You have to admit that we have all at some point fantasized about being a sniper. While we can’t be Bob Lee Swagger or La Femme Nikita in real life we can at least go through the motions. We want to shoot in a situation that puts us under pressure of a time limit, engaging a variety of targets from concealed or distant positions in variable field conditions. We want to shoot out of a helicopter or from towers, moving boom lifts, shoot houses and trees. We want to be able to read the wind and hit a target from one mile away. We want to shoot from a rocking boat and channel our inner Navy Seal. We want o shoot out of a helicopter. If all of this sounds like an illegal amount of fun to be had, you are in luck. There is a shooting sport for this. To add some adrenaline to your competition life, allow me to introduce you to Tactical Precision Rifle.
This sport is not for the timid. But it will be the most fun you have ever had in any shooting competition. Coming from a long range target shooting discipline this game of precision rifle was something I could not resist. This is 3 Gun on steroids. Don your long range bolt action or semi-auto rifle, your tactical clothing and rucksack , laser range finders, ballistics program, wind meter and other geeky accessories and let your inner sniper come out.
Precision rifle is set up similar to 3 Gun. There are timed stages with a requirement of engaging one or several targets with obstacles to work around. But now add known and unknown long distance targets anywhere from 100 – 1700 yards or more. You must navigate your way around mountains and use nature as obstacles to shoot from, around, over or under. There are induced stress conditions, shooting steep departure angles from buildings, towers and/or mountains. You can engage moving targets that travel 3mph, the average speed of a walking human, from several hundred yards away. There is unsupported position shooting including offhand, kneeling and prone. Try this when your rifle weighs upwards of 15lbs. Physical fitness plays a role in this game as you can be hiking carrying 50 plus pounds of gear, food, water and ammunition for the day or overnight. You learn quickly to pair your gear down to only essentials. So how does one get involved in this sport?
It is easier than you think to find matches and practice sessions. Your path will be easier if you join a couple of forums. There are a couple of associations for precision rifle similar to USPSA or 3 Gun Nation that offers web sites with information and match schedules. www.precisionrifleseries.com and in my neck of the woods is www.nwprl.com There is also Competition Dynamics. One of the largest precision rifle communities is Snipershide.com. Register to enter the forum and you will find information and communities about matches across the country and in your own area. Not to mention you will find everyone’s opinions on any questions you may have. The local scene is the best way to get your foot in the door to competition. All of these sites have communities that encourage new shooters, especially women, and are very helpful to get you involved. The PRS has a great list of the bigger matches across the country and articles on their precision rifle blog site that covers in detail the most popular rifles, parts, optics and calibers.
Besides learning how to compete in this game, the biggest challenge to me was figuring out the rifle set up and gear needed. The research, and of course shopping, has been half the fun. My suggestion is to show up as a spectator at a match first to become familiar with the gear people use and to better understand the rules and etiquette of the game. People love to talk about their latest and greatest equipment and you will get more than your share of opinions. I will admit that this is not a cheap sport. I have seen rifle set ups that are in the $15,000 price range. But I have also seen out-of-the-box rifles that will only set you back $1100 and shoot very well. Ruger came out with a very decent rifle in that price range. Of course, my favorite is my set up that is a compilation of NW companies. My Rainier Arms bolt action has been a tack driver. Available in .308, 6.5 CM, 243 Win and .300 WSM. Yes, it is higher priced to start, about $4K, but man does it perform.
Deciding the rifle make and caliber to use is your biggest dilemma. If you want to call it that. There are surveys of the most popular used in both categories by PRS and Sniper’s Hide. The selection of stocks and barrels were across the board. Mine is the Orias chassis. As for calibers of choice I have seen that 6.5 and 6mm are on top pf the trend. I started competing with 308 to get my foot in the door. Although there is a separate 308 category in most matches that caliber is just no match for its flatter shooting cousins. I am currently shooting 6.5 Creedmoor.
Optics is the next priority purchase. But for new competitors, optics can become the object of more concern than is necessary, and can easily get caught up in too much magnification, weight and expense when the advantages are examined. A good optic, by my definition, requires excellent clarity, adequate magnification with a usable reticle that aids in ranging targets and the scope absolutely must be robust. Clarity is self-explanatory; your glass needs to be clear enough to see a half minute target on a clear day at 1,050 yards but also to peer into a bunch of scrub at sundown to look for a partially obscured target. Those match directors can be a cunning bunch when they decide to hide a target. At the least you will need a 18x scope. I use a 5-25X with a front focal plane (FFP). I rarely use the highest magnification.
If you like your scopes and rifles to remain in minty new condition then this is not the sport for you. Your gear is abused mercilessly, knocked against rocks as you scramble from one position to another. At one of my last matches I watched a shooter use a fence post as a rest not realizing that each shot caused barbed wire to put a fresh new scratch in the finish of his pricey Schmidt and Bender.
The reticle you consider will be either MIL based or MOA based both allow you to range targets, hold over or under to compensate for drop, lead movers and to measure corrections to hold follow-up shots. If you are in a team event, it helps if both people have the same reticle or at least both have the same MIL or MOA base.
And then there are The Extras. I am putting silencer in the extras section of this article since it is a bit more effort to acquire. But I swear by them! Hearing loss is a huge thing with shooters. Even with hearing protection, after years of shooting it can take its toll on you. I have been shooting my Gemtech Dagger that fits 30 caliber rifles. It is not only a relief to my ears and to those around me but I can stay on target so much better. A win win in any part of our shooting world. Your eyes are just as important. I always wear glasses with ballistic safety lens. My glass of choice is by ESS. Originally catered toward military they now offer their awesome glasses to the civilian world. Get them. I have seen one too many episodes of blow back or blown up guns. My backpack holds my rifle, ammo, food, water all of my gadgets and gear. The list of accessories does not end at the rifle and scope. A few of the obvious extras needed are bi-pods, slings and a rucksack. The most versatile style of bi-pod will be a 6″-9″ swivel, notched leg model, that can be angled forward or back as well. Harris Bi-pods are excellent in price and options and can mount to either a Picatinny rail or to a sling swivel stud. I especially love my Atlas bi-pod which does everything. In a stage where no support is allowed a sling is your friend. I have been using a Blue Force Gear sling and sometimes a Rifles Only. Both are very quick and easy to slip into and adjust from a seated to prone length in seconds. Often times your ruck or backpack can be used as a support if shooting from uneven surfaces where a bi-pod or sling is not ideal.
If I have to hike a long distance between stages I prefer a pack with a built in or detachable scabbard for my rifle. For matches that are in a condensed area a smaller pack will suffice and you use a carry sling instead. Quality does matter when it comes to packs. They are dragged through culverts and mud, tied to trees for a support and tossed around. They carry your food and water for the day. Look for brands such as Eberlestock, Mystery Ranch or Tactical Tailor.
They may make your pack a bit heavier but there is some gear that you should have. Of course, the best way to find out about gear is to shoot a match or two and see what others are using. A range finder and ballistic software top my list of must haves. Seconds count when you have only one minute of prep time to range your targets and figure out positions. If you are required to use your reticle to range then the manual MilDot Master card does the math for you. With a ballistic app, once your custom ballistics information is entered you have elevation drops for every distance that adjust with you at sea level or 6600 ft and if the weather varies from freezing to hot and humid. Do not attempt a match without it. Many come as apps for the Droid or Iphone such as Shooter, Applied Ballistics and Field Firing Solutions. The hand held Kestrel has built in software for Applied Ballistics and Horus. A light weight, collapsible tri-pod helps out when position shooting is required and support is allowed. With a tri-pod, offhand at a small steel target 200 yards away becomes a bit more manageable. A popular product used is a Wiebad. This is a super light but puffy bag that you can attach to one arm. It acts as a steady rest when position shooting or shooting from obstacles. Sure, you like silly running around with a giant pillow strapped to your arm but you will thank me later.
Precision Rifle is a rapidly growing shooting sport. To me it is worth the investment. It is addicting. The people involved are great and helpful to new shooters. Another shout out to the companies that support me in this game with their amazing products and components – Gemtech Silencers, ESS Eye Pro, Nosler and Rainier Arms.