Shooting out of a helicopter, digging your own grave, freeing yourself from handcuffs, picking locks to retrieve your hidden rifle gear… No, this is not a recent Jason Bourne movie; this is the world of Precision Rifle competition. Just when I thought I could not squeeze in another discipline of shooting, along came my introduction to the sport.
Also known as Tactical Rifle, Precision Rifle was something I could not resist, especially considering my current background of long range shooting. Instead of one known distance with one round at a time, I would be required to shoot at unknown long distance steel targets in timed stages. Throw in stages with platform obstacles and you have a 3-Gun match but using only long guns and including long-range shots. Add in ballistic tables, ranging targets and wind meters and you have a tech-geek’s dream come true. When was the last time a 3-Gun match let you shoot out of a helicopter?
Once thought to be more for veterans looking for something to keep the excitement going, it appeals to many civilian participants as well. Think big tactical backpacks, big rifles, big optics and big beards. I don’t have the beard, but I have the rest. How could I not get involved in a sport that allowed me to get another long-range rifle and lots of tactical gear?
Getting started in this game is not as easy as I had thought. It took me a while to find where and when the matches were. I found the forums to be very helpful for this. It also helps to know someone already competing and follow them to an event. My first match I showed up with borrowed everything. My backpack was a baby blue hiking pack, not exactly tactical. I learned quickly that accessories are your friends.
I also learned that being in good physical condition will make or break your day; Precision Rifle can be a game of endurance. Most matches send you out on miles of hilly terrain with all of your gear on you for the entire day, and some matches are 24 hours or more. The gear includes rifles, ammunition, accessories, food and water, and believe me it adds up. One can have 40-plus pounds on their back. It is not such a big deal once the filled backpack is on, but getting the pack on and off can send any back-pain sufferers through the roof.
Precision Rifle matches are held out in the middle of nowhere. Many stages and long distances are required and most shooting ranges do not offer the terrain. Competitions are held on private lands and ranches; most of which are not convenient to get to. Think “remote” then drive another hour and you’ll be there. So far the matches I have attended are for individual participants and set up with squads hiking to each stage. Matches such as the Kettle Falls Steel Challenge and the Competition-Dynamics Thunder Beast Team Challenge are team events. A team of two makes their way through the course in the best time. One shoots and one spots.
Similar to 3-Gun, there are about 10 shooters per squad. The best part is you don’t have to reset the stages! All of the targets are steel set out from 100 to 1,300 yards. There are even some occasional 1,700-yard bonus rounds. Bring your compass and navigation skills along, and get off your butt and start running hills and stairs. You will thank me later.
Moving targets and moving platforms can be featured stages. Most motion targets will be steel plates moving back and forth a three miles per hour. I have shot these at 100 to 500 yards out. I have fired rounds from a boom lift as it travels up and down. Of course, the most fun was shooting from a flying helicopter. The first year of the JC Steel match, a local Spokane, Wash. company called Inland Helicopters provided the best stage of the match. In about 30 seconds the crew had you in the chopper, harnessed in, headset on, rifle at the ready and off you flew. Only bolt-action rifles were allowed. You had to pray your harness had you locked in. One foot was set outside on the skid and you were leaning out. Targets were set around a hill side and the helicopter raced past with just enough time to engage, work the bolt and find the next target approaching. The targets were fairly close at about 100 yards and I learned that an offset red dot optic was much easier to use than a scope at this speed. This sport is not for the timid, but it will be the most fun you have ever had in any shooting competition.
I will warn you that this is not a cheap sport to start. You will find rifle set-ups that range in price from 2,000 to 10,000 dollars or more. My husband was able to get started with a Savage 10 FCP SR chambered in .308. Out of the box it came with a 20-MOA rail and fluted, threaded barrel, it only set him back 1,100 dollars. Alternatively, you may prefer an Accuracy International rig that will run you over 8,000 dollars. Now add on optics, a bi-pod and magazines. Next add accessories such as a backpack, ammo pouches, sand bags and more.
Bolt-action rifles are the most popular rifle format, but you are starting to see a few semi-autos out there as well. Just like the direct impingement versus gas piston debate, the argument of the accuracy of a bolt action versus a semi-auto will start a war. The semi-autos certainly have an advantage of speedy follow-up shots. I have second-guessed not using one after I have seen how much faster one can engage targets and get through stages. They are so fast some matches have banned them.
If you were to go the semi-auto route JP Enterprises has cornered the market. John Paul was one of the first to compete and bring great gear in to the 3-Gun world, and he knew he wanted to pursue the tactical side as well. Of course, he has the MR-10 bolt action, but you will see a few LRP-07 semi-autos for long range. Chambered in .308, 6.5 Creedmoor, .260 Rem. or .338 Fed. you have some great caliber options.
In the bolt-action category your caliber choice is even greater. I have seen many wildcat cartridges on the line but the most common caliber choices are 6.5 x284, .243, 6mm and 6.5 Creedmoors, some 7mil, 6XC, 6BR, and of course .308. The .308 is usually given its own category since there is a huge disadvantage compared to its flatter shooting cousins. I am one of those toughing it out with the high arcing bullet trajectory. I am shooting an H&H Precision action with a McCree Chassis and mounted with a Leupold Mk 6 scope with Horus reticle. The 24-inch Benchmark Barrel is chambered in .308. I know the caliber and I know the wind values of the .308. Besides, 6.5Gal is not as catchy a nickname as 30calgal.
The first thing I requested for Christmas last year was an Eberlestock backpack. My little blue one was not going to cut it anymore. The Gunslinger 2 model has an integral rifle scabbard in the front. This pocket is part of the backpack and keeps the pack steady as you walk. Their G3 Phantom model has the rifle pocket as a detachable piece and the pack seems to sway considerably more. The actual pack of the Phantom is bigger, but I still prefer the G2 in its stability.
I learned quickly that carrying large cartridges in plastic boxes takes up too much room in my pack. SageFlatsShooter.com has remedied this with the Ammo Pouch. A fabric pouch that holds up to 30 rounds side by side and can be rolled up like a burrito. They even thought outside of the box and offer colors other than coyote tan or multicam. My set of red pouches stands out inside my tan pack. The hunter orange and pink also might get you noticed, whether you like it or not.
Every stage of a match has several steel targets at random distances. You have time to range the targets and then you need to figure out your elevation settings for each distance. How do you keep track of all of this when under the time clock? Behold the wrist coach, or as I call it, an arm caddy. Made by Sunrisetacticalgear.com, the caddy fits over your clothing on your forearm. The inside and outside has plastic windows that you can write on and keep ballistic data underneath. With my grease pencil I can write my map of all targets with their distances on the plastic. I will note my elevation needed for my scope as well. As I shoot I can glance at my sleeve for the next target info and adjust my elevation or read my hold on my reticle. When done with the stage I erase all evidence and it is ready to record the next stage. Genius.
My most valuable accessory in this game is the Kestrel. I use the 4500NV AB, Applied Ballistics, model installed with the program by Brian Litz. Before you go to a match you will have to record every detail of your ammunition data, most people use a 100-yard zero. The meter will have recorded the conditions while zeroing as well. When you go to a match with different altitudes and weather the Kestrel will make note of it. When you have ranged your targets you enter the info in the Kestrel and it gives you the adjusted elevation for each shot. It will give you the wind hold off also. All of this information (the firing solution) can be written on your handy “arm caddy” we spoke of earlier. All of the work is done for you and quickly.
Associations and Matches
When starting out in this game it is a little difficult to figure out what matches there are. Because there is not an official tactical rifle association, you have to dig around on the forums for any information, but there are several groups that have started their own series of matches. There is also no classification system, yet each series has its own rules.
In 3-Gun if the match is not set in USPSA or 3-Gun Nation rules, then they are considered “Outlaw” matches. All of the precision rifle matches are Outlaw style. The safety rules are similar across the board, but each match director runs their match as they wish. I prefer this actually. From the stage designs and rifle categories to how the prize table is divvied up, it is all at the sole discretion of the organizer. If you don’t like it then don’t come back.
The Precision Rifle Series has stepped up and supports several matches across the country. The recent JC Steel Competition I mentioned is now part of this series. If you make your way through all of the PRS matches you will get to the season finale match in Texas at the end of September. PRS has updated their website and the match schedule is easy to navigate, and each has a link to register. I would say that so far PRS is the leading association in this sport, and I hope to see a PRS TV series soon.
Find out more about the Precision Rifle Series at precisionrifleseries.com.
A very popular forum, Snipershide.com, has its own series of matches. They are also considering organizing a classification system. Let the debates begin on that issue, but it could be a way to bring this sport into the main stream, and perhaps get the fame and prestige that 3-Gun Nation has. On Snipershide, you will find threads on most any matches across the country. I found a local northwest shooting group that keeps me updated on any local practices or matches. Snipershide holds the popular Snipershide Cup in May every year. By the time you read this article I will have competed in this match for the first time. Since the match is known to have about 100,000 dollars in prize table goods, this is worth the drive from Seattle to Denver. The 2014 Cup will be in a new location that is easier to get to, last year it was in the middle of Wyoming, hours from the nearest airport. Realizing that no one wants to work that hard just to get to a match, they have moved it closer to Denver and airport access.
Competition Dynamics is the group that organizes the crazy 24-Hour Sniper Adventure Challenge, as well as four other rigorous matches. I only say crazy because it something I am not sure I would participate in. The long 10-hours-in-one-day match is already tough. Now I have to stay up for 24 hours? No thanks, but I know many of you would love this kind of an event. The Competition Dynamics Thunder Beast Team Challenge is another sought after match. This is held at in amazing location; a private ranch turned range in Logan, N.M. The Competition Dynamics events are not for the faint of heart. I would only recommend them for advance shooters.
Find out more about the Competition Dynamics matches at http://competition-dynamics.com/events.
RIflesonly.com not only offers competition events but they have clinics on tactical rifle shooting for civilians, law enforcement, military and private security contractors. Based near Salt Lake City, Utah, they offer beginner to advanced tactical training. Also, don’t forget our friends Sageflatsshooter.com in Montana, who host classes and competitions. Sign me up!
By Anette Wachter. Originally published in the May 2014 issue of GunUp the Magazine.