The PBR-XP: A Month In

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-FN PBR-XP, .308 Winchester, 20” barrel
-270 rounds fired.
-3 cold bore shots with no meaningful deviation
-0 clean cold bore shots
-0 malfunctions
-Farthest target hit: 1060 Yards, first round hit, target size 16” (?)
A month is an insufficient time to learn what there is to know about a particular rifle.  A lot of people, including me, have insinuated or outright accused gunwriters of giving glowing reviews to please their advertisers.  I don’t know what goes on behind the scenes, but I’ve discovered that a simpler and more likely explanation is that they just don’t have enough time with any particular gun to discover all of its flaws.  It’s not much more time than the factory puts into quality control testing.
I spent one year with one rifle.  If you compared this description of that rifle, my Sako 75, with a more recent description of its attributes, you would see that I discovered a lot about it in that year.  A lot of the things were actually evident at the outset, but I thought they were less significant issues than they were, or just downplayed them until I could no longer continue to do so.  A lot of problems could be overcome with $1500 of custom work, but at some point one realizes that it hasn’t gotten done yet, and probably never will.
The FN is much more of a utilitarian rifle compared to the Sako.  It exhibits less in the way of fit and finish.  This affects feel, but not function. 
The Sako, as I’ve repeated time and again, has a super slick bolt.  There’s very little drag at all (a lot of this was caused by incessant dry fire).  It also has the surprising attribute of feeling almost identically whether it’s cycling a round or empty.  The bolt lift is short and the travel fore and aft is made to be as short as it can be due to Sako having several different action sizes.  The one thing I wonder about the Sako’s feeding is whether they compromised on robustness of reliability for ease of use.  The magazine is a staggered round feed.  The top of the mag is very open, which is to say the feed lips don’t capture much of the rounds.  It also gives the impression of keeping the rounds in the mag a little lower to keep the bolt from dragging on them. 
The FN mag is staggered, but feeds up to a single round, much like a pistol mag.  Each round is fed positively up into the breech face, is captured by the extractor and held.  The rounds are evidently held a bit higher, as the bolt shows a lot of brass markings from sliding across the waiting round.  You can definitely tell when it’s cycling rounds or not.  It’s a lot more like the Remington 700 in that respect.
The Remington 700 is a much more valid comparator to the Model 70 in many ways.  The cost is closer, the feel of the bolt cycling is similar.  I think that the 70 has a better extraction system, and the controlled round feeding makes it a little easier to work with if you like to do a press check.  Between the two I think that the Model 70 exhibits a slightly higher degree of fit, finish, and overall class than the Remington.
I believe the FN has a more reliable feeding mechanism, but I don’t have enough time with it to know for sure.  The only malfunctions I ever had with the Sako were my fault.  After I discovered and replaced the broken bolt stop pin, my bolt work lost some of its brutality and I short stroked it a few times.  That malfunction is a pain in the rear.  I don’t know if the FN can be short stroked quite so easily, but I will try it and report back.
The trigger seems to be getting a little better on the FN.  There’s one bit of consistent creep that can be treated like take-up in a 2-stage.  I think if it were a really good trigger some of the fliers would not be so “fly-ee”.  If I ever have a reason to have a gunsmith do anything to the rifle I will have the trigger tuned.
Apart from just a few things, the slickness of the bolt, the feel of the magazines seating, and the trigger, the M70 seems like a superior system.  It seems to favor reliability, and I believe accuracy, over an indulgent level of finish.  The 3 position safety seems, well, safer, as it actually blocks the firing pin.  The trigger seems to favor simplicity and reliability, and with some attention from a gunsmith can probably made to be pretty good.  Simple and reliable is more important to me than a complicated “glass rod”.  The aftermarket support for the FN, for those who like to “personalize” their rifles, is much more robust.  So far I have not have needed to change anything.  

The length of pull of the FN is a much better fit for me.  The long LOP of the Sako is good for some things, but it can be awkward for others.  The M70 is a good compromise for everything I’ve tried so far. 

The FN’s groups are tighter than the Sako’s, although the rifle does not seem to be a one holer in my hands.  The round placement seems to be more predictable as far as the rifle holding its zero on the FN and there’s not a funky cold bore shot.  This means that it seems to have a tendency to hit what I point it at.  I like that.
The bolt smoothness on the M70, in my opinion of the rifle thus far, does not live up to the hype it receives.  It’s a little clunky on closing, sometimes to the point of just about getting stuck, but it is getting better.  After a month, 270 rounds, and maybe a thousand or so dry fires, I have had 3 or 4 bolt cycles that felt almost like it used to with the Sako- that is to say fast and with much less effort- like the fingers throw it back, the thumb catches it and throws it shut.  Then I will get excited and try to show my wife and it clunks on the close again (stage fright?).  I have had maybe 100 bolt cycles that were decent and showed some promise.  Maybe 200-300 clunked on the close, and the rest were unspectacular either way.  It’s getting better.  I’m maybe a month or two out from racing the semi autos.
The extra two and a half pounds on the FN over the Sako and likely the change in ergonomics has brought my snapshot back to square one.  I need to get stronger physically.  I do believe that overall the FN comes up faster than the Sako, because of the length of pull and the balance, which I think may be almost perfect.  It just doesn’t come up where I think it’s going to and it doesn’t stay steady long enough for me to adjust.
The extra weight has also caused me to question whether to stick with my “modified offhand technique”.  That really worked well with the Sako, but again, I need to get stronger to make it work with the FN.  The standard version of offhand actually feels pretty good with it.  It could be an issue of length of pull again.  I’m going to keep trying the modified version, as I still believe that the extra edge in speed is worth a slight reduction in precision for offhand.
I’ve pretty much got the configuration of the rifle finalized unless I win a Manners stock or something.  The Atlas bipod is on.  While the Harris works, the Atlas works better and I think is a worthy addition.
I have a new sling on the rifle that I haven’t written about yet that’s lower profile, simpler, and easier to use.  The scope is just about a perfect fit for the rifle and cartridge, although it may be considered a bit “Spartan” compared to other tactical scopes.  At least it’s well executed.
I’m almost done with the “orientation phase” of my life with this rifle.  Hopefully I will be able to use it to good effect

On Dope

Sorry.  I couldn’t resist.  Let’s get down to the actual business of the post.

Now that my main rifle has a scope that is easy to adjust, and also allows for informed holdovers, I am suddenly inspired to commit my trajectory information to memory.  Here’s how I’ve been going about doing that.

I zeroed my rifle and chrono’d the loads.  I entered the data, along with the current trend in my local atmospheric type stuff, into the Berger Bullets Black Box of Ballistics (sorry, couldn’t resist again).  I used that instead of my little iPhone appbecause I like being able to print the results out on paper.

The output of the program can be configured in whatever range increments you want out to whatever maximum range you desire.  I figured I should learn it out to 1200, just to be overly thorough (conventional wisdom says the .308 Winchester is an 800 yard gun).  I was most concerned with ranges out to 600 right off the bat, since these are more likely for me to encounter.  I printed off 2 sheets, one out to 1200 in 100 yard increments to get the “coarse” numbers, and one in 50 yard increments out to 600 yards to get more detail, but still fit it on one page.

To facilitate my memorization I made a quick reference card to tape to my pocket notebook.

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The wind and lead info above goes with another rifle.  I’ll fix that part later.

To get my memory going I would look at an object in the distance, make a range estimation, then try to recall my elevation correction to the tenth mil.  At first just getting the even hundreds seemed like too much to remember.  After about 2 days I had it down to 1200.  I added the 50’s and had them all the way to 900.  If the above cheat sheet had been a little longer I could have gotten all the way out to 1200.

After I had my 50 yard increments down to where I could recall them every time, I started testing myself on my ability to guess on anything in between.  If you imagine every segment as a trajectory in and of itself, and you know the elevation correction above and below, it doesn’t take long to get the hang of making a pretty good guess.  I would say that 60% of the time my guess was right on with my data, and the other 40% of the time I was within 0.1 mils.  The only thing is that it took too long to do even under completely relaxed circumstances.  If I had been under stress it probably would not have worked for me.

The trajectory inside of 50 yards is pretty interesting and varies quite a bit for minor changes in distance.  Luckily, unless you’re making a surgical shot this doesn’t matter much.  I’m going to tackle that segment of my trajectory after I get my 50 yard increments out to 1200 down.  So far, as far as within 50 yards is concerned, I can remember that at 10 yards my comeup is 4 mils, at 15 it’s 2.3, and at 25 it’s 1.0.  I’ll get it down to 5 yard increments eventually.

One thing to keep in mind about memorizing trajectory is that the numbers aren’t written in stone.  They will change as conditions change.  Changing the load would be a rather huge change, so let’s just not go there yet.  My goal is to learn this load well enough, and in sufficiently varied conditions, that I will be able to adapt to all but the most demanding of shots.

I mentioned above about recalling the numbers or making a guess in between known increments under stress not being feasible at this point.  I have to get them more hard wired, which I think will also allow me to have it down well enough to understand changes that environmental conditions will cause.  I would like to learn them backward, i.e. be given a correction and relate it to the distance or distances to which it corresponds for my rifle.  I think that, and a lot more time and practice, could make it happen.

I’ll be sure to keep y’all updated with how it’s working out.

The Atlas Bipod


I decided it made sense to put a bipod on my rifle, given the type of games I want to play with it.  I figure my prone unsupported, at best, would average just over 1 MOA for a 10 shot group when I’m at or near my best.  With a bipod I think on a good day I could keep 10 shots under a minute.  Here’s an example of both of those.  If the bipod can increase my precision with the rifle it could be worth it.
For the most part I have used a Harris when I have used the bipod.  I have also used the TRG bipod on my TRG.  The TRG bipod is a very cool system.  I did have some problems with mine, so after getting a replacement from warrantee service I sold it and bought an Atlas bipodto use on both the FN and the TRG.  
The Atlas has been around for a couple of years now.  I have heard a lot of good things about it, and have gotten to try one briefly on a couple of occasions.  It saves a few ounces over the Harris, and it really seems to be a better mousetrap.
Instead of attaching to a sling swivel stud, the Atlas is built to attach to a short section of a picatinny rail.  Sure, very few rifles have picatinny rails while most have swivel studs.  Which seems a more solid method of attachment though?  My rifle was equipped with 2 forward swivel studs, one of which was meant to accommodate a bipod.  I bought a Seekins rail that replaces both swivels and has its own sling swivel mount.
2012-09-18 001 028
I bought the Atlas with a quick release attachment, as it intended to be shared between 2 rifles.
The Atlas is over double the price of a Harris.  Is it worth it?  I don’t know.  It depends on what you’re looking to get out of your bipod and what you’re willing to spend.  One difference between the two that is noticeable just from seeing and a cursory manipulation is that the Atlas exhibits a higher degree of fit and finish.  It also seems to be a more solid piece, which is ironic because it weighs less.
Other than solidity, what the Atlas offers over the Harris are flexibility of motion and range of adjustement.  Each leg is independently adjustable with five different positions.  The leg is unlocked by pressing a button that releases the locking mechanism.
Leg Range of Motion
Five different leg positions are possibleThe most useful seem to be closed (forward), 45° forward, and 90°.
The Atlas is said to be slower to deploy than the Harris.  It is for me, but barely.  I typically don’t fling the Harris legs forward, but move them deliberately one at a time.  I do the same thing with the Atlas.  It just takes more practice.  

The bipod is also built to have 15° of pan and tilt.  Tilt, which the Harris is also capable of, is great for adapting to uneven ground.  The panning, which the Harris does not have, is useful for targets that don’t stay put.

Pan and Tilt
The Atlas also has a built in “load”.  Loading the bipod means to press forward slightly on the rifle to compress the bipod.  When the rifle recoils, the bipod is prepped so that it won’t bounce, but the load will relieve momentarily under recoil, then resume its former position.  The Harris is not as easy to keep from hopping as the Atlas is.
Load
The photo on the left shows the Atlas in its relaxed position.  The photo on the right shows the bipod “loaded”.
 
All in all, the Atlas and the Harris basically do the same thing.  The difference is that the Atlas is more user friendly.  I’m happy with the new addition.  Time will tell how it actually works out.
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Competition Finale: The Little Rifle That Could


With the small game stage complete, and stage 1 of the big game under my belt, I had only part 2 of the big game left to shoot.  Remember that my goal was modest due to using a rifle that was new to me and potentially not optimized for the task of long range shooting.  The rifle was my new FN PBR-XP, chambered in .308 Winchester with a 20” barrel. 
There were a lot of fancy rifles at the shoot.  Mine was among the more modest that I saw there.  The only other one I saw that compared was a Remington 700 PSS with a 24” barrel.  I know there was another .308, but everything else that I took note of was either a custom job and/or chambered in a specialty cartridge that could play the long range game better.
In part 1 of the big game shoot I scored 6 points.  My modest goal for the shoot was somewhere in the 7 to 9 point range.  I was hopeful, but somewhat doubtful that I would accomplish my goal.
The closest target in this portion of the shoot was at 864 yards.  As I said before, a lot of people feel that the effective range of the .308 is somewhere in the vicinity of 800 yards.  My rifle, with its 20” barrel, does not generate a lot of muzzle velocity even by .308 standards.  I was using factory ammo, 168 grain Federal Gold Medal Match, which has a terrible reputation for becoming erratic in the vicinity of 800-900 yards.  My ballistic software was showing a range in red of about 940, if I remember correctly.  What I took this to mean is that the bullet is at or near the trans-sonic barrier (crossing into sub-sonic flight) and becoming wild and unstable.  I had considered digging around the ammo room for something potentially more effective to try, but I thought it better to use something I had a good zero and good data for than to try something completely new and untested.
Here’s my data card for the 2nd big game stage:
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A little closer so you can read:
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The two shots on the upper right of the card, the elk at 985 and the buffalo at 1060, I was absolutely certain that I would have no hope of hitting with my puny 20” barrel and my marginal but hopelessly obsolete round.  Everything else I thought that it was unlikely that I would hit anything, but maybe I could get lucky.  At the last shoot I went to it seemed like people shooting .308’s had nothing but trouble, and these were people I knew were decent shots.
Strategy
One of the differences between this shoot and the last is how I used my downtime.  I had my friend with me last time, which made me more talkative.  It’s not that I didn’t talk to anyone this time, but I’m generally more reserved with people I don’t know well.  Instead of talking I was observing.
I spent a lot of time observing conditions.  I spent a bit of time considering how the contour of the land was influencing the interaction of conditions to bullet.  People commented time after time that they shot higher than they should have.  I made note of that, and thought to add it to what I had already experienced on the first 2 stages with my dope being too high.
I spent a lot of time observing shooters.  I saw how not many people got good results on this stage.  I watched some fire a first round and miss.  The spotter would tell them a correction that sounded like me to be a SWAG.  What else are you going to do?  Maybe have a mil reticle in your spotting scope, except that by far the majority seemed to be using MOA (I don’t ever wan’t to go back to that).  The shooter would take a few seconds dialing the windage knob.  Then they would slowly work the bolt, remove the empty case, place it upside down in the plastic ammo box, remove a fresh round rom the box, feed it into the action, take a few breathing cycles and fire.  Elapsed time would be at least 30 seconds.  What I noticed a lot of was that the spotter would call a miss by how much the shooter adjusted.
On the other side of the coin, I saw shooters who after a miss, would fire again within a reasonable amount of time without attempting to change or adjust for anything.  This would be consistent with shooting groups, just fire again and see how your group turns out.  The spotter would usually call a second miss similar to the first one.
I decided that my strategy was to believe what the bullet was telling me and to act quickly while the information was still relevant.  Here were the facts of my situation:  I had a rather mildly recoiling round that was not going to burn my barrel out by firing it too fast.  I was at a sufficient distance to recover in plenty of time to see my impacts.  I was firing factory ammunition straight out of the box, loaded into the magazine.  Yes, I do care to keep my empties, but I don’t really care where they go or whether they get dirty after they’re ejected.    
Wind conditions are not constant.  Go outside and observe for a while.  You’ll see a “regular” speed, punctuated by lulls and gusts.  Spend enough time looking and you might even observe a pattern that repeats.  You’ll probably notice that the wind speed changes every 5-10 seconds.  As a shooter you can’t afford to pay much attention to this, hence the spotter.  I really had no spotter, save for what the scorer would tell me.  Turns out I could see everything I needed to.
The predominant wind condition was a 7-8 mph wind with a lull about 5-6 mph and a gust of 11-12 mph.  The direction was fairly constant as far as the compass would tell, but the shooting position was fanned out about 15-20 degrees.  For the most part I would say it was coming from 5 o’clock, with a little 4 or 5:30 thrown in, depending on what target I was shooting at. 
I did not dial wind at all, and here’s what I learned about that.  You stay more in touch with the wind by holding for it, so long as your reticle allows for reasonably precise holds.  Dialing seems to remove it from the forefront of your mind, as if by dialing you have “dealt” with it, which is not actually true.  There’s no “dealing” with it except in real time, and it usually deals with you.  Holding for wind also is a bit more flexible, as you’re not encumbered by dialing.
Another part of my game plan was to make my position comfortable.  There were dirt ramps on all of the courses for shooters to use as positions.  There’s a good picture of one in the small game article.  These ramps angled the muzzle up, which meant that the butt had to be raised to compensate, which means that the shooter’s shoulders have to be raised, which places unnecessary strain on the back.  I shot on the rocky dirt next to the shooting ramp and was somewhat more comfortable.
As in the previous big game stage, there were 7 targets, 6 regular scoring targets and 1 bonus.  This time the bonus target was a ram set up to be “laying down”, or laying nearly horizontal.  It was near another ram, which was just 4 yards nearer.  Since the bonus target is worth 2 points for a 1st round hit instead of just one, it makes sense to test your shot out on the regular target first.  
Here’s how I did:
1.    Standing Ram, 864 yards, 2nd round hit.
2.    Lying Sheep, bonus target, 868 yards, 1st round hit.
3.    Bear, 876 yards, 2nd round hit.
4.    Wolf, 905 yards, miss.
5.    Elk, 985 yards, 2nd round hit.
6.    Buffalo, 1060 yards, 1st round hit!!!
7.    Ram, 900 yards, 2nd round hit.
The ability of my system to get decent hits past right out to its commonly accepted limits and beyond really pleased me.  I would not have felt like a dummy if I’d only gotten 2 hits.  I was especially pleased with the 1stround hit at 1060, although it could well have been luck.
I’m curious to see how a better bullet will do at those ranges.  I don’t see why more of the hits could not have happened on the 1st round.  I need to spend more time with my rifle and really get to know it.
Combining both stages of the big game course give me 6 first round hits, 6 second round hits, and 2 misses.  I have to think that with the TRG I could have gotten at least 2 or 3 more first round hits.  That rifle says, “Windage.  I don’ need no steenkeeng windage.”

Reflections:

One of the things that really hit home for me is how far the .308, even being the modest long range round that it is, can reach out and hit things.  Coming home and looking around, even at places that seem pretty wide open, it can be difficult to find visible locations that are out of range.  

So far I am enjoying my rifle.  It seems that it’s still possible to hit stuff without a one holer custom job.  Who woulda thunk it?

Match Suggestions:

I have a couple suggestions for the format of the match.  The tie breakers are a little cumbersome and time consuming.  The matches are also pretty long, though I understand not much can be done about that.  I would think that putting greater emphasis on time would help with both.  Give the scorers or their assistants electronic timers.  In the event of a tie, the shooter with the lower time wins.  I would just about guarantee that just the presence of a timer and having a beep as a starting signal would ratchet up the shooter’s motivation to work quickly and efficiently (or at least fast and fumbly).  I think this, without any other encouragement for the shooters to hurry, would significantly reduce the time each shooter takes to complete a stage.  I think this could realistically turn a what now takes 10 hours into an 8 hour match.  
The other suggestion I would make is to put pictures of the animals (the targets) you are talking about next to its name on the score sheet, so everyone, even people that are clueless about hunting, will be able to see what you are talking about and everyone can speak and understand a common language.
One last suggestion would be to get a sponsor to donate a fancy custom rifle and make the person who finishes in whatever place I finish in the winner of it.  That would be very, very, very fair.
Thank you Caleb for a great shoot!

Long Range Competition, Big Game Part 1

This was my second ever long range rifle competition.  My first was detailed hereand took place a few months earlier.  The format was similar.  14 targets from 467 to 1060 yards.  12 of the targets counted for normal score, which means a first round hit is good for 1 point, and a second round hit is a half point.  2 of them were bonus targets, meaning a 1st round hit was worth 2 points.  The big game bonus targets did allow for a second shot in the attempt of a missed 1st round shot, the 2nd round hit being worth 0.5 points.  
This course was different than the previous long range shoot in that the course was broken into 2 different stages, whereas the previous shoot was all in one stage.  This made for a more varied and interesting shoot.  There were also 2 bonus targets this time.  I can’t remember if the bonus target on the previous shoot was worth 2 points or not.
The plan was to shoot the “big game” portion of the shoot with the Sako TRG in .338 Lapua.  I had some last minute “technical difficulties” with that rifle.  I decided to only bring one rifle for both the small game and big game, the FN PBR-XP, which is a .308 Winchester.  The only ammo I brought was Federal Gold Medal Match 168 grain, which is said to get awfully erratic at around 800 yards.
On the last shoot I really had no expectations as to how well I would do.  I ended up with 9 points, which put me in a 3 way tie for second place.  On this shoot I had thought that I could do much better… until I realized that I would be shooting with a .308.  Folks shooting .308’s at the previous shoot had a lot of trouble.  I think the best I saw someone do was 7 points, and he seemed like he really knew what he was doing.  He was pushing a 155 Palma bullet at over 3000 fps.  I decided that if I got 7 points this time I would be happy, and if I got 9 that would be about the best I could expect.
A funny thing about rifle competitions is that you can watch someone else shoot it and realize that their performance has absolutely nothing to do with yours.  Each performance is almost like a fingerprint.  I watched a lot of people shoot, and I hope I learned a lot of good lessons from them.  One thing I realized is that one person may shoot it great, another may have trouble, but neither gives me any idea how I might expect to do.  The only way to figure out how you might do is to go and do it.
I shot my first big game course of the day at around noon.  Here’s what the course looked like:
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The bottom diagonal line is a road or trail upon which 5 targets were placed, from as the card says, 467 to 575 yards.  My drawing wasn’t good enough?  Ok here’s a photo:
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I’ll try to paint the picture for you.  This photo was taken from a gravel road parallels the side of the canyon shown in the photo.  The firing point for that stage was to the “left” of where the photo was taken from, which means that the targets at the firing station were a little farther than they appear in the photo.  You can see (if you really look hard) four of the closest targets, an antelope (I think) to the far left at 467 yards, another antelope at 491, a buck at 500 (the range card was incorrect as far as the labels), and a bear at 547.  Down and to the right, out of the photo is a moose at 575.  Here’s a closer look at the center two:
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The top line of the range card depicts the top of the hill.  To the right is an elk at 789 and a buck, which was the bonus target, at 771.
If the targets are the same size as they were last time, here’s the breakdown of the scoring areas: The antelope were 8″, deer 10″, bear 12″, elk 14″ and moose was 16″.  Here’s what a buck looks like up close:
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Here’s a photo of more targets that I lifted from Caleb’s photobucket page:
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The time limit on this course was 10 minutes.  I finished in 8:41.  Here’s how it went for me.
1.    Antelope, 467, first round hit.
2.    Antelope, 491, no hits
3.    Buck, 500, second round hit
4.    Bear, 547, first round hit.
5.    Moose 575, first round hit.
6.    Elk, 784, second round hit.
7.    Buck, 771, BONUS TARGET, first round hit.
That was 6 points, and only halfway done.  I don’t think I ever rushed it like I did on the first shoot I did.  One part of my shooting plan had been not to dial wind for this course, just to hold for it.  I think I dialed the first 2 or 3 shots until I remembered that.  It appears that the plate for target 2 was hanging only by 1 of its 2 sections of fire hose, which means it was dangling a bit to the side. 
I felt alright about that stage.  I shouldn’t have missed any of the shots on the first five.  What I was picking up along the way is that my ballistics program was giving me data that sent my shots a little high.  I noticed on the small game portion, but I noticed it more so on the big game.  I had to dial about 0.2 less pretty consistently once I figured it out.
I was almost to my goal of 7 points for the big game.  The next part would have longer shots, and my confidence of my system’s ability to make them was not great.  Stay tuned…

Long Range Competition, Part 2: Small Game


This was the beginning of my 2nd time shooting at a “precision rifle” match.  My first course of the day was the small game course.  This consisted of a total of 14 targets, 12 of which could be engaged for “normal” score, and one for a bonus target.  One was just an extra, I guess. 
Normal targets were 1 point for a first round hit and a half point in the event of a second round hit.  If the target was not hit it 2 rounds, the score was marked at zero.  On the bonus target, a first round hit counted for 2 points, and there was no opportunity for a second shot.  The targets were placed from 96 to 544 yards and consisted of steel silhouettes of rabbits, crows, bobcats, rockchucks, and coyotes.
The challenging part of this course for me was just locating and ID’ing the targets.  An accomplished varmint shooter, I AM NOT.  People were ID’ing the same type of targets as ground squirrels, rock chucks, ground hogs.  I pretty much know what crows and rabbits are (I have even shot a few actual rabbits), so those were no problem.  I could tell a bobcat in real life, but it took me a few seconds to get all the targets straight, never mind that they were difficult to locate and see (a rockchuck at 544 yards is not really visible to my naked eye).
I did make a range card ahead of time (barely ahead of time), but the terminology and locations had me second guessing it.  Also there was another big factor that would probably influence my entire day for better or worse: I did not have a partner to spot for me.  In the case of the small game course the scorer did double duty as scorer and spotter.  He assisted with the distances (he actually was in possession of a rangefinder!).
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My messy and confusing range card.  It was my worst range card sketch of the day, and the only one that I didn’t really trust.  That had more to do with finding the targets and knowing which one it was on the card.

This course had a few distinct differences from the others for me.  I was a little nervous being the first shooter of the day.  I had no real time to study the course and what was going on.  There wasn’t much wind to speak of, and what wind there was came from 3 o’clock (full value).  I dialed for wind rather than holding.  I took almost the full allotted time.

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Here I am standing at the shooting position, just prior to beginning.  The primary target “fan” is the open area to the right.

Here are the targets, ranges, and my results in the order I engaged them:
1.    Rabbit, 96 yards, steep downward angle (~30°).  First round hit.
2.    Crow, 248 yards.  First round hit.
3.    Rockchuck, 276 yards.  First round hit.
4.    Bobcat, 401 yards.  First round hit.
5.    Rockchuck, 395 yards.  Second round hit.
6.    Rabbit, 364 yards.  Second round hit.
7.    Coyote, 393 yards.  First round hit.
8.    Rabbit, 432 yards.  First round hit.
9.    Bobcat, 510 yards.  First round hit.
10.  Coyote, 522 yards.  Second round hit.
11.  Crow, 350 yards.  First round hit.
12.  Rockchuck, 544 yards.  First round hit!
13.  Bonus: Rockchuck, 535 yards.  Miss.
That makes 9 first round hits, 3 second round hits, and one miss on the bonus target.  For a system (rifle, scope, ammo, shooter) that 3 days earlier hit 1 out of 10 times on a humanoid steel target at ~515 yards, this was better than I expected.  Actually I really didn’t know what to expect, but let’s say I was pleased with how it went. 

I used my iPhone Shooter app to provide the comeups.  It’s pretty straightforward and quick.  It also seemed to be giving me data that sent my shots a little high.  For a few minutes I was suspecting that I was being given ranges that were longer than actual, but I don’t think that was the case.  

The shooting position was angled upward.  I had my bipod sunk over the end of it to get lower, and it was still not low enough.  I was flexing my back up for just about all of it.  The rifle butt was too high to use a rear bag, which didn’t seem to matter much.

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Looks like the crow I’m shooting at here.  It’s a bit of a downward angle, but not much.

My wife told me that there were grumblings that I exceeded the 15 minute time limit.  I recorded the entire thing with my voice recorder, and I can say definitively that I did not exceed the time limit.  My last shot came it at 14:32.  So there!
This was my only opportunity to spot for another shooter.  Spotting was my big challenge at the previous shoot.  I basically redeemed myself.  I discovered that most of my problem the previous time was that I was using my hot .338 Lapua’s scope to spot with.  They get REALLY HOT and the barrel didn’t have any time to cool off before my spotting stint.  This time I used the official spotter binos on a tripod and was able to score the scorer while he shot the course.  He cleaned all of his regular targets, by the way.  His only miss was the bonus target.  Very nice shooting, and he was not even the winner.  Neither was I!

I had two more courses to left to shoot.  Bigger game, longer distances.  Stay tuned for harrowing descriptions of the action!!!

Angle Shooting Made Easy

The long range competition I shot recently was in hilly country.  The description of the location said something about angle shooting.  I’m not one to disregard little clues like that, so I decided to get things squared away.

“Why are all you guys so concerned about the angles?” a visitor at the competition asked me before it started.  I’m no rocket surgeon, but I’ll do my best to explain.

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Gravity apparently only works over the horizontal portion of the bullet’s flight.  I don’t know why, ask the inventor.  You can see in the photo of a steep downhill shot that the actual distance from the eye to the target is much longer than the horizontal distance.  According to the bullet, the horizontal distance is the only part that matters.  You’d end up shooting high if you corrected for the actual distance.  This would be the same whether you were shooting uphill or downhill.    
There are a few ways to deal with angle shooting.  The fancy phone apps like I use has the ability to adjust for it.  I believe you press a “button” on the screen and it allows you to “aim” the phone to the target and it reads the angle and adjusts for it.  Too much fiddling with crap that I can’t manipulate for my liking.  I’m doing my best to get off that technology crutch.
Another popular option is to plant an angle cosine indicator right on the scope or scope mount.  This is a little cylindrical doodad that has sort of a rotating level that gives a number to plug into a calculator or something to multiply your actual range by.  It looks okay, but if you get into strapping and bolting stuff to your rifle, it’s a dangerous game, a slippery slope, and before you know it your M4 weighs 17 lbs.
There’s another item called a slope doper, which is a handheld analog device that does something similar to what the angle cosine indicator does.  Getting closer, but I already owned something that I think is plenty easy to use.

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What I didn’t show you in the article on reticle rangefinding was the back of the MilDot Master:

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One of the grommets around the corners of the MilDot Master is a pivot point for a weighted line.  Attach the line there, and there is a degree scale.  Sight along the top of the MilDot Master to your target.  Allow the weighted line a moment to settle.  I find that once it settles it helps to pinch it in place so it can be moved to get a reading.
I had never used my MilDot Master for angles before.  I had never even attached the weighted line before preparing for this competition.  Luckily, one of the first things I found in the river adjacent to our campground was a discarded piece of fishing line with two lead sinkers.  Coincidentally, I have two MilDot Masters!  I felt kind of like Mark, collecting lead to save the planet!
When you sight your angle along the top, the weighted string will hang along a printed number on the side of the MilDot Master.  The angle will show on the side of the MilDot Master like in this blurry picture that shows a sighted angle of 29 degrees up:

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Sight to your target along the top of the MilDot Master (see top red arrow).  The angle is indicated on the side (see bottom red arrow).

Then you can look on the front of the MilDot Master where it indicates your actual “Target Range”.  If you look below it you will see the converted distances for various angles.  In the case of the photo, the actual distance of 500 yards would be converted to about 432 yards (that’s probably enough difference to matter):

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Disregard the actual “Target Range”.  Find your angle underneath and it will indicate which range you should use to correct for your elevation.

When you holdover or dial your correction, use the adjusted distance for angle shooting instead of your actual distance.  It’s easy and pretty quick.  If the batteries on your MilDot Master wear out, or the electronics get fried, I’m sure they will replace it.  Oh whoops, there aren’t any batteries or electronics.
After working with the angles a bit, I discovered that it really takes a steep angle and/or a long shot for the angle to actually factor into the firing solution in a way that will affect the outcome.  During the competition, I had one shot that was fairly steep, something on the order of 30 degrees, but it was at 96 yards.  The corrected distance did not require any adjustment, and I got a dead center hit.  In fact I don’t believe any of the shots I took that day required any adjustment.  Just think of it as another tool in the bag “just in case”.

Post Script:

After writing this I was thinking about angle cosine indicators.  I realized that the word “cosine” in the description of the item was likely to be indicative of something.  I’m not a math person at all, but I think I figured out how to work the cosine function on excel.  I discovered that it was true.  What this means is that the same function works for angled fire up and down, movers, and oblique wind.  If one learned the wind clock well enough, it would be pretty useful…  Can there be any doubt of God’s existence or that He smiles down on rifle shooters?  

If a math nerd could confirm that for me I would appreciate it.


Another Long Range Competition, Part 1: Preparation

I took some time off of all my hard work at my job for the opportunity of travelling to Idaho for another long range shoot in Hell’s Canyon, Idaho.  This was another shoot put on by Caleb at the Sportsman’s Challenge.  This shoot was a little more extensive than the previous shoot I attended.
This shoot, like the last one, had both a small game and big game course available to the shooters.  I skipped the small game course last time, as the limit on caliber was a .243 at that time.  They opened it up to .308 for this one, and I have one of those!
Before getting into the details of the shoot and how I did, I thought it would be helpful to all my readers if I gave some general tips for success in these events.  

Arrive Early
We got to the campground early to get a good spot.  Good thing we did.  I’ll get to that in a minute.  We were also running a couple days early.  This was nice because I wasn’t going to be arriving at the campground late in the evening.  I’ll also get to that in a minute.  I was also able to be a tourist.

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I’m still honing my feeble skills at tourism.  People seem nervous around me for some reason.  Some of them actually screamed and ran.  I still don’t understand why.  I was poorly socialized as a child or something I guess. 

I arrived unintentionally early to the shoot.  No cell phone for me, so my time isn’t automatically updated.  I was wondering, Pacific or Mountain time?  The GPS said Mountain.  I showed up at the shoot and found out I was very early.  Pacific it was.
At the range my early arrival gave me time to pick up the necessary information that I needed.  Good thing.  I was the first one on the line shooting.

Get Plenty of Rest

I arrived early at my campground and got the tent set up.  It’s been a good while since I went tent camping.  I was using one of those thin blue mats, which doesn’t do a whole lot for comfort.  There were a couple clues about the campground that should have alerted me of things to come: there was a boat launch nearby and not much to do at the campground itself.

About the time I was finally starting to doze I discovered something about river rafting folk: they like to show up to the campground at about midnight driving a diesel pickup.  Then they like to put flashlights on their heads and loudly go about making camp.  Not just normal loud like daytime, but super obnoxious- as in probably been drinking.  They also all have dogs that like to investigate other camps.  After about an hour they seemed to be settling down and I dozed off to a much disturbed slumber, punctuated by occasionally waking up and discovering numb body parts. 
Luckily, that experience did not occur on the night before the event (I had arrived early after all).  On the night before I slept reasonably well.

Be Sociable
My first words upon emerging from my tent were, “GET THE HELL OUT OF HERE!!!”  There was a pit bull at my tent door, apparently trying to get in to either greet or eat my two small yappers.  Not being a trusting soul, and not wanting a dogfight around me or in the vicinity of my loved ones, I wasn’t feeling too very friendly.  I spent the next hour and a half scowling at my late to bed, early to rise, responsible pet ownin’, river raftin’ neighbors.  They finally left for good.
I had already driven off another camper who drove up and asked me for my spot (it being the prime spot with some river front beach access).  He had planted a trailer in the spot next to it and was hoping to secure two adjacent spots.  I felt a little bad, but not enough to relinquish my claim and move.  I guess I scowled at him too, because he moved both of his trailers to another campground within an hour of the initial contact.  A hint to him for future reference: If you want two spots, pay for them both when you’re there to secure the first one. 
Mark would have been much friendlier than I was.  He has a knack for making conversation with anyone.

Be Very Well Acquainted With Your Shooting System
I had shot a total of 99 rounds through my rifle during a single range session consisting of zeroing and a scope tracking test.  That was probably pleennty, but I decided to take it out just one more time to see how things were holding up.

I was very curious to see how the cold bore would hit.

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                 The cold bore shot is marked by the blue pen.

Cold bore was just fine.  The errant shot on the left was another instance in which the recoil cycle of the rifle let me know something wasn’t right.
I took the rifle out to the 500-520ish line to shoot at Steele, you remember, this guy:

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Steele is so big that it should be child’s play for me to be making head shots on him from the top of the hill, but something about that firing location is always getting the better of me.  I doped the wind and put all the info into the ballistics program, dialed all my knobs very scientifically.  I got one shot out of 10.  I couldn’t correct my shots because I got a big cloud of dust every time I fired.

The video has just an example:



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This location gets me every time.  The wife thinks I need a laser rangefinder.  Probably do.

I rezeroed my knobs, moved down to 400, held over 2.5 mils, and got five pings on Steele for each of my five shots.  Straightforward is good.

Come Prepared
I don’t own a rangefinder.  The course of the particular competition was to involve difficult enough shots that precise range data would be a necessity.  I had planned to borrow a rangefinder, but it didn’t work out due to a last minute change in my travel schedule. 
I recently wrote a series of articles about determining the range to your target.  I need to add to that the art of doing like you did in high school: copy someone else’s work (preferably with their permission).  I latched onto a nice man who was calling out numbers to his grand-daughter.  I made a sketch of the terrain and targets, and plugged his numbers in on my diagram.  I got numbers on two of the three shooting positions from him.  I asked around for the other, and a guy rapid fired off to me a series of animals (targets) and numbers.  He gave me ranges for 7 targets in about 10 seconds.  It pays to be good with a notebook, which of course I am.

Take Time to Recover from the Event
Thursday night had been a noisy mess trying to sleep with rowdy raftin’ folk.  Friday was uneventful.  I had hopes that all of the ruckus had passed.  On Saturday, after the event, I was sore and tired.  At about 2230 I heard the sound of a truck passing over the cattle grate at the campground entrance.  “Just go to the boat launch.  Just go to the boat launch.  Just go to the boat launch”, I repeated like a child hiding from a ghost.  Then I saw the headlights on the wall of my tent.  I heard the diesel engine approach, pass, then loop out of the campground.  Were they leaving?  Had my prayers been answered?  No, they had to confirm that the best spot to camp in was which one?  The one next to mine of course!
Again with the headlights and loud setting of camp (just normal loud, not obnoxious drunken loud like last time).  Fortunately, they did not inflate their boat that evening.  They saved that for 0630.  How considerate!  All in all, the second set of boaters were not nearly as obnoxious as the first.  I don’t think I scowled at them at all, at least not where they could see me.

I’ll get into the grimy details of the event in the next few days.

Testing the SWFA SS 3-9×42: Part 2

My previous test with the SWFA scope suffered from a few methodological problems.  First, I relied on the iPhone voice recorder to document my sight settings, learning only after the fact that a large boom like a braked .338 Lapua Magnum will cause the microphone to turn on and off.  That caused me to lose a bunch of necessary data.  Second, by the time I was done shooting 34 rounds of the .338 my shoulder was not feeling its best.  I may have developed a flinch during that test.  Third, was it a test of the scope’s tracking or my ability to estimate the correction to reach the randomly placed dots?  Fourth, there was no objective measurement of the reticle.
This time the scope was mounted to the rifle it goes on, the FN PBR-XP.  Recoil wise, it’s a pussycat.  The rifle was advertised in the Gunbroker ad as never having been fired.  There was no wear at all to speak of, so I believe it.  Me and my new rifle, all decked out in its new scope, went to the range.
In my previous experiences zeroing scopes with matching reticles and turrets, I would try to do the one shot zero thing.  It has always taken me 3 shots total to get the rifle dialed in, as the first shot seemed to be misleading as to where it was actually zeroed.  This time I took a drastically different approach and shot groups of five before touching anything.  I learned that the first shot was quite a ways away from the rest, in this case about 3 inches at 100 yards.  Maybe it takes a shot to get the system “seated”.

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I threw out the first round and by looking through my reticle I determined that the rest of the group was 2.6 mils low and 0.7 mils left and adjusted the turrets accordingly.  It got me close to the bull, with a 5 round group coming in a just under an inch.

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I gave the turrets 0.2 down and 0.3 left and fired off another 5.

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The above group is a little frustrating for what could have been, but exciting that I’m starting to know ahead of time when those rounds are “steered” a little differently because of the difference in the recoil cycle.  It’s not a matter of the shot being called bad visually at the break, but something different happening in the process just after.
On to the tracking test.  I wanted a target that would be useful to measure the reticle in a more objective fashion.  A mil is 3.6” at 100 yards, since 100 yards is 3600 inches and a milliradian subtends exactly 1/1000 of the distance to the target.  I got out the old dial calipers and measure off a grid.  I printed off a copy of the photo below and used it as a range card.

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The squares are all 3.6 inches apart, except for the rectangles formed by center vertical lines, which are 0.66 of a mil (not thinking ahead about the size of posterboard I was using).  I took an extra minute while hanging the target to get it nice and plumb. 

For this target to work as intended, the distance to the target has to be exactly 100 yards.  The best way is probably to actually tape it off.  I borrowed an officially calibrated laser rangefinder that reads in 0.1’ increments.  I measured 300’ to the scope’s turrets.
The first step was simply to view the grid through the scope and see if the grid lines and right and left dots matched up to the mils in the reticle.  They did.
The next phase was the tracking test.  I used groups of three shots for each turret adjustments.  I started at zero, and after every shot group of three in which I adjusted my turrets to a different point I returned the turrets to zero and fired another group.  My point of aim for the first 8 groups (24 shots)  of the test was the bottom left dot, while my point of aim for the second 8 groups of the test was the bottom right dot.  I used my turret adjustments to try to hit various dots throughout the target while aiming at the same dot for every group.
Instead of using the reticle to read the distance between dots, I used my photo of the target grid to do so.  I’ll just go through the whole test group by group without too much jabber.  Each photo will be preceded by its group number and the amount of mils I dialed to hit that particular dot.
 
Zero group for the left dot (right windage dialing portion of the target).  An aggregate of four separate groups of 3 shots fired after redialing my knobs to zero between “dialed up” groups.  12 shots:
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The penciled in numbers indicate group size, center to center, and the distance in mils of the group center from the dot center.
 
Group 2, 3.0 up, 2.0 right.  I placed a few dots right on grid intersections so they would be nice, even numbers.  This removed entirely my ability, or lack thereof, to interpret the location of the dot to a tenth mil.022

Group 4, 6.3 up, 1.4 right:023

Group 6, 9.0 up, 0.0 windage:024

Group 8, 4.0 up, 6.7 right (all the way to the other side of the target):025

Group 9 was a zero check on the open grid.

Right side zero dot, groups 10, 12, 14, and 16:026

Group 11, 3.0 up, 2.0 left:028

Group 13, 7.1 up, 2.6 left:029 (2)

Group 15, 8.6 up, 1.9 left:030

Group 17, 4.0 up, 6.7 left (again, all the way to the other side of the target):031 (2)

Here’s the entire target after all said and done with the group numbers indicated for your reference.  The broken group indicated in pink was a result of forgetting to return the elevation knob to zero.

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It seems like the elevation knob became more accurate as I dialed.  I wonder if I was working through some caked up grease or something.  Ilya would probably know if that is likely or not.
All in all, I would say that I can’t tell whether any inaccuracy would be caused by the scope, the rifle, or me.  Good enough for now.