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Favorite PRS Matches & Tips from Top Match Directors

New precision rifle matches seem to be popping up everywhere. Several years ago, there were only a handful of major precision rifle competitions in a given year, and now we have options in every corner of the country a couple of times a month. Each match is unique, with varying courses of fire, distances, format, etc.

With the number of matches growing so quickly, I wanted to ask a large group who shoot lots of matches to see what their favorite was. So earlier this year, I surveyed the top 100 shooters in the Precision Rifle Series and asked them. Here’s what they said:

Favorite PRS Match

These represent some of the best ran and most enjoyable long range matches around. There are a ton of great matches in this list. However, I’m sure there are many other good matches out there that aren’t on this list. I don’t want to present this as an exhaustive list of the “best” matches. It’s simply the list of matches that at least 3 of the top PRS shooters said was their favorite when I asked them earlier this year.

Because the PRS encourages each competition to have its own “personality” and vision, one shooter might love one match and another hated it. Some shooters prefer mostly prone shots, and others enjoy the strategy/gaming that goes into shooting from improvised positions. Some like to shoot really fast, and others prefer really long targets. Some like challenging stages, and others just want to have fun. Some prefer an athletic match, and others just want to flop down on their belly and see who can hit the most targets. So some of this comes down to personal preference. However, I doubt any of us enjoy a match that is poorly organized, makes us stand around waiting to shoot all day, has a poorly designed course of fire, and doesn’t stay on schedule.

There are two matches that were clearly the most popular among the top shooters:

Heatstroke Open

The Heatstroke Open is a long-running match held each July in western Oklahoma, where 200 shooters fire 300+ rounds over 2 days. The Match Directors are Matt Clem and B.J. Bailey, both of which have a ton of experience in the PRS world and have each finished in the top 100 multiple years. It features 30 stages sprawled over 360 acres that are designed to be practical, but diverse. The Heatstroke is about as far of a departure from a square range as you can get. Terrain, winds, and stages firing in almost 360 degrees makes this a field shooting competition that is hard to beat!

K&M Precision Rifle Competition

The K&M PRC is the flagship event of K&M Precision Rifle Training, held at their world-class shooting complex in Tennessee on Memorial Day weekend. It is a high-tempo, 200 man match, with just under 200 rounds being fired over 2 days. Shannon Kay is the Match Director, and he finished in the top 10 overall in the PRS in 2016, is currently sitting in 3rd for the 2017 season, and recently became the Director of the PRS. K&M offers professional facilities with a variety of cool barricades and props.

K&M Precision Rifle Match Video

Heatstroke and K&M not only represent two of the largest precision rifle competitions in the world, but they’re also industry-leaders when it comes to the shooter’s experience at a match. A match doesn’t grow to that size unless it provides a great experience year-after-year. Match size isn’t a perfect indicator of how efficient or enjoyable it is, but think about this analogy: When shooting a target at 200 yards, someone might be able to get away with small mistakes in their fundamentals and still get on target. But when you stretch that out to 2,000 yards, small errors or inconsistencies become magnified. Your technique and position have to be solid to consistently ring steel at that larger scale. It’s kind of that same way with matches. Running a match with 20-40 people is very different from 200+. As a match director, you might be able to get away with some mistakes at a smaller match that would result in a train wreck at one of these flagship matches. The margin for error is much smaller, so these guys must have their stuff together at every level. They have to think about flow of the match, stage design, range officers, and administration at a whole different level, if they want any chance of staying on schedule or the shooters walking away with a good experience.

Best Practices & Tips For Precision Rifle Matches

It appears the Heatstroke and K&M are setting the standard for what it means to run an efficient match that people love to shoot. So I interviewed Shannon Kay of K&M, and Matt Clem and B.J. Bailey of Heatstroke in an attempt to capture tips and best practices to running a match, and pass on their wisdom and lessons learned to the rest of the shooting community. While those guys are hosting huge, national-level PRS matches, these best practices are applicable to almost any type of long-range, field shooting competition. With new matches popping up everywhere, my hope is this will help new match directors avoid common pitfalls and get started in the right direction.

Matt Clem, BJ Bailey, and Shannon Kay

I also want to make it clear that Matt, BJ, and Shannon are humble guys, and they didn’t want to present this as them saying they have it all figured out. They certainly didn’t want to put themselves up on a pedestal. It was just clear through community feedback that they were running matches that people really enjoy, so I wanted to share some of their knowledge and lessons learned.

“When a match director runs a great match, it benefits everybody. It’s a community effort within the long-range match world, and we’re all sharing notes and helping each other out. Everyone is getting better and better. We aren’t necessarily competing against each other, as much as we are ambassadors and stewards of the sport.” – Shannon Kay, PRS Director

While all this content came from two one-hour conversations I had with these guys, I put a lot of time into organizing the tips into a couple major areas to make this easier to take in:

  • Overall Match Flow & Design
  • Stage Design
  • Range Officers
  • Administration

I also integrated a few related excerpts from the official PRS Guidelines for Match Directors, which can be found in the PRS Rules.

Overall Match Flow & Design

Tips from Shannon Kay of K&M Precision Rifle Competition:

The most important aspects to running an efficient match are planning, preparation, and analysis. You have to be planning a big match at least 6 months out, thinking through things like throughput, stage design, etc. It’s a continuous cycle of planning, prep, and analysis. Part of the analysis I do each year after the match is look at the list of shooters in the order they placed, but I don’t ever look at the top shooter to see if they shot 70, 80, or 90%. That’s not what I look at. I go ½ way to ¾ of the way down the list, to see if an average or relatively new shooter is getting 50-60% of what the winner scored. I’ll build my stages with that guy in mind. So you could potentially call them easy on the surface, but none of the shooters are going to call them easy.

We have to remember that these are our customers, and nobody wants to go to a match where they just hit 20 targets of the 200 that were exposed to them. I try to focus on making sure the 80% of the people in the middle (i.e. excluding the top 10% and bottom 10%) are having a good time and completing stages. The bottom 10% are either completely new or are shooters who had equipment problems, so I exclude those. You also can’t design matches for the top 10% or it would be far too hard for the majority of guys.

When another match director asks me how hard they should make the match, I always tell them to make it a lot easier than you think. Start by drafting up the course of fire on paper, and then go back and make it a little easier than that … and it’s probably still too hard. At K&M we run 20-22 stages total, and we will run 18 stages at the same time. 4-7 stages will be what I call “separator stages,” and those are designed to be a little more challenging and will be where the top guys can separate themselves. I’ve ran dozens and dozens of matches all across the country, and I’ve NEVER had a shooter come up to me and say “Man that was too easy! It was so boring I’m never coming back.” Most guys say something like “Shannon that was a great match! I may not have done exactly what I wanted to, but on every stage I either thought I could’ve cleaned it or should’ve cleaned it. I really had a good time and appreciate it.” I think that’s part of why big matches like Heatstroke and K&M do well. Every match has its own flair, but the key is to make it attainable for the shooters.

K&M Precision Rifle Training Complex

You have to think about the overall flow of the match. Some match directors dive straight into the details and course of fire, but it’s important to start by doing some simple math related to how you’re going to organize it:

  • How big is your property, and how many stages can I run?
  • How large will the squads need to be?
  • How many experienced RO’s will I be able to recruit to run my stages?

That will help you understand the scale of the match and how many shooters you’ll be able to support. For 2 day matches, it seems like most shooters are tired and ready to be done by the 2nd day around 1-2pm, so I try to cater my matches with that in mind.

It’s important to start on time. I always allot time for the initial briefing, and then for movement to the stages. But then I add another 15 minutes just to account for Murphy’s Law. I do that same thing on stages. I might say a particular stage should realistically take 45 minutes to get through all the shooters in the squad, but then I add-on that 15 minute buffer time. That simple thing can go a long way to helping the match stay on schedule.

Heatstroke Open Precision Rifle Match

It’s important to keep stages running equal times. We generally run 90 second par times on stages across the board, but I’ll go even deeper than that. Anytime you put someone inside an obstacle, like inside a car or up on a tower, that stage has the ability to desynchronize the flow of the match significantly if the match director doesn’t think about allowing extra time to get the shooter and rifle off the obstacle. The flip side of that is if a stage is too simple in execution, shooters may complete it in ½ the time, and that can also desynch the flow of a match. In those cases, you might think about combining two stages or put that stage on a more remote part of the property so it’s balanced with a walk before and/or after the stage. That can also help ensure you’re effectively using the entire property. When it comes to par times, you need to be asking yourself “How long will the average shooter take to complete the stage?”

K&M Precision Rifle Conex Shipping Containter Stage

Tips from Matt Clem & B.J. Bailey of the Heatstroke Open:

You have to be planning for the match all the time, and thinking about everything from RO’s to course of fire. I think the most important thing is to keep your stages running equal times, which is why most of our stages run 3 minutes. I know some of the guys like faster-paced stuff, but just because you have 3 minutes doesn’t mean you’re going to finish everything either. There is always going to be a few stages in there that if you make a mistake or bobble something, you may not finish. It’s also important to ensure stages are equal points, meaning it isn’t fair if one stage is worth 2-3 times more than another stage.

Another key is to keep competitors busy. Heatstroke 2016 had a total round count of 320, which is a lot! But one day we shot 150-160 rounds, and we had guys who finished by 2:00pm. If you keep people shooting, they don’t have time to gripe. You don’t want to rush people, but we want to find a happy balance. You want people to be shooting, and not just standing around. We’ve found guys want to shoot about every 20-30 minutes. Any faster than that they feel rushed, and any slower than that they start complaining.

Heatstroke 2016 Log Stage

We try to make every stage “doable.” I remember at a Heatstroke match a couple of years ago where every stage was cleaned by at least one shooter. We don’t want anything out there that an average guy is not capable of doing. We don’t want new shooters to get discouraged. At the same time, even if the stages are all “cleanable,” we know there is no way even the top-tier guys are going to walk away with a perfect score. Nothing out there is impossible, but weather has such an impact on that. At the Heatstroke it’s shocking if there is less than a 10 mph wind, and last year we had winds over 20 mph!

On the other hand, the Heatstroke is no cake-walk. Weather would have to be perfect for someone to shoot 80%. Last year, 60% won it. We want the average guy to hit targets too, and maybe they’d land around 40-50%. Even if every stage is “cleanable,” I know how hard it is to shoot a match over 2 days and not make mental mistakes. I’m not a fan of matches where all the stages are a cake-walk. If a whole match is too easy, you just have to blow one stage to be out of the top 20. The Heatstroke is not that way. Our match is designed so that if you have a bad stage, you can still be in the hunt if you’re shooting well. Every shooter is going to drop points along the way. I just know it’s almost impossible for me to hold it together for two days, and I know that’s true for others as well.

Heatstroke 2016 Pipeline Stage

We have 30 courses of fire split evenly on two sides of the property (15 stages on each side). We try to mirror the same number of stages that are prone, positional, have movement, etc. on both sides, so that there isn’t an advantage to shooting one side or the other based on the day you draw. If the wind is worse on Day 1 than it was on Day 2, nobody has an advantage because of that. We try to keep everything as equal as possible. You aren’t going to shoot off the same prop on one side as the other, but it’s going to be a similar position. One side might have rocks, a tree, and a pipeline, and the other side might have tank traps, barricades, and a rooftop.

Heatstroke 2016 Precision Rifle Match Tree Stand StageOur match is the opposite of a square range. We don’t just shoot in one direction. When you’re at a match that fires all the bullets in the same direction, it’s easy for people to figure out what the wind is doing after a couple of stages and not have to make many adjustments through the day. We design the stages to shoot in almost 360 degrees, and try to use the unique terrain on the property to challenge shooters to continually assess the wind. Your wind call from the previous stage may be useless on the next stage. That’s just one of the ways we try to design a match that is more of a practical, field/hunting match.

One thing we’ve learned that can throw off a match is when you have stages that are really close together. After a squad finishes a stage, they might look up and see there isn’t anyone on a certain stage and take it upon themselves to go start that stage instead of waiting for guys to finish up on the stage they were supposed to rotate to next. What they might not have known is there was going to be another squad on that “open” stage 3 minutes later, and now they’re going to cause a major backup. Ultimately, that was our fault. You just can’t take little things like that for granted. We’ve learned we need to help squads stay in order. Part of how we do that is by equipping the RO’s at each stage with a list showing what squad and shooter numbers they should expect in what order.

Official PRS Guidelines for Match Directors Related To Overall Match Flow:

“Matches should be designed to be as efficient as possible in order to minimize the amount of time shooters spend waiting to shoot. Having a nearly uniform par time for most stages, using efficient methods like staging several shooters at one time and utilizing experienced RO’s who fully understand their COF are simple things that can be done to make the match flow smooth and efficient.”

Stage Design

Tips from Matt Clem & B.J. Bailey of the Heatstroke Open:

Don’t just draw up the course of fire on paper, and go set targets the week of the match. A lot of guys fall into the trap of writing down the course of fire on paper, but then feel like they’re enslaved to what they’ve written down and can’t change it. They get some buddies to go help them set targets, but it’s likely there are things they overlooked that need to be adjusted. Put the time in. Don’t wait until the last minute to set up the stages. Give yourself some time to tweak target locations and fine-tune the course of fire.

One of the biggest comments I can say about the whole thing is that I’ve got to be able to wrap my mind around what I’m doing on a stage before I can go engage it successfully. For example, I just can’t get into the idea of running up a cargo net and shooting off the top of it, because I’m not really boarding boats or anything. I understand some of that is for fun, but one of the things that hurts a lot of match directors is feeling like they have to “one-up” another match. Just let people shoot, because that’s what they came for! You don’t have to turn it into a competition of who can make the hardest match or have guys shoot from the craziest obstacles. Try not to do too much. I believe most people love natural obstacles.

Heatstroke 2016 Really Right Stuff RRS TripodCompared to other PRS matches, the Heatstroke has a lot of shots from either prone or a modified prone position. It’s hard to say exactly how much is prone, but we’d estimate that could be as much as 70% of the total shots.

When you ask us why so many people enjoy our match, we can’t answer that for sure. We simply design a match that we wish we could shoot ourselves. Here’s something I’m a big believer in: I’m not a CrossFit athlete and I’m going to give you time to shoot your rounds. If I’m going to go to the trouble to put a target, you’re going to get to shoot at it! Our match has quite a bit of positional stuff, but it’s all things you can work with. At the end of the day it’s about how many targets you hit, not about how good of an athlete you are.

The biggest thing I can preach to anybody is keep it practical. I think the key to it being so enjoyable is practicality, but still providing some diversity. Most of the guys in our area got started this because we wanted to improve our shooting for hunting. We’re not about all the tactical stuff or boarding ships on cargo nets. We just like to shoot stuff far away! We may have a stage where you shoot from a log or something, because in reality you can’t always take every shot from prone when you’re in the field. So everything we do is based around that kind of mindset.

Heatstroke 2016 Truck Stage 2When it comes to targets, the stage and area dictates the size. If shots are taken from prone, most targets are “bumping” 2 MOA (i.e. 1.5-2 MOA). Most of the targets engaged from barricades or from improvised positions will be bigger than that.

We have targets out to around 1200 yards, but those far targets are typically very generous sizes, like a 30” square at 1169 yards. We used to do more long shots, but have started limiting those in recent years. The mirage in July can make it tough to spot impacts on those really long targets. We do have target flashers installed on all the long targets, but we consider flashers just to be a back-up for calling impacts, because electronics can (and do) fail. Our primary strategy is to put experienced RO’s on stages with longer shots. Veteran spotters behind quality spotting scopes are still the best and most fail-proof way to call impacts.

When it comes to stage design, remember there are two types of guys that come to a match:

  • The guy who is there to compete – Whether this shooter has the skills to really be in contention for the top spot is irrelevant. He’s serious, and he wants stages to be fair and to provide a chance to prove his skills.
  • The guy who is there to have fun – This guy is just there to shoot with his buddies. He just wants to ring some steel and doesn’t want a match that is overly difficult.

Try to keep every stage appealing to at least one of these guys, if not both of them.

Tips from Shannon Kay of K&M Precision Rifle Competition:

Stage design is key. It must be efficient and fair. Some match directors get into trouble because they think shooters want this really creative, complex, you’re-going-to-love-this stage. While some shooters may like that, at the end of the day most shooters just want simple stages: here are your targets, and here is your obstacle or problem set to solve. Now engage. There is no trickery or buffoonery. The sport of long range shooting is hard enough without the match directors getting overly creative. Let the conditions and all the variables in the sport test the shooters.

A lot of match directors will get up to test some stage and they’ll shoot it once and not do very good, so they’ll do it 2 or 3 more times. After that 3rd time, they’ll be like “Oh yeah, that’s good. That setup and par time will be perfect.” Well, no. You can’t do that. First, you aren’t under “true time” in that scenario, because you’re not under competition stress, you know exactly where the targets are at, you come up right on them in the scope, and you probably have the ranges memorized. The guy who placed the targets can’t be a good judge of how long it takes to run a stage. He may have shot it in 60 seconds, and thinks giving guys 90 seconds will be perfect … but it isn’t. I know if I can complete a stage on my range with 30 seconds left over, it’s still WAY too hard, and it’s likely that only 10-20% of shooters could pull that off in match conditions. The 1st run is probably the best indicator, but a lot of match directors don’t see it that way. So a stage they thought was good ends up being way too difficult or the majority of shooters time out.

When designing stages, you have to force yourself to err in the direction of the stage being easier than you wanted it to be as opposed to harder than you wanted it to be. You can’t control a lot of variables like rain or wind, and you’ll often be surprised at how difficult a stage really ends up being.

When I am designing a stage, the guy I have in mind is that new shooter who has only been competing for a year. That guy should be able to hit targets and have a good time. After a match, I’ll go back and look stage by stage at the scores and if I see that those mid-range guys aren’t hitting many targets on a particular stage, I’ll think to myself “I made a mistake there,” and I know I need to make it easier next time.

IPSC Target DimensionsFor example, let’s say we have a stage where guys engage multiple 2/3 IPSC targets (12” wide x 20” tall) from 400 to 700 yards. First, I don’t think of that as a 20” target … that is a 12” target. If they’re shooting those targets from prone you’ll have relatively high scores on that stage, but if you change that to force them to move between 5 modified prone positions that will completely change the stage and a lot of guys will time out. A five position stage is a “time eater.” I want them to feel the stress of time, but I don’t want them to consistently time out, because that’s not fun for them either. Any time you add multiple positions you increase the risk that many will time out. So I might pair that down to three positions, and give them 15 seconds to build a modified prone position for each of the three positions, which should be plenty of time. So that is 45 seconds to build positions, and they have 45 seconds to engage targets. That is the start of a good stage design.

K&M Precision Rifle Tires StageAnother thing I do is if I do have guys firing from five different positions, they’re usually not going to have to adjust their data. Instead all the targets they engage will be the same distance, either as a stationary target or target rack. I’ll give them something interesting to shoot at, but I’m not going to make them move, build multiple positions, and dial for different target ranges on most stages.

Keep in mind how hard it is for guys to find targets. If you have a flat range, they usually only have to pan left and right. But if there are hills, causing the shooter to pan both left/right and up/down to find targets, you need to add even more time. My range is relatively flat, but if you took one of my stages that worked well and moved it to an open desert with lots of terrain, it wouldn’t work, because shooters would likely have a hard time finding targets.

K&M Precision Rifle Hostage StageAnother aspect that can make a stage significantly harder is if you’re shooting a target on a hill or with a backdrop that doesn’t allow you to spot your misses. In those cases, you have to increase the target size.

When it comes to target size, my targets that are 1 MOA or smaller are always prone and I make sure the shooter has time to build a good position. My Know-Your-Limits (KYL) rack is 500 yards or less, and it’s in a place where guys can spot their misses. Anything beyond 800 is a full-size IPSC, because you never know what weather conditions are going to be. I like to keep the targets a healthy size, and maybe add a bit of movement that doesn’t waste a lot of time.

Game Changer BagAs gear, equipment, and training improve, you may need to adapt target sizes. Things like the Game Changer bag have really improved how well guys are able to shoot positional stages. It allows guys to be much more accurate. I watch the scores over the years, and if it looks like most people are hammering targets with ease, I may need to change it up. But I don’t forget that new shooter. So if I had a 2/3 IPSC target (12” wide x 20” tall) on a stage that guys were hammering, I will leave that target and simply add a smaller target (maybe 10×10 or even 12×12) that makes them hold just a little tighter. Then instead of taking 2 shots at the IPSC, I’ll have them take one shot at the big target and one shot at the smaller target. That’s one way to adapt a stage without leaving the new shooter behind.

I’m not designing matches for just the top guys. I’m also not designing matches for myself or how I train. I’m designing matches with the new shooter in mind. I’m constantly thinking about that guy who has shot competitions for one year, and I’m asking myself “Can he do this?” If we design matches where that newer guy can come out and have a good time, this sport will continue to grow.

Here are a couple of charts illustrating all the target distances from the 2016 Heatstroke Open and 2016 K&M PRC. These are based on the match books for those competitions, and they give you a rough idea for the engagements you can expect at these top matches.

PRS Target Distances

Download the 2016 K&M Match Book to get an idea for the course of fire.

Official PRS Guidelines for Match Directors Related To Stage Design:

 “The PRS prides itself on being the most practical of all the action shooting sports, therefore; designing stages that are highly practical COF’s such as short to mid-range unknown distance stages, blind stages with no preparation granted to the shooter, and the use of realistic props is highly encouraged. Unrealistic and impractical stages should be avoided. The majority of PRS stages should be challenging to even the most seasoned competitors. As a general guideline, the top score for most stages (and therefore the match) should be between 75-90% of the total available points. Matches in which the winner attains less than 50% of the points possible are not providing the shooters, especially newer ones, an opportunity to enjoy themselves. Match Books should include all the information a shooter needs to shoot a stage. At a minimum, the general stage scheme, starting point, shooting locations, target descriptions, direction of fire, round count, stage restrictions and par time should be included. Blind stages are exceptions to this guideline.”

Range Officers (RO’s)

Tips from Shannon Kay of K&M Precision Rifle Competition:

By far, the biggest burden on a match director is this: Do I have the volunteers and the talent to execute the stages I’m wanting to do? And am I putting the right people on the right stages? That is what limits the size of the match or what you’re able to do on stages.

K&M Precision Rifle Rooftop StageFor the K&M match I have 18 stages running at one time, so I need a minimum of 36 people to execute that. There are a lot of volunteers, but I need to have the right guys. There are ROs/spotters and there are score keepers, and there is a huge difference between those. If the RO’s are timid or don’t have a lot of experience, it will definitely affect how well that stage runs, and that could taint the match. Every match director lays awake at night thinking “Are the RO’s going to be okay?” We simply cannot do it without those volunteers and those guys are really the ones that drive the community. I’m lucky and blessed to have a lot of guys that are willing to stop what they’re doing on a holiday weekend to come sit in the sun and look through a piece of glass all day.

Anything a match director can do to attract RO’s is going to help them, whether that is giving away free slots, giving away prizes, or recruiting from local club members.

For small/mid-sized club matches, I’ve seen it work well to waive a shooter’s match fee if they’re willing to be an RO. A lot of the clubs in the southeast are having matches with up to 100 shooters, and they’re able to get RO’s to do that because they allow anyone willing to RO to shoot the match for free. We’re 5 months into the season, and I have not heard one complaint from that. How that might work is the RO would shoot the stage first, and then RO the stage for the rest of the squad. Often times the guys who RO are seasoned veterans, so the other shooters like it too because that means they’re able to watch a pro or top competitor shoot a stage in front of them and that RO can usually call shots really well too.

I know my real limitation as a match director is not my facility size or the number of shooters who want to shoot, but by the number of quality RO’s we can get to put on these large matches.

Tips from Matt Clem & B.J. Bailey of the Heatstroke Open:

Putting on a match like the Heatstroke takes a ton of RO’s, so that part is always a struggle. The thing is, you need experienced shooters, and not just friends or willing volunteers. They need to be able to spot shots, and know how to run a stage. One problem you may run into with RO’s is you have two buddies volunteer who want to work together, but neither of them has any experience. The problem is you’ll have that one shooter come along that is a bully, and will argue “No, I hit that target!” or try to take advantage of them. You just need to think through and plan for things like that.

If there is movement on a stage, you’ve got to stick a “Nazi” RO on that stage to help keep everyone safe. Whenever a competitor is moving during a course of fire, there is always increased risk that they’ll sweep someone with their muzzle or sky-load. So on those stages the RO’s have to be ready and willing to call that stuff out when they see it. Safety is critical, and it’s not only the responsibility of the RO, but everyone at the match. If a shooter sees something that’s not safe, it’s up to them to call it out. We can’t abdicate safety to the RO’s.

Heatstroke 2016 Tree StageAt each stage, we need 1 RO/spotter + 1 score keeper. So for a large match like the Heatstroke, we need a minimum of 30 people who really know what they’re doing, and those will be the guys running the stages. The rest of the volunteers might be running water, or helping out in other ways … but the experienced RO’s are always the key.

We try to prepare and equip our RO’s and help them be organized by telling them the order that the squads will be coming in, and ensuring they have all the shooter numbers and information they need to run an efficient stage.

Part of what we do at the Heatstroke to attract experienced RO’s is give them some of our top prizes. Our prize tables always have some amazing gear on them, but we handpick a few items that will go to RO’s and then draw names for those winners. This past year that included a complete custom rifle, a complete tripod setup from Really Right Stuff (retails over $1,000), six suppressors, and other prizes. In past years, that has included things like a pair of high-end Swarovski binoculars. These are not small gifts … they’re things shooters who finish in the top 20 might be happy picking up off the prize table.

Most of the RO’s for the Heatstroke come from the 150 members in the OPPS (Oklahoma Practical Precision Shooters Club). There are lots of great guys in our club, and they’re a huge help!

Administration

Tips from Shannon Kay of K&M Precision Rifle Competition:

One of the things that is hardest on match directors is administration. You simply can’t go into a match with any loose ends, whether that is name changes, squadding, shooter numbers, corrections to the match book, etc. We’ve all seen the match director that seems to be running around with their head cut off the morning of the match, which is why you must be disciplined to have your stuff together. It’s really easy for match directors to get overwhelmed if they start a match with loose ends.

K&M Precision Rifle Match PrepWhen it comes to squadding, at K&M we typically run squads of 12 shooters. I know some guys travel all the way across the country and they want to shoot with their buddies, so we try to accommodate that if we can.

We do use PractiScore, which is a match scoring app that can make a match director’s job a lot easier. The PRS is working on a free tool that we hope will provide some of the same basic functionality at some point in the future. Hopefully that will be a step forward to help all matches run as efficiently as possible, with scores posted at the end of each day or even throughout the day, and final results tabulated within minutes of the last shots being fired.

Tips from Matt Clem & B.J. Bailey of the Heatstroke Open:

We aren’t good at the administration part of this, so we outsource it! We don’t do any of the administration portion of the match ourselves, so we may not have much wisdom here … except to say if you aren’t good at it, find someone else who is.

One key we believe in is small squads. At the Heatstroke we try to keep squads to 7 shooters or less. And I know everyone wants to shoot with their buddies, and a little of that is fine. But one thing you need to watch out for is having a whole squad of rookies all to themselves, because that will create a lot of problems and backups.

The Heatstroke is also going to be using PractiScore this year.

Official PRS Guidelines for Match Directors Related To Administration:

Pre-Match: “Provide the shooters with as much information as possible. Accurate start times, solid directions, round count by weapon and general expectations should be conveyed to the shooters at least two weeks prior to the match. Also include what amenities and facilities will be available and what the participants should plan to bring; i.e. food, water, toilet items, etc.”

Post-Match: “Scores should be complete within thirty minutes after the last shooter finishes his or her last stage. For the 2017 PRS Season, the use of a digital scoring system on digital devices will be strongly encouraged. Once the match scores and PRS points are tabulated, they should be distributed to the shooters as quickly as possible; either posted on a large screen monitor or several paper copies made available.”

Take-Away’s

Matt said after you’ve been a match director you won’t ever shoot a match the same way again, because the whole time you’re thinking “Why did they design it this way?” or “How could they improve this?” There is certainly far more to putting on a match than most people ever think about, but hopefully this opened our eyes to a few things top match directors think about.

Here’s what Shannon said in closing: “Being a match director is a big jump from a shooter or even a range officer. But I don’t know a match director out there that won’t field a phone call to help out another match director. I’ve always said I don’t have all the answers, but if you want to come out and watch what we do or run something by me, I’m always open to that. Other match directors would love to help you out. We aren’t necessarily competing against each other, as much as we are ambassadors and stewards of the sport. So we share notes. I’d suggest you start by running 30-40 man club matches. What we’re doing with a lot of these clubs is telling guys that if they’ll be a club series match director for a year or two, then we’ll give you a big PRS match once you’ve got that experience. It’s a good progression to ensure we’re achieving that standard of excellence in matches that shooters expect, both at the club series and at the PRS Bolt Gun Series level.”

Many of us have shot several matches and may have even been an RO at a match before. We’ve witnessed things that worked well and likely been a victim of a poorly ran match. We all have opinions. But understand that most match directors get to listen to guys who feel like their role in life is to be a professional critic. But just because you’ve been to the doctor several times before or read something on WebMD, that doesn’t make you a doctor. Have some respect for the time those guys have spent planning their match, and if you still want to offer your opinion, do it in the right way.

The role of match director is a thankless job. This has opened my eyes to the fact that those guys put in countless hours to try to give me an enjoyable experience. It may be one of the most under-appreciated roles out there … followed closely by Range Officers. If the best RO’s are experienced shooters, you know 99% of those guys would rather be shooting the match, but if they did that the match wouldn’t exist. So they’re volunteering to give up a weekend and sit in the sun all day to serve us in the shooting community. Often times all they get in return is shooters arguing with them or complaining. Hopefully this gives us a new perspective. So next time, even if we disagree with something, let’s keep in mind that at the end of the day they’ve put in a ton of time and effort to try to provide us with a fun event. If you love this sport like I do, and want to continue to enjoy it … let’s be intentional to not pass up an opportunity to thank the match directors and RO’s that are making it possible.

In related news, the 2017 K&M Precision Rifle Competition just completed on Memorial Day Weekend. It was another successful 200+ man match at their world-class facilities in Tennessee. The 2017 Heatstroke Open will be on July 14-16 and there are still a few spots open. I’m sure those won’t last long! You can check it out at https://practiscore.com/2017-heatstroke-open/register.

About Cal

Cal Zant is the shooter/author behind PrecisionRifleBlog.com. Cal is a life-long learner, and loves to help others get into this sport he's so passionate about. Cal has an engineering background, unique data-driven approach, and the ability to present technical information in an unbiased and straight-forward fashion. For more info, check out PrecisionRifleBlog.com/About.

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3 comments

  1. Thanks, Cal,
    a “top” presentation” of the issues involved in running matches. I had a bit of experience in IPSC years back, helping design, run, R/O, score and so on, and the way the guys have laid out their ideas and planning is right on the button.
    I’ll quote one example:
    A national open, “my” squad turn up o a range to shoot, and find a state “B” team sitting on their arses, refusing to finish the particular stage because of some dispute. The R/O and staff were off trying to sort the problem out with the Match Director and his staff, so that blew the rest of our day. While we were trying to sort it all out an Official turned up and got up us for not shooting; he went off with a flea in his ear.

    Overnight I had a “think” and wrote out a letter of comment (not complaint) Poor old M/D (a mate) pulled the offending team off the range half-way through a stage on the second day; ( poor bugger, the offenders were from his home state) and read them the riot act; one even slight foot wrong and the whole team could go home.
    A couple “fronted” me about my letter {quite agressively) while I was having a leak (gear on, empty full-house” 40S&W in the holster); my response? still unzipped, and busy, slide a loaded mag into the gun…..
    They left …..
    Never heard any more of it…
    A bit heavy, maybe,….

  2. Good article, as always. Match directors and RO’s are the reason these matches exist and they really don’t get enough credit. Even if they do get to shoot they have to take their focus off rehearsing stages and prepping their gear to help everyone else go through the stage.

    I think the best thing shooters can do is help them anyway they need it either spotting if required or cleaning up shooters gear for them so the RO’s can focus on safety and score keeping. They try their best to make it fair and balanced for everyone so I think it is always best to give them the benefit of the doubt on any calls and if push comes to shove support them if people try to complain or argue.