Two-time Precision Rifle Series (PRS) champion Austin Orgain shares a ton of PRS strategy, shooting, and practice tips in this article. This is the final part of my spotlight series on Austin, and these articles are all based on hours of conversations I had with Austin. Thanks, Austin, for being willing to share your expertise with the rest of us!
Let me quickly introduce Austin for those who may not know him: Austin Orgain was the PRS Overall Season Champion in both 2020 and 2021 and has the highest total accumulated PRS points over the past 8 years. He was also the 2017 National Rifle League (NRL) Season Champion and won the 2020 AG Cup. If you had to name one guy that has consistently dominated precision rifle shooting over the past 6-8 years – that would be Austin Orgain. (Learn more about Austin)
Cal: You shot your first pro-level PRS matches in 2016 and seemed to get very good very quickly. You finished in the top 30 in overall season points in 2016, had multiple podium finishes in 2017, and rose to 2nd overall by 2018! What did your training look like in those early years?
Austin: “Really, at that time, it was simply a lot of rounds downrange. I’d go to a match and figure out something that I sucked at, then I’d go to practice, and I’d just practice that one thing. I figured out I wasn’t very good at shooting off of barricades and positions. Back in 2016-2018, we didn’t have the quality of bags and gear we have now. We also shot off a lot of wobbly props back then, compared to the quality of barricades you see in a PRS match today. So it took me some time to figure out how to time your wobble and things like that. So I’d just build a prop, and I’d go out and practice that. I’d shoot however much ammo I needed to so I could get better at that. I shot a lot of rounds in 2015 and even more in 2016. I probably shot about 20,000 rounds in 2016. I ran through about 6 barrels worth of 6×47 barrels. I’d always practice with the exact rifle and ammo I ran in matches – for everything I did. You could practice with 22 LR or a 223, and you get some fundamentals and stuff down – but really, it’s best to practice with what you’re going to run in competition. You want to know that cartridge inside it out, so you know what it’s doing, and practicing with it is a good way to become really familiar with it.”
“I don’t practice near that much now. Really, then, it was more that I just really, really enjoyed it. I was also hitting matches hard at the time. I may have shot 10 big, two-day matches or so in that 2016 season. There were a lot of guys from the area where I live (western Oklahoma) that we were going to PRS matches back then. We’d all travel together, and it was a really good time. Many of those 20,000 rounds I shot in 2016 were fired at matches, but I’d still practice quite a bit.”
“I knew guys in the local OPPS club (Oklahoma Practical Precision Shooting) that I shot with, but I didn’t have a lot of people locally that I could go practice with. So, it was mainly a lot of my own solo practice. Let’s say I went to a particular match, and I struggled on a stage that had some really small targets. When I got back home from the match, I’d go set up really small targets at my range, and that’s what I’d practice until I felt really comfortable with that. Then, at the next big match I went to, I’d find something else that I could improve on, so that’s what I’d focus on next. That kind of focused practice seemed to really help.”
Cal: Did you have a nice range nearby where you could practice?
Austin: “Yeah, I did. I have a friend, Daniel Hughes, who has quite a bit of land out north of town. He’s a pretty big-time hunter, too. We’ve hunted a lot together. So he likes to shoot, and he’s actually a really good shooter, but he just doesn’t like to reload. So he’ll go out and shoot with me sometimes when he has ammo, but he won’t shoot nearly as much as I do just because he doesn’t want to have to reload or get more ammo. But we set up a nice range at his place. I had 2-3 different directions for targets, and we had targets from about 300 yards to a little over 1,000 yards. We could’ve placed targets out to 1200 or 1300 yards if we wanted to, but really, there was no need. I set up some pretty small targets and some pretty decent-sized targets to be able to shoot. It was a great place because we could shoot across canyons and ponds. It was a very challenging place to shoot because of how the wind would whip through the canyons and the draws. Practicing there would naturally make you a good wind reader.”
Cal: What do you do for practice today to stay sharp and competitive?
Austin: “A lot of people may not like this answer – but really, I don’t do a lot of self-training anymore. I think once you break into the PRS and figure out the mental aspect of this game – that is the hardest part. Over the past year, I feel like I’ve been shooting the best I ever have – even though I haven’t been training as hard as I did in the early days. Honestly, teaching the JTAC Training classes is almost like a practice session for us. As an instructor, I get to sit behind glass and watch hundreds of rounds go downrange over a weekend as I’m helping people. Just making observations and noticing common mistakes that shooters make can help us remember to avoid those mistakes ourselves. Those range days almost feel like a practice session, even though I’m not behind the rifle.”
Cal: If you had 50 rounds to prepare for a match, what would you do?
Austin: “I know, for me and a bunch of the other top shooters here in Oklahoma, our answer to that is pretty unanimous. We’re going to make sure our guns are running good. First and foremost, we’re going to go out and shoot some distance to make sure all of our data is perfect. We are going to get a good zero and then may slightly tune our velocity or bullet drag to make sure our data lines up at multiple distances, typically 400, 700, and 1100-1200 yards. I want first-round hits, but even after I hit a target, I might send 2 more rounds at it to make sure that my gun is running the way I want it to.” (Learn how Austin checks his dope and trues his ballistics)
“Then, if I haven’t shot for quite a while, I like to take 20 or 30 rounds and go knock the rust off. I’ll shoot some type of positional stage where I have to transition between 2-3 targets. I don’t practice a lot of prone because when I’m running my gun out to check my data, that is essentially my prone practice right there.”
“I’m still going to make that a quality practice. I’m still going to get something out of it. One thing I try to tell people is practice with a purpose. You can’t just go out there and burn 20-30 rounds just jacking around and expect to get better. The example I use is this: Let’s say Michael Jordan had a game where he sucked at shooting free throws. Do you think the next day at practice, he is going to shoot a layup and then shoot some 3-pointers and just mess around? No! He’s going to get on the free throw line and practice free throws until he’s comfortable with it. It’s the same deal in shooting: Practice with a purpose. If you’re sucking at one specific thing, then go take 20, 30, or 40 rounds and practice that one thing until you feel comfortable with that. Try to treat it like a match. Go through the same process you would before a stage, like, ‘Okay, I’m going to go ahead and dial the dope on my gun before I start.’”
Cal: Do you use a timer when you practice?
Austin: “You don’t necessarily have to time yourself most of the time. But it is good to practice with a timer occasionally just because everybody gets dumb when the clock starts, right? You instantly forget stuff. Practicing with a timer sometimes can be helpful, but I wouldn’t practice against a clock most of the time.”
Cal: How much of being competitive at the pro level comes down to the metal game?
Austin: “In this game, once you have the fundamentals down and have your equipment lined out like your gun is running good and you have gear that you know you can trust, then the game really becomes all mental. I’d say the biggest jump for me shooting-wise is whenever I figure out how to eliminate mental mistakes. Not that I don’t still make some. I definitely still make them! I actually made some at a recent match, and I kicked myself for that. It’s more rare now, which is a good thing. You see so many guys that’ll dial the wrong dope or hold wind the wrong way or whatever it may be, and I think my biggest jump was whenever I figured out how to eliminate those kinds of mental mistakes for an entire match. The mental part of this has to be hyper-focused. You have your routine of what you’re going to do when you start the stage. You go through your little checklist. Well, I call it a checklist, but I don’t really have a physical checklist. I simply mean I run through the same exact process before every stage. Having a repetitive process helps me eliminate any of those easy mental mistakes like forgetting to dial your dope or whatever it may be – that stuff that cost you points where you would’ve probably hit the target had you not made that mistake.”
Cal: One of the things that is easy to notice when you watch a pro shooter is how quick and smooth they are in terms of moving and getting in position. What tips do you have for us on that?
Austin: “Well, there is an old saying that was drilled into my head back when I did calf roping: ‘Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast.’ So that’s how I think about it, but probably the biggest difference is simply experience and our pre-stage routine. Whenever we’re looking at a stage, we’re going to have a pretty detailed plan before the clock starts for what we’re going to do: where we’re going to go, where we’re going to place our bag, how we’re going to place our rifle. Before we actually start the stage, we’ve already run through it a few times mentally, and everything’s already set into motion, so there’s no wasted movement. And there is small stuff like the specific way we grab the rifle or how we pick up the bag and move that can also save time. A lot of those best practices have become muscle memory for us. We’ve done them so many times we don’t even have to think about them.”
“You want to move fast and shoot slow. You don’t want to rush while you’re on the gun. I actually see some top-level guys that move pretty slowly between positions. It’s smooth, but it’s still pretty slow. There seems to be no urgency there, but then it seems like they get a lot of urgency once they get on the rifle, and they may shoot two rounds really fast. Ultimately, that will end up costing them a few points here and there. I’m the opposite: Everything is a race until I close the bolt. I’m going to move efficiently and as quickly as I can, but once the bolt closes, I want to take that extra second and make sure everything’s right before I break a shot – because I don’t want to break a bad shot.”
“Did you know the first 3 places in the 2020 Precision Rifle Series Championship were only separated by a single point for the whole season?! Just think about that! Just one mental mistake or one shot where I didn’t quite get as steady as I wanted to and broke a bad shot – that one shot could have changed the outcome of the entire 2020 season.” (Note: In case you didn’t know, Austin Orgain did end up on top as the 2020 PRS Champ – and again in 2021. 😉)
“One of the most important things is you’ve got to break a good shot because you can’t make a correction off of a bad shot. If your impact was off-center, but you aren’t confident you broke a perfect shot, you won’t know if the wind caused you to be off or if you just pulled it. So, #1, you have to break a good shot. Then, when you break that good shot, you have to do your best to see where it hits.”
Cal: What % of your impacts do you see at a typical match?
Austin: “When I’m talking about seeing where the bullet hit, I’m really talking about how my brain processes a bunch of different puzzle pieces and puts them together to make an educated guess on the exact spot where the bullet impacted. You know, you see a puff start coming off from the bullet impact, you see how the plate reacts and how it swings – and your brain tries to piece all that together to figure out exactly where you’re at on the plate so you can try to make those micro corrections and bring your next shot to the very center of the plate.”
“I don’t claim to see 100% of my shots throughout a two-day match. I don’t think anybody really sees every shot. But you try your best to see the highest percentage of them as you can because every little bit of information you get increases your odds on the impact of the next round.”
“When I hit a target, I’d bet I see where I was on the plate with enough confidence that I’d make an adjustment off it on at least 90% of my shots. If I miss, I usually see exactly where I missed off the plate very close to 100% of the time.”
Cal: When you’re shooting in a match and trying to watch your rounds down range, are you watching for bullet trace, watching the target, or some combination of the two?
Austin: “I’m almost always putting 100% of my focus on watching the target. A lot of people get hung up on watching for trace. It’s cool to see, but realistically, it’s infinitely more important to see where that bullet is impacting the plate and/or missing the plate than it is to see the bullet trace. So if you do what we call ‘selling out to see trace,’ which basically means you’re primarily focusing on seeing trace, it makes it really hard for your eyes to transition from trying to pick up on that bullet trace to actually focusing on the target and seeing where the bullet hits on target. So if you sell out for trace you might see this nice trace arc about halfway to the target, but then you can’t transition your eyes to the target fast enough. So you’re like, ‘Cool, I saw trace, but I have no idea where that bullet hit on the plate.’”
“There are a few instances where selling out to see trace might be a good strategy, like if you have skyline targets or maybe a target has tall grass/weeds behind it, making it virtually impossible to see your impact if you missed. In those niche scenarios where you have nothing else to go on, I might sell out for trace just to try to have some information to make a decision on. But, for the most part, I don’t even really try to see trace, but am more focused on trying to keep my eyes on the target and seeing the impact and reaction of the target.”
Cal: How do you apply what you see?
Austin: “When I start a stage, I have all the data written down that I think I might possibly need on the stage. If I hit a plate and I don’t see where my impact was, then I can’t really make a correction when I go to the next target. Let’s say I saw the plate rock, but I’m not absolutely positive which way it rocked first. Well, I just gave up some information that I could have used, and I lowered my chances of hitting the next target. But, if I saw my bullet impacted on the left side of the target, then I can look down at my data and see that maybe I was holding for a 6 mph wind, but it would have taken an 8 mph wind hold for that shot to perfectly centered on the plate. Now I look at what I have written down in my 8 mph wind column for the next target, and now I increase my odds of hitting that next target because I saw what happened.”
Cal: Do you make micro-corrections on every single shot?
Austin: “I’m not going to say that I make a little micro correction on every single shot because no matter how good your rifle shoots, there is always a ‘cone of accuracy.’ So there is some dispersion at long range that you have to take into consideration. So, let’s say I’m shooting a target at 600 yards. Even if my gun is shooting 1/2 MOA, that’s still 3 inches at that distance. So, if I hit 1.5-2 inches away from the center of the plate, I’m probably not going to make a correction off that because my dispersion alone could account for that much error. Now, if the shot is 1/3 of the way to one edge or the other, then I’m going to start trying to pull that back to center a little bit, right? Because I want to increase my odds. I want to keep my ‘cone of accuracy’ as centered as I can, but I’m not necessarily going to make corrections when I’m barely outside of the very center of the target. If I hit an edge and know it, I’m ALWAYS going to make a correction based on that. Or if I’m more than 1/3 away from the center to any edge, I’m going to start correcting for that. So you kind of have to trust the bullet but also understand there is some dispersion that you’ll have to deal with.”
Cal: Do you ever free recoil?
Austin: “Free recoil is almost never my first strategy because it can make it tough to spot your impact when you free recoil. But sometimes, free recoil can be the best strategy when you’re on a wobbly prop, so I do it occasionally. We’d all rather be perfectly steady and be able to watch our impact, but in reality, that isn’t always an option. Sometimes, if you back off the rifle just a little, you’ll see the wobble in your reticle stop or at least be significantly reduced.”
“So here is my question: Would you rather 1) break a shot that had some wobble, but you could watch your shot, or 2) have no wobble, but you won’t be able to watch your shot? Between those two options, the right answer is #2. If you did #1, what would you do with the data on where your impact was, knowing you didn’t break a perfect shot? #2 has the target perfectly centered in the reticle and a perfect trigger pull, but after the shot, it is basically similar to a skyline target where you don’t get any feedback. #2 maximizes your odds of getting a hit, but if you miss, then you have to assume your elevation is perfect and guess where to put the next shot based on whether you think it is more likely that the wind was way more or way less than your first hold. Nobody likes to guess like that, but at times, that might be the best strategy on a particular stage or prop.”
Cal: What is the hardest part about staying on top?
Austin: “I don’t know about hardest, but what can be frustrating about this sport is you can shoot the best you possibly can – make zero mental mistakes and do everything perfectly – and you may still not win the match. There are so many guys that are great shooters and consistent now. The competition has never been tougher. Even to win one match in a year, I feel really blessed. I think where a lot of my consistency comes from is I stay pretty mentally focused. Most of the time, I don’t make very many mental mistakes, and I can stay consistent. But it’s frustrating when you feel like you did everything right as the shooter and still don’t win. At the end of the day, you sometimes still have to have a little bit of luck going your way. It seems like, at times, a guy can get on a roll and have a few things start swinging their way, and then your confidence really starts coming back, and it can help you string together a pretty good season or part of a season where you get 2, 3, or 4 match wins in a row or pretty close together. Hopefully, it keeps going that way for me. Like Joe Dirt says, ‘I’m going to keep on keeping on!’”
If you find tips like this helpful, this is exactly the type of content Austin Orgain and the other instructors of the JTAC Training Classes teach. JTAC is an acronym from the first name of the 4 pro shooters in Oklahoma who started the classes:
Recently, Austin Buschman (2022 PRS Champ and 2022 IPRF World Champion) joined the group as an additional instructor. One of those instructors was the overall PRS Season Champ for 5 of the past 6 years – and the 2023 PRS winner, Kahl Harmon, was actually one of their students!
I personally attended a recent JTAC class in September and share more about that in this article:
I thought it deserved its own focus and review instead of being buried at the end of this article.
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Other Articles From Austin Orgain’s Shooter Spotlight
- Part 1: Intro to Austin & His Recent Experiment with the 25×47 and 25 GT
- Part 2: Austin’s Complete Rifle Setup
- Part 3: How Austin Trues His Ballistics & Calculates His Dope At A Match
- Part 4: Everything He Carries At A Rifle Match
- Part 5: Austin’s Reloading Setup & Process
- Part 6: Strategy & Shooting Tips (this post)
This is part of a series that is taking a deep dive with 6 of the most dominant precision rifle competitors in the world over the past several years. I’m calling it “What The Pros Use: Top Shooter Spotlights.” We’ll learn what gear they run and why they feel those things give them the best chance of winning. They also share lots of shooting tips and strategies along the way! (View which 6 shooters and what all will be covered.)
You also might be interested in checking out the shooter spotlight I recently published on Austin Buschman.