By Claire Davison
The 2019 Rifles Only Brawl was February 22-23, 2019 at Rifles Only in Kingsville, Texas
Going into the 2019 Rifles Only Brawl, I was given plenty of warning and advice to practice using minimal gear and changing my magazine between every position. During my dry-fire practice leading up to the match, I practiced moving at least every 3 shots and removing my magazine each time. This was challenging at first, I wasn’t used to needing a spare hand while moving, but became easier each time I moved, and eventually became habit. I also practiced getting into stable positions on every barricade I could think of without any bags, tripods, or other support. This was a frustratingly fun challenge that over time became more freeing than restricting; I found I could get more stable than I thought I could without depending on supportive gear. I also participated in a local club match without the use of bags or tripods and while I timed out on many stages, getting stable and handling recoil without support, I used time after the clock stopped to fine tune and get impacts (without points). I learned how to use my bipod in creative ways to help me get stable, sometimes even more stable than if I used a bag. This was a great learning experience and I highly recommend using local club matches as an opportunity to try new things and take the hit on points instead of waiting until a national level match.
Rifles Only is a unique match; in addition to the removal of magazine between positions and extremely limited allowance of gear, the targets are not painted, and there are also no squads. Shooters are free to choose when they shoot each stage and are limited only by the length of the day; the “end of day” is an unknown time, called by the match director – though there seemed to be plenty of time to get all stages in, we were finished with hours to spare on both days. My husband and I decided to stick together and add Nick Laufenberg, from Vortex Optics, joined our “squad”. We saw quite a few other small groups of friends and teammates stick together as well, squadding is just an inherent part of the sport and I love that we make teams even not required and when we are all competing against one another.
We started both days one and two with mover stages:
Tank Trap Mover From tank trap, shooters engage the mover at 400 yards with 15 rounds in 3 mover passes, 1 bag and/or sling allowed
Oh Shit From prone, shooter will engage the mover at 400 yards until hit. The shooter will then switch to the other mover and engage it until hit, then switch back to the first mover. Alternating will continue until 90 seconds has expired or 15 rounds are used.
I was happy to have my Schmidt and Bender scope with Horrus Tremor 3 reticle to see through the morning fog and align the target with my the mover dots on my reticle. Based on feedback from the previous two shooters, I was able to estimate the target speed and hit the target a few times both days.
We moved on to a barricade stage that required the shooter to walk on a Z shaped balance beam with all gear in hand before getting into position:
Barricade Shooter will traverse a balance beam with all gear, if any part of the shooter or equipment comes in contact with the ground, the shooter must restart during the available time. Then, shooter will engage target at 420 yards with 15 rounds from any level on the barricade (total time: 2 minutes).
I’m a pretty clumsy person so the balance beam had me a little nervous, but thank goodness for my Manners T5A stock with thumbhole that I could get a firm grip on and walk the beam with ease. Again, I was able to get on the unpainted target through the morning fog quickly, thanks to the superior glass in my Schmidt and Bender scope, and made 9 impacts.
After the barricade, we moved on to a stage with three culverts:
Freaking Culverts Starting port arms, shooter will move to the left culvert and fire 3 rounds from the left shoulder (weak side for me). They will then move to the center culvert and fire 4 rounds from either shoulder. Then move to the right culvert and fire 3 rounds from the right shoulder. Completion time is 90 seconds, target is at 297 yards, one bag and/or sling allowed. Failure to shoot from the correct shoulder is an automatic stage DQ.
Luckily I practiced shooting off very similar culverts at the Texas Precision Monthly Match a few weeks earlier and used my mulligan to attempt the stages a couple different ways. The first time I shot this stage at the club match, I mimicked what the guys ahead of me did, though I wasn’t confident in that approach due to my short height. They all used their bipod and a rear support bag, but this felt awkwardly high to me – I didn’t have to stand on my tip toes but I also couldn’t bend at the waist like they could. I wasn’t confident and I only hit the target a few times. When I used my mulligan, I removed my bipod and attached my udder bag to the front of my rifle; I used my Traust positional bag for rear support. While this made the rifle a little shorter and easier for me to stand behind, it shortened the space between the rifled and the culvert and did not leave enough room for my magazine. I did not score any points. Again, while I took on loss on points at a club match, I learned a great deal from the experience. When I got home, I found something of similar height to the culvert (my kitchen island) and practiced bending my body in different ways and getting stable at the awkward height. I’m glad I practiced because I used what I learned and moved through the stage with ease, timing out at 7 shots with a 100% hit percentage!
The next stages we went to were on a tower and I bombed each one:
Moving Chaos From the tower, shooter will engage the mover at unknown distance (approx 400 yards) with max of 2 rounds, then engage the 300 yard target with max of 2 rounds, then the 500 yard target with max of 2 rounds, then the 600 yard targets with max of 2 rounds, then back to the mover with max of 2 rounds. If any targets are hit with the 1st round, the shooter can move on to the next target. (60 seconds, 10 rounds max)
All or Nothing Shooter will engage the 8” plate on a KYL rack at 400 yards for 1 point. They can stop there or move to the 6” plate for 2 more points and so on for a total of 10 shots or within 60 seconds. If they miss any targets, they return to the 8” plate and lose all points. OR shooter can opt for 1 shot at 1,000 yards for 10 points.
Reverse Frustration Ladder – Shooter will first engage a 1,000 yard target until hit for 1 point. The shooter can stop there or they can attempt the 900 yard target for two points. If the 900 yard target is missed the shooter can try one more time at the 900 yard target. If the second shot is a miss, the shooter looses 1 point and must re-engage the 1,000 yard target until hit before moving on to the 900 yard target. Repeat for 800, 700, 600, 500, 400, and 300 yard targets in 90 seconds for 8 points. Shooter may use up to 16 rounds, 1 bag allowed.
I’m starting to notice a pattern with scoring low on tower stages, even when the course of fire is simple and the position is prone. I have a slight, illogical, fear of man-made heights (metal and wood stairs, towers, bridges) that I’ve been able to consciously get over; but I wonder if my subconscious overrules and causes me to tense up or flinch more than normal when shooting from a tower. This is something I will be working on and would love any advice from readers!
Next, we shot off a pyramid of three whiskey barrels from Wild Horse Distillery (match sponsor):
Be Happy Barrels From the top of the center barrel, shooter will have 60 seconds to shoot 10 rounds at each circle in the smiley face on the paper target at under 100 yards. Impacts must be in the circle to count; if the shot breaks the outline of the circle, it still counts if the hole is 75% inside the circle. No gear allowed, nothing can be used to stop the barrel from rocking.
Here, my height actually played in my favor and I was able to get extremely stable on the barrels, tucking my body in tight to the barrels. I hit the dots almost perfect, but unfortunately had a double feed and had to drop my magazine and trouble shoot, losing almost all the time I had available. I was quick to fix the problem, but just didn’t have enough time to get off more shots.
I took a snack break and then went to the stage that always kicks my butt, shooting off-hand:
Positional Shooters will engage target at 100 yards with 15 rounds in 90 secounds from the seated or kneeling position. No bags allowed, sling is allowed. This will be a traditional format, no pretzel or yoga style positions.
Luckily, this was shooting sitting at a pretty close target and I had been practicing so I hit the target a couple times and was proud of each impact. I’ll keep practicing and hopefully find a range in San Antonio that allows me to practice shooting off-hand. This is a stage that I know will always be a challenge and I will always be proud of each impact. Multiple stock companies are working hard to create stocks designed to help women better support the forearm of their rifle and be more successful at shooting unsupported and I am grateful for them all.
The unique stages stages from day one and two involved hanging your rifle and were both fun and challenging:
550 Cord Positional Starting at port arms, the shooter has 90 seconds to engage the target at 405 yards with 10 rounds from the kneeling position, the the forearm of the rifle slung in the 550 cord loop. No bags allowed.
I hung my rifle through the paracord and used my bipod to brace on the fence post. I was glad I practiced getting stable without rear support and was able to use my knee to support my right elbow while I held my bipod in place with my left hand. I did well on this stage and while I timed out, I hit 2/3 of the shots I took.
Air Dingo to D Starting from port arms, shooter will move inside the stationary helicopter and engage the (D) target at an unknown distance with 20 rounds. The rifle must be supported with the rope hanging in the helicopter for 10 rounds and then from prone for 10 rounds. Firing string must include a magazine change. One bag allowed.
Again, thanks to my practice leading up to the match, I was able to get very stable and got 9 impacts before timing out. Afterwards, I overheard a couple other shooters discussing strategy on scoring more points and one suggested firing off rounds quickly from the rope so he could move to the prone position and get better impacts from there. Looking back, going this route may have actually earned me more points (maybe), but I’m glad I got the impacts from the rope that I did.
Finally, the stage I bombed and wish I could re-do. This should have been an easy points stage, but I over though my plan, messed myself up, and failed to correct my mistakes on the clock.
Under the Table Starting with your rifle on top of the table, shooters will move under the table with rifle on cross brace and engage the target at 350 yards with 2 rounds. The shooter will move forward under the table and shoot from the second cross brace with 2 rounds. Continue all 4 cross braces in 2 minutes. One bag and/or sling allowed.
At first, I strapped my Bison Tactical udder bag to my rifle loosely, like I normally do. But then I thought, “while all the moving and the magazine changing, the bag might slide backwards over the mag well and eat up time while I slide it forward to re-insert my magazine.” So, I hooked the little loop on my bag to the part of my rail that sticks off the front of my stock, this is something I have done before to keep the bag from moving. I realized almost immediately that hooking my bag to the front of my rifle was a huge mistake because it prevented my rifle from sliding forward on the cross beam and left very little room for me to fit behind it. Instead of just unhooking the bag, thinking I didn’t want to waste time adjusting my gear, I instead wasted more time trying to maneuver my body into a tiny amount of space. From prior “expert vs. novice” research that I conducted, I know that using several seconds at the start of a stage to correct a position or rearrange gear is much more effective than struggling through an entire stage with an unstable position or unsupportive gear, but I let the clock and audience get to me and I fumbled through the stage, scoring zero points.
All in all, the 2019 Rifles Only Brawl was a great way to kick off the year! I learn a tremendous amount, I know exactly what I need to work on, and I feel great about my equipment and my ability to shoot with only one (or zero) bags! The facility was beautiful, even (maybe especially) on a humid, chilly, foggy morning; and I look forward to coming back!! A huge thanks to Jacob and Lisa for having us all out!!