PRO/AM: STARTING OUT IN PRSPART 2: THE MATCH
PRO/AM: STARTING OUT IN PRSPART 2: THE MATCH
It was early morning at the K&M Precision Rifle Training Shooting Complex in Finger, Tennessee, and shooters arrived early to compete in one of the largest and most prominent precision rifle shooting (PRS) matches in the nation, the 2020 GA Precision/Bushnell GAP Grind.
Over the course of two days, 400 shooters took on 20 stages individually and as a team in a Pro/Am format. Not only is GAP Grind the largest PRS competition in the nation, but it is uniquely geared towards PRS newcomers. The intent of the match is to put amateurs shoulder-to-shoulder with professionals, providing a competitive, yet relaxed, place to learn from more experienced individuals about the keys to success. The more senior shooters get an opportunity to leave their mark on new shooters and spectators by mentoring and teaching, with the long-term goal of getting them hooked on the sport along the way.
Between range days in Texas and fresh off of competing in the AZ Long Range PRS club match with Tim and Regina Milkovich, Carrin had developed a solid foundation but also some homework to do before her next match. With an understanding of her gear and proper techniques, she was able to focus on some of her “opportunities.” Pre- and post-stage checklist rundowns, understanding her DOPE, and support side repetitions were some of the areas where she had the opportunity to grow. Although the ramp-up from just starting out in long range shooting to participating in a large national match was fast, there were no better places to sharpen her skills than GAP Grind, and Carrin was confident in her training as she headed into the match.
The GAP Grind officially starts the day before the first match begins, during “Tune-up.” This is when K&M opens the 1200-yard range and moving targets to allow teams to confirm data, practice engaging moving targets and for Pro/Am teams to practice working in tandem. The stages themselves include a variety of steel, reactive, and automated moving targets of different sizes engaged at ranges up to 1200 yards. The sizes of the targets change depending on the difficulty of shot, so the shooter’s position, distance and time allotted for the shot come into play here. While the Pros and Ams shoot the same stages, most of the time the Pros have a harder course of fire. That doesn’t mean the Ams have it easy, since every stage provides challenges via multiple targets ranging from 300 to 1000 yards, or a single target with various shooting positions. Apart from actually pulling the trigger for them, the Pros can help their Amateurs in any way. This really comes in handy with new shooters since there are a lot of things to remember after the buzzer goes off: changing elevation on your scope between targets, finding the targets, and remembering and executing the exact course of fire. With 20 stages, GAP Grind is designed to be high tempo with little down time between stages. To create a level playing field and to add difficulty, Match Directors keep the course of fire unknown to all shooters until after Tune-up at the start of the competition.
On day one, Carrin’s hard work during her training leading up to the GAP Grind showed. She cleaned two stages, hitting all of her targets within the allotted time of 90 seconds, which is something that any shooter, let alone a novice, would be pumped about. On the range, when everything clicks, it becomes apparent how much fun and rewarding shooting precision rifle can be.
Throughout the match, the teams were combined into squads of ten. Not only does this make for some friendly competition as you’re shooting with the same people all day, but it gives the professional shooters the chance to share their experience directly with each amateur. Each time Carrin came across a complicated stage or performed poorly on one, not only would Regina help her out, but the other experts were more than willing to offer up some coaching.
All the stages in a match are different, testing different skills, and some are obviously more challenging than others. For instance, Stage One of the match had the shooters shooting off large tires at four animal-shaped targets 760-910 yards down range. Not only did this stage test the competitor’s shooting fundamentals, but also checked their scan and ability to locate the targets. Whether in the scope or the spotter’s glass, visibility varied drastically depending on the time of day. As the sun rose and it got hotter, shooters and spotters at this stage had difficulty seeing the targets, and even more difficulty spotting the impacts. This tested the team’s communication skills and highlighted how important it was to have strong spotters.
On day two, everyone was at their first stage of the day early and there was a ready-to-pounce vibe in the air before the match started. The first shots rang out the minute the clock hit 7:00am. K&M runs the match efficiently and the squads move through at a fast pace both days, but day two has a different urgency from day one since the shooters have traveled from all over and will have to hit the road to head home when the match is over. On the flip side of that, day two tends to be more relaxed since the squad members are more familiar and friendly.
Carrin performed well on some stages, and not-so-great on others, which is normal. All experience is valuable, and what she came out of GAP Grind with is a clear list of skills to practice in training: unsupported shooting positions, relaxing behind the gun to prevent anticipation, and learning how to call wind. This deserves to be said again: the experience that the GAP Grind offers to amateur shooters is invaluable. That fundamental part of this competition–mentorship–can accelerate the learning process far better than just training or even going to local matches.
Ask the Pros and they would probably say that the highlight of GAP Grind is seeing their teammates finding success. That doesn’t necessarily mean placing highest, either. In this case, the icing on the cake was the fact that Regina walked away with the High Lady trophy.