Will O’Meara discovers a discipline of target shooting that has real benefits for hunters – and even uses hunting kit
The hunting season here in Ireland drew to a close at the end of February, so while deer hunters in the UK are out seeking roe, I am catching up on a host of maintenance jobs around the homestead.
During the six month off-season I usually concentrate on mountain biking, building strength and mobility in the gym, as well as hiking the hills and camping with the family.
This year I plan to do all of the above but I would also like to dedicate a little bit of time to shotgun clay pigeon practice and something new that I’m very excited about: diving into the world of Precision Rifle.
The Precision Rifle Series is a competition based in the US that has grown in popularity in the last seven years or so. Each competition or match aims at testing the speed and precision of competitors over a course of fire.
Each stage challenges a different aspect of precision and speed with the shooter being required to fire up to 12 rounds in 90 seconds from different shooting positions.
A similar style of competition is run in the UK as the Precision Rifle League. It consists of five Challenges that run from May to September and I am looking forward to competing in a couple of these this year.
I have also entered a similar style of competition in Europe for the end of the summer, and I am looking forward to it. In Ireland we have the STAGS competition, which is less dynamic in nature and more hunting-focused than tactically orientated.
This competition is held in the Midlands National Shooting Centre of Ireland and includes rimfire and centrefire disciplines with targets ranging from 10 yards out to 600.
I have yet to get to one of these matches, but reports are positive and I look forward to making it to at least a couple of these too.
In summary, my plan for the summer is to do about five rifle competitions. What I’m going to do is start out using my hunting set-up and perhaps finish up with a more PRS-style set-up. I would like to see what we can learn from PRS-style matches and it is good for me to jump back into competition with the rifle.
In preparation for the competitions, I have been looking at what types of set-up are popular for Precision Rifle-style shoots. From my research so far, I have found that a heavier rifle is favoured, with a definite preference toward the tactical style.
Both chassis-style and full-stock rifles are popular, and the favoured total weight of the system seems to be around 18lb. The reason this weight is popular is that it seems to be the ideal weight for reducing recoil enough to observe strikes and misses while still being manoeuvrable enough to shoot off barricades and other obstacles.
For years I have been trying to cut down the weight of my system and now I’ll be looking to add it on again – typical!
There are of course exceptions to the rule on this weight, one of which would be matches that involve moving big distances between stages. Examples of this include the Mammoth Sniper Challenge, which is billed as “a four-day precision rifle shooting competition to test the human body, mind and spirit.” Sounds class!
A rifle under the 11lb mark would be more suited to the likes of this. Another exception is a guy who won the Spanish PRS using a carbon fibre PSE Composites E-Tac stock, which is ultralight – and made in Ireland.
Next on the list for research is: What calibre is good for PRS? I’ll be starting out shooting my .270 Win that weighs in at 10.5lb. This is dressed in a PSE Composites carbon stock and is smooth to shoot despite the weight and calibre.
I’ll be leaning towards the heavier end of the scale for bullets to get the best possible performance in the wind, but some of the 130, 140 and 150-grain offerings will be tested. In the USA, handloading seems popular, as do some of the more unusual or wildcat calibres.
I’m looking at an off-the-shelf solution, so if I do put together a PRS rig, it will most likely be in 6.5 Creedmoor calibre as this seems to be tailor-made for this style of shooting.
The second choice off the shelf would be a .308 – this decision would be purely based on ammo availability in Ireland. If I was based in the UK, I think the .260 Remington would be worth exploring, as would the 7mm-08.
So I am limiting myself to a rifle off the shelf and factory ammo for this project, as I think this is how most people would start into such competitions.
Optics are next on the ‘nerd out’ list, and I will start off with the scope I used all last season for hunting: the Leupold VX6 HD 3-18×50 with a varmint hunter reticle and ¼ MOA turrets. I’ll give this a go for a match or two and then perhaps switch
to a first focal plane (FFP) scope with a milradian (mRad or Mil) reticle and turrets, something like the Steiner MX5. This approach will allow me to compare the two for this type of competition.
The advantage of the ballistic reticle on the Leupold will be that there is no converting yards to mils of holdover, and the advantage of the mRad Steiner would be that I can never be on the wrong magnification and if I am shooting on a team (the Euro comp is a two-person team match) then we can call wind and corrections for each other in a very definitive manner.
There are some other pieces of kit that will be invaluable for this type of competition, such as wind meter, shooting bags, bipod and tripod. At the beginning I’d like to use my hunting kit to see how this works out, and maybe progress on to some more PRS-specific kit thereafter.
For the wind meter I have a Geoballistics Weather-Meter and a Kestrel 4000 – I’ll use both and compare them. For shooting bags I’ll start with my hunting bumbag and my Kifaru 14’R backpack. As the summer progresses I’ll experiment with some bags from Armageddon Gear that are focused on this style of shooting.
I also have a Spartan Precision Equipment V1 Bipod – a serious piece of kit, tailor-made for this type of shooting. The V1 has a super-wide stance and a low centre of gravity and is compatible with the Spartan Sentinel tripod I have.
I will also be making best use of the Spartan sentinel in four-leg and five-leg format; this quad or pent set-up is also tailor-made for this type of shooting and has the advantage of providing a front and rear rest for your rifle. It can be used from sitting to standing so I am hoping it will work well in these competitions.
My training has already started, and it began with some pistol shooting as this will be part of the European Competition. It’s been a while since I practised competition-style shooting, so I was quickly reminded that having a plan before you start is essential – this applies for every shooting discipline regardless of what firearm you are using.
I am sometimes guilty of jumping in to a shoot and figuring it out along the way, and while it is important to be able to do this, you will always be faster if you have a plan. Rehearsing the shoot in my head works well for me, as does walking and talking my way through the shoot, focusing on the sequence of targets, nuances of the brief and things like when and how to do a magazine change.
This is also a good opportunity to practise my competition mindset, focusing on the process and not worrying about the outcome. An important part of this is also leaving each stage behind you once it’s over, especially the ones that don’t go your way.
I’ll be laying out some technical tips and how the journey is developing in the coming months. My hope is that I’ll pick up a few techniques and insights that translate to my hunting, and that you will get good benefit from the journey too.