Written by Chris Way.
“This isn’t a competition where people are looking to crush each other’s souls – it is a competition that felt as if everyone was lifting each other up to see what could be achieved by the squad as a whole, not individuals.”
“Do it or don’t, it’s that easy”. That quote basically sums up my introduction to competitive rifle shooting. I was introduced to competitive rifle shooting at the 2018 Sniper Adventure Challenge. Both my partner and I considered ourselves good with firearms but never imagined competing at a pure shooting match, so the SAC seemed like a fun time with a little shooting – win win. Reviewing our performance, it was clear that our weakness was in the shooting stages. As a competitive person I decided it was worth improving upon this skill set and set out to do just that.
I signed up for two semi local competitions to get some insight to what competitive rifle matches looked like; after reaching out to a local shooter and picking his brain for matches that were reputable and had good shooters to watch, the Mile High Shootout was one of them. There isn’t much better training than watching someone skilled at their sport, so this was going to be an education. I got more than I bargained for. I learned a lot, the chances that you are reading this and a new shooter are probably slim, but I am going to spell out things I didn’t really expect that seem obvious to you all in the sport.
First, a national match being several days long has a lot of down time. What that means is that you probably need to consider packing some snacks, drinks, sunblock, bug spray, whatever you might need should be packed. It also means that you’ll be able to meet and talk with lots of shooters and get to know them, rather than being rushed through a course. The social atmosphere was a large part of the event and I didn’t expect that driving in – leaving I cant wait for more of it.
Second, you probably want to have a small notebook to write shit you are learning and seeing from other competitors. You will probably learn more than you can remember so bring something to record and review afterwards.
The third thing to note is that once the shooting for the day is done, people split and head to their hotel rooms! So plan to have hotel time before and after shooting days. You can read through the match book, see what the stages will be like, often get range information on targets. This kind of preparation time caught me off guard but was nice.
NRL Loaner Rifle by Blue Mountain Precision
Ok, let’s talk match: at the check in the day before the match, you come and sign a waiver, get handed a booklet you can take with you that contains explicit information on EVERY STAGE, and leave. You had the option of sighting in your rifle and getting dope, or you could leave and come back for the match the next day.
I was borrowing the NRLs loaner rifle due to some unfortunate events, so shot some rounds to get dope. This rifle turned out to be brand new which was fun sighting it in and seeing what Blue Mountain Precision built. I shot a five-round group at 100 yards that was literally a single hole. That was pretty sweet. Got some dope and then went to the hotel to look through the match book. The match book was well organized with start times, stage information, and you could tell that the match director put a lot of thought into making stages different and challenging.
My First National Match
Match Day 1: The match started promptly with a safety brief (don’t be a dumb dumb kind of stuff), pledge of allegiance, and squads of ten shooters broke off to do what we came to do.
Every stage had a shooting order. Because I was new I started as the last shooter in my squad and subsequent stages the order shifted upwards so that during stage ten I shot first. Despite the assurance of just about every internet shooter for a magic wind recipe, there wasn’t one. If a shooter missed their first shot it was usually wind and subsequent shots took that value into consideration and often people hit well after that. I was relieved that the squads were very social. People were having fun and even though it was a competition, it didn’t feel like one. This felt like a group of friends out having fun together and over the two days it only got more fun. I experienced zero negativity, zero intimidation, and overwhelming positive helpful support from other shooters. This isn’t a competition where people are looking to crush each other’s souls – it is a competition that felt as if everyone was lifting each other up to see what could be achieved by the squad as a whole, not individuals.
My favorite stage day one was where I forgot to dial down the elevation and mysteriously missed every shot. Remember, education was the goal and sometimes knowing your system isn’t as good as you think it is comes like a punch to the face. Laughs and “we’ve all been there” helped alleviate the embarrassment and we moved on. I should have known after the first shot that something was wrong and checked – but I didn’t. “Should have” statements mean theres lots of room to grow. There was a lot of strategizing among the team which was cool to see. Squad members actively discussing ways to help each other was refreshing, and knowing it was sincere was even better.
A Supportive Community
On Day 2, breakfast at the hotel around 530am sealed my future in the NRL. I was focusing on caffeination when two shooters from Wyoming came to sit and talk. We talked a little about the match but more than anything, just chatted because they recognized me and figured I was new. It is interesting what people do when the larger community isn’t watching; you see this with companies and recognizable “pros” but today I realized that Travis’ assurance that the community was supportive and strong shone through with clarity. It honestly made the event for me.
Anyway, back to shooting. Day 2, there were long shots, movers, spinners, hits, misses, laughs, and fun. What stood out day two were how well the ROs managed squads, laughed with the shooters, and kept the event moving smoothly.
My favorite stage was the one with Bison Tactical‘s “tactical udder” bag. Shooters had to use the donated bag to shoot from five positions utilizing the bag. At first the stage seemed silly since most shooters had their own bags. The thing was, this udder worked better than any bag I had used before on narrow firing positions and I wouldn’t have figured this out had it not been there. Trying out new gear at a competition might seem like a bad idea but being required to and shooting better than you would have expected is pretty cool.
The awards ceremony was stacked with prizes and food. The food was a nice addition as we had been out all day and I needed some calories.
The stand out at the awards ceremony was when a well-known shooter named Regina donated her prize to a new shooter. Classy move. If I were a sponsor of Regina’s I would have given her a bonus or something as it was just a “good people do good things” moment. Being a good shooter is cool and folks weren’t really surprised with the top ten rankings but that seemed second to how happy the hundreds of people were to have spent a few days having fun.