This week’s topic of discussion is going to be scoring errors in competition, and how to eliminate them! If you’re a precision rifle shooter, regardless of which discipline you prefer, you’ll probably find yourself at some sort of match or competition eventually. We’re currently living in a time when the Tactical/Practical Rifle matches, like those found in the Precision Rifle Series, are booming. This style of rifle competition is really starting to attract attention, new shooters, and some sponsorship from the Shooting Industry. So why hasn’t it evolved to the levels we see with other sports like USPSA Handgun? Or 3 Gun Matches? Frankly, it comes down to the bottom basic necessity of a sport, fans and new competitors!
Where’s the problem?
I spoke to some pretty accomplished shooters and sponsors when I was at the 2015 Sniper’s Hide Cup, which wound up being the largest Precision Rifle Match to date with over 236 shooters attending. One shooter and sponsor remarked to me as we were discussing the match at the sight in range, “You can get 300 people to sign up for a match easily, the challenge is scoring that many people accurately.” It proved to be a valid statement. While the match ran largely without issue (other than the weather) there was some scuttle and griping at the end of the match when scores were posted. A few people took advantage of the “Alibi Period” built into all Precision Rifle Series matches.
I’m not knocking the practice of allowing people to confirm and correct scoring errors. The issue is with transparency. As the sport becomes bigger and more popular, the prizes get better and more expensive. As the winnings grow and improve, so does the incentive to try and game the scoring a bit so it becomes more favorable to your standings. While the vast majority of people are honest and honorable, there are always the few who will try to take advantage. The solution is to reduce the ways they can do that. In terms of the PRS events and the Alibi period, perhaps a form should be filled out when scores are adjusted. Make the shooter requesting the change put his name on paper with a brief explanation of why the score needs adjustment. Highlight adjusted scores with an asterisk or color change on the score sheet and make the forms available on the web.
By being transparent, you add credibility to the process of adjusting a score. If a person has a valid error and they correct it and provide an explanation, there’s nothing to fear. If somebody is claiming an adjustment well outside the majority of corrections they run the risk of shaming themselves when the corrections are announced and posted for all to see. I’m not saying read off the names of people with corrections, but highlight the names and link scanned copies of the Alibi forms. This way if somebody sees a name and wonders, “how did they jump ahead by 8 points?” they can read the alibi form and see that a target was broken, or first round hits that should have been scored double were only scored as single points.
Make it Easy on the RO’s
The next solution to scoring issues is to make things as easy as possible on the Range Officers (ROs) when they score a stage. While the majority of people shooting tactical matches may have some degree of experience shooting Precision Rifle, ROs frequently do not. A lot of times these are just good hearted folks who volunteer to help out. Sometimes its the wife or girlfriend of a shooter that steps up when the match is running short of ROs. Many times the ROs will be people that are interested in getting into Precision Rifle and by volunteering as an RO they get to see what it’s all about up close, without spending money on gear or the match fee. Some companies, like Competition Dynamics, have instituted programs to reward people that volunteer as ROs with a free slot at another match…which is an excellent idea!
The point here is that the people doing the scoring may not be very experienced in terms of being a spotter. They may not really know what the impact of a bullet against a steel plate looks like, particularly at long distance. They may be unfamiliar with the equipment or unsure of how to focus optics to allow for viewing impacts and misses. Since these people are the lifeblood of the sport, and we can’t hold matches without people to score them, we should make things as easy for them as possible. This should be done with particular attention paid to the difficulty of spotting impacts from smaller calibers at longer distances. If you have a pool of ROs it would be wise to put the more experienced people on stages where there is a lot of movement and there are additional safety considerations. It would also be wise to put them on stages where the engagement distances are longer and spotting a hit or miss is more difficult. Leave the easy stuff on shorter engagements for the newer ROs. It’s not fair to throw a person that can’t swim into the deep end of the pool.
Better Target Selection and Deployment
Part of how we can make things easier on ROs and reduce the chances of scoring errors, and the drama they cause, is with good target selection and better target deployment. I don’t expect a match director to personally fund video equipment to watch every target for impacts and misses at a match. However, most matches have a mix of target types. Some are plates hung on T Posts, some are reactive, some are the plates suspended from rebar stands, etc. The key here is to set things up to make things as easy as possible for the spotter. If I have steel plates with T Post hangars to use, lets put those up on stages where the distances are maybe 600 yards maximum. Close enough to hear the impact and witness the splash from the impact even on a hot, mirage filled, afternoon.
Conversely if I’m going to set a stage up to really make shooters reach out to say 1200 yards, a large steel plate can still be effective, but there are considerations. A lot of 6mm and 6.5mm cartridges aren’t as easy to spot for at longer distances. The longer the distance, the less energy the bullet has to deliver to the target. If mirage is bad, it’s harder to see the bullet splash and fragmentation at extended distances. This is where targets like those made by AA Targets, where the plate is suspended from a heavy rubber strap, really shine! When struck the plate will swing, flip, and jump around providing a spotter with excellent impact signature to observe. Even a novice spotter can easily spot hits on this type of target!
There are other target packages and devices that also can make things easier for a novice spotter tasked with scoring a stage at long distance. Roberts Tactical Precision makes a highly visible LED light bar, called the IRIS, which communicates wirelessly with an impact detection module attached to the target. When the target is struck, the impact module sends a signal to the IRIS which then lights up and flashes. It’s extremely easy to see and it takes all the guesswork and argument out of whether or not the shooter hit the target. By using target packages like this, at least on stages where the distance is immense, or where the RO is lacking experience, we remove a lot of the argument over scoring.
Our sport is growing, we all need to do our part to help. We need new shooters to try their hand in competition, and we need volunteers to help be Range Officers to score the matches. Lets make it easy on these folks by making good target choices when we put stages together. Lets be transparent when we make any adjustment to scores at the end of a match. In doing so we add credibility to the scores and the sport. By making things easy on the ROs we ensure they have a positive experience and a desire to RO again or even compete in the future. If we argue with ROs or a pissing match ensues because an inexperienced RO didn’t see an impact, that isn’t fair to the RO or the shooter. With a little effort we can all but eliminate some of the issues with scoring and spotting that have come up as our sport grows! If you have any suggestions, or a story you want to share, leave it in the comments below!