F-Class Competition As Training For The Hunt By Jim Collier
"The witch was in full force, I'd danced with her awhile and she lied to me and led me everywhere but the X-ring" unknown author
The antelope was about 800 yards away and the wind was gusting between 18 and 25 miles per hour. The 115 grain Berger missed so badly that not a hair was cut. The next antelope was about 950 yards away and the bullet flew so wide it barley even landed within the same county. The third antelope was about 750 yards and once again the bullet missed completely.
We found another herd that was at 650 yards but they moved to about 700 yards and one more time I put the crosshairs on an isolated doe. I could see the wind whipping the dried grass all around the doe and feel it buffeting me around. I looked through the Leupold for a long time trying to figure out how to tell Jimm that I couldn’t make the shot and that I was going to mess things up if I shot anymore. Finally, I rose up and said “I don’t think I should shoot anymore. Why don’t we call it a day”? We had each killed an antelope at moderate ranges that by noon day so it was not like we needed to try to shoot long range in those winds.
So Jimm and I got to discussing winds and how we could sharpen up our wind reading skill and both decided that F-class was the answer. Neither one of us knew anything about F-class other than it was prone with bipod at long range.
So, about December or January I emailed Dave King, the fountain of all knowledge, and asked where he shot F-class and he sent back “North Carolina”. I then asked about if there was anything nearby and he said Quantico Shooting Club. So I began the rather peculiar process of becoming a member. The website not being up to date said I should pay one amount but the dues had been raised and I needed to pay a different amount so about three months later I finally got every thing squared away. I also learned that they did not even have F-class matches but might be trying some out in the future.
So in January, Quantico scheduled a “practice’ F-class match and I had no rifle so I took my antelope rifle. The 240 Wby burns a good bit of powder and to shoot 15 to 20 rounds at less than a minute spacing was not going to be good for the barrel. What I did was inform the officials that I would only be shooting 5-7 shoots at each target and they informed the pits not to be expecting the regular number of rounds.
It was interesting to me that my drop charts for the rifle were exactly correct for 800, 900 and 1000 yards (with temperature and altitude corrections of course). Every bullet would have killed an elk but not every bullet would have killed an antelope. So it was clear that if I was going to shoot antelope out to and past 1K that I needed to improve my skills. The chief thing that happened on that trip to Quantico was that I met the people and they met me. I found out what the range looked like, how big the targets were and how to pull and score targets and what equipment I would need. In other words, I became comfortable enough with my surroundings to relax and concentrate on my shooting. This is a big thing for most of us to overcome – first time jitters.
Now then, you cannot shoot F-class with your way-overbore magnum rifle, so I needed an F-class gun. Once I again I emailed the fount of all knowledge and asked if he might have a “cheap” F-class gun. The reply came back that he didn’t own any “cheap guns” but I might try to find a Savage in 308. Off I went to my gun shop to get a Savage but there was none of the correct model Savages in stock and they were back ordered.
Well, I made a post on Long Range Hunting forum whining and complaining about not being able to find an F-class gun and finally Dave decided to show a little mercy and offered to sell me a 40X switch barrel F-class rifle. The rifle had a 28 inch 308 barrel match chambered for the 175SMK and two 6 BR barrels in different twists. Well, I didn’t want the 6BR stuff. All I wanted was a dirt simple 308. Just something that was a known simple cartridge that was accurate and would shoot to 1,000 yards accurately and not burn out the barrel. Those things were important to me.
This was a “practice gun” to learn how to shoot well in the wind. I knew with a 308 that you just poured Varget in the case and hammered in a Sierra Matchking and you were good to go for about 3,000 to 5,000 rounds. There would be no need to re-barrel every year. Some of the other simple cartridges are the 243, 260 and 284. These are gentle on the barrel, easy to get good accuracy and have low recoil. I would simply reiterate the point that this is a practice gun. If you are obsessed with wining instead of just improving your hunting skills then you would probably choose something different. Perhaps you would screw on the 6BR fast twist barrel. You could follow Jerry Teo’s recipe (LINK HERE) and come away with a nice F-Class rifle.
So now I had a Clay Spencer crafted Remington 40X single shot competition rifle and some RWS brass. I needed some dies. ABINOK and others had made a number of posts about how easy and accurate and cheap the Lee neck dies were to use to get low runout. So I decided that what I needed was an idiot proof, low runout guaranteed, die and ordered me one and a Redding seater. Dave King being meticulous had written on the boxes of brass his recipe of Varget and 175 SMK's, so I decided that was good enough for me. I am not a guy who enjoys shooting paper and likes to spend hours at a range testing loads. I fooled around for a couple of hours and got a seating depth to the lands established and I was ready to make some bullets.
Interesting point is that the fired cases come out of the match chamber with less than 0.001 runout and I can actually keep them under 0.002 with the Lee die. I have some trouble getting consistent neck tension with it, but I think that is a matter of practice. None of my hunting bullets come out with so little runout but loading for competition has certainly made me get out the runout gauge and wipe the dust off of it so I could use it more often.
The first F-class match was scheduled for March and it coincided with my son being home on spring break so I sent him an email and asked if he want to go and shoot F-class at 1000 yards. He said he would like that but he didn’t want to be embarrassed in front of a lot of people so the gun better shoot good. Quantico scheduled another practice session and I took the 40X and a computer generated drop chart. I checked the zero at 100 yards and got it exactly correct. We moved to 800 yards and I got the drops for there and then we moved back to 900yards and did the same. Finally at 1000 yards I had a little difficulty with the wind blowing, getting exactly the correct drop but I got some numbers finally. All of these setting were carefully recorded in the shooting book as well as the temperatures.
Phil got home Saturday night and I showed him the gun for the first time and tried to explain to him what we were actually going to do the next day. I had never shot in a real F-class match so I was not totally clear myself what was going to happen. Phil had never shot at anything past 200 yards and never dialed up on a scope nor used a reticle like the NightForce NP-R2 nor ever shot from a bipod. He was however used to me putting a gun in front of him and telling him what to shoot at. I assured him the gun was going to be dead on and all he had to do was keep the cross hairs still while he squeezed the trigger.
So bright and early on Sunday we were at Quantico. I pointed out to him the sponsored competition ex-marine sniper, the Vietnam SOG guy and the other ex-marine sniper and that he should not expect to beat these guys, but he should just relax and learn that it is easy to hit the targets if you have a good gun and you do your part properly.
So as luck would have it he was paired with the sponsored competition ex-marine sniper and that would be one of the highlights of his day. The guy was blowing out brass in preparation for an upcoming money match and was just using the match as an opportunity to shoot the brass. His unfired brass didn’t fit the chamber well and the cases would slide forward when struck by the firing pin. He would have hang-fires and misses and would cuss and swear and blame everyone and everything for his poor results.
But he taught Phil how to keep score and do all of the little things that you need to do. Phil really brightened up when his first two shoots were 10’s and he relaxed and just enjoyed being out with a bunch of goofy people. At every distance, I would dial up the scope for Phil, set the bipod and lay out the bullets on the cloth. All he had to do was shoot. Perhaps some people have never shot targets at 1000 yards or cannot remember the first time they tried, but 1000 yards is an intimidating distance. Phil was amazed at how easy it was to hit the target. Of course he had no understanding of all of the front-end prep work that Clay Spencer, Dave King and I had done for him. He wouldn’t have known a MOA from a toad frog nor could he read a drop chart. However, what he did know was that he had shot with some very good people and had done just fine and had a good time.
The next day I showed him how to read a drop chart and dial up a scope. One thing that was clear to me from dialing in the 40X and watching Phil shoot the match was that the scope was too high, so I installed a Shawn Carlock Cheek piece which helps a lot.
This was Phil’s long range shooting training for going on the Chris Matthews Long shot Rifle Hog hunt in May. While he only got one shot at 400 yards at a hog, he knew how to get set himself up prone with a bipod, focus his scope and read his drop chart and dial in the drops for the range because of one session at F-class. Fortunately, we had no wind to contend with for that hunt. The middle spotted pig is Phil’s.
F-class varies a lot from place to place, but at Quantico it is prone with a bipod or bag (but no mechanical rest) and a rear bag. Each shot is marked so you can see where you hit and there is a code shown on the target so you will know your score for that shot. At 800 yards you have unlimited sighters and 15 rounds for score. At 900 yards you have only two sighters and 15 rounds for score. At 1000 yards you have two sighters and 20 rounds for score. This provides you with a lot of opportunities to experiment with techniques and try new things. If you shoot a 308, then any little wind will prove to be a challenge. A 10 mph wind will move the 175 SMK about 100 inches. You will be hitting the next guy’s target. This is no trivial exercise in judgment.
The targets we use are “centers” pinned over non-standard F-class targets. The X rings is 5 inches, the 10 ring is 10 inches, the 9 ring is 20 inches and the 8 ring is 30 inches. At 1000 yards this is about 0.5, 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0 MOA. Lots of people like to come up on the various forums and say how their rifle shoots one raggedy hole and what a great shot they are and how they never miss. Well, I will say that with a little switchy wind and some 90 degree temperature mirage then the little half MOA X ring will bring you to a new grasp on reality and you will not ever be boasting about your shooting skill again. They say a little humility is a good thing but I try not to overdose on the stuff. That little sucker is so very hard to hit. So what is my shooting skill like with the Remington 40X? Here are a target with one sighter and then four consecutive three shot groups from a bench and front rest at 100 yards. This is the best I ever do. I don’t take pictures of my average or bad groups.
One of the things I learned from Jason Baney while shooting competition up at the Mifflin Groundhog matches was that all of my scopes operate with the right hand screw rule, so I can now just grab the dial and twist and not have to take my glasses of and peer around at the top of the dial to see which way is up and down or right and left. This saves so much time and effort. With the NightForce scopes it is easy to feel the adjustments and count them off. So for a 2.5 hour drive from home to Mifflin and about four hours of standing around and about 15 minutes of shooting and then another 2.5 hour drive home, I learned one really good thing that I can apply to long range hunting that will help me save time on getting set for the shot once an animal is spotted.
This is a picture of a Groundhog competition target. The two bottom circles are for your sighters. As you can plainly see, I just am not much of a competition shooter. I don’t ever even get close to center on the sighters before shooting for record. It’s no wonder that I never win.
Here is a picture of my 800 yard F-class target. You can see the pasters that go over the bullet holes. This target is interesting in that my bullets are nearly entirely horizontal except for two where I had really sloppy form. The wind was dying away and changing direction as it died. In this wind, I was experimenting with using the NP-R2 reticle to hold for windage. What I found is that I would forget where I held last time by the time they got the target pulled and back up, so I would not know how much to adjust my hold. I then tried a modified method where I would dial in a little wind and hold off a little. This hybrid approach proved to be just down right stupid. Finally, I went back to dialing the adjustment for the wind and shoot until I needed a new adjustment. Of course with the wind changing I was always one adjustment behind. You can see from the target that I moved all the way from one side of the target to the other and back to the center. I would just reiterate that sloppy form when shooting from a bipod causes bullets to go strange places.
I had a little notebook that Dave gave me with the gun and at first I thought it was a dumb book and that I would just chuck it in the junk pile, but if you shoot F-class it is good to have. The top part of the last page is the drops I dialed in back in March at 50 degrees. The bottom part of the page is the drops I used in the June at 90 degree temperatures. When it was Phil’s turn to shoot in June and I was in the pits pulling targets, he used those drops that I had recorded to dial up and he did not have to reinvent the wheel with sighters. The difference in drops was between March and June was about 2.0 MOA. I was pleased that he was able to transition from the computer generated drops he had used previously to my scribbles on a piece of notebook paper. Plus in June he did not have me or a spotter to rely on for advice. He was dialing and shooting on his own.
In the picture above you will see the score card. Here is a bigger picture of it down below. The left part has the code which tells you your score. If you hit the X ring the guy in the pit will put a white spotter where your bullet landed and then will put a large red ring in the lower left corner of the target. In the picture below you will see the small circle in the lower left. The middle bottom is a 10 and the lower right is a 9 and the middle circle along the right edge is and 8 and so forth. If there is no spotter and the big red circle is top center it means you missed the whole target! How embarrassing! Some people plot each of their bullets on the target and mark their score over on the right hand side of the paper. If you plot your hits then you should write the round number on the target so you can figure out later what the sequence was of the bullets.
Here is my 900 yard target. There are 17 rounds fired at this target. I did not do any experimenting with windage adjustment methods and the wind slacked off even more. The result is everything is within the 9 ring or better. Almost everything is horizontal but much better than at 800 yards. Once I quit experimenting and the wind died away some and I did not goof up on shooting form anymore and I shot much better. Morale here is that you need to practice shooting prone or else you will have bad mechanics when you are out hunting and your bullets will be landing in bad places. You also need to settle in on how you are going to deal with wind and do it that way.
Here is a picture of how to lay your bullets out on the cloth so you do not lose count of how many times you have shot. There are the two sighter rounds and three groups of five. Each empty case should be put away after extraction so you do not have a pile of empties mixed in your unfired cartridges and get confused. You have your ammo box next to it and your drop chart in the plastic baggie. If the sun is hot then fold the cloth over the bullets so they do not get hot. This is exactly what I do when hunting. When you are prone you cannot be trying to get bullets out of your pocket. They should already be there. The cloth is to keep dirt off of the rounds so they will fit into your close tolerance match chamber. If you go a few pictures up you will see that Phil’s bullets are on the cloth just as I show below. You can use a reloading block if you prefer.
******************** Jim Collier is a retired gov't engineer/physicist who supervised regulatory environmental and fisheries management programs. During the Vietnam War he was a Special Forces officer who ran a recon/sniper platoon and that formed his appreciation for long range hunting.
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