An Afternoon with Legendary Rifleman David Tubb

April 21, 2012

On the prairies of the Texas Panhandle, David Tubb has been dialing in long-distance marksmanship since he was old enough to wrap his fingers around a firearm. He may be the most accurate long-distance rifleman on the planet. So we paid him a visit to see his shop, his guns, and one of the most extensive civilian ranges we’ve ever seen.

By Will Grant

David Tubb’s shop in Canadian, Texas, is clean, neat and smells sweetly of gun oil. It’s big enough to park in a tractor-trailer, and yet it’s a comfortable space. It felt like the kind of place where good ideas come from. The kind of shop you’d expect from a man like Tubb and a company like Superior Shooting Systems.

But what caught my eye as we walked around the place was a pallet of beer in the middle of the concrete floor in the storage facility next door. Cases stacked on cases, and it struck me as a little odd. But having lived in Texas for seven years, I figured we were in a dry county, and there sat the stockpile.

I was wrong. Part of the beer was the payoff of a bet, or more than one bet, and it was nothing out of the ordinary. It’s what happens when military snipers come to train with Tubb and bet him a case of beer that he can’t do twice what he just did once.

If it’s with a rifle and involves accuracy, Tubb can do it twice. He can do it a lot more than twice. At the National Rifle Association High Power Rifle Championships, he’s done it 11 times. At the NRA Long Distance Rifle National Championships, he’s done it six times.  At the Wimbledon Cup—arguably the toughest rifle competition in the world—he’s done it twice. He’s the winningest rifleman in history.

Through a hard-science approach, out-of-the-box thinking, and a lifetime spent behind rifles, he’s addressed nearly every component of precision marksmanship in the field and at the range. Whether he’s shooting across the course at Camp Perry, sniping baboons in Africa, or overlooking a prairie dog town in the Texas Panhandle, Tubb shoots well at long distances. One of his finest shots went un-witnessed.

“I saw some antelope walking in a V formation,” he says. “I’d never seen that before…they were pushing a coyote in front of them… I got a little closer and shot a single shot at the coyote…I thought I hit her in the hip because she spun around twice in the air, but I’d hit her in the shoulder…She was 1,751 yards away.”

FROM THE DRAWING BOARD TO THE FIELD

When I met Tubb at his shop, he had just arrived from the Tulsa Gun Show. I helped him unload a few boxes of books and a few gun cases. Inside, he slid one of the rifles out of its case, set it on a workbench, and said, “Here’s the deal. I designed this rifle around the magazine.”

Tubb designed the TUBB 2000 rifle around the magazine because, as he says, the magazine is the heart of the rifle. From there, every component of the gun is made to the best-possible specification. Not the best available on the market, the best conceptually possible design.

With Rock McMillan of McMillan International, Tubb released the TUBB 2000 in 2000. In its 12 years of production, the rifle has put together a long resume of competition successes. Its accuracy and reliability have been proven time and again.

If you ask Ryan McMillan, vice president of McMillan International, Tubb is in a league of his own when it comes to both industry innovation and being a tier-one end user. There are other guys experimenting, inventing and winning, but “not to the level [Tubb] performs at,” according to McMillan.

Of the TUBB 2000’s many unique features is what’s sometimes called the ‘Tubb Chassis’ that allows the bolt to slide into the buffer tube under the shooter’s cheek. With this system, a shooter’s eye can be closer to the scope, and he doesn’t have to move his head while cycling the next round. But what Tubb stresses to me is the rifle’s total adaptability to an individual shooter.

Humans come in a lot of shapes and sizes, and this rifle will fit most of them. It’s fully adjustable. Tubb believes a shooter has to be as comfortable and in as natural a position as possible to shoot well. It’s called ergonomics, and it’s a driving force behind his theories, practices, and equipment.

In the prone position, Tubb wants to see a right-handed shooter directly behind the rifle with his right leg bent at the knee and pulled up and out to the right. This position not only makes for a more stable shooting platform, it also opens up the shooter’s diaphragm by giving it room to expand under the body. It makes breathing easier. If the shooter is wearing body armor, allowing the diaphragm added space to work is even more important.

And when the typical prone shooter, with his legs straight behind him, stands up, his first move is to bend his right leg to get it under him. Tubb’s position eliminates that first move. Faster, more comfortable, more effective.

“If you save a tenth of a second here,” he says, “and a tenth of a second there, and so on, pretty soon you’re a full second quicker. That second can make a lot difference.”

As we’re leaving the shop, Tubb shows me his proprietary AR-15 buffer spring. Further proof of his innovation.

The buffer spring is a chrome-silicon, flat-wire spring. Without any tension on it, it’s longer than a traditional AR buffer spring. Fully compressed, the flat-wire spring is shorter than a traditional spring. The flat-wire spring has a greater range of travel; it can absorb more energy.

The flat-wire spring will hold the bolt forward for a fraction of a second longer, which helps ensure full muzzle velocity. The spring also slows the rearward travel of the bolt carrier. If the bolt carrier rebounds off the back of the case, it comes forward with excess energy, which can cause the shooter to tip the rifle forward. Reacquiring the target will now take longer.

“Why do you use an AR?” Tubbs asks rhetorically. “For follow-up shots, right…This is the spring I want in my gun.”

DEEP ROOTS

We pile into Tubb’s pickup and drive north to his spread of land that serves as both his laboratory and training facility. It’s family land, and it’s called the Stacked V Ranch. Four generations of Tubbs have shouldered rifles out here.

“A lot of guys disconnect with their heritage as they win and their name gets bigger,” says Robbie Roberts, assistant executive director at the NRA Whittington Center near Raton, New Mexico, where Tubb is no stranger and where the High Power Range is named for his father. “But that never happened with David. He’s still got a lot of good ol’ boy in him. And people really listen when he speaks.”

Tubb’s great grandfather homesteaded the Stacked V in the late 1800s. The area was one of the last in the nation to be settled because of the petulant, pilfering, and elusive Comanche Indians. When the Tubb family cut earth here before the turn of the century, there were plenty of not-so-friendly Indians still left in the country.

The land rolls in gentle hills under the big Texas sky. Old cottonwood trees grow along Little Sand Creek as it cuts through sandstone benches. It’s a land of pronghorns, rattlesnakes, and prairie dogs, and it’s where Tubb lived with his wife and family before moving to town a few years ago.

Norm Houle is Tubb’s instructional partner. They hold the record for longest working team and most successful team in the NRA. Houle and Tubb have traded the National High Power title back and forth a few times, and they’ve shot against each other for the win. And, like Tubb, Houle was steeped in competitive shooting as a child.

“My dad was a high power man,” he says. “I got a BB gun when I was six years old, a .22 when I was eight, an AR when I was 10, an M14 when I was 12, and just went from there.”

Somehow, Houle seems as generous (and damn near as accurate) as Tubb. They’re pretty different—Houle being from Rhode Island and Tubb being a through-and-through Texas Panhandler—and they’re very good at what they do.  Sitting in the back seat of Tubb’s pickup, I felt like I could have charged my iPhone on the intellectual firepower sitting in front of me.

When groups come to train with Tubb, Houle lends a hand. Today, since Houle is in the front seat for the ride out the ranch, he gets to open and close gates.

RANGES UPON RANGES

The first range inside Tubb’s gate is the Crosswind Jump Range. Pairs of steel targets are spread out in a half-clock-face formation, each pair at 500 yards distance. Here, Tubb can shoot known-distance targets at any angle relative to the wind—from full value wind at 90 degrees, to zero value with a headwind or tailwind—and it’s where he proved, and continues to demonstrate, the vertical component to crosswind.

“It’s one thing to get it on paper,” Tubb says, “but when the guys come out here and shoot in the wind, that’s when they really understand it.”

Briefly, a right-to-left crosswind will elevate a bullet fired from a right-hand twist barrel. A left-to-right wind will drive the bullet downward. To prove this, Tubb had two of his rifles built to the same specifications but one with right-hand rifling, the other with left-hand rifling.

Tubb uses an asymmetrical scope reticle he designed to compensate for crosswind jump. He had two scopes made for him, and one of the reticles is reversed, reads backward through the lens. He and 2 others fired both guns at virtually the same time–one immediately after the other and recorded the results over 15 different testing occasions in 45 days.

It’s easy to say he was ahead of his time by drawing hard lines on crosswind jump, and he’ll gladly say that many aspects of his program have been (bubbled cant indicators, flat-wire buffer springs, etc.). But when he shows me an old European .30/40 Krag with an asymmetrical rear sight, it’s clear that precision shooters have known about the effects of rifling on bullet trajectory for some time.

There are about ten ranges on Tubb’s spread, and they’re continually being changed, added to, or moved. As we bounced over ruts in the road and eased the pickup across the prairie, he pointed out the variations and benefits of each range.

The KD High Power Range has a couple of three-sided lean-tos that keep a shooter out of the wind. The bullet, as it travels to targets better than a thousand yards away, is affected by the weather, while the shooter is not.

The R and R Range is named for two men who had trained out here and who died last summer in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan. The Race Range, where shooters race against each other to engage sets of four differently colored targets set up in cascading distances, is a good place to lose a case of beer to Tubb on a bet.

The ranges inter-finger and overlap in the draws and valleys. From any certain vantage point, you can see targets at a variety of distances scattered over the hills. Whenever we climbed out of the truck to admire one of the ranges, I’d see maybe four or five targets. With Tubb’s instruction, a couple dozen tiny specks hundreds of yards away would become clear.

“Guys say that sniper school was like getting a high school diploma,” Houle says, “and when they finish out here it is like getting their PhD for the shooting portion of their job.”

There are about 250 targets set up on Tubb’s ranch, and a lot of them are made by his son, Wyatt Tubb of Tubb Enterprises. There are targets on the crests of hills so spotters and shooters learn to rely less on dust signatures. There are targets below shooters and above shooters. There’s a four-wheel-drive, remote-controlled robot with a target on it. The robot is up-armored to handle .50-caliber rounds.

“You have to watch out for it because it’ll sure run you over,” Tubb says. “And it has been ridden.”

Through a brilliant stroke of farm-life resourcefulness, Tubb has come up with a way (which he won’t let me write about) to thermalize targets. And while every body loves shooting at night, some of the men who come here to train, come here to shoot reasonable distances in the dark.

Norm closes the last gate behind us as the sun sets on the Texas prairie. On the county road back to town, Tubb drives down the middle of the road, absolutely straddling the centerline. Norm doesn’t seem to care, I find it mildly amusing. Out here, Tubb is less worried about an oncoming car than he is running interference with a deer.

Tubb and Houle have a group coming to train the next day. They’ll shoot through a palate of 7.62/300 Win ammunition over the next week or so, and there will likely be a couple of cases of beer wagered. I tell Tubb that I’m grateful for his showing me around and taking the time to help me understand the mere fundamentals of what’s he’s spent his lifetime learning.

“At the end of the day,” he says, “it’s all about saving a life, right. That’s why we do this.”

David Tubb

Norm Houle


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