Precision rifle competition season is upon us, and while my first two matches were canceled due to weather, I finally got out and shot my first match of the year. As I enter my second year of competition, I've learned what gear is absolutely necessary and what is nice to have in the arena. We're going to break this down into a few different categories: the necessities and the luxuries, and then we will look at the kit I am currently using.
This should go without saying, but you'll need a quality rifle, adjustable scope, and ammunition. This rifle and ammunition should be capable of at least 1 MOA, which means the rifle can shoot a 1 inch (1.047" for you sticklers out there) or smaller groups at 100 yards. A bipod on your rifle will be a great asset in building a stable position, and a sling will reduce fatigue when carrying your rifle between stages. A rear bag and eye and ear protection are essential, as is a backpack to carry ancillary gear, water, and snacks.
For your ammunition, you will need external ballistic data, also known as D.O.P.E. (data on/of previous engagement). Plenty of ballistic apps will populate your data if you cannot verify your DOPE at a distance. All you need to know is bullet weight, velocity, ballistic coefficient, scope height, twist rate, and a way to gather and enter atmospheric data. Weight and B.C. can typically be found on your ammo box or with a simple Google search. The correct way to get your velocity is with a chronograph. If that isn't an option, the ammo box will also give you a bullet speed, though you will need to true your velocity.
More: Up to Speed on Velocity
This part of the list is the longest and is potentially endless. I will narrow this down to the items that aren't accessories for the rifle.
The first and probably most important is a Kestrel with ballistic software. Yes, many apps work, but the Kestrel 5700 streamlines the process of finding your firing solution. Once you sync it to your phone and upload the ammo you're using, you have to turn it on and calibrate, and it will present you with a firing solution and wind hold.
Precision rifle competition, and precision rifle in general require one to account for as many variables as possible. This requires a lot of gear.
The next piece of equipment is a tripod. This is another category that could have a whole article written on it. Tripods range from inexpensive BOGs to Really Right Stuff tripods that will run you a few thousand dollars. Depending on where you are shooting, you can use the tripod to mount your rifle, rear support, or as a platform for binoculars and spotting scopes.
A tripod is a versatile tool both in the arena and in the woods for hunting.
This brings me to my final item: binoculars and spotting scope. This is yet another piece of equipment you could spend as much as you like. Get on some glass while at a match and get a feel of what works.
These three items are undoubtedly nice to have but aren't needed. More likely than not, there will be a few people in your squad willing to let you use their tripod and glass, but I know for me, it's definitely better to have your own.
MY COMPETITION LOADOUT
I spent the majority of the off-season refining my loadout; here's what we're working with:
I'm shooting a custom 6mm G.T. built by Bill Marr from 782 Custom Gunworks and RifleShooter.com. It consists of a Stiller Tac30 action, Bartlein barrel, MDT ACC action with some accouterments (weights, heatshield), Area 419 Hellfire Match, and TriggerTech Special trigger. It's topped with a Vortex Razor Gen III.
For ammunition, I'm loading 109 Berger L.R.H.T. on top of Varget in Alpha Munitions' O.C.D. brass and CCI 450s. If you want to read about my development of this load, you can check it out here.
More: 6mm GT Load Development
BAGS AND TRIPOD
I play around with a few bags. I'm a fan of the WieBad Fortune Cookie, Area 419 x Armageddon Gear Rail Changer for the rifle with ARCA rail, and the Armageddon Gear Game Changer. Moving forward, I will likely be sticking with the Game Changer.
This is one of the more recent purchases for me. I run a Two Vets Sporting Goods No Name Tripod. I don't have a crazy amount of experience regarding tripods, but I have been impressed by Two Vets. There are a lot of great tripods available on the market today, so get one in your price range and start training.
A bag and a tripod offer shooters a lot of flexibility in building a stable position.
The Kestrel 5700 is probably the handiest piece of gear in my kit. Speaking of packs, I use a DCU pattern Army Issue Assault Pack that I found at a flea market. I will likely upgrade this in the future, but it does the trick now. For hearing protection, I use Peltor ComTac IIIs and Walker in-ear. I also bring some tools with me just in case. Allen keys, a screwdriver, some pliers, and the tools that accompanied my Vortex Razor are all secured in a small pouch and are with me during my match and range days.The last and possibly most important things in my pack are snacks and water. You never know how long you're going to be out there.
More: Hearing Protection
This is a living loadout; things will get upgraded or swapped out over time. There is one thing that I plan on adding shortly, and that's either a spotting scope or a set of binoculars. I am still in the research phase, but binoculars with a built-in rangefinder are looking better and better every time I'm on the range.
If you show up to a match with just a rifle, hearing protection, and ammunition, you can borrow everything else from fellow shooters. You will find that most competitors are more than willing to let you use everything and anything, except maybe ammo.
Still purchasing gear or nervous about competition? Volunteer at a match.
If you are still saving up for a rifle and key gear, you can still participate in a local match. Volunteer to help, be a Range Officer, get on some glass and spot, ask questions, and absorb as much as possible.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
William Maxwell currently serves in the United States Army. After returning from his first deployment in 2015, he started building firearms and focused heavily on pistol and carbine training. In 2018 he fell into the rabbit hole of precision rifle shooting. He spends his free time competing, reloading, editing digital content, and writing. He can be reached via Instagram @maddmaxxguns.