How to Begin In Competitive Shooting
‘Practice makes perfect’ - the phrase I’m sure everyone who has ever participated in anything or tried their hand in learning anything new has heard almost ad nauseam. In the heat of the moment of intense practice and when things are not going our way I don’t think any other 3 words could be more infuriating. The more appropriate saying would be ‘perfect practice makes practice.’ In training for long range shooting the saying still rings true. It is not only important to get as much trigger time as possible, but to strive for a ‘perfect’ trigger time. That means shooting the exact cartridge, in the exact gun, in the exact positions, the same way it will be utilized in competition every time. However, for most long range shooting competitors who are shooting very fast projectiles designed to minimize the effects of the wind on the bullet during flight the abrasive effects on an expensive match grade barrel often means that you can wear or ‘shoot out’ a barrel before you even reach your match!
In preparation to get my first match rifle together in managing barrel life - cartridge selection was big consideration. I chose a 6.5 Creedmoor since of all the fast match cartridges it seemed to have the best combination of long barrel life, yet still provide ballistics that would still be competitive. It was not a new, sexy, fast, ‘speed-demon’ 6mm cartridge. It does however have about twice the expected barrel life which would allow me to shoot my actual match gun as much as possible in preparation for matches. Having not shot a match yet, I think shooting my actual match gun will be one of the most effective training regimens. In addition to my long range practice, have planned to shoot my AR’s chambered in 5.56 more. They aren’t as accurate as my bolt guns, but 5.56 ammunition is relatively cheap, plentiful, and my belief in training with my AR is that any trigger time is good. Shooting my AR also has enough recoil and muzzle blast that it is comparable to my match in helping with recoil management. I also plan to shoot a lot of .22LR at closer ranges, however .22LR with its extremely light - almost non-existent recoil - may not be the best long range training tool. Although it does help with trigger control, .22LR is also a very inexpensive round to shoot at high volume. To me, I feel the biggest boost for shooting skills in order to compete is to ultimately just get more time behind a rifle shooting.
In my recreational shooting at longer ranges I have found much of my limited success comes from the preparation done in advance. Having accurate information on your ammunition, scope, and gun condition is an ongoing management nightmare! Not only is it is important to have enough ammunition to practice and to be able to find out what your ammunition can do at distance on the perfect shooting condition days, but also in inclement weather. This means shooting in the wind, rain, and cold and knowing how the adverse weather conditions can affect our ammunition. That way we can at least have an idea of what may be happening in case of inclement weather on match day. It is also important to be able to shoot at distance to verify how much gravity affects our bullets at distance. This information known as DOPE (data on previous engagement). I have found that despite most people having smart phones in their pockets these days with apps that can figure rough DOPE that will get you close, it is important to verify the data in the real world. On top of making sure I can get enough economical time behind the rifle training, I also need to have an organized way of keeping track of my DOPE and be prepared to shoot at anytime, anywhere, and in any weather.
All in all - it seems a huge, expensive, and time consuming task to prepare for PRS/NRL style tactical shooting matches and ultimately it can be without steps to keep things in check. As I am just getting started my preparation methods are probably very crude and need some fine tuning. However, I think my process will ultimately improve along with my shooting and become streamlined along with gaining more experience. If you are considering getting into long range tactical shooting or any type of competitive shooting for that matter, I think it is important to just get out there. Don’t worry about having everything absolutely perfect. Shooting is not a skill that can be improved on the internet, so GO SHOOT!