How to Getting Started in Long-Range Precision Rifle Shooting
June 11, 2019
A top PRS shooter reveals his tips on how to getting started in long-range precision rifle shooting and winning.
Long-range precision-rifle competitions share many similarities with other shooting disciplines, but the gear list for precision rifle shooters can be much greater based on the lack of constraints put in place by the governing entities of the lack of constraints put in place by the governing entities of the matches.
In most precision-rifle competitions, there is no limit to what gear you can use during a stage, provided you can carry it all. This can be a blessing and a curse, because while we all like to have a piece of kit for every possibility, it can be overwhelming to the new shooter who thinks the best solution is to purchase large quantities of gear before shooting their first match.
Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with Dan Jarecke, who is one of the country’s highest-ranked Precision Rifle Series (PRS) competitors, to discuss his journey from being a new competitor just two years ago to being one of the top-placing shooters in the country in 2018. We also mined his thoughts on equipment and gear he had bought, tried and discarded during his journey in PRS.
Our discussion started on the state of the precision rifle scene and what it takes to get started shooting in today’s competitions.
As we all know, Jarecke indicated the sport hasn’t lost any of its intensity. It’s still a highly competitive event that places the shooter under timed pressure to hit small targets at very long ranges. This has caused shooters to look at gear to gain an advantage.
“Recently, shooters have adopted new pieces of gear into their kit to help them increase their hit probability, such as tripods, bags and weight kits,” said Jarecke. “In my opinion, the sport of precision rifle should be called ‘spotting your impacts,’ and the gear that is recommended is intended to do exactly that.
“From low-recoiling rifles to different gear bags, the items that I’ve chosen are selected with that one thing in mind. Not just hitting your target, but seeing exactly where you have hit your target,” he said.
Rifle and Cartridge Selection
As for picking the right rifle for competition, Jarecke feels for 90 percent of the targets at a PRS match, a 1-MOA rifle is satisfactory. But to run with the big dogs, they need to do better.
“Many of the targets you’ll be engaging at a precision rifle match will be in the 2- to 3-MOA range, but almost every course of fire has a series of targets that are 1 MOA (5 inches at 500 yards and 10 inches at 1,000 yards),” said Jarecke. “Therefore, most top competitors find it necessary that their rifle shoot at least half MOA.”
According to Jarecke, there are numerous factory offerings such as from Tikka and Ruger that will perform at this level, even with factory ammunition. Custom actions and barrels do offer advantages in smoothness, accuracy and repeatability, but for someone just starting out, these things are not requirements.
What calibers does he recommend for the new shooter?
“In a nutshell, most shooters prefer a 6mm variant of some kind, such as 6 Dasher, 6 BRA [6mm BR Ackley Improved] or 6mm Creedmoor,” Jarecke said. “The .308 and 6.5mm (Creedmoor) are also viable options, but their disadvantage comes in the form of increased recoil when trying to shoot off of improvised barricades or props.”
For a new shooter that doesn’t want to reload, he recommends the 6mm Creedmoor with ammo offerings from Prime or Hornady as great choices to get them into the sport. The 6mm Creedmoor does have a shorter barrel life than other cartridges, but the fact that you can buy numerous types of factory ammo makes it great for the new shooter who just wants to put rounds down range.
Once the gun and caliber is determined, the next step to getting outfitted for precision competitions is with the purchase of a quality scope. If there’s one area where you shouldn’t hold back spending money, says Jarecke, it’s when it comes to optics.
“When it comes to selecting an optic, the priorities for a distance shooter should be scope tracking and reliability. Having high-quality glass is great, but the importance of having a scope that tracks correctly cannot be understated,” he explains. “Bushnell’s HDMR and ERS scopes offer a great package at a low price point. Their tracking is fantastic, but their optical quality is a bit lacking.
“My personal preference is a Schmidt & Bender 5-25X with the H2CMR reticle. Not only does this scope track perfectly, but the optical quality is amazing. This makes detecting a shift in mirage much easier,” said Jarecke. “Also, the reticle has wind holds graduated in 1⁄10-mil increments, which makes wind calls and wind corrections a highly precise and easily calculated affair.”
Jarecke couldn’t stress more the need for 1⁄10-mil increments. Reticles that are graduated with half-mil increments make corrections for wind a guesstimation.
“If your firing solution calls for a wind correction of .7 mils right, you’d be guessing where that is on a reticle that only shows half- or 1-mil increments,” said Jarecke. “Your wind calls and corrections need to be refined to 1⁄10th of a mil, but this skill does take time and many times instruction to develop a high level of proficiency.”
If a new shooter wants to save a few bucks on glass and still get a competition-ready scope, Jarecke recommends checking out used optics, which can be found online.
As a new shooter at a match, you’ll want to observe what the veteran competitors are doing. One of things you should notice is that there are a lot of folks standing around either staring at their phones or holding devices up to the sky.
According to Jarecke, these shooters are gathering their firing solutions. For a new shooter to do the same, there are many free iPhone or Android apps available that offer firing solutions, and of those, Ballistic AE would be his first choice.
These firing solutions take the data you provide such as zero distance, bullet speed, ballistic coefficient (BC) and a few other key metrics and provide you with your exact data for the stage you are shooting, including wind holds. For many reasons, the money you will spend on a Kestrel wind meter with the Applied Ballistics engine is well-worth it.
“If you start shooting in the early morning at a match, the temperature could be 70 degrees (Fahrenheit) and up to 95 by the afternoon. If a shooter does not recognize the change in density altitude over the course of the day, their firing solution won’t be accurate, and they may start to blame their gun, their ammunition or their optic for their sudden lack of ability to successfully engage targets,” explains Jarecke. “Since precision rifle is a game of removing variables, atmospheric data should not be a guess. It should be 100-percent, real-time accurate.”
Secondly, a shooter needs to develop the skill of reading and interpreting wind, said Jarecke. One of the best ways to do this is to keep your Kestrel with you whenever you go outside and use it to calibrate your body to what a 5 mph, half-value wind is versus a 10 mph, full-value wind feels like. The free apps have an input for wind, but it’s just a guess without inputting actual data.
Again, many great shooters still use a firing solution app or solver from their phone, but one of the first “big buys” that Jarecke recommends outside of your rifle and optic is a stand-alone ballistics calculator. The Kestrel is without peer in this department.
In the Bag
While a Kestrel is the epitome of high tech, some of the lowest-tech but essential items you’ll see at a competition go by the names of udders, pump pillows, and fortune cookies. Basically, they’re all just bags.
“Everyone has seen a shooter propped up against a barricade with some type of canvas bag filled with small synthetic beads to stabilize their position,” said Jarecke. “If I could only have one bag, it would be the Reasor or Armageddon Gear Gamechanger bag. This bag can serve as a rear bag for prone shooting or as a barricade bag for shooting off of props. If I could have two bags, I would add a WeiBad or Armageddon Gear 12-inch square pump pillow.”
While a shooting bag is not necessary and may only get used once or twice per match, it does help to stabilize the rifle by adding points of contact. When used correctly, this bag increases hit percentages enough to make carrying it worthwhile.
While the bag is light, the drawback is its size. Usually, shooters carry the bag outside the ruck with carabiner clips that also attach to a belt loop.
“Many times, bags are a distraction and a handicap,” said Jarecke. “Shooters should stop looking for that ‘perfect’ bag and instead learn to utilize their bag in a consistent way to conquer the obstacle or barricade. Using the same bag develops consistency and helps develop technique.”
Okay, gear has you in the game, but what techniques does Jarecke recommend practicing to win matches?
“Remember how we said that precision rifle is a game of spotting your impacts? The purpose of the gear you’ll use is to help you hit the target, but the shooter must focus on where they hit (or missed) the target,” Jarecke said. “Throughout the day, the shooter is verifying their wind call, their DOPE and their technique by watching exactly where the bullet impacted the target. Many new shooters become so overwhelmed by time stress that they send shots with improper follow-through and do not try to spot their impacts.
“If you hit the target at 500 yards in the center, you’re on track to also hit the one at 600, 700 and 800 yards in the center. However, if the shot just barely hit the edge of the plate at 500 yards, and the shooter does not correct this, they are well on their way to missing their shot at 600, 700 and 800 yards as well,” he said.
This will cause the shooter to blame their rifle, optic or ammunition and cast a shadow of doubt on their preparation and ability.
“If the shooter had just made a 1⁄10th mil correction to their second shot (and to all subsequent shots), they may have caught the error and successfully hit all of their targets,” said Jarecke. “This is why I can’t overemphasize this enough. Precision rifle is about following through so that you can spot your impacts!”
For almost any type of shot Jarecke takes, his setup and execution is the same:
- Collect wind data and determine how it will affect his game plan.
- Develop a firing solution for each target. Usually this means not only calculating elevation but also a high and low wind call for each target.
- Develop a game plan for execution. He’ll rehearse it in his mind until he’s 100-percent comfortable with it.
- Engage each target with proper technique and fundamentals and spot each impact. He’ll make corrections to elevation and wind calls as needed.
- Review the stage. He writes down notes in his match book for reviewing later.
Final Thoughts on Precision Rifle Shooting
According to Jarecke, if a shooter invests in a quality rifle that can shoot 1 MOA or better, good ammunition, a great optic, a Kestrel weather meter/ballistic calculator and one Armageddon Gear Gamechanger bag, they could literally go out and win a professional-level PRS event.
He says the only thing stopping the shooter would be their technique and knowledge base, and that’s where investing in quality instruction will prove worthwhile. “There’s no substitute for live-fire shooting with a knowledgeable instructor, and after all, that’s the fun part,” said Jarecke.
If you want to get involved in long-range rifle competition, don’t let a lack of gear hold you back. Jarecke points out that almost every match allows new shooters to partner up with experienced shooters and share gear as needed. So, go find the closest club or national level PRS event and enjoy the day.
Editor’s Note: Sam Statser is a freelance writer with a passion for fitness, hiking and trail running, building firearms and training with them and Brazilian jiu jitsu. A former U.S. Marine, Statser stays true to the mindset of “form over function,” evaluating and recommending only the things that he has firsthand experience with and trusts.