The Good, the Bad & the Ugly
Last weekend, Derek Rodgers and I had the pleasure of being invited to shoot in the Guardian Long Range Competition Shoot at Big Sandy AZ, as Team McMillan/ELRHQ. This was the first Long Range PRS event for both of us so definitely turned into a learning experience.
Derek and Mark, with Team McMillan / ELRHQ, scoping out the stages at the Guardian Long Range Competition in AZ
Supported by several major manufacturers including McMillan, the Big Sandy range, and the NRL, this match was a huge success, but more importantly, it was fun. Organized and managed by Britainy McMillan and her team of Guardian angels, the match went off flawlessly and the comradery and sportsmanship of the shooters was exemplary. The dedication and support of the RO’s who donated their time was also noteworthy.
Mark Lonsdale shooting one of the stages at the Guardian Long Range Competition in Arizona, Dec 2018
Both Derek and I went in somewhat ill-prepared for this event, since this was a first. As with any form of competition, a shooter needs to actually shoot a couple of matches to gain an appreciation for the rules, format, mechanics, and unique pieces of equipment. Never the less, there is still a lot of satisfaction from the “run what you brung” attitude and no match pressure. But speaking for myself, buying factory ammo from a gun shop in Kingman, AZ, on the way to a match, is not exactly match preparation. When I was first invited by McMillan to shoot, I had committed to practicing for a couple of months before the match, unfortunately I was traveling overseas and out of state right up until the week before the match. But it was not all doom and gloom.
6.5 Creedmoor in a McMillan A6 stock topped with a Leupold Mark 5HD 5-25x56mm. Barrel is a Bartlein medium Palma profile, 1:8″ twist, cut to 24″ by Robar with Roguard finish
Things that went well:
- Excellent rifle: Even though I had not attended a Long Range PRS match, thinking ahead, I had put together a rifle that would be suited to this type of shooting. I went with an Atlas Tactical action with a Bartlein Medium Palma profile, 1:8” twist, cut to 24 inches with an APA brake, all loaded into a McMillan A6 adjustable stock. I selected 6.5 Creedmoor since some government agencies are going to this caliber in the near future and I wanted to collect data for future training programs. However, based on what the top shooters are using, 6mm seems more popular because of the reduced recoil, less muzzle jump, and quicker follow up shots.
- Good choice of scope and reticle – I decided to use this match to test a new Leupold Mark 5HD 5-25×56 with an H-59 tactical milling reticle. This scope turned out to be a good choice, but I ended up shooting most of the match on 13X which made it quicker to acquire targets. Night Force and Vortex also have excellent scopes for this type of shooting, particularly the NF ATACR.
- Good choice of factory ammunition – I had initially planned to shoot hand loads and had done quite a bit of testing with Berger 140s, Sierra 140 SMKs, and Hornady 140 ELDs. All shot extreme well, grouping 0.5” to 0.8” at 100 yards. But when the crunch came I had run out of time so grabbed several boxes of factory Hornady 140 grain ELD Match, which I knew shot 0.5” out of my rifle. This is what I used for the match.
- Excellent ballistics program – For the past 18 months I have been running the Applied Ballistics Analytics for ELR shooting with good success, so was confident using this for Long Range PRS. The range card that I ran the day before the match was within hundredths of a mil on range day so I had a lot of confidence in my dope. The match had eleven targets between 700 and 1,300 yards, engaged from various shooting positions, so reliable dope was essential.
- Excellent choice of ballistics solver – I have been running the Kestrel 5700 Elite with AB solutions for ELR so used this to confirm my range card dope on range day. In addition to capturing wind dope, with changing temperatures, density altitude, and direction of fire, the Kestrel was essential to confirming and fine tuning my firing solutions in real time.
- Shooting bags – I went into this match with three bags: a Wiebad mini Fortune Cookie, a Wiebad Tac-Pad, and an Armageddon Game Changer. These worked well for what they are designed, but there is definitely room to add some more bags to my inventory of options.
- Backpack – I had selected an Eberlestock FAC Track pack since I knew we would be moving from stage to stage all morning. This worked out to be a good choice with the correct volume to carry all my bags, ammo, water, snacks, range finder, tools, etc.
- Spotting Scope – A spotting scope is an important tool for LR shooting and my 30-year old Leupold Mark 4 12-40x spotting scope worked out perfectly. Apart from clear optics and a mil-dot reticle, this scope has been traveling with me for three decades and has proven to be reliable under a variety of conditions. Kowa, Vortex and Swarovski also make excellent spotting scopes.
- Coaching and Spotting – Since this match catered to new shooters, spotting and coaching was encouraged between shooters on each squad and by the RO’s. This was a pleasant change from other shooting sports where individuals are focused on winning and not apt to share tips that may help another shooter. Novice shooters were also encouraged to make their lack of experience known to the RO’s so that they could coach them thru the course of fire.
Backpack, Leupold spotting scope, and an assortment of bags
Things that did not go so well:
- Time limits – Every stage of the match had a 2-minute time limit, which meant that whether you had all your shots off or not, the ceasefire was called at 2 minutes. This meant we lost a lot of points on targets that were never engaged. 2 minutes is ample time when shooting at 100-400 yards, but when the majority of the targets are at 600 to 1300 yards, 2 minutes becomes a struggle to engage four targets with 2 rounds each from four different positions. If everything goes smoothly, 2 minutes is adequate, but any equipment issues or procedural fumbles and it becomes all too short.
- Position shooting – As with IPSC and IDPA, PRS shooting is practical shooting from a variety of deviously designed positions, including from barricades, t-posts, barrels, pipes, sloping roofs, hot tubes and off an air mattress. This is a far cry from shooting off a bench at your local range, or shooting prone with a bipod and rear bag. If a novice shooter was to practice two things, it would be positional shooting and economy of effort in the transitions.
- Bi-pod – I went into this match with a Harris 6”-9” bi-pod, and while this worked well, it was not tall enough for the targets way up on the ridgeline. So will definitely be adding taller bi-pods to my inventory.
- PRS bags – A shooter definitely needs a full set of bags for various options including a larger Wiebad Pump Pillow, a Game Changer, a small bag to go under the toe of the stock, such as the mini Fortune Cookie, and a smaller bag that attaches under the fore-end such as made by Cole-Tac.
- Scope caps – With everything else going on, including confirming the correct dope on the scope, I went into two stages with the front scope cap still closed, costing precious seconds. Just a brain fart on my part but it won’t happen again. I also observed several shooters begin shooting with the dope from a previous stage still on their elevation dial. When they missed completely on the first shot, their team mates would yell, “check dope” to get them back on target.
- Moving between positions – In PRS it is necessary to have the action open when moving between shooting positions but on one stage we were required to shoot only one round from each position, not two as on all the other stages. As a result I was automatically racking the bolt and reloading after the first round expecting to fire twice. This procedural error required that I stop and unload before moving to the next position, losing valuable seconds under already tight time limits. This is where mentally rehearsing the stage and visualization helps to program the brain.
- Shooting Slings – A shooting sling is not only for carrying the rifle but is also an aid in shooting, particularly offhand shooting. I neglected to use my sling on the 296-yard offhand stage so could have kicked myself afterwards when I saw another shooter making good use of his. Live and learn.
- Breaking bad habits – Sometimes it takes another shooter to point out a bad habit that you may not realize you are doing. For me it was coming off the scope when racking the bolt. Something I will work on over the next few weeks.
Hot tube, roof line, and t-post were just some of the positions
Advice to new shooters, and even more experienced veterans – Take the time to self-analyze your performance after each match and make a list of what went well and what needs improvement. This will give you a training plan and a road map towards improvement. Both Derek and I have our work cut out for us preparing for the next Long Range PRS match, but we look forward to supporting the next Guardian shoot in Arizona.