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.