Things change, and precision rifle shooting is no different. Here’s a look at the latest long-range trends gaining popularity across the United States.
In my precision rifle classes, I talk about my own precision rifle journey. That journey started a very long time ago when I joined the Marines. Today, my journey continues as precision rifle shooting grows in several different directions. You can find trends, follow trends or work to create a new trend, and that’s precisely what’s happening today.
Barricade Benchrest Battles
If you live on the East Coast, the trend continues to follow the Barricade Benchrest format. They use very heavy custom rifles, usually a 6mm of some variation, shot off heavy bags or tripods. The use of bags and tripods has stabilized; we know what works…and why. The heavier the bag the better, but you must balance how much weight to pack. The goal post has moved back toward a single bag solution, with a secondary pillow to support the firing elbow. So, the question becomes one of weight. Weight equals stability, and balancing the two is the trick.
Tripods have become an indispensable tool. There’s no precision rifle problem that can’t be solved with a tripod. In fact, if you ask me, tripod or bipod—pick one—the answer would be a tripod every day and twice on Sunday. Once we replaced the lighter camera tripods with the dedicated Really Right Stuff models, our world changed. To me, nothing replaces my Really Right Stuff SOAR Tripods.
Many companies are now offering models to compete directly with Really Right Stuff, but although the leg systems tend to work well, the ball heads being used cannot compare to a Really Right Stuff Anvil 30 when it comes to shooting. If you want to save a little money, order the legs but skip the ball heads. The leveling bases and RRS Anvil are the best way to buy once with the least amount of crying. You save nothing getting a knock-off ball head, but the bigger legs can be a suitable compromise.
If I had to predict a change for the East Coast matches, I’d say be on the lookout for .22-caliber variants to start winning more events. I saw a .22 Grendel that was just amazing. The .22 Creedmoor is looking to catch fire, and while limited, the .25 Creedmoor is begging for more bullets.
That seems to be the limiting factor—bullet choices in these lighter calibers. Guys are looking for the highest BC possible with a bit more weight so the range officers can spot the impacts at distance. Spotting a .22-caliber bullet at 800 yards or beyond is tough.
Out West is where the precision rifle world is changing dramatically.
NRL Hunter Matches
Hunter Matches are the new hotness. They’re set up much different from the East Coast matches, and people can’t get enough of them. The weight limits are more in line with hunting-style rifles, and the limits placed on gear are much more realistic.
Scott Satterlee, the brains behind the Hunter Series, is doing a great job of setting up the matches to be as realistic as possible. Animal-style targets, blind stages and, with most of these out West, great venues.
Advancing ELR Matches
Since we’re talking Western-style shooting, another area of growth is ELR shooting. Many people look at the King of 2 Mile-style of event, but Satterlee also hosts the Nightforce ELR Challenge. Set up more like the current tactical precision rifle matches, his format is catching fire. Recently, he hosted over 200 shooters in a single match. The average range is roughly 1,150 yards with the furthest shot being over 2,200 yards. How about a 1,000-yard moving target? He’s doing it.
The caliber choices might surprise you: Most are using heavy .30-caliber or smaller versus the larger. 33- or .37-caliber cartridges. In fact, I think the best caliber you can use to get into these types of matches is the 6.5 PRC. Heck, you can do either the 6.5 PRC or .300 PRC; both cartridges work great. Winners of past events have used the .300 Norma Magnum, including this more recent competition.
Here’s the ATX in 6.5 PRC. In the ELR configuration, Scott Siegmund from Accuracy International has attached the weight system. Weight equals stability; you can add or remove these weights depending on the use of the rifle.
A shooter who lives out West and wants to experience either can do so with a well-developed 6.5 PRC. I spent my spring working with Accuracy International, who just released their AT-X rifle, at both the Gunsite XLR Course and the Nightforce ELR event with their ATX in 6.5 PRC. At Gunsite, we shot to beyond 2,400 meters.
I recently assembled a .300 PRC and, even though I was out of town, my rifle made it to the ELR Match. The Applied Ballistics Team was there with their mobile laboratory, and they provided a printout of my rifle and ammo combination. With factory Hornady 225-grain .300 PRC ammunition, I was pushing those bullets at 2,912 fps with a BC variation of 1 and a standard deviation of 14. Sure, you want a single-digit SD to be competitive, but with factory ammunition…this was excellent.
The best part about these matches is the attendance. It’s growing all the time. At one of the most recent NRL Hunter Matches, a gentleman showed up with a Mauser using iron sights and hit targets at distance. Run what you have and don’t look back. These events are the best training you can get for pennies on the dollar. Want to up your precision rifle game, look at these types of events—you won’t be disappointed.
Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the September 2021 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.
More Precision Rifle Skills:
- Precision Rifle Upgrades: From Stock To Sniper Superstar
- Nine Long-Range Shooting Fundamentals To Master
- Accuracy Enhancing Support: Choosing A Bipod
- Legacy Skills: Becoming A Well-Rounded Long-Range Marksman
- Becoming Your Own Spotter