Here is an article I wrote back in 2018, but the content is still viable for new shooters who are interested in dipping their feet into precision rifle competitions!
So you want to shoot in the Precision Rifle Series but don’t know where to start? In this article I’m going to make a strong effort to give you a little guidance. I’m no expert, but having been in this sport for just about 1 year, and having a very tight budget, I can certainly lend you some decent first hand advice. There is no “one size fits all” answer to this question. Everyone has different desires, passions, goals, schedules, and budgets. Everyone has different levels of experience, desire to learn, comprehension, and natural ability. This article can serve as a foundation for you to start building on.
Step 1: Select your equipment
To me, equipment selection is determined by a number of factors, first and foremost being your budget. The rifle you can afford is the rifle you should use. If you’re on a tight budget like me, ideally you’ll stumble onto a great deal on a used Remington 700 or similar that can grow with you. A rifle that you can upgrade later will be a huge money saver in the long run. So much of the market is based around the Remington 700 action that there probably is no better platform to start with. I didn’t have that luxury and started with a rifle I already owned, a Ruger American Predator chambered in .243 Winchester. This wasn’t the ideal rifle, but it did have a detachable magazine and was accurate. A rifle with a detachable magazine is key, as most stages will be 8-12 rounds under time, so you won’t have time to be manually feeding rounds into a blind box magazine. The 4 round magazine that my Ruger had wasn’t horrible for 8 round stages, since I had an extra magazine, but 10 round stages were pretty much a guarantee to be at least a couple points shy. If you plan to run a rifle with a smaller magazine capacity you’ll want to practice mag changes. Yes you can go buy or build a $7,000 custom rifle and have a great start, but don’t think that your $300 hunting rifle isn’t a great place to start either. The best rifle to start with is the one that gets you to your first match.
Your rifle will need a scope, and there are a ton of options. Most people, unless they are shooting a fully custom rifle, will spend more on their scope than they did their rifle. There ARE budget options out there though. Almost every manufacturer has at least one line of scope that is geared toward the new shooter and the price reflects that. I’d suggest buying the best glass you can possibly afford, but keep a few things in mind. You will need a scope that has exposed (tactical) turrets, since you will be dialing elevation for shooting targets at varying ranges. It is also beneficial to buy a scope that has some form of graduated reticle, since some stages require that you shoot them using only holdovers. On these stages you aren’t allowed to adjust your turrets to account for elevation changes required for shooting targets at varying distances. I’d say at least 90% of PRS shooters run mil/mil scopes as opposed to moa, but honestly, it’s whatever you’re comfortable with. If you can learn mil, it will be beneficial, since so many shooters are using the mil system. If you’re at a match and someone comes off of a stage and says “I had to hold .7 mils of wind on that stage”, it will mean nothing to you if you are running moa without doing a lot of math on the spot. First focal plane scopes are the scopes of choice, since the reticle magnifies as you adjust the power ring. Let’s say you have a scope that is second focal plane, meaning the reticle is fixed regardless of the magnification level. If the reticle has hashes that are graduated in .5 mil increments, those hashes are only .5 mil at one specific power. This means if your scope’s reticle is true at 10 power, and you’re dialed to 15 power, the distance between hash marks is no longer .5 mil, making it impossible to accurately hold over using your reticle. I’ll get into reticles and ffp vs. sfp in a later article. On a side note, it is also beneficial to have a bubble level on your scope. Once you start making longer shots, having your gun canted will make a sizable impact on the flight of your bullet and can definitely cause you to miss targets off of one edge of the other.
Other items that you’ll want for your first match are of course your ammo (there are some good selections of quality match grade factory ammo on the market today if you don’t reload), a bipod, and a rear bag. There are stages where other gear will be helpful, but to get started, take the bare minimum and go to a match. There will be plenty of people there willing to let you try out different support gear to figure out what works best for you.
Step 2: Zero your rifle, gather dope
Your next step, is to get to the range and zero your rifle. You’ll want a good 100 yard zero. Once your rifle is zeroed, you’ll need to gather velocity data by running some shots over a chronograph. If you don’t own a chronograph it’s not the end of the world. Most manufacturers of factory ammunition publish the velocities of their ammo on the box. Granted, that published velocity is controlled by certain variable parameters. Most ammunition is tested from a gun with a 24″ barrel. If you have a shorter barrel, you’ll experience lower velocity, and in turn if your barrel is longer, you’ll probably see higher velocities. All that is really REQUIRED to get started is a ball park idea, and you can gather that information by doing just a bit of searching online through forums, facebook groups, etc. Once you have a baseline velocity, I would suggest downloading one of the many ballistics calculators that are available for today’s smartphones. Shooter, BallisticsARC, and Strelok, to name a few, are all good apps. I use Strelok Pro, but only because its the app I started with when I first got into this sport so it’s familiar to me. Any one of them will do the job. Once you input all of your data, you can input the distance to your target and the software will give you a firing solution based on bullet size, ballistics coefficient, velocity, environmental variables, etc. Once you have this data you can begin to verify your velocity. Velocity data is best gathered by a chronograph, but if you absolutely don’t have access to one, you can get by. If you are zeroed at 100 yards, you can input 300 yards as your target distance and let your software calculate a firing solution. My software tells me that for my 6.5 creedmoor, firing 140 gr. Nosler RDF’s at 2755 fps, I should have 1.0 mils of adjustment, or 10.3 inches at 300 yards. If I fire a group at 300 yards without making an adjustment to my turret, that group will be low on the target. If I measure from my point of aim down to the center of the group I just shot, and the measurement is 10.3 inches, then I know the velocity I entered is good. If the measurement is more that 10.3 inches, I know that my velocity is less that I input, and since the bullet is travelling slower, it dropped more. If the measurement is less than 10.3 inches, then in turn I know my velocity is higher than I input. Most apps have a velocity truing feature that will allow you to input your actual measurement and it will calculate your actual velocity. I would suggest doing this at varying distances to confirm your results. Once you have confirmed your velocity, input this number into your ballistics calculator and run test groups at varying distances, adjusting your turrets. This will confirm that your calculated dope is correct, and also that your scope is tracking correctly. It is always good to confirm your dope in 50-100 yard increments and record this data in a log book that you can keep with you in case your ballistics calculator isn’t working while at a match. There are also online options for calculating dope if you aren’t a tech savy smartphone user. JBM Ballistics has a ballistics calculator on their website, www.jbmballistics.com,
that is a great resource for sitting at home and running numbers. They even have functionality that allows you to print your dope cards off in well organized, easy to use formats.
Step 3: Find a match
Now that you have your equipment squared away, your rifle zeroed, and your data collected, it’s time to go compete! Finding a match isnt’ tough. Finding a match nearby, depending on your location, might be a bit trickier! If you want to truly test the waters and start slow, find a local club that hosts matches. These can be found by talking to your local gun ranges, or searching groups on facebook. Small private or club level matches are a great place to start since the number of shooters is generally low, depending on what area you are in. Matches with a lot of shooters can be very overwhelming, even to the more experienced shooter. Small matches also tend to have a more laid back environment and with any luck you’ll have more time to meet and talk with more experienced competitors, who can be your best source of information.
Another great option is to just jump in head first and sign up for a PRS Club Series match. You’ll still find the same friendly environment, loads of people who are eager to help, and a world of experience all wrapped up into one day. Be prepared to take notes and learn a ton. The PRS Club Series is filled with new and experienced shooters alike, and you’ll find some of the sport’s most knowledgeable shooters still participate in the club series as opposed to the national series. You can find Club Series match locations, dates, and registration information at www.precisionrifleseries.com. Most of your club series matches are one day matches, with the exception of a few, and you can generally expect a full day of shooting, with a round count of 80-100.
Step 4: Have fun!!!
Once you dip your feet into this exciting sport, you will surely be hooked. Have fun! That’s what it’s all about! The final piece of advice I can give you is that there is no substitute for practice. You can have all the gear in the world and if you don’t practice, you’ll find yourself disappointed with your performance over and over again. If you are interested in professional training, I’d highly suggest finding a training facility near you and utilizing the services they offer. Most do one day training seminars ranging in complexity from beginner to advanced, and will certainly get you on the right track. www.hellonsteel.com is a great source for beginner, intermediate, or advance training.