How to get started in long range PRS-type rifle competition

How to get started in long range PRS-type rifle competition

Since the development of the firearm, people have been interested in shooting further distances more accurately. Military snipers during the Revolutionary War made confirmed kills out to 300 yards with Pennsylvania-type flintlock rifles, and one confirmed kill was made with a Whitworth rifle during the Civil War at 1,390 yards (though accurate fire was limited to a still-impressive 800 yards with this technology). Buffalo (bison) hunters in the American plains stretched the capabilities of their Sharps rifles, and long-range target shooting has been a staple of British and American military and civilian rifle competition since around 1840.

However, a new dynamic type of long-range rifle shooting has exploded in popularity over the past decade or so. The development of the Precision Rifle Series (PRS) and the similar National Rifle League (NRL) has popularized an exciting style of long-range rifle competition where shooters must navigate various obstacles and shoot from unconventional (and often awkward) positions, solving ballistic/wind problems on the fly (without spotters or any other assistance from squad members or spectators) and hitting tiny steel targets at varying ranges, all under the pressure of the clock.

Man shooting long-range rifle down range

Traditional “national match” type rifle competitions place multiple shooters along a firing line shooting at static paper targets, and the “slow fire” event might require 20 shots in 20 minutes, prone, at 600 yards. In a PRS-type match, on the other hand, shooters might be required to get hits on up to 10 steel targets (or tennis balls, or golf balls, depending on the stage design) from 1 to 3 MOA in size (1-3 inches at 100 yards) that must be engaged within 2 minutes, generally from at least 2 and up to 5 unconventional shooting positions, and at distances up to 1,200 yards. Shooters are not allowed to walk through the stages before shooting and must spot their own hits or misses through their optic and make adjustments as needed before time runs out.

This type of long-range competition has sparked a lot of interest in shooters and spectators because it’s exciting to solve your own ballistic and positional problems, spot your own misses, and make adjustments on the fly, all under the pressure of the par timer. The best shooters often go 1-for-1 on all 10 targets at distances out to 1,200 yards. Obviously, this takes a lot of skill, knowledge, preparation, and the right equipment to make it happen.

We’re going to go over some of the basic information you need to get started in PRS-type long-range rifle competition, to help you decide whether this fun new type of shooting is right for you. Let’s start with the rifle, and then we’ll go over the other essential gear you’ll need, and give you some tips for starting out before you attend your first match.

What rifle and caliber is best for PRS-type shooting competitions?

Currently, the PRS has 4 divisions:

  • Open Division: Pretty much anything goes, as long as it’s a bolt-action rifle no larger than a caliber of 7.62 mm (.30 inch) bore or a velocity of 980 m/s (3,200 ft/s). It’s not uncommon for Open Division competitors to shoot rigs worth $10,000 or more. Most top competitors these days shoot a light-recoiling 6mm-bore rifle (more info below).
  • Tactical Division: This division is intended for military and tactical-style bolt action rifles and permissible chamberings are restricted to .308 Winchester and 5.56 NATO/.223 Remington. The 5.56 NATO/.223 Remington must not exceed 910 m/s (3,000 ft/s) and bullets may not weigh more than 77 grains. A .308 Winchester must not exceed 850 m/s (2,800 ft/s) and bullets may not weigh more than 178 grains. No modified or wildcat cartridges (such as Ackley Improved) are permitted to compete in the Bolt Action Tactical Rifles Division.
  • Production Division: This division is intended to allow “budget” or entry-level shooters to compete on somewhat equal footing, at least as far as their rifles and optics are concerned. Bolt action production rifles in the Production Division may not exceed $2,500 USD as listed on the company’s website and the optic may not exceed $2,500 as listed on the company’s website. For the purpose of the Production Division, a rifle is defined as a publicly available rifle per the original manufacturer’s configuration of a complete firearm, which will be composed of at least the following: stock with bottom metal or chassis, a complete action, a barrel, and a trigger mechanism. Only factory barrels and triggers may be used, and additional accuracy work other than glass-bedding is not permitted. As you can see, with a combined rifle and optic potential cost of $5,000, “budget” is a relative term.
  • Gas Gun Division: A “gas gun” is a euphemism for a semi-automatic rifle (because they are typically gas-operated), like the AR-15 or AR-10 platforms. Gas Gun Division rifles may consist of a large or small frame semi-auto rifle without restrictions. Gas guns are limited to a maximum of 7.62 mm (.30 inch) bore and 980 m/s (3,200 ft/s).

Do I have to buy a new rifle to shoot PRS competition?

Absolutely not. The fast and soft-shooting 6mms (such as 6mm BR, BRX, BRA, GT, Dasher, Creedmoor, etc.), are the new hotness and have dominated PRS-type events for the past couple of years, but this doesn’t mean you can’t take your current .30-06, .308, .270, .243, or 6.5 Swede rifle to a long-range match and try it out, as long as it’s accurate enough (capable of at least 1-MOA accuracy, and half-MOA is preferable). You’ll likely get more beat up by the recoil of the heavier calibers, and you will likely not do super well shooting a light, hard-recoiling hunting rifle, since you have to spot your own misses and make any adjustments based on that information. But plenty of people have shot their first match with an “unconventional” caliber, particularly if they just want to try it out before investing in a serious LR competition rig. (Important: Be sure your loads conform to the maximum bore size and speed limitations in the rules.)

Plus, it’s up to you whether you want to use a gas gun or a bolt-action rifle, and you can have lots of fun shooting either. If you already own a semi-automatic rifle such as an AR-15 or AR-10 capable of excellent accuracy, you can save some money by using it as your competition rifle until you learn the ropes.

Realistically, you’re not going to be competitive for your first few matches anyway (unless you’ve been practicing a LOT on your own), so just have fun, be safe, learn as much as you can, and make friends.

Woman shooting at shooting range

What PRS-type shooting gear is nice to have, and what is a “must have”?

Ask 10 competitors and they’ll likely give you 10 slightly different responses. What one person considers optional, another might consider mandatory. So take this list with a grain of salt. But here’s our opinion of the must-have versus nice-to-have tools and gear for shooting a PRS-style match.

Must haves:

A rifle capable of at least 1-MOA accuracy (half-MOA is better). As noted above, for the best chance of success, a rifle capable of at least 1-MOA (minute of angle) accuracy is a must-have, and half-MOA is better. PRS targets often range from 1 to 3 MOA (about 1 to 3 inches at 100 yards, or 3 to 6 inches at 300 yards) in size, so if you don’t have at least a 1-MOA gun, you’ll waste a lot of shots and it’ll probably be more frustrating than it needs to be.

Half-MOA bolt guns aren’t as rare or expensive as they used to be, so be sure to check out our full article on the best rifles for shooting long range, and see what fits your budget.

Match-quality ammunition: Your rifle and ammo combination needs to be capable of at least 1 MOA accuracy or better. Cheap, 4 MOA military ball blasting ammo isn’t going to cut it. Most top shooters load their own ammo, but when you’re starting out, buying reputable match ammo such as Hornady Match, Federal Gold Medal, or Black Hills Gold match ammo is an economical (relatively) and convenient choice. Bring a lot more than you think you’ll need. A good rule of thumb is to take the number of targets specified for the match and triple or quadruple it. If you realistically think you’ll miss more, bring more ammo. After the initial expense of the rifle, optic, and gear, keeping your rifle fed with match ammo for practice and competition is by far the greatest expense.

Optic of suitable quality and magnification: Read our full article on the best scopes for long-range shooting for more details, but you basically need a quality scope with the ability to either dial for elevation on the fly or use a “Christmas tree” type ranging reticle for holdovers at different ranges. Most people dial for elevation for most targets. Positive zero stops for elevation turrets are a must since you’ll be returning to zero after each stage (if you’re smart). Most shooters don’t dial for wind, preferring rather to hold for wind using their scope’s reticle. Scopes can be either in MOA or milliradian format (most top shooters will advise you to learn mils), as long as it makes sense to you.

Don’t stress too much about super-high magnification scopes. Many PRS competitors shoot the majority of stages at between 6X and 10X magnification.

Reliable spirit/bubble level attached to your rifle, optic, or scope rings: A few degrees of cant left or right will throw off your shot dramatically at distance, and you can’t afford to waste any time (or money) on unnecessary shots using match-quality ammo. A bubble level helps you make sure your reticle and rifle are vertically aligned so your shots go where you intend them to. Since the majority of PRS stages have you shooting from unconventional positions, often sloping left or right, we’d consider a bubble level mandatory.

Accurate dope card or ballistic/ranging info for your loads: You absolutely need to know how to dial or hold the proper elevation for your rifle and bullets at all the ranges you need to shoot during a match. How you do this is up to you. Some shooters use a ballistic app like Shooter and look up the atmospheric conditions and elevation of the match location, and prepare a custom dope card to attach to their rifle or a panel attached to their off-hand forearm for easy reference. Or, if you have experience shooting your rifle and loads at various distances, you can simply record that information in whatever format makes the most sense to you. But it’s a good idea to have accurate dope info with specified elevation adjustments for ranges from 100 out to at least 1,000 yards in 10-yard increments. Some competitors say a 5-yard variance can cause you to miss.

Day pack or backpack: Many competitions require you to carry all your gear, ammo, and rifle with you throughout the day, so a good day pack or backpack is a must. You can use carabiners to attach your shooting bags or other gear (see below) to your pack to make everything easier to haul around, and you can use your day pack as a supplemental shooting rest.

Nice to have, but not strictly necessary:

Bipod and/or tripod: Great shooters can make hits without bipods and tripods, but man, is it difficult. Many shooters would say a good bipod or shooting tripod is mandatory, and it’s hard to argue with them. Make sure whatever bipod you select allows rapid lateral/cant adjustment, as it’s unlikely that the surfaces you’ll be shooting from are 100% parallel to the ground, or to your rifle.

Shooting/positional support bag: This is another item that many shooters would consider mandatory, but it’s not technically required to complete a stage if you’re a good enough shooter with a high enough pain/annoyance tolerance. However, we’d strongly recommend you get a good shooting bag, to help support your rifle against the barriers, fences, rooftops, gates, and other unconventional shooting positions you may find yourself in during a PRS-type match. One of our faves is Armageddon’s Sticky Game Changer OG bag. Bison Tactical’s Udder Bag is another great one. A good, versatile, budget option is Caldwell’s X-bag.

Rear wedge or squeeze bag: In addition to a good primary bag, a smaller wedge-type bag (we like Triad Tactical’s tapered rear bag), or a squeeze-type rear bag can feel like a lifesaver in certain positions. Armageddon’s X-wing rear bag is another good one.

Laser rangefinder: Almost all stages in PRS-type competitions are built including “known distance” targets, which means the match director or stage designer will provide all shooters with the target distances. In other words, you don’t HAVE to range them yourself. However, experienced shooters know that it’s typical to find one or two targets per stage that have been inaccurately ranged by up to 5 or 10 yards, which could theoretically be enough to result in a miss. You can bother your buddies to give you their ranged target readings, but it’s easier and more accurate if you do it yourself… but a good long-range capable rangefinder is going to be expensive. SIG makes some popular rangefinders for PRS shooting, so see which one fits your budget. There are also range-finding binoculars now, so you can check downrange wind conditions and range targets with one gadget.

Kestrel or other wind/ballistic meter: Kestrel is a popular brand of wind meter that provides ballistic solutions based on wind readings, temperature, and barometric pressure in real time. Some models have Bluetooth to connect with your phone and a ballistic app if you want to do it that way. This gadget is not strictly a must-have, since you can usually get this information from a weather station near the match location, but being able to make adjustments on the fly and get accurate information for yourself can make these devices worth their weight in gold.

Effective muzzle brake and/or suppressor: Even a 20-lb gun shooting a light 6mm load will benefit from a good brake or suppressor to reduce recoil, and anything you can do to reduce felt recoil and muzzle jump will be an asset, since you have to spot your own shots through your scope in PRS-type competition. If you can’t see your impact splashes or misses, you’ll have no real idea how you need to adjust your hold or dial for your next shot. For this reason, many competitors consider a good brake or suppressor to be mandatory.

Shooting rifle down range

Tips for starting out in PRS-type long-range competition

Now that we’ve gone over the essentials as far as rifles, ammo, and gear, let’s talk about ways you can prepare and learn before you shoot your first match to make it as good an experience as possible.

Go to a match as a spectator, and see what it’s like for yourself

A great way to get the feel for a PRS or NRL match (or any other long-range shooting discipline) is to just go to a match and watch. Ask questions, keep your eyes and ears open, and talk to anyone you can. For many people, seeing how the match and the stages run in person is more informative and impactful than reading online briefings or watching YouTube videos. There’s no replacement for real life experience, and going to a match or two and just observing, before you start paying your match fees and shooting any stages, can be invaluable.

Make friends online and in real life

Today, even local shooting communities do lots of their socializing, planning, scheduling, and registration online. Sites like Practiscore and long-range shooting communities like Sniper’s Hide, as well as your favorite online gun forums or Facebook groups, can help you learn what you need to know for particular matches, build camaraderie, and perhaps find you a mentor who can point you in the right direction.

Like many gun communities, the long-range shooting community is generally super-friendly to “noobs,” and lots of knowledgeable shooters make an effort to help newcomers, patiently answer their questions, and may even loan them gear for their first few matches. Remember to be polite, and thank everyone for any information they provide, but also take any advice with a grain of salt until it’s validated by other knowledgeable people. Some people might advise you to stay off of online forums if you want reliable information, but depending on your temperament and personality, online forums can be a boon for gaining information.

If you don’t have any firearms suitable for long-range competition and don’t want to commit potentially thousands of dollars just to try out the sport, consider asking a friend, a local forum, or a community familiar with a particular match you want to attend if you can rent an old or backup rifle for the day. Some long-range shooting schools offer this service to their students, and you might find a local who, once they trust you, will let you rent or even borrow one of their secondary rifles when you’re just starting out.

Once you’ve established yourself as a trustworthy enthusiast, don’t be surprised if someone offers you the use of their “starter” or backup rifle for your first match. You should offer to pay for the ammo, of course, and be very effusive in your thanks if someone gives you this opportunity.

Take warm/waterproof clothing, water, snacks, tools, and sunblock

PRS-type matches are often held in remote or mountainous areas, and unpredictable weather is always a concern. Most matches are shot rain, shine, or snow, so make sure you’re prepared for extremes in temperature and weather. Running out of water or feeling hungry or cold all day won’t help you shoot better or enjoy the experience, so make sure you bring enough of the essentials.

Read the rules

You’d be surprised how many people, even experienced competitors, haven’t actually taken the time to read the rules for PRS competition. You will certainly learn something, and you might be sparked with an idea how to improve. There are Categories for military/law enforcement, women, junior, and senior shooters, as well as Classifications based on your performance in matches (Professional – First 20% of scores; Semi-Professional – Next 25%; Marksman – Next 25%; and Amateur – Remaining shooters [approx. 30%]). There are regulations regarding competitors’ conduct during matches and much more. So take the time to read the rules.

Also, consider getting the appropriate PRS Membership for your selected match. You can shoot most matches without purchasing a membership (confirm with the match director) just by paying the match fee, but if you want to be ranked and have your score tracked for classification, you’ll want to buy a yearly membership. It’s not expensive at all.

Consider starting in PRS Rimfire

PRS Rimfire is intended as a low-cost-of-entry way to get started in PRS-type shooting and is becoming hugely popular, even among serious PRS competitors. PRS Rimfire matches are divided by region and are shot with rimfire-only rifles (usually .22LR caliber). Distances are shorter and ammo is of course much less expensive, but the stages are still super fun and challenging. If money, gear, or recoil are a concern, rimfire matches can be a great way to get started in the sport.

Take a class

Long range shooting classes are a great way for novices to learn the basics about ballistics, positional shooting, gear, creating a dope card, and more. Consider taking a class to get your feet wet before jumping into your first match.

Just go shoot a match!

Even if you don’t feel “good enough” to start shooting matches, or if you don’t have all the “necessary” gear, signing up for a match and shooting will likely teach you more than you can learn from 10 conversations. Other shooters in your squad may offer to loan you equipment, so you can try it out and decide if it’s right for you. Stages are almost always limited with a maximum par time so don’t worry about taking too long and wasting everyone’s day. You will only have so long to shoot a stage, and the Range Officer will stop you when your time runs out.

Keep your long-range rifles and gear in a Liberty safe

As you can see, PRS-type shooting is not going to be an inexpensive hobby for anyone. We recommend keeping all your firearms and expensive electronics in a USA-made, fire-resistant Liberty safe. Check out our online catalog of the best gun safes, or visit a showroom near you.

*Made in the U.S.A. from U.S. and Global Parts.


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