The Ultimate Firearms Destination for the Gun Lifestyle

Zeroed In: Daniel Horner, from the Army Marksmanship Unit to Team SIG SAUER

This article originally appeared in RECOIL Issue 41

IT’S WINDY AT THE TOP

From the Army Marksmanship Unit to Team SIG SAUER, Daniel Horner Aims to Dominate Multigun Competitions

Getting paid to shoot is one of those jobs that many would love to have, but only a rarified few get to actually experience. The sheer amount of will and determination it takes to put in the countless hours of practice, hundreds of thousands of rounds of ammunition, and competition entry fees is enough to dissuade most. But for those who make it, the world of competition can be lucrative.

Since the age of 6, Daniel Horner has studied the craft of firearms, traveling on an endless journey from student to master. From backyard squirrel hunting, to amateur matches, to the elite six-member Army Marksmanship Unit Action Team, where he racked up win after win in national-level multigun matches, Horner is just now starting to hit his stride. At only 31, with over 12 years on the AMU and almost eight of those as a coach, Horner recently left the Army and is now occupying a coveted spot on SIG SAUER’s professional shooting team. Some might say he has the world at his feet. Quiet, reserved, and with more than a bit of dry, sarcastic humor, Horner still weighs and measures his words as carefully as if he were preparing for one of his matches. It’s reflective of his meticulous nature.

We spoke to him recently while he was at his home in Georgia.

RECOIL:
You started shooting at age 6. What do you remember about those days?

Daniel Horner: My dad took me dove and duck hunting, so I started carrying a gun when I was 7. So my mom would give me a box of .22s, and our dog, my sister, and I would go out after school until basically dark. We’d hunt squirrels or do something shooting related. I had a gun in my hand truly my whole life.

Horner’s first TV interview with Michael Bane’s Shooting Gallery.

Horner’s first TV interview with Michael Bane’s Shooting Gallery.

Did you have any role models whom you looked up to and did you ever get to compete against them head-to-head?
DH: Yeah, when I was growing up it was Rob Leatham, Jerry Miculek, Todd Jarrett, and Jerry Barnhart, guys like that. Jerry Miculek was always the guy — he’s a very good person, very well respected, very professional, and he can shoot anything. So that’s what I wanted to be able to do — be able to pick up any gun and be competent.

Coming in after a successful duck hunt with his dog Chief. This was Chief’s last retrieve.

Coming in after a successful duck hunt with his dog Chief. This was Chief’s last retrieve.

Is there any one win in that period before joining the Army that meant the most to you?
DH: I won IDPA nationals when I was 16 and 17. I won it two years in a row. So I started competing basically when I was 13, and by 17 on won the nationals. I remember Rob Leatham pulling me off to the side and he kind of just encouraged me, which I really appreciated at the time because I’d never really talked to those guys, and he took the time to come over and say something.

In 2003 at the NC Recon Match. This was Horner’s first time competing in 3-gun; he was using borrowed guns and gear. 

In 2003 at the NC Recon Match. This was Horner’s first time competing in 3-gun; he was using borrowed guns and gear.

When you enlisted in the Army did you go in saying, “I want to be part of the AMU”?
DH: I did, but they came to me. I was already looking at options of joining the Army, and I decided I wanted to go the Special Forces route and try to go to that world. But by then, I had so much time, and my parents had so much invested in me, on the shooting thing that I went that route instead. I got a good opportunity.

So how does it differ from other jobs in the Army? Do you have to keep fighting for your position, or do you get rotated out?
DH: On the Action Team, once you get there, you have a gate of 80 percent. So, you’ve got to average 80 percent your first year, and then basically every year it goes up either 2.5 or 5 percent from there up to about 90 percent. So if you compete in a match, it’s that your score is 90 percent of the guy who won. It progresses up until you’re either winning, or right on the edge of winning, or you’re moved out. So it’s not that you’re fighting for your job every day. You’re not going to lose your job if you lose a match. You’ll lose your job if you lose a lot of matches or if you’re not putting forth the effort. It’s a very small team and professional people.

Shooting 314 yards from an alternate position on the way to win the 2016 Rocky Mountain 3-Gun Championships.

Shooting 314 yards from an alternate position on the way to win the 2016 Rocky Mountain 3-Gun Championships.

What did you do besides get ready for competitions and hoist trophies?
DH: The AMU Action Team was constantly training guys to prepare them to deploy. The reason that you win [competitions] is so that you have the credibility to train guys. Nobody wants to learn from the 10th place guy. Everybody wants to learn from the guy who wins. But it’s all bigger than winning a match. It’s for the purpose of helping a guy for when he actually needs to outperform his adversary.

So the competition reaffirms your expertise?
DH: It validates everything. It validates your equipment, it validates your training, it validates your mindset, and it validates your status. If you don’t keep score, it doesn’t matter. Everybody can talk about it, and you hear all the time: ‘I’m pretty good with a gun.’ Well, quantify that. ‘Pretty good’ means nothing.

Winning the 2015 3-Gun Nation Championships; Horner is a 4-time 3-Gun Nation Champion.

Winning the 2015 3-Gun Nation Championships; Horner is a 4-time 3-Gun Nation Champion.

As a teacher, there’s got to be common mistakes that you see.
DH: One of the biggest issues is people trying to buy success. The Army’s solution is ‘We’re going to buy a better widget, and that’s going to make our guys more effective.’ That’s great, but up until that point, put the money in the soldiers. Enable them. They’re smart guys, especially your sniper teams. They passed a very difficult school to get into the position that they’re at. Bring them to a higher level.

And the common mistake I see guys making is they want to fall back on the gear. They don’t want to go train. Successful people anywhere — they’re out there training when it’s raining and snowing and hard and windy. And that’s when you get good. Training is not practicing a skill. Training is practicing specific skills and getting better at them.

Winning the 2015 Mammoth Sniper Team Challenge with his wife, Candice. Horner previously won the same match three times in a row with AMU teammate, Tyler Payne.

Winning the 2015 Mammoth Sniper Team Challenge with his wife, Candice. Horner previously won the same match three times in a row with AMU teammate, Tyler Payne.

Did you see a profound influence of the AMU team on the Big Army?
DH: I’ve seen changes in small units. Most of the smaller units are very, very, very good at what they do. So when I go to train them, I tell them, ‘I’m not training you. I’m going to coach you. I’m going to give you a test of a certain skill. You run through it, and then I’m going to try to make you 3 percent better.’ Well, if you’re at 90 percent already, 3 percent is 30 percent of as far as you can go. That’s a good thing. Three percent for a guy that’s at 40 percent, that’s not a good improvement. So I see changes like that.

Typical dry-fire routine — do you have one or does it change based on whatever you’re training up for?
DH: I have a process that works well for me. If I’m prepping for a competition I’ll dry-fire, but I’ll do everything really slow, and it’s absolutely perfect. I don’t go more than about 10 to 15 minutes because I can’t pay attention anymore. If you really want to progress, do 15 minutes, put the gun down and go do something for 20, 30 minutes; come back, do it again. But while you’re doing it, do it well.

Do you have a coach?
DH: I have guys who I bounce stuff off of all the time. You can have the best coach in the world, but if he doesn’t care about you, he’s worthless, right? So I go to guys I know actually care about me before I go ask them for advice.

First shots at the new job with the P320 X5, which is Horner’s competition pistol.

First shots at the new job with the P320 X5, which is Horner’s competition pistol.

What’s the advice you’d give to someone who wants to join the Army and become part of the AMU?
DH: So if you want to be an AMU shooter — the number-one thing that I looked for was the character of the person and the work ethic. Because you’re going to come to a tryout and I already know how you shoot, right? I’m looking for ‘Are you going to quit? Are you going to fit in with the team? Do you work as hard as you can all the time?’

You want to summarize an action member? ‘A man that must be driven ain’t worth the driving’ and ‘Maximum effort all the time.’ If we’re shooting and training? Maximum effort. If we’re screwing off and playing? Maximum effort. So whatever you’re doing, do the best that you can do at all times.

Why did you choose to leave the Army, and how did you get the spot on Team SIG?
DH: I realized that I was in a groundhog year pattern, and I wanted to do something different. I either wanted to go to a different unit in the Army, or I wanted to go try something else. I started looking around and asking around and SIG approached me. SIG is without a doubt leading the industry right now. They’re by far the most innovative; they’ve got the most money in R&D enabling their engineers. Tom Taylor [SIG SAUER Chief Marketing Officer and Executive Vice President, Commercial Sales] came up and talked to me, and I’m like, ‘Yeah, why not?’

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SIG has had some PR challenges over the past few years, and the external optics can be harsh. How will you deal with that?
DH: So when I was in the Army, I’d call Robby Johnson frustrated about something somebody said or something. He’d always say, ‘It’s windy at top, man, windy at the top.’ When you’re up there, if no one cares about you, you’re not relevant to them. So if somebody takes the time to hate on you, at some point you affected their life, so you’re probably where you need to be. So SIG is there right now, and they’re going to be there for a long time because of all the money that they’ve been able to put into developing stuff. I can’t see anybody even coming close to them for the next five to 10 years.

You worked on the AMU team with Max Michel, another Team SIG shooter. Coincidence?
DH: I think Max and I worked together for four years. At the time it was me, Max Michel, Travis Tomasie, Robby Johnson, KC Eusebio, and Lee Dimaculangan as shooters. So at one point in time, five of the six of us were the current national champion or the International Sniper Competition champion. So we had a pretty good team back then. Max was always known as the best pistol shooter on the team. And then he left to go to SIG, and it was just kind of weird, because I don’t know if I ever talked to him about joining the team.

What’s going to be your first competition?
DH: The Fort Benning three-gun match. It was the last competition that I shot before I joined the Army. I ran it while I was in the Army, and now this will be my first competition after the Army. It’s kind of like going home.

How do you describe your gun collection? Are there any favorites in there?
DH: I enjoy having the exact right tool for the job. I like being able to go and get the exact right gun for whatever I’m doing. If it’s a little 10-inch suppressed rifle all the way up to a 28- inch barrel, 28 Nosler, and everything in between, I enjoy being able to go get exactly the right tool for the job.

Stock or tricked out? What’s the first modification that you’d make on any platform?
DH: The trigger, without a doubt. Gotta have a good trigger.

Daniel's EDC: Microtech L.U.D.T. Folder, Wallet, Keys, SIG P365 9mm with spare mag

Daniel’s EDC: Microtech L.U.D.T. Folder, Wallet, Keys, SIG P365 9mm with spare mag

Last question. You had the dream job in the Army. You’ve got the dream job with Team SIG. If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing? Driving an ice cream truck? Working in a cube?
DH: [Laughing] Trying to get here. I enjoy what I’ve grown to do. I’ve got the SIG thing going. I’m going to do military and civilian training courses. I’m going to have an online store, and I’m going to bring some products to market that I feel like needed to come out for a while. I’m bringing them out and will see if they can help some people.

dan with dogs.jpg changing wheel.jpg


Visit danielhorner.com
Horner’s athlete Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/DanielHornerOfficial/
Horner’s Instagram page https://www.instagram.com/daniel.horner3gun/

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