Sometimes the simplest conversation can turn into a seriously encompassing project. The conversation was between my old friend, David Motsinger and me. David and I began our competitive shooting career together at a police pistol match in 1976; we’ve been shooting together since and we have a lot of history.
As we were driving back from the range one day, I remarked how impressed I was with the modern sporting rifle, the AR-15. When I shot NRA High Power almost 30 years ago, I had low regard for the little black rifle, but the success and versatility of it has won my heart. I was extolling the virtues of AR-15s when David made a remark about how it could perform, but only when it was extensively modified for only one particular application. He observed that, if the AR-15 was truly versatile, it could handle a wide variety of tasks without changing the gas system, barrel, and almost everything else for each individual task. I said I thought a well prepared AR could handle conventional high power, three gun competitions and hunting. As we drove home, I worked out a plan.
Last year, I shot the National Defense Match, my grandson won the junior championship, and we both used a standard DPMS Prairie Panther. This year, I’ve since used that gun, totally unaltered, in a couple of two gun matches and won a local NRA High Power Match. It has proved reliable, accurate, and it’s priced low enough that almost anyone can afford one.
This year at SHOT Show, I ran into Dave Wilcox at the Colt booth. He was introducing the new Colt CRE 18 Competition Rifle and I was impressed. The CRE 18 is a 3-gun-ready rifle with a lightened bolt carrier, an adjustable gas system, and Gisele trigger. It has a 1-8 twist 18” match barrel. With a one MOA guarantee it could serve as a reasonable target rifle and, at seven pounds, it could be a viable hunting rifle.
I talked to the new NRA Competitions Director, Dennis Willing, at the Bianchi Cup and the NRA Show and decided to try my hand at shooting a lightweight 3-gun rifle across the course in the National High Power Championships. I’m not unfamiliar with Camp Perry. I shot 16 years at Perry and most of that was with an M1A service rifle. I’m pretty certain I can shoot the scoped Colt as well as an iron sighted service rifle and I’m very certain I’m going to find out. The shorter sight radius on the Colt won’t be a handicap since the NRA now has an Any Sight, Tactical class now in the Championship. With the 18” barrel, the velocities will be a little lower, so I will have to dope the wind a little closer.
My choice of optics took some consideration. I know from a previous experience that a fixed 16 to 24 power scope won’t work in conventional High Power. The problem is the distance between the center of the target and the number board on the shorter ranges. With high magnification, you simply can’t see the target and the number board in one field of view. My experience involved a cross fire and subsequent, constant checking during rapid fires to make sure I was shooting the right target. Last year, I tested the Bushnell Tactical series 6-24 and I loved the turret system, the bright optics and the generous minutes of adjustment. I can shoot the two hundred yard line at six power, bump up to 10 or 12 for 300 and go on to 24X at 600 yards. While I’ve never tried it with the Bushnell, I used to read the wind directly through my old B 24 Leupold and, if that works like I think it will, I can avoid missing the wind in the transition from spotting scope to rifle, something that cost me more than once during my service rifle days.
In keeping with the versatility theme, I’ve chosen Hornady Steel Match Ammunition for this event, using the 75 grain load that will work just fine with the 1-8 twist barrel. With one MOA capability I really don’t feel I’ll be handicapped.
At this point, I still don’t have my rifle. I do have a powerful tool to get in shape for shooting the match, though. I have a Compass Lake rimfire upper I used to train for last year’s National Defense Match. This is a serious competition level rimfire upper that will shoot less than 3/8” ten shot groups off the bench. With it scoped and with a sling swivel, I’m shooting every day at 50 yards on reduced targets.
You might wonder how effective shooting a .22 at 50 yards is in helping you shoot a center-fire out to 600 yards. With reduced targets, it is almost identical to shooting the centerfire and it puts this rusty old shooter back into position, sighting, and trigger control habits. When I practice with the Compass Lake, I go through the same regimen I would on the line at Perry. My prep is identical, the rifle is identical as far as position is concerned and the accuracy on the Compass Lake is so good, I can diagnose any issue I have with position, sighting, or trigger.
Going through all the prep is as important as practicing your shooting. You must be able to handle your gear without distraction. If you’re aggravated that your scope stand is placed wrong, it will reflect on your score. This is precision shooting and every distraction costs you points.
Practice every shot as if it were part of the match, begin rapid fire strings in the same way, visualize rising targets, load and begin your string. If you are practicing as I am at short range with a rimfire, make sure you continue to monitor the wind, even though it’s having little effect. Forgetting to check the wind in a 600 yard shot can result in a devastating loss of points. Try to isolate parts of your practice routine that might cause you to make mistakes in a match when doing everything right counts. Rigid practice habits will help you run through the match smoothly.
Now, I have it all figured out. I’m getting practiced up; my Colt shipped today. I have a couple of weeks to practice up and get back in shape. Watch for a follow-up story on what’s involved in getting ready to shoot the National High Power Championship. It’s going to be a challenge, but it’s going to be fun.
Image courtesy Dick Jones