Student Highlight: From Tech Entrepreneur to Mountain Hunter

Here’s some great information from David Cantu:

I’m going to share my secret to making $100,000 in the precision shooting world. But before I do, I’ll share a quick story about me and my journey. I’m a tech industry entrepreneur. My brother and I started our company in 1996 and now have over 200 employees. Leading a company is a high-stakes game. When business gets intense, it’s difficult to pay attention to the things that really matter (family, physical & mental health), even outside office hours. Troubles have a way of consuming my thoughts.

I also have mild adult ADHD. That means my brain is constantly spinning a million miles an hour. It’s hard to switch gears. My family often jokes about my condition by saying, “The lights are on, but nobody’s home.” However, I view ADHD as the ‘gift’ of focus and use it to my advantage. I can solve difficult problems while others sleep. Since I cannot switch my brain off, I enjoy high-stakes activities requiring deep focus that take my thoughts away from day-to-day issues. When I get the opportunity to be completely focused and present, it’s absolute Zen.

Over a decade ago, a lifelong buddy of mine, who made his living playing soccer, returned to the US from the UK. He had me meet him at our local gun shop. To me, firearms were both frightening and fascinating. Within 5 minutes, I made my first purchase with a gentle nudge. I frequented the store so much; I’d become friends with the shop owner. My comfort with shooting grew along with my random collection. I was the embodiment of the adage, “A fool and his money are soon parted”?

My first bolt gun purchase came on the heels of reading “American Sniper.” I wish I was kidding and am embarrassed about my initial motivation. Nonetheless, I couldn’t resist purchasing the Military Spec 300 Win Mag Accuracy International rifle. I envisioned myself shooting flies at 1000 yards with ease. I also recall my deep feeling of disappointment during that first visit to the range. It took me nearly 80 rounds to get the rifle close to zero, and the groups looked as if a shotgun made them. I was confident that I purchased a lemon. I parked that rifle in the back of my safe, right next to all the other broken guns.

A few years later, my buddy returned from the UK after retiring. I wanted to get him a birthday experience we could enjoy together. We both still had aspirations of being proficient shooters, so I found a Magpul course that offered in-person classes in Yakima, Washington. We were both excited to get an opportunity to learn how to use our gear properly with instruction from Caylen Wojcik.

Upon arrival to the training facility, I watched grizzly-looking military and law enforcement officers moving pelican cases, backpacks, and ammo cans around like they were setting up for an assault, and the single-digit temperatures chilled me to the core. They looked badass.  On the other hand, I resembled napoleon dynamite in my ski gear and borrowed moon boots. Caylen welcomed us to the training tent and started the session by having each student introduce themselves and their reason for attending.  After hearing every professional’s job-related reasons, my buddy said, “I got tired of playing Call of Duty.” That comedic response got some good laughs, but our shooting at the 100-yard range was the funniest joke. We struggled to confirm our zero’s.

It was a humbling introduction to long-range shooting, but I had mild hypothermia and a fundamental understanding of marksmanship by the end of the course. I was using my rifle and getting impacts out to 1000 yards. Don’t ask me if I spotted all the hits.  The course opened my mind to what was possible and made a single point clear. It wasn’t the rifle that sucked; it was me. I also realized that I could have made a better-informed rifle purchase. The chassis didn’t fit my body, a second focal plane scope doesn’t work for holding wind (unless you’re at maximum magnification), and the caliber was beyond my current skill. It wasn’t the right gear to aid me in improving my fundamentals. I had to buy a better solution.

At this point in my journey, I would periodically find time to train. I could use a ballistic solver to predict impacts and practiced target transitions. I wanted to get better faster. Instead of seeking more training, I took a path that Caylen recommended avoiding. I purchased gear that promised to make me a better shooter, but I already had what I needed. To compound the costs, my son joined me in the sport. That often meant buying two of everything and burning twice the ammo.

While the costs doubled, this journey has brought my son and me closer together than I imagined. I get more conversation from him on the hour-long drives than any other time. I would make the decision to include him any time.

My hyperfocus on precision shooting increased. Practice with friends at the range was fun, but it lacked planning and was not helping me improve. I would blame my equipment for poor shooting. Many times, my poor performance would prompt yet another equipment purchase.  Eventually, I decided that it was time to take a different approach.

I ended up tracking Caylen down, and we worked out a training and mentorship program. Over several years, we’ve covered fundamentals, positional shooting, wind reading, and more. I transformed from knowing nothing about firearms to building custom rifles and reloading precision ammo. While I was still not where I wanted to be, I’d come a long way under his guidance.

The new skills I was learning often required investments in gear. From reloading presses, powders, scales, and dies for making ammunition to barrel vices and action wrenches for building rifles. My arsenal of equipment was growing while the space in my shop and gun safe quickly dwindled.

My son and I were training with the intent of applying what we’d learned at precision rifle matches and when hunting. From the backcountry hunting course to long-range training, we covered many skills and fired thousands of rounds. With each training, We improved as shooters but also continued to chase gear. If there was a ‘superior’ piece of equipment that promised to take my game to the next level, it was hard to resist.

The time had come to get past my fear of attending a rifle match and making these investments pay off. After talking to other precision rifle shooters, I knew it was going to be a humbling experience. I was gaining confidence, and my ego was not ready to be destroyed. When I finally attended a PRS match, I failed in epic proportion. I made numerous rookie mistakes. I started a stage with no rounds in a magazine, forgot to dial elevation, used too much scope magnification, and more. I was performing nowhere near my expectations until the last two stages. Stage results went from “Shooter, I have you down for zero” to cleaning one stage and dropping my final shot on the next. Those last match moments cemented my interest in continuing to compete. I just needed a few more pieces of gear the make me a better shooter, right?

Our adventures continued. A few months later, I witnessed my son get his first backcountry Mule Deer in the Blues. Ironically, he had never practiced the shot he was presented—an unsupported 70-yard standing attempt. While packing the meat out, I also learned how physical and rewarding backcountry hunts are. I was hooked. My son and I couldn’t wait for our next hunt. To be ready, the gear kept showing up, and the garage kept getting smaller. Backpacks, tents, GPS, boots, etc. All necessary to keep you safe, comfortable, looking cool, and capable of surviving on a hunt. 

To exercise my skills, I now attend about six club matches a year. I typically place in the top 10 and am inching higher. In my first match, I scored about 50% of the hits of the match-winner. Now I’m getting close to 85% and aiming for consistent top 5% finishes. My reality is that my performance still requires intense focus. Fundamentals don’t just happen, and I have to think through every shot. I’m nowhere near mastery and reaching that next performance level.

In my experience, ego-driven excuses are one of my most significant hindrances to progress. I battle to rationalize failures and often listen to others vocalize their excuses. I often hear explanations like, and my barrel is speeding up, the density altitude changed 500, the wind stopped, or my kestrel data is wrong. Everyone one of those thoughts goes through my mind too. It’s taken discipline to take ownership of misses and assess the root cause. 99% of the time, the root cause is me. Misses are not caused by equipment or gadgets I’m missing. I now know the most limiting factor in achieving perfection is me.

I’ve always believed you can’t buy fundamentals but relied on the tactic of buying forgiveness. I learned that lesson in my first course with Caylen.  I just didn’t put it into action. I chose what I thought was the faster way to improve results, which masked my deficiencies and delayed real progress.

That epiphany renewed my training focus. With mentorship from Caylen and Phil, I began a regimen that includes dry fire practice and the Modern Day Rifleman community drills. In addition, I’ve taken a more disciplined approach to fitness training and mindfulness. Applying the fundamentals and limiting myself to essential gear is “The Way.”

Are you waiting to hear how to make $100,000 in the precision rifle world? I hoped that title would get your interest, so now I’ll share the secret to getting that money. The trick to earning $100,000 is to disregard the advice from the two most capable riflemen in the industry. That’s right, ignore Caylen and Phil and start your journey with $200,000. Then all you have to do is buy $100,000 of stuff you don’t need. That’s how I started my journey, but it isn’t where my story is going to end. In hindsight, I was foolish to take the path of buying forgiveness.

I’m still a precision rifle gear head and a sucker for apparel, new reticles, low recoil calibers, etc. However, I’ve learned from my blunders. While I embellished the financial numbers to make a better title, I wish I had made better decisions.  So now, when I’m about to place an item in my shopping cart, I ask myself challenging questions. Why do I need this piece of equipment? Will this improve my fundamentals? If I do go down this rabbit hole, what are the unintended costs? (Example: a new caliber results in brass, powder, projectile, sizing dies, etc.) Essentially, I have the tools to reach a “no go” and move on.

I could write blogs for days on avoiding the pitfalls of the sport. If you’re just getting started, I’d be happy to share my experience and what I’d do differently. Why did I write this blog? I wanted to share something with this community because I want to best for us. Much I’ve what I’ve shared is quite embarrassing for me. However, I believe that sharing our experiences can help us all get better at this craft. 

I now believe the fastest route to improving is investing in the right equipment and training. This community has all the ingredients we need to improve. Online training, In-person classes, training tools, and a supportive community that are willing to share their experiences.

Now that I’ve exposed myself as a buyer of unnecessary gear, I have a favor to ask. When I die, please do not let my wife sell my guns for what I told her they cost!

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