By Collin Fossen
Competition shooting events, specifically long-range shooting competitions, have become popular in the last few years. While many with big game hunting experience may feel they don’t need competitive shooting skills, that may not be the best perspective if you’re looking to maintain or enhance your marksmanship.
Every event may have slight variations on the rules, however I’ll focus on shooting reactive targets (steel armor plates) that require improvised shooting positions while under time constraints. These events are non-traditional in the world of competitive shooting, but offer the best learning platform that translates into hunting scenarios.CONFIDENCE
As hunters, we all want the confidence in knowing we can make an ethical harvest. These skills can only be honed through practice. While we’re able to overcome a variety of limitations by using faster (flatter), larger-bore cartridges, and with the multitude of available ballistic calculator apps and tools, we can get a solid basis of what the bullet drop looks like at a precise distance. What becomes more nuanced however, and sometimes looks like voodoo, is an ability to read wind. Anyone who has tried to shoot a varmint or a rock at more than 300 yards can do some Kentucky windage, but the ability to read wind, can take that guess of “hold about 5’ off left,” down to “hold 3.6 MOA left” to put your round through the heart of that elk. Competitive events offer the opportunity to validate your ballistics and teach you more about what the wind can do to your shot placement, thus giving you the confidence needed to know what it takes to make that ethical shot.
TERRAIN & WIND
Learning to pay attention to the terrain and the environment will help you in the field. At competitions, target ranges are often provided or easily ranged, meaning the determining factor to most shots are the stability of the shooter and the effects of wind. The terrain between the shooter and the target can cause updrafts/downdrafts, horizontal correction, or combined effects to push the bullet off the intended target. By studying the terrain and understanding that air, being fluid-like, will move around objects or terrain differently, you can learn how they’ll influence your bullet. Wind pulses and ebbs like waves on a beach and will gust at semi-regular intervals with peaks often increasing before dying down. Lulls are typically more consistent between the gusts, so if timing a shot, it’s sometimes better to wait for a lull and know what that speed is before firing. Competitions can help you learn how to make proper wind calls and refine wind-reading skills, which could mean the difference between a clean harvest or a lost animal due to poor shot placement.
“Buck fever” is a real thing, and having utter confidence in your shot can reduce the jitters you might feel the next time you get that trophy in your scope. Most competition events have a time constraint on the course. This forces some aspect of urgency and increases the stress of the event. By exposing yourself to such stressors, you can become less prone to mental errors when you are under similar conditions in the future. Practicing complex motor skills and building a process for firing can ultimately assist you in stressful hunting scenarios.GEAR
I sometimes hear would-be shooters exclaim that they can’t participate due to a lack of access to a competition-style rifle. I wholly disagree. You can use almost any rifle or scope, but a scope with adjustable turrets is going to be a big help in reaching out farther. Target turrets offer a measurable way to make repeatable adjustments when reaching out past 100-200 yards. Using a 100-yard zero and learning to dial a turret is far more precise than trying to hold over with a dedicated drop reticle. It’s also important to understand that you might shoot 50-80 rounds of ammo at a one-day competition. That 80 rounds might be the practice you need to make your next trophy shot.When attending competitions, ask questions. Many will be willing to loan out equipment, offer pointers, and/or show you how to build a profile with a calculator app to increase your effectiveness. These are the nicest people you could meet, and they want to make sure you feel welcomed and share in on the enjoyment.We are experiencing a boom in available, affordable firearms and accessories like no other time in history. These tools are purpose-built with better manufacturing than has ever been available, and highly-skilled marksmen are pushing the limits of what can be done. By participating or attending these events, there are great opportunities to see what people are doing with rifles - capabilities beyond what you can even imagine! Having a basic understanding of these events, the factors involved, the recommended gear, and the necessary skills can ultimately help you become a more effective hunter and outdoorsman.
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