Are you thinking about hosting a precision rifle match? Here are some things to consider.
“A lot of time and effort…” This is a phrase that seems to be used plenty in reference to precision rifle match directors and other support staff who set up and manage their own matches. While this is often the truth, many may not understand exactly how much time and effort such an undertaking requires.
If you’re thinking of putting on your own local match or you’re even aspiring to go bigger with a larger multi-day match, you may want to consider the angles and what actually goes into putting on a successful match.
I put on what my competing peers called a successful precision rifle match in the spring of 2015. This was my first attempt at putting on anything resembling a rifle match. I had shot quite a few local/regional matches up to this point and had been an RO in a couple of national level 3-day matches. I thought I had a pretty good idea of what competitors liked to see in a match, how stages were run, and how target arrays were generally arranged. I tried to get through the setup with as little help as possible. This is mostly because I live in a very rural area with only a couple sport shooters of this type, and because I knew I couldn’t much repay any of the helpers that I did have. Before the match started, though, I did end up having PLENTY of help in the areas of stage design, loaned target steel, scheduling, and acquisition of sponsorship and prizes.
If you’ve already got the will to be a match director, the main thing you’re going to want to be getting your hands on is land. Open space. Without it your match can never materialize. This may be a much easier prospect in the western states than it is farther east. This is because land tracts out west tend to be larger, there are less vegetation obstacles, and frankly, may be less of a political issue in these areas. Most shooters in the precision rifle realm are probably going to prefer open space match setups opposed square ranges with berms. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t challenging and fun matches on square ranges, but open space is preferred in my experience. In my case, I’m lucky enough to have a family farm that I work and play on. I set up several different ranges for myself throughout the year to train and test on. We have enough contiguous acres to put on a field type match. If you don’t have land of your own or you don’t have close family who are willing to let you use their land, you may be able to find landowners in the area willing to lease their land to you for this purpose. They may also be willing to trade for shooting at your steel or shooting your matches. The sky is the limit on the bartering, but you’re going to want to keep your costs as low as possible for obvious reasons. Also, some square shooting ranges may be willing to allow use of their range in exchange for a flat cash rate or for a cut of your entry fees. In any case, a written agreement is recommended so both parties know what they’re getting into.
In my area (southeastern Colorado), the land is generally very flat, but there are still creeks and rivers etc. that can offer some land formations to put down your match spread. It makes it much easier to set up a firing position that is slightly higher than your target arrays, or even lower if that’s what you have to work with. This is important if you have stages where your competitors will be shooting from the prone position, or lower positions. Even having a creek to shoot across I had some difficulty getting vantage points for my competitors to see their target arrays while maintaining a safe firing line. This portion of the match setup took much more time than I had anticipated. You’ll have to take binoculars and a rangefinder to scout areas to set up that are safe and that have the required vantage points and yardages. You may have to actually set up steel and get into the planned position to know if the steel can even be seen. If you want the shooters to be prone, get prone to see what you see. I’m often amazed as to how much the view changes even going from kneeling to prone. At any rate, in many cases this is going to take two people.
Preliminary Stage Design
For my match, there were 10 stages with 10 shots per stage. I designed 5 of the stages that would be geared more toward new and novice shooters. I wanted the new guys to have a good time as well as seasoned competitors. I asked my good friend Dorgan Trostel, who is a top level shooter, to help me design 5 stages that would challenge shooters who had been around the block a few times and he obliged. Dorgan also loaned a good deal of his personal steel to the match so that we could make the match a good draw. He helped me secure several sponsors for the match and that was a great help. Plenty of time goes into correspondence with different companies to build relationships and to get sponsorship prizes etc.
Most competitors who shoot often are going to want to go to a match where they can get both some long, challenging shots in as well as a reasonably high round count to make travel and entry fees worth their time. Many competitors don’t have their own ranges so they hope to go to matches to get their trigger time in. I would say 80-100 rounds is a good round count to draw competitors from further distances, and shots up to 1000 yards really spice it up for the die-hard guys. This was the main concern I heard from competitors in my region I spoke with months in advance of my match. Bang for the buck is king if you want to draw a great turnout. Keep in mind that firing 10 shots does not mean 10 targets are required per stage. Different elements can be incorporated to make shot numbers increase such as know your limits racks, multiple point targets, or singular targets requiring multiple engagements. It can sometimes be helpful if you can make stages that allow the shooters to move positions safely on the clock. In this way, you can reuse the same targets but increase round count and change the vantage point at the same time.
The most time consuming portion of putting on your match is the physical setup of targets and setting them into position in their arrays. This means getting strap or rubber materials to hang steel with, getting the steel you own or are buying together, buying quality fasteners to attach the steel to straps. My best recommendation for strap material is 2 or 3 inch rubber strapping or actual fire hose. Both hold up well to bullet impacts. Forget using metal chains as they break instantly when struck with supersonic projectiles. It ends up being a huge waste of time and money.
You’re going to have to decide how you are going to hold the targets up off the ground. There are several ways to do this with many types of stands to use. This is personal preference and is more tied to your budget than anything. I used what I have on the farm to build most of my stands since it wasn’t going to cost me any additional money to get up and running. I used T-posts with rebar cross bars to hold up the steel and straps. This was easy enough, but I wouldn’t do it this way for a match again. I didn’t have any stands actually fail, but I believe they would have failed with prolonged use.
The tried and true manner for temporary targets is using a double A-frame and cross bar style stand using rebar held by brackets. The bracket material is ideally steel, but plastic variants do exist for roughly the same price or slightly less than their steel counterparts. If you’re handy with a welder you can save a lot of money here and possibly have a beefier setup for less money.
Another option is to have permanent target stands. When I say permanent, I'm talking about a rectangular stand made with heavy steel such as drill stem pipe that’s buried straight into the ground anchored into concrete or just straight dirt if you prefer. I first saw this setup in Chester, Oklahoma at Shoot for the Green in 2015. The Oklahoma Practical Precision Shooters club has their own series of matches during the year so they leave their targets out. This seemed to work very well, and I don’t recall seeing any target or stand failures during that 2 day match. If you own the land, or if the land owner allows this, it’s probably the best option. If you’re going to do more than one match and you have quite a bit of steel, you can keep the targets where they are and re-use them as you see fit. You can mix and match targets and assign steel to separate arrays by simply moving firing positions or using color coded paint for the stands themselves or the straps to identify what steel goes with which stage.
Once you decide on the rough locations of the targets and how the stands will be constructed, you will have to set them up. This takes a minimum of 2 people and is going to take many hours if you don’t already have pieces in place. The more help you have here the better. One person needs to be at the firing position making sure the targets that are being set are visible to the shooter. Also, at the firing location you will want some kind of “beacon” or something that has a very reflective surface for a rangefinder to ping. I like to use DOT reflective tape that’s used on semi-trailers stuck to a target or onto a vehicle. Nothing I have found returns a rangefinder laser more quickly or consistently. The person setting the targets will have the materials to set up the targets and stand, but will also have the range finder. It’s much easier for the target setter to range to your beacon at the firing position than for the spotter to try and range steel accurately from the firing position. Of course, if you are putting on and unknown distance match, this portion won’t matter, and will actually save you quite a bit of time. Keep in mind that if you don’t provide the ranges of the targets in a match book or in a stage briefing by an RO, you will have to allow time for the competitors to range the steel and make notes for the DOPE. This can end up taking a little more time than you are willing to dispose of otherwise. One thing that makes this job much easier is a set of two-way radios. They are much less cumbersome and more useful than cellular phones, especially when you’re setting up out in the middle of nowhere.
I have used several different vehicles to set targets and I have found that a smaller, more agile 4x4 pickup truck like a Toyota or Chevy S10 seem a lot easier to get around in than a larger pick up like a half ton or one ton pickup. Also, I found that four wheelers don’t work all that well for hauling stands or targets unless you have a utility box or some kind of trailer. Four wheelers do however work perfectly for scouting or checking vantage points. I think the ideal setup would be the smaller 4x4 pickup with a pickup-box style trailer. That way you can haul double of what you normally could and not have to come in to your base to resupply.
The alternate side of directing a rifle match is the administrative game. This is to say that you will be in charge of managing sign-ups, handling entry fee funds, directing range officers (if applicable), establishing rules and safety regulations, and securing the range of liability.
Managing the entries isn’t all that tough. I recommend collecting entry fees and sign ups on the morning of the match or the day before if there’s a sight in day. This is so you don’t have to keep track of everyone and who paid and who didn’t and so on. Only collect entry fees early if you need the entry fees to pay for match operations.
If your match is more serious you may want to have range officers to help spot and score your shooters. This isn’t always necessary, though. If the match is a monthly or local match it will be much easier to have shooters spot and score for each other. This way you don’t have to have volunteers as range officers. You may also opt to have a designated range officer on certain stages are sections as required. This all just depends on your match setup.
For safety concerns, the match director definitely needs to hold a safety meeting to physically explain to competitors what is expected of them in regards to safety and what the general rules of the course are. Also, if the match is not being held on a square shooting range or shooting facility, the match director would be best served by some kind of event insurance. This will cover anything from personal injury, to fire, to any other foreseeable hazard. Insurance policies will vary, so talk to your insurance agent to get something hashed out. In 2015 my insurance policy for the match for the day was around $300 dollars. It may also be wise to have an attorney or other knowledgeable person to draft a liability waiver. Some may say that waivers carry no legal weight, but some landowners and ranges may require it anyway. I had an attorney draft one for me and I think it cost me around $300, but this is just a one-time fee. The waiver can be used repeatedly.
The last thing is to enjoy what you do. It’s very fulfilling to have seasoned shooters come to you afterwards to tell you how much they liked the course and the great time they had. People will then give you feedback on your course and you can keep mental notes on what worked and what didn’t. There may be people who criticize some things you do, and that’s fine. Some of the best advice I got before this match was from Gary Dean (excellent shooter here in Colorado), and I think it sums up the idea of what the goal is. He said, “Don’t worry about what everyone wants, do your match the way you want to and it will work out fine.”