Precision mania with Will O’Meara

Will O’Meara feels his Precision Rifle addiction grow with a trip to the series final – and learns some invaluable technique tips while he’s there.

At this stage I am in full-blown Precision Rifle addiction – so my intention is to take a closer look at the world of Precision Rifle competition shooting. When taking it up, I thought it would complement my former tactical experience with the long gun.

What I didn’t realise was how much I would like it, how much it would reinvigorate my obsession with the rifle as a tool of precision, and how much it would encourage me to practise.

In recent years I have been very hunting-focused, and while my riflecraft experience transferred well, I wasn’t really advancing my skills all that much.

A couple of months into the Precision Rifle game and I already feel like there are lots of things I have remembered from past experience or learned for the first time. 

The highlight of this past month was the Orion Mountain Challenge stage of the Precision Rifle League. Tiff Dew is the main man here. He has done a fantastic job of bringing shooters, challenge and sponsors together.

This year the League consisted of five matches held across three different locations in the UK, with the finale held at Orion Firearms Training high in the Welsh Cambrian Mountains.

Just some of the tools in use in a PRL stage

I was really looking forward to the competition, and preparation started with the dreaded but essential paperwork. Travelling from Ireland meant I needed to renew my European Firearms Pass, apply for a UK Firearms Visitors Permit and inform the ferry company.

Between my friend John Taylor (a man well experienced in the art of Precision Rifle Competition) and Tiff Dew (PRL head honcho), the paperwork was really straightforward.

I adapted my rifle case for the Tikka – it just meant cutting out some foam – got a new lock for my ammo container, and started packing my bag. 

For this match I expected that we would be doing some walking between stages, so I wanted all my kit to be well organised and all in one pack. My Kifaru frame pack seemed like the obvious choice for the hauling duty.

I took off the cargo net that usually straps sika deer to my back and replaced it with the Nomad 2 bag. This ability to adapt the Kifaru frame for different roles is something I really like.

The Nomad 2 is basically two side pockets with a molle panel between them – it means you can strap whatever you like between the two side pockets. In this case I planned that my rifle would sit between the pockets, and I fitted the Gun Bearer to carry the butt of the Tikka.

I packed the side pockets as follows: Right hand side – ammunition and my ‘fixitsticks’ toolkit. Left hand side – rain pant, rain jacket, Practical Precision UK Berserker (Barricade Sandbag). I used the ‘Grab-it’ to hold my large ‘pillow bag’ and I put some buckles on my hunting bumbag so I could attach it to the pack like a lid.

In the bumbag I packed the following: Rear bag (Armageddon X Wing), Kestrel weather/wind meter, Spartan Javelin bipod, Spartan ‘rabbit ears’ for tripod, spare magazines and a warm hat and neck gaiter. On the waist belt of the main back I carried a water bottle (lesson learned from the last match) and my camera (to take some pictures for you!)

Lastly I attached the Red Kettle Quiver for my Spartan Precision Sentinel Tripod. I configured the Tripod in quad mode as I found this handy in the last match.

With five us in the van, our journey started with laughs and tall tales punctuated by in-depth ballistic discussion of calibres from the old-school .308 Win to the new standard 6.5 Creedmoor and the very hip family of 6-mils.

I’m sure our discussion of muzzle velocities, wind drift and recoil management piqued the curiosity of ferry passengers and the olive connoisseurs at our trendy lunch venue… or maybe not. 

Step one to success in Precision Rifle is to build a stable position

The night before the match, we attended a social event in a local hotel, the focal point of which was a raffle for those competitors who had attended at least two rounds of the series.

The prize table was nothing short of phenomenal and demonstrated strong support from RUAG and Highland Outdoors. The first prize drawn was a Bergara rifle and there were many smiling faces coming back from the prize table with arms full of ammunition, shooting bags and other goodies.

The competition began with a safety brief by John O’Brien of Orion Firearms Training and a competition brief by Tiff, who walked us through the 10 stages of the day.

I was impressed by the level of preparation, which included a great range layout and scope of targets as well as laminated scorecards and course-of-fire instructions.

Preparation is the first phase and this gave us the opportunity to gather environmental data, such as temperature and air pressure. I updated my Ballistic Arc data sheet on my phone and noted down the elevation I would need for each range.

I had borrowed a tactical-style wrist coach and transferred the data required for each stage on to this. This wrist coach turned out to be difficult to use and as the day went on I was looking around at how others were working this aspect.

Some had their data on the rifle by means of a stiff card mounted on the side or a wrist coach on the arm. I have since bought an American football-style wrist coach, which is simple and effective in design and should do to the job well. 

The first stage was hunting-style rusty deer at 373 metres down a steep slope. I set up in a kneeling position using the Spartan Tripod in quad stick mode. I put 16 clicks on my elevation, no wind and fired my first of 10 shots. I saw I struck high and, confident that I was super-steady, held low on the target and fired the remainder with good hits. 

During the next few stages I quickly realised a few things. Firstly my data put me about 0.5 mRad high (five 1cm clicks). The strong sunlight behind the targets was creating glare and made seeing strike difficult, and I had been overly confident early on.

We were offered a 10in target for two points per hit or a 20in target for one point per hit – the range was 780 metres. I went small and knew the second I peered up at the mountain that it was a mistake – the glaring sunlight made it seem like I was looking through the bottom of a milk bottle!

Add sunshade to the shopping list… Scoring zero on that stage focused the mind and confirmed that I needed to knock a half-mil off my data. 

For the benefit of learning, let’s have a look at why you might be shooting high in a similar scenario. My first thought was that my muzzle velocity input into my ballistic calculator was somehow too slow. How could this be? There are a few possibilities.

Let’s look at this with the presumption that all our atmospherics are correct and accounted for. It is not uncommon for a barrel to speed up after the first 200 rounds or so. This can be due to build-up of copper or fouling – I think 100fps would be on the high side for such increases and less than half that would be more common.

In my rifle an increase of 100fps would account for 0.6mRad (six 1 cm clicks) or 48cm (6cm x 800/100) on the target. We would see this as the bullet hitting almost 20in high at 800 metres.

Another possibility is that you trued your rifle in high winds (which I did). In the Geoballistics App you have the option to enter a muzzle velocity correction – this is based on what elevation you actually had to input in order to hit a target.

I trued my data at 1100m, which required 12.3 elevation. What I didn’t account for was that there was a strong left-to-right wind when I was truing. I was holding 4 mils of wind to strike the target at that range, meaning the wind was pushing my bullet 4.4 metres.

It is important to note that at longer ranges a crosswind will affect your elevation. A left-to-right wind will push your bullet down while a right-to-left bullet will force it up, assuming a right-hand twist barrel.

How you store and access your data is another key factor in these competitions

On the day my immediate fix was to knock a half-mil off my data and this seemed to work – I shot well from then on, cleaned some stages and shot well overall. 

On the journey home we were discussing the possibilities as I wasn’t the only one shooting high, but all the time it was in the back of my head that my zero may not have been right. Initially I thought that this was just me as my zero was good before the comp, but when I got home I shot some groups and confirmed that my 100-metre zero was indeed 0.5mRad (5cm) high.

I’m not sure how this happened, but it did. On the day I copped it and corrected for it, but a little late. I learned to be confident in checking and adjusting my zero and to make changes based on what is happening right now, not on what was happening previously. 

Want to know more about the Precision Rifle League? Visit http://precisionrifleleague.co.uk/

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