There was a time in my shooting career when I would not touch a precision rifle. I found it boring and impossible to learn in any meaningful way. Now those were different times—when information about the discipline wasn't readily available. Often, the nuances were cloaked in mystery and held closely by a group of people who wanted all the knowledge for themselves.
I have old pictures of groupings from 2005 of the 3-shot nature, measuring 5/16" consistently by my short-lived Savage 110. I got rid of it from the frustration of using a right-handed bolt action when my heart knew it wasn't efficient or practical. Plus, I didn't know what I was doing. I still don't know how many rounds I wasted trying to zero the thing, and I don't remember putting the optic on myself or if I had help. Three hundred yards presented itself as the great "unknown" for me back then.
In 2007 my wife bought me an Armalite Super SASS with Leupold Mk4 scope for my wedding gift—a rifle and optic I still have to this day. The rifle is very accurate, shooting, around .5" on a good day with the right ammo. Back in 2007, I took a "precision hunting" class with it (they wouldn't call it a sniper class) back then. The maximum range we shot was 400 yards, and my best group was 1.5" at 300 yards. After taking the class and then heading out to the range by myself, frustration immediately set in again. "Where do I go from here and what do I do next," were questions that frequently flooded my psyche. Precision shooting frustrated me to no end. So I brought it to yet another end late that year, creating yet another safe queen to be admired by visitors to my abode.
2008 marked my start as a photographer in the gun industry. I quickly became one of the busiest photographers in the editorial and manufacturers space. I started writing in 2010 after growing bored with shutter banging all the time (it was a hobby job), and my gun lust would be for all things short and gas-operated. I'm sure I wrote my disdain for precision shooting into an article or two. Maybe disdain is a strong word; how about displeasure. Even then, I had acquired an exceptional precision rifle, left-handed at that—a topic that leaves me sore to this day. But that would all change in 2013 when the right person reintroduced me to precision shooting.
I remember it well, and in fact, I have it on video, taken on some very early version of the iPhone. 740 yards. 300 Win Mag. Breathe. Press, impact. Huh? And what was that blurry thing moving through the sky? The bullet, you say? Huh? What? Yes, that moment behind the NEMO Arms Omen Recon, still a prototype gasser at that point, forever changed the trajectory for my interest in this discipline. I never saw it coming.
More and more people were getting into precision shooting then, and of course, it would continue to snowball into what it is now. It's a juggernaut. And if I dare say, precision rifles and products are going the way of the world of the AR-15: easy to get, with countless brands popping up (some better than others), with a growing level of confusion as to what is good and what is not.
As our numbers increase, a divide is inevitable. It is the way of any pastime that starts to lose its luster from the onslaught of growth and the differing opinions, approaches, and specific interests within the field. It is human nature, and we are, after all, human. I am writing a cautionary plea. It is aimed at all of us, if not me specifically. There is room for us all, and it is necessary for the sport's growth.
The more people are interested in precision rifles, the more money flows into the space. This means manufacturers, who are in the business of making money, after all, can make more of it. Then they can fund research and product development; then, they can sell more of those products and support the space. Chassis companies will create more chassis for specific shooting purposes and people. Optics companies will have greater offerings, as will rifle and action manufacturers. You get the point. If not for the boom, then many of the cool products we have now wouldn't exist—many of which have come out in just the past couple of years.
As shooters meander in and out of the precision community, more experienced shooters may be tempted to "tell" people what they ought or ought not to be doing. More specifically, what type of shooting they should partake in. If I'm being honest, my first thoughts for those entering the space are to get a rifle and appropriate gear, get solid training, and start competing. But why do I think that when I don't even compete? Somehow I narrowed my view of what a precision shooter is. A significant portion of my precision rifle journey was spent on properties owned by close friends, shooting for the fun of it—"backyard bombing," as I refer to it now. Yes, I did work too, but I made plenty of time for "me-shooting." Something that rarely happens now.
I remember the satisfaction of sending round after round out to 800 yards, hearing the repetitious gong of the full-size IPSC. I mean, what is that, like 6 MOA? But it didn't matter because I was thoroughly enjoying the sport and what it had to offer, regardless of what everyone else was doing. It was pure, and I felt amazing every time I finished a session.
While a challenge is good, let us not forget that not everyone who is genuinely interested in precision shooting will want to spend their every waking moment looking at dope charts, trying to guess wind speeds in the grocery store parking lot, traveling to matches every weekend, or spending hours dry firing or trying to get the lowest standard deviation for their hand loads—if they even choose to hand load at all.
It's important for us to remember that there is still freedom in precision rifles. Freedom to learn it to the utmost proficiency and only learn enough to get through a session with friends twice a year. The embodiment of the second amendment is, after all, "freedom." A person with eight precision rifles, fully kitted with optics and bipods, is still supporting the community, even if he or she can only shoot accurately in the prone, laying at a 45-degree angle to the rifle.
Let's encourage everyone interested to learn more, buy a rifle, and get to enjoy what this discipline has to offer from every angle. This approach will help ensure healthy growth, future shooters, and future supporters of what we do. Whether F-Class, Benchrest, PRS/NRL, or backyard bomber, the end goal is the same—hit what you are aiming at, and more importantly, enjoy every minute of it. Every shooter is vital.
—Send One For Me