Gear Break Down

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.

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MPA Spring Shootout PC: Gisela Salazar

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.

 

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.

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The magic of the KMW: it forces my hand and trigger finger into the correct position

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.

Stage 1

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.  

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From CORE Shooting Solutions / AI Classic

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.

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From the Dog Valley NRL Match. PC: CONX Media

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.  

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.

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Shooting off RRS tripods at the AI Classic at CORE Shooting Solutions

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.

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A fun stage from VPRC in Vegas

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.

If you’d like more information on shooting or participating in this sport, please check out the Precision Rifle Series, the National Rifle League, and for rimfire competitions NRL22.

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Do You Even MD, Bro?

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.

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.

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.

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  

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

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.

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

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 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 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.  

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The match staff for the 2016 Tactical Precision Rifle Challenge. Photo Credit: Brittney Weldon