A couple of years ago, I wrote about a custom 6XC precision rifle I had built that I used in PRS-style matches. Since that time more precision rifle products have been released than the previous 10 years combined! So last year I started from scratch and built two twin match rifles. I’ve been running this rifle setup for a year now, making small tweaks along the way, and I love how I have it configured. While I don’t believe in any one rifle being the “best” for all shooters and applications, this setup seems completely ideal for my use. I’m fortunate to have a few precision rifles, and picking your favorite can be like having to pick your favorite child, but if I could keep just one … it’d be one of these match rifles.
The first question might be: Why build two of them? Good question! If you think about all the total investment you make to practice and travel a couple hundred miles to a national-level match, it adds up pretty quick. Ammo, barrel wear, and time to practice and get tuned up the weeks leading up to the match, plus time to load ammo, cost of reloading equipment, time to travel, plus gas, hotel, and meals for the trip to the match. By the time you get to the first stage, you’ve made quite the investment. If you have an equipment failure a few stages in that you can’t recover from, it can feel like all that investment goes down the drain.
So like a lot of shooters, I started carrying spare parts and tools with me to matches. For example, I’d bring a spare trigger in case the Jewell I was using at the time went down, along with all the tools required to change all that out. But even then, I’d just be hoping they’d have a place to confirm my zero before getting back into the match, and by that point my squad may have already shot a couple of stages while I was working on the repair and I’d have to take a zero on those stages. I noticed most veteran shooters take two rifles with them to a match, and having a complete, identical backup rifle ready-to-go is the ultimate insurance to ensure you can quickly/fully recover from an equipment failure.
But for me, the biggest reason is actually related to practice. I don’t get to head to the range as often as I’d like, so when I do get there I want to make the most of the time and get in all the practice I can. If you only have one precision rifle, you may spend a significant amount of time waiting for your barrel to cool between strings of fire. If you don’t, your barrel can get really hot and accurate barrel life could be cut in half. With two rifles, I can literally double the amount of rounds I can fire in the same amount of time. By the time I shoot a mock stage with one, the other is cooled off and ready to go.
I used two rifles in different calibers and configurations for a while, but I had to really watch which magazine/ammo you reach for and manage two different sets of ballistics. One of the rifles was better off barricades than the other, or how I ran it was slightly different so I wasn’t practicing the same technique. Two identical rifles with identical ammo is ideal to maximize your time at the range and learn your ballistics. I don’t claim to be one of the best shooters, but without two rifles my practice would be cut in half and I’d be a lot worse! 😉 Ultimately practice is the only thing that can make a good shooter great. There is no gear or shortcuts that can get you there.
Why 6mm Creedmoor?
I don’t believe in the supremacy of any one cartridge. In the past, I’ve shot a 6XC and a couple other cartridges, but when Lapua started offering Creedmoor brass with small primer pockets I decided to switch over to the 6mm Creedmoor. Lapua brass is legendary, and in my experience is capable of producing very consistent loads straight out of the box, no sorting or hassle required. Combine that Lapua case with the extremely aerodynamic 115gr DTAC bullet from David Tubb, and you have the makings of an outstanding load.
But the availability of world-class components like Lapua brass and wind-cheating DTAC bullets weren’t the only things that attracted me to the 6mm Creedmoor. I also love having the option for affordable, match-grade, factory ammo. I’ve fired a ton of the Hornady Match 108gr ELD-M ammo during practice, and typically see SD’s over 10 shot strings of 8-20 fps, with 12-15 fps most frequently. The Hornady Black 105gr BTHP wasn’t quite as consistent in my rifle, but a friend shot the same lot of ammo from his 6mm Creedmoor and said it produced single digit SD’s. PRIME Ammo and a couple of others also offer factory ammo in 6mm Creedmoor, so there are a few options.
Earlier this year I competed in the Battle of the States PRS match in Oklahoma, and shot pretty well to finish 8th overall. At that same match, my teammate Wes Martin finished 4th using factory 6mm Creedmoor Hornady Black 105gr BTHP ammo! He was just a couple shots behind world-class shooters like Matthew Brousseau and Austin Orgain! Obviously, this factory ammo is extremely capable.
Hornady seems to be offering a lot of value with their factory, match-grade ammo. Think about it: A new, unprimed 6mm Creedmoor case from Hornady has a street price of around $0.70 each and a 108gr ELDM bullet sales for $0.30 each, so just the case and the bullet costs $1 per round. Yet you can find loaded rounds with that same brass and bullet for sale online at around $1.10-1.15 per round (find the lowest price on AmmoSeek.com). You can even sell your once-fired brass afterward for $0.30-0.50 per piece to recover some of that expense, which could make the net cost even cheaper than reloading it yourself! Thanks Hornady!
The 6.5 Creedmoor also has great options for components, and even more factory ammo options. I do own a 6.5 Creedmoor and think it’s fantastic, but the 6mm has slightly less recoil which may give you a small advantage when trying to spot shots from barricades or improvised shooting positions. The 6mm also has a little flatter ballistics, but that comes at the cost of reduced barrel life. Either Creedmoor cartridge is a great option. There are a ton of good factory rifles chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor, so that is what I typically recommend to friends, but for a dedicated match rifle I personally chose the 6mm flavor.
Of course we’re all trying to strike the “right” balance between ballistics, recoil, and barrel life, and the 6mm Creedmoor was in the ballpark I was looking for. Ultimately, what tipped the scales for me were both the availability of Lapua brass, great 6mm bullets for reloading, plus the option for affordable, match-grade, factory ammo.
Impact Precision 737R Action
My first two short-action precision rifles were built on Surgeon actions, but I bought those actions a couple of years apart. While most Surgeon actions have similar dimensions, they may not always be close enough to use the same barrels. That’s why you have to ship off your action to a gunsmith so he can chamber the headspace of a barrel to that specific action. In fact, one of my close friends had 3 Surgeon actions he bought over a couple of years and two were close enough that a barrel chambered for one would work on either, but it wouldn’t work on the third.
However, there are a few actions that are different and you can essentially cut the barrel according to the blueprint of the action, and it’d work on any of their actions. Accuracy International is one of those, and there are a few others – like this Impact Precision 737R action that was released last year. Not only are the individual parts held to tight tolerances, but the assembled parts are also held exact tolerances so that one action is virtually identical to another. Receiver headspace and index tolerance allows actions and barrels to be purchased off the shelf and user installed. No more sending your favorite match rifle off to be rebarreled!
As an added plus, if your match rifle was chambered for a cartridge with a 308 bolt face, like the Creedmoor’s or 6.5×47 Lapua or hundreds of other cartridges, but you want a 223 rifle to train with … just purchase one of their barrels chambered in 223 Rem and a bolt with the 223 bolt face, and you can install them yourself with a few simple tools. Just place an order on their website and it can ship direct to you – no need for a gunsmith or FFL. Want to use your match rifle as a hunting rifle? Order a barrel chambered in 300 WSM or 7mm SAUM and a bolt with a magnum bolt face, screw on the barrel, insert the bolt, and go. Impact has chambered barrels ready to ship for most of the popular short-action cartridges, and companies like CORE have also started offering pre-fit barrels for Impact actions. You can have multiple barrels in different calibers, but only need one action, stock, trigger, and scope instead of buying everything multiple times.
Note that these pre-chambered barrels are different from pre-chambered barrels for Ruger Precision Rifles, Savage, or “Rem-age” setups. Those barrels have no shoulder to headspace from but instead require a lock nut to set headspace. While those setups offer similar benefits, the barrels should be installed by a qualified individual with a set of headspace gauges for whatever cartridge you’re using. In contrast, barrels for Impact actions headspace off the shoulder of the barrel, just like a custom chambered barrel would if you sent your action off to a gunsmith. No need for a lock nut or to carefully adjust for headspace – just screw them on and go.
Wade Stuteville and Tate Streater are both accomplished shooters in the PRS world, and they’re the guys behind this new action. While it is held to tight tolerances, it was specifically designed to run in the toughest field conditions. The one piece bolt is designed with proper geometry and clearance to allow smooth operation under field conditions. Fluting on the top and sides of bolt body carry dirt away while a smooth bottom portion ensures smooth cycling. The black carbon nitride finish also improves operation by increasing surface hardness and lubricity. The rugged bolt stop design can take abuse while not requiring modification to stocks or chassis.
It features an integral recoil lug and integral 20 MOA picatinny rail. Of course it based on a Rem 700 footprint, which means it’s compatible with most stocks/chassis and aftermarket triggers.
It also has a trigger hanger, which is a feature gaining popularity on new action designs. Replacing a trigger on most Rem 700 based actions requires a hammer and punch to remove the pins connecting the trigger to the action. Doing that in the field is NOT ideal, because you could easily lose one of the pins. With a trigger hanger, you can replace a trigger with just a screwdriver, which simplifies maintenance in the field.
Hawk Hill Barrel
The barrels I’m using were made by Hawk Hill Custom. Their custom, match-grade barrels are 4 groove, single point cut, and hand lapped barrels. I went with a 1:7.5 twist, which is a fast twist that is optimal for those heavy-for-caliber bullets like the 115gr DTAC.
I chose a Marksman contour, which I believe was first introduced by Hawk Hill, but now available through most barrel manufacturers. The Marksman contour is between a Heavy Palma and Medium Palma, and basically two parts Heavy Palma one part Medium Palma. The chart below shows where the Marksman contour falls on the continuum:
Anytime I’m trying to decide on barrel length, I go to RifleShooter.com hoping Bill has done a Barrel Length vs. Muzzle Velocity test for the cartridge I have in mind. I was in luck for the 6mm Creedmoor (see results)! Bill started with a 31” barrel, measures the muzzle velocity for a few types of ammo, and then chops it off an inch at a time until he gets down to 17” – and then plots the results for our benefit! Each cartridge has a point of diminishing returns in terms of barrel length, which hard to predict but is why Bill’s tests are so informative and helpful. Thanks for sacrificing a barrel for all the rest of us, Bill! In the full post Bill analyzes the data a few interesting ways, but here is one of the charts that made me decide to go with a 25” barrel (shared with permission, I added the dotted line at 25”):
25” isn’t really a “standard length” for a rifle barrel. Most shooters run a 26” barrel, and I’m not trying to say that’s wrong. Bill didn’t test with a 115gr bullet, but you can look at the bottom trend line in blue which is for the 110gr SMK and see that based on his data 26” doesn’t get you much. However, once you go shorter than 25” the velocity trend line nosedives pretty quickly. So I decided to go 25” based on this data.
Barrel Update from January 2020:
I have now burned out 3 of the barrels I mentioned above, and just chambered two more that are a little different. They are still 6mm Creedmoor and 1:7.5″ twist, but I wanted to tweak a couple things:
- Wanted to move the balance point of the rifle forward 1-2″ so that it rested better on barricades. Previously, with the 25″ Marksman contour barrels the balance point was about 1-2″ forward of the magwell, but I thought it might be better if it was 3-4″ in front of the magwell. So I sized up to the Heavy Palma contour and added one more inch to the end of the barrel (i.e. 26″ instead of 25″). I also thought I might prefer if the rifle was slightly heavier (maybe 0.5-1 pound). These new barrels also happen to be Bartlein, although I wasn’t displeased with the Hawk Hill performance. The new barrel length and contour added 0.74 pounds, which seems perfect! So I didn’t go to 26″ for the added velocity, but to get the right balance on the rifle. Any gain in muzzle velocity is relatively minimal (i.e. “in the noise”), but a rifle with the right balance and weight might be why lots of the pros also run a 26″ barrel.
- Wanted reduced freebore so I could continue to seat out long bullets as the throat eroded and still stay within magazine length. My last barrels had the SAMMI spec freebore (0.183″), but that meant the 115gr DTAC’s I was running couldn’t seat out long enough to be close to the lands as the throat eroded from wear. On a brand new barrel, they’d start off close to the lands when seated at max magazine length … but as the throat eroded I couldn’t continue to seat the bullets out. So I went with 0.100″ of freebore on my new barrels. If I’d have had the option of a reamer with 0.110-0.130″ of freebore, that might have been ideal … but honestly I’ve liked the 0.100″. I’d definitely do it again. I am actually doing load development now to use the new Hornady 110gr A-Tip bullets, and it seems ideal for those. I can get close to the lands for minimal jump, and still have room in the magazine to continue to seat them out as the barrel wears and keep that same relative distance from the lands. But, the non-SAMMI freebore does mean I can’t just take the Hornady factory ammo out and the box and shoot it. I have to seat the bullets slightly deeper for them to be able to chamber, which is a little bit of a hassle … but really it’s just running them each through a press, so it’s not that bad. I think it’s worth the extra effort to have a setup that is optimized for matches, but can still use factory ammo with the addition of a one-step process.
Wade Stuteville at Stuteville Precision chambered the barrels for me. You can buy one of his chambered barrels for $875, which includes a Cerakote finish and threaded muzzle. Impact actions currently run $1390, so a barreled action would be $2,265 all in. That might sound high to some, but it sounds totally reasonable to me. Then all you need is a trigger and a chassis, and you could pick up a Timney trigger and KRG Bravo chassis for $500 total, and have a very capable rifle setup for under $2,800! Just a few years ago you couldn’t get a custom rifle for less than $3,000, much less one of this caliber that is built on one of the best actions and barrels out there. God bless America!
Wade was the General Manager at Surgeon Rifles for a few years before they moved from Oklahoma to Arizona. Surgeon was turning out a lot of custom rifles during that time, so he was able to get a lot of experience under his belt. Wade also was the overall PRS Champion a few years back, so he also knows what it takes to shoot at the highest levels. And while there is a lot of great guys on the precision rifle scene, Wade is among the best of them. I’d trust him with a key to my house. I’m a pretty particular guy, but I know Wade cares about my rifle as much as I do, so I know I can trust him with my rifles.
MPA Competition Chassis
I’m very impressed with the MPA chassis. Which stock/chassis you use often comes down to personal preference, but I’m a big fan of my MPA Competition Chassis. It has all the adjustability you need, plus it’s packed with a boatload of other features, all without becoming obnoxiously heavy like some other stocks and chassis on the market. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t light, but I feel like the weight is ideal for a precision rifle.
One of the biggest features I like about these is the extensibility of the forend, which includes an inlet the full length of the forend that allows it to mount to a RRS dovetail mount directly (i.e. no need for an additional adapter or interface). That means you can connect the chassis straight to a tripod, and it creates an extremely sturdy/rigid connection. This has proven helpful for matches and practical hunting situations. (Both my daughters took their first deer with this rifle on a tripod.)
Another thing I love is how you can wedge the chassis onto a barricade to get a solid rest (like shown below). MPA offers a couple of types of barricade stops, and you can adjust them for different widths. With this setup your wobble is drastically reduced.
I also use MPA’s “Wedge Lock System” that allows you to clamp onto a cross-bar like a pipe fence or other horizontal support. This creates a solid connection at the front of your rifle and can reduce your wobble as well.
MPA offers a ton of accessories for their chassis, but here are the ones I use often:
- Enhanced Vertical Grip (EVG) – Has a place to rest/index your trigger finger so your pull is consistent even if you’re contorted in an awkward improvised position. I also love the thumb-shelf the grip and chassis provide, because I typically don’t do a full-wrap grip but instead keep my thumb on the same side of the grip as my trigger finger.
- Bag Rider – Mounts on the bottom of the butt of the rifle, and basically makes it easier to stick a rear bag under it. I also like that it keeps the rifle from getting snagged or hung up on something.
- Bipod Spigot Mount – Provides a dedicated picatinny rail for the bipod to attach just forward of the forend. This allows the bipod to be mounted a little closer to the bore, which can help you get slightly lower. And while this may not make any real difference, it seems like the longer the distance from the bipod to your shoulder the less small movements would affect the muzzle (i.e. levers and distance to the fulcrum). It at least makes sense in my head!
- RAT Barricade Stop – This is an accessory they released earlier this year. In the past I used an offset rotating barricade stop, but I’m liking a few things about this new design. It basically mounts on the forend and slides back and forth on the RRS dovetail inlets on each side. Then there is a spring-loaded pin in the bottom that will lock into one of the holes on the bottom of the forend. You can pull the pin and quickly slide it to another location. I like how quick it is to adjust and the fact that it doesn’t accidently rotate or get in an awkward position during a stage.
- Wedge Lock System – Helps you clamp onto a horizontal barricade like a pipe fence.
The last accessory I use is something I fabricated myself after seeing something similar that Jon Pynch was running. It is an RRS lever-release clamp with a picatinny rail mounted to it. The pic rail I have was “custom” made with my cordless drill and Dremel (machinists please don’t look too close), but RRS recently released a pre-drilled rail that mounts to their clamps. The image below shows how it works, and how I use it with a bipod attached. The primary benefit is that you can quickly adjust the location of whatever you have attached with one hand, or completely remove it.
With the setup above, you can run the bipod very close to the magwell, and get a 3 point rest on a very small surface, like what’s shown below or on top of a barrel. I’ve been able to get a 3 point rest from the bipod and a bag under the grip on just a 12”x12” surface.
I also use that RRS clamp with the picatinny rail by attaching a SILO barricade bag to it. That basically allows me to attach a small bag to any location along the forend, which is helpful on barricades like a rooftop. Sometimes having a bag rigidly attached seems better than strapping a bag around the forend or scope, because it won’t rotate on you while you’re on the clock. Wiebad makes a mini fortune cookie bag with a RRS clamp on it that would work in a similar way.
MPA offers a similar product that rides on the RRS rail and has a picatinny rail on it, and it’d function very similar. I made mine before products like that were available, so mine is more … uh, “custom.” 😉
TriggerTech Diamond Trigger
I’ve mostly used Jewell triggers in my precision rifles in the past, although I’ve tried a few brands over the years. But I’m a huge fan of the new Diamond trigger from TriggerTech. When I first saw and felt them at SHOT Show earlier this year, I immediately bought 2 of them (full price off their website) the same day, and they’ve been a pleasure to use. In my opinion, they feel every bit as crisp and consistent as a Jewell, with no creep. They’re adjustable to under 4 ounces (my triggers are usually set to 10-12 oz.), and the fundamental design is extremely robust. The 2017 PRS Finale had a lot of blowing dust, which put all the triggers to the test. Here is a pretty powerful observation from one of the competitors:
“The Oklahoma dust at the (PRS) finale wreaked havoc on competitors triggers. I saw multiple triggers from every trigger manufacturer go down except the TriggerTech. After seeing all the other triggers fail and TriggerTech’s ability to operate in dusty environments, I’m moving all my guns over to your Diamond.” – Ken Sanoski, PRS Finalist
Personally, I prefer flat/straight triggers, so that is the option I chose, but TriggerTech offers a few types of trigger levers. I’d bet the Pro Curved model is more popular among PRS shooters, but I’m all about the Flat/Straight model.
To read more about the TriggerTech Diamond, and understand how the design is different and see test results on consistency and durability, check out this article.
Schmidt & Bender PMII 5-25×56 Scope
I’ve been fortunate to use a lot brands of scopes, but overall the Schmidt & Bender PMII 5-25×56 DT still earns my trust for use on my match rifles. While the clarity is legendary, I’m not sure clarity helps you get more hits very often. It might make reading mirage easier, but image clarity isn’t one of the most important features when it comes to a scope for practical use.
One of my favorite features is the turret design, which is easy to read and manipulate under pressure. The numbers are large, and adjustments are tactile and positive without having so much resistance that you over-adjust. It’s easy to fine-tune your adjustment by 1 or 2 clicks. Plus, with 14 mils per revolution it’s extremely rare to leave the first revolution. For my 6mm Creedmoor ballistics, I can go out to 1,500 yards before I have to leave the first revolution! Staying on the first revolution cuts down on the mental mistake of being on the wrong revolution. (We’ve all done it!)
The other thing I love about this scope is the Horus H59 reticle. For the longest time I thought Horus reticles were too busy, but a friend encouraged me to try one – and I’m completely sold! Today, the H59 or the Kahles SKMR3 reticle are my favorite reticles. I strongly prefer reticles with marks in 0.2 mil increments, especially on the windage axis for more precise holds. I also owned this Schmidt 5-25×56 scope with a Tremor3 reticle, and didn’t like it as much for a few reasons. The biggest drawback to me was the 0.2 mil hash marks were slightly thinner on the Tremor3 reticle and couldn’t be seen as easily at lower magnifications. On some stages where I’m shooting from barricades or improvised positions I may only run at 10-12x magnification to make it easier to find targets. Targets are usually larger on those kinds of stages, so it’s not like you need 25x magnification to hit them. The H59 still allows you to see the 0.2 mil hash marks for precise shots even at lower magnifications. The Tremor3 and SKMR3 were a little too fine to differentiate at 10-12x, at least for my eyes.
The thing I’ve realized with gridded reticles is they aren’t overwhelming. While it seems like there is a lot going on, I quickly got used to it and don’t even notice it’s there until I need to use it. There are times in PRS-style matches when you don’t have the luxury to dial elevation on every shot, either because of tight time constraints or the stage explicitly prohibits you from touching your turrets once time begins. I remember one stage at Shoot for the Green a couple years ago where you had to engage 4 targets at various distances from 400 to 800 yards in just 12 seconds. If you tried to dial each shot, there is no way you’d get them all off. Yet one shooter cleaned it in just 10 seconds! In those kinds of scenarios, a gridded or “Christmas tree” reticle like the H59 helps you hold for both elevation and wind corrections. With a traditional mildot reticle, if you tried to hold 4.7 mils of elevation and 1.2 mils of wind you’d be floating out in the middle of nowhere on your reticle, and it’s pretty unlikely you’d be able to precisely place a shot under time pressure.
Ultimately, the reticle is a tool and one of the most important parts of the scope. Again, it’s one of those things that comes down to personal preference, but the H59 reticle fits my needs.
Update: In spring 2019, Nightforce started shipping the Nightforce ATACR 7-35×56 with the new Mil-XT reticle. I really liked that reticle design, so I bought one to try out. I now own 3 of them! I’ve been using them on these match rifles and now my extreme long range rifles for the last few months. I LOVE THAT SCOPE! The reticle is ideal. It is less busy than the H59, and I feel like you don’t miss spotting a bullet splash through it like you might with a reticle that has more ink like the H59. There are a lot of features on the H59 that I never used, like holds for movers or range estimation. So they were just in the way for me. The Mil-XT is the perfect balance for me of a hold-over reticle that is useable there when you need it, but is also minimalistic with just the features that I actually need. It packed in all the features from the Horus reticle that I needed (like hash marks in 2/10th mil increments, hold-over tree, etc.), but none of the clutter that I didn’t use. And that NF 7-35×56 has proven to maintain it’s zero through multiple flights, and hundreds of rounds out of a magnum rifle. I doubt that can be said for many scopes, so it gives me more confidence knowing it’s on. In fact, two weekends ago I was at a PRS club match as I grabbed my rifle off the cover of my truck bed to go to the first stage … I knocked it over on it’s side and crashed into my metal cover. The guy beside me just looked at me. I said, “Don’t worry! It’s a Nightforce. The zero is good.” And it was. The zero was perfect. I placed 6th overall out of about 40 shooters, which is about as good as I can expect for not practicing any over the past few months! I’ve become a raving fan of the NF ATACR 7-35×56 with Mil-XT reticle, so I just wanted to share that update for those reading this post.
Spuhr Ideal Scope Mount
I’ve been using Spuhr mounts on my personal rifles since 2012, and they’re pretty ideal. Their popularity exploded among the precision rifle crowd around 2013/2014, and they’re still topping most of the top competitor’s rifles. From an engineering perspective, it’s an elegant design that is both robust and extensible. There aren’t many products that I don’t at least have a couple of critiques for, but the Spuhr mount doesn’t leave me wanting anything else.
Spuhr offers a ton of different heights and degrees of cant, which means you can find the perfect model to fit just about any scenario. I prefer for my scope to be mounted as close to the bore as possible, which typically means I use the SP-4001 model, which is the case on these rifles as well. Since there is already 20 MOA of cant built into the integral rail on the Impact action, I didn’t need the mount to add more to that, so I went with the SP-4001 model since it is for a picatinny rail, 34mm scope tube, and has 0 MOA of additional cant. (Don’t know what cant means? Read this article)
You might wonder what the picatinny rail is for that I have in front of the windage knob. I noticed on some barricades like a PRS step barricade, I might occasionally nudge the windage knob and make it rotate off zero. Since the Spuhr mount is extensible, I found a 10mm spacer and rail from Spuhr that acts as a shield to keep me from bumping the knob in a way that causes it rotate. You could also mount a reflex sight on it to make it easier to get on target or keep your scope zoomed in at higher magnification, but I just use it to block the windage knob. Honestly, I wish Schmidt & Bender made a screw-on cover to go over the windage knob, because I rarely dial for wind – but this solution seems to be working for me.
APA Little B* Muzzle Brake
I run a muzzle brake on these rifles over 95% of the time. Suppressors cause the barrel to heat up more quickly than a muzzle brake, and I don’t want to have to wait for a suppressor to cool down between strings when I’m practicing. But the biggest reason is that muzzle brakes are more effective at reducing recoil and helping you stay on target than a suppressor. I know that because I thoroughly tested it myself a couple years ago. I bought high-speed sensors and measured the recoil impulse with 20+ muzzle brakes, plus a couple suppressors (read about the test setup here). I also measured how well each one helps you stay on targets using lasers and high-speed cameras. The Little B* brake from American Precision Arms was one of the top performers in both tests – so that has been what has been on my match rifles ever since! You can read about the muzzle brake field test and see the results here.
One thing I love about the APA muzzle brake is their locking nut design. You don’t have to “time the muzzle brake” to the threads and shoulder on the barrel, meaning you can switch it from one barrel to another without any gunsmithing or fiddling required. When you might burn out a barrel in a year or less, that’s a valuable feature. But unlike crush washers or spacers, the lock nut design on APA’s brakes still provides a nice finished look. Since this brake was released a few other manufacturers have adopted a similar approach.
Customized Harris Bipod
I run an Atlas bipod on my hunting rifle, and there are a lot of compelling features about that design, but for my match rifles I prefer what has become a highly customized version of a Harris bipod. I like that you can deploy the Harris or put it back up with just one hand in about a second, which can help in some scenarios.
I started with a standard Harris S-BRM 6-9” bipod, and did a few things to it:
- Attachment: Changed the attachment to a quick-release lever by American Defense Manufacturing, which allows me to easily remove it in 2-3 seconds with just one hand. I first used the QD levers from ADM on the Remington MSR rifle I tested, and while there are a lot of QD designs out there (and I’ve tried several), the design by ADM seems to have a solid lock-up with the easiest release.
- Swivel Tension Lever: Installed a KMW Pod-Loc lever to easily adjust the swivel tension
- Foot Adapter: Replaced the standard feet with Harris Foot Adapters made by Primary Adaptive Solution Systems (PASS), which makes it much easier to switch out feet and extension accessories on the fly. It basically converts the end of the bipod to be just like the Atlas bipod, so that any feet or accessories that work on an Atlas now work on the Harris.
- Feet: I primarily use Atlas Rubber Feet, but also carry the Hawk Hill Spikes made for the Atlas bipod and can swap them out in less than a minute.
- Clamp-On Leg Adapters: I also added Clamp-On Leg Adapters made by PASS, which allow you to mount Atlas-style feet and or extensions in a secondary location. When you flip-up the Harris legs, whatever you have mounted on those secondary location is facing down ready to support the rifle. I’ve seen some guys just run feet directly on those adapters to get an effective bipod height of just 3” (helpful when you need to shoot through small portholes). The main way I use them is with the 18” leg extensions made by PASS, like shown in the photo. With that setup you can leave the main Harris legs set at their standard 6” height for a prone shot, and then flip-up the bipod legs and have 18” legs for a sitting or low kneeling shot. Having them both attached makes that transition very, very quick, and can be an advantage in some scenarios.
- Extensions: I use the PASS 18” leg extensions, and also use the Atlas 3” leg extensions. With those two pairs of extensions, the two mounting positions, and the built-in 6-9” adjustability in the Harris, I have a ton of different configurations I can mix and match to cover pretty much anything from 3” all the way up to 30”! The leg extensions weigh just a few ounces, so you can throw them in your pack and not even notice they’re there until you need them.
Hawk Hill Dope Card Holder
How you keep track of your dope during a stage is another personal preference thing. Try a few things and see what works best for you. Personally, I really like a dope card holder that keeps it right in front of me, instead of using a QB sleeve where I might have to break position or move my head from behind the scope to check my adjustment for the next target. My logic goes like this: to minimize movement put your dope as close as possible to where you apply the adjustment (i.e. the turret).
I typically write down my dope on a stage similar to what is shown in the photo. In this example, I have 3 target distances along with my elevation adjustment for each one. Then I bracket my wind call based on what I think the lowest and highest realistic wind values might be. For example, it looks like I wrote down wind calls at 9 mph and 14 mph. If the wind is more consistent it might be a more narrow range, but this was a gusty day so I have a 5 mph spread. I typically start by holding a little above of the average (i.e. favoring a stronger wind), but if I notice the wind blew me even further on that first target I might decide to hold that 14 mph wind call on the other two targets. Bracketing wind like this, instead of simply writing down one wind value, allows me to more accurately apply what I learned on the first target to the remaining targets.
Tenebraex Scope covers
It’s wise to keep your lenses covered when you aren’t shooting. At a match, rifles are normally on the ground, and it’s easy for dust to collect on the lenses when they aren’t covered. If it rains, it’s even more important to keep them covered. But I hate the Butler Creek scope covers. In my experience, they end up breaking off or they won’t stay closed. These Tenebraex scope covers are thicker and more flexible, which makes them virtually bulletproof. I love these things. When I buy a new scope I always order a set of these Tenebraex scope covers to go with it.
For these you need to order a couple of parts, and it can be difficult to figure out exactly which ones to buy. Tenebraex now has a part finder that can help, or you can just call the guys at EuroOptic.com, because they’re a stocking dealer for Tenebraex and can make sure you get exactly what you need.
2 Round Holder from Short Action Precision
I use a couple types of magazines, including an AI 10rd magazine with the MPA expander floor plate that extends it to hold up to 13-14 rounds. I typically load one more round in the magazine than what I should need on the stage, just in case I have a malfunction and have to throw a round. But I still like keeping another 2 rounds on the rifle so they’re handy through a match, and although it’s rare that I need to reach for one … when you do, it can be a life-saver. Sometimes I might have forgotten to load enough rounds or might have accidentally grabbed the wrong magazine or had a malfunction, but being able to quickly grab a round or two that you top load can help you get another hit. To me, these two-round holders from SAP are like really cheap insurance.
I hoped you enjoyed reading about what I’m running these days. I think of posts like this as walking up and down the line at the range to see what other guys are running. It’s interesting to hear what people are running and why they picked it. It’s exciting to see all these new products and tools popping up that can somehow help you get a little steadier in particular scenarios. There are a lot of creative entrepreneurs out there, and for that I’m thankful! This is easily the most exciting time in history for long range riflemen!
But don’t feel like you need all this stuff to get started. Most of this falls in the “nice-to-have” category, not “need-to-have.” All this stuff can add up pretty quickly, but I’ve gathered it all up over a lot of time. I presented it here as if I bought it all at once, but that wasn’t the case. On my first precision rifle, I had to save for a couple of years and even after that I used a budget scope on it while I saved for another year for a good scope. But I fired a lot of rounds and got a lot of experience behind that budget scope. I didn’t wait until I had everything to get started.
Ultimately, a nice rifle and gear can help and be enjoyable to use … but at some point it comes down to the nut behind the gun! The shooter is usually the weakest link, and practice is the only way to make significant improvements. There are no shortcuts, and you can’t buy your way to becoming a good shooter. The worse mistake would be to think you had to have all this stuff to get started. You don’t! I didn’t have it to start! Buy whatever equipment you can afford and practice so often that you burn out a barrel! That will do more for your ability to get rounds on target than fixating on getting all the best gear.