Precision Rifle Matches: A Primer

The bull was across a small canyon at 427 yards. Without a very circuitous route down, around and up again, there was no way to get closer before legal shooting light faded. I held in my hands a 7mm Remington Magnum sporting a scope worth more than my old Chevy. I had consistently hit steel targets out to 300 yards, the maximum distance at our local range. I knew my bullet could easily kill an elk at more than 400 yards, but I didn’t know if I had the skills to get it there. I also knew enough just to sit and watch as the day turned to night, hoping the elk would be there in the morning. They weren’t.

So how does one gain the confidence and the skills to be comfortable with those shots in the field? For one, find a shooting range with longer shooting bays. And two, test your skills (or lack thereof) as a competitor in a precision rifle match.

“You will undoubtedly become a better shooter with competition,” says Caylen Wojcik, a Marine Corps Scout Sniper and co-host of the Modern Day Sniper podcast. “You’ll be exposed to other people’s problems. Every event will have a new set of variables.” As a cool side note, Stone Glacier worked with Wojcik to design the Kiowa 3200, a versatile tactical shooting pack and frontcountry daypack.

What are Precision Rifle Matches?

The growing number of hunters who want to hit targets at 500, 600, and even 1,000 yards is growing every year. Some simply want the satisfaction of hearing that “thwack” far downrange. Others want to push the limits of their skill and their gear. Others want to perfect their long range skills as a way to refine their technique for shorter shots on live animals in the field.

And there’s no better way to become a better shooter than by a little friendly competition. That’s where this article comes in. We’re going to focus on two of the main precision shooting competitions: Precision Rifle Series (PRS) and NRL Hunter Series. Then we’ll give you some resources on how you can get involved at your local range.

In a nutshell, both events will test a shooter’s ability to engage targets from 100 to 1,200 yards. Over the course of one or two days, you will be expected to shoot from field positions, which might include a fence post, tripod and even the emptied hull of a Huey helicopter. And to add to the fun, you are expected to get your shots off under a certain amount of time, and it’s not a lot of time. Keep in mind, these are not benchrest shooting events. They will test your ability to shoot at long range from a wide array of field positions.

Lyle with gun

Safety is paramount in all matches. Shooters keep the bolt open unless in position and ready to engage—only then are they allowed to close the bolt. The bolt stays open as competitors move to the next stage and position. As always, muzzle control should be second nature to competitors. Ideally, keep the barrel pointed to the sky.

Your skills as a shooter will be tested. Miss a target? Okay, why did you miss? Did you not read the wind downrange correctly? Did you manage your recoil and follow the bullet’s vapor trail as it sailed six inches left? Was your position steady enough for the distance and target size? Understanding misses here will help you grow your skillset and in turn make more quality shots in the field during your next hunt.

The Precision Rifle Series

The PRS is broken down into two main events: the PRS Pro Bolt Gun Series and the PRS Regional Series. As to the former, this is a series of two-day matches for the skilled shooter. The PRS Regional Series features nearly 400 one-day matches across the country.

PRS competitors are classified as pro, semi-pro, marksman, or amateur. They can enter a number of categories including military/law enforcement, ladies, seniors (55 and up), junior (18 or younger) and international.

Competitors travel to different shooting stations in a squad, receive a briefing, and the shooters will then come up with a gameplan. Unlike the NRL, which we will talk about next, you get to watch competitors shoot. This is key if the wind is squirrelly downrange. The distances to the targets are known and the targets are generally easy to see. You will be given two minutes to complete a station, and targets are typically between 400 and 1,200 yards.

Comp gun in field

There are some restrictions on the kind of rifle you can use in PRS matches, and for a full break-down of that, check out the rule book. There are three bolt gun divisions: open, tactical and production. All have specific parameters. For instance, in the production category, your factory rifle can’t exceed $2,500 value. Same goes for the glass on top of it.

NRL Hunter Series

Founder of the NRL Hunter Series Travis Ishida says this series started out as a way for people to become better hunters. With the NRL competitions, you can come out and compete with your hunting rifle. “Our matches,” says Ishida, “will help you learn how to use your gear properly and how to harvest your animal ethically.”

One match will consist of 12 or more stages, and unlike the PRS, shooters in the NRL Hunter Series go into each stage blind. That means you don’t get to watch other shooters before you shoot. You are expected to find, range and engage targets within four minutes. You don’t get to chit-chat about wind. You don’t even get to see the target until the timer starts. Targets could be from 100 to 1,200 yards. “We have that 1,200-yard target out there to show people how hard it is to hit that,” says Ishida.
Kurt Racicot with comp gun

Each consists of four target engagements, and those engagements will vary. As for scoring, a first round hit is two points. A second round hit is worth one point. A shooter can get up to eight points per stage. Whereas in the PRS you move as a squad, the NRL is way more individualized, says Wojcik.

The NRL isn’t the place for your custom 25-pound shoulder cannon because these are hunting scenarios, and few people want to lug a heavy rifle around all day. There are a number of different divisions including factory, open light (rifles up to 12 pounds), open heavy (rifles between 12 and 16 pounds), ladies, young guns (between 8-16) and a skills division, which is for brand new shooters who just want to experience an NRL course. All rifles must meet a “power factor” of 380,000. Find this key number by multiplying bullet weight by muzzle velocity.

If you’re curious about either competition series, there are plenty of videos on YouTube that will put you right in the middle of a shoot. Aside from actually competing, those videos are going to be your best bet at understanding what a real match is like.

Shoot Local

The PRS and NRL Hunter Series aren’t the only gigs in town. There’s the Rifleman’s Team Challenge and the Guardian Long Range Competition, which is structured like a pro-am, says Wojcik. Plus, all the proceeds go to charity.

If you don’t feel like taking a road trip to compete, then check with your local shooting range for upcoming club matches. Look for flyers, check the range’s website (if they have one) and track down the range official and simply ask. Shooting clubs on Facebook abound. The Sniper’s Hide website has a mind-blowing amount of information and a forum. The next time you’re in a sporting goods store, head to the gun counter and ask about shooting clubs. Actual gun stores and gunsmiths are an even better option.

comp gun
“If you’re going to get into this, know that it’s not easy. It’s hard,” says Wojcik. “It’s very easy to show up and get discouraged. You have to set realistic goals for yourself. Don’t go into it with any expectation other than you are going to learn a lot. Or you’re going to give up. ”