With the Precision Rifle Series (PRS) reaching a decade of competition, many club series, and other leagues worldwide participating in precision rifle shooting, tens of thousands of shooters have tested their mettle against tiny targets from unstable positions at extended ranges. Typically, these shots are made on the clock, under pressure, while the shooter has to mentally manage many factors such as elevation adjustments, position building, wind observation, and correction, as well as trying to keep themselves as stable as possible! However, a common gripe amongst many long-range competitors has been, "I have built myself this game gun," but it has no practical use outside competition."
Some try to "bridge the gap" by shooting competition with their hunting rifle, but as many would soon realize, a heavy rifle and a light recoiling caliber will score more points. Others look to alternate forms of competition in which 25 lb rifles and 6mm calibers aren't permitted, such as the National Rifle League (NRL) Hunter series, which employs weight limits and caliber restrictions to keep things on a more even playing field. As such, we are seeing a divergence in the gear shooters choose to compete with, the caliber choices due to advanced ballistics and restrictions, and arguably most importantly, the mindset shift in practical rifle skills. Regardless of the competition you participate in, and the gear you choose, here is a quick guide on transferring those skills to a real-world scenario.
THE FUNDAMENTALS WILL ALWAYS BE THE SAME
A good shooter is a good shooter, no matter what rifle system you hand them. Fundamental shooting skills transcend disciplines; some are naturally good at pulling the trigger when they're supposed to. When competing in a precision rifle environment, fundamental skills are still important; however, the other skills you develop are vital for bridging the gap to becoming a practical rifle shooter. The definition of a "successful" practical rifle shooter will vary; however, for most, that will mean you become a better hunter. For others, in a more professional role, the ability to learn and develop the skills to quickly and precisely execute a mission objective is critical for their occupation.
There are many ways we could analyze the skills required to be a practical rifleman, but for the sake of brevity, I will use a typical stage breakdown as my guide.
BEFORE THE BEEP
As with any endeavor: prior preparation prevents poor performance. Before you approach any stage in a match, there is a lot of preparation, prior knowledge that has been gained, reloading, tuning of your rifle system, etcetera, that will get you to that point. These preparation skills are directly translatable to the hunter or the first responder; however, adjusting them to your requirements will always take trial and error. Ensuring your system is up to the task is usually the simplest but sometimes overlooked step in the preparation checklist. It can include simple things like checking your rifle zero at 100 yards or ensuring that you have an accurate muzzle velocity. This can save you a lot of headaches, score you more points, or ensure you make that shot on a trophy buck. Before stepping up to any stage in a match, a tip I learned from reading the Secrets of Mental Marksmanship by Linda Miller and Keith Cullingham is to prepare your own "pre-stage plan." While everyone's pre-stage workflow will vary a little, building that workflow for yourself and making it second nature is not a hard exercise to complete.
One night during a dryfire session, I grabbed a notebook and my competition rifle and noted everything I would do before starting my stage. Tighten the cheek riser thumb screw on my MDT Skeleton Rifle Stock; make a note. Verify that the Ckye-Pod on my ACC Chassis Premier is in the right position for the stage and easily accessible; make a note. Check that my parallax was set correctly on my Vortex Razor and the elevation turret was dialed to the initial "shots" DOPE; make a note. Before I knew it, I had a pre-stage workflow written out, which could easily be organized into a quick list that I could complete in about 30 seconds before any stage I shot!
Regardless of how long or short your pre-stage checklist is, having a plan is better than having no plan and will make you more prepared for whatever the shooting task at hand is. The above can be applied to a hunt, F-Class competition, or even a law enforcement or military scenario.
The next part of the stage sequence can be the most daunting for some, as that ear-piercingly loud beep that comes out of a shot timer can have short-term memory loss and make you instantly forget your whole stage plan! It takes time to become comfortable being on the clock and controlling your emotions and nerves. Still, a good way to ignore the stress of starting a stage is to fully focus on the task at hand, finding targets and engaging them methodically.
Every shooting situation will be different, and sometimes you are faced with a whole field full of targets and markers everywhere, while other times (such as the NRL Hunter Finale match this year in Idaho), I was left scratching my head and asking myself "are you sure there are targets
out there?". In the former situation, where you are faced with many targets of opportunity, building a stage map and drawing out where your targets can be handy for some, whereas the tried and trued method of locating a feature on the horizon above the target and just coming straight down from that, seems to be foolproof for many. If you can't see the horizon, if you're shooting on a prairie, finding easily recognizable features such as fence posts, vehicle tracks, foliage, or treelines can help you index a target more quickly. Also, don't forget that it's not uncommon to see something from a comfortable standing position behind the shooting position, which may not be visible when trying to go prone in the high grass or peer through a little shooting window.
Another stumbling block for many new shooters is building a simple, hasty position that is stable enough to support their rifle, and sometimes themselves, well enough to execute a precise shot. I have found that, more often than not, the simplest, most straightforward solution is the best solution, and when trying to switch up your approach or try something new on the clock, you'll regret it!
There are really just four simple positions that can be modified for shooting every type of situation you may encounter in a match or in the real world: prone, sitting, kneeling, and standing. A fellow competitor and all-around interesting guy, Chris Way, has developed a drill called the "Rifle Kraft" challenge, which is an excellent way to develop and track your skills in these four basic positions.
FOUR BASIC POSITIONS
Prone is the position that just about everyone is most comfortable in and the one most should be practicing the least. If anything, a good way to spice up the prone position is to work on "modified prone," which is typical in match formats where you aren't able to flop down on your belly, but rather you're able to use a rear bag and a bipod from an alternate position like a shooting bench, tractor tire or something of the like.
I believe the sitting position in most "time-sensitive" stages should be avoided as it takes too long to get into and out of. Of course, when given the time and opportunity, shooting off of a stable prop, or better yet, a solid tripod from the sitting position, may as well be shooting prone for how stable you can be! As with most "non-prone" shooting positions, the key to stability in the seated position is filling in empty voids (like under your elbows or knees) with large support bags or a backpack, where applicable.
Kneeling can be tricky for some, but it is typically the quickest and most versatile position to build quickly. A trick that a mentor of mine taught me early on, which is very applicable to building a solid kneeling position in the field, is; always trying to rely on bone support rather than holding a position relying on muscle support. Kneeling positions can vary from knees planted on the ground and a low chest height all the way up to a full "high" kneeling position, where you must use your core muscles to support your body weight. The easiest and most repeatable kneeling position to build is a "pocket high" kneeling position, where the prop I am shooting off is roughly the height of my pants pocket. I can plant my right foot at a 90-degree angle, put my gun on the prop, and use my right knee to support my right elbow when I shoot (left-handed).
Finally, the standing position is the least practiced and most often unstable for most shooters. Typically the further you get from the ground, the less stable you are, and the more your reticle will wander on target, so learning to shoot in the supported standing position is an acquired skill. In general, I don't believe that "free recoil" is a great solution to building stable positions, but in standing, trying not to apply too much shoulder pressure to the rifle system will definitely make your life easier. Just remember to provide enough support so that when the rifle starts moving under recoil, you can observe what is happening downrange.
SHOT SEQUENCE AND OBSERVATION
Downrange observation, the final and arguably most critical skill to transfer from match shooting situations, is observation and correction after the shot. Many shooters struggle with keeping their face on the gun, watching the bullet down range, looking for signs of bullet splash or target movement, and changes to the wind. All of these effects provide valuable information. If your first shot doesn't hit the intended target, this information can be invaluable to make an accurate correction and ensure a second-round hit.
Sometimes there is no opportunity for a second shot, whether that be that the target has moved out of a shooting window, that mountain goat has scurried over the top of the ridge, or the stage time has run out, meaning that pre-shot observation skills are also crucial. Having an accurate feel for what the wind is doing downrange, observing the movement and patterns of your target, or noticing a terrain feature that may be causing an updraft can save you time and rounds downrange.
There are other cases where you'll take a shot and hear the dreaded "no call" or "did not see" from your spotter. In these cases, which is not uncommon when shooting into damp terrain or tall grass, you need to have a plan B ready to go. Strategies like "bracketing the wind" are great for situations like this. If you take a shot and see absolutely nothing, you can have a readied solution on how far to correct, but that is a more in-depth topic for another article.
The skills learned in competitive shooting translate directly into field skills used by the modern rifleman. There are many skills to be learned and practiced by shooting on your own time, in your own comfort at a range, or in a controlled environment. Still, you'll only know your limits or understand how to best improve once you get outside of your comfort zone and test yourself on tiny targets from unstable positions.
If you really want to hone your skills to be a successful hunter, increase your familiarity with your "work gun," or enjoy the sport of precision rifle, then putting your skills to the test in a practical precision rifle event is a great and eye-opening evaluation.
HUNTING AND COMPETITION RESOURCES FROM MDT
- Mastering The Mental Game Of PRS: An Easy Way To Achieve A Higher Score
- A Shooter's Checklist - Delivering The Perfect Shot
- Beginners Gear Guide for Precision Rifle Competition
- Expert Gear Guide for Precision Rifle Competition
- How Professional Shooter Allison Zane Sets Up Her Rifle
- How To Shoot PRS: Stage Breakdown With PRS Top Lady
- Dry Fire Drills With Pro Shooter Allison Zane
- How I Got Into Precision Rifle Competition - PART 1 and PART 2
- Tips For A Successful Antelope Hunt
- Hunting In Inclement Weather
- Analysis: Long-Range Hunting
- MDT Field Report - Why The Triple Pull CKYE-POD is a Guides Best Friend
- Tips for Cold Weather Shooting
- How To Optimize Your Rifle For Positional Shooting
- Maximize Performance with Mental Imagery
- Confidence Kills
- Inside MDT - Fitness For Backcountry Hunting
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Botha is an Engineering Team Lead for MDT Sporting Goods and works in the headquarters in Chilliwack, BC, Canada. Josh and his family immigrated from South Africa and England in 2006. Josh enjoys competitive shooting disciplines and can often be found after work at his home range in BC. You can find Josh on Instagram @jbotha_ or somewhere out at a match.