I decided to write this after a bumbling weekend on the range; a day that held occasional curses and laughs, some “hmmmph, wonder what happened there”, missing essentials, a lot of heat and a few pristine shots still alive in my mind’s eye. As I stared at a huge pile of brass – I swear it was laughing at me for letting it build up to this level and knowing the prep work that had to be done – I thought about how far I’d come and could see the road of more adventure stretching out before me; I couldn’t help but smile back at my brass…
I guess this is directed more to those who haven’t jumped into the game yet. I know the feeling. I waited too…now, I can’t remember why. So, here is a bit of what I have learned and experienced that might get you to come out and give competition a shot, if you will.
One of the greatest aspects of this sport, which goes by so many different names, is that winning only sort of matters. It is one of the few things in life where just showing up and doing your best – whatever that means to you – is reward enough. I have learned little from winning in life; but, oh the lessons and wisdom gained from supposedly losing, well…priceless, to steal a slogan.
The most rewarding discovery for me after my first few matches was very simply, the people. Whatever I had been imagining before my first match was complete nonsense. I conjured up super human competitors who would be self absorbed and driven to win and that I would be no more than an amoeba in their presence. I was sure that as I missed every shot, or maybe didn’t even get one off in the time (which has happened more than once) that they would be laughing about it after the match. This is all ego driven drivel.
It was amazing to have guys come up to me after a bad stage, or a basic blunder….and coach me up with enthusiasm and genuine concern – and laughter. I was taking things WAY too seriously. Laughter truly is the best medicine.
Once I breeched the ego trap, I then wanted to get better at the art. I began to study the accomplished shooter gear’s and looked at my set up…kinda felt like the guy with the littlest pecker in the locker room…and I was sure that the gear was the issue. If I only had all the best shit, well I would automatically shoot better. Championships, fame and fortune would descend from the skies and bestow themselves upon me. Bullshit. Skill and gear are two entirely different things.
Precision rifle work is, at its heart, a game of concentration and focus. A study of fundamental physics related to posture, breathing and environment. It does not require extraordinary strength or endurance…but it does require the right mindset – no different than any other cerebral sport, such as golf or billiards. Watching a pro makes it seem easy, but that ease is earned I assure you. Your gear has virtually nothing to do with this particular truth. Some would no doubt argue this point, but this is my essay – they can write their own.
In an earlier life, I was a professional fly fishing guide. I can remember my first season. Broke as hell, as all guides are their first season, I could only afford a $20.00 fly rod and a reel that was literally going to be thrown out by a retailer. A cheap line and a boatload of motivation and I began to practice. At the time, I was simply happy to be able to cast. I eventually became an Orvis endorsed Fly Fishing guide. I came to understand that casting and angling are two different things.
Angling is an art. Casting is a skill. I had many clients who showed up to fish with incredible (read expensive) gear but it didn’t make them better casters or anglers. For some, it overinflated their understanding of their actual skill level and they would have a frustrating day as they thought the gear would make up for a lack of skill.
In fishing, that means knots in your line and missed fish. In precision rifle, that could mean a negligent discharge or worse. The stakes are much higher, which is why fundamentals are critical and especially in regards to safety. This aspect of the game should elevate your concentration and focus…if it doesn’t then don’t show up. That is just not acceptable.
I have named my rifle Frankenstein. The only original part is the heart. It is a Remington 700 action with the original bolt. It was born as a .243 Varmint SPS with a 26” barrel. Over time and as cost conscious as possible, I slowly upgraded the critical parts until it is the gun it is today. The factory guns are more than capable of making a solid showing in any local match…and in the hands of the skilled, can easily do very well. The sport has costs, but like many of them such as skiing or golf, getting your initial set up is the most expensive part. But I can assure you that you don’t need a $5000 rifle and scope to get very good at the art.
There are about 512,000 opinions out there as to what to get, etc. That is a very personal decision I’ll leave for you to figure out, but I will offer these observations for your consideration.
First, come out to a local match. I literally learned more in one match than I had managed to piece together in the previous 6 months…and I actually thought I was making a pretty dedicated effort to get better. You will have to experience it to know whether or not I am telling the truth.
Second, when training on your own, stay within your skill level to firm up what you already know. Stretch your limits when you are around experienced mentors, so you can get the proper feedback. This will accelerate your learning and will be less expensive and frustrating than sending rounds downrange and having no idea what happened.
Third, find out what you don’t do well and work especially hard at that. There are endless ways to figure out the various positional challenges. You will imitate initially, but will likely discover ways that work for you – but don’t necessarily work for everybody – due to your body type.
Fourth, DRY PRACTICE! This should probably be first, but especially in working those things you are not solid at yet, dry practice is the absolute best way to work out kinks. It’s safer, cheaper and can be done daily, so any excuse about not being able to get out to train just evaporated (remember what I said about the right mindset).
Fifth, be a good student. The experienced shooters will give their all to help you improve. Show the proper respect and listen. Be humble and you will progress faster than you might realize. You will also discover that there are many safety elements you may not have been aware of. This is an art, true, but it is not a game. And once you have become more competent, then it will be your turn to pass it on.
Sixth, simplify and systematize. Develop a process for how you approach your rifle. It is an extension of you and lays dormant until you invigorate it with action. Write it down. Know how to check the vitals of your rifle, know your torque settings, know your optic, and run through safety checks EVERY time. Before shooting, be 100% confident that any misses are going to be on you, not the equipment. Having faith in your rifle and load is a very powerful mental ally. I can almost guarantee your rifle shoots better than you do, so spend more time working on you and follow your steps so you don’t blame the equipment and miss an important lesson about yourself.
And lastly, enjoy yourself. An underestimated benefit of this sport is the beautiful places you can go. Sunrise in the desert and the quiet hum of daybreak, the gentle, cool winds of the high alpine meadow, the smell of wet sagebrush after a storm passes, random spotting of wildlife, sitting with your friends and watching the sunset before heading back in, rolling grassy plains…What’s not to enjoy?
So, check your ego at the door, load up your gear and come out to play.
Jared Flanagan is a member of Sin City Precision and lives in Henderson NV. He has no first place finishes, has not distinguished himself in the sport, is not sponsored and is quite happy pursuing the art.