A Case For PRS
By Sam Nelson
I checked again for wind, the mirage was a boil, almost imperceptible. I could feel a coolness on my back where my shirt was damp from sweat, but it came and went and it never stayed more than a few seconds. I checked my watch again, 8:00 pm on the dot. Shooting light ended at 8:16. I watched the cow elk make her way down the ridge. She was the only one in view, and she was moving too slowly. At 8:07 she popped up on the ridge farther down than I expected, I ranged again, 805 yards. I dialed 4.9 mils, settled my rifle on the tripod, hugged my backpack to my chest with my left arm and settled the crosshairs as she stopped. It was a shot I’d made a hundred times over the last year, and I saw her fall, even before I heard the thwack of the bullet as it hit her. The 230 grain Berger Hybrid had done its job perfectly. Now the real work began.
That was my first shot on an animal past 500 yards, and I had complete confidence in it. A couple years before, I would have passed and been back out the next day. And I’d tell most hunters to pass on that shot as well. It takes a lot of practice, skill, and most importantly, discretion to ethically take game at longer ranges like that. It’s not something that you can develop overnight, or buy your way into. There’s no magical rifle or scope or rangefinder that you can buy that will give you the ability to know exactly where your bullet will impact at that range. You can develop the skills though, and it’s more fun than you’d ever imagine.
For me it started with a Facebook invite by some guy named Jack. He was starting a new PRS club in Southwest Idaho. That sounded like my kind of thing so I signed up. I had a rifle already and had shot out to 1000 yards plenty of times before. I’d had a little experience with service rifle and FTR matches in my past so I figured I’d give it a try. Wow, was I in for a shock. PRS is very different from the other shooting disciplines that I had been involved in. Instead of shooting paper from the prone position, we were shooting steel targets from every position and obstacle imaginable. Instead of shooting jackets and loop slings, we were using bipods, backpacks, and different barricades to build our shooting positions. Instead of range flags and known distances, we had judged wind by the mirage, grass, and dust. We even had a stage ranging targets using our reticles. Everything about it was practical. I was hooked immediately.
The Precision Rifle Series and the National Rifle League are the two better known organizations putting on practical precision rifle matches. Their matches are run and scored very similarly. In essence, you get a point for each impact made within the par time. Impact center plate, you get a point. Barely nick the edge, you get the same point. Most targets are 1-2 MOA. Each stage will be set up differently. For a typical stage you may have targets at three different distances that you need to engage from 3 different positions on a 3 rail fence within a 120 second par time. Most stages are 8-12 rounds with targets between 300 and 1200 yards. If that sounds intimidating, don’t let it be. Nearly every competitor I have shot with has been a stellar sportsman, offering advice and loaning gear when I was newer to the sport and mentoring me as I grew into a real competitor. I have loaned gear and helped quite a few new shooters as well. It has always been a very welcoming sport. And the more you shoot, the better you’ll get.
The real benefit for a hunter to get into PRS shooting isn’t the competitive aspect of it though. The big things that you’ll take away from it are skills like wind reading and the ability to build solid shooting positions in places that you can’t shoot prone. We all know hunters who sight in their gun on a bench at the range, shoot a couple boxes of ammo and think they’re ready to shoot an elk at 600 yards. Or the guy that’s a skilled handloader and can ring steel at distance shooting prone in his favorite spot but never practices from any other position. PRS shooting will show these guys their limitations and help them get past them. Hunters don’t always get to take prone shots and often have some trickier winds to figure out as well. Shooting a local club match one Saturday a month will do wonders for your ability to set up in that spot where you can’t see over the sage when prone. You’ll learn to build solid shooting positions on things you’d never imagine shooting off of. You’ll learn to stay in the scope and keep the target in sight. Learning to control recoil and reacquire the target quickly enough to watch your impact will become second nature to you. Being used to making corrections and reengaging quickly in a match is a skill that can save you hours in the field when you make a shot on an animal and it doesn’t go as planned. The only way to learn the skills needed to read wind accurately is to do it. Shoot a windy match with a group of experienced shooters and you will pick up skills and learn a lot from your fellow squad mates. And you’ll probably make some lifelong friends at the same time.
Getting started in PRS is a lot easier than you’d think. Most people set up for longer range hunting already have a lot of the gear needed. To get started you really just need a rifle, a reliable scope with turrets, a bipod, a ballistic app and some quality ammo. Having a DBM that accepts ten round magazines and bringing a rifle with a manageable level of recoil are two really useful beginners tips. Just about everything else you’ll most likely be able to borrow from someone in your squad, which I would recommend doing before buying a lot of gear. Sure it’s useful to have a couple of shooting bags, a kestrel, an RRS tripod and a labradar, but you don’t need them. Learning to use your hunting rifle and hunting gear on a regular basis will really pay off when you need to make a more challenging shot in the field. Most hunters do very little shooting from field positions aside from prone, and shooting matches will exponentially increases that experience.
There is one other aspect of PRS shooting that I feel is very important to the long range hunter. That aspect is knowing what you can’t do. If you shoot a couple thousand rounds a year like most local or regional PRS competitors you get very good at reading the wind and building solid positions. You also get very good at realizing when you know exactly where your bullet will go and when you are guessing where it will go. Shooting under ideal conditions with no wind is easy. Shooting downhill across a canyon at a deer with a thermal in your face and a crosswind in the canyon is something different. If you haven’t done it, you may not realize that that light thermal you’re feeling is going to put your bullet over the back of the deer. Getting used to shooting under these conditions with an external pressure applied by the clock will go a long ways in teaching you whether to take that shot or wait. Having a realistic level of confidence in your shooting and a true understanding of your ability is crucial once you start hunting at longer distances. Getting humbled by a wind you didn’t notice in a match is a good reality check that will stick with you in the field.
The lessons learned from a few seasons of PRS shooting can only help you in your long range hunting adventures. Building skills and practicing wind calls in an environment that pushes you is a great way to increase your confidence and set realistic expectations of your abilities in the field. Chances are you’ll learn something every time you go out.