Precision Rifle Shooting: Rookie Experience & Insider Tips

Precision Rifle Shooting: Rookie Experience & Insider Tips

I am a competitive person. I admit it. I actually enjoy beating my kids in mini golf. I have competed at all levels, particularly in sports starting with little league softball to the recent World Championship Dragon Boat Competition 2017. When I approached the starting line at the World Championships, fully aware of the USA team name splashed across the back of my shirt, it made me pause to reflect and take a deep breath. I was poised and ready to win. This type of excitement and purpose is echoed in other passion sports like shooting.

Heading out to compete at a match for the first time can be even more intimidating. It is only you and your rifle. There's no team to back you up. You not only have to trust your ability, but also need to be able to trust your data. You need to walk into a stage self-assured and own it. But how do you get the confidence to crush something that you have never done before? Some people go and watch a match, some sign up and/or volunteer as an RO. I jumped right in plunging into the deep end and signed up for a Gas Gun Match. Why not? I knew I had the right equipment, I just needed the experience.

What did you do to get ready? (Dry fire, position practice, buying gear, getting advice...)

I soaked up any and all advice that I could get from experienced competitors. People were eager to share. I put it to practice and then took an extra day to "play" at the range where the event was being hosted. I did not rush out and buy a bunch of gear. Many shooters were willing to share and remained very welcoming for this newbie. It's truly a community. The sentiment is – everyone started somewhere along the line, everyone had a first time competing, and all of us have bought something based on advice from someone else only to learn that it really was not the product for us. Been there, done that.

Competition Prep

The prep and packing to go to a match can be almost therapeutic for a shooter. You are literally gearing up. Mentally and physically – with making sure you have everything you need to give it your best shot. Going over the rifle and scope. Checking for all of your spare magazines, ear pro and eye pro, your shooting mat and your favorite rear bag. Your bags. Man --PRS shooters like their support bags. Confirming that you have the right number of rounds, calculating for the max at the match and then enough to get you through some zeroing and ideally some practice rounds. Packing all of that and more is a great time to review your gear.

Dry firing is a great practice. Getting into different positions and dry firing can make an enormous difference, not only does it add to your skill level, it bolsters your confidence.

Is there a time component to each stage? How do you track that?

It depends on the stage. Some are time restricted, some are shot restricted and a few go until either you stop or you miss (Know your Limits).

Are other shooters helpful?

The shooting community is just that – a community of like-minded people that like to talk about shooting tips and tricks to improve performance. Everyone wants to beat the best you which is why they are not stingy in sharing ideas to help you succeed.

Is each stage described for you?

The night before the match began I received a full stage book. It gave a brief description of each course of fire as well as targets, ranges, and any time or ammo constraints. I poured over the book late into the night. I carefully loaded the targets into my Kestrel, making sure that I was confident with loading each distance. I built a target card for the first 2 stages. When I arrived at the stage the next day all I had to do was update my environmentals and then I was ready to shoot! Well, pretty much. Then I had to decide if I wanted to write my stage DOPE in a quarterback sleeve on my arm or use my Prater Data board to have if right on my rifle. Each stage was different, I prefer the QB sleeve on stages with more movement of the shooter and the Prater Board on the prone stages. Soon, I will also get to use the new Kestrel Heads Up Display, can't wait for that!

Are you allowed to watch other shooters on a stage you haven't completed?

There are very few blind stages and this was not an option at my first match. Each squad picked their own order so the "guinea pig" first guy was a rotation in our squad. Watching other shooters is a great way to learn, and I certainly tried to absorb as much from my squad as possible. I was fortunate to have some of the top shooters in my squad, as well as great female shooter whom I really respect, Candace Horner, who was so patient and encouraging.

How do you acquire ranges of targets?

Most stage books have the target ranges listed. I did my own due diligence and confirmed each target after each stage brief.

Are targets located and identified for you, or do you have to find them?

In all of the stages that I shot, the RO very carefully reviewed the course of fire with the squad. We were given time to review the course of fire and ask questions. Prior to starting each stage the shooter is asked if they understand the course of fire. I made a practice of describing the COF back to the RO as I understood it. That gave me an opportunity to repeat back my plan and confirm the stage.

Do you have to spot your misses and adjust?

The ROs are there to spot your hits and misses, they do not provide feedback. And wow, trust me, that is super frustrating. You have to spot your misses and adjust the next hold. That is on the shooter. But, after the round, the ROs are usually happy and eager to share with you where you were missing. Although it would not help for that stage, it would often provide data that could be applied at the next stage (switchy winds, etc).

Are others able to help you while on the line, or are you on your own?

On the line you are by yourself. There is no coaching allowed even though everyone would love that. We have all been there – waiting for your turn behind the trigger watching someone else shoot. Even the most inexperienced shooter seems to have some nugget of knowledge that they want to share – from behind the firing line. But during a stage is not the time to do it. And honestly, when you are shooting the stage, your mind is processing and working out your own problems, you do not need to add another voice to the mix!

Does the range officer call anything other than impacts?

They sure like to call misses!

What are some common mistakes? (i.e. shooting targets out of order)

Dialing and then forgetting and trying to hold. Forgetting parallax. Trying to out-think the stage. Like if you have 3 targets, one at 500, one at 375, and one at 425. You can dial for one shot and then hold up or down for the other two shots. See how complicated that is to read, imagine trying to remember it while engaging moving steel targets with a 2 minute limit and 14 max round count.

You can dial for one shot and then hold up or down for the other two shots. See how complicated that is to read, imagine trying to remember it while engaging moving steel targets with a 2 minute limit and 14 max round count.

I have also seen a lot of well seasoned shooters make silly mistakes by not reviewing the stage course of fire or rushing.

How would the reader find an event and sign up?

Practiscore has all of the matches. Facebook actually has a lot of groups for shooters. Local areas have local matches, great ways to learn and practice. If you are really not feeling like you are prepared you can offer to volunteer or possibly RO a match. But honestly, the best thing to do is jump in and give yourself a chance. Set your goals – did I forget to mention mine?


  1. Do not DQ
  2. Have fun
  3. Do not finish DFL
  4. Enjoy the process!