So in Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, we talked about selecting components for building a gun that you could use for some competitive shooting as well as building and breaking in the gun. Part 3 here is going to cover more of the followup on the actual shooting and results.
After getting my gun built, broke in, and doped, I was able to shoot three matches. The first came very shortly after completing the build. That shoot was a local one-day match in Three Forks, Montana. I shot really solid through the first 6 stages that day, only dropping a handful of shots. The last two stages got me as I was out of my comfort zone on some positions and dropped a lot of shots. Overall, I placed 13th out of 71 shooters and was very happy with not only the performance of my gun but also myself. The practice that I had been putting in was obviously paying off in good results. I wasn't expecting to win, just wanting to shoot well according to my perceived skills, so placing in the top 20 was definitely a confidence boost. From there, I had no big changes to implement, just continue to practice as time would afford.
The next match, the Coyote Springs Invitational, would come in early June in the format of a team match. I was paired up with my work counterpart Lyle Hebel. We had a good time over the course of the two day match and ended up in the middle of the pack. Team communication here is key, and not having shot a lot together in that setting definitely left the door open to some mistakes. Day 1 for me was an off day. Coming off a long spring bear season, I hadn't had as much time to shoot my gun and the rust showed. Day 2 was much stronger as things started to lock in and my connection to the rifle was much more consistent, resulting in high hit percentages on each stage.
Here's a quick look at a stage where SG's Andrew Whitney and Logan Summers make things look easy:
After that, I only had one more competition on the books. The match was the Heart Mountain Challenge located in Cody, Wyoming. I was really looking forward to this one for two main reasons: First, the proceeds from the event go to the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, which does great things for our veterans. The second was the stunning location. The Heart Mountain Venue is perched high up on some ridges and bluffs below Heart Mountain and is an exceptional, challenging venue.
Joining me on this trip would be friend and photographer Logan Summers. For both of us, this match would be our first bigger match with some top shooters. Both national level shooters as well as former and current Special Operators come to this event, so we knew the top class of shooters would be excellent. Heart Mountain has a strong variety of shooting positions, directions, and difficult wind calls. Many of the longer stages had grass around the plates, making corrections difficult. Day 1 started for us on the east side of the facility. On this day, I shot generally well and didn't make any dumb mistakes. I did have one terrible stage where I shot one out of eight or nine potential shots and really couldn't put my finger on what was causing the misses. When that happens, you have to mentally lock in and keep focusing on the process that you know as you move forward.
Day 2, we moved slightly northwest to a larger ridge that drops off Heart Mountain. I was more consistent across the board this day. Again, I didn't have any big mental errors, which for any match is a win. I obviously had some positions and stages where I felt that I gave up some easy points, but that happens to everyone. When the scores were tallied up, I fell in 13th place out of 109 shooters. Thinking back on it, I don't know if placing that high was good or bad because now I want to shoot many more competitions and a guy can only have so many hobbies (haha). And as we all know, ammo ain't cheap.
So at the point of writing this I've probably put 1,300-1,400 rounds through my 6.5 Creedmoor and have definitely improved my overall skill set as a shooter.
So how does this all apply to hunting? At the beginning of all of this, my goal was to use this pursuit to better my mountain hunting marksmanship. After all of that shooting, I'd say that I do feel much more confident with my shooting abilities and, most importantly, what I'm capable of especially with my hunting rig. After Heart Mountain, I was able to do some training with my 300WSM hunting rig for two days with Phil and Caylen from Modern Day Sniper as well as a group of our Stone Glacier.
It was immediately apparent this was a totally different beast. The 6.5 creed was an easy driver. You can get away with point and shoot even with a weak position. When you step behind the 10-pound 300WSM, it will work you if you don't actively drive it. I found that more back pressure on the grip was necessary for long distance accuracy as well as monitoring my cheek and face pressure much more keenly. It was apparent that my ability to understand what impacted the rifle in both a good and bad way was greatly improved. Quickly building solid positions with a variety of gear was also a drastic improvement. And finally, understanding my actual ability to hit a small target in tough conditions with a high percentage of accuracy was improved. My range as a hunter has not expanded, just my understanding and my level of precision at my current distances.
When it comes to my gun and competitions, there were a few helpful things that I felt were key from a gear standpoint. The first that really stuck out was the Federal ammo I switched to for the last two matches. Federal makes their Gold Medal 6.5 Creedmoor ammo with 140 Berger Hybrid bullets. This ammo shot exceptionally well out of my rifle. It grouped well, the SD's were in the single digits, and the 140 Bergers really fly super well. Not having to reload hundreds and hundreds of rounds was key. I felt this allowed me to focus on my shooting and not spend a lot of time tinkering with reloading and load development.
Another key was having a full integrated ARCA rail on the forend of my KRG Bravo chassis. This allowed me to move my bipod forward and back for best use of available props when shooting from odd positions. On some stages, I would pull it back and run the bipods tall. On other stages, it would be pushed all the way forward for max stability for prone long-distance stages. In that same thread, a great bipod really does help out a lot. This year, I ran both the single and double pull MDT CKYE-Pod. These bipods afford quick and easy height adjustments as well as two way adjustment on the angle of the legs. Solid design and tight tolerances made this product a huge asset in getting good solid rests.
So that's a wrap for 2022 for me. Rifle season looms, and the hunting rigs are very close to being totally ready for anything this fall can throw at them. Be on the lookout for more content around precision shooting in 2023, and we will be shooting another handful of competitions next year. I hope this series of posts helped educate some folks and show you that, with a little work and practice, you can go to these matches and learn a lot and compete.
Good luck for those of you still shooting, and I hope to see some of you at matches in the future!
-Zack Boughton (@zackboughton)