiction, and my first time on a helicopter.

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After the helicopter safety briefing from BAT Defense, we drove from the isolation camp to the 68-acre high security facility known as “TTP City.”

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We’d be taking off and landing from in front of the cell block on the right side of the photo (above) doing a loop around the facility to gain altitude, and the come back down over the top of the building from right to left, engaging steel targets on the outside of the concrete walkways until we got to Cell Block D at the end.

This is what it looked like.

I’m going to be honest, and admit that it felt very strange when the Little Bird took off and I was sitting outside the airframe, held in by gravity and a simple lap belt. The nervousness quickly gave way to excitement as we looped around the prison, came in down the slot, and were cleared “hot” to open fire.

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We made two runs on the targets from each side of the helicopter. I’d love to tell you I did great, but I’m not that much of a liar.

Bob Owens Little Bird

I certainly made more hits on the 3rd and 4th runs than I did the first two, but I was probably hitting at about a 25% hit rate. I don’t think that’s horrible for never having shot out of a moving vehicle before, and at a pretty significant angle at that.

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Once the writers were done we drove off for lunch, a second helicopter with a camera arrived, and the professionals came in to shoot one of the slickest MILE (military and law enforcement) videos I’ve seen for Daniel Defense.

If you look real close at the video, you might see a familiar face.

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Grant Reynolds, of What Could Possibly Go Wrong? and TRIGGERS: Weapons That Changed The World was a Marine sniper in his former life and splits his time between Hollywood and performing as the director of firearms training for Solutions Group International. He’s also really fun to hang out with, and was our instructor during the precision rifle course.

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After lunch we took a tour of the prison, where we managed to get locked in the long-abandoned solitary confinement unit where they housed the “worst-of-the-worst,” inmates who were extreme even for a maximum security prison. We never got a key, but found a narrow access corridor between the cells that lead us to an unlocked exterior door, at which point I felt like an escapee.

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After dinner we did low-light small unit training both outside and inside one of the prison units using both white lights provided by Surefire and night vision gear provided by TNVC. I quickly feel in love with the Sentinel mounted on the MTEK FLUX ballistic helmet, and now need to decide which of my children really needs to go to college. Working with NVGs is difficult both because your depth perception is thrown off, colors aren’t true, shadows do very strange things, and your field of view is greatly narrowed. If you’d like to replicate the sensation at home on a budget, swap out all your lights at home with green bulbs, do a couple of shots of bourbon to throw your equilibrium off just slightly, and then try to move around with toilet paper tubes over your eyes. There’s a lot of bumping and banging into things. Now pick up a carbine and try to clear a room or a series of rooms with other people.

It gave me a whole new appreciation for SWAT teams and military units who put so much time into running these same drills so smoothly. We knocked off at maybe 10:30 or 11:00 PM, soaked in sweat but a heck of a lot wiser.

Our final day began with some square range work, shooting a lot of RUAG’s ammo in both 5.56 and 300 BLK at targets from midrange to far.

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I got to spend time with one of my favorite rifles, the Daniel Defense ISR, which is a integrally-suppressed 300 BLK carbine. It’s a single tax-stamp gun, and if the Hearing Protection Act passes, it will be just as easy to get as a normal AR-15. It would make a heck of a home defense or hunting rifle.

It was there we met the guys from Marathon Targets, and their networked, screaming, charging robots who can react to a situation with a wide range of behaviors.

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After shooting them at short range to get used to how they behaved, we moved out to a berm and started engaging them at combat distances of roughly 100 yards.

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We ran different scenarios, such as engaging a taking on a four-man patrol in a single-man ambush and trying to hit all four before they could flee the kill zone.

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It was a heck of an experience, and was more than a little disconcerting to hear them scream in agony or curse (yes, they’re programmable and equipped with speakers) when you shot them.

The outer bands of Hurricane Michael then swept through in a downpour, and we spent the rest of the day on site tours and getting ready for our final evening, which was going to feature indoor exercises at night in a prison cell block.

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The cell blocks at Altair are set up with a central control room occupied by guards in the middle, and three wings of cells. The cell wings have a small common area up front, and the two tiers of two-man cells. A narrow walkway with a railing is on each side, with a stair way at the back, a catwalk from one side to the other near the front, and a set of stairs on each side near the front.

We divided into two-man teams, swapped to UTM bolts and man-marker rounds (a plastic and wax bullet),  and were given the assignment of clearing the central area and then one of the prison wings, where a group of terrorists of unknown size had broken in to make a jail break, only to become trapped. We had to secure the central control area and interrogation rooms from all hostiles, then move into the cell block itself and put down any threats that presented themselves.

We made these runs with white light first, and then with night vision gear. Sadly, there isn’t much we could do to photograph or video the evolutions, as there was simply flashes of white light, shooting, another flash of light, screaming, more shooting, etc. It was a heck of a rush when you have numerous robots charging you at the speed a man can run, then discovering there’s a target on the catwalk above you that you have to engage as your rifle is running dry. It was nerve-wracking enough trying to run the drill with white lights minimized (to avoid exposing yourself as a target as much as possible in an otherwise pitch-black room), but turning to NVGs and infrared lasers made it that much more intense.

Finally we ended the night with a couple of 2 vs 2 force on force runs, where two men hid in the cell block and two more men tried to clear it. The assaulting teams predictably got smoked before they could get very far into the room as there was simply took much open space to cross.

I managed to sprint the the closest stairwell and quickly got pinned down in the corner. Every time I looked out, a UTM whizzed past. I tried to engage the shooter, and he got the better end of the deal, hitting me in the hand, side and three rounds to the chest. I didn’t make 20 seconds.

I did get some nice, semi-permanent reminders that incoming fire has the right of way.

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It was a heck of an event and training opportunity.

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I can hardly wait to do the next one.