How rifle competitions can make you a better long-range hunter
By Jim See
I started my long-range hunting addiction back in 2004 with a factory Remington 700 BDL. My goal was simple: become a better marksman so I could effectively take advantage of those cross valley shots on whitetail bucks in the hills of Southern Wisconsin.
I imagine that’s how many of us got into long-range hunting. I assume most of us progressed into better equipment such as: optics, high-end rangefinders and custom rifles. What did we do to increase our proficiency as marksman? Some of us did it on our own or with friends, others attended shooting schools, but I chose a different route. In 2008 I started shooting F-class. I enjoyed it and got pretty good at it. I even won a state championship and a medal at the 2011 national competition. Eventually I got bored. Static prone shooting at one distance just wasn’t all that fun anymore. I needed something that had an adrenaline rush, more like that of hunting.
Enter the Precision Rifle Series, created by Rich Emmons and Kevin Elpers in 2012. The PRS was intended to be an organization that tracked results nationwide of shooters who competed in the “sniper/tactical” style matches. The end goal was to have a series of matches through the year, culminated with a year-end finale match where the top 75 shooters in the nation competed head to head for bragging rights and upwards of $75,000 in cash and prizes.
I joined at the inception of this format, even though I had never shot that style of match. The idea of engaging steel targets under time restraints, with obstacles, barricades and movement instantly appealed to me. I attended three matches in 2012 and shot well enough to be invited to the final match at Rifles Only in south Texas. I finished the match in seventh place. I couldn’t have been more ecstatic. I have been hooked ever since.
My attraction to competition has always been as an avenue to increase my shooting skills, to become a more effective hunter. In that regard, the PRS-style matches have been a huge aid in the progression of my skillset. A typical match is two days of shooting between 175 and 225 rounds of ammunition at steel targets from 200 to 1200 yards. A typical match will have about 30-50% prone shots, with the remaining being off improvised props such as: walls, windows, rooftops, rocks, logs, cattle gates, steel drums, and about anything else the match director can imagine. Most matches consist of about 20 different stages where you are given a stage description with target yardages. You compile your data and typically shoot 5-12 rounds in anywhere from 30 seconds to two minutes. The match director’s goal is to put a time stressor on your shooting. Your goal is to hit as many targets as you can in two days!
So now that we have the overview out of the way, the question remains: How does a bunch of guys playing “sniper” on the weekends improve their hunting skills? During much of my hunting career I considered success the act of: creating opportunity and capitalizing on it. Now shooting competitions may not increase your opportunity, but they will definitely help you capitalize on opportunity. The format of these matches forces you to: calculate accurate data for the shot quickly, move into shooting positions which are not always ideal, build a solid platform to fire an accurate shot, and load and manipulate your firearm, bipod and accessories by feel and not sight. Those same skills are what we need to be effective and efficient long-range hunters.
The ideal example of a stage that trains fast reaction is what is commonly referred to as a “Speed Drill.” The shooter typically has five targets on one rack that must be engaged left to right in 30 seconds. That doesn’t sound very difficult; after all, they are commonly eight inch plates at 400-500 yards. The kicker is you must start standing with all your gear in hand and the rifle unloaded! I imagine a few of us could translate this to the time we popped over a hill with a great antelope buck staring us down. Seconds matter when capitalizing on an opportunity.
Every match has a few “Known Distance” stages, typically referred to as KD lines. The usual arrangement is five targets from 600 to 1,000 yards. In two minutes, you will engage 1-1.5 MOA-sized targets with two shots each. Yardages are given so every shooter will have their calculated data and start with a magazine in, prone on the firing point. These stages are great at training you to do a multitude of things, including your ability to shoot in wind over varied topography with a variety of wind angles. KD lines also work on your ability to find targets quickly and apply your data to your scope turrets accurately under stress.
“Chaos Drills” are just that. Starting prone and loaded, you have 30 seconds to engage five targets from 250-600 yards. This is one of those stages that are going to require a reticle with accurate sub tensions below the center crosshair. Effectively, you have barely enough time to shoot, let alone dial your scope. Remarkably enough, I have seen more than one competitor clean stages like this in less than 20 seconds. That is great shooting and only accomplished with dedication and practice.
In essence, these matches force you to make decisions under stress, which sharpens your mental resolve and creates a base of instinctual shooting. Approaching new and unfamiliar barricades requires you to analyze and formulate a plan on how to attack the stage, thus exercising your critical thinking process.
All of these exercises are great skills to have mastered when you’re out in the fields, hunting for your next dinner. The best part is, these matches are fun and you are going to meet a lot of great, like-minded people. Most shooters are very forth coming with information and help for the new guys, which creates a great mentoring environment. I have built relationships with shooters and industry representatives who support the series. I wouldn’t give that experience up for anything.
The rifles and equipment used by competitors in PRS matches are varied but similar. Top shooters choose high BC bullets in low recoiling rifles. This combination aids in spotting hits and misses. Cartridges like the 6xc, 6mm Creedmoor, 6.5 x 47 Lapua and 6.5 Creedmoor make up the bulk of the rifles. The typical rifle is built on a short action with a medium to heavy barrel, utilizing a tactical-style fiberglass stock or one of the popular aluminum chassis stocks with detachable magazines. The majority of competitors run muzzle brakes or suppressors on barrels that are 22”-26” in length. Scopes share a common profile; 5-27 power with Mil/MRAD based reticles and turrets. The use of smaller “numbers” in your data arrangement is easier to remember during intensive courses of fire. Supporting shooting equipment includes: range finders, binoculars, rear bags, hog saddles or extended length bi-pods, as well as a good pack to carry it all in.