In competition, some shooters have the burning desire to be the best, chasing challenges and seeking validation of gear and confirmation of their training. For others, competitive shooting is an escape from normal life, a cherished time to spend with friends and meet new ones, as well as to discuss topics with like-minded people. Whatever your motivation is to compete, we all show up to the same field, where gender plays no part in who reaches the top of the leaderboard. Instead, it’s skill, decision-making and gear selection that make the difference.
There are multiple types of precision rifle matches, match formats and scoring rules. Here, we will focus on two of the most popular: Tactical Bolt Rifle, a.k.a. Precision Rifle Series (PRS) and National Rifle League (NRL) and the Hunter format offered by Competition Dynamics. For this article, we will refer to the different formats as either “PRS” or “Field.”
PRS shooting is a fast-paced, dynamic format where each stage usually has multiple targets requiring movement to multiple compromising positions. These stages not only challenge a shooter’s ability to stabilize, they also test decision-making skills. During a stage, the shooter will have to maneuver effectively and efficiently to overcome the instability and awkwardness these obstacles and barriers present. Field matches are inspired by the hunting scene but recently have incorporated more natural obstacles, requiring you to know your equipment as well as your capabilities to be successful. A shooting position will consist of a designated spot or area where you will be required to shoot. Aside from the position requirement, part of the challenge of this style is having to locate and range each stage-designated targets. The positions typically are less restrictive in regard to how you establish a position to engage the targets and in what order. There are no gear restrictions. If you brought it and braved carrying it all day long, you can use it. But shooter beware, each stage is still a timed event, so gear deployment should factor into your time-management plan.
My top five pieces of gear for these two formats have some similarities, as well as some differences. Not included are a rifle with optic, ammunition, tools and a pack to carry gear, because for the purposes of this article I’m assuming you’ve already picked them out.
MDT Ckye-Pod PRS Short bipod ($550).
Having a stable front support is important for both PRS and Field matches. For something as simple and beneficial as a bipod, it’s better to have it and not need it than to not have it.
Depending on the format, real-time atmospheric collection at your location may be a possibility, e.g., wind, altitude and air density, etc. Having the ability to account for atmospheric changes is a must for precision shooting. Since time is of the essence at most competitions, you won’t want to do any calculations in your head other than what is necessary. A good ballistic solver will keep things simple yet accurate. Some solvers are integrated into the weather meter (Kestrel with Applied Ballistics), while other meters connect to an app on your smartphone. For Field matches, the ballistic solver is not as efficient for usage prior to or during a stage. As such, many competitors run a dope chart on their arm or on their gear prior to takeoff.
Patriot Valley Arms Jet Blast muzzle brakes ($125). Weather meters: Kestrel 5700 Elite Meter with Applied Ballistics ($700) and GeoBallistics WeatherFlow ($85).
Regarding muzzle devices, a muzzle brake reduces recoil and can help with taming muzzle rise. As a competitor, you are essentially alone during a match, relying on yourself to make decisions and adjustments. By adding a muzzle brake, you can easily stay on target during and after the shot to see your impact. This can be critical when second-round adjustments are needed.
Tripods are useful for multiple applications. When you are finding targets, having the binoculars rest on a stable platform is beneficial, since the optic will be in the same position when you get off and on. Target acquisition can be difficult at a match, and a problem I see often is competitors getting lost after they find a target. They will either waste time relocating it or mistake one target for another. Another use of the tripod is to shoot from it, because not all shots can be taken in the prone position. Alternatively, you can use the tripod as a rear support if the position deems it possible.
An example of a dope chart for Field precision rifle matches.
Time is a huge factor in PRS shooting. The stages are short, around 90 to 120 seconds, 8 to 12 rounds and usually with multiple position changes. However, locations and target distances are provided, and you will have time to view your position and plan your attack. Having a target dope chart attached to the support side of your rifle will save valuable seconds on the clock, plus giving you the advantage of not having to break head position to know what to dial next.
Steiner M830r LRF 8x30 mm binoculars with integrated laser rangefinder for Field matches ($2,500).
On the other hand, in Field matches you get more time, but you don’t know the target locations or the shooting position. The most critical factor for Field matches is finding the targets. Once you walk up to the stage, the range officer shows you the left and right lateral limits, which targets will be between and then your stage time will start immediately after. You are required to find, range and engage the targets, so a set of binoculars and a laser range finder is needed.
For PRS, the shooting stages are relatively close, so walking is minimal and often close to the parking lot. Keeping these facts in mind, you can carry more items without bogging you down. PRS matches include a lot of man-made barricades, while Field matches utilize the natural terrain to shoot from. Shooting bags are great for building stable positions, whether it be on a barricade or using it as a rear rest in the prone. Since the amount of gear carried in PRS is not as much of a factor as it is in Field matches, dedicated shooting bags are great for all of the awkward positions that match directors can think up. In Field matches, to minimize carried gear, you can use your pack as your support bags. Unlike PRS, for Field matches you will be hiking miles, so a rifle sling or a pack that can secure your rifle is a must.
Sidewinder Industries Target dope card holder ($30) mounted to the rifle.
As you compete, over time, you will refine your gear and the importance of each piece will change. Some shooters will value one over the other, and a lot of it is simply personal preference. See you guys and gals on the range.