With the 2017 season in the books, it’s safe to say most shooters are looking to improve their skills and standing in either, or both, the Precision Rifle Series and the National Rifle League. The competition is fierce though. The top tier shooters have more experience, more sponsorship backing, and are seemingly always getting better.
The question is, how do you get better? Practical/tactical rifle matches stress a unique skill set and many of us have restrictions on the distances we can shoot, what the ranges will allow, as well as restraints on time, budget and equipment. However, with clever use of time and space, these limitations can be overcome.
Fundamentals of Marksmanship
Before we start chasing the dream of being the next PRS champion, let’s talk about fundamentals. Everything should start and end with the fundamentals of marksmanship. Many points are lost because of poor trigger pull or building an unstable position. One example often seen on barricade stages is shooters picking up their heels to adjust the elevation of their rifle. Muscles get tired, bones do not. Big bags can only do so much. The longer your heel is up, the more wobble you’ll induce in your sight picture. Building fast, and stable positions is the key.
There are four fundamentals of marksmanship; those are position, aiming, breathing, and trigger squeeze. If you’re neglecting these, forget the rest of this article. If you’re practicing with poor fundamentals, you’re building a bad foundation for yourself as a shooter. Everything you do in practice should center around fundamentally sound shooting.
Take a minute and Read This Piece from Silas Ostaff, Master Trainer and Chief Instructor for 10th SFG (A)’s Sniper Training Program. Experienced shooters, be sure to read this too. Brushing up might be the difference between 1st and 5th. Every point matters.
Dry fire every day. Every. Day. At the 2017 Battle of the Breakneck I attended the White Wolf Train-up. One of the many things I took away from that was Rick Reeves talking about dry firing. His thoughts were that anyone adhering to a daily dry firing regimen would see positive match results in 30 days, and then again in about three months.
But what does a daily dry fire regime look like? Use the first 30 days getting comfortable behind your equipment. Learning to run the bolt without upsetting the rifle, running the turrets on the scope without moving your head off the cheek rest, breathing technique, trigger control, moving through a series of targets, and finding the most comfortable position behind an obstacle. We all have different rifles, body types, etc. Use the gear you have and find what works, then practice it.
“Stick with a single rifle platform and learn it well,” said Dan Spirgen, who recently placed 5th at the 2017 Lone Survivor Benefit PRS Match. “Too many shooters will start with a rifle and immediately switch after a couple of matches. Learn your rifle, get comfortable with it. Learn to spin the turrets without thinking. Learn how it’s balanced, how it sits on a barricade, and how it recoils. If you eliminate the brain power needed to think about those variables, you can focus on watching impacts and reading the wind.”
Dry Fire Drills
If you’re looking for an advanced dry fire routine, I suggest purchasing or making your own dry fire scope adapter, which allows a high powered optic to focus down to 10-12 ft. Make 1 MOA dots on a box or sheet of paper and practice running common PRS/NRL stages. You can do this inside, outside, wherever. Focus on learning how to build stable positions. Take your time. After that, get on the clock and start dry firing under time constraints seen at a match. Normally anywhere from 90 seconds to 3 minutes.
An efficient way to accomplish this is to practice different type of obstacle each day. Day 1 – Prone troop line. Day 2 – Barricade drill. Day 3 – Rooftop. Day 4 – 55 gallon barrels, and so on. It helps to have the space for props in a backyard or in a garage. If you do not, get creative. Use what you have handy. If the cops come to your house for carting around a rifle in your backyard, we never met. Don’t burn a live round in the middle suburbia either.
Take the time to correctly build your rifle profile in the ballistic solver of your choice. Then take it out and confirm your solver is matching what you see on paper. For new shooters, a lot time is spent learning how to be consistent. It all comes with experience. Experiences you learn while shooting far outweigh anything you’ll encounter on YouTube or read in any article. Put in as much time behind your rifle system and your equipment as possible. The more you shoot, the more you’ll be reloading too, which will pay dividends in learning how to produce the best ammo possible.
Take it to the Range
For most of us, range time is precious. When you get there, make those rounds count. Shooting from the prone is the most basic skill you’ll use. Start there. Do not shoot off a bench. There is no skill in practical/tactical shooting that can be gained by shooting from the bench.
Personally, I like to take the time to confirm zero and check velocity. This is simple and quick final check to make before getting down to business. If one of those two metrics is off, it could turn training day into a wasted day. Chasing your tail on the fly is not a fun experience. However, it will happen. Think of it as a good test for if/when it happens at a match. Trust the bullet, correct as needed.
However, if you want to fully simulate a match scenario run your practice stages cold. If you’ve previously zero’d the rifle and know the ammunition is consistent, this is as close to a national match situation that you can simulate as you can generally zero the day before.
Drills and Mini Matches
It’s been months. You’ve been dry firing every day. You have a consistent load with good D.O.P.E. The rifle is shooting well, you’re comfortable behind it, turrets are tracking correctly; things are starting to click. Now take it to the next level.
This is where it helps to have a range or area that is friendly to the practical/tactical style of shooting. If you’re limited to 100-200-300 yards, you can work on techniques shooting dots on paper that will help you on match day. If you’re shooting at a range that won’t let you shoot off barricades, barrels, and other props, you may want to find somewhere else to practice.
When Team Black Flag Precision gets together to train we do one thing, mini matches. Thirty to 40 rounds, 3 to 4 stages. They change every week, and all stages are designed to mimic what we see on match day. We’re also restricted to 500 meters, so we use small targets to compensate for the lack of distance. Shooters are allowed to zero and check velocity, then we go immediately to a match format. No warming up the barricade first. Show up ready to shoot.
A typical training session would look like this; 5-10 rounds to confirm zero and velocity, if needed. Set targets and props for each stage. Eight to 10 rounds per stage, 30-40 rounds for the match; about 50 rounds for the day. After the mini match is completed, go back to re-shoot the stages you struggled on. Try a different position, or a different bag, whatever is needed to have a positive result.
This is where dry fire can again be a handy tool. Go back and dry fire while trying other positions, or different gear. If you’re training with your main match rifle/caliber/barrel, this will save barrel life. If you use a trainer in a longer barrel life caliber, take advantage and shoot as much as needed. Either way, if you can keep to a schedule training in this manner, it will pay dividends on match day. Try to get out at least once a month; though two to four times a month is better.
What do the stages look like? Typical stages we run and props we use include:
It’s really up to the shooter how they want to set up the stages. Make it hard. If you come away from the day feeling really good about yourself, your practice routine was too easy. It should always be just hard enough to make you want to strive for more. Next time, make the times shorter, or the targets smaller. If you get used to shooting at smaller targets, when you encounter bigger ones it feels like you’re shooting at dinner plates at 100 yards.
The mental aspects of shooting a two day match cannot be understated. There will always be distraction. In your squad, at home, within your own mind. There is limitless advice anyone could give here. However, the best thing one can do is find out what works best for them. Mentally running through every stage in the hotel the night before. Writing down preliminary DOPE for each target. Doing nothing and relaxing. Whatever works, find your rhythm. It can be hard, hanging out with your buddies it’s easy to mentally slack off before you’ve taken your first shot. Keep your eye on a goal you’ve set yourself and strive for that.
There will be mistakes made, but look at the match AAR’s from Lou Smith HERE. All the top level shooters have bad stages. The name of the game is to stay consistent. Consistent scores are better than one good stage followed by a bunch of garbage.
Put in the Work
Always remember that while you’re sitting in front of the TV, someone is out there working on their craft. It takes a lot of time and effort to crack into the top 25 at a national match. Takes a lot skill to get into the top 10 at a local match these days. You better believe all of the consistent top shooters are putting in the time to stay on their game. Even the playing field, put in the work. The more time you put in, the more you’ll learn about how to create a winning skillset and mindset.