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New Mexico ELR: Mimbres River Mile Shootout

New Mexico ELR: Mimbres River Mile Shootout

I stumbled upon my first extreme long-range (ELR) match after venturing to JJ Rock Co. for a tour. As an engineering student, when not in class, I travel the country shooting and also love to see how guns are built on factory tours. A few years ago, I met Jon Geib, co-owner of JJ Rock, at a Precision Rifle Series (PRS) match the company was sponsoring. My friend Regina, a match official, knew I wanted to get into ELR and mentioned a certificate on the prize table. Unfortunately, Wes beat me to the certificate. (Remember that name.) Since I was heavily shooting PRS, NRL and Competition Dynamics matches at the time, ELR had to go on the back burner— but I was still allured by the game.

Rei Hoang at Mimbres River Mile Shootout with Rusty Newton
Precision shooter Rei Hoang with her spotter, Rusty Newton, at the 2020 Mimbres River Mile Shootout.

Fast-forward to this year. I chose Phoenix as my 2020 home base. When I arrived in Arizona, my inner nerd called Jon to see how his rifle actions are made. He remembered how well I shot at the PRS match and offered me a rifle to use while I was there. The timing couldn’t have been better—I had seen a social media post about an ELRSO match in New Mexico, the Mimbres River Mile Shootout. (ELRSO is an acronym for ELR Shooting Organization, a new governing body—Ed.) I didn’t give it much thought to attending, because I didn’t have an appropriate rifle.

Thinking how cool it would be to see how actions are made, I had an epiphany. Why not attend the match? It was the same weekend, and there were still slots left. I booked my room and registered right then and there. The next day, I toured the shop and saw a lot of cool things, but lingering on my mind was picking an ELR rifle.

Picking a Rifle

I’m partial to stocks, so I requested to borrow a rifle in a McMillan beast. This rifle had a JJ Rock XL action chambered in .375 CheyTac. Since the match was over the weekend, and Jon knew I was an avid reloader, he also lent me some components. The Mimbres River Mile Shootout goes out past two miles, which required about 50 mils of elevation for my rifle setup. Even maxing out my dials and holding, there wouldn’t enough mils to reach the target. Thus, I needed a Charlie TARAC, which optically adds elevation to any riflescope via mirrors. They didn’t have one at the shop, so I headed to a friend’s house to mount a scope with the Charlie TARAC adapter on the rifle. For my bullets I had two: 400-grain Lazers by Cutting Edge, and 379-grain match solid Bergers. We measured the OAL for both, and wrote it down in my notebook for later.

JJ Rock Co. rifle
Mounting an optic and the Charlie TARAC on the borrowed JJ Rock rifle.

On Friday morning, I packed everything—rifle, bullets, powder, brass, press and C-clamps to mount the press. When I was a young reloader pup, I lived in a one-bedroom apartment. There wasn’t enough space, so I reloaded on my coffee table and used C-clamps to mount the press. When I wasn’t reloading, the press could be stashed away in the closet. Back then, I did what I had to do with the resources I had. Some habits stick.

Reloading station with C-clamps
Rei’s reloading station with the infamous C-clamps.

New Mexico and Match Prep

My load development would be at the range, so I left early. On the final leg driving to the range, I called my ELR mentor, Paul Philips, for some pointers. As he gave me some critical advice, the phone cut out, as there was no longer any service. I thought to myself, “Girl, you’re on your own now.”

As for the range itself, it was located at the gorgeous NAN Ranch. With little time to absorb the natural beauty, I set up my press and started loading, beginning with the 400-grain Lazers. I made about 10 different powder loads. Since ELR was new to me, I didn’t have the proper equipment. After rummaging the kitchen, I found sandwich bags to put each group of ammunition in, which I threw them in my belt pack.

Rei Hoang CheyTac load
I prepared a few .375 CheyTac rounds to test at distance. The match included targets out to about two miles. On Rei’s arm is a quick field sketch of the locations, a la PRS. The more experiences you have, the more you can pull from your bag of tricks.

I finally made it to the shooting area, which was getting darker by the minute. I was in a rush. My rifle wasn’t zeroed, and while trying to bore-sight it, the butt pad proved to be problematic. After finally getting the rifle bore sighted, it started raining. I had to put the butt pad back on, but the screws fell between the rubber and the plate. You could hear the screws clink when you shake it. Julio saw me struggling, asked if I needed help, and then disappeared in the distance as he headed to his car to get pliers. The storm had arrived by then, bringing heavier rain and thunder. I was rushing like a mad woman—if the storm is right on top of us, we can’t shoot anymore. At that moment, I thought I may have to shoot without the rubber recoil pad—just thinking about that made my shoulders hurt.

Next, I focused on getting my chrono set up on the rifle and my parallax perfect, as I let Julio help me with the screw situation. After he fixed it, I was able to zero, but by the time I got to shooting the paper, it was riddled with impacts, as the wind had picked up. While trying to spot my impacts, my eyes are doing something weird. I almost kicked myself, I forgot to set the diopter. In that mad rush, I forgot to focus the reticle to my eye—a rookie mistake. After settling my internal battles, I relaxed and tackled my problems systematically. Slow down, don’t rush and focus on the checklist. We get the rifle zeroed, but without much time remaining for load development.

.375 CheyTac load for ELR
Prepared match ammunition. Someone wise once told me “you are never ready, you just have to do it,” and he was right.

This match included two categories—Limited, fired on Saturday and restricted to .338 cal. or smaller rifles that can weigh up to 25 pounds. Sunday featured the Unlimited rifles, which must be under 50 pounds, and chambered in .50 cal. or smaller. My .375 CheyTac rig fell into the Unlimited category. People were still coming in the next day to zero, and that’s when I performed my load development.

On Saturday, I had to wait for the zero range to be open at noon. With extra time on my hands, I ran, played tour guide, talked to some ELR elder statesmen, checked out some old-school rifles and received a history lesson. By now, I was relaxed, since I had time to refine all my gear, unlike the day before. While testing, I noticed that the JJ Rock rifle sat higher than the rifles I was used to running. Sliding my chrono box under my elbow for support, I avoided rolling around on the joint, which can be painful. After shooting my first group, I knew that the light PRS rear bags I was using wouldn’t support this 40-pound rifle. I decided to tackle that problem later.

ELR match load development
Calibrating the Frankford Arsenal precision scale. Load development with 400-grain Cutting Edge Lazers and Peterson Brass.

For my second group, the velocity was where I wanted it—SDs were 3, and all of the rounds were touching. I opted to forgo testing the remainder of the groups. It was midday, and there was a lot of mirage, not the best time to do load development. Thinking, “let’s roll with it,” I headed to the house to load 10 more rounds to test at 1,000 and 1,400 yards.

After seeing good results, back at the house I started loading ammo for the match. I had my Frankford Arsenal Precision scale, an 8-pound jug of H50BMG powder, a teaspoon I found in the kitchen, primed Peterson brass and the 400-grain Cutting Edge Lazers. By this point, the Limited shooters are arriving back at the house. A few walked in on me loading with a teaspoon, a sight which brought them much amusement. I was only loading 30 rounds, but Bill Poor told me to load 35, which I did and I want to thank him for that sage advice. Mind you, I’m very particular regarding brass prep for PRS. For this event, I just loaded virgin Peterson brass, not even mandreling.

Rei Hoang, precision rifle competitor
Left: Rei on her way to Arizona to compete at the 2020 Mimbres River Mile Shootout. As for the shot group, she was aiming at the top tip of the diamond using a Max Ordinate target.

Two-Mile Shooting

After arriving at the platform to shoot on Sunday morning, I pulled out my spotting scope and identified the target locations. Drawing a field map of their locations on my arm, I used the experience gained from field matches I’ve competed at, where you have to locate, range and engage targets.

But, I still had the rear bag problem. Luckily, I saw Wes (remember Wes?), the shooter who received the JJ Rock cert at the PRS match. He’s a good friend who competes in PRS and field matches (not to mention an excellent chef). Wes let me borrow his Wiebad Max Cookie, a nice, sturdy bag that’s perfect for me.

Rei Hoang prepares for extreme long-range rifle match in New Mexico
Rei with the Hill People Gear belt pack packed full of test loads. Right: Chronographing tester loads for the ELR match.

Since I came to the match alone, I was sans spotter. Rusty Newton helped me spot my first target at 2,273 yards. My elevation was off, and after the stage, we talked about fixing it in my ballistic calculator. After that adjustment, my elevation was on. The second stage at 2,613 yards was interesting—the shooting order was switched around, and for the next two stages, I spotted for myself. My third target was at 1,776 yards, and I went four for five. Next, the fourth target at 1,942 yards saw me perfect, five for five. As for targets 3 and 4, I called back to my PRS experience once again—spotting for myself—immediately correcting and sending round down before the wind changes.

During the finals, there are eliminations. You have to hit to proceed to the next target, at 2,967, 3,223 and 3,565 yards (a mind-blowing 2.03 miles). I made it to the last target, finishing with a successful impact. This made me happy—it was my furthest target yet. Later on, we drove to it and took a picture. Asking Bonner how big it was, he said 36x36 inches—a sub-moa target past two miles. JJ Rock rifles, combined with 400-grain Cutting Edge Lazers and Peterson brass are amazing. I’m definitely going to stick with this recipe.

Rei Hoang
Rei after a successful impact at over two miles.

My fellow competitors said I performed well, with a borrowed rifle at that. I shared some backstory about my experience rifle shooting—it was Tyler Hughes doing. For my first two years of competition, he would often put a different rifle in front of me—new trigger, new scope, new reticle, new platform, .300 Win. Mag., .308 Win., 6.5 Creedmoor—and so on. Occasionally, I caught myself running a phantom bolt while running a gas gun. Those were rough days, and I ate lots of humble pie, every week—lots of malfunction practice, but if there was a problem, I’d just fix it and get back in the game. My advice for new shooters—just go out and have fun, because you are learning. Everyone has to begin at some point.

Follow Rei Hoang on Instagram: 9_dolls.

See more: Results: 2019 NRA Extreme Long-Range Championship

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