Originally published in August 2020
What a strange year 2020 has been so far, we’ve had more rain than I can remember followed by Covid and the associated lockdown which altered many plans for the year. Like many highly tuned athletes (!), Precision Rifle shooters were faced with the question; What to do during lockdown with no competitions and restrictions on groups meeting up?
Enter the US company Warhorse Developments who had the great idea of running two remote matches which were entered over social media. To stay inclusive for everyone the props and barricades were all common household objects, chairs and step ladders for example. With recommended target sizes of 2 MOA, along with options for rimfire and centrefire entries. The matches were held over a period of four weeks, with participants uploading videos of each stage from the course of fire to Facebook or Instagram. These matches received huge support from the industry worldwide and culminated in a random prize draw which was livestreamed over social media to a few hundred eager viewers. The most pleasing part was the involvement of Mrs C. who volunteered to video my match entries. She enjoyed watching me have fun and has taken an interest precision rifle shooting as a result and has adopted my practice rifle, naming it the “Wifle”! Once she’s shot some competitions using my kit, if she wants to continue I’m sure she’ll end up with her own FAC and a “Wifle” of her own!
With most of the world stopping shooting, it was great time to really crack on with dry firing practice and every other day I would build a couple of stages in the back garden using scaled down printed targets. Working on trigger technique, moving between positions and manipulating the rifle was a big help, particularly shooting form the awkward lower positions which are always a struggle for us bigger and less flexible guys. Even dialling on elevation and windage calls based on the conditions of the day, it became such a regular fixture that a Robin took to using my rifle barrel as a perch whilst I was having a tea break on the patio! The repeated dry firing runs allowed me to fine tune the balance of my rifle using the MDT weights, so that the balance point is sat perfectly around four inches infront of the magazine well for ease of use. Something I’ve worked really hard at is building a good shooting position quickly and efficiently. One of the drills I’ve been doing involves setting a timer for a ten second countdown, before getting on a barricade, making a good trigger press and over emphasising follow through before the alarm sounds has really helped me improve getting quicker as well as making better transitions between firing positions. As lockdown restrictions eased and I was able to get out to do more live firing, this translated into more impacts on targets in shorter times.
One of my lockdown highlights was being invited to appear as a guest on the Precision Rifle Channel podcast with my friend and National Rifle League President/Founder Travis Ishida. We had a great time catching up and talking all things precision rifle, particularly how the sport is growing so quickly around the world especially within the UK and Europe. The NRL have now established a chapter in Spain as well as the NRL22 partnering with the Precision Rifle League here in the UK to put on a series of rimfire matches which are due to start later in the year. One thing I’m keen to do after beginning my Precision Rifle shooting journey in 2019 with an American adventure, is to take part in more international matches. Spain is really quick and easy to get to from the Midlands (although random acts of quarantine make the return more precarious!) and the Viking Rifle Series in Norway is absolutely on my list of places to visit for a match. With a Presidents’ invite to the NRL grand finale in Oklahoma City for 2021 there’s a strong chance of accruing some serious air miles once international travel becomes less complicated!
Once travel restrictions eased I paid Mike at Brock and Norris Custom Rifles a visit as he kindly agreed to support me with barrels and gunsmithing work. The barrel part of the equation is coming from Canadian company, International Barrels in the form of helically fluted barrels, which are even more accurate than they are good looking! This means that I’ve got my straight, no taper barrel in storage to use as a spare which has a load developed and is ready to go when I need it, whilst I enjoy the good looks of the fluted barrel! Mike cut the new barrel with the same reamer and dialled every process in for perfect alignment and zero runout the same as my first barrel. With just a few clicks to adjust zero, it shot the same load to same level of accuracy when I got it home. This kind of ease of use is exactly the reason why I asked Mike to build my rifles as it’s his attention to detail that makes my life easier as a shooter and gives me more time to do what I enjoy; shoot!
Confidence in equipment is key to preparing for competition and with more time than usual on my hands I took full advantage to make sure I was happy with everything. Having made the switch to 130gr Nosler RDF’s from the 140’s I used last year I needed to make sure that my Kestrel ballistics data was true, giving accurate corrections and ensuring that the rifle performs just as well further out than 100y. Luckily, I have a good friend who is happy for me to put targets out at 1000y at his place, which is perfect for trueing data. I painted some lines across some of my larger targets to see how far off the vertical correction was, shooting the first target was pleasing as there was less than two inches vertical dispersion in a tricky wind. I moved to the second target and shot for a group, using a dot of paint as an aiming mark I landed my shots within four inches of each other, with the first one almost landing on the dot! After this I turned my attention to getting some positional shooting in, shooting at longer ranges was really helping me stay strict with my follow through in order to watch the impacts.
Although most of the lockdown period was blessed with terrific weather, I took advantage of some of the extremes to prove my ammunition was as consistent as my rifle. This included a rainy morning leaving loaded magazines exposed to rain and shooting targets whilst looking for pressure signs. The rifle and ammunition passed the test with the 130gr Nosler RDF’s flying true in cooler wet conditions as well as in 30c summer sunshine. The PRL was very lucky with weather last year, with an extended season to look forward to as a competitor, I want the reassurance that I can rely on my kit regardless of location or conditions, leaving everything else to me.
One of my favourite kinds of shooting is precision rifle shooting with my 22 rimfire, it’s quiet, cheap doesn’t need a huge amount of space compared to a centrefire so it’s terrific practice for building a good position to shoot from. Sadly so far this year I’ve not been able to get to any rimfire shoots, however it’s not stopped me staying up to date with how my pals are doing, or meeting up with them to have a shoot. In mid June, I was joined by Giles Tibbetts and Gav Jones for a nostalgic “pop can rimfire challenge” which involved us shooting some excellent can shaped gongs from Tom’s Targets, at a variety of distances, from a variety of props in my practice paddock. As is usual when friends get together there’s always an edge to proceedings as much as we all want to help each other shoot well, just as much as we want to hit more than them! The guys are both keen to get involved with the PRL and once they’ve got more suitable centrefire rifles I’m sure they’ll take to it like a duck to water.
With my employer; Highland Outdoors supporting the Royal Marines Precision Rifle Association it’s been great following their progress as they begin to get used to the precision rifle game, bringing their professionalism, enthusiasm and ability to just get things done! Although the Marines are all excellent shooters, their drive to be the best means they’re more than willing to listen to and learn from anyone who can assist them and have been inviting some PRL regulars along to their practice events. Along with last years’ overall winner Josh Martin, all round top chap Karl Franks and myself we got stuck in with helping the Marines set up a practice course of fire along with suitable targetry at one of their practice venues. On one of the hottest days of the year so far, we were thankful of the trusty Highland Outdoors gazebo providing welcome respite from the relentless Cornish sun. Team captain Jack had written a training plan designed to test all abilities and in keeping with the grass roots culture of the RMPRA provide plenty of chances for coaching to the less experienced members of the group. With hits being counted to measure improvement there was a really positive atmosphere and as the day went on targets were getting hit with increased regularity. One thing that quickly became obvious is that once the RMPRA get the precision rifle game figured out they will be a force to be reckoned with. It was great to see smiling faces as the day progressed along with all of the shooters, barricades and mock stages that were previously causing head scratching were dealt with swiftly and efficiently.
As it was a balmy summers’ day, with a high round count I was glad that I’d had the fore sight to build a 223 practice rifle to take the strain of my enthusiasm to pull the trigger! Compared to the guys Creedmoors or 308’s, it burns about 40% less powder and my super heavy barrel was heating up less. Meaning I had less of a problem connecting with targets as mirage and mechanical sympathy weren’t a factor. Rifles were getting hot on the hill and all of the associated issues were rearing their heads, with mirage becoming a major factor along with stiff bolt lifts due to ammunition temperature rising. It was a timely reminder of the advantages of not pushing loads hard, as performance remains consistent regardless of conditions and a valid learning point for all. The glorious English weather, superb scenery and terrific company made for a superb day with lots being learned by all and it was great to have a get together with the guys before round one.
Being a bit of a gear head these days are great to try different things as well as letting other shooters try my kit to see if it works as well with someone else using it. Particularly with high value items like scopes, range finders and chassis systems it’s always nice to get hands on before committing and these get-togethers allow a relaxed environment for this to happen.
Thankfully, as I write, restrictions are easing and solutions to be able to continue shooting have been found. With the first round of the Precision Rifle League postponed four months to mid August, there’s plenty to look forward to on the precision rifle calendar for the rest of the year. To comply with Covid regulations things will be slightly different; There’ll be three one day “Short Range Precision” shoots that make up the challenge weekend, with a smaller amount of shooters taking part each day to comply with group size restrictions, though some shooters are shooting multiple days, only their first score of the weekend will count.
Following the announcement of the revised date for Round 1 of the PRL at Orion Firearms Training, I was able to briefly catch up with Tiff Dew, Precision Rifle League Director and talk about how the PRL has successfully navigated the challenges COVID19 has presented.
So Tiff, obviously not an ideal start to 2020, how has the lockdown period been for you?
Lack of range availability and movement restrictions have hampered a lot of the plans for getting new venues vetted and setup. I’ve been taking the time to take care of admin, whilst keeping shooters and sponsors updated with developments. The extra time to design new barricades and courses of fire has been welcome. There’s concepts I’d like to implement around how to improve the overall PRL experience which will come to fruition. One idea I’m keen to introduce is a Pro-Am short range precision day for day two of a PRL weekend; where the top scorer from day one is paired with the bottom scorer and so on for a pairs team shoot.
What are the plans for the rest of the year and how many times have they changed now?
The season will be extended to run until the end of 2021, with 12 rounds planned currently although plans have to remain flexible due to restrictions on shooter numbers and new venues being formed. Currently the main plan is to remain as flexible as possible whilst providing a high quality weekend of shooting for UK rifle shooters and the sponsors who support the PRL.
How has the take up been for the NRL22 presented by the PRL?
As the travel restrictions have lifted I’ve been able to visit more clubs, although there’s still issues with visiting indoor venues due to numbers of people being in an enclosed space it’s all very positive. The 22 league faces its own challenges within the traditional club environment to remain accessible to all. We’re looking forward to launching in September.
How are things progressing for next years PRL?
The PRL is looking forward to welcoming new venues and ranges in England and Scotland to take part in the 2021 season. With a wider variety of venues the league will only go from strength to strength, with more to challenge and entertain rifle shooters within the UK.
Do you foresee things being drastically different to what we’ve become used to?
Currently we plan on keeping the short range precision (up to 1000m) and long range precision (1400m) challenges as separate days for a PRL weekend, once the Covid19 situation allows. We will be mixing that in with Pro-Am shoots as well as true ELR (1400m plus) at Valhalla for its inaugural PRL event.