Living in the Bitterroot Valley of Western Montana, Snowy Mountain Rifles is a pretty familiar name. Originally located in Missoula, Montana, SMR quickly grew an enviable reputation for building super accurate rifles, quality a-la-cart gunsmithing, and supplying high-end shooting accessories. Our own Tony Trietch reviewed the SMR Alpine Hunter Rifle back in 2019 here
When Paul Donaldson bought the company in 2017, he moved the company to my hometown of Hamilton, MT. Since then, Snowy Mountain has continued offering custom rifles, gunsmithing, and shooting supplies and accessories while adding custom load development and now, the SMR Long Range Academy. As part of my own review of SMR’s Alpine Hunter rifle, I was invited to participate in the Long Range Academy. I made it to the 3-day class starting on July 31st.
Snowy Mountain Long Range Academy
The Long Range Academy currently consists of two levels: the Level 1 “Fundamentals Class” and the Level 2 “Development Class.” The classroom portions of the classes are held at SMR’s shop facility minutes from downtown Hamilton while the shooting portions are on private property in the Bitterroot Valley’s Sapphire Mountain Range with stunning views of the Bitterroot River and Bitterroot Mountains.
Instructors for my Level 1 class included SMR owner Paul Donaldson, former Marine Sniper Ethan Rodger, and photographer/guide/veteran/competitive shooter/general badass Logan Summers. Instructors can vary, but Snowy Mountain draws from their small pool of similarly qualified instructors.
Classroom instruction ran through the basics of long-range shooting, including external ballistics, optics, angular measurement, wind, and shooting fundamentals. The SMR academy doesn’t reinvent the wheel and utilizes the military approach to long-range engagement. After the students were demonstrating an understanding of the fundamental concepts, Paul demonstrated the assembly of a SMR rifle and mounted a riflescope to the freshly minted weapon.
It didn’t take long, and we were on our way to the shooting location for some fieldwork. We started with zero verification, which I completed in no time after bore sighting. The custom 6.5 PRC loads with the 156 Berger Hybrid were cutting holes in the bullseye at 100 yards.
The ammunition was custom loaded for my test rifle by ammo wizard Paul Henstridge. Henstridge is a fascinating guy that emigrated from the United Kingdom in 2012. As a gun enthusiast, Henstridge wanted to live in a more gun-friendly state and country, and found what he was looking for in Western Montana.
Henstridge is a competitive 100-yard bench rest and varmint-for-score shooter in National Bench Rest Shooters Association (NBRSA) competitions. For the past 2 1/2 years, he has been doing all of the custom loading for Snowy Mountain’s rifles.
The program has been so successful, Snowy Mountain has hired Henstridge full-time and hired additional staff just to do the load development, which is now completely in-house at Snowy Mountain.
Henstridge says “Attention to detail is everything,” and finds single-digit Standard Deviations in muzzle velocity are the norm for his custom ammo. Snowy Mountain Custom Ammunition is currently available to Snowy Mountain Custom Rifle customers, but they are hopeful to offer high-quality SAAMI spec ammunition for sale.
Getting Started On The Range
After zeroing, the class moved immediately to 400-yard steel, which for some of the students, was farther than they had ever shot a rifle. The class quickly progressed out to 800 yards and trued their drop data.
A big part of the SMR class was getting familiar with the Kestrel Elite Weather Meter with Applied Ballistics software. There were Kestrel Meters available for students that didn’t have their own. Instructors would work one-on-one with each student to make sure they could make it through the menus and understand each of the data fields and how to use them in the course. Instructors aided students in truing their data by Ballistic Coefficient, Muzzle Velocity, or both.
Drills: The Fun Begins
After everyone had their in-the-field drops matched up to the corrections on their Kestrel, the real fun began. Day 1 Drills included long-range shooting out to 1000 yards plus, team target acquisition, and lots of wind correction estimation and adjustment. Each student kept a log to keep track of their shooting data as they went.
- Day 2 included more repetition and confirmation of fundamentals, mostly from the prone positions. Day 3 included some shooting out to a mile in distance while also working on tripod shooting positions and technique. This was my favorite part of the class and really gave me some practical techniques to bring to the hunting woods.
2023 Course Specifics
- Snowy Mountain will provide a demo shooting system for each student that includes: Rifle, Scope, Rings, Bubble Level, Case, Ammo, Demo Kestrel 5700 Elite, Bi-pods, Tri-Pods, Shooting Supports, and Bags.
- Students can also demo other items, including binoculars, spotting scopes, and riflescopes from Zeiss, Swarovski, Nightforce, and others.
- Lodging. Students are responsible for their own lodging. There are hotels and vacation rentals in the area. Snowy Mountain is working on securing group rates with local hotels, so make sure to ask about it when you book the school.
- Travel. Students are responsible for their own travel to and from Hamilton, MT. If a student is renting a vehicle, Snowy Mountain asks them to look at a truck or SUV if possible. Snowy Mountain Staff will do their best to get all the students in Snowy Mountain Staff vehicles to travel to the shooting location, they may need some students to drive.
- Meals. Students are responsible for their own meals. Students are advised to get breakfast before arriving at the shop. The class will stop at a local gas station/ grill to pick up any lunch items. Lunch will happen in the field. Snowy Mountain will have coolers available, and provides water and other drinks. Students can get dinner at any of the many nearby restaurants, breweries, and other eateries in the Hamilton area after class concludes.
The Snowy Mountain Long Range Academy has a reasonable cost of $1500. A $500 deposit is necessary to reserve your spot for the class dates posted online on the Snowy Mountain Rifles website. If the student bought a Snowy Mountain Rifle, they get 15% off the course fee. Conversely, shooting school students also get a 15% discount on any rifle, accessories, and other items purchased at Snowy Mountain.
Hunters that make the investment get quality instruction that improves their confidence and competence in a fun environment with friendly, knowledgeable instructors. That was exactly my experience at the Snowy Mountain Long Range Academy. I came out of the class with a much greater level of confidence, a log book full of real world data, and some good memories with good people. This kind of class is an investment that should be considered by any hunter looking to extend their range.
Comment or ask Matt questions here.
Stay tuned to Rokslide’s Long Range Forum for a follow-up review and field report on the Snowy Mountain Alpine Hunter rifle used in the class and in the field.