By DAVID RAINER
Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
Instead of the stillness of the usual August day in Alabama, the wind provided relief from the oppressive heat, and it made James Eagleman happy.
“Got a little wind to contend with today,” I said.
“Yeah, that makes it fun,” Eagleman said at the new Barbour Creek Shooting Academy near Eufaula. “If there’s no wind, it’s too easy.”
The “it” is long-range shooting out to 1,000 yards in the midst of the abundant peanut, soybean and cotton fields in Barbour County.
Do what? Hitting targets at 1,000 yards is easy? I’ll admit I was skeptical. By the end of the event, sponsored by Alabama Black Belt Adventures and Bergara Rifles, I was a believer as long as I adhered to Eagleman’s instructions.
A former U.S. Army sniper and instructor, Eagleman teamed with Mark Simpson, a longtime outdoorsman who wanted to share his affinity for long-range hunting with the public, to establish the shooting academy that caters to a wide variety of shooting activities, from basic firearms training for novices to long-range shooting for hunters.
Simpson, who was in the automobile business for 35 years in Florida, hunted near Eufaula for years and decided to start looking for retirement property in Barbour County.
“When I came into town to get supplies for the hunting camp, I always saw Eufaula as a beautiful city,” Simpson said. “I thought when I retired I would buy something up here. I found this farm and decided to build a long-range facility for myself. I had been long-range hunting around the world and love it. I decided to open a facility to the public. I have been very successful in my long-range hunting with the training I received from James Eagleman at Gunwerks. I called James, and he came to Alabama to open Barbour Creek Shooting Academy.”
Eagleman said the offer to partner with Simpson in the shooting academy was easy because nothing like it is available in the region.
“We’re long-range hunters,” Eagleman said. “We’re training people to be hunters with terminal-performance shot placement and bullet selection and performance. Shooting at 200 yards is different than shooting at 800 or 1,000.”
Eagleman admits his training strays from traditional hunting techniques. He teaches to place the butt of the stock in the middle of your pectoral muscle instead of the shoulder pocket. He uses the pad of the trigger finger to depress the trigger, which is held firmly rearward throughout the shot sequence. And he stresses to keep your head down on the stock at all times.
Not keeping my head down was the only mistake I made, which resulted in my only missed target at 1,000 yards. In less than an hour, I hit the vital zone on a deer target every time at 600 yards.
“My dad was a Green Beret in Vietnam,” Eagleman said. “When I came home from sniper school, I told him, ‘Dad, everything you taught me was wrong,’ for long range. Of course, what he taught me about was shooting 200 yards with a .30-06 with a 200-grain Core-Lokt (Remington bullet). That is not suitable for long-range shooting.”
During last week’s event, Bergara provided both the B-14, a rifle produced entirely in Spain, and Premiere, a rifle built in its Georgia facility with barrels manufactured in Spain. The ammo was factory Hornady Precision Hunter in 6.5 Creedmoor. The day at the range was just a peek at the instruction available during the academy’s two-day courses.
Simpson said the long-range hunting courses are held year-round with Level 1 and Level 2 instruction.
“We love working with the public,” Simpson said. “In Level 1 you learn to shoot to 1,000 yards. You have classroom instruction for half a day. Then you go to the range for the rest of the day. The next day it’s almost all range time. You will become comfortable shooting at 800 to 1,000 yards. You learn a little about ballistics. You learn how to hold a rifle. You learn follow-through. You learn how to dial your scope for the right distance. You learn ranging. In Level 2, you learn a lot about ballistics and shooting positions. It’s way more advanced. We go through simulated hunting scenarios.
“In LA, Lower Alabama, we have a lot of open fields. I would often see a deer at 500 to 600 yards walking a trail or on the edge of a field. I didn’t feel like I could take that shot. After going through the training, I feel like a 500-yard shot is a chip shot. We teach you how to read the mirage and the wind. We teach you how to get set up for a shot. You will feel comfortable at taking that shot. It’s all about feeling confident and bullet placement. If you can’t do it, you need to move closer. If you’re not comfortable, don’t take the shot. But, after taking the class, if you see a deer at 300 yards, you won’t even hesitate. We teach you how to take an ethical shot and kill the animal instantly.”
Simpson said the 7mm Remington Magnum is his favorite round for most long-range hunting but alternatives are available.
“The 6.5 Creedmoor is the hottest round for long-range shooting right now,” he said. “It’s good if you have the right kind of bullet that expands properly and you have good shot placement.”
Although long-range hunting has been very popular out West, in states like Texas, Wyoming and Montana, it’s just now starting to get the attention of hunters in the South.
“I think it’s gaining momentum in Alabama,” Simpson said. “We went to the last two hunting shows in Alabama this summer, and we had crowds all around the booth. People don’t realize you can hunt at those distances. I had to learn myself, but we make it really simple with the instruction provided.”
Eagleman said correctly assessing the wind is the most important aspect of long-range hunting.
“You can dial in your scope for elevation, but the wind is the common denominator that separates the men from the boys in long-range hunting,” Eagleman said. “Another important factor in long-range hunting is shot placement and bullet construction. The best thing about long-range hunting is that if you become comfortable with an 800-yard shot, a 400-yard shot is easy. You’re not going to ask yourself, ‘Should I take this shot.’ You’re going to say, ‘When can I take this shot.’ The best thing about learning long-range hunting is you’ll get so much confidence at 400 yards, you’ll never think twice about it.
“In our Level 2 instruction, we have mock blinds to shoot out of. We don’t shoot off the bench in Level 2. We have prone shooting, tripod shooting, bag shooting, shooting from a fence and shooting from a blind. What you have to do is make sure you have a good, solid support up front and then the buttstock has to be solid. Take a couple of shooting sticks and put them on the buttstock. When you do that, you’ve built yourself a bench. You’re going to need a good rangefinder. I prefer a ballistic rangefinder so there’s no guessing.”
Eagleman said a long-range scope must have a target turret, a side focus/parallax adjustment and a reticle with stadia lines for precision wind-drift allowance.
“We hold right or left for wind,” he said. “The reason we don’t dial the wind in for long-range hunting is you’ll get all set up on a shot and the wind changes. Now you have to lift your head up and adjust the scope and hope you can get back on the animal. If you hold for wind drift, you never take your eye off the animal and just hold right or left. You send the round down-range, and you go retrieve the animal.
“We’re hunters, and that’s what we focus on. We teach good, ethical hunting.”
PHOTOS: (David Rainer) Mark Simpson of Barbour Creek Shooting Academy gives Eufaula Mayor Jack Tibbs some tips on hitting the 1,000-yard target. James Eagleman, a former U.S. Army sniper and instructor at Barbour Creek, discusses proper trigger-pull techniques to consistently hit long-range targets. Even young hunters got to test their shooting skills at the range during the event sponsored by Alabama Black Belt Adventures and Bergara Rifles.