INTERVIEW WITH A CHAMPION – DEREK RODGERS
FTR World Champion / 2017 Ko2M Champion
By Mark V. Lonsdale
With the 2018 King of 2 Miles (Ko2M) only 5 weeks away, those selected to compete in July 2018 are all focused on load development and preparations for the king of ELR shooting events. And be assured, Derek Rodgers will be there to defend his title.
Last October I had the opportunity to interview Derek about his experience
Derek with team mate and spotter Paul Phillips
What made you decide to get into ELR shooting?
- Derek: I was interested in shooting ELR distances after learning the King of 2 Miles event was held in Raton, NM. I have competed in 1000 yard competitions for 15 years, so shooting beyond those distances was a natural evolution. Also being a resident of New Mexico and having open terrain gives me a lot of opportunity to shoot far. I get enjoyment out of proving something will work, and I have always had a way of making loads perform. Working through these challenges and pushing the envelope with cartridges made me want to explore this discipline of shooting.
What is the Ko2M?
- Derek: The Ko2M stands for King of 2 Miles. It is an Extreme Long Range (ELR) event ranging from 1550 yards to 2 miles. This match is held in Raton, New Mexico and shooters are given 5 shots to hit the first target. They are rewarded with 5x the distance in points for a 1st round impact, 4x for the 2nd shot, 3x for 3rd, 2x for the 4th, and 1x for a 5th shot hit. After each distance the shooter acquires the next target and fires 3 shots at the target. The targets are located at varying distances along a mountainside. Any single hit will allow the shooter to advance to the next distance. The top 10 shooters scores advance to a “finals” division where they will be challenged to shoot at 1.5, 1.75, and 2 miles. The same rules apply, but are given 15 shots total to shoot these 3 targets. Verifying hits was done with cameras and 2 verifiers that can see the bullet strike the steel target and make it swing. This match is what gave me enough of a push to enter the ELR game.
Team AB at the 2017 Ko2M
Did any of your team mates on Team Applied Ballistics talk you into it?
- Derek: Paul Phillips knew I had interest in shooting the further distances. He and I have been teammates for 10 years. These teams were Team Sinclair and Team USA – FTR. Paul talked to Bryan Litz and told him I may be someone they should look at as becoming an AB Team member. Bryan reached out to me and asked if I would be interested. I was, and told Bryan that I was interested in helping prove the science of shooting at these distances and so the journey began.
Why did you select 375 CheyTac?
- Derek: I chose the 375 CheyTac because it simply made sense. Most of the other Team AB shooters were using another 375 cartridge with a bit more performance. However, brass was harder to get and I am not a big fan of belted cases if a non-belted version can be had with similar results. The 375 CT has been out for quite some time and the availability of components was a lot easier to come by. I felt it was hard enough to pioneer a road that few have successfully gone down and sticking to a known cartridge had some positive benefits for my shooting program. I was trying to minimize variables that could have ultimately caused obstacles of success.
How long did it take to have the rifle built after making the decision?
- Derek: It took around 6 months to go from scratching out a plan to having a finished build. I was able to secure an action for the project. At the time, McMillan Stocks were working on a new stock purpose built for ELR shooting. This stock was called the “ELR Beast” and is suited to handle the larger scale actions that are needed for the task. Once I had a barrel and had it fitted, I had the barreled action sent to McMillan for custom stock inletting. They did a superb job in cutting the inletting for my particular set up.
Derek’s 375 CheyTac in the McMillan ELR Beast
Were you happy with the selected barrel twist?
- Derek: I chose a 7.75 twist Bartlein barrel and was quite happy with it. However, I also saw shooters using 7, 8, and 9 twists with success in 375 caliber. I believe the 7.75” is enough to easily stabilize a 400+ grain bullet even at a lower elevation. We were shooting in Raton at above 6,400’ elevation. This elevation allows for more forgiveness in bullet stability. My bullets were predictable and the impact on steel at 2 miles was round proving the bullets were still stable at the 3,600 yard mark.
Was the action bedded into the stock? What was used for bedding?
- Derek: I used a Barnard P-Chey Action. This action is unique in that it has a smooth hole located at the bottom of the action. Smaller sized Barnard’s like the Model P also have a hole but are threaded where a bottom-belly recoil lug can be utilized easily. The Chey-P is different. Mac Tilton is an old friend of mine and even though he does not sell Barnard actions anymore, I called him and asked for his advice. I had already chambered and fit the barrel without a barrel recoil lug. He told me I could substitute a V-Block and pin my action where it was a slip fit into the V-Block. I took his advice and the action and rifle went together like Fort Knox. This served as my recoil lug and my bedding system. That really is a testament to how rigid the McMillan ELR Beast stock is. It can accommodate V-Blocks and non-normal bedding applications. Although pillar bedding is probably the best solution in most cases. I had Alex Sitman at Masterclass Stocks bed it. I am not sure what his exact formula is on bedding compound, but it is extremely robust.
How many different loads did you test to settle on the load you used?
- Derek: I tried a variety of loads before settling on one. I actually tried a range of bullets from 352 grains to 409. I focused my attention to the solid projectiles that Cutting Edge offers. I first tried Retumbo powder and was sorely disappointed as it created a massive pressure spike and accuracy was not acceptable for my set-up. I switched to the much slower burn rate of H50BMG. This slower burn rate gave me very reliable velocities and the accuracy was around 1/3 MOA at 1000 yards.
Did you do the initial testing at 100 yards?
- Derek: I do the majority of my testing at 325 yards and 600 yards. I find 325 yards to be a truthful test for me. At this distance I can weed out good loads from great ones. I have also found that if I can get a group to form consistently at 325 yards, it will be checked at 600. If it passes this test, it will likely work just fine further out. In the case of my 375CT, I wanted to shoot it at 1000 yards with a couple small changes in reloading to see if I could get something better.
What muzzle velocity were you looking for?
- Derek: I wasn’t looking for any specific muzzle velocity. In fact, I was having trouble finding any data that had merit, so I developed my load that worked for me and my rifle. I have learned from many thousands of rounds of loading and development of other cartridges, more velocity is not always the answer. I was cautious of this and focused on producing consistently small groups while maintaining a stout load. Our summer time temperatures in New Mexico can wreck a good load if you push a cartridge too far. As it turns out I was able to reach near 3,000 fps with accuracy that was more than acceptable.
What was the best group?
- Derek: After I had a working load, I spoke to Dan Smitchko from Cutting Edge Bullets on how to tighten it further. He gave me tips and I then tried to further vet a final load at 1000 yards. Fortunately I was able to find a load that shot under 3” of vertical at 1000 yards and settled on it being what I would push forward with in practice and the Ko2M event.
How many rounds did you fire before settling on a load?
- Derek: I shot just over 100 rounds before I settled. However, I did choose the Cutting Edge 400 grain Lazer bullet because the rest of Team AB was already using it. I felt it would help simplify the ballistic math if we all used the same projectile. It is easier to see a pattern while testing our rifles with the same bullet profile. I’m sure I would have found a load with any of the projectiles tested as they all showed promise.
Did you have the opportunity to practice at long range?
- Derek: I did a small amount of testing at 1000 yards, but it was a mad scramble to get a rifle together and shooting well enough before we practiced as a team. A few weeks prior to the Ko2M, we all did some practicing on a separate range at the New Mexico’s Whittington Center’s “back-country”—where the staff at the WC have targets arranged from several hundred yards away to 2 miles. This proved to be an extremely crucial breakthrough in our ELR development. We were able to test our individual guns, as well as, compare with each other. I don’t get many opportunities to shoot with my peers being I am located in New Mexico and the majority of Team Applied Ballistics is located in Michigan. It is refreshing to compared notes with similar rifles with my peers at the same time versus shooting all alone.
Were your Ko2M come-ups based on the ballistics program or on actual shooting data?
- Derek: We used ballistic programs to gather our initial come-ups and they were all very close—if not correct. However, we did modify some of our data to match the actual drop of the bullets used for each rifle. My come-ups were derived from a hybrid solution of ballistic and actual firing data.
Did you select the come-ups for each distance or was it a Team effort?
- Derek: Each shooter was responsible for determining their rifles trajectory. However, we would also vet the come-up solutions with two other shooters and devices. If there were differences, we averaged them to come up with a sensible ballistic solution.
What was the most significant value of having Team Support?
- Derek: The most significant value of a team is having the support network in place to help raise your ability to another level. When you can combine years’ worth of competitive, reloading, shooting and internal and external ballistic knowledge it can make for a synergy that is unmatched in comparison.
Did you dial in adjustments after a miss or just aim off? Kentucky windage?
- Derek: We did both. Our primary goal of getting on target was identifying how far off the shots were missed by and making a change to the scope. I prefer to make a scope adjustment rather than holding off. I am always more certain of my scope hold this way, as 2nd and 3rd shot holds become exponentially more difficult as impacts change. In other words, it would be very difficult for spotters to know what the proper hold is if they are uncertain of my scope hold. I personally suffer from nerve issues in my face and the inability to blink my shooting eye. It has affected the razor sharp clarity of my vision. It makes it easier to “hold center.” We decided as a team that if the shooter sees the impact, the shooter could hold that offset and take another shot. I actually performed this at 2 miles. However, in theory it would work, I would prefer to utilize my team and spotters to give me a calculated adjustment to get me as close as possible to the center of the target.
Hanging ELR targets for the Ko2M in Raton, NM
Any significant lessons learned?
- Derek: Putting together a large scale rifle is different from smaller size rifles. Resources can be limited. Being part of a group of other ELR shooters will help in making proper decisions on what to get and where it can be obtained. We also learned how to work together as a team. This was crucial to success. We had processes we thought would work and soon realized as a team we had failures. We were able to modify and come up with new job roles as individuals on the 3 man team and then began to progress with hitting targets at a quicker pace.
To conclude, I would like to thank Derek for taking the time to answer my questions. His willingness to share his experience is the mark of a true sportsman and champion.
Paul Phillips 2018 Ko2M rifle – a 416 Barrett in a McMillan ELR Beast stock
Go to Tactical Rifle Shooters facebook page for links to video of the 2017 Ko2M narrated by Paul Phillips
Photo credits to Team AB, Ko2M, and various photographers