While the purpose of sport and athletic activity is to make better people, not just champions, there have been many greats in shooting. As with any endeavor, there is a simple but difficult road to greatness in shooting sports. Simple because there are only a few things the athlete needs to know, but difficult because of the blood, sweat, and tears it takes to truly master these simple truths.
So here is the easy part:
Find inspiration in the achievements of those who have gone before you
Make the commitment to your chosen activity or sport
Set goals that are a series of attainable steps
Study the skill sets required for any given activity
Become brilliant at the basics and work to master the fundamentals
Enjoy your achievements but, more importantly, learn from your losses and mistakes
Work every day to improve your performance, fitness, stamina, and strength
Now the difficult part: Follow the above plan four to six days a week for at least two to four years to enter the world of the elite athlete and the elite shooter.
“To compete or not to compete, that is the question…,” to paraphrase Will Shakespeare. But then he wasn’t a competitive shooter.
I can state categorically that competition shooting will make you an all-round better shooter, whether your skills are required for military, law enforcement, or just hunting. But in reality, it’s the preparation for competition where the real heavy lifting takes place.
Once you make the decision to try your hand (and eye) at competition shooting, you will be at the beginning of a long and very satisfying journey. Emerging from the humble beginnings of a recreational plinker, you will rise to the level of “competitor” beginning with quantifying your skills through a series of metrics.
To aid in this journey, the following is a road map to competition success:
Decide which form of competition you want to shoot. This will often be driven by the types of rifles or pistols that you like shooting, or by the availability of local matches.
Check your budget because competitive shooting is not cheap. First there is the cost of a $2,000 to $6,000 rifle and scope. Then there is the added cost of shooting more than you have ever done before. PRS shooters, for example, shoot 200-300 rounds in every major match. (As a competitive pistol shooter I shot 50,000 rounds of 45 ACP every year. As an ELR rifle competitor, my rounds could cost as much as $10 each.)
Apart from equipment costs, there are also the time and costs involved in traveling to out-of-state matches. Driving 1,000 miles to a match, laying down a $200 entry fee, and spending 4-5 nights in a hotel gets expensive, plus the time away from work.
Do some research on what the top ranked competitors are using in the way of rifles, scopes, ammunition, and related accessories. Take the time to reach out to some of these folks for sage advice. My personal mantra is, “Buy the best and you will seldom be disappointed.”
Study the match format and learn the rules. For example, if the match specifies a weight limit on rifles, you don’t want to turn up with one that’s 2 pounds over.
Practice the match format, including positions, distances, and time limits on your local or home range. You need to become comfortable with the format to shoot well.
If you have the opportunity, go and observe a match without actually shooting so as to become familiar with the format, range commands, and procedures. This will also be an opportunity to talk to top ranked competitors and collect info on their weapons platforms.
Jump in, but don’t expect to do well in the first match or even first few matches. It usually takes about a year to become a seasoned competitor, so set your sights on doing well the second year.
Can a big bore, belted magnum, dangerous game cartridge produce the same accuracy as a precision long range rifle? Absolutely, but the rifle must be built to the same demanding specs as a precision rifle. Where 2″ at 100 yards can be considered acceptable for an off-the-shelf factory hunting rifle, long range precision shooters are looking for not just sub-MOA but 0.5 MOA. In practical terms, 2″ at 100 is 4″ at 200 and 6″ at 300 yards, well within the heart and lung kill zone on a large animal. But once a shooter has been bitten by the precision shooting bug, only super accurate rifles are interesting.
For this project the rifle was built the same way I build my long range and ELR precision rifles. This begins with a Stiller’s Action, Bartlein barrel, McMillan stock, and Bix’N Andy trigger, topped with a Leupold Mark 5HD 5-25x scope.
Initial break-in with 32 rounds was done with an assortment of ammunition that I had on the shelf from previous .375 H&H rifles and plans to head to Africa. Some loads were over 20 years old and mostly Hornady 270 RN and Speer 270 Spitzer bullets in Remington brass, with Federal magnum primers, and loaded with IMR 4064. None of the components were match grade, the brass was virgin factory RP, the primers were 215s, and the cartridge overall length (COAL) was kept at SAAMI specs or less (<3.600″).
Needless to say, I was not expecting anything great out of the first range session. Groups ran 1.5″ to 2″ which is adequate for hunting at close to medium range, but definitely not in the class for precision long range shooting. However the goal was just to break in the barrel.
After giving the bore a good clean it was time to get serious. I had measured the chamber and knew that loading to SAAMI specs of <3.600″ left a jump of almost 0.200″ to the rifling, depending on bullet ogive. That is two hundred thou as a opposed to the general starting point of twenty thou (0.020″) off the lands. This prompted me to begin with a COAL of 3.650″ and 3.700″ since my magazine box could handle a COAL up to 3.825″
As for bullets, I loaded up Hornady 250 GMXs, Barnes 250 TTSXs, and Hornady 270 RN. I also tried Varget and IMR 4350 in addition to IMR 4064. This was still with virgin factory RP brass and Federal magnum 215 primers – and still not match components.
The 250 GMXs with 65 grains of Varget, loaded to 3.700″, had an average muzzle velocity of 2,616 fps and produced a 5-shot group of 0.7″
The Barnes 250 TTSXs with 65 grains of Varget, loaded to a COAL of 3.650″, had an average MV of 2,586 fps and produced a 5-shot group of 0.7″ with best 4 going 0.5″
The Hornady 270 Round Nose with 70 grains of IMR 4350, loaded to 3.600″, turned in an MV of 2,366 fps and a 5-shot group of 0.8″ with best 4 going 0.4″
All three of these loads are definitely in the acceptable range for precision shooting, and still without any brass preparation, bullet sorting by weight, or match-grade magnum primers. So stay tuned for Part 2 when I begin doing more brass prep and utilizing match-grade primers.
One of the previous TRS blog posts discussed why cheap scopes simply don’t cut it when it comes to long range precision shooting, and especially extreme long range (ELR) shooting at multiple targets positioned at various distances. Similarly, cheap bipods can severely degrade accuracy and speed at longer ranges.
I’ve lost count of how many shooters have turned up to STTU precision rifle classes with cheap, wobbly bipods only to invest in a better unit before the end of the program. For decades, the Harris Bipod has been the standard for most recreational shooters, including military and law enforcement snipers, but unfortunately numerous companies produced cheap knock-offs, usually made in China, that were little more than junk. To this day, the Harris Bipod is still a good choice for hunting rifles and military snipers where weight and cost are an issue.
However, in recent years, just as rifle scopes have made huge advancements in quality and precision with models such as the Leupold Mark 5HD and Nightforce ATACR, bipod manufacturers have risen to the demands of precision shooters. Atlas and Accu-Tac are two such manufacturers.
The features that are desirable in a bipod include:
Quality construction and materials
Adjustable legs with positive locking
Quick adjustment of leg length that allow for a comfortable prone position
A solid form of attachment to the rifle – either rail or sling stud
A lockable tilt adjust that allow the rifle to be leveled on uneven terrain
Manufacturer warrantee program an good customer service
Other features may include:
A swivel head to allow tracking of moving targets or transition to other targets without moving the feet
Extra wide footprint to better stabilize large caliber rifles such as 338 WinMag, 338 Lapua Mag, .375 H&H Mag, or 375 Chey Tac
An option of rubber or spiked feet
An option of skid or ski type feet
Extra long legs for field use where scrub and tall grass can be an issue
The width of the bipod footprint is particularly important with calibers that generate considerable torque as the heavier bullets pass down the bore. Following the law of “equal and opposite reaction,” when the bullet slams into the rifling in a right-hand twist barrel, the rifling forces the bullet to spin to the right. Conversely, the bullet is trying to force the barrel and rifle to twist to the left. With a narrow bipod, this toque to the left can cause the rifle to rock onto one leg and the whole rifle to twist to the left. A wide bipod and an effective muzzle brake can go a long way to taming that torque. This is particularly important when engaging multiple targets with multiple shots at varying distances and angles, as found in PRS and ELR matches.
For calibers such as .308 Win and 6.5 Creedmoor, with 168-175 grain and 140-147 grain bullets respectively, do not generate much torque so a standard width bipod will do the job. But when a shooter begins running 250 to 350 grain bullets in .338 and .375 calibers, then the toque needs a little more taming. The Accu-Tac WD series of bipods are particularly effective at this.
So is the added cost worth it? You bet. Once you’ve shot a quality, stable bipod, it is hard to go back to anything less.
The five month project rifle came to completion yesterday with the arrival of the UPS truck – a custom .375 H&H big game hunting rifle. This began back in June with the order of a Stiller’s Predator action, Bartlein #4 Bull Sporter barrel, a McMillan Tactical Hunter stock, and a Bix’N Andy Dakota trigger.
For anyone planning a custom build, it is recommend to order all the components at the same time since manufacture lead time and delivery can vary based on availability, demand, and time of year.
Break-in and testing will begin this week with an assortment of bullets, powders, and loads to include Hornady 270 grain Round Nose, Hornady 250 grain GMX, and Speer 270 grain BTSP, with Sierra and Barnes next week. Powders will include IMR 4064, Varget, IMR 4350, and H4350.
Most of the rounds are currently loaded to close to SAAMI COAL spec of 3.600″ but .375 H&H chamber throats are actually cut quite long, allowing for rounds to be loaded out to 3.750+” depending on the ogive of the bullet. Using a Hornady Lock N’ Load, some bullets were touching the lands at 3.787″-3.878″ and the Sierra 350 grain SMK was 4.000″. This will make for some interesting testing to see which bullets like a running start of 0.200″ and which perform better with less jump closer to 0.020″