Getting Started with Precision Rifle Competitions [PRS + NRL 2020]

The world of competitive long range/precision rifle shooting is the fastest growing shooting sport for two great reasons:

  1. It is a TON of fun
  2. It is an incredible way to improve your long range shooting ability

Whether you’re already a seasoned long range shooter looking for a way to test your abilities (and find ways to improve) or you’re just getting into precision rifles and are looking to learn, have fun, and make some lifelong friends in the process, the competition precision rifle world might be for you.

There’s one problem with getting into practical precision rifle competitions: it’s tough to know how to start. There’s a lot of gear, rules, techniques, etc that can be daunting to someone new to this long range rifle shooting sport.

But, I’ve got some good news… I’m going to walk you through all of this to make getting into this sport easy.

My name is Ryan Hey and I have been competing in PRS/NRL type matches since 2012. I currently work at MagnetoSpeed, which is a ballistic chronograph company. I am sponsored by companies like Magpul, Vortex Optics, Defiance, Rifles Only, GeoBallistics, Redbeard Gun Works and a few others. I have attended the PRS finale for the last 3 years and placed within the top 100 PRS competitors in 2019.

However, my journey thus far has not been without painful and costly mistakes. I am going to guide you through getting started with precision rifle competitions and give you tips on how to avoid pitfalls and pave your way for an easy and smooth introduction to the sport and community.

Ready to get started with long range shooting competitions? Excellent, let’s get started. But, some bad news first: get prepared to have this take over your shooting budget and time ‘cause you’re going to love it!

In this “How to Start Competitive Long Range Shooting” guide, we’re going to cover:

  • What is PRS / NRL Shooting?
  • 7 Steps to Get Into PRS / NRL Shooting
  • Competitive Long Range Resources

What is PRS / NRL Shooting?

The PRS (Precision Rifle Series) and the NRL (National Rifle League) are the two most prominent organizations within the discipline of practical precision rifle matches. These long distance shooting matches combine challenging targets, obstacles, and shooting platforms and measure your not only your ability to get hits on targets but also how long it takes you.

PRS vs NRL. What is the difference?

The main difference between PRS and NRL is geography. PRS matches are pretty much all over the US while NRL matches are usually west of the Mississippi River. Club matches for both organizations are pretty much in every state. The PRS has the PRS Regional series with individual clubs in respective states. The NRL has the NRL BWRS (Border War Regional Series).

The best thing to do is to contact the organizations to find out what region you are in and where the closest club/range is at. You can contact the respective organizations at their websites: precisionrifleseries.com  and nationalrifleleague.org

One other big difference between PRS and NRL are the divisions.

PRS has three main divisions: Open, Tactical, and Production. So that you don’t reach TL/DR phase this early, here are the PRS rules for the 2020 season.

The NRL does not have divisions. Please review the production division rules specifying rifle and optic cost and caliber/cartridge restrictions. Here are the the 2020 NRL rules.

How to Get into PRS / NRL Shooting

Here are the steps to get started in PRS or NRL shooting matches:

  1. Go to a match; get eyes on!
  2. Select Caliber/Cartridge
  3. Rifle set up
  4. Optic selection
  5. Ballistic Solver
  6. Shooting/support bags
  7. Go to a match; time to compete!

STEP 1. Go to a match; get eyes on!

Before you begin to buy equipment and possibly make some costly financial mistakes, I recommend you go and either spectate a one-day match or volunteer as a Range Officer (RO).

That’s right, the first step to getting involved in this discipline of shooting is to go see what it is all about… in person. This is important for a few reasons.
First, you see the culture and community of the sport. Second, you will meet and be introduced to A LOT of people that will help you. Third, you get to see what the actual competition is like; shooting styles and types of barricades used. Lastly, and perhaps the most important reason to go to a match is so you that you do not waste money on impractical equipment.

But, but, Ryan, how do I find where matches are at?  GREAT QUESTION!

Answer; one of the quickest ways would be to email the PRS or NRL directly. They will get you linked up to the closest club/regional level matches.
PRS: info@precisionrifleseries.com
NRL: nationalrifleleague.org/contact-us/

The other quick way is to get into local and regional Facebook groups. There are many PRS and NRL regional and club group pages where local news, match announcements, and competitor cross talk take place.

STEP 2. Select Caliber/Cartridge

Bottom line up front: certain 6mm and 6.5mm cartridges rule the PRS/NRL realm. Although bigger cartridges can be great for long range shooting, they aren’t ideal for PRS or NRL competitions. That means that you’ll need to leave your Grandad’s 300 Weatherby or your 300 Win Mag hunting rifle at home

There are two big reasons for this: the rules don’t allow bigger cartridges and these smaller cartridges are easier to shoot in competitions.

The rules for both PRS and NRL competitions have caliber/cartridge and muzzle velocity limitations; Nothing over 300 Win Mag or faster than 3200fps. Although there are some Extreme Long Range (ELR) competitions that allow .338s and .416s, they simple aren’t welcome in standard PRS or NRL matches.

6mm and 6.5mm cartridges are ideal for competitive shooting for a few reasons:

  1. Recoil mitigation. You will be shooting off of barricades and obstacles more than from the prone.
  2. Ability to control recoil so you can spot trace through the optic, spot impacts on the target, and spot misses. (Yes, you will miss.)
  3. The larger caliber/cartridges damage AR500 steel at closer ranges. (Nothing over .300wm)
  4. Re-read #1
  5. Re-read #2

So, you know you’re going to need a 6mm or 6.5mm cartridge, but which one should you get?

For many, there are too many popular cartridges to choose from. For example, you’ll find these cartridges at matches:

  • 6.5 Creedmoor
  • 6 Creedmoor
  • 6GT
  • 6Dasher
  • 6BR
  • 6BRA
  • 6XC,
  • 6.5×47
  • 6×47
  • and more…

I’ll make this easy for you: If you are starting out, and do not already have the capabilities to reload your own ammunition; I recommend going with 6.5 Creedmoor.

With 6.5 Creedmoor, you will have longer barrel-life which will reduce the cost of continual barrel changes and there are many factory ammunition options from multiple brands with 130-147gr options. The 6.5 Creedmoor cartridge that will keep you somewhat competitive, and it will allow you to learn and practice with readily available ammunition.

If you can incur the costs of buying more barrels and spending more on gunsmith services: then go with 6 Creedmoor. The average barrel life (under normal conditions and with no setbacks) is around 1100-1300rounds. The 6.5 Creedmoor barrel life average, on the other hand, is around 2200-2500 rounds. Although not near as many, there are a few options for 6 Creedmoor factory ammo from different manufacturers.

loading for PRS
300 6XC cases ready for powder

 

If you have the money and want to get into reloading; then the sky’s the limit. Multiple cartridges that are popular: 6GT, 6Dasher, 6BR, 6BRA, 6XC, 6x47L, 6Creedmoor. All of them are low recoil with optimal velocity to keep you competitive as long as you do your part. The bulk of competitors will be running a 6mm cartridge.

auto powder trickler setup
Author’s dual AutoTrickler scale setup with H4350 and 6XC cases

 

Lastly, if you want or feel the need to run a .308 or a .223Rem in Tactical division for PRS matches; you must adhere to the bullet weight and muzzle velocity guidelines. Those can be found in the PRS rule book.

STEP 3. Pick out your Rig/Stick/Tac driver (rifle)

Factory or Custom built? This is the question you need to ask yourself when it comes to which rifle you are going to use.

If you want to go with a factory rifle, there is no shortage of capable options for factory “production division” rifles. The list consists of Ruger Precision Rifle, Tikka, Bergara, Masterpiece Arms, GA Precision, Savage, and many other brands and models.

However, if you want to put together your own rifle and ship all the components to a gunsmith, then the custom rifle route is your way. Barrel, muzzle brake/device, action, trigger, and labor are the components for your rifle. No matter what your decision is; there are a few “must haves” for the PRS/NRL game:

  1. Detachable bottom metal/magazine fed. PRS/NRL is not the place for internal small round capacity magazines. Most stages are 8-12 round and there can be 15 round stages. Double check that magazines you select are compatible with the rifle and cartridges you are using.
  2. Ability to have ARCA or at the minimum, M-Lok capable. Most bipod mounts and Tripod mounts are based off the ARCA-Swiss mounting system.
  3. Quality bipod. A cheap bipod is going to give you cheap results. For starting out; get a Harris. If you are a baller: go big and get a higher end brand. There are multiple to choose from.
  4. 2-round holder. These little items are CRUCIAL. A 2 round holder on the side of your rifle can mean dropping one or two points a stage or cleaning (getting all the points) in a stage. The most common brand in use is the Short Action Precision Match Two Round Holder.
    2-round-holder
    Author’s match rifle. Note the 2 round holder on the side of the chassis, the ARCA rail under the stock with a barricade stop and Gun Plate accessory
  5. Muzzle brake or Suppressor. Muzzle brakes are used more than suppressors. Remember; recoil mitigation and management. Muzzle brakes reduce more recoil than suppressors. Suppressors dampen muzzle blast and attenuate some sound. This comes down to personal preference and legality if you can even own a suppressor in your state.
  6. Sling. For the obvious major reason of carrying your rifle. However, there are a few matches where the sling can be used in traditional position shooting. Standing, kneeling, seated, and prone unsupported with a sling stages still take place.
    multiple-rifle-competition-lineup
    Multiple rifles in different configurations in line at the 2020 Rifles Only Brawl

 

STEP 4. Choose the Right Scope.

Choosing an optic is not an easy task. This once again goes back to Step 1. Get out to a match and ask to look through different brand and models of optics. If a match or competitor has a loaner rifle or scopes; ask them to look through it. The atmosphere at almost every PRS and NRL match is very welcoming to newcomers and beginners. Do not be afraid to ask. With that said, your selection needs to have a few requirements:

  1. Speak our language. PRS/NRL competitors speak in mils. When someone shows up in a squad and starts speaking in MOA; they get looked at like they are speaking Royal English from the U.K. We kind of understand it, but it still sounds funny. Plus no one in your squad is going to want to do conversion of MOA to Mils. Do yourself a favor; whatever optic you choose needs to have mil elevation, mil windage and a mil based reticle.
  2. First Focal Plane. PRS and NRL matches will have various targets at various ranges. Unless you can memorize the subtension values for each range, while on the clock, while moving, and while mentally transitioning between targets and adjusting the magnification… get the point? Get an optic in First Focal Plane.
  3. Magnification. Back to #2. Do not get a Fixed power optic. Your magnification range should be between 3-18x at the minimum. Most seasoned competitors are running anywhere from 4-30x. It would also benefit yourself to get a magnification throw lever. This will assist you in adjusting the magnification quicker.
  4. Level it out. After you have an optic and rings selected. You need to get an external bubble level/cant indicator. Some chassis and stocks might have this built in. If you have a chassis or stock that does not, you will need an external, small cant indicator either attached to the rail on your action or to your scope. Bubble level or an electronic level like the LRA Send-it will work.
  5. Rings or mount. Do not go cheap on your rings or scope mount. There options like Seekins Rings that will not break the wallet. If you are on the baller, high dollar budget; the Spuhr line of mounts are excellent. Rings are like tires. It makes no sense to buy a top dollar optic and then use cheap rings.

STEP 5. Ballistic Solver.

To compete in PRS and NRL matches, you have to get your data quickly. With the advancement of technology and advent of smartphone apps; ballistic solvers are no longer relegated to a large PDA or a cumbersome data book. There are two main categories to this step to choose from: Complete Anemometers/solvers and Ballistic Apps.

The most popular anemometer/solver product in use for PRS and NRL Competitors is the Kestrel. This is a complete wind meter, atmospherics gathering, and ballistic solver in one complete item. The most popular choices for ballistic software in the Kestrel 5700 is Applied Ballistics and Hornady 4DOF. Here is the link to Kestrel Ballistics: https://kestrelmeters.com/collections/kestrel-ballistics they have many different models and features.

Smart phones have revoluntionized the ballistic solver game. Once there was the old school PDA with ATRAG software on it. A few short years later, smart phones with ballistics apps were emerging. Today, there are Apps that contain all the information and solver solutions that the Kestrel does. There are many apps available for your smartphone. Apps such as GeoBallistics, Applied Ballistics, Hornady 4DOF, Strelok and Strelok Pro, TRASOL, ShooterAB, and many more.

As with any component that has been mentioned, I would try some Apps out and find the layout you like. Some are built more for competition applications, while others are simplified for general long range shooting and hunting. The biggest take away, no matter what app or device you use, is that you have to put accurate information in. Trash in, trash out. If you do not put correct rifle and bullet variables into the App or Kestrel; you will get a garbage solution.

STEP 6. BAG IT UP!!!

Support bags widely used in PRS and NRL matches. These bags can range in size and application. Without a doubt, the two most popular companies are Wiebad and Armageddon Gear. Both companies offer a wide assortment of bags. The Gamechanger from Armageddon Gear and Fortune Cookie line from Wiebad are some of the most used bags in the Sport. Many of these support bags double up as rear bags for your rifle. For the PRS and NRL application, here are the requiments:

  1. Rear bag. A good solid rear bag is basis for getting your prone position correct.
  2. Barricade or obstacle support: This is where the Pint size GameChangers and Mini-Fortune cookie style bags are used. Personal preference if you want to run larger and heavier bags.
  3. Larger “Pump” pillow support bags. Used as rear support on certain stages when you are not in the traditional prone. More used on rooftop stages and prone supported/barricade supported stages.

As you progress in the sport, you may come to find that less is more. The need to carry 5 different bags may evolve to carrying only 1 or 2. Sharing of shooting bags is a common occurrence in squads at a match so don’t feel like you have to go out and buy every different type of bag that a certain company makes. Remember that you have to carry all of this gear around with you at a match. That’s unless you get one of those gun stroller things.

tim-milkovich-bag-stabilizer
Tim Milkovich using a bag to stabilize his rile from a barricade position.

STEP 7. Get to a match. It’s GO time!

Wait, this is the same as step one? YES, it is. But this time you are going to compete. You have found a match, you have all your gear ready to go; rifle, ammo, and support gear is ready to go. You have completed match sign up and have all the important information. Get ready to start a journey that will be full of fun (and some frustration), challenges, and learning. Ok, enough reading.

Shooter, do you understand course of fire? Shooter ready? Standby… ENGAGE!

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