Teammates Caleb Gidcumb and Dave Odom of Salem have proven themselves to be exceptional marksmen and athletes by placing first in the Mammoth Sniper Challenge held Jan. 5-8 at Fort Gordon, Georgia.
Odom said there were 94 teams that signed up, and 90 stepped off on day one. Only 65 finished the challenge. Not only did Gidcumb and Odom finish the difficult event, but they also scored higher than any other team.
Shooting seems to be a way of life for the pair. Odom’s business, Odom Metal Works, has been active in the firearm industry for some time. His sophisticated CNC machines make parts for gun manufacturers like Nighthawk Custom in Arkansas, which produces high-end 1911 pistols.
“We’ve been shooting for a while. We started shooting some team matches together and about three years ago we were like, hey, let’s try this mammoth challenge deal, so we started training for it. That was kind of the reason we did it, was to do the rucks, to get in shape,” said Odom.
The Mammoth Sniper Challenge is a grueling three-day precision marksmanship challenge that requires competitors to hike, or “ruck,” for miles between shooting stages. Teams of two shooters carry all the gear they think will be necessary during the challenge – backpacks, food, camping equipment, clothing, and anything else the team might need on the trek. Gidcumb and Odom said the gear they carried totaled around 65 pounds.
“That’s everything minus water. Everything you need for three days. No hotel, it’s camping,” said Odom. “You can bring whatever you want, or not bring whatever you want. We use a tent, obviously, sleeping bags, sleeping mattress, all that stuff.”
All competitors must keep or beat a 16-minute mile pace while fully loaded with gear to stay in the competition. The team says they had no difficulty matching the pace because they had trained at a 15-minute pace.
“Over the last three years, we’ve been shooting in a couple of other team matches and you have to do the same thing, about two or three ruck matches a year, so this year wasn’t terribly bad on the rucks. I mean it was still grueling,” said Odom, sharing a laugh with Gidcumb. “Thirty-plus miles with your packs is a long way to go.”
“The reason why we train for fifteens, is say you’ve got a three-mile ruck, you build in an extra five minutes in case something with your pack breaks, you’ve got to stop, or something happens. You get a cramp,” said Odom.
One more essential type of gear completes the kit – precision rifles, pistols, and ammunition.
“We carry two bolt guns, I carry a Hunt’s Long Rage, custom built, chambered in 6mm Dasher,” said Gidcumb.
“Mine’s basically the same thing, but .223. Caleb’s always been the primary shooter, so primary shooter shoots a bigger gun, and secondary has to shoot either a .223 or a .308, a NATO round. .223 is much lighter, and with the bullet designs they have now, a .223 can actually best a .308 at distance, for wind.”
The pair says weight plays a role in ammunition choice as well. “We’ve got to carry all our ammo, and so that becomes a humongous part of your loadout,” said Odom.
Contestants must carry the ammo, but they are not permitted to even load a gun’s magazine until they reach the stage and prepare to shoot. The safety rules are extremely strict. A simple slip-up can result in contestants being disqualified. Many of these rules are intended to preserve a safe environment for the competition, and since the event takes place on military property, ammunition and firearm safety rules must be closely followed.
“Even if your gun is unloaded and safe, bolt back per say, and you were to back up, like cleaning up your stage, and it fell over, you would be disqualified for the whole match. It doesn’t matter if it’s day one or day three, you can get kicked out on a stage,” said Gidcumb.
Shooting stages are varied, and according to the event’s posted rules, the exact course of fire, including distances, positions, and other information, are hidden from competitors until they line up to shoot, when they are given a briefing on the course of fire for that stage. This means shooters must be highly adaptive and rely heavily on their teammates. Points are scored depending on the stage and are usually based on the difficulty of the shots, and how many shots the competitor took before hitting the target.
“We had to call out targets. I had a list of targets of his on my side, he had my targets on his side. Between the pistol fire and rifle fire that was between us, on the outboard side we were trying to communicate back and forth and acquire our targets. It was hard to keep track of how many shots had been fired,” said Gidcumb. “He would call out ‘Diamond’, and I would have to find the diamond. Then I would have to call out a sniper head. Each one had different ranges, and then we had to engage it three times each. With those guys shooting in the middle, you couldn’t tell if he was shooting, or if I was shooting, or who was shooting. We were able to manage our time as well as our communication to impact those targets.”
“We go into each one with a real defined plan a lot of times. I think that’s what helps us more than anything is just knowing what we can fall back on a little bit,” said Odom.
“We have a plan, but sometimes you get up there and think ‘well, that ain’t gonna work’, I’ll have to adapt. But we usually have a generic plan of what’s going to happen,” said Gidcumb.
“Or we’ll help each other,” said Odom. “Sometimes he may be carrying my gun, or I may be carrying his gun, so we switch those roles around. We’re always trying to get someone on a target as fast as we possibly can. That’s kind of our main objective all the time,” said Odom.
Gidcumb and Odom were discouraged by a rough start on day one, but quickly realized they were taking the lead in the competition.
“Day one, we were running pretty strong. That first stage was not as good, but…” Odom laughed. “After day one, I felt really solid, after day two, even before I knew about the scores, I was like ‘we shot well.’”
“Day two we were only ahead by two points. The team behind us was one of the top Army Marksman Unit teams, and so two points is not much. Day three is usually like a skills day. So usually, strong side, weak side, pistol, and there may be a freestyle. Then you’ll do standing, sitting, kneeling with a rifle. So, things really that some of the AMU teams actually do in competition,” said Gidcumb.
“Day three is big, especially for close races. You’ll go into it and you’ll do for sure one big ruck, so it’s at least about seven and a half miles in one leg, and you have to maintain that,” said Gidcumb.
Some people may not understand the desire to load up 65 pounds of gear and walk 30 miles through the woods. The pair said it’s about pushing yourself to succeed.
“I like challenges,” replied Odom. “It’s not something a lot of people could probably make it through.”
“Us, as men, are meant to be challenged and go through suffering. There’s something to gain just from that act,” said Gidcumb. “Bumps, bruises, blisters, and you’re tired at the end, but at the end there’s a potential for reward, but no guarantees.”