We often meet people who are new to long range precision shooting, and want to improve their knowledge and skill level. However, they aren’t sure if they are ready to sign up to compete in a match. They often ask, “What knowledge or skills are necessary to compete in a match?” Others may state, “I need to purchase this gear or that gear before I can attend a match”.
So how do you know if you are ready to “pull the trigger” and attend your first match?
The fact of the matter is that most people have some level of reluctance to jump into the competitive aspect of a sport if they are new and haven’t tried it before, out of fear of possible embarrassment or not meeting their performance expectations.
People coming into the competitive side of tactical precision shooting should cast aside any doubts of feeling out of place or not being ready. What you will find at these matches are people who are passionate about the sport of precision shooting and who are eager to help new comers that are willing to listen and learn about how to compete effectively. Remember that everyone at some point started out a newbie to the sport. You may be surprised to learn that it is very likely that most of the shooters in attendance may have started competing in the sport within the last two to three years.
Why are we encouraging people interested in this sport to actually get to a match sooner rather than later? Quite frankly you will learn more about improving your precision rifle shooting attending a one day match versus spending a month reading internet forum boards about the topic. Additionally, it will help to accelerate your socialization into the community of precision shooters who most likely live near you (if attending a match near your area). We’ve found it helps immensely to establish friendships with local shooters to learn of long distance shooting opportunities that may arise to get some actual training and experience outside of competing in a match.
For those guys that have a strong interest in precision rifle shooting, and interested in checking out a precision rifle match, below are Five Tips to make it a positive experience.
1. Make Plans and Commit to Go
First you need to start by finding a match to attend. This may entail a little bit of research and investigative work on your part to find what matches are scheduled in the next few months. We recommend starting with any match that may be within a reasonable driving distance. This may likely be a local “club” match, many of which are held on a regular basis. These make great venues because it will provide an opportunity to meet some of the regular attendees as well as shooters that are from your geographic area. Additionally, most of the smaller matches are a little more relaxed in terms of level of competitiveness.
Once you decide on the match you want to attend, do your homework. This means finding out if you need to pre-register or pre-pay the match fee. Commit to going by registering for the match and putting it on your schedule. Be sure to find other useful information for questions such as:
- What time should I arrive?
- Is there a mandatory safety briefing for new shooters at that venue?
- What is the travel time required to get to the match site?
- How many stages will there be?
- Is there a description of the stages available before the match?
- How many rounds should you bring?
- Are there special equipment requirements? (Some match venues require all rifles have a chamber flag inserted between stages and rifles stowed in soft cases) Additionally, some matches may have a pistol stage. In this case you would need to also bring a pistol, holster, and ammunition for the pistol. Don’t have a pistol? Somebody at the match will lend you one.
If you have any open questions about the match, be sure to contact the match director so there are no surprises on the day of the match.
2. Bring what you have
Some new shooters often assume they need a custom match rifle or all of the miscellaneous shooting gear associated with long range precision shooting to compete in match. While having a Kestrel weather meter and a high quality laser range finder and other shooting accoutrements are invaluable kit, you will find other shooters at your first match that will provide you with the information and coaching you need to get on target.
In fact, the only gear you really need to bring is a scoped rifle with a bipod and ammo capable of consistently shooting within one MOA. Also, be sure to know the ballistic drops or have a ballistic drop table prepared for your rifle/ammo to dial the correct DOPE on your scope for different target ranges. Many of the other participants at the match will be willing to let you borrow a support bag, bipod, tripod or other gear if you need one – just ask. Don’t use the excuse of not having the right gear to delay getting out to a match!
One reason not to make a big initial investment in a new rifle and assorted gear before competing, is we’ve seen a number of people come into the sport and try it for a year and then make the decision to move on to something else.
Or if you take a page from Ed’s playbook, you’ll purchase top shelf equipment that is not optimized for the sport and you’ll end up changing it out. In both cases, competitors often put their used gear up for sale and only get back a fraction of the price paid, or they’ll set it aside hoping to find a use for it down the road. We advise that new shooters try the match scene for at least a year before dropping a lot of money into a complete load out.
3. Be prepared to learn
As a new shooter at a match, there is no better opportunity to learn. We often look to our local club matches as a group ‘training’ session to prepare for the bigger matches. You will find competitors at all levels of skill and many of your fellow shooters will enthusiastically provide helpful advice once they learn you are new to the sport. Take advantage of the opportunity to ask questions if you would like ideas for how to engage a stage, but also be sure to do more listening than talking as you receive guidance and tips from more experienced competitors. Nothing will do more to shut down people’s eagerness to help you than trying to prove to others how much experience and knowledge you have.
All of us are continuing to learn and refine our shooting skills and match game. One of the key things to learn is to watch and observe other shooters and how they approach and ‘game’ a specific stage or course of fire. Competitors continuously innovate and look to use gear in new and creative ways in order to connect with a long distance target. You’ll begin to recognize which shooting positions work best for different scenarios, and maybe even come up with some new ones that no one has thought of before.
You may also want to use your smart phone’s video camera to record other shooters (with their permission). Seeing what the better shooters do is an invaluable instructional tool. When you’re ready to shoot, ask another shooter to record your performance. Watching yourself might be humbling in the beginning, but will point out needed areas of improvement.
While at the match you will also see a wide variety of rifles, equipment, and gear used by long range precision shooters. These events provide a wonderful opportunity to check out – first hand – gear you may have seen on the internet or are interested in purchasing. You will be able to talk to guys and gals that use it and ask their impressions on pros/cons and what alternatives to consider. Sometimes, you may even find a good deal from someone that is looking to sell off a piece of kit so they can upgrade to something else.
A match provides a baseline upon which to measure and gauge your own performance. The match scores for each stage will enable you to honestly and consistently assess your shooting ability across various scenarios. You will learn what you do relatively well, as well as identify areas of improvement. After each match conduct an informal after action review and summarize for yourself the things that went well and what you should continue to do. You should also identify the specific shooting skills you should develop and make a plan to integrate the appropriate practice drills into your practice sessions.
Finally, if you maintain a shooters data book or journal you’ll want to note things such as:
- After Action Review – How you did, what went well, things you need to work on in practice
- Stage Observations – Successful methods used for engaging specific courses of fire. Noting barricades, positions used, specific gear used, etc.
- Gear Observations – How your rifle/gear performed, what new items of kit you should add to your “buy list.” Also, this a good time to reprioritize your wish/buy list items.
4. Be Safe and Have Fun
You’ve all heard a parent or teacher say, “It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye.” The same can be said of the shooting sports. Safe handling of firearms is the number one rule at any match, and comes before the FUN part in terms of importance. Strict adherence to these rules is the reason why accidents in the shooting sports are almost unheard of.
Before all matches start there will always be some form of a mandatory safety briefing. Make sure you know, understand, and follow any unique safety protocols for the match you attend. Some matches require all rifles have chamber flags inserted and are stowed in bags/cases while not on the firing line – other matches may not. If you run afoul of any safety rules, you risk the chance of being disqualified from a stage or worse, the entire match.
The second rule is simply have fun. This starts with having a good attitude throughout the day. Keep in mind that as a new competitor you should think of a match as a solid day of practice and training. If you blow a stage, use it as an opportunity to diagnose what you could have done differently or what you need to improve on – then smile and drive on.
Any day at the range or shooting is a good day. A match is an opportunity to hang out with like-minded people who are passionate about shooting and impacting targets far-far away. Life is great when you are doing what you enjoy!
5. Make friends
There is no better way to meet lots of precision rifle shooters and make friends than at a match. The people that attend the tactical precision matches on a regular basis are those that have ‘fallen into the deep end of the pool’ and are really into the sport. As a result, they have become part of the local precision shooting community. As you strike up conversations at the match, find out if your new found friends visit specific forum boards or social media outlets, or if there are other matches they attend.
Precision shooters tend to congregate and share information in different corners of the Internet. It will serve you well to meet some of the guys in person at matches and be able to connect a face to a screen name. As you develop your friendships and develop a level of trust, you will find opportunities become available to shoot with others in your local area, or get ‘read-in’ on a secret honey-hole of a spot to shoot long distance. Additionally, the local shooting community will often find it more convenient to sell or trade gear and equipment locally than deal with buyers/sellers that are out of state.
Putting it all together
Following these five tips will help you make the most of your first few precision rifle matches and grow the sport we love so much. You will be embarking on a fulfilling journey with some like minded individuals.
Recognize that your techniques and equipment will evolve over time so be flexible. What might work for one person might not work for you, so experiment. Most importantly, as your skills improve pay it forward by helping the next new shooter.