Lone Star Challenge and Other Birthday Shenanigans

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 Bushnell Lone 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.

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.

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.

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.

 

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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