Practice Made Perfect

Simulate the Stresses of a Match Environment
In our first handful of matches, we would step up to the stage with butterflies in our stomach. The loud beep of the stage timer would immediately kick in an adrenaline rush and get the heart racing. As new competitors we often had a muddled game plan for each stage and panic would ensue as we tried to find a good position to shoot from. Or, if we had practiced a good position it turned into a wobbly mess with each heartbeat. Knowing the clock was ticking down, a hurried series of shots were sent down range before the time expired – the result was often more misses than impacts.


The pressure to perform on a difficult stage under short time constraints in a field match can induce stress. Under these conditions, shooters will usually revert to executing what they have practiced and are most familiar with.

In a match most stages have a time limit, so we began to use a shot timer during our practice sessions. After several months of practicing with a shot timer, the sound of the timer at the start of a stage no longer induced the anxiety it once did. Additionally we discovered the timer is an invaluable tool for measuring your performance and assessing your level of improvement over several practice sessions. Examples of things to measure and assess are: How long it takes to get a first shot off and impact the target, split times between shots, hit percentage versus overall time to complete a stage while hitting all of the targets.

Training with a timer has helped us develop a good sense of timing: Our desire is to complete a stage before time runs out while avoiding rushing which leads to missed shots. The use of a shot timer in training has really improved our performance. Matches now resemble practice and vice-versa.

To simulate a match environment during practice, we emulate stage designs we see from time to time. Examples include positional shooting (standing, kneeling, seated, prone) with only the rifle – no slings, bipods, support bags, etc. This requires some experimentation to develop an approach that works best for you, for example applying known techniques such as the Hawkens for prone shooting. Additionally, we learned it is important to practice everything weak side (non-dominant eye for aiming through the scope, and non-dominant hand used for trigger manipulation) from any conceivable position. It may seem odd at first but we found that you’ll adapt.

There is a familiar axiom said in shooting competitions, “There are no good ideas the night before a match.” This is especially true for your rifle and gear. It is generally a bad idea to come up with a new way of using a piece of gear the night before or during a match.
Precision rifle matches are unique in the shooting sports in that almost any piece of equipment is allowed so long as it is not specifically restricted and the competitor carries it during the match. What this means is if you decide to use a particular piece of kit for a match be sure to incorporate it into your practice sessions so you are thoroughly familiar with it. Likewise, understand the limitations of your gear. We believe practice sessions provide a great opportunity to explore optimal ways to use new equipment for common stage designs and props. Also practicing the quick deployment and use of shooting gear while under time constraints is an important skill to have. For example, tripods are great but will take time to properly setup and may not work in tight quarters.

Wind Training
What typically separates the top-tier shooters from the rest of the field is their ability to “dope the wind.” This represents the ability to assess observable and measurable wind conditions using knowledge, experience and even information from other shooters. The objective is to develop a “wind call” which determines how much to dial or hold-off for each shot. This is truly an advanced skill and entire books have been written on the subject.


While precision rifle practice inside of 200 yards has its benefits, there is no substitute for training at longer distances (200 to 1000+ yards) under varying wind conditions. For this reason, we make a point of heading out to remote areas to conduct field training exercises (FTX) every couple of months. The FTXs allow us to practice long distance shooting in field conditions while refining on our wind calling skills.

Due to the year round nature of our training, we are exposed to extreme weather conditions. The side benefit of FTXs is they prepare us to compete in just about any environment. For example, we have competed in matches that have varied from frozen rain in the winter to 120 degrees and sustained winds over 30 MPH in the summer. We’re fortunate to live in the Pacific Northwest which offers everything from rain forest to high desert climates. We seek out those conditions that will test our abilities, our equipment, and our resolve to tough it out. We do all of this so we’ll be that much more prepared for the challenges of the next field match.


Drill to Reinforce Muscle Memory
The majority of our training regimen utilizes repetitive timed drills that are designed to develop specific skills. For example, one drill we’ve devised is to start standing at the ready rifle in hand. At the start of the timer, the shooter takes one shot from each level of a 3-tiered barricade at a 2 MOA target (3 shots total) in under 45 seconds. One of us will shoot while the other manages the shot timer. When the shooter is done, we’ll switch positions. We’ll typically run a drill like this about 5-6 times or until we believe that we’ve accomplished the training objective. If we clean the targets in the first few runs, we’ll shorten the par time to increase the level of difficulty. Afterwards, we’ll move on to a new drill guided by the training plan for the day.


Training through repetitive drills has several advantages. First, it allows us to identify a workable shooting position for a given prop. When we encounter a similar prop in a match, we’ll already have a good game plan resulting in a sense of cool confidence. Second, the drills nurture muscle memory allowing us to instinctively apply good fundamentals even in awkward positions that seem to be the norm in PRS style matches. Finally, the drills reinforce match conditions where we learn to work quickly under the clock, acquire the next target, build a stable position, and execute a clean shot.


Train the Brain
It is a documented fact that the mindset and mental attitude of the competitor are huge differentiators if one wants to maximize their performance. For this reason, we have embraced certain techniques to “train our brains” in order to emulate the mindset of top shooters.

Following is a set of principles we adhere to:
  • Positive mental attitude – This is the first step to getting the most out of training and time on the range. Before every drill we clear our mind and focus on the task at hand. We start each shot with the expectation that we are correctly applying the fundamentals to get a good clean shot on target. Shooting partners should provide encouragement and positive feedback throughout the training session.
  • Don’t dwell on the missed shots – Nothing will discourage you faster than dwelling on and getting frustrated by missed shots. It’s important to quickly diagnose why shots are missed and make the necessary corrections to get back on target. We’ve found that if shots are consistently missed during a drill, we are most likely rushing and all that is needed is to slow down. Don’t practice consistently missing – instead practice what it takes to connect with the target.
  • Reinforce what works – a good portion of practice, particularly for new drills, is going through the process of refining our techniques to learn what works best for us. What may work well for Steve may not be what’s best for Ed and vice versa. Once we find what works best for us under a given scenario, we try to form a mental map so we can reproduce success. Once we know what works, we drill, drill, drill to develop muscle memory.
  • Envision the game plan – before running through a practice drill we will visualize in our minds eye, step by step, how we will perform the drill. If there are new things or we are having trouble in a particular area, we break things down into incremental steps and go through them in our mind. We will repeat this process so it is clear what we need to do and in what order. Often times we will dry fire through an exercise several times before loading up with live ammo.

We came across an article by Gary Anderson, “Ten Lessons for Competitive Shooters,” and this has provided some useful philosophical underpinnings. In the first article published on our web site, we outlined how we would extend his philosophy into our shooting. You can read the article here:

It is important to make a point of learning from the more experienced shooters you meet along the way. Shooters tend to be supportive of those who want to learn so don’t be shy about seeking out mentors. While you work on your personal relationships, you can get a jump start with the interviews we performed of other nationally ranked competitive shooters in “A Talk With PRS Competitors” which you can find here:
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