#wononein2016

I’ve sat at my computer staring at a blank Word document for two days now trying to fully process the events of this past weekend and put them into words. For me, it’s all really simple. I set a goal at the beginning of the season with steps on how to accomplish that goal. I followed those steps and achieved my goal. No big deal. But I suppose there’s really more to the story, isn’t there?

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From L-R: Mr. Terry Cross, me, and Jake Vibbert. Photo credit: Conx Media

The very first large scale precision rifle match I ever signed up for was the NorCal Tactical Bolt Rifle Challenge at Sacramento Valley Shooting Center hosted by the NorCal Practical Precision Rifle Club over Memorial Day weekend in 2010. I was terrified of screwing up: of DQ’ing, of embarrassing my husband and my brother-in-law, of looking like a complete fool who had no place being on the range. Basically, I felt a strong fear of failing in front of strangers and friends. We’ve all felt that way at some point or another when we were first beginning in this sport. I didn’t have a rifle that was acceptable yet as the only one I owned was a .223 with a 1:12 varmint barrel. I borrowed my husband’s right-handed 20” .308 and brought along 200 rounds of 168 grain Federal Gold Medal Match ammunition… and about half the contents of the garage because I was under-prepared and didn’t know what I’d need. The picture below says it all. I didn’t quit. I didn’t cry. And I did my very best to prove that I belonged there. I was quiet and paid attention to the Range Officers instructions and I took lots of notes. And I shot like absolute garbage. I finished that match 58th out of 59 shooters. I was in awe of the talent the top 10 possessed to finish so strong when I thought every stage was challenging and downright hard at times. I wanted to finish that high in the standings someday.

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Nothing says “noob” quite like carrying everything you own to a rifle match.

The shooters in this sport have become a somewhat dysfunctional extended family to me, so I see a lot of them frequently at competitions and talk to more online. I guess what I mean by that is we all sort of keep up on each other’s shooting records. Last season my placements at matches started climbing and for the first time since 2012, I found myself qualified for the Precision Rifle Series Finale. That was the goal I’d set for myself that season: qualify by points, not by gender. I worked my ass off to make that happen. I let my OCD kick in to overdrive and everything. The wheels fell off a bit at the Finale, but I was still really proud of how I finished the 2015 season. On the way home from Tehachapi, my husband Tim and I got to talking about goals for the next season. The first thing out of my mouth was, “I’m going to win a match in 2016.” That might be where my good-natured trash-talking began.

I’ve said I was going to win the match at the last three I’ve shot; Bushnell Brawl, New Mexico Precision Rifleman’s Championship, and this one – the NorCal TBRC. I came really, really close in Texas at the Brawl, but finished one point shy and was totally good with the results. Now I know why. I had to go back to my roots to take home my first win at the place where the spark was first truly lit for me. Vinny Da Hook from Invincible Safes makes the trophies every time for NorCal. When I saw him at sight-in on Friday, he asked which one he should put my initials on. Now what do you think I said? Following true Ricky Bobby logic, “if you ain’t first, you’re last.”

On to match details as I’m sure many of you would prefer to hear about that rather than this touchy feely stuff. LOL! Friday was sight-in day along with a little DOPE gathering at 600, 800, and 1000 yards… in a downpour. Nothing a good ShamWow won’t wipe off, right? All of the shooters received hoodies from American Giant, who was the premier sponsor for the match. Good thing too because it was chilly on Friday! I have one from the 2014 TBRC and loved it so much due to the reinforced elbows that our club actually bought some with our club logo on them. The hoodie from this match is black so, you know, it’ll go with everything and will get tons of use. Thanks American Giant! Best swag in a match bag to date.

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Day 1 kicked off with the Pledge of Allegiance followed by a quick safety brief by Match Director, Justin Lagge. NorCal’s match was divided up into five sections: Lower Bay Steel, Upper Bay Steel, Short Range, Mid-Range, and Long Range. Alpha and Bravo squads headed to the steel bays, while Charlie and Delta headed out for some morning cardio on the short course and mid-range. The long range course of fire was left for Charlie and Delta squads to finish in the afternoon alternating shooting and pulling targets in the pits. The way NorCal sets up and runs their matches, all shooting starts at 0800 and is complete by 1500 and they have the timing down!

This was not my first time being placed on Alpha, but that didn’t make the names on the roster any less intimidating. I was squadded with some of the biggest names in the PRS! Once we arrived at the steel bays (actually, a rifle silhouette range), Alpha squad was split down the middle with 10 shooters going to the left to shoot three courses of fire and 10 shooters going to the right for the other three, essentially making us two smaller squads which sped things up considerably. Not only was I on Alpha, but my shooter number was “Alpha 1” so I knew I would be first up to shoot. No pressure, right?

Stage 1 – “Feed the Beast” didn’t say it was a holdover drill, but after looking at the time and the parameters, that’s what I used. I run a Vortex Razor Gen II with an EBR-2c reticle, so holdovers are pretty easy for me. Sometimes I’m even more accurate using them than dialing! On this stage you had two targets; a popper at 425 yards and a static popper at 220 yards. Rounds had to be manually fed, one at a time and shooters had to alternate between targets. The shooting position was standing or kneeling off a shooting bench with only your hand as rear support. I yanked one shot right, but otherwise hit everything. Good start to a match!

We used a brand new Dodge Ram pickup as a prop for the next stage loaned by Lasher’s Elk Grove Ram. Our whole squad was nervous about scratching, denting, or tearing it up! Oh, and it was a lefty stage! There are so few of them in matches that all three of the lefties on my half of Alpha squad noticed right away and conferred about a game plan for maximum stability and time management. The COF said you had 2 minutes to hit four JC Steel coyote targets ranging from 300 yards to 425 yards. A lot of us cleaned that stage, so the scores were pretty tight right out of the gate.

The rest of the stages on the lower bay were equally fun and challenging! PRS barricade skills stage, a 425 yard mover off a KUIU pack, and a dueling tree stage that had a twist. Shooters had 11 rounds and had to alternate between impacts on a dueling tree (425 yards) and impacts on a spinner target (220 yards). I was so close to spinning that spinner! One more round would’ve done it as it stuck up top and then fell backwards instead of forward. I don’t believe anyone actually received the extra 10 points for being able to spin that thing. It was very hard to do because if you missed a dueling tree target at all, there was just no way to keep the momentum going on that spinner.

We moved to the upper bay steel range in the late morning as the wind started to pick up. My Spartan built 6XC was shooting great and I was going in to the afternoon having only dropped two shots out of 49 taken. The upper bay was more challenging… A majority of the targets on the upper bay were between 330 yards and 550 yards. We started with a KYL at 550 yards with targets that gradually became smaller. I believe the smallest was around 3”. I’m also sure that target finished the match with no impacts on it. We shot the PRS skills stage chaos/holdover drill immediately afterwards. The rest of the upper bay had a variety of props to shoot off.  Car doors to shoot through, large pipes to navigate, tank traps, rooftops, and spools. All lots of fun but hard to walk away with a clean run on a stage. Once we’d finished shooting, we headed back to the pole barn to have some barbeque and wait for the other squads and day 1 scores. That’s when the buzz really happened. I knew I’d shot pretty consistent all day. I also know that TBRC is traditionally won on the steel bays because a good chunk of the points are there. I finished day one with 740 points, or 74 impacts. NorCal shooter and all-around badass Gustavo Carcacha was hot on my heels with 680 points with his strongest area, long range, coming up the next day. Like I mentioned before: no pressure.

Day 2 kicked off bright and early with paper movers at 100 and 200 yards, both off of props. I use the same lead on movers regardless of the distance and measure based off my first shot whether I need to increase or decrease my lead. I noticed I had a little too much lead at 100 yards and passed that info on to the group shooting after me. We had another short run and gun course off props at 200 yards after the movers and then we shot the stage we all couldn’t stop talking about.

They named it “Now You See It?” There was a popper placed behind an IPSC flag target. The flag was removed to reveal a spinner. The shooters had to shoot off a rooftop and impact the spinner to move it out of the way to reveal the popper. We each received 10 points per impact on the popper and half value for impacting the spinner. The Sin City Precision match director, Ty Frehner, and I both immediately said, “I’m so stealing that COF.”

After thanking all of the range officers, we headed up to the high power range for the mid-range evolution. The targets there were between 553 yards and 621 yards. There was a doghouse with curtains blocking your view, another stage that could only be described as Cross Fit-based, and a solid run-n-gun stage that is right in the AZ shooters wheelhouse with a good 100 yard run or so, shooting 10”-12” targets off of props in heavy mirage.

Our final evolution for the day was long range. Twelve rounds at 800 yards, twelve at 900 yards, and fifteen rounds at 1000 yards on paper. For those of us not from NorCal, that wind played some serious tricks. After those 39 rounds were sent downrange, it was all over but the crying. Back to the pole barn we went for a taco dinner, frosty cold beverages, and to await scores and the arbitration period.

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I have to include this… Jason Keim and I pulled targets for each other the first two years I shot NorCal TBRC (2010 and 2011). We both asked to score each others targets this year too. I hope Jeremy Bentham and Joe Hernandez understood how much it meant to both of us.

I’ve shot with just about every person on my squad in the past, so I don’t want to get to far here without thanking them. Shooters get wrapped up in their own heads and occasionally pressure gets to them and they blow their lead or placement from the day before. I had several of these guys pull me aside throughout day two and tell me to remember to breathe and just do my thing. This was especially appreciated after a couple of rough stages where I missed because the wind picked up or changed directions and I didn’t catch it in time.

Before the scores went up, Justin Lagge and Vu Pham (current and former MD’s for the match), asked to speak with me privately. I wasn’t 100% sure what they were going to say, so I was really hoping it wouldn’t be bad news. Vu, who I’ve been friends with since 2009, looked me in the eye and said something like, “so, how’s it feel to make history by becoming the first woman to win a practical precision rifle match?” I looked at both of them and said, without skipping a beat, “holy shit, really?” They assured me it wasn’t just by a little bit but by a considerable lead.

 

Do you have any idea how hard that news is to keep to yourself???? So, of course I didn’t. I told my husband immediately. The next person I told was my gunsmith, Marc Soulie from Spartan Precision Rifles, over the phone. He’s local to the area and only missed the match due to an unplanned family emergency. The scores were posted and arbitration began. That’s when my phone blew up. Jacob & Lisa Bynum from Rifles Only called me before the awards ceremony began to congratulate me. I’d been doing pretty well up holding it together until that point, but I sort of lost it on that phone call and got choked up. Thank goodness for Janae Frehner who saw me and reminded me that there’s “no crying in the PRS!”

Turns out I’d won two stage prizes as well as the overall; both on movers. Go figure. The 425 yard mover was 10 shots off the KUIU pack and I cleaned it in less than 31 seconds. The stage prize was the pack, so my husband scored himself an anniversary present (our wedding anniversary was the day after the match). I also won the 200 yard paper stage taking home $200 cash courtesy of Lasher’s Elk Grove Ram.

 

I cannot describe how ecstatic I am to have taken home one of the Publisher’s Clearinghouse sized checks for 1st place from the Precision Rifle Series. The award that Vinny put my initials on in sharpie marker went home with me as well. I picked up a beautiful 6mm Creedmoor donated by GA Precision off of the prize table. Even though I’d asked that it be kept private and really didn’t want people outside of my immediate need-to-know circle to know, my friends have big mouths, so what I did with the rifle is all over Facebook and the interwebs now. What I will say is we should all aspire to pay it forward a bit when we’ve been blessed with opportunities beyond our initial expectations. There’s nothing special in that. I just followed the examples of people I admire who came before me. That’s all.

Thank you to all of my sponsors for supporting me and helping me kick ass! Time to find a new hashtag I guess. My old one #winonein2016 is now retired. I’ve liked the suggestions offered up as a replacement by the way.

 

Rifle info: Defiance Deviant Tactical action chambered in 6mmXC by Marc Soulie at Spartan Precision Rifles. Timney Triggers left-handed Calvin Elite flat trigger, medium palma Hawk Hill Custom barrel, Blast Tamer muzzle brake, Vortex Razor Gen II scope with the EBR-2c reticle. I used a Manners Composite T4A stock at this match that was modified by Mr. Joe Ducos to fit my hand better but recently switched over to McMillan Group International. I use Sierra/DTAC bullets and Hodgdon 4350 powder with Norma brass and CCI 200 large rifle primers. My reloading sponsor is Butch’s Reloading.

Sponsors include: Spartan Precision Rifles, Defiance Machine, Vortex Optics, McMillan Group International, Voodoo Tactical, Rifles Only, Hawk Hill Custom, Timney Triggers, Butch’s Reloading, Original SWAT Boots, Patriot Cases, WieBad, Short Action Precision, Storm Tactical Databooks, Sierra Bullets, MGM Targets, and LightReact.

The professional looking photos are courtesy of Contingency X and ConX Media.

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This is how amazing the shooters in this sport are. This was Jake Vibbert’s idea and Mr. Terry Cross went along with it. Both made me laugh so hard my sides hurt. I’m deeply honored to share the podium with them both.
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The Kool-Aid Phenomenon (alright, my theory anyway)

Lately I’ve received a lot of questions about the caliber I shoot. I’m not exactly sure what has brought about the renewed interest, but I’m happy to answer questions about it! I’ve shot 6mmXC every year from 2011-2016 with the exception of one year. In 2014 I switched to a 6.5 Creedmoor that just never quite suited me. I thought the reason I wasn’t scoring more points was due to my tiny bullets not impacting steel hard enough. Turns out I was more than likely just missing. Halfway through the 2015 season, after having some really good scores and some not-so-good scores, I sat down and evaluated what I’d changed over the course of the years. Well, it turns out I’d changed a lot.

In 2012, I was 20th in the nation shooting a 6mmXC. I was also still pretty inexperienced, the Precision Rifle Series was in its infancy, and the field was still relatively small. In the two following years I couldn’t score well enough to qualify for the Finale. I really wanted to, but the field expanded, my training time dropped off due to my day job, and I started changing stuff. A lot of stuff as it turns out.

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I scored a red bullet for my top 25 finish in the inaugural year of the Precision Rifle Series.

Have you ever followed a thread on a forum or social media and thought, “ohhhh, that’s what I need to switch to for better scores!” Yeah, me too. Stop it. Stop it right now. While I’m sure there is some validity to improving your gear, there is much more benefit to practicing. The new caliber of the day isn’t going to move you from 98th to top 5, I promise. Knowing your rifle will help you move up though. Find a caliber you’re comfortable with and then learn it 100%. Doesn’t matter if it’s a .308 or a 6mmSuperWhizBangEveryoneIsTalkingAboutIt caliber. Know it. “Beware the man who only has one gun. He probably knows how to use it!” is an often used quote for a reason.

If you’re on a quest to follow the latest flavor of Tactical Kool-Aid, you’ll more likely end up with less money in your pocket which translates for me into less money for components that could’ve been used to shoot the caliber you’re already comfortable with! On the other hand, if you’re really considering moving from a .223 or a .308 into a faster caliber with a better ballistic coefficient bullet, by all means, read away on the forums. But consider another alternative: friends who already have the caliber you’d like to try out. You’re much more likely to get an honest assessment of a cartridge from a buddy you’ve shared beers with. You’re also much more likely to have the opportunity to get behind their rifle and try it out yourself.

I’m definitely not saying I haven’t chased a few flavors of the month/year/season. I have! But when it came back to what I needed to do to improve my shooting ability, the very last thing on the list was the caliber I was shooting. I needed more practice… Much more practice. I’ve dry-fired many more times than I’ve live-fired. I use a 6’ ladder in my backyard to simulate a barricade and dry-fire on a 1” dot on the other side of the yard. Or a lawn chair. Or a table turned on its side. A barricade is a barricade in my mind. I use a slightly larger dot to practice positional. Five minutes a day is all I devote because a very smart pistol shooter I know (my husband) taught me that fatigue breeds bad habits. The last thing any shooter needs is bad muscle memory!

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Taking on my nemesis: standing offhand.

I’m guessing the reason I’ve been receiving so many questions about 6mmXC is because so far I’m having a pretty good year shooting-wise. I don’t mind answering the questions and helping folks find a good starting load. But I would like for people to realize the reason I’m shooting well this year has little to do with the caliber I’m shooting (other than I usually know my DOPE without looking at a data program). I’ve stepped up my practice significantly and have been keeping a written log of those practice sessions. For the record, I also shoot a .308 pretty well and have won local matches with that rifle many times. My .308 is a solid backup rifle that saved me when my regular competition rifle went down unexpectedly (in 2013, my 6mm had some issues and I didn’t trust it in the match I was getting ready to shoot. I used my .308 and landed in the top 20 – one of my better finishes that season).

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The magic Wonder Woman notebook! More than just packing lists are logged in here.

There are amazing projectiles on the market right now for lots of different calibers. Shoot what you know works for you and your rifle. I switched back to Sierra 115DTAC’s in the middle of last season. They work better for me and my rifle combination than any other bullet. Does that mean they’ll work for you? Who knows, maybe? Maybe not. Maybe you and your rifle will prefer Bergers or Nosler or Barnes. But when you find the right combination for you, stick with it. Barrels and actions and scopes are the same way. Find what works best for you! Personally, I’m all about Hawk Hill barrels, Defiance actions, and Vortex scopes (shameless plug). Find what works for YOU though. And never trust the opinion of a typer sniper over your own experience.

Two important things to remember in shooting: be safe and have fun! If you aren’t safe, you’re not going to have fun and if you aren’t having fun, why the heck are you out there??? Below are some pictures from the New Mexico Precision Rifleman (and women’s) Championship, because what better way to show how much fun I have shooting than through photographs! (disclaimer: not all are flattering, but I don’t care. It ain’t a beauty contest. It’s a rifle match.)

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