Teamwork - Making The Dream Work

Teamwork - Making The Dream Work

It was late 2018 when Zach asked whether I'd consider teaming up to shoot the 2019 Bushnell Sniper Comp. I didn't immediately say yes, but procrastinated about whether I wanted to don another ruck and hike 10+ miles daily for three days. After all, I thought I'd hung up my hat when it came to all that military stuff. But part of me is always up for a challenge and some friendly competition.


Eventually, I agreed. We immediately started the research and preparation phase. What do they say after all - Prior preparation prevents p**s poor performance. ​


Team Building

I had a lot of experience building tight-knit sniper teams from my time back in the Australian Military. I leveraged off this experience and strength to shape our team into a partnership I'd be happy to take downrange on operations. Zach might have suspected I was subtly molding the team into something formidable. Or maybe he didn't, but I think he certainly enjoyed the time spent training, rucking, shooting, and hanging out while we developed ourselves. I strongly believe teamwork and team cohesion is at the very foundation of performance when it comes to these sniper competitions. I often tell shooters "It's about how you work and communicate as a team. If you can do that effectively, then all you have to do is hit targets". 




Real team communication and cohesion extends well beyond verbal cues. It involves understanding how your teammate thinks, his strengths and weaknesses, his skills and abilities, and his physical and mental limitations. When you both understand these attributes in finer detail, you'll begin to perform with a level of cohesion you've never experienced before. You'll start to anticipate his moves during a stage, you'll identify and mitigate his mistakes before they happen, and he'll do the same for you! Operating as a team, you'll save time on the clock which will crossover into more hits and points scored. 


We shot together, hit the gym together, rucked together, and drank beer together over the next 2.5 months. Although I'd be lying if I said it was just to build cohesion. We are good friends and both share an affinity for good beer. It's also much easier to build a tight team when you actually like your shooting partner too!

Gear Selection

Zach drove our gear preparation as he was concurrently preparing for 2019 Mammoth. We started asking questions to develop a team load list. What are the highly competitive and successful teams using? How are they employing that equipment? What is the average team ruck weight compared to their mile time split? Zach is not just a mechanical engineer by education, but also in personality. In true engineer form, he compiled an Excel spreadsheet detailing team and individual equipment. This allowed us to keep a tab on distribution of team equipment, responsibilities, and ruck weight per individual. It also helped us to define what equipment was mission essential, necessary, and nice-to-have. This opened the discussion to what an acceptable ruck weight was for three days of competition and 30 miles. I'd like to think Zach and I are generally pretty fit guys. We agreed to ~65lbs which seemed to be a little heavier than most competitor rucks, but we placed higher value on having the extra shooting equipment available in case of a tricky stage.


By the time we left for the comp, we'd jointly finalized a solid load list containing may useful pieces of equipment. Several pieces were chosen that might serve more than one purpose, should we find ourselves in a bind during a tricky stage. Every piece of equipment that was removed from our final load list was mutually decided upon as a team. Each team member weighed the perceived pros and cons before sharing his thoughts on the issue. Every issue was a team issue, a team discussion, and team resolution. Some problems might start as individual issues on these competitions, but every issue will ultimately become a team problem later on, regardless of what it is initially.



Up until this time I'd never shot a civilian sniper competition, only military comps. I didn't quite know what to expect, but I knew Zach would bring back valuable insight from Mammoth that would help us tailor our preparation and training for Bushnell.


Our approach to training was multi-faceted. We concentrated a great deal of our time on developing our pistol shooting abilities. Zach was back from Mammoth by this time and had some good observations on shooting stages. He determined it could be possible to drop no more than a few pistol points. We collectively agreed on that as our goal for Bushnell and designed our pistol training prioritizing accurate, well-placed shots on the clock. Zach is a better pistol shooter than myself, so he took the lead. Our training goal was to find the ideal balance between accuracy and time. Using the right amount of time to get the target hit, but not too much as to chew up all our stage time. Conversely, we did not want to be snapping off more pistol rounds than necessary to make the hit. Extra rounds equates to less stage time. We eventually achieved our training goal, and did not drop a single pistol point during the entire competition.


You're probably wondering about long-range practice at this point in the training piece. Zach and I are both quite handy behind a bolt or gas gun, so we didn't spend much time brushing up on individual shooting techniques. However, we did spend a great deal of time testing equipment, practicing new techniques, developing SOPs, and communicating as a team. It made sense for me to take the lead on this and set the standards. After we got the basics ironed out, we shot multiple mock stages as a team. We ran through an after-action-review and reshot the stage again to identify and rectify the mistakes we'd previously made. One could say it was a "rinse and repeat" for primary weapon system practice.


As we neared the comp start date, individual primary and secondary weapon system practice merged together into increasingly difficult mock stages. I'd like to think we were a precisely timed and well oiled machine by the time we rolled onto the comp!



Zach and I entered the Trooper division. For those unfamiliar with Bushnell, this division requires rucking between stages, but the freedom to depart at night and return to our hotel (unlike the LRRP division, which required shooters to sleep at the evening staging point). This was the one condition to my involvement in the competition. I've slept in some miserable places over the years, so given the opportunity I'm always going to opt for a bed! 


Being our first competition, we really didn't know how we'd perform. Managing our performance expectations, we agreed we'd give it our best shot (pun intended) and be satisfied to finish in the top third of division competitors. The first stage went off without a hitch. Our team planning and stage execution was phenomenally surgical, the result better than I could have hoped for our first team match together. We topped the scoring for our squad. Our investment in teamwork development was playing out well from the start.


Over the next three days we experienced our ups and downs, like all teams on sniper competitions. One team characteristic we discussed early on was an ability to address performance issues or mistakes upon stage completion and then put it behind us before stepping off again. We believed this is crucial to a positive mindset and team success. We rucked as a team and shot well on most stages across the three-day competition. Zach offset my weaknesses with his strengths and vice-versa. Imagine engineer intellect meets military sniper practicality. We had retained the lead for the first two days of competition and would enter the last day just a few points ahead of the second place team. We shot well again on the last day, making only minor mistakes. We were positioned well for what could possibly be a first-place win!


Unfortunately, this isn't one of those happily-ever-after stories. Zach and I placed second by 0.75 points, or 3/4 of a target hit. Talk about an anti-climax! But the upside? We were simply outshot by a better team on the last day, and a close match is always a good one! We finished the 2019 Bushnell Sniper Competition as strong as we'd started it. We trained hard, planned meticulously, rucked fast, executed surgically, and shot well as an extremely effective team. The outcome demonstrates what can be achieved as a cohesive and highly functional team.


Image sourced from Grunt Style Mammoth Sniper Challenge




I attribute communication and cohesion to a major player in our team success at Bushnell 2019. After finishing Bushnell, Zach and I made plans to compete in the 2020 Mammoth Sniper competition. Preparation died down until a few months before start date. By that stage I'd moved from Michigan to Texas so practice was individual until Zach flew down five-days before the competition for a quick team tune-up. Neither of us were so concerned with team practice this time because we both had a good understanding of what had to be done and how to do it. It was just a matter of warming up pre-comp so that we weren't rusty going into day one and adjusting a few SOPs. We finished 2020 Mammoth placing second in the Trooper division. Unfortunately we were outshot again, this time by 10 points. That elusive first place win continues to get away from us. But Zach and I were successful at placing first during the final ruck, completing ~5.5 miles in around 49 minutes with 65 lbs rucks. That was a mental team effort as much as it was physical. I motivated Zach's short legs up the hills, and he beat me across the finish line. Again, this demonstrates the need for teamwork above everything else, except target hits. Of course target hits matter too.... 


A few points I'd like to leave you with to summarize my view of effective teamwork on sniper competitions:


  • Every decision is ultimately a team decision. Even if it only affects an individual now, it will affect the team later.
  • Leverage off both your individual and team experiences, strengths, and abilities to form point scoring advantages.
  • Identify your individual and team weaknesses early. Rectify those weaknesses by addressing them in training where possible. Don't wait until you're already in the comp.
  • Develop a team game plan to mitigate weaknesses that can't be rectified. This will holistically better prepare the team should issues arise.
  • Be open to what you don't know individually and as a team. Vulnerability is good, it piques inquisitiveness and questions. Questions help you learn and develop as a shooter and as a team.
  • A team that dwells on the mistakes of the last stage is destined to flunk the next stage. That team won't perform in the present because they're still fixated on the mistakes in the past. The team must be able to address those issues early on and refocus team attention back onto the here and now.  
  • Teamwork, it makes the dream work. 
  • Only drink good beer.


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