My experiences with guns, long range precision, and the firearms community

I don’t know how many of you folks know this, but my husband is a pretty avid shooter.    He grew up learning to shoot with his dad and brother.  When we met, I don’t think I had ever even SEEN a gun.  I honestly didn’t have many preconceived notions or opinions about them.  There had never been a firearms discussion in my family growing up, despite having been raised by pretty liberal parents in a pretty rural area (where I’m sure many of my friends’ parents owned firearms).  This isn’t meant to be a political/ethical/etc discussion however… I just wanted to give you a quick rundown on MY background as it related to firearms… I had none.  Craig shot recreationally, but hasn’t ever gone hunting, and only got into competitive shooting after we got together. 

Shooting a Mcmillan 50bmg

Dog with .50cal rifle

Anyway…  His dad had a pretty fancy big gun.  For those of you in the know, it was a McMillan .50bmg.  That’s a pretty damn big gun.  As a way to “break me in” to shooting, Craig figured, this was a) a funny story, and b)something I could survive.  You usually start novice shooters with very small, very low-power guns so they can get used to them prior to trying something more powerful.  Craig’s logic in this one was that once I fired this, no other gun I’d shoot after that would be near as scary.  It’s the truth.  I don’t really have a fear of shooting anything other than crazy big revolvers.    So that was the first time I ever handled a gun.  It was all downhill from there. 

target shot with a 10/22 at 50 yards

I eventually bought my first gun, the ubiquitous 10/22, a little .22cal rifle that is easy and cheap to shoot.  I got fairly proficient at it, and ended up with hand-me-down parts from Craig’s constantly evolving configurations of his own.    We put a big heavy barrel on it, designed for target shooting, did some work on the trigger, and threw a different stock on it.  I got pretty good with it, and felt like I was ready to start shooting a more powerful round which would allow me to shoot more accurately at longer distances.  It was then that we bought my first “bolt gun.”  A bolt gun is basically a hunting rifle.  It requires that you manually cycle the action before you’re able to pull the trigger and fire another round.  Once again, I went with a common and popular choice for this type of gun,  a Remington 700, barreled in .308.  It was a great gun.  We swapped out the stock with something a little lighter and stiffer, and put an inexpensive scope on it.  I was able to shoot pretty good groups with the gun, but was still fairly inexperienced with it. 

Shooting with an improvised position

Shooting 1300 yards away

Craig during this time had begun attending pistol competitions.  He shot both IDPA and USPSA competitions, where you basically run through a course (stage) and follow certain instructions regarding which targets to shoot (and which ones NOT to shoot) in what order.  The goal is to have as many precise hits as possible in as short a time possible.   It’s a rush.  I tried that once, but never really enjoyed it.  That’s mostly because I’m not that good with a pistol, and I’m also not that good under the gun (if you will) in a super high-stress situation.  

Craig eventually branched out into competitive long range rifle shooting, and built his own bolt gun.    It was only a matter of time before he nagged me  to try my hand at competitive rifle shooting.  So I did!  And it was FUN.  It was challenging… really challenging.  It was a “fun” shoot, where everyone was pretty casual, and I’d have taken last place if one of the better shooters hadn’t experienced equipment failure, forcing him to sit out half the match.  But it was FUN.  Boy was it fun!  Despite the abhorrent weather, it was challenging, rewarding, and such a good time!   

Taking silly myspace angle photos between stages at a competition

As hobbyists are wont to do, Craig began tinkering and tinkering and tinkering with his rifle, and we eventually ended up with a spare (his old one) and I took that over.  It was nicer than my original one, and chambered in a different cartridge/caliber.  Here comes my confusing and only partially accurate ballistics diatribe 

.50 BMG rounds

  In the long range game, all calibers are not created equal.  Since a .308 projectile(bullet) moves fairly slow and is heavy, in order to hit targets far away, you have to compensate by tilting the barrel up, thus creating a bit of an arc to more or less “lob” the bullet onto the target.  A round commonly used in tactical competitions around here is .260, which is a smaller bullet  that moves faster. It’s also more aerodynamic.    Since it goes faster than something like the .308, gravity has less time to act on it, thus giving you a “flatter” arc.  This is desirable in long-distance tactical style shooting.  Then there are a lot of different variables in terms of what powder and what projectile you use, but I won’t get into that. There is a lot of science and a lot of voodoo involved in developing the “right” load for your rifle.  

Reloading .260
Reloading before a match

I could write a crazy long-winded rundown on just how to figure out what particular combination to use… in fact, I just did, but it’s convoluted and you probably really don’t care, so I’m not going to bother posting it.  You could buy commercially made ammo, and some of it shoots really nice. But it is VERY expensive.  It’s like eating at a restaurant.  Sure you can get a great steak au poivre at a nice steakhouse, but it’s going to cost you $60, and it might not be EXACTLY what you wanted.  Maybe the peppercorns were crushed a little too fine, or the mushroom sauce didn’t quite have enough thyme in it.  If you were to make it at home, you could spend $20, plus an hour or so, and have the exact steak you wanted, with just the right size peppercorns, and just enough thyme in the mushroom sauce.  That’s a lot like reloading, except nobody I know enjoys doing it, and a lot of people like to cook. 

This was a match in December in Eastern WA.  It was 10 degrees when we got there.
The worst part of attending a match is the prep work.  Making loaded cartridges is time consuming.  There are a lot of steps, and if you aren’t paying attention during any of them, the likelihood of making a dangerous or expensive error goes up considerably.  So you can’t have a few beers and watch tv while you zone out and reload.  The most we do is sip on a light beer and listen to pandora.  NOT very exciting. 
The first step is depriming your used brass.  This is simple enough, you just get your old brass, spray it with a lubricant, and run it through a press to take the old primer (the thing that lights the gunpowder) out.  Too much lube, and it dents up the case, too little lube and it gets stuck in the die and you have to replace the entire die ($$). 
The second step is tumbling the brass, where you basically polish the brass using car polish and crushed walnut shells in a vibrating tumbler.  This is the only step that isn’t hands on. 
The third step is to prime the brass.  For that you have to press a new primer into the brass cartridge, and pay attention to any variances in pressure required to seat the new primer. At this point, you’ve just placed a small explosive cap into your brass.  While we’ve never had one go off on this stage, being to rough, or not paying attention could end in a damaged hand.  If you are careful and pay attention, there is no reason why this would be dangerous. 
The fourth step is the most crucial, and also the most boring.  You have to weigh your powder out, put it in the case, and then seat your bullet using another die .  We have a powder dispenser that dispenses powder onto a small scale.  This scale is accurate down to a tenth of a grain.  Which is 1/70,000th of a pound.  The load cell is very sensitive.  When the scale is dispensing powder, you have to move very slowly and smoothly to keep things accurate.  Then you can seat your bullet and you’re done.   

Anyway, the point is… it’s boring. But it’s worth it. 

When I got Craig’s secondhand rifle, it was mostly a test to see how I liked shooting long range “with the big boys” as it were.  I was able to take the “good” equipment out for a spin and determine what I liked and what I didn’t like so I could make a more informed decision when it came to eventually building my own long range rifle.   When a great deal came up on a solid rifle, with a really nice stock, we took it, then sent the rifle off to the gunsmith to have some work done to it.  Then we painted it purple.  What’s the point of having something custom if it’s not fully custom?  I am definitely a proponent of function over form, but if form doesn’t impede function, why not have a little fun? 

Purple rifle

Shooting through a pallet
This is me lying in a pile of volcanic ash from Mt. St. Helens.  It was like gritty talc.  EVERYWHERE

The whole reason I spent 18 hours writing this post?  We went to a match last weekend, and I really enjoyed myself.  I haven’t shot a match in about a year, and it reminded me just how much I enjoy the challenge.  I had a few stages where I totally blew it.  They were mostly my fault.  That’s how it goes.  I also had a few stages where I totally rocked it.  And it felt SO GOOD.  The match organizer sets up some solid matches that are a good combination of speed stress and technical shots.  When I first started shooting those matches, the (3 minute average) time limit was ALWAYS too tight.  I was never able to locate the targets, make my corrections, and take all of the called-for shots in stages before my time ran out.  This match, while I still was a little slow at some of the stages, many of them I was able to complete the course of fire with decent accuracy before the timer beeped.  That tells me that I’m improving as a shooter, which is very encouraging.  There’s nothing more disheartening than doing something over and over and never improving. 

Shooting from under a truck

Shooting from inside a box
They call this the dog house.
We have also met so many great friends through sharing this hobby.  Sure, some bad people own guns, but most of them aren’t hobbyists.  And yes, there are some strange hillbillies that own guns too.  They don’t tend to spend that much time online or be out at matches so much.  There is a really friendly, really great community, both at matches, and online that share stories, triumphs, failures, and friendships.  I know this is kind of mushy, but seriously.  We have met some of our best friends through the sport.  A couple years ago like 20 people from all over the country who post on a small firearms forum got together in Kansas City to take a rifle class together.  It was a blast. We stayed at the same hotel, had all of our meals together, and had a couple nights of drunken debauchery (gun free of course!). One of the local guys opened his house up to us on the last night and we had a great barbecue   It was one of the funnest weekends I’ve ever had. 

Ty sporting “suppressor mustache”

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