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What The Pros Use 2018

What The Pros Use 2018!!!

Back by popular demand: Welcome to What The Pros Use 2018 Edition! I recently surveyed the top ranked precision rifle shooters in the country to learn what gear they’re currently running in long range rifle matches. I’ll be publishing the results over the next several posts.

I’ve done this for a few years, although I skipped last year. This year there will be a few new, exciting twists!

Results for PRS & NRL

First, I surveyed the best shooters in both the Precision Rifle Series (PRS) and the National Rifle League (NRL), so it’s based on an even larger, more widespread group of shooters. There seems to have been some fragmentation that has occurred, perhaps unintentionally, between the PRS & NRL and I didn’t want to contribute to that by only presenting one or the other. That’s a big part of why I didn’t publish this last year. I want to help unify, not divide.

Both the PRS and NRL help organize and promote a championship style point series race for national-level precision rifle matches. These aren’t matches shot from a bench or even on a square range. They feature practical, real-world field conditions, and 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 too comfortable. Typical target ranges are from 300 to 1200 yards, but each match has a unique personality with creative stages that challenge different aspects of precision shooting. 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.

The PRS and NRL are similar, but presenting them as equals would be misleading. The PRS has been around longer and currently has about 2-3 times as many shooters participate. But the NRL still has some of the best shooters in the country represented, and there is even some crossover with competitors shooting in both leagues. It’s not like a guy who finished 50th in the PRS finished 2nd in the NRL. For example, Jon Pynch got 1st in the NRL and 3rd in the PRS, and Austin Orgain got 2nd in the PRS and 3rd in the NRL. The level of competition is comparable in both series, but the organizations are simply different scales.

Precision Rifle Series
  • 557 Pro-Series members with scores tracked in 2018 standings (1,000+ registered pro-series shooters)
  • 45 national-level points race matches in 2018
  • 5,000+ active shooters participating in the PRS Club Series with scores tracked across 355 club matches
  • International matches in Canada, South Africa & Australia
  • Established 2012
National Rifle League
  • 230 Pro-Series members with scores tracked in the 2018 standings (500+ pro-series shooters)
  • 14 national-level points race matches in 2018
  • 3,000+ people that participate in NRL 22 through 30 different clubs
  • Really good partner in ConX Media that produces awesome videos of each match with walk-throughs of most stages and interviews with the competitors. This is extremely useful to help new shooters prepare for a match.
  • Established 2017 as a non-profit

Basically the NRL is a similar entity that helps organize rifle matches and tracks shooter performance across matches to establish an overall season champion, but they’re currently much smaller. I’m not saying one is better or worse – just different.

I’ve heard people describe the NRL as mostly a “west coast deal,” which seemed to imply the PRS was more central U.S. and east coast. Being a data-driven guy to my core, I didn’t just take someone’s word for it, but instead looked up where each organization had major matches in 2018 that counted towards their points race and used that info to create the maps below:

PRS & NRL Points Race Match Locations

As you can see, there is significant overlap between the organizations. The NRL has added a few states in the western U.S., like California and Idaho, but it wasn’t as clear-cut as it’s sometimes described. One of my takeaways from that map is that Oklahoma and Washington look like pretty sweet places to live, because there seems to be a lot of options there for major matches! I do know those Okies love to shoot – and a couple of them are even good at it! 😉

A couple of years ago, the PRS started a “Club Series” initiative to support smaller, regional matches. Their national-level matches were well established, but for many shooters the time, travel, and costs can discourage active participation in large, two-day matches. The PRS Club Series hoped to organize, promote, and support regional clubs in hopes of creating more awareness and giving more shooters access to this sport we’re all so passionate about. The PRS still tracks scores for these smaller, local matches, and establish overall season ranks for the shooters competing in that area. They currently track scores for over 5,000 shooters through the PRS Club Series across the 85 PRS Clubs across the nation.

I plan to publish results for the top 125 ranked shooters in the PRS, and the top 50 ranked shooters in the NRL. Each organization invited a little more than that number to their season finale, and I feel like those break points represent the top-tier of shooters in the sport, while still being a relatively large sample size. The ranks were based on the overall points for the entire 2018 season.

New Questions & Insight

Another exciting thing about this year’s results is that I asked several new questions, like what ballistic engine they use to calculate their data at a match, what rangefinder they use, what reloading equipment they use, and other non-product related things like how much they practice and how frequently they clean their barrel. So that should add some new insight.

I’ve also seen significant shifts in the products these guys are using, just based on my initial cursory look at the data. It seemed like the last few times I did this there weren’t large swings year-to-year in terms of what they guys were running, but there certainly has been a few significant shifts over the past two years that I’m excited to share those with you guys!

Here are the topics of the posts I’m planning, and each one will show what these top shooters are using:

  1. Calibers & Cartridges
  2. Scopes & Scope Mounts
  3. Chassis/Stock, Action & Barrel
  4. Triggers
  5. Muzzle Brakes & Suppressors
  6. Gunsmiths
  7. Bipods & Tripods
  8. Shooting Bags
  9. Rangefinders
  10. Ballistic Calculators
  11. Reloading Components & Equipment
  12. Tips & Advice

I’ll be publishing one of these every couple of weeks, as I work through the data. As soon as I analyze the data and create the content, I’ll hit publish – so you’ll be getting them as close to real-time as possible. There is more work that goes in behind the scenes to organize all this than it may seem, but I promise I’m just as anxious as you are to see the results!

Want to be the first to know when the next set of results is posted? Sign-up to receive new posts via email.

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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  1. Cool! An early Christmas present.

  2. Dont forget us down under Cal! We also just completed our first series in Australia as part of the Precision Rifle Series. This was our second year up an running, though we just had an exhibition match in 2017, not the full series.

    Looking forward to the articles. We have kept data for all of our shooters this year in Australia. It will be interesting to see the comparision.

  3. Mahmoud Shmaitelly

    Thanks a lot Cal for your great work. I love your double-blind evaluations. And, What the pros use?

    • Thanks, Mahmoud. What can I say? I love a data-driven approach over just some guy spitting his opinion on what “the best” is. Just show me the data, and let me decide. So that’s what I’m trying to provide for my readers. Glad you’ve found it helpful.


  4. Cal – Thank you! I can only imagine the amount of time this takes. Appreciate the effort and analysis.

  5. Awesome. Glad to see this is back!

    • Thanks, Regina. That means a lot coming from one of the shooters. I really appreciate you taking the time to fill out the survey. I can’t tell you how many new shooters I’ve talked to that say this info helped them tremendously. I know you’re probably a busy person, but thanks for participating in this.


  6. Really looking forward to it. Thanks for all the time and effort you put into this

  7. Thanks for the hard work Cal. I appreciate being able to see what the pros are using. It makes for interesting conversations at the local gun range between strings of fire.

    • Yes, sir! I totally agree. It’s fun to talk about this stuff, and see the trends change over time. I think this year will be especially interesting, or at least it seems like that based on what I’ve seen so far. Stay tuned!


  8. Can’t wait, thanks for all you do.

  9. Jeff (POPPY) Brooks

    Cal I’m so glad I found your blog! I am a very analytical person and data-driven as well, so these posts are sensational to me. I share them with everyone. I realize how much work it must take and want you to know it is very well appreciated my friend. Can’t wait to get into the new stats!

  10. Cal, thank you for all your work! Of all your articles I do like ‘What the Pro’s use’ the most. It’s a great read and fun to theorize about; I also temper that with the realization that sponsorship plays a role in this sport like many others.

    • You got it, Brad. Sponsorships do play into this, but at the same time the few guys I personally know towards the top of the list are some of the most competitive people you’ve ever met. Like not the dickhead kind of competitive, but the kind that probably beats their own kids at cards (like I literally did 10 minutes ago)! They absolutely wouldn’t run any gear that they thought would hurt their chances, even if someone offered them free product or even money to run it. Winning is too important to them, which is probably why they land so high on the list. They’re willing to put more time in practicing than most people, including me! 😉 So it’s a both-and kind of situation, at least in my view. Keep it in mind when looking at the results, but don’t dismiss them because of it. Great point for sure!


  11. Thanks for putting this together again! It’s cool to see some of the cutting-edge equipment that the national guys are using. Many times you have stuff on here that I never knew even existed!

    Having two organizations is actually good for the sport. The extreme competition of precision rifle matches has lead to crazy innovation that benefits us all, and having two competing leagues will push the evolution of what a match can or should be. Unlike other sports it’s also super easy for shooters to compete in both leagues, so the level of competition remains the same no matter who is putting the match on.

    All of it benefits the shooters! I bought a US Optics years ago when they were one of the only games in town for a FFP with a Christmas tree reticle. Now I look around, think about the price I paid back then, and shake my head at all the sweet options we have now. It’s awesome, and your articles do a wonderful job of highlighting those options for us all.

    • Matt, I’m not sure I could agree more! Competition is good for everyone! I say that all the time, because it’s just the truth. Competition pushes everyone to be better. I hadn’t quite applied that logic to having two leagues, but you’re absolutely right. Whoever creates the best matches will attract more shooters. We all win!

      And there is so much coming out, it’s hard to keep track of all of it. That’s one of the great things about this series. Often times I have to research to even understand what they’re talking about. I know that’s already happened on the cartridge post! In the end, we all learn, great products are brought to more people’s awareness, and it’s just fun to see what these guys are running.

      Thanks for comments!

  12. Great to see this up again Cal! I think it would be interesting to look at the majority of equipment run between east coast, west coast and midwesterns. I bet you would see a trend that the shooters proximity to the companies HQ’s will correlate. These companies tend to do a great job with supporting events around them and shooters do a good job representing them in return.
    Hope to see you at future matches

    • I totally agree. That’s one of the things I was interested in uncovering by including a wider group of shooters. You’ll have to chime in on the posts if you’re able to see obvious correlation.


  13. Christopher Tressler

    Hello Cal,
    What specific metric are you using to determine the NRL is 20-30% of the size of the PRS?

    • Check that, Chris. I was basing that off the numbers the guys gave me originally, but Travis called shortly after this went up and corrected me on a couple things. It’s probably close to 30-40% of the size. They have 31% as many national-level points race matches (14 vs 45), and the number of members they tracked in 2018 is around 41% as many (230 vs. 557). The originally numbers I’d been given by the two organizations had that at 230 vs 1000+, so that’s where the 20% came from. But it turns out 30-40% would have been more accurate. I already updated the post earlier to simply say the NRL is “currently much smaller” … just to be more general. I didn’t mean to offend by that, and sorry for my mistake. I was just going off what the heads of the two organizations had given me, but apparently it was apples and oranges at first, but I got it corrected ASAP.

      I appreciate you fact checking me! Honestly, that’s the kind of truth-seekers I tend to attract, because I’m that way myself. 😉


  14. Cal, as many others have said, I appreciate all I’m learning reading your posts. I’m not even in the PRS game yet, but I took the advice to “just come to an event with what you have”, and I brought my 22 lr to a rimfire PRS type club event nearby, and got hits out to 140 yards. I had fun, got a good start, and am working on the improvements needed to beat my own score next time. By the time I can buy a centerfire precision rifle (looking at the John Hancock from PVA, probably in 6mm CM) I’ll have learned some foundational skills. Keep up the great work, and I’ll be watching for your next 2018 What The Pros Use articles.

    • That’s amazing, Tim! I love it! Getting hits out to 140 with a 22 with the time pressure and improvised positions on most PRS-type stages is impressive. And I bet you learned a lot on what you need. The John Hancock in 6 CM is an excellent option, and probably the biggest value out there. I don’t say that lightly at all! It really delivers more bang for your buck than just about any rig, so you’re headed in the right direction.

  15. Saw this pop up in my email and could not click the link fast enough. I loved the past articles and I look to be wowed even more. I love the added questions you have put in and I am waiting to devour each article.

  16. Cal,

    Thanks so much! Your qorknis greatly appreciated!

  17. How about short range most ranges are 100 and200yards or meters

    • I know there is a growing number of people competing in similar matches that are based on rimfire rifles. One of the stats Travis over at the NRL gave me was “3,000+ people participate in NRL 22 through 30 different clubs.” I’d suggest checking out the NRL 22 stuff. A 22 LR can make a 200 yard shot just as difficult in the wind. Long range is tough though, which you don’t have a long range.


  18. Glad to see you’re back up and running again, Cal.
    Wondered what the deal was. I really appreciate your candor and insight.
    Looking forward to the posts, soon!
    Happy Holidays from NCPPRC!

    • Thanks, Rick! I’ve become more involved and busy with my job over the past couple years, but am looking forward to getting this data out. Honestly, I’m looking forward to seeing it myself! 😉


  19. Cal, thank you for all your work and what you do for our sport. So is it right to say that in general the number of matches in the US has grown significantly over – let’s say – the last decade? What’s your guestimate: What’s the total number of Long Rangers in die US? Given that one does not have to register to participate in our sport that is one tricky question. So I am looking more for a rough number.
    Thank you again!

    • Wow, that’s a great question. I’m not sure. The PRS was born in 2012, so 4-5 years prior to that I’d suspect there might just be 20 of these kinds of organized, field-based, sniper-style, long range matches each year. At least that is the sense I get from the guys who were doing it way back then. It was a pretty small group. Today, there is around 60 national-level matches, and I’d guess at least 500 little regional matches that may or may not be affiliated with the PRS or NRL. That might be my guess, that it’s grown from 20 or less to probably 600 or more … which has to be one of the biggest explosions in shooting sports during that time period. That a good question though. I wonder what other people might guess.


  20. Eager to read your results on muzzle breaks. Appreciate your research.

    • Thanks, Robert! The muzzle brake test I did was a fun one. I remember I had been dreaming about doing that for over a year before I finally decided I just had to do it. It seemed to provide a lot of insight, because as far as I know nothing like that had been done before. I know it spurred a few manufacturers to integrate a similar test system into their R&D, which in turn has allowed them to release new, higher performing products. More than my research or findings themselves, that is a cool result! We all win.


  21. Cal – Any chance you’d break out the Tac and Production guys from PRS Finale separately in a smaller single post or two perhaps? We filled out the survey too and our equip is going to look different. While everyone wants to be a pro… seeing what it takes to be at the top of the more restricted divisions might be more realistic for those on a budget or new shooters…

    • That’s an interesting idea, Dave. I’m not sure the tactical makes sense, since they seem to be using similar gear … just restricted cartridges, but I could see how the production gear would be helpful. I just might do that. It really will depend on how long it takes me to get through all of these posts, because I’ve already committed to another one that I’ll do on the backside of it, but I definitely see the value and will see if I can fit it in. I appreciate the suggestion, Dave!


  22. Thanks Cal, looking forward to the updates. While i don’t compete i have taken some of the info gleaned and applied to my hunting rifles.

    • Hey, Philip. I’ve done the same thing myself. I’ve found a lot of this stuff has made me a more effective hunter. In fact, both of my daughters killed their first deer with my match rifle. But the whole idea of getting a precise shot off at a small target a long way off in field conditions from an improvised position … that sounds like those skills and gear would translate to hunting to me! 😉 Glad you’ve found it helpful. Stay tuned!

  23. Would it damage a heavy barreled rifle that heats up fast such as the .338Lapua to lay a moist rag/cloth over the area where the barrel meets the action, just forward of the breech to cool it down?

  24. Thanks for doing this. I love the data.

  25. Thank you so much for doing this again!

  26. nice , i can’t wait fot it ,

  27. Hey Cal

    I’m planning to move to Tennessee, partly for the greater opportunities available for getting into the precision shooting sports over my native Minnesota.

    Thanks very much for your maps showing where matches are held for each of these leagues. It’s really great that you took the time to put them together.

    I hope to meet you at a match sometime.

  28. Oooooh my favorite part!

  29. Hi Cal,

    If I could recommend an addition to your well thought out list, a topic I’m sure your readership would really appreciate would be their training regimes.

    From my own selfish standpoint: if you happen to observe any senior citizens with the usual old age impairments and what they do to compensate for their shortcoming……

    Thanks a bunch!

    • You bet, Hal. I asked at least one question related to how much they train and lots of them also offered some advice on that topic too. That will be in that last post, and I hope it helps give you some direction. I also added a note to my list of ideas for what I might have on they survey next year, because I could probably ask that in a more direct way that might get more insight. I hadn’t thought of that before, so I appreciate you suggesting that.


  30. Can’t wait, glad to see this back up Cal!

  31. Cal,
    I think everyone should pay you at least $10