A certain level of physical conditioning is beneficial. There will often be stress-inducing activities. We'll usually be walking various distances, carrying rifle and gear. The better shape we're in, the easier and less stressful this will be, and the better our performance. Some matches are more geared toward simulating actual field conditions than others, and it pays to find out what will be required.
We must have good basic marksmanship skills. Practice in the basic shooting positions is suggested, and most field shots will be built upon these basic skills. Many shots will be prone, many will not. Being able to assume solid shooting positions on uneven terrain and/or in unconventional surroundings will often be necessary. Shooters who do not at least become familiar with these modified positions may find themselves flustered and confused when forced to deviate from what is customary. If we can practice our positions with some imagination and flexibility, we will be much better prepared for the interesting exercises the match directors may have planned for us.
100 yard "Cold Bore Shot" (1" square) and "Group Exercise":
Beginning with prone, we should be able to shoot as low and as close to the ground as possible, such as in the Hawkins position or using our sand sock under the forend. Normal prone supported, such as that used on a flat range on level ground, will often be used, as will prone unsupported, using only a sling. We should also work on some of our higher prone positions, such as shooting rather high angles with bipod legs extended or pack stood up on edge. We should also consider the effects of shooting over obstructions, where the shooter's torso may be forced off the ground.
Even prone may not always be easy:
Sitting positions are often employed, and the ability to achieve a solid position is very important. We will occasionally need to modify our sitting position, to accommodate obstacles or utilize barricades. The use of our rear bag or pack is sometimes allowed, either as support for the upper body, or behind us as a leaning support. To be able to find a solid sitting position at various rifle heights or angles is a definite advantage, so do not confine practice to flat ground and level shots.
Sitting, with support:
The kneeling position, especially behind a barricade, is often encountered. It can be difficult to find a good position with enough stability unless this position is well practiced.
Kneeling with support:
Standing unsupported or standing behind a barricade or fence post may be encountered. As smoothly as a heavy tactical rifle shoots from prone, bear in mind that it can be surprising just how heavy that rifle can be at the end of a standing string of 10 shots. Work at strengthening the upper body and/or keeping rifle weight down. Learn to find a comfortable position behind objects, such as spreading the legs to reduce torso height in lieu of bending at the knees or waist.
Standing unsupported is often encountered:
Between these basic positions, we will often find ourselves in a shooting position that defies description. Shots might be from the top of stepladders, from or across ATVs, from elevated platforms or using a partner for support. Shooting across roof angles can be tricky, and creative use of pack, bipod and/or sand sock can make a difficult position relatively steady. When faced with challenging positions, return to and draw upon your basic principles. Remember that solid support, firm stock pressure, good cheek weld, trigger control and follow through will be needed for a good shot, and work your improvised positions accordingly.
Some improvised positions one might see:
We will need to be able to operate our optics. Being able to dial on dope and return to zero reliably, as well as dialing out parallax are always at the top of the list. Ranging is often important, and if you need to be at a certain magnification to do so, practice checking that setting. Another problem often seen is the failure to return to zero after making a shot. Try to develop good habits, such as returning your scope settings to zero before leaving the firing position. An index mark, such as with a felt-tip marker or paint pencil can be a huge help in the event of any confusion.
Opinions will vary, but most shooters prefer to dial all corrections so that the first shot is "on". By approaching it this way, we have a very clear idea of where our reticle was when the trigger breaks and can easily and precisely make any needed corrections, even if our first shot was a hit. Peripheral hits, while still counted as hits, should be noted and minor corrections made to our data. Noting even minor errors allows us to constantly fine tune our data and to learn from our shots. This can be especially important to engaging multiple targets. By applying these minor corrections as we shoot, we can often prevent the next shot from being just off the edge, even though it may only be a fraction of a minute away from our previous (peripheral) hit.
The next important skill will likely be ranging the target with our reticles. Most matches will have at least some unknown distance work, and some matches are almost all UKD. Some allow lasers, but many do not and reticle ranging is one of the skills a rifleman should have anyway. Practice is the only way to become proficient, and the use of a laser rangefinder to verify our estimates is a great help. There are many resources for learning to range with a reticle and it is not necessary to expound here, but the greater precision we can muster at this phase, the better our results will be as we build our calculations on this critical measurement.
Some matches will require that shots at multiple distances be made with one sight setting. This will require the use of "hold-overs" and possibly "hold-unders". A convenient way to prepare for this sort of challenge is to create several drop tables in our data book, based on various zero ranges. We then select the most appropriate zero range to the series of distances you will need to shoot. For example, a zero of 300 yards may be a good point to use if we expect to address targets between 100 and 500 yards. Know what the drop will translate to in your reticle and it will be relatively straightforward to establish a zero and hold as needed.
This series of targets is an example of multiple targets that may be shot without making sight adjustments:
Wind is almost always a factor. In the case of short distances and gentle breezes, it can be minimal. In the event of longer distances and heavier winds, it will usually make the difference between a hit and a wide miss. Learning to dope the wind is a refined skill that takes much practice. A pocket anemometer can be of great value, but always remember that it is only telling part of the story, and the winds "out there" are at least as important as those we feel at the firing point.
Many matches incorporate moving targets ("movers") into the course of fire. Shooting movers requires that we lead the target anywhere from almost nothing, to several mils. Learn how to calculate your lead based on the mover's speed and your bullet's time of flight.
The growing sport of shooting tactical matches encompasses quite a few diverse courses of fire. Much of your opportunity will depend on your location and willingness to travel.
This article has been geared toward helping one get started, but cannot cover all aspects. We all have differing experiences, and even among shooters at the same match there will be a wide range of opinions on how to shoot what stages and what to carry along. The very best thing one can do is find out what matches are available, read after action reports, look at the pictures and ask questions. The first step is to simply enter and go. Do your best and have fun, and fine tune from there.
Beginning with a .22 at eight years old, Ed Shell has been shooting nearly all his life. He was on the local 4-H District Rifle Team in the 1960s, saw military service in the 1970s, has been hunting big and small game and shooting long range varmints throughout and now shoots long range precision rifle in several styles. Current interests include tactical/precision rifle competition, F-Class matches, teaching marksmanship and coaching shooters new to long range.
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