Looking down from atop a three-story shooting tower, 12 steel targets stand out along a green hillside, each one further away than the last. They’re all challenging, and the furthest sits at 936 yards.
When the buzzer sounds, you’ll have three minutes to shoot all 12. The problem is, you can’t actually see the targets yet. You’re starting at the bottom of the tower’s stairwell, carrying 200 rounds of ammunition, a coat, a gear bag, a sling, sunscreen, elbow pads, bipod, and a heavy sniper rifle. By the time you get to the top of those stairs and see the targets for the first time, a minute will have disappeared. You’ll be breathing hard, and shooting fast.
“It started out as a way to test the practical use of a precision rifle in a military or law enforcement environment”
This is a Precision Rifle Series match, where extreme accuracy, speed, and physical toughness come together. Sniper matches have been around for a long time, but the PRS is gluing them together into a cohesive, Winston Cup-like string. There’s a $5,000 check at the end for the season points winner, and if you’re the top gun at the PRS National Finale, you could take home a $20,000 purse and prize package, just like last year’s winner, Ryan Kerr of California.
Jim See at the CORE training center in Florida. Note the big pillow-like pad under the foreend, along with the fully adjustable stock and heavy barrel. Items like that pillow pad offer great stability on uneven surfaces like this rockpile. (MICHAEL CAGE PHOTOGRAPHY)
Unlike classic long-range events, PRS has a hard edge – like maybe a 3-Gun competition for sniper rifles. The organizers (notably Rich Emmons) drew ideas from 3-Gun Nation, USPSA/IPSC, and the Bianchi Cup. The result appeals to practical riflemen everywhere.
“It started out as a way to test the practical use of a precision rifle in a military or law enforcement environment,” says Chris Reid at Benchmark Barrels. “From there it’s morphed into a kind of timed field shooting.”
At every match the courses change. The distances aren’t marked, and some of the targets move. Virtually everyone uses a detachable box magazine or DBM in a bolt-action rifle. Mounted to a fiberglass stock or a chassis system, the DBM allows for fast reloading of 10-round magazines. Although shooting a semi auto sounds tempting, experts say the bolt-action rifles with DBMs are more stable in recoil. This platform helps the shooter watch bullet trace and impacts. Seeing the hit or miss guides the shooter to the proper aim for the next shot. Most of the top shooters use 6mm to 6.5mm cartridges, which aid in viewing impacts. The 6mm Creedmoor, 6.5×47 Lapua, and the 6.5 Creedmoor are popular choices, but cartridges up to the .300 Winchester Magnum can be used. Most guns are heavy, but remember, you’ve got to carry it all day – up to 12 hours at a pop. You also carry everything else you’ll need to complete the event, just like you would if you were going afield. There is no going back to the car to resupply – it’s just you and your kit, dealing with changing weather, wind, and lighting conditions.
Jim See firing one of Surgeon Rifles’ guns at the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Range in Arizona. Jim campaigned with a rifle in 6XC in his first season, a caliber that has been gaining support in PRS ever since. (COURTESY OF CHRIS REID)
Jim See shooting a Surgeon Scalpel rifle in 6.5×47 Lapua..
Reid helps run matches in the state of Washington. The hikes from position to position are arduous enough that out-of-shape shooters won’t finish.
“I’ve seen guys hang it up halfway thro6ugh,” says Reid.
Short sprints are common in PRS, forcing you to balance the speed advantage of running against how out-of-breath you’ll be when you get there.
More than the sum of its parts
Like the original 3-Gun Nation series, PRS grouped together existing freelance events to make a larger contest. Each event has its own history and traditions, and a different local crew gives each its own special flavor; for example, some require pistol shooting. Scoring varies slightly, but course design varies a lot.
Pay close attention to the course descriptions, because sometimes you can make up a miss for partial credit, and other times, missing wipes out your entire score. If you’ve shot a little long-range, or you’re into long-range hunting, you’ve already got most of the gear.
Jim See, who currently shoots for Team Surgeon Rifles, was building custom rifles in his own shop, Center Shot Rifles, when he first heard about the PRS series. He was “a rifle guy” but didn’t have much experience with practical long-range rifle. The PRS series had just started the year before. “In 2012 I was busy raising kids and stuff, but I managed to place fourth at my first match,” he says. “That’s not the norm, but it shows you that it’s actually pretty easy to get oriented once you get started … I was hooked!”
“I’ve seen guys hang it up halfway through”
Thanks to his day job, See rolled up to the line with an unusually good kit – a Surgeon Rifles action on a McMillan A3-5 stock, in 6mmXC.
“That was a gun I had in the shop,” he says.
See’s friends pushed him to try to make the national PRS Finale, so he went for it, eventually placing 13th in the 2012 series. See won the 2015 Bushnell Brawl this year, making him one of the top guns in the sport. “I was 41 when I started, but I had a lot of experience in various kinds of shooting. If you’ve got some experience in long range, you’ll transition pretty easy.”
Unlike the classic long-range events, PRS is 100 percent field based. Common firing positions include uneven rock piles, mock rooftops, kneeling in tall grass – nothing is easy.
“If you take a guy who’s a hunter and have him shoot PRS matches all year, he’ll be able to kill game out to 1,000 yards the following year,” says Reid. “The knowledge and the practicality of it is huge.” If you’re thinking “this isn’t for me,” you might be surprised. Hunters and 3-Gunners deal with unusual firing positions all the time. NRA Bullseye guys have the long-range part down, but often lack the flexibility that practical shooters take for granted.
Awkward terrain forms a big challenge in PRS shooting. Chris Reid tried more-conventional-looking postures, but just couldn’t get settled on this rock pile/shooting position — until he tried laying back. Thank goodness he had a relatively low-recoiling rifle! “I shot that way on the mover too,” says Reid. The rifle is a Benchmark Barrels-built 6.5 Creedmore. Reid runs a suppressor, which helps dampen both blast and felt recoil. (COURTESY OF CHRIS REID)
“An F-class high-master will do great until they have to get into an unusual, nonstandard position,” says Reid. “Without the ability to go prone, they struggle.” People like Shawn Carlock, owner of Defensive Edge, teach long-range hunting classes all over the country, passing on techniques that PRS’ers use. You’ll face the same challenges and more at each and every PRS regional. For someone interested in practical-rifle work, I can’t think of a better training lab than what John Gangl at JP Rifles calls “the anvil of competition.”
“You’re shooting strong-side, weak-side, doing dot drills, moving into and out of positions, and every shot counts,” says Reid.
PRS-style shooting draws ever-larger crowds to what is normally a small, close-knit community. Here’s a typical get-together at the CORE training center in Florida. (MICHAEL CAGE PHOTOGRAPHY)
“This year we have 400-plus guys actively participating in the Precision Rifle Series as competitors,” says See. “These matches cannot be run effectively without dedicated range officers.” ROs set the pace of the match and ensure all participants are safe and receive the points they earned with hits. “It’s nice to travel the country and have fellow competitors volunteer to be range officers on their home ranges. Quality ROs are critical for a successful match,” added See.
A slick member website lays out everything you’ll really need to know, including the dates and locations of all the regional shoots. You can visit them at precisionrifleseries.com. AmSJ
Long distances help make PRS matches distinct. Here a shooter reaches out over the plains at Vantage, Wash. (COURTESY OF CHRIS REID)
Field-Shooting Positions with Sticks that Expands your Hunting Limits
Story by Caylen Wojcik
Notice the contact point between the shooter’s right elbow and the right knee. This is essential to supporting the upper body and the spine in a seated position. (MACKENZIE CRAWFORD)
The ominous and almost haunting realization that it’s the last day of the season hangs over your head as you make one last hike up to your glassing perch with hopes of catching a glimpse of the animals that have been so elusive in the preceding days. Hours pass, and in the fading light you glass across the sage into the glare of the sun. Catching some movement your eyes focus on an ear flick; low and behold it’s a shooter buck. He’s far, but your heart is soaring with the hopes of success as you range him before he feeds out of view into the dark timber just a couple dozen yards away. At 460 yards, your .300 WSM is more than capable, but you can’t lay down in the high sage, and the only shooting support you have is your pack and a set of Stoney Point sticks that you’ve used only once or twice. You know you can shoot that far, but only from a bench or prone. That elated feeling quickly drains as your gut tells you “No, you can’t make that shot,” and you watch what you thought was your buck walk away.
Students use barricades and tripods to engage targets out to 1,200 yards. (JAKE BLICK – MAGPUL CORE)
I know some of you are thinking, “460 yards off of sticks is too far, anyways; you shouldn’t take that shot even if you feel good about it.” How far is too far? The truth is range is just a number for a shooter who practices regularly. It’s as simple as “range, dial, hold for wind, and press” for someone who is confident with their rifle and, most importantly, their ability to apply the fundamentals of marksmanship in field conditions.
I routinely see students successfully and consistently hit targets at greater distances than the above scenario with a little bit of instruction and training. Now, let’s be clear; there is a big difference between training on steel targets that are stationary and a living, breathing animal.
It’s OK to miss steel, but as hunters, our quarry deserves the utmost respect with a quick and humane expiration from a well-placed shot.
With animals we play for keeps, and staying inside of your limits with a rifle afield should be our primary concern. So, how can we extend our comfort zone? How can we push those limits with confidence so we don’t have to see those bucks walk away? It’s going to take dedication and lots of time on the range. Here are some pointers on how to do it effectively:
Mann receives instruction on the use of trekking poles as support in a kneeling position. Note the position of the sling on the shooter’s right arm. This assists with keeping the rifle butt firmly in the pocket of the shoulder. (MACKENZIE CRAWFORD)
The first thing we should identify right off the bat is what our rifle can do under ideal conditions. Spend a day with your rifle shooting it at distance and record your data. If you’re using hold-overs, that’s fine, make sure you write down the range to the targets and the hold you used to get center hits. If you’re dialing your turrets, record the turret settings it required to hit center. Ideally, you should do this from the prone position to remove as much shooter error as possible. This raw data you’re gathering is what you’re going to use to make your drop chart. It’s also going to build your confidence with the rifle, knowing that it’s going to do what you tell it to do, under ideal conditions. If you have the space available, this is also a great opportunity to push the limits of distance. You can do this safely knowing that misses are only going to result in creating a little bit of self motivation and not a wounded animal.
Wojcik demonstrates the use of bipods to build a stable shooting platform from an unusual structure. (JAKE BLICK – MAGPUL CORE)
The Backcountry Hunter Course in the Washington Cascades is the perfect location to work on angles and an odd range of positions. (JAKE BLICK – MAGPUL CORE)
Once we know that the rifle is doing what we want it to do in a general sense and we’ve established that confidence, it’s time to get ourselves out of the prone and into field-shooting positions, and I mean a lot of different positions. We want to focus on the fundamentals of marksmanship, and accept nothing less than perfection.
The fundamentals in a nutshell are: creating a solid body position relying on either bone or artificial support, aligning our sights and aiming, proper breathing, getting a natural point of aim, trigger control and follow-through. It’s a lot to remember, but if you go about it in a systematic way by applying all those items in that order, your shooting will improve drastically.
Magpul CORE students demonstrating the versatility of the bipod while shooting from fence slats. Note the straight legs, locked out knees and a forward center of gravity. This is used to create bone support and relieve muscular tension. (MACKENZIE CRAWFORD)
The main thingto really focus on in field-shooting scenarios is establishing a natural point of aim. This is where the rifle wants to go in any given shooting position while the shooter is relaxed. Relaxation is key; we can’t relax without bone or artificial support, so make sure you’re honest with yourself when you build your shooting position. If you close your eyes, breathe and relax, the cross hairs should be right where you left them before you closed your eyes. If they’re not in the same place then you don’t have a natural point of aim, and you need to adjust your body to get the rifle to go where you want it to go. It takes lots and lots of practice.
A student uses a cable reel on an angle to simulate using a downed log as a support. Notice the use of the bipods to create a more stable platform on the curved and sloped surface of the reel. Also, the shooter is using his nonshooting hand to grab a handful of shirt material to further enhance stability. (MACKENZIE CRAWFORD)
When you head out to practice, focus on the tools you’re taking afield first, such as your shooting sticks or a tripod. Shoot from them in as many different positions as you can think of so you can identify your weaknesses and your strengths. Once that’s comfortable, move on to shooting off of weird things that could mimic field scenarios, like stumps, logs, branches and fence slats. You’ll be surprised at how effective you are after a little focused practice. You don’t need long ranges or steel either. If your range only has 100 yards, that’s fine, just shrink your target size. Start with 6-inch rounds or squares, then reduce the size as you gain confidence and proficiency. A good standard is a 3-inch target from 100 yards. If you can consistently place shots into that size target, you’re in good shape and are applying the fundamentals.
A student using his trekking poles as field-expedient shooting sticks in a fairly severe declined angle shot during the Backcountry Hunter Course. (JAKE BLICK – MAGPUL CORE)
Putting everything together and building confidence in your rifle will translate into building confidence in yourself. It’s a great feeling going afield knowing that you’re prepared for a wide variety of conditions. Something else to consider is looking for outside instruction from a reputable and professional organization. Having a second set of eyes watching you and offering constructive criticism will pay off in a big way when you head off on your own. You’d be surprised what a couple days of instruction will do for your shooting. Training for field-shooting positions is easy and a fun challenge. Use your imagination and be creative. Bottom line: enjoy yourself! ASJ
Caylen Wojcik uses a 55-gallon drum as a support during the 2015 Sniper’s Hide Cup. Notice the points of contact on the shooting elbow, the chest and bipods – that’s solid contact. (JOSEPHAT OROZCO)
Here’s more from National Shooting Sports Foundation | NSSF