We talk a lot about matches on this website because shooting them is fun! We have fun shooting precision rifle matches and we want you to have fun shooting precision rifle matches. One thing that isn’t talked about a whole lot is how to go about practicing for a match? What should you work on? How much of your training time and ammunition should you spend on different shooting skillsets? In this article we’re going to discuss the 3 Steps of Match Preparation in the form of skills practice and gear preparation prior to attending a rifle competition. Your individual strengths and weaknesses will determine much of how your time is spent!
Step I – Match Reconnaissance
One of the most important steps of match preparation is intelligence gathering. Sounds cool, right? What we’re talking about is finding as much information as possible with regard to what you should expect at the rifle match you plan to attend. There are a variety of ways to accomplish that goal. For starters, try the Internet! If this is an annual match there are likely reviews or forum posts, maybe blog articles, etc. that you can read about the same match. There is probably lots of information about the match that took place the year prior. Or maybe it’s a monthly event, see if you can find a discussion about last month’s match and read it. If all else fails, try emailing the match director, or calling friends that you know have participated in the match in the past.
During the reconnaissance steps of match preparation you are looking for some key information. You want to try and get some weather information. Specifically, if you don’t plan on running some form of live data instrument, you want to know the approximate Density Altitude at the match location. This way you can prepare density altitude cards with a list of come ups and adjustments for different ranges to be used with your rifle and caliber. Since we mentioned different ranges, that’s excellent information to have! How far will the target engagements be? If you print your density altitude cards to 1000 yards, and there are engagements out to 1200 yards you have a problem, don’t you?
With regard to weather, use Weather.com or Weatherbug and keep an eye on the weather forecast. A sunny or cloudy day won’t pose any issues, however, if there is rain or snow in the forecast, you will have to adjust your gear accordingly. So don’t neglect taking a few minutes to figure out what you have to deal with regarding Mother Nature. Other things to check on are how is the match set up and what kind of courses of fire can you expect. Is the match run off a square range where you will have easy access to tools, snacks, and supplies at the car? Or is it a field style match where you have to hike from one shooting position to another and bring everything you need with you? Lastly, try to get some sense of the course of fire. Is it all shot prone? From a bench? Is there positional shooting involved?
Step II – Gear Assessment
One of the next logical steps of match preparation is your gear assessment. Have a look at the equipment you have and decide if anything needs to be changed given what you know about the match. If you are expecting a long hike, you may need a bigger bag to carry more supplies with you for longer periods of time between resupply opportunities. Assess the reliability of your gear from your own experiences using it. If you have a rangefinder that isn’t cutting it and you have found yourself asking fellow competitors for ranges, that’s a potential gear issue you may consider upgrading in order to resolve.
Don’t neglect your personal clothing in this assessment. Did your footwear give you blisters or issues the last time you went out with it? Maybe you need a pair of hiking boots for a field match when you’re used to sneakers at a square range. Again, the weather is a factor. If you are expecting rain you may need to invest in some rain gear. If there is snow or freezing rain in the forecast, consider some quality thermal base layers for under your clothing. Keep all this in mind as you plan what to wear and what to bring with you!
Step III – Practice Session(s)
Obviously you can plan all day long, but at some point you have to test the plan, right? Time to hit the range and practice for the match! There are some considerations with practice, though. Don’t spend all your practice ammunition and time working on your strengths. If you’re a dynamite shooter in the prone position, then practicing in the prone position is just going to be a feel good range session that’s unlikely to help you prepare. Unless you’re shooting the whole match from the prone position, it’s a bit of a waste of time. I strongly suggest you spend your practice time and ammunition on areas that you aren’t as strong in or have never tried before!
I’m certainly a better shot prone than from alternate positions, so when I did some training for the 2015 Sniper’s Hide Cup, I decided to spend the majority of the time working on things I experience less often, than those that I see all the time. Specifically I used a home made barricade to practice a lot of kneeling and positional shooting work as I expect to see a lot of that at this year’s Hide Cup. While I expect the majority of shots to be taken prone, I expect positional shooting stages to be thrown in as well. I tried shooting from an angled, slanted surface, for the first time! That’s what I’m talking about by spending your time wisely. Try not to be in the middle of a match when you try something for the first time. Do it on your own time, when you aren’t on the clock, and figure out what works best for you!
My own match intel gathering continues day to day as the 2015 Sniper’s Hide Cup gets closer. Recently there was a post on the Sniper’s Hide website regarding a specific stage meant to mimic a military engagement and honor the soldier who gave his life during that battle. I noticed on the diagram and the description of the stage that there will be shots off a tripod through an aperture, often called a loophole. That’s great intel! Many people have never shot off a tripod, so that’s worth practicing. I’ve done some of this in the past but it never hurts to refresh your skills. I’ve never tried to shoot through an aperture, so some research and ballistics work revealed an answer on how to accomplish this. It may turn out that the answer is given to the shooter at the start of the stage, or that it’s set up to be largely foolproof. However, if it isn’t, I might have just given myself an advantage by looking into it and figuring out how to pull it off beforehand!
To summarize the priorities and purpose of this article, it’s really all about an honest assessment of your skills and gear. This isn’t a time to be cocky or feel overconfident about either. Think about what you’re likely going to have to do during the course of the match you are preparing for, and decide which areas you need to work on. Be honest about your gear and where there may be weaknesses. Address the weaknesses as best your budget will allow you to do so. Your skillset deficiencies are best addressed through practice. Remember, you are looking for progress, not perfection! You don’t have to be an expert, just don’t try it for the first time under stress and on the clock.