Prepping for and shooting a long range rifle match

Craig and I somewhat regularly competitively shoot rifle matches.  Well… competitively isn’t quite an accurate description.  Craig generally does pretty well at, and I generally place in the bottom third of rifle matches that we shoot.  It works out fine though.  I don’t mind not being phenomenal at everything, and Craig likes winning.

So if you’re reading this post on shooting, you’ve surely read the post that I wrote about how I got into precision shooting and think it sounds pretty neat, or just want to read more.  I don’t blame you.  It is neat, and I’m a pretty first-class writer.  I’ll write another post about equipment selection in the future(and it is SO subjective) but this is just a basic rundown of prep for the match, and match day itself.

Perfect shooting bag

 You’ll want to start off with a backpack.  One with multiple compartments is ideal.  You’ll be carrying combination of heavy/bulky and light/fragile things, so keeping them separated and protected is important.  The below is what I would try to have at a match.  The things that I’ve marked with an asterisk are things that Craig has and carries because I’m clumsy, accident-prone, and there’s not usually a need to have multiples, in fact if you have someone friendly in your squad, you don’t need to have them at all.

Supplies for long range shooting

Safety First!
Eye Protection
Ear Protection (I just use cheap foam earplugs – expensive electronic muffs don’t fit well with my face up against a rifle)
Water
Hat & Sunblock (even if you don’t think it’s going to be sunny)

Gun-related stuff
Ammunition (duh) – Make sure you have plenty of extra rounds
Magazines – It’s possible to shoot a long range match with a gun that doesn’t take mags, but it’s a much bigger pain in the ass
A chamber flag (this also goes under safety, but it’s specifically gun-related, so it’s going under that heading)
A rear-bag – this helps you stabilize the back end of the rifle to allow for more precise shots

Accuracy & external environmental stuff
A kestrel weather meter*
A laser range finder*
Some way to figure out your ballistics data – either a phone app or a range card
Sharpies

Comfort
Handywipes
Snacks
A camping chair

The gun Itself
Your Gun!
A case or safe way to transport it
A sling – if you will have to walk/hike for any real distance, you WILL want one.
A bipod

TABgear rifle cover

So now that you have all your stuff together, get a good night’s sleep (you did this the night before, right?)  Craig and I always stage our stuff the afternoon/evening before we go to a match.  If the match will require anything special, or will be an overnight match(toughing it for one day without a piece of gear is something else entirely than toughing it for 2 days in a row), I make a list.  I LOVE lists.  They keep me sane and make me feel like I’m accomplishing things when I check items off of them.   Anyway… get a good night’s sleep.  We got up at 4:30 this morning to be sure we weren’t late today.  If you live in a populated area, chances are you’ll have to drive a while to get to a place where you can shoot long range.  We live in the Seattle area, and most of our matches are 3+ hours away.

gear at a rifle match

I’ll give you a rundown of the match that we shot today, and let you know some of the ways that it varies from the other matches that we usually shoot.

*We showed up around 8am.  The range that this took place required that we sit through their range-rules talk. Most matches we shoot are either on public or private land, and not generally at “gun ranges.” How this usually runs down is you show up, sign in/sign up for a squad (usually 4-7 people), once registration is over, the person running the match goes over his specific rules, any considerations that may be important(“the dust is really bad, be sure to keep your mags out of it or they’ll jam”), calls out what stage each squad will be starting on, and everyone disperses to their various locations.
*After the safety meeting and some time standing around bullshitting, everyone filled out a score sheet with their name and were assigned shooter numbers.  We had 17 shooters.  Most matches I go to have between 25 and 40, but some of the bigger regional matches will have in the range of 60.  Generally, I’ve found that the bigger the match, the less friendly and willing to dispense advice people are.
*We discussed the first stage and its description.  At this point, in a more typical match, our squad would have shown up at our first stage, and the RO (Range Officer – or guy running and scoring the stage) would have given us the rundown of what targets we are supposed to hit in what order with how many rounds from which positions.  We would then ask questions, get clarification on anything we need clarification on, and get started putting the gear together we’d need for that stage.  Usually at that point, shooters are either told the distance away the targets are, or are allowed to use a laser rangefinder to determine the range.  Then they either consult their phone app (I use Shooter) or their range card and figure out what corrections they’ll need to make in order to hit the targets.  At the beginning of the day, they posted up the ranges for all of the targets we’d be shooting today, so I made a list of the ranges, then plugged those in to my ballistics app.  Then I put them on my hand (easy to see, hard to lose). Craig does the same thing.

dope for rifle match .260

*Our first stage at this match was 6 shooters on the firing line, with paper targets set out at 100 yards.  The course of fire was to shoot 1 round at each of 5 diamonds on the top row of the sheet of paper, get up, grab a magazine that we had stashed somewhere else, and shoot another 5 rounds at a second row of 5 diamonds. Hits in the center of the diamonds got you 2 points, hits on the lines got you 1 point.  We had 60 seconds to shoot 10 rounds.  You’d be surprised at how difficult that is to do with a high degree of accuracy.
*Our second stage was 2 shooters at the line, each shooting 5 identical targets at identical distances, 1 round each, then starting from the closest and going from the farthest, then starting over again.  This involved redialing your scope for each round otherwise you’d be unlikely to make your hits.

dialing a scope for elevation

Our third course of fire involved lots of positional shooting, where you have to try to find stability with a big heavy rifle hanging out in front of you.  Positional shooting is way tougher than it looks, let me tell you.  It’s very challenging, and also very rewarding when you make hits.  I got to shoot the first part of this stage twice, because partway through my time, a mother deer and her 2 fawns wandered onto the range and we had to chase them off.

shooting bend over
shooting kneeling

*Our fourth stage was similar to this.  Shooting various targets at different distances, knowing what order to shoot them in, and dialing the scope to ensure the crosshairs are where you need them to be.  It’s a total bummer when you only have 2 shots at any given target and you forget to dial.

shooting out to 535 yards

positional shooting
Craig, totally tearing it up

*After the match was over, scores were totaled up and places were announced.  Craig got 2nd, I took probably 13th.  This only took a few minutes because the match was simple and there were so few shooters.  Most matches you end up standing around for a few hours, relaxing, bullshitting, drinking a beer or two, sometimes cleaning up, and packing your shit up while people filter in after completing their various stages and the match director totals up scores.  Then at larger matches, there is usually a prize table.  Local gunsmiths will usually donate a gift certificate for parts or services, there are usually chunks of cash available, and then all sorts of stuff depending on who has helped sponsor the match.  I’ve walked away with a cheap part for a gun that I didn’t own, and also gotten a pretty great rear bag.  Craig once won a ~$200 steel target.  At this match, there were no prizes.  But it was fun, and cheap to shoot.  Also, a minimal time commitment.  We made it home before 5pm.

In the future, I plan to also make a writeup for equipment selection, and maybe somewhat of a glossary of terms… like “Guns for Dummies.”

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