For Bryan Sikes, ‘Lessons Learned’ at Precision Rifle Series competitions have had applications for Special Ops Sniper Training Program.
Story by Bryan Sikes
Bryan Sikes has been heavily involved in the Precision Rifle Series since 2012, when his Army unit, 7th Special Forces Group, relocated to Florida. Sikes, a special operations sniper with multiple combat deployments to Afghanistan and a Purple Heart recipient, was finishing up his team time and transitioning into a sniper school instructor position.
“At that time, we were looking to improve, advance and modernize our sniper program,” explains Sikes. “A couple of us sought out ways in which to do that and laid the groundwork for what would be a total revamp of our program, due largely in part to the Precision Rifle Series. It was the PRS that helped us push the limits of not only our weapon systems, but also our focus and mental tenacity under stress. A difficult trait to train, but anyone who has been to these PRS matches knows the level of difficulty that is now common and how important it is to be able to maintain a high level of focus for every shot. Few things induce more trainable stress scenarios than being on the clock for a stage and competing against some of the best precision rifle shooters in the world.”
He continues, “We took a lot of our ‘lessons learned’ from shooting and competing in these matches and applied them to our sniper program. Since then, I can unquestionably say that the PRS has greatly improved the capabilities of our special operations snipers across the board. On the selfish side, it was always fun attending these matches, getting to know the community, and not having to come up with a training plan; we just showed up to these matches and drank from a fire hose.”
Now retired from special operations, Sikes is an avid PRS competitor, shooting in around 10 to 12 matches a year. He shoots in the open division, running rifles from GA Precision (where he also now works, building rifles and “training hungry shooters across the country,” he says). See sidebar for a full list of Sikes’ equipment.
“I couldn’t be happier to be a part of the shooting community. It’s the collective of people that really make competitive shooting what it is,” says Sikes. He adds, “I’m proud to say that I’ve made friends that have since become brothers while attending PRS events. Like brothers, the competitive spirit is always there. We still want to beat one another on our best days and there is no shortage of grief handed back when we don’t. Nothing like doing something at a match that your best friends can give you a hard time about for all of eternity.
“At this level of competition, it seems like the most visceral memories are the mistakes I’ve made at this match or that. Mistakes that sear into your brain in the hopes that you learn from them and come back better the next time around. Like I said, shooting matches is the best training there is; if you want to get good at shooting matches, then shoot matches.”
Editor’s note: For more on the Precision Rifle Series, visit precisionrifleseries.com
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.
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 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.
“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.
“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
[su_heading size=”30″ margin=”0″]From Hobby To Hotseat[/su_heading]
Northwest Action Works is a newcomer to the precision ﬁrearms custom rig creation world, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have their targets dotted and their hairs crossed. Their humble roots but high quality standards have given them the tools they need to create some truly impressive riﬂes for considerably less than most other custom shops. Why do they do this? We asked NAW founder Mason Watters how he got started, and what he is doing to shake up the industry as a newcomer.
Mason Watters We started this company on accident. We weren’t able to afford the often high prices associated with custom riﬂes, so we started building our own. Over time and after several builds for friends and ourselves, we started to get pretty good. When we ﬁrst became an official business, we thought it would only be a side job. We primarily just sold components. The next thing we knew we had custom-barreled actions and complete riﬂe orders coming in. We quickly had to adapt and it turned into a fulltime operation. We decided that in order to focus solely on the company, we had to maintained a goal of bringing only a line of high-quality products to the market at prices we felt were fair to us and our customers.
ASJ What would you say is your best product or strength?
MW All of our riﬂes and barreled actions come with a ½ minute of angle accuracy or better – guaranteed! With high-quality loads and steady hands, these actions are capable of much better, and it is not uncommon to see ragged or even single-hole groups at 100 yards, or bullet impacts stacking on top of each other at longer range steel gongs. Many of our customers are outstanding shooters and report some incredible feats of marksmanship.
ASJ How are you involved with the nation’s fastest growing shooting sport, the Precision Rifle Series?
MW We are actually just getting our feet wet with PRS. We have put together several rigs for people getting into practical competitions, and recently expanded our lineup to include a wider range of tactical-style, custom-riﬂe packages, each of which have a number of features and options that can be conﬁgured into an ideal competition rig.
ASJ Have you released anything new, or do you have anything in the works?
MW Yes! We have a new riﬂe package called the PMR Tactical, and we’re very excited about it. While this is our most entry-level package in price, it features performance traits that make it anything but entry level. It comes with our ½ MOA or better guarantee, as well as several upgrade options that make it a truly customized ﬁrst rig without breaking the bank.
ASJ It’s been great talking to you. We support your eﬀorts and look forward to seeing what you come up with next.
MW Thank you. ASJ
Editor’s note: For more information on Mason Watters or Northwest Action Works, visit nwactionworks.com.
Northwest Action Works has just released their entry-level precision package, the PMR Tactical 6.5 Creedmoor. (NORTHWEST ACTION WORKS)
[su_heading size=”30″ margin=”0″]ExclusiveInterview: Frank Green Of Bartlein Barrels[/su_heading]
INTERVIEW BY STEVE JOSEPH • PHOTOGRAPHS BY FRANK GREEN
If you have ever thought of getting involved in precision shooting, or are already immersed in the Precision Riﬂe Series competition, Bartlein Barrels is an industry name to know. Frank Green, Tracy Bartlein and Andy Kihn, who all previously worked for Kreiger Barrels, founded Bartlein Barrels and built it into what many are familiar with today – and for good reason.
Green sat down and gave us the ins and outs (pun intended) of their process and concepts of what makes them one of the best in the industry.
American Shooting JournalWho are the people behind Bartlein Barrels?
Frank Green We are experienced shooters, reloaders and hunters who have been working in the ﬁrearms industry collectively for over 30 years.
ASJ What is your title and tell us more about your background?
FG My title depends on which hat I’m wearing at the time. For the most part, I would say sales and technical service manager. I also do research and development for gun manufacturers, and riﬂe testing.
ASJ How did Bartlein get involved in the PRS?
FG Well, GA Precision-built riﬂes are used in the PRS more than any other builder, and GAP is one of our top customers. Also, other customers like Wade Stuteville at Stuteville Precision, who used to be one of the lead guys at Surgeon Riﬂes, Surgeon Riﬂes, Accuracy International, Dave Tooley, Marc Soulie at Spartan Riﬂes, Mark Gordon at Short Action Customs and several other makers use our barrels, and not just in PRS. You can ﬁnd our barrels in short- and long-range benchrest, F-Class and Palma matches, high-power riﬂe matches and many others. A lot of people say that we are the go-to barrel maker. Becoming involved in the PRS just happened naturally.
ASJ Why would someone choose your barrels over another maker in the industry?
FG The uniformity in our barrels and bore ﬁnishes are second to none. Our riﬂing machines are so accurate that we can carry the twist rate to the fourth decimal point (example: 11.3642). The process of single-point cut riﬂing is the most stress-free way to riﬂe a barrel. The twist is exact. Other forms of riﬂing can have variances due to the process they use. Also, the bore and groove dimensions are more uniform.
We pre-lap (a smoothing process) our barrels before riﬂing and ﬁnish-lap the barrel after riﬂing. There is no need to ﬁre-lap or conduct any other sort of bore polishing to the barrel. Contrary to what others say, a lapped barrel will not wear out earlier versus an unlapped one. In our experience, our barrels will typically last longer than a button barrel. Our desire is to make the best and be the best.
ASJ What types of barrels do you oﬀer?
FG We oﬀer chrome-moly steel (CM 4140) and stainless steel (SS 416R).
ASJ Which steel do you think is better?
FGNeither, from what we can see. If we had to pick one, we would lean towards the chrome-moly, possibly because it lasts longer, but how long a barrel lasts is subject to many variables: type of powder being used; how it is being shot and cleaned; types of bullets being shot, etc.
ASJ People often ask what “T-style” riﬂing is. Can you explain that?
FG We call it transitional riﬂing, but some refer to it as either gain twist, progressive twist or incremental twist. We can cut virtually any twist into a barrel, subject to tooling, of course, and we can start the twist at 1 in 14 and end up at 1 in 7, and have it uniformly increase from the breech to muzzle. We can also increase it very slowly, say, from 1 in 7.5 at the breech to a 1 in 7 at the muzzle.
“A cut barrel, even with a straight twist, is more uniform and consistent than a button barrel”
ASJ What are the beneﬁts of the transition-style riﬂing?
FG I’ll quote a great bygone-era barrel maker named Pope:
“The advantages of the gain twist are three: A) A lower twist rate at the breech gives less friction to the bullet, causing it to start easier and quicker, giving the powder less time to burn in front of the chamber, therefore less fouling than in a barrel with a uniform twist at the same muzzle pitch; B) The slight change in riﬂing angle, in connection with choke bore, eﬀectively shuts oﬀ any gas escaping and prevents gas cutting, which is another cause of imperfect delivery; C) It holds a muzzle-loaded bullet in position much better than a uniform twist.
I will add some more to this. First, I feel this applies more to a lead-bullet shooter than a jacketed-bullet shooter, but some of the why and why-nots do overlap. With a transition-style barrel the bullet cannot go to sleep. The riﬂing is always putting a fresh bite on the bullet as it goes down the bore of the barrel. This is why I always go back to a cut barrel being better than a button barrel.
A cut barrel, even with a straight twist, is more uniform and consistent than a button barrel. With button riﬂing, the button can hit a hard or soft spot in the steel, and it will slow the button down. The button could speed back up and complete its twist, but either way you end up with a non-uniform twist. This and a twist that keeps getting slower towards the muzzle are accuracy killers and consistently lead to problems such as ﬂiers. Even a slight gain in twist will help accuracy and not hurt a jacketed bullet. What has been conveyed to us – and this goes back to Pope’s ﬁrst point – is that shooters have noticed that they can run a slightly heavier powder charge versus a shooter with a straight twist barrel.
“More damage is done from cleaning than physically shooting the gun”
ASJ There are a lot of diﬀerent schools of thought on cleaners, and what types to use. What do you recommend?
FG We do not recommend things like Iosso bore paste. The paste cleaners get imbedded into the bore, so the next rounds ﬁred through the barrel will damage the bore. There is no way to be sure you have removed it completely from the barrel after cleaning, and some shooters have claimed that their barrel starts fouling right after use. We feel so strongly about this that we will not warranty any barrel cleaned with it. If you want to use a paste-type cleaner, we recommend Remington bore cleaner or JB.
ASJ What about cleaning brushes, do you recommend using them?
FG We only recommend using cleaning patches and solvent. If a shooter insists on using a brush, then we recommend one caliber smaller or an old worn-out one. Wrap a patch around the brush and push it breech to muzzle, unscrew the brush before pulling the cleaning rod back through the bore or over the crown. More damage is done from cleaning than physically shooting the gun.
ASJ Many shooters don’t even clean their riﬂes, and swear by this. What do you think?
FG I shoot them, I clean them, and the biggest reason is carbon fouling. The carbon fouling will keep building up and can cause pressure issues. Also, as the barrel wears over time, it won’t hold accuracy as long between strings of ﬁring. So you have to clean the barrel. I do not recommend not cleaning at all.
ASJ Frank, thank you for taking the time to talk to us today. Your knowledge and expertise are greatly appreciated.
[su_heading size=”30″ margin=”0″]Gunsmith In ‘Right Sport, Right Time’ for PRS Growth[/su_heading]
Interview by Steve Joseph • Photographs courtesy of Liberty Arms
[su_dropcap style=”light” size=”5″]T[/su_dropcap]he Precision Rifle Series is exploding, and along with it are the shooters and industry professionals who provide only the best in products and services. The PRS has extremely low tolerances for anything outside of perfect.
Meet Bob Goettel, owner and founder of Liberty Arms LLC, a full-service gunsmith capable of repairs on all makes and models of firearms. However, their specialty lies in custom-built precision rifles. Take a look at what inspired Goettel to get involved in the PRS, and what keeps his company growing.
Bob Goettel It started with a family friend who was a custom smith and machinist. The old story of sweeping the floors when I was 9 years old got me into their shop, and they helped me build my first .22 magnum. From that point on it was an addiction. I started building all of my own rifles for match shooting, and that started things in motion. Soon, friends would ask me to build rifles for them, and interest in my work kept building. Eventually the demand pushed me to start the business.
ASJ What services do you offer?
BG We offer all of the common gun-related gunsmithing services. However, we focus mainly on custom-rifle builds. We are set up for gunsmithing, cerakote and blueing services,and offer a full line of custom 1911s. Due to the growing popularity of long-range shooting and the growth of the PRS competition, 85 percent of our work has been focused on that portion of the industry. We also do lot of work for the local police department.
ASJYou mentioned having a line of 1911s. What other firearms do you offer?
BGWe also have our Trident AR-15 and -10, as well as bolt rifles, which are built using our lines and customer specs. The great thing for shooters today is the abundance of parts and accessories that are available. Just about anything is possible.
BG The PRS and long-range shooting in general has exploded in the past few years. From that explosion most shooters have found me. Just being into the right sport at the right time has helped set things in motion, and the PRS is a great event that keeps the rifle population alive. It’s great to be a small part of it.
The American Shooting Journal spoke with Mark Gordon, owner and founder of Short Action Customs. They build precision rifles specifically designed for the ultimate in discerning and elite shooters. Gordon is also the lead sponsor for today’s top Precision Rifle Series shooter David Preston. Here is what Gordon had to say:
Mark Gordon I got started with PRS as a precision-rifle builder to see what our rifles would have to go through. Most importantly, it was to see what the shooters demanded out of their rifles and what they needed to be successful. The bottom line is these rifles have to work every time without fail, be extremely accurate and practical to use in the field.
ASJWhat is it that is creating such explosive growth with competition precision shooting?
MGI believe it’s because these shooters have a desire to be proficient with their equipment and they want to know their limits. With a mixture of classic prone shooting and demanding positional shooting, the competitors are exposed to a large spectrum of disciplines at these matches. Lastly, the best place to do that is under strict time limits and lots of stress while other competitors watch. With many more club and national-level matches popping up all over the country, you can expect the sport to grow exponentially.
ASJYou currently sponsor the number one shooter in PRS. Tell us more about how that happened.
MGWe started our first rifle build for David Preston in early 2014 after developing a relationship with him from previous PRS matches. At that time, Preston was familiar with our rifles and what they were capable of. Luckily for me he wasn’t shooting for a team at the time. We spoke on a few occasions, and I offered him a position on our team. After many rounds fired, rifles rebarreled and matches shot, Preston really started shooting to his potential. We do our very best to keep reliable and accurate rifles in the hands of PRS shooters so they can do their job.
MGThere are two types of rifle builds that we love doing the most. The first is when a customer tells us to just do what we think is best. This allows us to take all of the leading-edge technology and components that we would use on our own builds and build the rifle we would want. It is great to have that kind of trust and confidence with our customers.
The second type of rifle build that we enjoy is when customers have us build rifles using components from manufacturers that we have not been exposed to. The parts industry is growing so fast, and as with any rifle build, it’s only going to be as good as the foundation it’s built on. So we really enjoy working with new components and learning about all the latest products.
My personal favorite rifle build is configured to be agile, medium weight and run smoothly. We run Defiance Machine integral scope base and recoil lug actions called the Alpha 11, Manners Composite Stocks T6A 100 percent carbon-fiber stocks and Remington Varmint-contoured barrels from Bartlein Barrels. We typically finish these rifles with custom paint from Custom Gun Coatings. ASJ