I recently surveyed the top 100 shooters in the Precision Rifle Series (PRS), and this post reviews the rifle gunsmiths who built their rifles in 2015. The PRS tracks how top competitors place in major rifle matches across the country. These are the major leagues of sniper-style competitions, with targets typically from 300 to 1200 yards. These world-class shooters represent the best of the best in terms of long-range shooting in field conditions. For more info on the Precision Rifle Series and who these guys are, or to view what other gear they’re running scroll to the bottom of this article.
Top Rifle Gunsmiths
Here is a look at the most popular gunsmiths used by these elite shooters:
GA Precision claimed the top spot for the 3rd year in a row! GA Precision (GAP) is legendary in the precision rifle world, and known for consistently turning out some of the most accurate rifles in the world. In fact, for a few models, GAP guarantees your rifle will shoot 3/8 MOA or better using match-grade factory ammo. There aren’t many gunsmiths out there with the confidence to put that in print. GA Precision has a lot of shooters representing them in this group, including their President/Senior Rifle Builder, George Gardner, who has personally finished in the top 25 four years in a row. There are only a handful of guys who could claim that honor. You know when the man running the company shoots competitively and is out testing his own product in the field, you can expect great things.
Accuracy International and Stuteville Precision were also represented in large numbers among these top shooters. Accuracy International (AI) is a household name among precision riflemen. Their rifles are military tough and extremely precise. AI works differently than many companies. On an AI-built rifle, you can’t choose what brand barrel you want used, or other options you might get with a full-custom builder. But, if AI is willing to stamp their brand on it … you know it represents one of the best rifles money can buy. Their goal is to identify the absolute best components for each part of the rifle, and then assemble a team of world-class experts that specialize in key aspects of each rifle. AI’s core competency could be their intense focus on advanced manufacturing processes and continuous improvement. That’s why AI sniper rifles are deployed by some of the most prestigious and influential military and law enforcement agencies in the world, including 60+ countries. In fact, the longest confirmed kill in military history was fired from an AI rifle (2707 yards from a 338 Lapua Mag).
Stuteville Precision is a new name, but familiar face. Wade Stuteville was involved with Surgeon Rifles since its inception, including roles in product development, testing and evaluation, a gunsmithing process advisor, and eventually General Manager of the whole operation. But when Surgeon relocated to Arizona in 2014 Wade decided to stay behind in Oklahoma and open Stuteville Precision. Here is a brief description of Wade written by a guy who knows him well: “Anyone who knows Wade or has run into him at any match, knows that he is a walking encyclopedia of anything guns. He not only knows all of the technicalities and mechanics of things that make rifles tick, he also knows real world information that comes from having put tens of thousands of rounds down range, in practice and competitions all around the US. Affectionately called E.F. Hutton by his friends, he is always able to give the answer to most any question, and can explain it like ‘a 5 year old could understand.’” Wade has competed with precision rifles for 15+ years, and there aren’t many that have been at this that long.
Short Action Customs (SAC) also had several rifles represented among the top 100 shooters. That included 3 shooters in the top 20 … including the guy who took 1st overall this year, David Preston. David won 4 PRS matches in 2015, including the PRS Season Championship which is a head-to-head competition against the best shooters in the country. He was the first PRS shooter ever to finish the season with a perfect 400 score. David did all that with a rifle built by Short Action Customs. SAC is headed up by Mark Gordon, and American Shooting Journal recently asked him about that partnership with David. Here is what Mark said:
We started our first rifle build for David Preston in early 2014 after developing a relationship with him from previous PRS matches. At that time, Preston was familiar with our rifles and what they were capable of. Luckily for me he wasn’t shooting for a team at the time. We spoke on a few occasions, and I offered him a position on our team. After many rounds fired, rifles rebarreled and matches shot, Preston really started shooting to his potential. We do our very best to keep reliable and accurate rifles in the hands of PRS shooters so they can do their job. – Mark Gordon, SAC Owner/Founder
Those four companies were the only ones with more than 3 shooters represented among the top 100, and they were clearly separated from the rest of the pack … because all of them had at least 7. 1 out of 3 shooters in the top 100 were using a rifle built by one of those four companies!
But there is a long list of other gunsmiths who had rifles represented in the top 100, and each of them build world-class rifles capable of shooting at the highest levels. If you’re thinking about building a precision rifle, you should have confidence in any of these guys.
|Gunsmiths with Multiple Rifles Among Top 100||Gunsmiths with 1 Rifle Among Top 100|
American Precision Arms (APA)
Beanland Custom Rifles
Crescent Customs (aka Tim “Moon” Roberts)
Hawk Hill Custom
Parry Custom Gun
Roberts Precision Rifles
Short Action Customs
Southern Indiana Precision
Sure Shot Precision Rifles
Ashbury Precision Ordnance
Center Shot Rifles
Dane Miller Rifles (DMR)
Louisiana Precision Rifles
Master Piece Arms Rifle
Patriot Valley Arms
R Bros Rifles
Spartan Precision Rifles
Also, 10 shooters within the top 100 built their own rifles. How hard can it be, right?! 😉
Trends in Gunsmiths Among Top 50
In 2015, I surveyed the top 100 shooters, but in previous years that only included the top 50. So when we look at historical trends, we can only compare those among the top 50 shooters. Here is what those have looked like since the inception of the PRS in 2012.
You can see GA Precision has had a large number of shooters represented every year. Stuteville Precision was founded less than two years ago, and they already have a sizable representation among this crowd. Short Action Customs had another strong representation, following their debut on the scene last year. Accuracy International is making steady ground in popularity among the top PRS competitors.
One other fact sticks out on this chart, and that is the decline of Surgeon-built rifles among these shooters. While many shooters still build their rifles on Surgeon actions (as we’ll see in the next post), there has been a steady decline in the number of full rifle builds from Surgeon. There seems to have been some turbulence surrounding the Surgeon Rifles sponsored PRS team in recent years, and that may explain part of this change. But for whatever reason, there were less Surgeon-built rifles among this group than ever before.
Other “What The Pros Use” Articles
This post was one of a series of posts that look at the equipment the top PRS shooters use. Check out these other posts:
- Calibers & Cartridges
- Scopes & Reticles
- Rifle Actions
- Rifle Chassis & Stocks
- Rifle Suppressors & Muzzle Brakes
- Shooting Bags
- Bullets, Brass, Primers & Powders
- Special Bonus Post!
Meet The Pros
You know NASCAR? Yes, I’m talking about the racing-cars-in-a-circle NASCAR. Before NASCAR, there were just a bunch of unaffiliated, regional car races. NASCAR brought structure by unifying those races, and created the idea of a season … and an overall champion. NASCAR identified the top races across the country (that were similar in nature), then combined results and ranked competitors. The Precision Rifle Series (PRS) is like NASCAR, but for rifle matches.
The PRS is a championship style point series race based on the best precision rifle matches nationwide. PRS matches are recognized as the major league of sniper-style rifle matches. These matches aren’t shot from a bench or even on a square range. They feature practical, real-world field conditions, and even some improvised barricades and obstacles to increase the difficulty from hard to you-have-to-be-kidding-me. You won’t be able to take all shots from a prone position, and time stressors keep you from getting to comfortable. Typical target ranges are from 300 to 1200 yards, but each PRS match has a unique personality with creative stages that challenge different aspects of precision shooting. You might start off the day with a single cold bore shot on a small target at 400 yards, then at the next stage make a 1400 yard shot through 3 distinct winds across a canyon, then try to hit a golf ball on a string at 164 yards with no backstop to help you spot misses (can’t make that up), then see how many times you can ring an small 6” target at 1000 yards in 30 seconds, next shoot off a roof top at 10”, 8”, and 6” targets at 600 yards, followed by a speed drill on 1” targets at 200 yards and repeated at 7 yards … plus 10 other stages, and then come back tomorrow and do some more! Many stages involve some type of gaming strategy, and physical fitness can also come into play. For a shooter to place well in multiple matches, they must be an extremely well-rounded shooter who is capable of getting rounds on target in virtually any circumstance.
There are about 15 national-level PRS matches each year. At the end of the year the match scores are evaluated and the top ranked shooters are invited to compete head-to-head in the PRS Championship Match. We surveyed the shooters who qualified for the championship, asking all kinds of questions about the equipment they ran that season. This is a great set of data, because 100 shooters is a significant sample size, and this particular group are experts among experts. It includes guys like George Gardner (President/Senior Rifle Builder of GA Precision), Wade Stuteville of Stuteville Precision, Jim See of Center Shot Rifles, Matt Parry of Parry Custom Gun, Aaron Roberts of Roberts Precision Rifles, shooters from the US Army Marksmanship Unit, and many other world-class shooters.
Think of the best shooter you know … it’s actually very unlikely that person is good enough to break into the top 100. I know I’m not! I competed against a few of these guys for the first time earlier this year, and I was humbled. It’s incredible what these guys can do with a rifle. For example, the match in Oklahoma I was in had a station that required you to engage 4 steel targets scattered at random distances from 300 to 800 yards, and you only had 15 seconds! I think I hit 2, and rushed my 3rd shot. I didn’t even get the 4th shot off! But, one of these guys cleaned that stage with 4 seconds to spare! Yep, he got 4 rounds on target at distance in 11 seconds. That’s the caliber of shooter we’re talking about. It’s very different from benchrest or F-class competitions, but make no mistake … these guys are serious marksmen.