Competing in the Extreme Tough Man Division of the Mammoth Sniper Challenge is a test of both shooter and gear. This 3-day event held each January requires competitors to carry all their gear 25+ miles between stages and campsites, camp out, and engage precision rifle targets out to 800+ yards. All while maintaining a specified pace for the movements or be dropped from the division. The name truly fits, it’s a big hairy primal challenging beast that can beat you down. However many of the lessons learned are applicable to hunting and backcountry scenarios. Here are a few of those I discovered over the years.
Ounces Make Pounds
This match is more brutal than most hunting trips including those out West. Because all your movements are timed, and you have to make pace or be dropped from the division, there is intense pressure to be highly mobile. Simply put, the lighter your load the faster you can move. I upgraded my gear one piece at a time over the years to support shooting the match and hunting trips. I started with my pack. A lightweight, comfortable pack is the essential foundation of balancing and carrying the rest of your gear, or your quarry out of the mountains. I’ve never used a pack that carried as well as the Seek Outside . The shoulder pads, belt and articulating frame all work together to make the load comfortable and secure. It’s a bit expensive, but I have gotten years of service and mine is still going strong. Compared to similar Eberlestock or Mystery Ranch packs it’s much lighter.
The only place to add weight when carrying a lot of gear hunting or competing is in your bullets. With modern rangefinders or even mil dots you can determine the distance to a target, so dealing with the wind becomes the biggest challenge. Heavier, high ballistic coefficient (BC) bullets cut the air better and need less windage correction than less efficient bullets resulting in less margin of error for the shooter. Better bullets = more hits; shoot the highest ballistic coefficient bullets your gun will shoot accurately. It was once only possible in the realm of hand loaders but now most ammunition manufacturers have some high BC offerings for hunters to choose from. Hornady and Berger are my leading choices for this type of bullets. Just keep in mind that you are essentially carrying lead weights so don’t take more than you need.
These lightweight handy devils are not just for Appalachian Trail sight-seeing. When you are carrying heavy loads and trying to move at a good clip up and down grades, having 4 points of contact instead of just two can be a lifesaver. Leaning into the poles powering up hills helps support the load, and push you forward. The poles are even more crucial while moving downhill; your most likely time to fall. They add needed support points to help to keep your feet under your center of gravity. The heavier the load the more you need trekking poles to keep from toppling over on hidden hazards under the snow or on broken terrain. They can also be used as adjustable shooting supports.
The first couple Mammoth matches I used conventional styled hiking boots. After all, this was a match up and down the mountains of KY, so this seemed legit and a smart choice. They were high quality, name brand, insulated and they failed miserably. They were heavy, had little sole flex and not suited for the hurried pace of the match or various surfaces that had to be maneuvered. They simply had no flex and I felt like I was trying to run/ shuffle with casts on both ankles like Frankenstein moving. I also used them for hunting out west and though I didn’t feel they failed I was still less than ecstatic with them. I upgraded to a lighter, mid-height, Gore-Tex lined, more flexible Salomon shoe, the X Ultra 3 Mid GTX, and it made all the difference in the world. I was able to run/ shuffle better due to the sole flexibility, still had adequate ankle support and dropped some dead weight off of each of my legs- less fatigue, more agility, and better speed.
It doesn’t matter how “tough” you are if you aren’t sleeping well during a long hard hunt or the Mammoth Challenge you will not be performing your best. The quest is how to keep warm and comfortable and still keep your gear as light as possible down to single digit temperatures. This requires a two- part solution – a great mat (air mattress) and sleeping bag or blanket.
Until I needed to upgrade my 3-season mat and bag (that I found were woefully inadequate for the 9 degree temps), I never knew some sleeping mats actually had R- values like your home insulation. Enter EXPED. The mat is critical in cold weather because your weight crushes the insulation value right out of any sleeping bag underneath you, so the mat must insulate and provide comfort for your ground side. Weighing in at 1-2 lbs depending on the model, these mats are awesome; thick enough to keep you well off the ground and with internal insulation to keep your backside warm. They are also available in longer or wider sizes for folks that roll around in their sleep.
Since lying on your sleeping bag crushes the insulation and adds little value, just weight, why use a bag at all? The solution for the top side of my sleep system became an Enlightened Equipment down quilt. These units are super warm and super light; it’s almost unbelievable how light this quilt feels. They can be drawn up to form a foot box or used like a blanket and at weights less than 2 pounds it’s hard for a regular sleeping bag to compete. You can choose your size, color, insulation fill, temperature range- have it your way.
Training and attitude are truly the determining factors in success, but good gear certainly helps and makes the journey more comfortable. Other gear worthy of discussion are items like the Jet Boil, scope rings, base mounting, surplus military ECWCS jacket and trousers, and Proof carbon fiber barrels.
For more information on the Mammoth Sniper Challenge see Clay’s report here
The Mammoth Sniper Challenge brings out many of the best military, LE and civilian shooters. The author competed at the first Mammoth Sniper Challenge and 4 of the subsequent matches. He and his teammates have had three 2nd place finishes, a 3rd, and a 7th.
About the Author – Jeff Cramblit is a world-class competitive shooter having won medals at both the 2012 IPSC World Shotgun Championship in Hungary and more recently the 2017 IPSC World Rifle Championship in Russia. He is passionate about shooting sports and the outdoors. He has followed that passion for over 30 years, hunting and competing in practical pistol, 3gun, precision rifle and sporting clays matches. Jeff is intimately familiar with the shooting industry – competitor, instructor, RO, range master, match director. Among his training credits include NRA Instructor, AR-15 armorer, FBI Rifle Instructor, and Officer Low Light Survival Instructor. As a sponsored shooter, Jeff has represented notable industry names such as: Benelli, 5.11 Tactical, Bushnell, Blackhawk, DoubleStar, and Hornady. He has been featured on several of Outdoor Channel’s Shooting Gallery episodes and on a Downrange TV series. Jeff’s current endeavors cover a broad spectrum and he can be found anywhere from local matches helping and encouraging new shooters as they develop their own love of the sport, to the dove field with his friends, a charity sporting clays shoot, backpack hunting public land in Montana, or the winners podium of a major championship.