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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#wononein2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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This is how amazing the shooters in this sport are. This was Jake Vibbert’s idea and Mr. Terry Cross went along with it. Both made me laugh so hard my sides hurt. I’m deeply honored to share the podium with them both.

The Kool-Aid Phenomenon (alright, my theory anyway)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Taking on my nemesis: standing offhand.

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

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

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

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

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2016 VPRC!

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!

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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.)

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Anette Wachter

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!

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Christine Allen giving that Carnival Bell her all!

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.

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).

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!

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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!

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Squad 5 (from L-R) Top Row: Russ Wallis, Tomas Meraz, Marcus Blanchard, Nick “Beard” Owens, Matt LaVine, Bannon Eldridge, David Preston, Paul Reid, Jim See. Bottom Row: Lowe Weidman, me, Tim Milkovich, Matthew Brousseau, Joe Walls

 

Huge thanks to my sponsors: Spartan Precision Rifles, Defiance Machine, Vortex Optics, Timney Triggers, Hawk Hill Custom, Voodoo Tactical, Original SWAT, Rifles Only, MGM Targets, Patriot Cases, Wiebad.com, and Sierra Bullets!

Ladies Only at Rifles Only, Part 2

I definitely will have a bit of this timeline jumbled and out of order. I didn’t take notes. I’ll admit that much. Hey, I was busy learning! And I honestly didn’t think I’d be writing about this class. At any rate, here’s my view of the rest of what took place during the Ladies Only at Rifles Only class in August (and I apologize for how long it’s taken me to finish this!)

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Steph Bostwick and Jaci Janes practicing on the 515 yard mover.

I’ll start with movers…. Most shooters will admit that they enjoying shooting at moving targets. What’s not to love after all? The target is moving creating a greater challenge than if you’d shot the same target while stationary and there’s extra math involved! (Disclaimer: I hate math – don’t ask me how I keep ending up with hobbies that involve math.) Once I can figure out my lead on a mover, I usually feel pretty confident. I almost always start with one standard lead based on my reaction time. I’ll see where my bullet impacts and make an adjustment from there. When wind is involved, the lead going one direction may change and not the other so now you’ve got two leads. I’ve heard some pretty good shooters talk about dialing wind and then using the same lead both directions, but with my luck, I’d forget to take the wind off and screw up another stage in a match, so I just use the two different wind holds. One of these days I’m sure I’ll end up at a match where I need to use a negative wind hold. I’ve heard plenty of stories from folks who’ve shot in South Texas and needed them. Then again I think I’d probably love to shoot movers all day long regardless of the conditions.

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Practice on the mouse trap!

The mouse trap and the rat trap at Rifles Only are totally like having a kids jungle gym for adults! These are some of my favorite props at any match anywhere in the country. Now that I have an idea of how to move through them, I love them even more! Honestly, we really were like little kids waiting in line for our turn on a carnival ride. The mouse trap and rat trap at Rifles Only have multiple ports to shoot through that challenge your ability to move quickly, while transitioning from shooting strong side and support side. Some of the ports are stable shooting positions, but they all take some practice! Normally, the shooter is engaging a 2” shoot-n-c target from those ports at around 85 yards or so. The time limit is normally around three minutes for the course of fire with five ports to shoot from with two rounds each. Seems like a lot of time, right? Well, it’s not. At least it isn’t if you actually want to hit your target.

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Listening as Jacob walks us all through the mousetrap.

While some of the ladies practiced running through the mouse trap, the rest of us worked on traditional NRA style kneeling and seated positional shooting. If there is any kind of shooting that I hear people complain about in matches the most, it’s positional shooting. Positional shooting has practical applications as well. The perfect prop isn’t always going to be available and not everything can be shot prone in life, especially if you’re out hunting. Rifles, even ones that have been lightened up considerably, still feel like they gain weight the longer you’re holding it up in the air. Making sure your natural point of aim is on target makes a huge difference. Figuring out how to gain stability while shooting kneeling is hard, but hearing steel ring out when you impact is amazingly gratifying.

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Jacob teaching Marie how to shoot off of one of the rooftops

We spent some time practicing on rooftops on a sweltering afternoon. AZ LRPRS has a few of these and we incorporate them pretty frequently into matches, but we rarely place them sideways to the target or facing away from the target, so it was excellent practice. On the rooftop facing away from the target, I tried all sorts of positions trying to find something stable. I finally ended up using my sling and a small rear bag before I could pull the trigger and know I was going to have an impact on target each time. I believe that position will take a lot more practice to make fluid because right now it seems like it would be a huge time sucker just trying to get a stable sight picture.

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Jaci working out her position on one of the sideways rooftops

After two full days of shooting in heat that left each of soaked, we were beat! We still had a match to shoot though, so some of the ladies headed off for showers and naps. Melissa Gilliland and I both headed to the mouse trap to practice dry firing a little more. Melissa and I have been friends several years, so we joked around and helped each other with the choreography since we’d basically be mirror images of each other’s positions (she’s right handed and I’m left handed).

The South Texas Precision Rifle Club held their monthly match at Rifles Only on the second night of our training class and we had the opportunity to join in. I don’t have many opportunities to shoot with any of the ladies who were in the class, so this was a treat for me. Jessie Dussart and I have been shooting precision rifle comps for the same amount of time and have never shot together. Both of us were hoping we’d finally get to, but we ended up on different squads. (Next time, Jess!)

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Double checking DOPE while cooling off in the shade

All of the ladies shot really well at the club match too! Melissa and I were both pretty focused as we were using this monthly club match as an added training session for the last match of the regular 2015 Precision Rifle Series season. I will say it’s still a little weird to hear people talking about me while I’m shooting. At least it’s usually good things though! I went 9 for 10 on the 515 yard mover and could hear all the chatter in my electronic hearing protection. I ended up winning the monthly match with 55 of the 59 available points. I didn’t make it to the final port on the mouse trap so I didn’t fire two shots there. Not to brag too much but that’s a pretty stellar hit ratio. And I beat a couple of guys I’d never beaten before… Total. Confidence. Booster! (Especially confidence boosting going into a huge match the following weekend.) A lot of credit goes to the phenomenal gear I’m running now. While I shot my .308 for the class, I broke out my brand new 6XC for the monthly match. I haven’t named her yet, but she’s rocking a Defiance Deviant action, Vortex Optics Razor Gen II, Timney Trigger, Manners T4A stock, Hawk Hill barrel, and was built by my gunsmith/guru, Marc Soulie at Spartan Precision Rifles.

We’d all like to thank the South Texas Chapter of the Texas Precision Rifle Club for letting us shoot their August club match. And of course, I’d like the thank Jacob, Lisa, Lindy, James, and Corona for having us at the range. I couldn’t have handpicked a better group of ladies to spend a hot, sweaty weekend with either! Steph Bostwick (check out B-Tactical if you’re in the Dallas area), Marie Roberts (Roberts Precision Rifles), Jessie Dussart, Melissa Gilliland, Ursula Williams, and Jaci Janes: my sisters from other misters. Thank you all for making the very first Ladies Only at Rifles Only a huge success and so much fun. #LORO lives on!

I’m very hopeful that we’ll be able to kick off another ladies only course in the future, but perhaps when ice water can be drank more than continuously dumped on heads to cool off.

If you’re interested in taking a precision rifle shooting class, contact Rifles Only at www.riflesonly.com for more information. They hold their Precision Rifle 1 & 2 classes throughout the year as well as other courses that may interest you. Their Pro Shop has all kinds of gear as well so their website is sort of a one-stop-shop. If you’re a female interested in participating in a Ladies Only class, please let Lisa Bynum know!

In The Beginning, There Was a .223 Named Lyudmila

“What is it like being a female in a predominately male sport?”

Man, I’m asked that question a lot. Every interview, every dinner party, at a new job, a business conference, and even by my hairdresser! Perhaps I just had a really supportive local club when I started out because I’ve never noticed that there was a difference. I’ll admit that the first club match I shot was pretty nerve wracking. I was super new, had zero experience with firearms and a rifle I’d only learned the basics of how to use the day before. I will say that my inexperience ended up being more of a blessing than a curse for me because I had no knowledge of how intimidating this sport could be to some. This is probably where I should share a little of my back-story for those of you who haven’t heard it 100 times already?

In February 2009, the Arizona Long Range Precision Rifle Shooters (my local club) held a national level match in Phoenix. My brother-in-law, Scott, was the match director. This match would later be known as the Tactical Precision Rifle Challenge (TPRC). I’d watched my husband shoot competitively in several other shooting sports (3Gun, IPSC, IDPA, etc.) and had balked any time he mentioned getting me involved in competing. “Too fast,” I said. “And there are too many things to be proficient at.” So he let it go.

Me & my .223 that I named Lyudmila about 10 seconds after my hands were on her.
Me & my .223 that I named Lyudmila about 10 seconds after my hands were on her.

Anyway, I’d broken my right wrist a few weeks before TPRC, so I was planning on being a spectator when I decided to go watch this “sniper rifle match” (hey, I was new to shooting! I had no idea about the nomenclature at the time). Tim threw me on a scoreboard and told me to write down any hits that were called out. Okay. Simple enough, right? Until someone had to go to the bathroom and they threw me on a spotting scope. Remember I said I was really new, right? I didn’t exactly know what I was supposed to be looking for through the scope. Tim pointed out the steel target set up on the side of the hillside. I looked through the spotting scope at the target that I could barely see with my naked eye and it looked huge. I mean, HUGE. I looked over the top of the scope, back into the scope, back over the top and asked Tim, “waaaaay over there???”

He laughed at me and said, “well, yeah. It’s not that far. It’s only about 400 yards.” I was floored. I couldn’t believe these guys could possibly hit something four whole football fields away. I find my naiveté amusing now, but I sure do remember how impressed I was that these guys were shooting targets that far and hitting them!

My newness shows in this picture! My seated shooting has improved considerably since 2010.
My newness shows in this picture! My seated shooting has improved considerably since 2010.

It took another 8 months before we bought my first rifle; a used left-handed .223 Remington 700 in an HS Precision stock. Tim put a spare scope on it, took me to the range, talked me through getting a zero (which really means he did the work and I tried to understand what he was talking about), and then ran me through a few drills to work on basics. After about 4 hours, he told me I was going to shoot the club’s monthly match the next morning. Say WHAT!?!?!

So, I’ve basically been in competitions since I started shooting. November 2009 was my first match and I think I finished in 5th or 6th place. However, all I had to do at that first match was point the rifle at the target and pull the trigger because Tim dialed the scope for me and told me what to do on every stage. It’s good to have a great coach like that when you’re learning something so new and completely outside of your comfort zone. Especially when all the information sort of sounds like it’s coming from Charlie Brown’s teacher!

So excited to be shooting my first match!
So excited to be shooting my first match!

At the next monthly match, all the same guys from the month before showed up to compete, but something weird happened. A couple of the guys I’d somehow beaten walked up to the line with their rifles and gear, saw me, and decided they just wanted to spot and help out instead of shoot. The month after that, those guys quit showing up. Thankfully a majority of the guys in the club weren’t scared of being beat by a woman once in a while and they’ve become my own little dysfunctional extended family. They used to watch their language and sarcasm around me too. That totally doesn’t happen anymore!

Noob!
Noob!

The tactical precision rifle sport has grown tremendously in the last few years. Much like other shooting sports and firearms in general, it’s grown where ladies are concerned. When I started shooting there were only a handful of women actively competing, and I was one of two who consistently shot national level events rather than just local club level matches. Now there are somewhere around 25 ladies shooting on national level circuits including the Precision Rifle Series.

Match directors won’t always recognize a top female at their event but our numbers haven’t exactly supported having a specific award just for us… yet. Personally, I don’t really care about a top female award. Don’t get me wrong; I’ll take the High/Top Lady awards any chance I get, but that ain’t my goal. I want another top five, or even better: a 1st place trophy! Perhaps I haven’t noticed a difference because other competitors and match staff have always treated me like I’m one of them: a competitor. I can’t remember a single time when anyone at a match treated me differently than they treated each other. So what’s it like being a female in a predominately male sport? My answer is this: it’s not any different than I suppose it would be for a guy.