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Starting Precision Rifle Shooting by Weta Precision

Scott is the developer for Weta Precision, a UK based ballistics application, he has kindly shared his first experience at a precision rifle match for us here at the UKPRJ. For more on Weta Precision visit https://wetaprecision.com/.

I’ve been meaning to document my experiences in getting into precision rifle shooting and having arrived back from my third PRS UK match and seeing a post reminding newcomers that it’s ok to ask for help while shooting, I thought this would be a good time.

I’ve only been shooting a few years, so I’m certainly considered one of the newbies. I tried to get into the precision rifle scene back in early 2020, however lockdown delayed that significantly. In 2021, Andy from PRS UK approached me to see if I’d be interested in sponsoring their series, and I thought it would be a great opportunity, not only to get Weta Precision’s name out there, but to finally get involved in the sport. As much as I enjoy putting holes in paper at 100m, there was a strong pull to try something more challenging.

At the time, I was shooting .308 Win with my Tikka T3x Tac A1. I was home loading Lapua Scenar 167s, but never shot further than 600yds, and never what I would consider accurately. Especially if it was windy.

Every Facebook post I read said just book a match, show up with whatever you’ve got, and give it a go – and that’s pretty much what I did.

Equipment

I’d heard this a lot: “There’s no need to buy expensive gear. Just come along with whatever you’ve got. Someone will lend you whatever you need”. And this is completely true. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had people offer to lend me their support bags, or other gear.

After following quite a few Facebook conversations, I had decided to purchase a single support bag to take along, and settled on the Schmedium from Armageddon Gear. Almost everyone takes one of these, or similar, along. If you’re going to buy one piece of specialty equipment, this is it. The only other thing you’ll need is fairly common: a bipod. If you have a bipod and a front support bag, you can shoot every stage.

Almost everyone shoots with a muzzle brake to reduce recoil, so you can keep your eye on the target to “see your splash” should you miss. Actually, I don’t recall seeing anyone without a muzzle brake in the last two matches but did see someone using a sound moderator at my first match.

Weather can change throughout the day – it might start off cold and windy, then baking hot in the afternoon sun, so take layers of clothing. Depending on the time of the year and location, take wet weather gear or sunblock.

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Advice: Get yourself a Schmedium Bag and fill it with sand.

Arrival

Everyone was given a What 3 Words location to meet before being led to the range, some 45 minutes’ drive away. This was at the Gardners Guns range in Scotland; definitely 4×4 territory, although there are always a few who arrive in vans or cars. For the first 30-40 minutes before leaving for the range, people arrived regularly and formed small groups to chat. As my first time at an event, it was easy enough to make conversation asking what to expect, and everyone was very friendly sharing advice and stories. If there’s one thing I’ve noticed, when shooters get together, there’s always an interesting conversation or two!

Calibre

I was the only person shooting .308 Win that day. Because of my shooting experience, the distance, wind, and my loads, I don’t think I hit anything over 450m. And it was a 1,000+m range. I came last and I can’t say I cared at all – it was hugely exciting to shoot so many ways, all new to me. Most others were shooting 6.5 Creedmoor, the most popular calibre at that event.

I’ve since changed to 6.5 Creedmoor, although since my first match I’ve found that every second person is now shooting 6 Creedmoor, 6BR, 6×47, .243 or something else I may not have heard of. At the last match, at Pro Shoot in Wales, a few of the guys were shooting .308 and even .223 – it’s a 600m range, so perfect for those calibres. I really enjoy shooting .308, and plan to give it a go again at the Pro Shoot range.

You’ll be told the round-count for the match around a week or so in advance. You’ll likely need 150+ rounds.

Advice: Take whatever calibre (centrefire) rifle you’re most comfortable with and enjoy the experience. Don’t expect to be competitive on your first few events – Tom Rice is the exception that proves the rule!

Briefing

As with any shooting range, there will be a briefing by the event organisers, and usually by the range managers as well. Of all the briefing’s I’ve stood through, the only special topic is a mention about “sky loading”. This is where you chamber a round before you look through your scope – a big no-no at these events. If you’re not used to chambering a round until you’re looking through your scope, you’ll first be warned, and eventually disqualified from a stage if you don’t get into the habit quickly.

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Advice: Make sure chambering a round once you’ve located the target through your scope becomes second nature.

Squadding

Once the intros and range briefing are done, it’s Squadding time. So far I’ve found that there are between 12 and 16 stages (which I cover below) over a 2-day event. You move from stage to stage in a group called a “squad” and stick with them for the full match. Because of this, you get to know the others very well, and they’re always set up so that novices are with experienced shooters. I learn a lot at each match and watching how quick and accurate some of the top guys can shoot is something to aspire to.

I can’t tell you how nervous I was on my first stage. I really had no experience with this kind of shooting at all. There’s an order to who shoots first each stage, and if for example there are 5 shooters in the squad (numbered 1 to 5), your first stage will likely be shooting from 1 – 5. Stage 2 will be 2, 3, 4, 5, 1 and stage 3 will be 3, 4, 5, 1, 2 etc. So, everyone has their fair share of going first, second, last…

Not every squad can start on stage 1. If there are 16 stages across the 2 days, 8 will be on day one (4 in the morning, 4 in the afternoon), and 8 on day two. If there are 4 squads, squad 1 will shoot stage 1, squad 2 stage 2 etc. Once each squad has completed their stage, everyone moves to the next one; squad 1 moves to stage 2, squad 2 moves from stage 2 to stage 3… squad 4 moving from stage 4 to stage 1. By lunch time, the first 4 stages are complete.

In the afternoon, squad 1 starts on stage 5, squad 2 on stage 6 etc and as they’re completed, the groups move on to the next stage. Day 2 is the same, but starting with squad 1 on stage 9, squad 2 on stage 10 etc. It’s all very well laid out and makes perfect sense once you’re there.

Advice: Don’t worry – You’ll be shooting with experienced people who understand what’s going on, and you’ll pick it up quickly.

Stages

Each stage has a time limit, typically between 90 and 120 seconds, and a round count of around 8-12, but they can vary a lot. You start on a designated spot with your magazine in, bolt to the rear, and your support bag in hand.

What makes Precision Rifle shooting so interesting is that each stage is very different. You’ll be shooting from some sort of barricade at a target (or targets) somewhere in front of you. The distance will depend on the range you’re attending, but likely to be from 200m out past 1,000m where possible.

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Targets are all AR500 steel plates at varying distances and have flags next to them with a colour, number, or letter to identify them. They’re laid out well in advance, and you’re provided with a match book that explains what’s expected of you at each stage, and how to identify the targets you’re aiming for. Hearing a steel target ring out after your shot in a match situation is a high that you need to experience.

Depending on your level of skill, some stages may seem easy and others almost impossible. They’re designed so that the experienced shooters are challenged, but beginners come away having actually hit something. Here’s a simple example:

Distance: 475yds (434m)
Round Count: 12
Time Limit: 120s
On the start of the timer the shooter will engage the target with two rounds from each of the marked positions. There is no specified order, but the target must be engaged from all positions.

The difficult part in this stage would be the positions, or types of barricades set up. It can be anything at all; shooting off parts of an upturned bicycle, posts, scaffolding, rocks, tyres – you name it. The organisers need to be very creative with their ideas to keep everyone engaged, and they do an excellent job.

Here’s another example:

Target A: 185yds (169m)
Target B: 493yds (450m)
Round Count: 8
Time Limit: 120s
On the start of the timer the shooter will engage the targets alternating between the two, firing two shots on each of the four indicated positions.

Some stages may have a single target, some 3 or 4. Some demand that you shoot from your supporting side. I.e. if you’re right handed, you must shoot with the stock in your left arm – this is extremely challenging if you’re not used to it! Some stages don’t allow you to dial your turrets, forcing you to hold over for elevation and wind. Again, if you’re not used to it, it can be challenging. Other stages might cycle between standing (supported), kneeling, sitting and prone.

You may also be required to perform a “mag change”. There’s always a way to do this if you don’t have a second magazine, such as removing your mag and holding it up before reinserting it. Some stages do require more rounds than a standard magazine will allow, but how you make them available is up to you. Some have them in a “quiver” attached to the fore-end in front of their bolt, such as those from Hoptic USA. Others just have them in a pocket or spare magazine. It’s something to keep in mind.

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Advice: Understand how to use your reticle. Everything else will come with practice.

All hands on deck

When it’s your turn at a stage, you make your way to the designated starting point, remove your chamber flag, and ensuring your bolt remains back, insert your magazine, then try to remember what you have to do, and which targets you’ll engage.

Behind you will be one or two shooters from your team on spotting scopes, ready to call out when you hit a target. The stage manager will ask if you “understand the course of fire”, then asks if the spotters are ready, and finally if you’re ready. Then it’s all go – he’ll start the timer, which beeps loudly, and you make your way forwards to the barricades, place your support bag, aim your rifle, chamber a round and shoot. If you hit the target, the spotters will shout IMPACT loud and clear for the stage manager to record. You then eject the empty case, if required you’ll adjust your turrets and change position on the barricades, find your next target through your scope, chamber a round and fire – all while maintaining muzzle awareness and trying to read what the wind’s doing.

The time goes very quickly – 120 seconds is over before you realise it, and you may not fire all your shots. Certainly, concentrating on smooth consistent shooting and hitting one or two targets is better than firing all rounds in a rushed manner and not hitting anything.

The others in your squad will be watching what you’re doing, seeing where your empty cases go so that they can collect them for you once you’ve finished shooting, and seeing if they can ascertain anything about what the wind might be doing based on where your shots are landing. Reading the wind is arguably one of the most challenging things about this style of shooting – certainly for me.

Mistakes

You’ll hear stories of everyone making silly mistakes. When the timer starts, you have a lot going through your mind, so turning your turrets in the wrong direction, firing at the wrong target, not seating your magazine properly – can all happen very easily. If anything, it gives you something to laugh about at lunch!

On one stage I wrote my DOPE on the back of my hand, shot, and hit nothing at all. On my next stage I thought the elevations all looked familiar and realised that’s what I’d incorrectly dialled on the previous stage – just another amusing story for the lunch break.

Advice: You’ll make silly mistakes – but so does everyone else, and you’ll learn from them.

The pros

At each match, you’ll see the others using extra gear like cuddle bags or tripods, which provide extra support when you’re balancing your rifle on a pole or something else very narrow. They have binoculars to help locate the correct targets before they set up, and to see what the wind is doing while others are shooting. Various ammo pouches, quivers, and empty case bags – the list goes on.

Advice: Get used to shooting with a single front support bag before you worry about other gear. When you’re starting out, there’s a lot to keep track of without having to cart extra bags and tripods around.

A final word

Shooting Precision Rifle matches is an enormous amount of fun, physically demanding, mentally challenging, and excellent practice if you’re a hunter. Irrespective of what calibre you shoot, what make of rifle you have, whether it’s well balanced, what gear you take and whether you even hit anything, you’ll be surrounded by other shooters who share your interests. You will be hooked.

At my first match, there were at least 4 of us who had never shot a precision rifle comp. Along with myself with my Tikka .308, one had no experience with his brand new rifle, and showed up in jeans. We had the wife of one of the top shooters start – yes, we’re starting to see female shooters. They’re both well-known now, and attend every match.

No one is going to laugh if you miss.

No one cares if you take your old .308 stalking rifle. If anything, you’ll be offered help and gear. If you hit a few targets, you’ll be told “nice shooting” and may even get a round of applause every now and then. You’ll find that everyone, without exception, is very encouraging.

These are my own experiences. I’d welcome any comments especially if you’ve had a different experience to what I’ve documented. Also, I’ve only shot at PRS UK matches so far and would really like to know if other organisations and even countries differ considerably.

Happy shooting!
Scott

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