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Sharpening Skills with SAAM: Shooting and Hunting at FTW Ranch

Attending the Sportsman's All-Weather All-Terrain Marksmanship (SAAM) training course at FTW Ranch in Barksdale, Texas, before taking on a hunt offers shooters an arsenal of invaluable skills.

Sharpening Skills with SAAM: Shooting and Hunting at FTW Ranch

(Photo by Alfredo Rico)

For Western Hunters, including myself, who have long considered eastern Montana our farthest boundary, Texas can seem like a place of dreams. Promises of wide-open ranchlands chock-full of big game that rival the size and number of those found in the West were always temptations to chase after.

Among Friends

On arrival to FTW Ranch in Barksdale, Texas, it didn’t take long to realize I was in good company. From San Antonio airport, I hitched a 2-hour ride with Brad Anfinson, director of sales at Silencer Central. We had a lot in common. Talking with Anfinson felt like catching up with an old friend, and it was great to hear his stories and learn about his background as a hunter and angler, as well as his history with the company.

FTW 01
SAAM training prior to a hunt is the best way to build confidence in your hunting skills and equipment. Students are drilled in practical shooting simulators, field conditions and distances beyond a likely shot. This teaches an understanding of your limitations given weather, angles of elevation and ballistics. Mastery of these skills are necessary to take an animal cleanly on the first shot, even at longer ranges. (Photo by Alfredo Rico)

Not being familiar with suppressors, Anfinson’s rundown on Silencer Central’s products gave me much needed insight that would prove useful for the days ahead. We would be shooting and hunting with “cans” on our rifles, something I’d not yet experienced.

Walking into FTW’s lodge was like strolling through the front doors of a Cabela’s. There were animals covering the walls, and of every variety. It was hard not to glance around the room during introductions with the staff. A warm welcome was followed by a hearty home-cooked meal, where we all got to know the instructors, students and guides. Each had their own story to tell, and they wanted to know ours. That’s something I’ve come to appreciate. The crew and I were then given a rundown on the following day’s schedule and assigned cabins for the week.

FTW 02
FTW reminds hunters of their rules right at the entrance to their huge property. (Photo by Alfredo Rico)

Skills for the Hunt

Before the hunt, my trip included a course with FTW’s Sportsman’s All-Weather All-terrain Marksmanship (SAAM) training. It was a mix of classroom and range sessions aimed at teaching the skills needed to succeed in different scenarios and conditions that hunters often encounter. For this course, we’d be shooting out to 500 yards, and the instructors would teach the importance of factoring ballistics and environmental elements, such as wind and elevation, into a shot at an animal at those distances. They preached, “You only have one first shot!”

FTW 03
Learning the ballistic profile of a rifle-scope-ammo combination at long distances was worth the price of training at FTW. (Photo by Alfredo Rico)

Walking in, I didn’t realize how extensive and crucial the information in the course would turn out to be. Having hunted on the western side of Washington state for most of my life, shooting out to 500 yards was rarely necessary. Wind calls were foreign to me, and scope turrets were intimidating. However, the thought of learning to accurately shoot an animal at longer ranges was exciting!

The course was easy to follow and instructors spent ample time on every element of long-range shooting fundamentals. They ensured students each fully understood what was being taught before moving on. I had knowledge on some of the concepts, but I was rusty. We all were. Before taking off for the range each day, the classroom sessions refreshed our memories while introducing new skills that we had never practiced. When afternoon came, it was time to shoot.

FTW 04
It can’t be overstated just how huge the open wilderness of Texas is. However, while it may be open, it certainly is not barren. (Photo by Alfredo Rico)

Outfitted to the Nines

I was armed with a Savage 110 rifle in 6.5 Creedmoor. It carried a Leupold scope and one of Silencer Central’s Banish cans. Fed by Hornady ammunition, the combination proved accurate.

Like I said, I’d never shot suppressed before this trip! I don’t own a suppressor, and I’ve never bothered to look into the application process because I heard it was extensive and expensive. Plus, where you live can likely make obtaining one even more difficult, depending on the state. For people in my shoes, I now believe that Silencer Central is the way to go. They handle the paperwork and know the products they sell inside and out. They make it easy for guys like me to decide what’s the best fit. After hunting with the Banish 30 in Texas, I don’t know how I could go another season without screwing one onto my deer rifle at home. They made the whole purchasing experience a breeze, and I am now in the process of getting one shipped to my door.

FTW 05
(Photo by Alfredo Rico)

The Banish 30 ($979) is one slick unit. Usable on calibers ranging from .17 HMR to .300 Weatherby, its all-titanium design is completely serviceable. The baffles are removable, which means that cleaning and reassembly are done fast and easy. Silencer Central even includes an “idiot-proof” orange indicator ring on the suppressor’s cap to prevent people like me from screwing up the reassembly process. A full lineup of Banish models are offered to meet the need of every shooter, as well as products from many other manufacturers. There’s something for everyone.

The amount of rounds I fired at FTW Ranch was far more than I’d shot all year. With the suppressor attached to the Savage, recoil from the 6.5mm was basically nonexistent. This combination saved my shoulder and helped to make follow-up shots shockingly easy. Suppressors muffle noise enough that hearing protection isn’t needed either, and, to add to the list of benefits, the can was light enough that I didn’t notice the extra weight while packing the rifle on my actual hunt. Equipping any hunting rifle with a suppressor is a no-brainer, in my opinion.

FTW 06
Hunting with a suppressor was a new experience for the author. The 6.5 Creedmoor produced negligible recoil, and noise was so low that hearing protection was not necessary in the field. (Photo by Alfredo Rico)

Silencer Central also gave us a look at two new suppressors that hadn’t yet launched, but they are available now: the Banish 46 ($1,249) and the Banish 338 ($1,599). Like the Banish 30, the Banish 46 and Banish 338 are made of titanium — with the exception of the blast baffle, which is made from Inconel. The Banish 46 has a wide caliber range, meaning that it can support everything from pistol rounds to .460 rifle calibers. It is a great option for those new to suppressors wanting to suppress large-bore or straight-wall cartridges such as a lever-action in .45-70. The new Banish 338 is also sleek, light and quiet. Constructed of the same material, the big difference with this model of suppressor is that the baffles are ported rather than notched for a more accurate shot.

Recommended


FTW 07
Servicing Silencer Central suppressors is a simple process. Removable baffles make it easy to access all areas for cleaning, and features such as the notches and orange indicator O-ring prevent mistakes when it’s time to reassemble. (Photo by Alfredo Rico)

The Lay of the Land

In front of the lodge, a fleet of off-road safari-style Jeeps were lined up and ready for action with gun racks to boot. After loading up, we drove deep into the ranch toward the first range. Through the week, we’d spend time shooting at several of FTW’s 14 ranges scattered throughout ranch. Each is unique and designed with varying hunting environments in mind. The amount of steel targets was impressive.

FTW 08
(Photo by Alfredo Rico)

That first ride out was telling of how packed with game the property really was. Around corners and up each draw and canyon, animals were abundant. Along with trophy whitetail, FTW Ranch holds a large variety of exotics; European fallow deer, axis deer, blackbuck antelope and lots of other species inhabit the land. I’ve got a special place in my heart for North American big game, so a trophy whitetail topped my hit list.

A Hunting Haven

When training was complete and it was time to hunt, I found myself utilizing the skills I’d acquired from the SAAM course. From choosing and setting up in different shooting positions to referencing the detailed DOPE card that the instructors had customized to my rifle, scope and load, I felt prepared to make a clean shot if the buck I was looking for stepped out.

The country was diverse, with steep, rocky terrain, wooded hillsides and flat grasslands. This part of south Texas has a little bit of everything. It reminded me of different places I’d hunted in the past all wrapped into one location. What a dream.

My guide, Doug Prichard, gave his best effort to put me into a position to take an animal — and we saw no shortage of bucks. From posting up at ambush points to scrambling down rocky cliffs, we hunted hard.

FTW 09
Silencer Central offers a comprehensive selection of suppressors for a variety of calibers and configurations. This lineup includes (above, left to right) the Banish 22, Banish 223, Banish 30 Gold, Banish 30 and Banish 45 on various rifles, pistols and rimfires. (Photo by Alfredo Rico)

Eventually, the last day of the hunt was upon us. I was still holding out for an older, mature deer, which continued to evade us. On the last evening, another guide spotted a buck that fit the bill, and I laid eyes on it after a short stalk into a shooting position. Unluckily, the buck was alert before I’d seen him. He spooked before I could get a shot. The sight of that rack trailing off still haunts me.

With an amazing hunt under my belt, new friends made and shooting skills that will accompany me on future endeavors, it was hard to let an unnotched tag get me down. Instead, I’m even more fired up for the next visit. I’ve got unfinished business in Texas. You haven’t seen the last of me.

Banish 30

  • Cartridge: .17 HMR to .300 Wby.
  • Diameter: 1.5 in.
  • Thread Pattern: 5/8x24
  • Overall Length: 7 in. (9 in. w/ tube extension)
  • Full-Auto Rating: Limited
  • Finish: GunKote and Tribodon 41 DLC
  • Sound Reduction: 34 dB
  • MSRP: $999
  • Manufacturer: Silencer Central, silencercentral.com



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