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PRS Shooting Tips, Stage Strategy, Mental Management and Rifle Cleaning Tips

PRS Strategy, Mental Management & Shooting Tips – Austin Buschman Shooter Spotlight Part 4

This article is part of a series that is taking a deep dive with 6 of the very best precision rifle competitors in the world. We learn what gear they run and why they feel like those things give them the best chance of winning. They also share many shooting tips and strategies along the way! (View who the other shooters are)

This is Part 4 of my shooter spotlight on Austin Buschman, the reigning Precision Rifle Series Season Champion & IPRF World Champion. He’s also currently tied for 1st in the 2023 PRS season rankings.

Austin Bushman PRS Champion and World Champion Rifle Shooter

This article will focus on a few aspects, many of which are topics that aren’t talked about much, if any:

  • The Mental Game & Strategy for Managing It
  • Stage Strategy
  • Other Shooting Tips (e.g., Do you watch for bullet trace? Do you ever free recoil?)
  • Advice for New Shooters
  • Advice for Mid-Pack Shooters
  • Rifle Cleaning Regimen
  • Favorite Rifle Matches
Austin Buschman Smiling

Before we dive into the mental aspect, I thought it might be helpful to have context for Austin’s personality and temperament. As you might imagine, Austin is extremely competitive. You won’t get to the very top of any sport if you aren’t. But, of the dozens of pro shooters I’ve met and become friends with over the years, I’d say Austin Buschman is the one who is most likely to be smiling and laughing if you walked up on him at a stage and watched him interact with his squad. He enjoys talking crap to other pro shooters and giving his friends a hard time – but he also isn’t too proud to laugh at himself. He doesn’t take himself or this game too seriously and still has a lot of fun as he competes. I feel like that approach and mindset give Austin an edge in the mental game.

The Mental Game

“Baseball is 90% mental, and the other half is physical.” – Yogi Berra, New York Yankee

At the pinnacle of many sports, you will hear top athletes say the majority of their game is mental. It almost doesn’t matter what game that is.

Muhammad Ali Quote - In the big leagues, everyone has ability. It always comes down to mind games. Whoever is more mentally strong - wins.

My theory is the mental game becomes especially critical for sports that involve multiple short action sequences separated by breaks in the action. Golf is a great example. The physical act of hitting a golf ball is extremely short, with the action sequence of swinging a club and striking the ball lasting only 1-2 seconds. Then the golfer then has a few minutes to think about what just happened or to start thinking about the next shot before he gets into another brief action sequence of swinging a club. Compare that to a marathon runner, who basically has one really long action sequence. Many Olympic sports have relatively short action sequences followed by breaks in the action. I believe the longer the breaks between short action sequences, the more potential the mental game can have on the outcome.

Austin Buschman PRS Champion Shooting in Rain

Precision rifle competitions are relatively short action sequences (a stage typically lasts 90-120 seconds) followed by a 30-45 minute break before the next action sequence (the clock starting for your time on the next stage). That makes it especially primed for mental management (or the lack thereof) to play a huge role in the outcome. If you’ve been to more than 2-3 matches, I bet you’ve seen a shooter who is doing well but then has one bad stage – and they spiral and do poorly on the next 2-3 stages in a row. That’s the mental game in action. Or maybe you’ve seen a shooter who seemed to have a great plan until they heard the timer beep to start the stage, and they just seemed to forget everything they were supposed to do. Maybe they forgot the target order. Maybe they were only supposed to shoot 1 shot per target, but they sent 2 at every target. Maybe they forgot to transition to the second or third shooting position. Those are also part of the mental game.

It takes more than simply the ability to steady a rifle and hit targets a long way off for a guy to get to the pinnacle of precision rifle competition. It often comes down to the mental game. But if that’s true – why don’t we talk about the mental side of this more often?!

Austin’s Thoughts on the Mental Game

So I asked Austin, “What percentage of this game is mental?” And what followed was probably my favorite part of literally hours of conversations. So let’s dive into his answer:

“A certain percentage of this game is having your rifle shooting really good and having your dope right. Then a certain percentage is being physically capable of performing the tasks needed during a stage. But, after those two things – it all comes down to the mental game. Think about it this way: The vast majority of people who attend a two-day PRS match have a rifle that is capable of winning the match, and the vast majority are physically capable of winning the match – so the mental part is everything. It is the only factor left, so it makes 100% of the difference.”

“The top shooters are so good at getting their rifle squared away, many of them, within the first stages of a match, will have found that their zero or their ballistics were slightly off, and they’ll have already corrected for those things by the time they finish their second stage of a two-day match. Regardless of whether their ballistics and zero were perfect when they showed up, it will be perfect by the time they’re twenty shots into the match. … They make adjustments to those things very quickly, based on their experience. So the only factor left for top shooters is the mental game.

How do you manage the mental side of this sport?

Austin: “That’s a big question. OK. I think there are two big parts to that for me:

  1. It’s important that guys continue to have fun at matches. That is more of a long-term mental strategy, but if you don’t have fun, you’re just going not to continue to ‘be in it.’ At least I can’t keep competing at the top level if I’m not also having fun.
  2. I think a guy needs to learn how to deal with missing targets and bad stages in a really positive way – because you’ll do a ton of that. To get to the top levels of any sport, you’re going to make a ton of mistakes. So you’ve got to have the proper mindset for dealing with bad stages.”

That was concise, but there is a lot there! So what does dealing with a bad stage in a positive way look like?

Austin: “In the PRS, the proper mindset for dealing with bad stages is to analyze them quickly. If there’s something that can be learned and fixed immediately, then fix it. If it’s a problem with your dope or your zero, then you fix it. If it was a mental mistake you made that you can tell yourself not to make again for the rest of the match, then you tell yourself that, and you move on. But you focus on things that you have control over and don’t allow yourself to dwell on things that you don’t have control over. After a bad stage, you have to accept the fact that those shots are already missed. That is already over. Everything that you should focus on should be how can you do better for the shots coming up.”

Austin Buschman PRS Match Off Helicopter Prop

At this point, I feel like I have to share an Austin Buschman story that I personally witnessed a few weeks ago at the Okie Showdown PRS Match. Austin was in the squad ahead of me, so typically, when we first arrived at a new stage, his squad was still shooting. When we arrived at the Stage 11 (helicopter stage), as I sat down my gear, someone whispered, “Austin had a squib on his first round and zeroed this stage.”

Note: For those that don’t know, a squib usually means you forgot to load powder in a round. You seated a primer and a bullet, but there was no powder in the case. The problem is when a primer ignites it has enough energy to push the bullet out of the case into the barrel – but its not strong enough to get the bullet all the way out the muzzle. So you open the action and eject the case, but the bullet remains stuck (very solidly) inside the bore. To get the bullet out, most people insert a cleaning rod from the muzzle end and hammer on it fairly hard before the bullet will pop out. That takes a few minutes, so the fact that Austin’s first round of the stage got stuck in his bore meant he timed out before he could get another shot off – and that resulted in 0 of 10 points for the stage.

Often, the winner of a national-level PRS match is decided by only 2-3 shots. So Austin knew after that one stage, his chances of winning that match were over. Austin also had a streak going where he hadn’t placed outside of the top 10 in any match for over two years, but 10 misses on a single stage may have even wiped out his chances of a top 10 finish.

My immediate thought was, “Oh my gosh! That sucks! I don’t want to go talk to him or even go over there. Just leave that guy alone and give him some space.” Most people need time to process something like that, or they can get very upset. But when I looked up, I was shocked to see that Austin literally had a smile and was laughing about it.

I told Austin I’d never seen someone handle a bad stage like that, and he told me, “That is the first zero I’ve ever gotten at any match I’ve ever gone to. But what can you do besides laugh about it? I mean, we laughed about it all day long. I love my Kansas buddies in that squad because they were all teasing me about it. Once they realized that I wasn’t mad about it, then they didn’t worry about joking about it. And as I said earlier, in a situation like that, you try to think about what you can learn from it. The truth is I made a mistake reloading two weeks prior. Well, that doesn’t change anything for how I’m going to shoot the next stage, so just don’t worry about it.

I believe this is a big part of why Austin finishes at the top so consistently. His ability to recover mentally helps him limit the damage a few missed shots can have on an entire match. He gets back to peak performance quickly.

I told Austin it seems like his mental resilience is highly unusual. Austin: “That’s one of the things that can be learned quite easily. I see people get mad at themselves or maybe not even mad at themselves, but maybe they say something like, “The wind got me again. I’m so sick of it!” And I catch myself getting into that mindset too. For example, I recently saw a guy get a zero on a stage at The King of Coal Canyon match. He was doing really well before that stage. But when he came off that stage with a zero, he said, ‘Man, this whole weekend is wasted.’ I said, ‘Dude, that’s the wrong mindset. First, go check your zero and then set a new goal.’ Maybe the goal should become finishing top 10 because that would still be an incredible finish after having that happen. And he did. He went and got his zero fixed and got his stuff back together, and finished top 10 at that match. He shot really well in the match.”

It’s easy for somebody to know they should think this way, but it can be hard to remember it after you just had a terrible stage. If it was because of something that you can fix that day – then fix it. Other than that, you have to force yourself to let it go and forget about it.

Applying Mental Strategy To A Stage

Austin Buschman at World Championship Shooting Off Tripod

Austin: “Another part of the mental game is about visualizing what you’re going to do on the stage. It takes some experience to know how you’re going to shoot a stage, but let’s say you were walking up to a new stage that looks really difficult or fairly complicated. It’s not simply prone shots but is a complicated positional stage. You should almost choreograph in your head every position you’re going to get in, every place you’re going to put your feet, every spot your elbow is going to rest, every spot where you’re going to put your bipod legs, etc. All of that you can think about before you go on the clock. If you look at every position you are going to shoot and think, ‘Okay, I’m going to place my bag right there, I’ll put my forearm right there, and I’m going to put my knee up and rest my other elbow on that knee.’ Then whenever you go to shoot it, you don’t have to think about any of that stuff. It’s like your brain has already taken care of it, and you only have to focus on breaking a perfect shot: what your wind hold should be, getting stable, and squeezing the trigger. You want to take care of all mental processes ahead of time that you can. You want to make your thought processes while you’re on the clock incredibly simple because you have to think and make decisions really quickly on the clock. So if you minimize those decisions that you’re gonna have to make while you’re on the clock, you can be a lot more effective at picking good corrections and watching shots go down range. I’ve noticed that if I’m mid-stage and I get so focused or worried about how I’m going to shoot the next position, then I’ll forget to watch my impacts closely on the shot or two leading up to that position. But, if you’ve already taken care of that mentally by having it kind of pre-choreographed and you’re not worried about that, then you can focus on what you need to while you’re on the clock. There are very few things that you should focus on while you’re on the clock: Where the last shot hit and what you should hold on the next shot should almost be 100% of your focus during a stage. But to do that, you’ve got to eliminate almost all other decision-making that you might have to do.”

“A big part of making your mental process simpler and easier is by practicing. Practice being stable on positions so much that it becomes automatic and subconscious, and that will free up mental space. You simply can’t eliminate practice from the equation by having the best mental game. It just doesn’t work like that. If a guy has shot a ton of matches and done some dry fire practice and whatnot, then he just doesn’t have to think about getting stable. He puts his back down, puts his rifle on it, he looks through the crosshairs, all of his muscles are just at the right tension, and he’s stable. It makes his mental process where he can solely focus on breaking this perfect shot and watching where it goes.”

Pre-Stage Routine/Checklist

Austin said he had never written down a pre-stage checklist, although he thought having a written checklist would have been helpful for him when he was a newer shooter. Today, he said he’s done this so many times that it’s habit. He always runs through the same routine before each stage.

Let’s say that he just finished shooting a stage. Here is his process:

  1. Put his fired brass in his bag
  2. Reload his magazine (Uses a 12-round MDT magazine and always loads 1 extra round, read Part 1 for more on this)
  3. Go to the next stage
  4. Get out his match book and read the course of fire
  5. Find all the targets
  6. Calculate his ballistics using his Kestrel and write it down on his dope cards (read Part 2 for more on this)
  7. Determine what additional gear he might need on the stage, if any, and get that out
  8. Pre-check everything on his rifle to ensure it’s perfectly setup for the start of that stage, including:
    • Dial the elevation adjustment for the 1st target
    • Set his magnification/zoom level
    • Set his parallax/focus
    • Adjust bipod height (e.g., if the shot is uphill or downhill)
  9. Get behind his spotting scope and watch other shooters shoot the stage

Austin said for #9, he watches both how other shooters run the stage (what positions they choose, what equipment they use or how it’s configured, how they transition, etc.), but he also watches their shots go down range through his spotting scope.

PRS Golden Bullet Winner Shooting Out of Truck at PRS Match

Austin: “When there’s a confusing target order, it’s really important to watch on glass because if you can watch 3-4 shooters go through the target order, then you almost can’t screw it up when you get on the clock. You almost don’t even have to think about it because your brain has already got a pattern in it that you can just follow whenever you shoot it. But on those stages with confusing target orders, I find myself really prone to accidentally shoot targets out of order if I didn’t have the chance to watch others shoot it through my glass.”

I asked if he had a little mental routine or checklist he explicitly runs through in his head before each shot (e.g., find the target in the scope, close the bolt, check the level, etc.), and Austin said he didn’t. There has been so much repetition it all happens automatically.

Other Stage Strategy & Shooting Tips

Timer on Rifle For PRS Match Stages

Do you use a timer on your rifle? Austin: “I have a timer on my rifle, but I don’t use it. I’m probably gonna take it off because I’ve used it so little. The only reason to use a timer is to let yourself know if you might need to take the last shot or two of a stage a little quicker or if you need to run the last half of the stage a little faster. I think timers can be super useful if a guy builds the habit of using them. I think it’s a good thing, and I should probably try to build the habit of looking at it more often. My problem is I would start the timer and then find myself finishing the whole stage without ever looking at it. My general theory on shooting a stage is that I want to break perfect shots as quickly as I can. So if I can’t break perfect shots in the allotted time, then it just doesn’t matter if I time out. If it’s a 10-shot stage, I would prefer to break 9 perfect shots and time out rather than rush the last 2 or 3 shots and they not be perfect. So what good does the timer do me?”

Note: In case you aren’t sure what we meant by a timer on your rifle, there are a couple of different timers that I’ve seen attached to rifles to help shooters manage their time on the clock. The photo above is of the timer on my rifle (Cal, PRB author), and I noticed it was what Jake Vibbert used when I was in a squad with him around 18 months ago. It’s a swimmer’s stopwatch off Amazon in an XLR mount made specifically for that yellow model SportCount timer, which I attached to the side of my Spuhr scope mount. Chad Heckler (a top PRS shooter in his own right) owns 5×5 Precision, and he offers the Crush It timer that is integral to a dope card holder, which seems pretty ideal.

Do you watch bullet trace, or do you look for impacts more? Austin: “I look for impacts. I see trace, almost out of my peripheral vision, but I don’t find it to be super useful. I see trace quite often, actually. I will shoot, and as I’m looking at the target, waiting for the bullet to get there, I’ll see the bullet trace go up and come down, but I try not to focus on it. I want to see the actual impact of the target. I think that’s a really good hybrid approach of both watching the impact of the target and seeing trace. If you can watch the target and still kind of see trace happen as a sidebar, then in the situation where the bullet got to the target, and you didn’t see where the bullet hit at all, then you have some slight information to make a guess. If you missed and had no feedback at all, then you might think, ‘Well, I saw the trace go up to the right, so maybe I’ll hold more left.’ But that is a pretty rare scenario, so I really don’t think trace is usually very useful.”

Austin Buschman Team USA Shooter Prone

Do you ever free recoil? Austin: “Yeah, every once in a while. I don’t like doing it, but you almost have to in certain positions in order to get steady. If you do it just right and have your shoulder there to catch the rifle, the recoil won’t take you all the way off target. You can still see the target in the scope’s field of view and see where your bullet went. The worst-case scenario when you free recoil is if the rifle moves so much that your target is no longer in your field of view. That’s what needs to be avoided.”

What’s the biggest change you’ve made to your shooting approach or process in the past couple of years that helps you get a few more hits in a match? Austin had already mentioned that he started using a rear tripod on a few more stages over the past 2 years to increase his probability of getting a clean score when time would allow it (see Part 2 for more on rear tripod). But I asked if he’d changed anything else. Austin thought about it for a while and then said this: “Breaking perfect shots rather than breaking fast shots has helped me get a few more hits in a match. What I mean by perfect shots is I want the reticle to just be so ‘buried’ and so still, no matter what position I am in, and on the perfect wind hold that I pre-selected so that there’s no doubt in my mind when I break the shot that the only variable is if I picked the wrong wind hold. If every shot is like that for the whole match, then I can make good corrections based on the feedback I see after the shot and not make mistakes. I still find that even though we’re super stable on sandbags, it’s very easy to pull a shot one or two tenths high, low, left, or right if you have just a little bit of wiggle at just the wrong time when you break the shot. I see that all the time with other shooters. I see it with myself, and sometimes I know it happened. Sometimes I know that there’s no way that shot went in that spot unless I pulled it. So I try to fight that because I want those shots to be so perfect.”

PRS Barricade PRS Skills Stage 2

“I tell people on the standard PRS barricade stage that they should shoot a 1-inch group in the middle of the target and do it in 89 seconds. [That standard PRS barricade stage has a 90-second par time.] That should be their goal for the barricade stage. The reason most guys miss off the PRS barricade is because they’re trying to run it too fast. By definition, that means that you’re compromising on breaking perfect shots. So I think the ideal thing to do is to imagine that 10-inch target is a 2-inch target. If you can use that same theory at every stage of the match, it’ll pay big dividends. You can’t be satisfied with hitting a big plate close to the edge. That is a killer of PRS skill.”

“You should constantly be making corrections to try to perfectly center the next shot. Don’t get lazy and send the same hold if you’re last shot wasn’t in the very center of the plate. Sometimes you might not have seen exactly where it hit, but you should constantly fight to see where a bullet hits and then adjust the next shot to center. At the top levels of this game, the difference between a guy who always places in the top five and a guy who always places in the top 10 is only about 3 shots over a 2-day match. That’s three times in a 2-day match where the top 5 guys moved it to the center of the plate and got a hit rather than slipping a shot off the edge. You can get away with not correcting it to the center of the plate for quite a few shots, but if it causes you to miss one shot out of every 50 shots, and you do that at every 2-day match, you’ve dropped possibly 10 positions in every match you go to.”

Austin Buschman World Champion Shooter Podium

Do you feel like that discipline of constantly making good corrections is the separator between a top 10 guy and a top 5 guy? Austin: “There is a pretty minuscule difference between the top 10 and top 5, but maybe say a top 20 guy and a top 5 guy – yeah, that’s the separator: The best guys in the game make the best corrections.

Practice

I wanted to learn how Austin practices and keeps himself tuned up for competition.

How many rounds do you shoot a year out of a precision rifle? Austin: “Most recently, I’ve been shooting around 6,000-7,000 each year.”

Do you use a trainer rifle? Austin: “No. The barrel or the rifle that I practice with is the one I’m going to take to the next match. I’ll swap barrels out whenever they get worn out, but I’ll practice with the new barrel before I take it to the next match.”

How many rounds would you shoot in practice leading up to a big match? Austin: “It depends. This last month or two, I shot a ton of matches. When shooting matches on back-to-back weekends, I might only shoot 30 or 40 rounds between those weekends because I was already confident the rifle was shooting well. I already had my load and everything ready to go, and I just had to load more ammo. So, I would clean the barrel and foul it. Lastly, I’d recheck my dope at long range (read Part 2 for how he checks and trues his dope), and that’s all I would shoot. But when I have a long period in between matches (like maybe a month and a half), I’ll go practice in the evenings mostly just for fun or to have something to do, and I might shoot up to 200 or 300 rounds through the barrel before I get to the next match. I just want to have fun and stay sharp.”

Austin Buschman First PRS Match Win September 2019

Austin won his first two-day, pro-level PRS match in September 2019, and since then, he’s won 27% of the matches he’s competed in and finished in the top 10 in 88% of them! That is the highest percentage of top 10 finishes any of the top PRS shooters in that time period. So I asked him what his practice looked like right before he made that breakthrough in performance.

What caused you to make that transition from a mid-pack guy to the most consistent top-10 shooter? Austin: “Well, I don’t think it was training or practice. I had already placed in the top 10 at some pro-level, two-day matches before that first win. I think I was already very good at the physical aspects of the sport, like being able to get stable and take nice, clean shots from different positions. I’d already gotten good at having good ammo and a good rifle and having my dope lined up. So the only thing that’s changed or improved in that period of time was the mental game. And it’s just constantly finding what your flaws are and trying to fix them. If you fix something that costs you 2 shots per match, and then you identify another flaw that maybe cost you 1 shot every other match, and you fix it. Then you might identify another flaw that crept in that cost you a shot at the next match, and you try to fix it. When you do that for 3 or 4 years, all of a sudden, you find yourself winning every once in a while. But most of those flaws are mental mistakes.”

Do you have a way to keep track of those? Like do you write them down after a stage, or do you think back over it at the end of a match? Austin: “I’ll think back over it – I don’t write them down. I did write them down when I was newer. When you get to the point where you’re missing very few shots per match, it’s a lot easier not to write them down and still have a catalog in your mind of what caused each of your misses. When you’re missing 50 shots in a match, you better write them down. But when you’re missing 12 shots in a match, it’s a lot easier to keep track of what’s causing you to miss. So that’s one of those things that gets easier to do as you improve. To me, it becomes very obvious if something is happening to me more than once. It stays in my mind. I don’t even have to think back over the match – I know before the match even ends that there’s something that caused me a bunch of misses. I may think about it halfway through the match and know I need to fix this flaw because it’s already cost me 2 or 3 shots, and I don’t want it to cost me more. A lot of times, I’ll think about it on the drive home, ‘What can I do to fix that?’ Or I’ll think about it while I’m reloading ammo for the next match, ‘Why did I miss those shots?’ Is there something I can do? Is there some easy or repeatable solution or do I just have to remember to shoot that stage differently next time? When something starts costing me shots, it sticks in my mind real vividly, and I don’t have to put effort into documenting it.”

Austin Buschman on PRS Barricade in World Championship

What do your practice sessions look like? Do you run mock stages with a shot timer? Austin: “No. So this is going to sound really lazy, but there are only 2 positional stages that I practice, and the rest of my shooting is done prone. I’d say most of my practice is done prone. It’s always windy where I live in the Oklahoma panhandle, so most of my practice is shooting at a target prone. I’ll miss and make a correction, or I’ll shoot at a target and hit and try to see where on the plate I hit and make a correction. So the majority of my practice is just doing that prone. But I do have a little cattle gate section that is tied to two T-posts, and I’ll practice off of that with a positional bag or a rear tripod. I also have a PRS barricade, and most of my positional practice is just running through the PRS barricade. I’m not necessarily trying to practice the PRS barricade itself, but I just find it to be a good way to practice kneeling and standing shots. I don’t even time it. I just try to break nice, clean shots. A lot of times, I’ll do it dry fire once or twice, and I’ll try to get it where my crosshair is not even moving when I break the shot, and then I try to run it with live fire to see if it feels the same way and if I’m hitting. But I don’t ever do a lot of focused training on mock stages or with a timer or whatnot.”

Austin’s Best Advice for Other Shooters

For New Shooters:

What is your best advice for the shooter who is thinking about getting into PRS matches? Austin: “The general theory that I think most people should start with for PRS shooting is they should focus exclusively on breaking perfect shots – rather than get all their shots off in time. Then from there, they should focus on building positions faster but still breaking perfect shots. You can work on stage strategies that will make you quicker, but if you start off compromising on your shot placement, it’s really hard to break that habit later on. I think you start off making perfect shots and then use better stage planning to get faster and break more shots within the time limit.

Austin: “Other than that, if they’ve got this far in the article and still need advice – they should read all of these articles again!” 😉

What is the most common mistake you see a new guy make at a match? Austin: “The worst mistake a guy can make is to shoot, miss the target, and not make any kind of correction. I see that a lot with new shooters.”

What is the most common mistake you see a new guy make when it comes to gear? Austin: “It almost seems like new guys focus too much on gear. A lot of new guys have ALL the gear, and it’s like the only thing they’ve ever done is buy gear. I hardly ever see somebody show up to a match with a gear problem, but I see tons of people that have really nice gear and don’t know how to use it.”

For The Mid-Pack Shooters:

What’s the best advice you would give a guy who is finishing mid-pack but wants to rise to a top-10 finish? Austin: “That depends on what is causing him to be mid-pack. He’s the only person who can analyze his flaws and work on them. So that’s the advice. If it’s a mental game issue, then that’s what he needs to work on. But if it’s something else that’s causing him to be in the mid-pack rather than at the top, he needs to focus on other things. It could be something simpler than the mental game. The key is to constantly identify your flaws and focus on improving those things specifically.”

Are there any common mistakes you see a mid-pack shooter make? Austin: “It could be anything. I don’t have a good answer to this question. I watch guys that are constantly placing, let’s say, around 20th to 30th at a two-day match, and if I’m brutally honest, it’s very hard for me to identify what I do better than them. Why do I win and they don’t? I don’t know. I watch them shoot stages, and they seem very good. But, if you just miss one extra shot per stage, you go from top 5 to 50th at some of these matches. So it’s very hard for me to identify something because I look at a lot of these guys who are placing around 20th or 30th or 40th at a match, and they appear to be doing all the same things as me, and are very, very good shooters. So it’s hard for me to answer what those guys are commonly doing wrong. It could be a little bit of everything, I guess. I have many friends who have tried so hard at this sport for years and, from what I can tell, put in as much or more effort into it as I do. They are some of the best guys I know, but they seem to typically land in the 10th to 48th place range.  And they listen to every podcast and read every article and try everything they can. I guess you have to count your blessings if you’re one of the ones that win matches.”

PRS Shooter Austin Buschman On Tires Barricade

Rifle Cleaning

How often do you clean your rifle? Austin: “After about 300 rounds. So generally, after sight-in day and a two-day match, it’s usually time to clean it.”

Austins Rifle Cleaning Products - Boretech Eliminator, CLP, IOSSO Bore Cleaner

What do you use to clean it? Austin: “Well, I’m not sure my cleaning methods are right or even good, but I don’t mind sharing what I’ve been doing recently. First, I’ll run a patch through with CLP, which seems to get a lot of carbon out really easily. Then I’ll run a few patches of BoreTech Eliminator. Then I might run some felt pads coated in IOSSO Bore Cleaner, which has got a little bit of an abrasive in it, and it seems to get the barrel really nice and clean/polished. Then I’ll run some more BoreTech Eliminator on a patch, just because it says it prevents corrosion, so I like to leave the bore with a coat of that – it makes me feel good, but I don’t know if it does anything!”

“I am somewhat skeptical of how much cleaning matters, similar to how I think about many reloading practices (read Austin’s reloading views in Part 3). My main thing with cleaning is I want to make my gun reliable. It’s not so much a precision thing because I’ve seen rifles shoot for a very long time and still maintain precision. But I feel like I might be compromising on reliability if I don’t clean a lot of the carbon out of the throat and neck area of the chamber. So that is why I do it, but I think as a byproduct of that, if you’re also getting carbon out of the barrel, then you’re probably keeping the barrel more consistent for the long term, too.”

“I’m likely going to start cleaning my barrels less and with shorter methods. Honestly, I am pretty convinced that if a guy is using powders that don’t cause a lot of carbon fouling that he could just use the instructions on the back of a bottle of BoreTech Eliminator every few hundred rounds, and he’d likely be fine for PRS. My cleaning methods have changed about 3 times in the last 5 years, and it hasn’t seemed to affect the performance of my barrels.”

“However, I am very meticulous about cleaning my magazines, my trigger, and my action for reliability. This practice is often overlooked in favor of debating bore scrubbing methods. I disassemble almost every part of my rifle multiple times a season and clean it back to factory conditions.”

Favorite Matches

Every time I’m around one of the shooters that I know has shot a ton of matches all over the country, I like to ask them what their favorite 3 matches were that they’ve ever shot. Here is what Austin said:

  • Box Canyon Showdown: If Austin could only shoot one match all year, it would be this one. He said they provide golf carts for shooters to travel from stage to stage, and it’s the most beautiful ranch he’s ever shot on.
  • King of Coal Canyon: Austin likes this one because of the location, but he did say the winds can be so switchy in that canyon that it will make you feel like a terrible shooter most of the time you’re there. 😉
  • Impact Foundation PRC: This one is in eastern Oklahoma and is put on by some really good shooters. The other 2 matches Austin mentioned already passed for the 2023 season, but this match is on August 26-27, 2023 and still had registration spots available (at the time this was published). You can register here.
Best PRS Matches

Thank You, Austin!

Most people who compete at the highest levels of a sport would be reluctant to share their strategy and tips openly like this. At one point, Austin and I even talked about that. Here is a very honest part of our conversation:

Austin: “I’m a little bit worried that there is someone out there that is going to get all this information and come beat me at every match.”

Cal (PRB author): “That might be true, but I’ll say you seem to have a head start on them.”

Austin: “Yeah, I’ve got a head start on them, and it won’t be easy for them. But I think about that all the time. There is always that guy out there that is working harder than I am right now. They’re getting better.”

It’s a selfless thing for him to share all of these tips and hard-earned wisdom with us. Thank you, Austin, for choosing to do that! We all really appreciate it!

Articles From Austin Buschman’s Spotlight

This is the last article in my 4-part Top Shooter Spotlight on Austin Buschman. Check out the other articles:

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Austin Buschman Precision Rifle Shooter with Trophies

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.

Check Also

Gear PRS Champ Austin Orgain Carries At a Rifle Match

Everything A 2-Time PRS Champ Carries At A Match – Austin Orgain Spotlight Part 4

Austin Orgain, a 2-time PRS champion and overall PRS points leader from the past 5-7 years, gives us an exclusive look into the contents of his backpack that he carries at a pro-level rifle match. While we often see what rifle and gear someone uses, it's a rare opportunity for a professional shooter to unpack their bag and discuss the complete inventory. In this article, Mr. Orgain not only unveils what's inside but also imparts practical tips on how he uses each item and shares his perspective on why carrying this gear improves his chances of standing on the podium once more.

12 comments

  1. Hi Cal

    Another great article. Took a course on mental management a couple years ago. I know keeping your head in the game is very important in shooting. But it’s not easy.

    Paul

    • Thanks, Paul. This was a very interesting topic for me, as well. It’s a huge part of the game that we almost never talk about. Thanks for the feedback to let me know you enjoyed it too.

      Thanks,
      Cal

  2. Thank You Austin and Cal for giving us an idea of what makes Austin so good. A lot of hard work, for sure.

    — Todd

  3. Cal, thanks for making all this information available to everyone, even non competitive shooting. I doubt I’ll ever complete, but through the years you have posted some excellent articles and great reading.
    I have a question about Austin, it appears that he is a lefty. I was wondering if being a lefty has ever gave him problems when getting set.
    Shooting 3D archery courses set up by R.H shooters can have lefties twisted around pretty good trying to get a shot off. Thanks Cal.

    • That’s a great question, Bob. Austin would be a good person to ask because he used to shoot right-handed, but lost sight in his right eye … so he had to learn to shoot left handed. I think only 10% of people are left-handed, but I bet less than 0.1% have shot one way and changed to the other! I don’t know that he ever competed righty, but I do remember him telling me the story and how he transitioned to being a lefty.

      I’ll let him reply to your question.

      @Austin, what do you think? Do match directors make it harder on lefties?

      Thanks,
      Cal

    • Austin Buschman

      Every once in awhile I’ll encounter a stage where it is nearly impossible to shoot all the positions using my left hand and it appears that the match director just overlooked that possibility. Just about as frequently I encounter stages that have positions that are easier to shoot left handed wether intentionally done by match directors or by accident. So the affect seems to somewhat cancel out in the long run. It is annoying if two or three positions during a match force lefties to improvise and right handed shooters at the same match never had a bad spot to shoot from.

      I lost most of the vision in my right eye as a teenager and I have been shooting left-handed now for much longer than I shot guns right handed. Being naturally right handed it is very easy for me to switch to right hand and shoot some of the awkward positions a lefty can’t get into. The only nuisance is I have to pull my cheek rest off when I get to that position and use the left eye while resting my right cheek on the spot where the cheek riser hardware is in the stock.

  4. great article, lots of quality information.

  5. Loving this series Cal. As someone who is striving to get better in the sport, it’s nice to get some insight into how the top shooters work. Can’t wait for the rest of the articles.

  6. I noticed that Austin usually cleaned his rifle after about 300 rds using Varget. Awhile back you wrote about what the top shooters were using in their 6BRA with H4895, do you happen to remember their cleaning regiment? I have a 6BRA that I use in F-Open and I don’t clean until after a two day match, which is about 140 to 150 rds.

    • Hey, Jay. On that big survey I did, I asked those guys about their load data, but didn’t ask them about their cleaning regimen. So I’m not sure if the guys that use H4895 clean more or less often. I would expect it is largely the same for Hodgdon Extreme Series rifle powders. The only variation I’ve personally heard about is when someone is using another brand of powder. I’ve heard a few people who use Vihtavuori powders say they had an issue with a carbon ring building up in their chamber. They never had that (or at least noticed one) when they used Hodgdon powders, but a few months after they started using VV powders they ran into the carbon ring issue for the first time. I’ve heard some of those guys say they clean more often now, but haven’t ever heard or noticed variation within the same brand of powders – although there might be. And I’m not trying to throw Vihtavuori under the bus. I’m sure other brands may have similar issues. I’ve just heard more than one of the top 100 shooters say something similar, so I’m simply trying to share anything that might be helpful.

      I also think cleaning regimens vary by discipline and the level of precision required. I’ve heard some Benchrest guys might clean every 10 rounds at times! So maybe F-Open is somewhere in between.

      Thanks,
      Cal