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:
081
A little closer so you can read:
082
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!

11 thoughts on “Competition Finale: The Little Rifle That Could

  1. Nice shooting! I was a little surprised that you went with a .308 in the new rifle choice, for the very concerns you had going into this match, but it’s nice to know that platform is capable of performing well, out of its depths, even with sub-optimal ammo.

    I count up your overall score at 11; what was the winning score, and where did yours fall, or is that information being withheld for (*ahem*) security reasons?

    • I was surprised at my choice of cartridge also. The FN’s are kind of like the early Fords, any cartridge you want as long as it’s .308 or .300 WSM. .308 ammo is also easy to come by cheap.

      Burning our the barrel will be good preparation for a better barrel and better long range cartridge.

      The high score was 11.5. There were two people with the same score. They had some sort of shoot off for the tie breaker. Security is high…(*ahem*)… very high.

  2. Very enjoyable to read. Thanks for the expanded mindset on what you where thinking. So far i have very much enjoyed reading your blog

  3. Good Shooting! And a new rifle with factory ammo to boot. Back when I shot NRA LR scope matches I used the hold off method with a regular target cross hair reticle but the target was always the same size so it could be done consistently. If the wind was howling I put on the dope that would generally keep shots on the 6×6 foot target then use hold off for the changes unless there was a long lull or general change in velocity. That method allows for faster shooting in fewer condition changes.
    I would be lost in a contest like you just excelled in.

    • There are people like Gunny Hathcock who could work magic with a regular reticle. This modern stuff is nice for us mere mortals.

      I doubt you would be lost. You have been reading this blog after all (humor alert).

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