Practice Made Perfect
How the 6.5 Guys optimized their training routine to achieve better results in competition
By the 6.5 Guys (Steve Lawrence, Ed Mobley)
When we first started shooting long range precision rifles, our practice consisted of activities that made us feel good. We spent most of our time shooting off our bellies because it was easy to hit small targets at long distances and who wouldn’t enjoy that? After all, many take up shooting because it is an enjoyable and relaxing activity that can serve as a counterbalance to the stresses we all face.
The deficiencies of our original training practices became obvious when we began to compete in local matches. The PRS style matches required competitors use improvised or compromised shooting positions. It was also difficult to make precise rifle shots within the short time constraints imposed in matches. These challenges and more resulted in mediocre match performance.
Even though we consistently made it out to the range for practice, the sessions were oriented more towards hanging out with friends rather than honing our abilities as competitors. While our routine provided some benefit as reflected in our match scores, we came to realize that we had a choice: Continue to derive our enjoyment from practice sessions along the social aspects or fulfill our ambition to become better precision rifle competitors. We opted for the latter and this required a complete reexamination of our approach to training.
This article will be the first in a series exploring the elements of our precision rifle practice regimen that continues to evolve over time. In this article we provide a high level overview. In subsequent articles, we will examine each area in greater detail.
Start with a PlanI hope you enjoy the series of articles to be written by the 6.5 Guys. You can visit their website HERE.-Len Backus-
As we began to rethink our approach to training, we first identified our individual strengths and weaknesses as shooters and what skills we needed to work on. As we’ve heard one top competitor state, “Practice what you suck at.” We started to perform after action reviews of each match and this provided us with empirical data that we used to plan our practice routine.
We started to think about our shooting in terms of categories of skills: Fundamentals, dot drills, weak side shooting, use of props and barricades, wind calling, improvised shooting positions and use of support bags, etc. By breaking down our shooting into components, we were able to make focused improvements during our training sessions and this started to yield a cumulative positive benefit.
Reexamining our strengths and weaknesses also meant taking a step back and making an honest assessment of our overall competency level as precision rifle shooters. It was important for us to validate that we understood and had a good handle on the fundamentals of marksmanship. As a result, we made the decision to attend a two day precision rifle clinic which started with the basic fundamentals of marksmanship and concluded with key skill areas for PRS style match shooting. By the time we completed the precision rifle clinic, we both had a laundry list of items to work on in practice. You can meet our instructor and get a better understanding of the training we undertook by watching this video, “A Look at Precision Rifle Training.”
Our practice sessions continue to evolve, but they all begin with a training plan before we even step on to the range. We plan in advance how long our practice session will run, the expected round count, and areas of focus. Planning in advance allows us to coordinate if we need to bring specific steel targets or some of the homemade shooting props and barricades that we constructed.
Once at the range, the training plan is used as a guide so we maintain our focus and make efficient use of our time. Additionally, the training plan is reviewed afterwards so we can note our individual progress and determine if any of our drills should be revised to make them more effective.
Focus on the Fundamentals
One thing we realized early on is you can’t ignore the fundamentals of marksmanship in training. It forms the foundation upon which all other skills are built upon. It becomes increasingly difficult to advance your abilities if you are working around an ingrained bad habit or haven’t properly mastered the fundamentals to the point they can be executed instinctively and subconsciously. Most other match skills rely on executing the fundamentals in compromised shooting positions and under time constraints. Hence, a focus on the fundamentals must be a part of any robust training plan.
Our training sessions typically dedicate about a quarter to one third of the time to focusing on the fundamentals. We start off with a cold bore shot, move on to dot drills, and then we integrate positional shooting exercises. Our focus on the fundamentals is geared towards ingraining consistency in everything we do behind the trigger. This includes: building a stable shooting position, sight picture/alignment, natural point of aim, trigger control and follow through, observing bullet impact, etc. Working on the fundamentals early on in the practice session is like a set of warm up exercises before the real training starts. It sets the stage for moving onto more advanced drills for the day.
Make the Most of What You Have
Unless you are fortunate enough to live in an area with wide open spaces, your training may be confined to your local shooting club - The 6.5 Guys are no exception. This generally means shooting at ranges of 100 to 200 yards and making the most of it. These constraints can be overcome by using both paper targets and small AR500 steel targets. A top PRS competitor who we personally know does most of his training on a 100 yard range.
When training at reduced distances, it doesn’t make sense to wear out your match rifle or consume expensive match grade ammunition. Many top shooters employ training rifles chambered in more economical cartridges with longer barrel life such as .223 or .308. In the near future, we too will be moving to dedicated trainer rifles. Other top competitors compliment their training by shooting rimfire and air rifle.
As mentioned earlier, every practice session starts with a paper target at 100 yards where we verify our cold bore shot, confirm zero and conduct dot drills. While there are a number of different targets available for purchase and download, we designed our own paper target so we could log our performance in a consistent and organized manner. We will continue to refine our target over time.
Once we’re done with paper, it’s on to steel targets. We place an assortment of steel targets at 200 yards and they are sized from 1.5-3 MOA to emulate what one might encounter in a match. Our goal is to shoot at the smallest target that we can reliably hit 80 percent of the time. If you are limited to shorter distances just size your steel targets accordingly.
Create Training Props
We have found that successful preparation for competition requires incorporating many of the common elements we see at matches into our practice routine. Most of the PRS style matches have competitors shooting off of props or other objects found in the field (e.g., rocks, tree stumps, fence rails, etc.). One of the first things we realized we needed to do to improve our training was to get off our bellies and practice shooting from positions other than prone. However, the problem was we didn’t have any of the props (barricades, roof tops, shoot houses, parapets, etc.) commonly found at matches. We instead started out with what we had at hand and this included things like a sawhorse, milk crates, and an empty water barrel. Items like these allowed us to simulate many of the props we didn’t have.
An adjustable sawhorse, like the one shown below can be used to simulate challenges typically encountered with various barricade designs. More complex scenarios can be devised using the sawhorse and attaching a piece of plywood across the narrow top. Also, fastening a piece of plywood across the legs can simulate a shoot port.
Several milk crates, a few pieces of plywood and a few bungee cords make for a basic, yet modular training platform. You can set them at multiple levels to simulate the parapets found at matches. Barrels, ladders, chairs and the like can also serve as make-shift practice props.
Despite our resourcefulness at improvising shooting props from basic items, it didn’t take long for us to design and build our own shooting props. We created a pair of barricades and soon after a rooftop segment. Looking back, this was one of the best things we ever did to improve our regular practice sessions. Now, every practice session at the range includes a variety of drills using the barricades and props we built. You can learn more about our barricades (including our original design plans) here: http://www.65guys.com/new-years-resolutions/