Speed kills at the PRS
Thursday, May 11, 2017
How hard can it be? This was the question I asked myself as I contemplated trying my hand at the Precision Rifle Series (PRS).
On a regular basis, I compete in 3-Gun events with shots out to 500 yards all while running and shooting my pistol and shotgun before attempting to regain my breathing and composure to make hits with a 6x scope. If I can make hits under those conditions, then subtracting two guns and adding a 25x scope seemed like child's play.
Pride always comes before a fall, and I was about to learn the hard lesson that the PRS is not 3-Gun.
I first discovered the PRS after my wife and fellow shooting author Amanda Fry expressed interest in trying out long-distance shooting. Her law enforcement-related injury makes action shooting exceptionally difficult for her, and the idea of removing some of the weapon manipulation 3-Gun requires seemed like something she could really enjoy.
I, of course, interpreted this as "find the closest major match and jump in head-first." I was thrilled to find that the PRS was partnering with the Arizona Long Range Precision Rifle Shooters Club to host a major PRS match dubbed the Arizona Tactical Precision Rifle Challenge last December. This match was right in our backyard of Phoenix and had a few available slots.
The match normally requires all club members to work it, but since we were new shooters to the club — and PRS, in general — we were allowed to participate in the Production one-day match. The Production category is particularly aimed at new shooters wanting to get into PRS-style matches without all the costs that the top-level gear typically carries.
Rifles and optics are capped based on their combined MSRPs at $4,000 and the rifle or optic cannot exceed $2,000 individually. The rifles must also essentially be in their "stock" configuration (PRS publishes a list of approved production rifles and optics in their rulebook).
With those limitations in mind, I purchased a Ruger Precision Rifle in .308 and added a Bushnell 3.5-21x DMR optic. I also purchased a Weibad "Pump Pillow," because quite frankly it looked like all the top shooters were using them. If it's good enough for them, it's good enough for me!
My wife's injury presents unique challenges of shooting with a large hand brace.
My wife and I made the hour drive out to the Maricopa County Sheriff's Department training facility in Buckeye, Arizona. We were both anxious with anticipation and wondering why we decided our first event should be a major match.
Registration went smoothly, and everyone was friendly and welcoming to us newbies. It was clear from the beginning that, even though this was a major match, the Production Division was about attracting new shooters in a fun, friendly atmosphere.
We were given time to test our rifles' zeroes before the match officially started. This was actually the first time my wife had gotten to shoot the rifle and only my second time after only recording about 10 shots downrange to sight it in. I gave her a quick lesson in working the rifle and optic before we headed off to our first stage.
The first stage allowed you to get into a comfortable firing position off the clock and attempt to hit a torso-sized target at 500 yards for half a point or attempt to hit clays on either size of the target for a full point. You were given 10 rounds and 90 seconds to make your choices.
This is where pride really punched me in the face. I couldn't believe I was allowed to get comfortable and zero in on my target before time even started. I watched several shooters hit the target 8 to 10 times with relative ease and thought smugly, "That will be me."
My wife was randomly selected to shoot first of the two of us and was called to the line. The 500-yard target was the furthest shot she had ever attempted and was admirably able to connect twice on the target in the allotted time for a score of 1.
I was alphabetically next in line and beaming with matter-of-fact confidence as I prepared to shoot. My plan was to try and shoot all 10 rounds as quickly as possible at the large torso target and not waste time on the smaller clays. I wasn't 100 percent comfortable before the buzzer went off, but I shook it off as I'm rarely comfortable during a 3-Gun long-range stage.
Upon the buzzer, I quickly fired my first round ... dirt. I quite frankly was shocked and quickly worked the action to fire my second round ... dirt.
Growing more and more frantic, I did exactly what you're not supposed to do, which is firing faster and faster — just spraying and praying you connect somehow. I fired all 10 rounds with only one impact.
Embarrassed, I stood up and quietly slunk away. I was informed by several of my squadmates and ROs that my wife had just beaten me. I, of course, know my wife is an excellent shot, and losing to her in an argument or on a stage is just part of my life.
The look of disbelief at my failure to make hits during my initial stages.
I gathered our gear and moved on to the next stage with a growing disbelief at what had just happened.
The next two stages went about the same as the first, with a new humbling twist I didn't foresee. The next stage had an array of small targets approximately 400 yards away throughout the course of fire. You really had to hunt the targets down, and after a few quick minutes before the stage started I felt I had a feeling for where they were.
You started the stage in a low ready position before dropping down onto a "tank trap" for stability. I was used to just flipping my scope lever all the way to the max in 3-Gun and did the same as I dropped down to fire.
The field of view at 21x power quickly got me lost on the stage, and I wasted so much time trying to regain my bearings I was barely able to fire a shot before time expired. Even the rounds I did manage to get off were misses, the same as the previous stage.
The third stage was a variation of the first stage and shot on the same course of fire but at a new set of targets. My frustration was at epic levels and, instead of shaking off the failures like any good quarterback does after an interception, I continued to fire as quickly as I could — more concerned with getting all my rounds off than taking accurate, quality shots.
Upon completion of the two same bay stages, I was again quickly reminded that my wife buried me on the scoreboard, three stages to none. With my hopes of a top match finish now all but dashed, I did what I should have done from the beginning. I relaxed and decided to have fun.
The next stage had you firing from makeshift "rooftop" props at a small lollipop popper 100 yards away and a second lollipop about 150 yards away in the opposite direction. You were to engage the targets with one round each and continue from the rooftop to a tank hazard prop and then to a series of barrels. You could only advance after making your two hits at each station.
This stage had you firing from makeshift "rooftop" props at small lollipop poppers.
Amanda continued to shoot well and connected several times from the rooftop and then to the first tank trap before time expired. With a new relaxed attitude and vowing to use minimal power on my scope, I climbed the rooftop and awaited the start signal.
Ding. I heard that familiar, smile-inducing sound on my first shot. I was finally connecting after going the previous two stages without a single hit and only a single hit after three stages. I continued to make hit after hit and managed to make it to the second-to-last barrel before time expired. I racked up one of the highest scores on our squad and finally was able to top my wife's stage score.
The smile and enjoyment of shooting returned to me after the successful stage, and I was now eager for more. I realized that quality hits equal points, even if that means leaving targets behind. I was so nerve-racked by the almighty failure to engage penalties of other shooting sports that I was shooting to engage and not shooting to hit. I accepted that a high-power scope is there when you need it, but that full magnification is not a one-size-fits-all solution.
My mindset was finally in the right direction, and my scores followed.
The next stage had us shoot from a prop I had never seen before — a swinging platform suspended on four points. The target was 760 yards away and looked absolutely tiny even through my 21x power scope.
This swinging platform made this 760-yard shot a moving target.
This was the farthest shot I had ever attempted inside or outside of competition, and I was able to connect twice out of the allotted five rounds. This extreme distance gave my wife some trouble but gave her a smile nonetheless with the challenge it presented.
The rest of the match mixed in extreme ranges, such as the previous stage with shorter range "skills" stages. One stage had you shooting from large Crossfit-style tires that bounced your rifle with every shot taken. I thought I had seen every shooting prop possible during my 3-Gun time, but the PRS was broadening my shooting horizons with each subsequent stage.'
Shooting off a tire bounced your rifle with every shot.
After nine stages and 80 rounds of .308 thudded against our shoulders, my wife and I headed to the main area to have lunch and watch the awards ceremony. I was shocked to see a loaded prize table, thanks to the generous sponsors such as U.S. Optics, Ruger, Hornady, Nosler and many others. We were informed that our match had the largest Production turnout in PRS history and everyone would be receiving at least something from the prize table.
My wife and I finished about where you would expect us to for our first match, so thank goodness for generous sponsors! I managed to score a Kahntrol Solutions Muzzle Brake, and Amanda selected a Ruger Backpack as her haul.
With our prizes in hand, we were both hooked on this new precision style of shooting and were eager to find another PRS match. I vowed to remember that PRS is not 3-Gun, and I needed to accept this discipline as its own unique style of shooting. My wife enjoyed the challenge of the long-range targets and committed to learning the vast ocean of information that is wind calls, DOPE and turret manipulation required to make the longest-distance shots.
The competition shooting world offers something for everyone, and if you can swallow your pride and start from the bottom on each new endeavor, you never know where your next passion is waiting. I encourage everyone to get out of their comfort zone and give the PRS a shot.
Amanda with her Ruger Precision Rifle and Ruger Prize table backpack.
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