Between the two precision rifle competition organizations, the PRS and NRL, there are a lot of matches. A lot. This season alone the Precision Rifle Series has 42 matches listed on their website. The National Rifle League is in their second year but they’re about the same level of growth the PRS was around the same time frame with 13 matches on their calendar. Here’s my question to you, dear reader, who’s running the stages at these competitions?
Obviously every match has different needs, but there seems to be a common theme over the last couple of years: the need for range officers. Matches don’t run without them. Have you ever wondered what the level of experience is with a range officer? Have you seen a more experienced shooter or shooters bully a range officer because they didn’t know anything about them? I’m sure you’ve all had hits that weren’t called and you blamed it on poorly experienced ROs. What about a confusing stage brief? Or inconsistently ran stages? How about being concerned about safety with some competitors flagging everyone with their muzzles? I have a suggestion as a fix to all of these problems and more. Volunteer. That’s right. You. One of the biggest complaints I hear at matches is about inexperienced range officers. At least they volunteered. Imagine how great the shot calls would be and how consistent the commands would be if every regularly competing shooter in the country took one match off and got behind glass or a timer for the weekend.
Range Officers goofing off
Multiple spotters leads to less arguments over scores
Personally, I don’t mind taking a match off. I shoot a lot more than most, so sitting out one match most likely isn’t going to affect my overall end of the year stats and it keeps me involved without my getting burnt out. Plus, it’s truly educational. I’ve ran stages with 150 competitors and seen 150 different ways to solve the stage. I’ve also seen some horrible trigger presses, bad positions, poorly thought out planning, magnificent reloads on the fly, impressive hits in tricky winds, pillow forts, stripped down gear, and brilliant time management. All of that has made me a better shooter. Honestly. I learned how to read mirage by working a spotting scope at a 2-day match. I’ve watched shooters far better than I am shoot stages much more efficiently than I thought possible. I’ve also been able to drop some advice and help new shooters just getting their bearings in a big match.
A staple at Rifles Only, Lindy Sisk on the mover line.
So why doesn’t everyone volunteer for one match? Some say it’s too hard to get to a match to help out. If you have a range you routinely attend club matches at, and most of us do, that would be a great place to volunteer. Yeah, it sucks that you’d lose a little bit of “home field advantage,” but you’d also be the best person to help out those new to the facility. It costs a lot to get to a match is another common complaint. There are matches out there with MD’s paying for lodging and food for their staff. We never used to even consider doing that in the Southwest. You’ll lose a chance at precious series points. Okay, you’ve got me there. I don’t have a good answer to that one. I try to RO at least one match a year and when the match is over, I’m positive I’d have won the match even though I’ve usually only seen the stages I’m running.
Don’t piss off Nate if he’s spotting for you.
Perhaps we should think of it as community service. If you have other ways you’re giving back, like taking on the huge responsibility of being a match director or hosting free clinics where you train newer shooters in your area, then I’d give you a pass. If, however, you’re one of those guys or gals who constantly shoots and never volunteers, then this little blog is directed at you. Leave your rifle at home for the weekend. Let someone else get some points. You’ll still being kicking ass at every match you do go to. As an added bonus, ROing with a hangover can actually be helpful with remaining strict. You’ll be free to talk as much smack as you’d like. You can finally yell “IMPACT” at the top of your lungs. Giving bad news (“sorry bro, I’ve got you down for a zero…”) won’t make people hate you. On the other hand, you could make someone’s weekend (“Great job! You’re the first clean run on my stage!”). If you’re really lucky, someone will thank you and possibly bring you Snickers or a soda. The best parts about ROing? There’s less stress, you usually have shade the entire time, MD’s might let you actually design the stage you’re running, and you can bring your own cooler with cold beer tucked down in the bottom to crack open immediately after the last shooter on the last squad of the day finishes.
NM has had IPSC and IDPA volunteers to help at their PRS match
Match Directors Lives Matter, man… Seriously, look at before and after pictures of the them. It’s like looking at pictures of presidents. Full head of colored locks to shock white or practically bald. Shocking really. They need YOU to help out. Okay, actually TPRC doesn’t. At least right now we don’t. Somehow our Arizona match has a lot of volunteers. Lucky us. We have a club of bad asses. And we might have told them all that they’d learn a ton watching the rest of you shoot.
Morning safety brief where Tim reinforced our 1st rule: Don’t Do Dumb Stuff!
I tag sponsors in a lot of my posts but I don’t really break down what I use or why I use it very often. Since I’m super-duper behind on posting on my blog (I have about nine or so half written articles that I’ve been trying to find time to finish), breaking down my rifle might be a great place to start. I should add that I’m not sponsored by all of these companies, but I do trust all of these products. If I won the lottery and didn’t need sponsors, these would still be the products I’d be running.
Let’s start with my gun guru. My brother from another mother, Mr. Marc Soulie at Spartan Precision Rifles who is, in my opinion the best in the business. Who else would field calls from anxious shooters, calm them down, and talk sense into them regardless of the time of day? Oh, and when he’s not talking shooters down or diagnosing from afar, he’s building great rifles. I met Marc in 2010 but knew who he was because a majority of the guys and gals from NorCal had rifles built by him. I won a certificate off the prize table at the NorCal TBRC in 2011 and he’s been one of my most trusted advisors ever since. Not too long ago he purchased a CNC for his shop. He’s been making bottom metal and muzzle brakes on that CNC because much like all the shooters in this sport, he also has a touch of wildly out of control perfectionism. I appreciate that he still spends hours on a manual lathe spinning up barrels one at a time and that he’s willing to teach me how to do what he does as well. One of these days I’ll catch on and learn his methods. In the meantime, anything he’s built for me from .223’s to .308’s to 6.5 Creedmoor’s, to my army of 6XC’s have all shot lights out and definitely outperform my ability. There have been so many late-night conversations about what I could do with another caliber/action/barrel combo that I’ve honestly lost track. He’s an avid hunter and fisherman, so I trust him building not only my competition and training rigs, but also anything I’d need should I finally be fortunate enough to be drawn for a hunt in Arizona or wealthy enough to hunt elsewhere.
My bad ass gunsmith
This is how good his rifles are: 5 round group at 100 yd in 90 degrees and heavy mirage.
So what do I put these one-hole grouping rifles in? Well, I’ve shot for McMillan Stocks for a couple of years. As luck would have it, I signed on with McMillan shortly after absolutely falling head over heels in love with a KMW stock I bought second-hand. Turns out McMillan makes the fiberglass Sentinel stocks for Mr. Terry Cross so I’m not cheating on McMillan when I run one in a competition. Here’s why I like the Sentinel so much: with zero modifications, it fits my hand. I can consistently get my hand in a position that allows my trigger finger to be 90 degrees without any undue pressure on the rest of my hand. In the past I’ve built the palm swell up on a few of my stocks to do exactly what the KMW already does. Those NorCal guys who told me I needed to try one out were 100% correct. My only regret is that I wish it hadn’t taken me five years to get around to following their advice. The one you’ve probably seen me using in pictures this year is gray, blue, and white. It’s inletted and bedded for a Defiance Deviant action with an MTU barrel contour. I believe it’s an early enough version that it doesn’t have Terry’s integrated mounting block in it like my newer one does. The MTU contour will allow me to use just about whatever barrel contour I decide to use although I tend to lean towards medium palma’s. There were a few extra spacers in the back end but I took them out to shorten my length of pull. All this time I thought I had a pretty standard LOP, but despite being 5’9”, my LOP is 13” instead of 13.5”. If I’m not running a KMW Sentinel, then I’m using either a McMillan A3-5 (I have two: one is the American flag paint job that Wes Rolan did for me and the other is the gray stock that my Vudoo Gunworks .22lr is in) or an A-6. The A3-5 is a combination of the A-3 and the A-5. In other words, it has the thinner forend of the A-3 but the beefier back end and butt hook of the A-5. I chose it after deciding the A-5 fit was a bit too bulky for me. My A-6 is being built right now so I don’t have an opinion on it yet, but as soon as I do, I’m sure you’ll all hear about it. I chose the “PRS” version of the A-6 to see if I like the buttstock without the butt hook. I’ve never run a stock without one, so it’ll be an interesting experiment.
For those of you who’ve watched me over the last few years, you’ll know what’s coming next. Custom actions. After a year where I tried something new, I’m back to using my Defiance Deviant Tactical actions full time. I have three of them with a fourth one on order, so they must be doing something right. Perhaps being left handed has made me much more finicky. For the amount of coin we spend on custom actions, it’s a relief when out of the box they’re slick as can be and ready to shoot. My Defiance medium actions (Rem700 short action footprint) come with the AW cut, so my obsession with them has been reignited. Being able to use them full time again makes me so giddy I can’t even fully explain it. Then again, I bought my car based on a minor detail, so maybe I’m just a little off. If you’re going to spend money on a custom action, consider an action that is a one-piece. Integral lug, 20 MOA rail, the whole bit. You’ll have less things on your rifle that will shake loose, which I promise will mean less headaches down the line when your rifle is shooting well and you want to blame your scope (the blame always seems to go to the scope first for some reason). Last September when Impact Precision was taking preorders for left handed actions, Tim ordered one for me. After trying out Doug Moore’s Impact before the PRS Finale last year, I was glad we’d placed an order. The Impacts feel like they’ve already been broken in, come with two trigger hangers, and once I convince Tate Streater that an AW cut isn’t the devil’s work, I’m sure I’ll be super happy with it as well. I recently picked up a second-hand KMW that’s already cut for the trigger hanger in the Impact so I’ll finally be able to see how she shoots! (All of my rifles are ladies and yes, they all have names.)
What about triggers? I’m sponsored by Timney, and to be perfectly honest once I started using them I haven’t been tempted to try anything else. Could be because I do my best to sweet talk Calvin when I need a trigger build or the pull weight lightened. Could also be because they’re about 45 minutes from my house. I love the flat triggers and prefer single stage triggers to two stage triggers and most likely always will. My brain can’t wrap around the first stage of a two-stage trigger. It feels like slack to me and I dislike it almost as much as I dislike negative point value stages. My first trigger upgrade was from a factory Remington trigger to a Timney 518 set at 3 pounds. A 3-pound trigger sounds ridiculously heavy to me now, but at the time it was light as a feather and I was terrified I’d bump it and fire a round earning myself a match DQ. Currently I’m using a Calvin Elite 520 flat trigger set around 12 ounces. Also, have I mentioned that I adore Calvin? Adjusting the pull weight doesn’t seem like it would be that big of a deal, but I’ll always ask him to adjust it for me if he’s available. Call it local favoritism if you want. At least I know it’ll be done correctly. I even have a Calvin Elite in my Vudoo Gunworks .22lr so it matches my competition rifles in stock, trigger set up, and pull weight.
I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Shawn Burkholder of Hawk Hill Custom in August of 2015 and on a handshake deal after telling him how impressed I was with the medium palma I’d bought, I started shooting for him. Personally, I love small shops because you actually get to know the people building your components. Before any barrel ships to me, Brix Brixner sends me a picture of the head stamp. I joke that Vicki Burkholder sprinkles unicorn dust in the box when she’s shipping them out. Brix and Shawn both shoot competitively and I believe that attention to detail is what makes them the perfectionists I want creating my barrels. They’re good people who make a quality product and I’m sure that’s why so many people in the sport use their barrels.
At the end of the 2014 Precision Rifle Series season I decided to try a different optic than the one I had been using. I spoke with a few people I trusted about which of my three choices they thought I should go with should I decide to purchase a new scope. I was told unanimously to check out the Vortex Razor Gen II. I’d been hearing a lot about this scope as I think the Gen II had just come out earlier that year. I’ll admit I was nervous about the tree in the EBR-2C but after playing with it a bit, I realized I didn’t notice it until I actually needed to use it. Using that tree has sold me on similar reticles in the future. Holdovers and hold-unders are relatively easy and for a person who doesn’t math well, that’s saying a lot. I’ve only really ever dealt with Scott Parks at Vortex. We’ve known each other for years and he actually predicted the national level matches I would win before they happened. Having support like that is amazing. I can say with confidence that I’ll be with Vortex for as long as Scott is there. And before anyone says anything about the Gen II being heavy, all I can say is “really?” We run around with heavy rifles all the time. Lately the trend has been to go heavier. Welcome to the party. My rifles weigh around 17 lbs so I guess I don’t notice.
I recently restarted using American Precision Arms Fat Bastard brakes again. I’ve had one on my .308 forever and it tamed it down to feeling like a .223 so I figured it might make my 6XC feel like my .22lr. APA is another small company that treats customers like family. Seriously. Jered Joplin loaned me his fancy (and super warm) gloves when I shot CORE in March. I’m not sure if I shot better because of the magic he put on his gloves or because I could once again feel my fingers but I bought a pair of my own when I got home from that match.
Ammo…. The neverending topic on chat groups around the world. I started shooting a 6XC in 2011 after I burnt a .243 out in less than 1400 rounds. I’ve tried other bullets in my 6XC’s but always came back to Sierra Bullets 115 DTACs available through David Tubb’s Superior Shooting Systems. I currently use the coated rebated boat tail design with Hodgdon 4350 powder, CCI200 primers, and Norma brass. I prefer the DTACs because I haven’t found them to be as picky as other 6mm bullets when it comes to velocity or seating depth. I use Butch’s Reloading when I’m looking for components like powder and primers. I might be a bit of a hoarder because I start asking a while before I’m totally out of a component. For a few years I ran the exact same load in barrel after barrel. My current load uses slightly more powder but is otherwise the same. The best reloading advice I ever heard was to find one cartridge that works for you and stick with it. Sure, I own a .223 and a .308, but I rarely load for those because they’re used for practice and not normally in a competition setting. My true love is my 6mm though. I’m currently debating switching brass and giving Alpha Munitions small primer 6XC brass a try. We’ve covered reloads, but another popular question is about the ammunition I use for practice. I’d rather stick to dry fire than use ammunition that can’t mirror the accuracy of my reloads, even if it’s only out to 600 yards or so. Because of this, I jumped on the opportunity to represent PRIME ammunition this season. I’m in the reloading room enough making 6XC loads. The time I’ve saved by using factory PRIME 77gr .223 ammunition has been invaluable. After burning through most of my husband’s 9mm stash over the last couple of years trying to improve my pistol game, he was more thankful than I was that PRIME gives me an affordable price on pistol ammunition. If you’re going to chronograph your ammo, I’d recommend buying a MagentoSpeed. They support the precision rifle shooting sports heavily and their products are easy to use. Plus, if you ever have a problem with one, Ryan Hey loves to help solve problems!
Like almost all competition shooters, I have a plethora of support gear. I used to go overboard on my collecting. I’ve since downsized dramatically. I use a Mini-Tobago pack from Voodoo Tactical because it has limited space so I can’t just keep hoarding bags/pens/data cards like a crazy person. The pack has separate pockets along the sides and front so it also helps keep me organized. I have an entire box of shooting bags that I’ve collected over the last eight years. The ones that see the most consistent use are the Mini-Fortune Cookie, the full-sized Fortune Cookie, and Modular Pump Pillow from WieBad. Out of the three the Mini-FC sees more use than all of my other bags combined because I can use it for so much. I prefer the rounded edges on the FC to some of the other bags out there and the non-skid surface on one side is helpful on props or under the forend of my rifle stock. I have a super simple to use carbine sling that I picked up from Rifles Only. It’s hard for me to screw this sling up because there’s only one pull tab on it. I’m pretty sure I put the bungee to work every time I use the sling because I use it on barricades and positional shots quite a bit. It’s not just for carrying your rifle from stage to stage! If you happen to have a chance to make it to Rifles Only for a class, you’ll learn a ton and will be taught how to correct all the things you didn’t know you’ve been doing wrong. That’s first hand experience talking.
Brix’s fave pic of my jersey. LOL
PC: John Fillman
Really Right Stuff SOAR has an entire line of tripods and accessories that are sought after in our sport. I have and use a TVC-33 tripod with the leveling base (TA-3-LC-HK) and VYCE equipment support mount. Eventually I’ll upgrade my leveling base to RRS’s new Anvil-30 ballhead. I was able to play with Anvil at the SHOT show in January and decided I absolutely have to have one. The Anvil has more tilt available than my leveling base and pans so smoothly I’m positive I could clean mover stages off of one. Guess we’ll see once I buy one. I recently switched over to the RRS Harris clamp adaptor with the SOAR lever for my Harris bipods so I can use a Picatinny rail and be like the cool kids who drop their mags halfway through a stage when they realize it’s getting in the way. So far I’m really digging it and will most likely end up getting another one for my backup bipod.
Traveling to and from matches is always a borderline harrowing ordeal. Will TSA finally damage something really expensive? So far, I’ve gotten lucky. I believe a lot of that luck falls on the rifle case I use. I actually begged Brack Wilson at Patriot Cases to sponsor me. He requested a drawing of what I wanted inside a rifle case (rifle, two magazines, two 50-round boxes of ammo, some cleaning supplies) and he sent me back a laser etched insert that fits my rifle like a glove. That rifle case has been dropped more times than I can count just by me let alone TSA and baggage handlers and my rifle has yet to have a zero shift because of it.
The velcro you see on all of my stocks serves a purpose. The patch on the left side of my stock is for a Short Action Precision 2-Round Holder. It’s saved my behind on more than one occasion and I highly recommend you have one. If you see a patch on the right side of my stock like the one below, it’s for a Sidewinder from Sidewinder Industries. Lately I’ve been using the Python more than the Sidewinder, but they both serve the same purpose: keep your DOPE where you can see it while you’re shooting so you don’t have to take your head off your stock.
The last two I’ll mention are GeoBallistics and Grunt Style. Paul Reid got me hooked on GeoBallistics shortly after BallisticArc came on the market. I compared BallisticArc and the other program I’d been using side by side for six months and didn’t see any noticeable difference in the data. Then BallisticArc added the comp mode and the ability to load save-able range cards and I was hooked. I’m currently using a Kestrel for weather data and linking it to my iPhone BallisticArc program. Grunt Style… what can I say? Who doesn’t like their shirts and ads and people? Mostly I think I just bug Joe Caley until he sends me a couple of shirts to keep me quiet for a while. I owe that man at least a few cases of his favorite 23-flavored beverage. One of these days I’m hoping I’ll make it on to their shooting team because they’re all great people.
I honestly am friends with all of these people and use their products because I believe in them and trust them. Sometimes I think people look at “sponsored shooters” as folks who only talk about products they’ve been given for free or at a discount. Like somehow the faith a person has in a product means more because someone paid full price for the same item. I’ve also had people say derogatory things to me about being sponsored. No one in life gets a full ride all the time and there’s a lot of other work involved. When I’m not at my full-time job, I’m at the range or reloading or interacting with people on social media. I try to answer all the questions I get through Facebook and Instagram as quickly as I get them and I do my very best to represent the companies who’ve agreed to let me do so. I didn’t think I could be long winded about my gear, yet here it all is in black and white. Hope this answers some questions and fingers crossed that my friends Morgan and Ryan didn’t just say, “TL;DR” and bail after checking out the pictures.
In 2013, I shot a match in Frost, Texas called the “Lone Star Challenge.” That match was ran by the O.G.’s of the PRS, Kevin Elpers and Rich Emmons. I finished somewhere near the bottom after coming down with a wicked stomach bug that almost made me quit (I’m too tough for that and my coach/husband advised me to stick it out). I’ve wanted redemption for years but I was also actually afraid of having a repeat performance. I’m sure we’ve all been there before. Fell on your face, left humiliated thinking every one noticed only to find out the only person who noticed was the one looking back at you in the mirror. But I digress.
The BushnellLone Star Challenge is not related to the one I shot in 2013 that was sponsored by Vortex if memory serves, but the name is the same. In my mind, that’s close enough to count as a rematch for my rifle and me. I rode to the match from Dallas with my husband Tim, our teammate Paul Reid, and my bestie Steph. Naturally, we chatted quite a bit about what we were expecting as we made our way to the Lone Star Armory training facility about 30 minutes outside of Glen Rose, Texas. We figured with two seasoned shooters at the helm, Geordie Richardson and Cory West, that this match would be a lot of fun with a balanced mix of positional and prone shooting.
After arriving at the Lone Star Armory training facility, we checked in at the registration table near a couple of fun looking props: the net and the rooftop. Intrigued, I really wanted to play on the net, but behaved myself so we could get instructions on sighting in as well as what targets we could shoot and which props we could use for some dry fire practice. Sight in went quickly. My Surgeon rifle was naturally perfectly zeroed despite the best efforts of the baggage handlers at both Phoenix Sky Harbor and Dallas Love Field. I use a Patriot Cases hard rifle case when I travel, so at least one of my magazines, some ammunition, and my rifle are safely snug as a bug in the laser etched insulation cut to my rifle’s specs.
There weren’t many props that appeared foreign to our little group. A shoot house with window ports, stacks of tires, a barricade. All fun things to shoot off! I spent a couple of hours walking through the props, discussing with other competitors what the targets would be and how the course of fire would be set up; basically, trying to read the minds of the match directors. After Paul, Steph, Tim, and I were done, we headed back to the registration table to retrieve our match books. Steph and I spent the ride to the hotel dissecting the match book, and discussed the best strategy for each course of fire.
Shooting off a strap from a helo frame
Mock helo shoot
After a good night’s rest, all the competitors and range officers gathered for the safety briefing Saturday morning. I was in squad 5 (#bestsquadever) and first up for us was Stage 10: The Helicopter. I don’t know if anyone else would agree with me, but I loved this stage. Our target was 500 yards away and was to be engaged with nine rounds. The first three were off the top rail of the Conex. The next sets of three were from inside the helicopter body; three from the front seat off a strap, and three from the back seat off another strap. I could tell this would be a lefty-friendly stage by the way the target was positioned from the body of the helicopter. The match directors let us use whatever gear we wanted, so I opted for a Rifles Only carbine sling and a WieBad fortune cookie bag. I used the combination of the fortune cookie and sling for the first position, but left the bag as I transitioned to the front seat. I ended up having the first clean run of the day on that stage and hoped that would be a good omen for the match.
Squad 5’s next couple of stages were prone. First was a stage with eight JC Steel prairie dog targets between 210 yards and 450 yards. A test your limits stage with target arrays at two different distances was next up. After the two prone stages, we moved over to set of tires with three tiers. From each tier, the shooter had to engage the targets with one shot each, so two rounds per position. This is about when the tricky wind shifts started for us on day one. A slight increase or decline of one mph or change in direction was enough for some of us to miss from one shot to the next.
After some more prone stages (one being the stage with the farthest targets no one wanted to talk about afterwards), we made the trek to the front of the range where we saw the net a day prior. As much as we all wanted to shoot from the net, that would come later. Next up for our squad was a rooftop. The targets were close and generous (230 yards and 320 yards), but there were three positions to move through. This applied to both the rooftop and the net stage as the targets were the same and our whole squad used the same approach utilizing holdovers. My holdover was about as perfect as you can get: .5 MILs. I dialed .5 for the closest target and held over .5 for the second. At each position, the targets were engaged near-far-near.
Our squads next stage was a course of fire even Jacob Bynum would love: engaging a 615-yard target from a Conex rail. I don’t know what went through my head before I shot this stage, but I decided to try something different. Normally, I’d have used just a small rear bag and a sling, but after watching Jake Vibbert easily clean the stage, I chose to follow his lead and use a table top tripod as a rear support. This did not go as I’d planned. Here’s a quick pro-tip: never try something new and untested at a national level match. It never works as well as you think it will. This lesson seems to be one I need to continually learn as I find myself trying something new about every other competition. On the plus side, I was reminded to add “work with a tripod” to my practice list.
At least I looked good… Too bad I was completely unstable trying something new at a match
We had two more positional stages (the PRS barricade drill followed by a stage that featured movement and modified prone positions) followed by a trip back up to the tower for two more prone stages including a rematch with long range targets. The wind seemed to have settled a bit compared to how switchy it was earlier which allowed most of us to have slightly higher scores on the second run. My friend Steph even quadrupled her earlier stage score! Our last stage of the day was a PRS holdover stage that required a magazine change and had targets at 310 yards, 410 yards, and 500 yards.
With 12 stages done for the day, we were all exhausted, but decided to try out a restaurant in Glen Rose on the recommendation of Geordie Richardson. Apparently Steph was earning extra credit because she’d arranged a surprise birthday party for me! The food at Hollywood & Vine was good, but the company was even better. A good portion of the match was at the restaurant so we all hung out and listened to the band while trading stories of the days shooting. I was truly touched by some of the lovely presents my friends got me including a package of pork sausage and gravy MRE’s and morale patches. Who doesn’t need more morale patches, after all. Steph and her daughter Piper (“Piper the Sniper”) gave me a B-Tactical camo hat with Pipe’s signature! Not sure I can bring myself to wear such a prize item, so it’s going to sit near my trophy shelf at home.
On to day two: eight stages left over and we were all ready to tear it up! Our first stage of day two was the cargo net. I was so ready for this one! I had my plan down: start on the side of the net that made it the easiest for me to move my gear from position to position (there were three). This meant I would be beginning the stage where the right-handed shooters were ending. The targets were engaged near-far-near, so just as the day before, my whole squad used holdovers. I loved this stage and not just because I cleaned it. As a squad we were cheering each other on and giving advise beforehand about what gear we should use along with how to bring it up to the top of the obstacle.
A prone stage followed with easy to spot targets and a slight breeze that switched directions between shooters. Always a good time for the next up on the line. After this troop line stage, we moved over to the “Big Tire.” Now, the targets weren’t that far (567 yards) or that small, but man did some of us struggle with this one! The course of fire directed the shooter to start on their strong side and engage each of the two targets with one shot off the side of the huge tire stack. Then the shooter moved to the rear of the tire pile and did the same thing. Support side was used for the next two shots off the final side of the tire. After those shots, the shooter moved back to their starting position, engaging the targets once again from the rear and side of the tire stack. I used the right side of the tire, then the center, then the left if that helps explain this better. I struggled with the rear of the tire. I wasn’t stable at all even with bags and a sling to help. Later, I saw a video my Surgeon teammate posted of his run on this stage and felt so silly. He used a tripod to help support the rear of the rifle. Duh. I totally should’ve done that! I even had a Really Right Stuff tripod with me for the entire match. Lesson learned and noted for the future.
Our next stage was a supported barricade one engaging targets in another troop line. The junior on our squad once again set the bar high for the rest of us by cleaning the stage easily. I was first up on squad 5’s fifth stage of the day: Windows. Seemed straight forward enough. Engage a relatively generously sized target with two shots from five separate window ports. I figured I’d be able to easily clean this stage… but I didn’t. A tree got in the way. The seven impacts I made of the 10 shots taken were solid though. Next time. And there will be a next time because I want a rematch with that stage.
Three stages to go! I was feeling bad about shooting a defenseless tree, so I was happy to see Don’s face on the next stage: Don’s Rocks. Don is one of my favorite range officers and for sure up there near the top as far as spotters go. If you think you hit a target and Don didn’t call impact, you didn’t hit it. End of story. Don’s stage had a fun twist on prone. After engaging and impacting all three targets, you had to place your support hand on a rock next to your hip and reengage the same targets with only your strong hand. Once they were all impacted, you could shoot your remaining rounds on the third target. I don’t know many people who like KYL (know your limit) stages. There’s usually a lot of points on the line. The move lately has been to TYL (test your limit) stages. The target arrays are the same, usually 3-5 targets that progressively get smaller. Don’s Rocks used this type of target set up at 715 yards. I think I overheard someone say the smallest target was 4” or something. When our squad gathered for the stage briefing, the West’s told us that only one person had cleaned the stage thus far: Surgeon Team Captain Matt Brousseau. I was last of my squad to shoot on this stage, and was stoked to also clean this with 10 hits out of 10 shots taken.
The second to last stage Squad 5 shot was a called “Plane Hostages,” although I’m not sure where the hostages were. A wooden airplane fuselage was stages at the end of the shooting bay around 562 yards with two circle targets visible from ports. There were 5 shooting positions and we were tasked with engaging each target with one round from each position. Of all of the stages at this competition, this one was one of the toughest for me. I broke a cardinal sin once again and tried something relatively new; using a tripod as a rear rest. I was incredibly stable, but the positions took too long to build and therefore, I wasted a good amount of time trying to move from one position to another. A fellow shooter recently posted on my Facebook page that he suggests lefty’s move from left to right and righty’s move from right to left when using a tripod as rear support. After thinking about this for a bit, it makes a lot of sense. I normally try to think where I want my rifle to go. In other words, what shoulder is going to be driving the rifle from a certain position. It’s a trick I learned at Rifles Only. When you’re using an extra piece of gear like a tripod though, you might want your support hand being the driving force to move that equipment prior to bringing your rifle to it. I hope that makes sense. At any rate, I scored a dismal 3 out of 10 on this stage, but most of my squad fared just as well. Switchy wind calls and obscured shots due to the prop downrange made corrections difficult from shot to shot.
The last course of fire for us was a hog hunt out of a hummer. The targets were variously sized steel pigs that we were to engage from a modified prone position off the top of a hummer after using a Lone Star Armory stage gun to shoot at two steel square targets. I think almost everyone in our squad easily cleaned this stage. Brandi and Adam Williams were the range officers so there was a healthy amount of smack talking going on before and after the shooting as well.
Once we were all finished with our final stages, we packed up our gear and headed to the tents for the awards ceremony. I’d heard rumblings about Justin Vinyard cleaning stage after stage, so I was happy to see him take home that $5,000 check from the Precision Rifle Series for the win. My fellow lefty, Jake Vibbert, was second finishing two points behind Justin. My Surgeon teammates, Jon Pynch and Jerry Karloff, were third and fourth. Rounding out the top five was Dan Jarecke. Barbecue showed up as the awards were wrapping up so our little group hung out and ate while trading stories of how we could have shot a particular stage better “if only.” Such is the way competitions go.
The top 5!
7 out of 8 Team Surgeon shooters
Jon Wells was awarded a 40% off Nexus Ammo cert after the match
On the drive back to Steph’s house outside of Dallas, we talked about some of those “if only’s” and how we could improve our scores for the next match. I’m working on improving my unconventional shooting skills with a tripod. I can shoot off the top of one without issue, but utilizing one as a rear support is still new and I fumble more than I’d like. Having a Really Right Stuff SOAR tripod helps, but only if I practice with it more. Overall, the Lone Star Challenge was a lot of fun. I didn’t mind the tricky winds as they were very similar to the winds I see at my home range. On to prepping for the next match! I have to extend my thanks to my teammate Paul Reid for driving all of us around and providing sage advice when needed. Also, thanks to the Bostwicks: Steph, Boz, and little Piper the Sniper, for letting us invade their home for a couple of days and for baking a chocolate cake and making ice cream so we could celebrate a birthday properly.
Piper the Sniper!
I don’t have a picture of the birthday cake, so instead you get a picture of Steph’s adorable daughter Piper… and me. LOL
Ever have an experience that was so stressful that you say you’ll never, ever do it again, but somehow end up repeating the same stressful thing every year? That’s sums up how I feel about helping with the Tactical Precision Rifle Challenge each year. I definitely enjoy the work, the stress, the results… but every year I can’t wait for the match to get here already so my local club can get back to being normal again. I’m not sure if most competitors realize how much work goes into producing the matches they want to return to each year. Making something run smoothly, with no errors, is exceedingly difficult. So while there is a lot of pleasure in the end result, there were probably also a few stumbles that made the organizers want to rip out what is left of their hair.
Competitors waiting to shoot
The Ladder Stage
Because I only have my own experiences to fall back on, I’ll explain what my club does to create a successful match. Let’s start in the beginning with the match announcement. Dates have to be decided on and arranged before you can really get anything else done. For our club, that has meant going before boards of directors or command staff at various facilities attempting to gain the blessing of the management. While we don’t expect to make any money off the event, we would like to break even so we’re a bit frugal when it comes to items we might be able to receive at a discounted rate. If you don’t have a facility readily available, one would most likely need to be leased or rented for the dates that have been decided on. In the past we’ve been quoted anywhere from $2,000 all the way up to $25,000 for the use of three days of dirt. Depending on your overall budget, the leasing fee alone could devour a majority of your budget.
A tripod hunting stage called Cecil’s Revenge at the 2016 TPRC
PC: CONX Media
Range Officers goofing off
You have a location and have decided on a date for your event. What now? If you’ve done a little homework, or asked around with other match directors, you should have an idea on your overall budget. This will help set the rate for your match fee. Our club chooses to keep the match fee reasonable for our competitors. Deciding how many competitors your property can safely hold should also be figured into the equation. Our rule of thumb is a minimum of three range safety officers for each stage of our match: a chief range officer to run the competitors through the course of fire, a spotter to watch for impacts and misses, and a scorekeeper. If extra staff is available, they are asked to work spotting scopes. This speeds up the course of fire because there are less arguments over questions on impacts or misses. We also like to have staff on hand to check that all of the coolers have water, trash bags are being emptied, and to hand out meals on days they are provided.
Multiple spotters leads to less arguments over scores
Match staff running an obstacle course stage
Registration for matches these days are a lot easier with the introduction of Practiscore and similar programs. I’ll admit that Practiscore made our registration process quick in 2016 for TPRC. I’m hopeful we’ll have the ability to receive match funds online for the 2018 TPRC. Most competitors are used to using Practiscore these days for match registration. You fill out the form, wait patiently to receive the email with your pin to squad yourself, and you’re done. On the match director side, there is a little more work, but not much. Practiscore even allows you to print spreadsheets with your t-shirt order ready-made. If you plan to run your scoring at the competition through Practiscore, you’ll need tablets or your Range Officers willingness to use their cell phones. Using Practiscore speeds up arbitration at the end of the match significantly, plus shooters who stayed home can watch the scores in real time as they are uploaded onto the Practiscore website. Cost: Practiscore – free or donation to the website, Tablets – $1000-2400 with an additional $100-200 for external batteries to recharge the tablets
No bags or gear except a rifle and magazine for this 260 yard target stage
Everyone’s favorite – a KYL rack
Speaking of t-shirts, you’re probably going to want to order some of those. If you have a friend who’s handy with artwork, or perhaps you are a whiz with Adobe Illustrator, get started on designing something bad ass because all shooters love unique t-shirts. If your design is really cool, competitors will wear your match t-shirt to other competitions or even better, to the grocery store. Put some thought into the color of your t-shirts. Traditional “tactical” ones (black, tan, green, grey, orange) are the shirt colors people will wear until they literally disintegrate. I can almost 95% guarantee that no one is wearing the bright neon blue shirt you thought would look great in pictures… unless they’re washing their car or cleaning their rifles. I’d also suggest picking materials that will breathe in the summer. The shooters will thank you. Cost: Artwork – $0-300, T-shirts – $1000-3000
Kate Redell shooting a stage at the 2016 TPRC
A fun stage from VPRC in Vegas
Since you’re ordering t-shirts anyway, and you have this cool logo you cooked up, how about having some other stuff for the shooters? Items that seem to go over well and can be reused constantly are empty chamber indicators (ECI), insulated water bottles, coffee cups, and beer mugs. While you’re admiring your match artwork, start working on trophies. A decision will have to be made on how many trophies and for which placements prior to contacting any of the companies who design and build them. Once again it will end up coming down to your budget. Trophies from your local awards shop might be a great place to pick up an award for Salesperson of the Month or Little League Champions, but if exposure for your competition is what you want, those types of trophies just won’t do. We all tend to look at the awards from other events. If you’re not sure who to contact, ask a couple of other match directors where they ordered their trophies. Cost: Extras for swag bag – $250-1500, Trophies – $300-3000.
Trophies by Big Dog Steel, PC: CONX Media
PC: CONX Media
Trophies by Big Dog Steel
Lately there have been many conversations on social media about prize table donations. From the match director side it always seems to end up with wanting either cash prize tables or trophy matches. From a competitor standpoint, prize tables are always exciting and something to set a goal towards. Personally, I like prize tables. That’s the reason I’ve ended up volunteering to organize them for TPRC for the last few years. Last year the staff at TPRC contacted over 250 companies and personally hand wrote thank you cards for the 85 companies who contributed items or paid for some part of our match to take place. Be sure to set a schedule to follow up with the companies you’ve contacted. Shooting related companies are hit up by people like yourself quite often for product or discounts for their matches, so you can see how easy it would be to overlook a request or two. After the match is over,be sure to thank all of the companies who participated or contributed. A “thank you” goes a very long way to ensuring that a company will want to participate again in the future. I’ve yet to see a match director fail to request that competitors send thank you’s to the companies represented at their events. Believe me when I say that those companies truly appreciate a quick note in their inbox, a letter, a tag on Facebook or Instagram, a carrier pigeon, smoke signal… whatever. But thank them. Using your media coverage to gain exposure for the sponsors is also an awesome way to give them a bit of a return on their investment in your event.
While you’re setting aside time to reach out to potential sponsors, made sure you’re sending an email here or there to the competitors keeping them updated on the progress of the match. As shooters we all appreciate updates to the round count, locations of close lodging/food, and estimates for when the match will be over for their travel plans. Cost: Time – 24 to 48 hours minimum; Materials – $0-250
Social media announcement advertising for McMillan
Social media announcement advertising for Butch’s Reloading
Social media announcement advertising for Triad Tactical
Thank you cards that were sent out to all of the generous match sponsors
What about the other odds and ends? How about items like shot timers ($100 each), steel targets ($1500-7500), backup score sheets ($30 for heavy duty paper), matchbooks ($50-400), pop-ups/easy ups ($50-150 each), materials for props ($500-5000), water for competitors and staff – better to overestimate than underestimate here ($300-600), and food ($2500-6000). This isn’t counting the multitude of spotting scopes you’ll be borrowing from friends, family, neighbors, and sponsors. The hours of time spent designing, shopping for, and building props to challenge competitors in a variety of different courses of fire is also not included. I’ll guarantee there were many weekend work parties that took place for most competitions so the tally of actual hours working is probably in the hundreds by the time the match date rolls around.
Our club decided to give a special award last year: The Shawn Shaw “Captain America” Sportsmanship Award. Rick Tedford from NorCal was our first recipient. He was awarded a one-of-a-kind trophy, AZ LRPRS gave him back his match fee, and Mr. Terry Cross donated a KMW Sentinel stock.
Morning safety brief where Tim reinforced our 1st rule: Don’t Do Dumb Stuff!
Competitors on their way to the other side of the range
Our club also tests every single stage we’re going to feature in TPRC. We do this for two reasons: to decide on the par time for the course of fire and to test the difficulty level of each stage. Everyone likes to hit targets and we all hate to zero stages. For our par times, we average the times between our most and least experienced club members. Our goal is to have the winner score 85% or so of the overall available points. In some years, Mother Nature has decided that hit percentage should be lower or higher. We’ve actually thrown out or redesigned stages because the course of fire ended up being too difficult. After all, we’re shooters first and match staff second. Also, I guarantee if you make a stage “not cleanable” someone will come along and clean it. Make the target sizes generous and the par time doable, and even the best competitors in the world will miss a few targets.
Even in Arizona’s winter months, black tubes get super hot!
Shooting from tires at IPSC targets
A little bit of angled shooting was included
Even with all of the labor that goes into successfully pulling off a national level competition, participating in the planning, organization, and work behind the scenes is the absolute best way to fully appreciate what the match directors are trying to convey. It’s also the best way to gain an appreciation for all the trouble you may have put range officers and/or match directors through in the past as a competitor.
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?
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.
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.
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.
My 100 yard paper mover target shot off a saw horse.
200 Yard Mover
Shooting the 200 yd mover off the spool.
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.
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!”
“TURN IT OVER!!!” Yeah, yeah. I was excited and didn’t notice I was holding this KUIU pack upside down. Oops.
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.
I won a rifle!!!! My hands were full so George was kind enough to hold it up for me.
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.
My husband wrote this on the chalkboard in the kitchen a week before we left for the match
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.
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.
2010 – My first rifle, a used Rem700 .223
The 2016 Bushnell Brawl, shooting a Defiance action 6XC
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!
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).
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.)
Where do I start? I can’t stop smiling! I’d like to say I don’t know how I pulled it off, but I was there. Luck is a relative term, but I never underestimate what having a bit of it will do for you. This past weekend was the Bushnell Brawl at Rifles Only. I may have come in 2nd place, but it feels like a win for me. Here’s why… I’ve shot a few matches at Rifles Only. Some have been more challenging than others. The Bushnell Brawl has consistently been one of the toughest matches in the country. This year, the match director and owner of Rifles Only, Jacob Bynum, took it a little easier on us. We shot targets that were either 10” plates or 45% IPSC targets from JC Steel Targets. There were two full-sized IPSCs as well on stages where the target would normally be much smaller. Ya know what? People still missed them. The wind wasn’t as bad as last year either. That being said, it was still challenging. Try your hand at hitting a 10” plate that’s angled away from you from a traditional seated position and see how you do. Unless you’re the one guy who got 8 hits out of 10, you probably thought that was tough!
Tim and I flew in a day early to help out with the Production Division match. The Open Division shooters who were on hand were allowed to coach these new shooters, which I thought was a complete stroke of genius. We were all cheering them on, calling out where there misses were impacting, actively helping them get on target. What a great time and an amazing opportunity for both divisions to learn from and help each other out. Ricky Salazar took home the win for Production. He was fun to watch shoot, too!
On Friday, all of the shooters were provided an opportunity to check their 100 yard zeroes. Some folks beat feet to the tower for the 800, 900, and 1000 yard stages. I can’t say that I blame them because that’s usually the best place to start at Rifles Only due to the wind picking up later in the morning. I wanted to verify that my zero was good though, so we didn’t end up on the tower until mid-morning. In the meantime, we were able to shoot the two mover stages. One was a 400 yard prone mover. The other was a 400 yard barricade mover. Both were on the same target; one of the aforementioned full-sized IPSC targets. I went 8 for 10 on the prone mover and 7 for 10 on the barricade mover. I had one mental flub and didn’t trust where I thought the bullet went. Why not use the same hold to verify by missing again? Next time I’ll go with my gut on where I thought my miss went.
The tower had four stages total. The first three were shot prone. They were 800 yards, 900 yards, and 1000 yards. There was a 10” steel plate at each target distance. As always, I was running a Vortex Razor Gen II 4.5x27x with an EBR-2C reticle. Oh man, did those targets look small! Even on 27x!! It took me a couple of rounds at each distance to get my wind call correct. In some cases, I’d have the call right and the wind would switch, pick up, or drop off mid-string. After watching a few of the shooters before me, including my husband and our good friend, Mr. Paul Reid, I knew it would happen. I watched where they were impacting and measured from what they said they were going to hold to see if I could guess what they’d hold for wind next. My wind hold at 800 yards turned out to be right around .7 MILs. I passed that on to the shooter next to me before it was his turn, he adjusted for his rifle, and he went 9 for 10! Amazing shooting by Ryan Miller, the owner of Ryan’s Range Report!
The fourth stage on the tower was a standing supported shot at 500 yards on the other full-sized IPSC. I had a slight issue getting the first round chambered. The time limit was relatively short (1 min for 10 rounds), and that caused enough of a delay that I was only able to fire 9 rounds. I yanked one shot pretty hard but finished the stage with 8 points. I’d like to say that the standing supported stage was one of the “easier” stages in the match, but I’m sure someone found it to be difficult. Matches are weird that way. What is easy for one shooter is challenging to another. I love when stage design plays to many different shooter strengths.
Did I mention the match included a helicopter ride?? No? Well it did. And it was awesome! It’s the third time I’ve been able to shoot from a helicopter and they’ve all coincidentally been at this match. The first time I shot from one, I remember being semi-terrified. This time I was actually pretty calm. I was able to enjoy it! I need to remember a GoPro or something for stages like that though!
The other stages on day one included shooting off a 550 cord from the inside of a helicopter frame at another 10” plate at 539 yards (that one had pistol as well), the traditional seated stage I spoke of earlier at a 322 yard target, a rooftop stage on a target at 475-ish yards (also had pistol), and the mousetrap (another stage with pistol as well as rifle).
After all the shooting was done for the day, it was time to knock some dust out of my action and wipe down my bolt. On my husband’s suggestion, I’ve been using CherryBalmz lubricant for a couple of months and really like how slick the bolt runs with it. Unfortunately, like every other gun lube, it still gets dirt stuck to it, so a periodic wipe down and reapplication ain’t such a bad idea.
The best part about shooting competitions, quite honestly, is the people. We went to dinner with friends and had a time to discuss things other than what happened at the match. Well, except for Paul Reid who was one point ahead of me at the end of day one. We had a little bit of friendly banter about who was going to beat who the next day.
I went into day two with 83 points; only 4 points behind the leader from what I’d heard. At the safety briefing, we were told that half of the pistol shots for the day were dropped along with a KYL (know your limits) stage. I’ll admit that I was disappointed about the pistol. I’ve never, ever said that in my life either! I hadn’t dropped any pistol shots, so I was thinking those would help me quite a bit. Such is life though. Things change and almost always make for a better match.
We headed over to the Carbine Pit for three combined stages: a 10 round pistol mover, followed by a 6 rounds of rifle off a barricade at 20+/- yards. Five shots were on a 5-dot drill, and the last shot was reserved for a BT Industries ace of spaces card shot (person who shot closest to the center – Kelly Svarstad – won an Atlas bipod!).
Once we finished up there, we only four stages left for the whole match and they were all fun! First up was a stage called, “Best Hide Site Ever.” It was based on an actual police involved shooting which made it even more insane to think about. The shooter had to engage a target at 260 yards with 10 rounds while sitting on a toilet! The good thing about electronic hearing protection is you can hear all the instructions from the range officers. The bad thing about electronic hearing protection is that you can also hear the peanut gallery behind you while you’re on the clock! Normally it’s not hard to tune out. For example, I was shooting really well on this stage. I could hear folks talking about the position I chose (which was a brilliant stroke of last minute luck on my part). Then I heard someone say something about how well I was shooting all weekend and that I’d cleaned a couple of stages the day before. My 9th shot went into the dirt just to the left of the target. Doh!! I may have said something to the effect of, “thanks for jinxing me!”… I refocused and hit the target with my last round. In the end it was pretty amusing and I wasn’t upset in the least bit.
After shooting from the pot, we decided to go to complete PRS skills stages #1 and #2 because there wasn’t too long of a line to complete those two. These are basically “standards” that every match director will run to break ties. The added benefit will be allowing competitors to track how they’ve progressed through the season. I know I’m interested in seeing if my time and/or hits improve throughout the season! For more info on the skills stages, please check out the PRS rulebook Appendix A-5.
The last stage of the match for Tim and I was off of a 550 cord at another target 400 yards away. We both finished well there, and then it was off for a celebratory end-of-the-match cold beverage!
Scores came out, but by then there was a lot of buzz trying to figure out who had the high score. I’d already spoken with Morgan, so we figured he’d won but just in case there was a sleeper in there somewhere I was keeping my fingers crossed for him. When Lisa Bynum posted the arbitration scores, she was immediately surrounded (happens at every match). I caught her on her way back to the office and asked her if I was 3rd because I’d heard a gentleman named Dan Davis had one more hit than me. She said, very excitedly and with a huge grin, that I was 2nd! Holy cats! My favorite picture from the entire match is the one below because you can see not only how happy I am, but how happy Lisa is in the background. She’s my sister from another mister and I’m so glad I was able to make her and Jacob proud!
I was extremely fortunate to not only walk away with a trophy the size of my torso, but also a new Defiance action! I already shoot for them, so I know they support the sport quite heavily. I credit my equipment (along with a bit of training) with helping me improve quite a bit over the last couple of years. I’m looking forward to building a new .308 with this action so I’ll be able to run it for the caliber specific matches in the series.
My finish is not the highest ever for the AZ crew (Matt LaVine and Michael Nitzschke have both won PRS matches), but it is the highest finish for a female in a national level match. One point away from winning! Really this tells me that I’ve got the right gear, the right support, and I’m doing the right amount of training. I’m winning one this year and you might not want to laugh too hard if you hear me say that in the future. Huge, monster thanks to my amazing husband for helping me with my pistol shooting! I love you more than words can express! Out of 105 shooters, he finished in 33rd place which is phenomenal considering the level of talent in the field.
Now I get to pat myself on the back while congratulating the top ten. LOL! Congrats to the top 10 who (were only separated by 8 points and) are:
I figure this is a great place for a little match recap! Some of you may follow my Facebook posts (www.facebook.com/lhgina) or Instagram page (@lh_gina), so you may have seen some video or pictures already of the Sin City Precision Vegas Precision Rifle Challenge presented by Kelbly’s. The match is also part of the Precision Rifle Series. The Sin City guys and gals put on a great event every year, and due to the dates falling the weekend before the SHOT show for the last two years, it’s even more of a “must attend” event!
Over the course of two days, 97 shooters participated in 23 events with distances from 100 yards all the way out to 1762 yards. Several of the stages were unlimited round count stages as well, so there was quite a bit of potential to really rack up some points if you were fast enough, had a solid wind call, and noticed when the wind changed. There we some great runs on those unlimited round count stages too! Oscar Milanes scored 19 hits on an 80 second stage that really required a holdover if you were going to run fast on it. This stage was all shot from prone, but it required the shooter to quickly transition from an IPSC target at 808 yards to a steel bear target at 982 yards. (I had the high score until Oscar demolished my 18 hit run.)
Two of the other unlimited round count stages required quite a bit of physicality. The first one my squad shot involved pulling a tire from one cone to another, then going prone and engaging a rack of tiny IPSC targets at 300 yards strong side. Then you had to get up and pull the tire back to the starting point. After getting the tire back to the starting point, you had to shoot the same tiny IPSC target rack from support side. You just kept repeating until the time ran out or you ran out of ammo! I thought almost everyone on our squad did a great job but Joe Walls had more impacts than anyone with 17 hits! That man can hustle! Joe also took home a stage prize (a Kelbly’s rifle!) on the other physically demanding unlimited round count stage which involved a mallet, a tire, and a carnival machine. No, I’m not kidding!
Sin City has some fantastic shooters and this in turn means they have some great Range Officers. All of them took the time to explain stages in detail, answer questions (even if the question was asked a few times already), never let a competitor get lost looking for a target, and kept the atmosphere light. When the RO’s are having fun, the competitors do as well!
There was great variety in the types of targets used, the stage design, time limits, and skills tested. From 100 yard paper to barricades to positional stages to shooting from ladders to plenty of prone to keep everyone happy, you had to be on your game and adept at many styles of precision shooting.
Do you see my awards?? Okay, no, not the big swingers. But you can see 9th and Top Lady!
Who knew there’d be a left-handed AI chassis on the prize table? Not me! I grabbed the first one I saw for my husband. Guess I got myself a prize in the process.
After an amazing dinner banquet and a hilarious video courtesy of Contingency X, the awards ceremony kicked off. A gentleman who finished the match in last place, fought through some mechanical issues, but didn’t quit, won a rifle from Kelbly’s! Good on Kelbly’s for hooking him up! My good friend Scott Parks took home the Top Tactical division shooter. Surgeon team shooter, Matt Brousseau, won Top LE/Military. And I was fortunate enough to snag the Top Lady award (there were 8 women total competing in the match).
Holy Crap! 9th Place out of 97!
Now after a few rough stages, I was thinking I might still get lucky and pull off a top 20 finish. I was really hoping for that actually; especially after telling anyone who would listen on sight-in day that I was going to win the match. Hey, I’ve set my goals high this year! My squad for the match had some of the heavier hitting names in the PRS, including last season’s overall champion, David Preston, so it was hard to really get a feel for how I was shooting when I was comparing my scores with theirs. So when the Match Director, Ty Frehner, called my name for 9th place, I might’ve screamed a little. I was listening to the scores being called out and thought, “hmm. Maybe I have a top 15? That’d be cool.” 9th place was a total shock!
The 2016 season is just getting started and I’ve already got two top 10 finishes. I cannot wait to see what this year is going to bring!