Originally Published in February 2020
One of the things I’m looking forward to most about the coming season is seeing the other shooters’ cool new gear and calibre choices. 2020 looks to be the year of the 6mm in the PRL with a variety of specialist cartridges making an appearance. I’m sticking to my trusted 6.5 Creedmoor, it’s a cartridge I’m familiar with and I can’t think of a single time when a new calibre would have turned a miss into a hit. However I’ll be watching the 6mm cartridges performance with a close eye as the recoil management will be far easier.
So far one of the most exciting parts of this year was visiting the Brock & Norris workshops to watch Mike Norris building my new match rifle. Mike has built almost every rifle I own and has recently started using International Barrel Inc barrel blanks which he profiles himself using a CNC lathe. This meant I could have a super heavyweight straight profile barrel fitted which will help the balance of the rifle when rested on obstacles. I duly asked Mike to make me the most accurate and heavy rifle he could on my Howa action. Mikes’ obsessive attention to detail is always impressive to watch and this was no exception. Every operation on his lathe was dialled in for perfect alignment with the bore, every thread was gauge checked to ensure perfection and the end result was that every process in building my race gun was performed with absolutely zero runout. To top it all off he custom made a muzzle brake with a finish so good it looks like it’s part of the barrel! At the same time Mike made me an almost identical (bar the barrel profile) 223 Ackley training rifle to practice with, which got exactly the same attention and precision. This will help reduce barrel wear on my match rifle, reduce the overall cost of practice and will provide me a new calibre to learn. I also think it will be a fun challenge to shoot a match with a 223 at some point in the season……..! One really useful thing that Mike does is provide a chamber gauge which allows you to keep track of things like the bullets jump to the lands when reloading and throat erosion as the round count increases on the barrel. In the case of the 223ai as I plan to mostly shoot long, heavy bullets, it will also allow us to calculate by how much if at all the throat needs to be lengthened to suit the heavy for calibre bullets.
The rifle specs are as follows;
A great thing about the first PRL season was that it put UK shooting in the global spotlight and shooters are getting support from major players in the industry which is great to see and can only benefit the sport overall. Thanks to the continued support I get from my employer Highland Outdoors and the companies we represent, I’m starting the year with a new collection of Sig Sauer Optics and enough Sierra and Nosler reloading components to see the year out shooting the same batch of bullets/brass. I was also lucky enough to be selected as one of MDT’s supported PRL shooters in the UK.
Following lengthy delays at customs, along with much back and forth with Parcelforce, both my new rifles now have the same highly ergonomic, MDT ACC competition chassis. This makes them identical in their balance and feel by using the weight kits for fine tuning, which will have a lot of carryover from practicing to competition. The increased adjustability and better ergonomics has helped massively with my comfort when shooting, with multiple degenerate discs in my neck the lack of aches and pains is a welcome relief! Thanks to the ability to fine tune the balance of the rifles and the heavy weights, they both feel like they’re planted in position on an obstacle which confirms why they’re such a popular choice with precision rifle shooters worldwide.
Load development for the new rifles has been easy. Building on the data I gathered last year using my factory Howa rifles in 6.5 Creedmoor and the information passed on at the PRS Ireland/Roundhouse Scott Satterlee clinic, I was very quickly shooting small groups with consistent velocities. The Satterlee method involves a statistical approach to load development by measuring the muzzle velocity with different powder charges increasing by 0.2 grains a time you create a data set. Plotting these results onto a graph makes identifying a flat spot (charge node) easy. This is usually where the most accurate charge weight will be and at most will only require a small tweak of seating depth to tighten groups up. The results with my 6.5 Creedmoor showed two nodes, a low velocity node at 2650fps and a higher speed one at 2752fps. I selected a charge weight between the two charges in the flat spot of the high velocity node, so in theory there should be a built in larger margin for error with powder charges either way.
For this year I’ve made some big changes in my loading methods. The first thing I’ve invested in is an Autotrickler V3, along with laboratory grade scales. Once connected to a Bluetooth device to control the target charge weight, the Autotrickler throws and trickles charges which are accurate to 0.02 of a grain, or one kernel of powder in under ten seconds! The increased consistency coupled with increased speed means I’ll spend much less time at the reloading bench and more time shooting! I now have even more faith that my ammunition will do its job and as a bonus it’s much less mentally fatiguing to throw 200 practically identical charges. Along with the powder measuring change I’ve begun using a full length bushing die, being a full length die I can still ensure that the shoulder is bumped back 0.002” for consistent feeding. However the key thing is the interchangeable bushings allow precise control over the neck tension of the Nosler cases. Though I’m still experimenting and the results are very good, I’ve still got my regular dies in reserve if required.
Last season with the money raised from the Precision Pink rifle I made great friendship with a Royal Marine and this year we’ve been able to build on that. At this years’ Great British Shooting Show I was able to present a cheque for £800 to the Royal Marines Charity. At the same time I was pleased to announce on behalf of Highland Outdoors that the newly formed Royal Marines Precision Rifle Team will be receiving our full support. I’m really excited to be shooting alongside the Marines at PRL events and look forward to helping out at their practice sessions as much as I possibly can. Whilst at the show it was great to see the excitement building for the new season and talking with lots of people who visited want to come and shoot the PRL for the first time this year. It really helped motivate me and get my head into practicing and preparing with a new found vigour!
The bulk of my practice has been focussed on building solid positions quickly and making first round hits on small targets – typically no bigger than one MOA. With my rifles running smoothly and accurately, I’ve taken every chance to true my ballistic data and plan to shoot my 6.5 out to 1200y either at Bisley or a private facility, to confirm everything is good before round one at Orion. With precision and accuracy being a huge part of doing well, I’ve been keen not to neglect the movement part of the equation. Dry firing at home as well as continued gym training is helping with this part. With all of the rain we’ve had so far in 2020 my most frequent practice space has been at home. There’s a surprising amount of useful props to dry fire on inside a family home, with chairs and step ladders being a favourite. One area of amusement for Mrs C has been my use of the stairs in preparation for the high angles expected on the mountains in round 2 at Valhalla Precision in Scotland! Prone dry firing is a great way to become familiar with a rifle, as well as reinforcing good trigger technique it’s an opportunity to practice performing mag changes without looking, as well as shooting with the non dominant hand (Support side), so that it becomes a simple process on the firing line when under pressure. As understanding as Mrs C is, she does insist that I swap the feet on my bipod to clean, non spiky versions for the sake of the carpets!
With 3 out of 6 PRL events sold out for 2020, there’s still time to get involved, head over to www.precisionrifleleague.co.uk for more details.
Rifle – Tikka T3, Bartlein barrel, 6XC, MDT ACC Chassis, MDT Cyke Pod. Built by John Murphy Riifles
Scope – Khales 5-25i, SKMR, Mil/Mil
Position last year – 3rd (Only shot 2 rounds!)
Favourite thing about shooting precision rifle?
You can shoot a bad stage and still finish first on the day, it’s just great fun. The people I’ve met have all been great.
Top tip for someone getting started?
Shoot a round with whatever gear you already have, you’ll learn so much about your shooting on the day. Watching and talking with other shooters is the best way learn, I learned loads from the American shooters who shot the Guardian match in Ireland.