Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Optics I've Used for Highpower; A Very Incomplete and Personal Journey

Zeroing a NF Comp SR at 600 yards, cartridge caught in the air. Photo Credit: Samantha Bonilla

In the fall of 2014 at the Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP) Western Games in Phoenix, I attended a dinner with Gary Anderson and the CMP staff where the subject of considering optics for Service Rifle was discussed.  It was noted the the U.S. military had long since transitioned to the common use of optical sights both in the form of non-magnifying 1X optics and magnifying optics such as the Trijicon ACOG.  Furthermore, the National Rifle Association (NRA) had been experimenting with optical-class rifles for across-the-course high-powered rifle competition for a number of years.  Finally it was noted, that there were no currently manufactured optics specifically designed for high-power competition; that the closest optics to this purpose were the 1-4X optics in used for the 3-gun action shooting discipline; but that these were optimized for close in work and may or may not prove workable for full distance across-the-course use.

From that dinner, a number of us began a journey that, though most of 2015, would find us approaching manufacturers and experimenting with configurations including, among other things, what forward cantilever distance and height above Picatinny rail a scope should have. The answer was forward enough and at the same height to have approximately the same head position with respect to the rear aperture of an A2 iron sight rifle.  The consensus height after several people experimented with it was 1.300".  I visited with several manufacturers, some at the SHOT Show, some in person, going over my wish list for features; foremost of which, was CMP's insistence on a maximum 4.5X physical magnification limit for the optic.

The request was not well received.  The industry quickly pointed out that military combat optics were rapidly evolving towards maximum magnifications in the ranges of 6X to 8X power; which I knew, because of the increasing importance of rifle engagement envelopes out to 800m in the mountains of Afghanistan.  The days of CQB emphasis for urban warfare in Iraq were done and 4X optics hit a practical limit at around 500-600 meters for military use.  A similarly dour response was received from the sporting optics industry who were quick to point out that the production economies of scale to bring out a dedicated optic at an affordable price point didn't pencil given the relatively small market represented by high-power competitors. It was pretty much beg for favors across the board at the time adapting existing scopes as best as could be done.  Eventually, the effort began to yield response.  This is the story of that from my perspective.

The Pride-Fowler "Peshmerga" Prototype

Beyond our sport, 2014 also marked the emergence of ISIS in Iraq and the struggle for survival of the Kurds, Yazidis and other non-Sunni Muslims in the face of the Islamic State.  There was a desperate need to defend against waves of invaders of the most cruel nature.  My friend John Pride ask me what I thought of it and I suggested he explore a low cost scope manufactured using a Chinese OEM that could potentially be sold in large numbers under Foreign Military Sales, yeah including jumping through all the ITARS hoops, so the Pesh might have something on their small arms that could take out suicide vest attackers at decent stand off distances.  I said the requirement is sort of similar to what's evolving for highpower so if you can put together something I can test I'd be happy to tinker. And so from mix and match parts came a 1-4.5X 1st focal plane scope with a reticle taken out of a 4-12X scope and 0.5 moa turrets to play with.  This was the very first manufacturer willing to just try something for the heck of it. It had a ballistic compensating reticle that I had to divide 12 by 4.5 to recompute it's optical holdovers but it worked.  It even had red, green and blue reticle illumination.  

At reduced course distances, it was a dream to drive. Turret tracking was consistent but the mismatch of optical powers from mixing pieces made a click worth grow in value per click as elevation grew.  It still worked of holding off, kind of like an ACOG, but the windage dial was too rough to move in unison with a rattle battle team coach calling the wind.  I sadly had to put it aside for full distance shooting.  For a hundred yard reduced course gun or on top of a CMP Modern Miilitary rifle, the thing can hammer.  Well, it was a prototype build from scrounged parts and I will always appreciate that John Pride was willing to innovate a test article to help explore the rule change so early in the process.

The NightForce Comp SR

Arriving just a little too close to the 2016 Natonals to really get to know, I think the Nightforce Comp SR is probably the best across-the-course scope going.  It's a fixed power scope with reduces optical complexity. It's based on a higher magnification design base and that gives it 0.25 moa clicks.  That's a big deal in a low power optic. And it tracks quite linearly across the course as you dial it. The glass has superb clarity.  So much so that you have to remind yourself a lot that looking at the target instead of the reticle is bad mojo.  And the reticle is what makes this scope stand out.  It has a circle-dot center that harkens back to the infamous "donut of death" of the original Steyr AUG optical sights.  It's a circle in a circle in a circle. Match concentric rings and boom, you're days as a kid qualifying for NRA small-bore patches using 513T's with circle sights comes back to you.  The second generation NF Comp SR2 makes the central circle smaller and holds a circle of white even tighter to the bull.  Would love to try one.  I can discern the tighter hold that's possible in the SR2's I've looked through  At the moment, I've still only got the original SR; but I love the thing. This is the scope that sits on my "A" gun.  It'll take a lot to displace it.

The Konus XTC-30

Between 2016 and 2017, the quest to come up with an affordable 4X'ish optic with turrets that tracked under heavy dialing use finally began to become important.  Dennis DeMille, who was part of the discussions in 2014, specified, tested and sent back numerous times until the turrets were as close to bulletproof as possible, what would become the Konus XTC-30. In scopes, pricing is determined by manufacturing lot size more than anything else.  Place a large enough order with the OEM factory and dollars shave off the suggested retail per item.  That's how a combination of a Creedmoor Sports and CMP order brought the price on these down.  I came to possess one of these at the end of 2017 Nationals along with an admonition from one Dennis to another Dennis to test and mistreat the thing.  I have endeavored to do so.

The XTC-30 has fewer frills.  It does have illumination but I confess I've never turned it on. The reticle reminds one of a Vortex PST, quite vanilla, but also purposefully workmanlike at the same time. It takes in a lot of light and on the brightest days in the deserts of the west. It helps to put one of those caps on the front that cuts down on incoming light. It's not a problem where it's green. The turrets dial in 1/2 munute clicks.  But they do track.  I box tested this scope in a 10 moa box from cornet to corner twirling knobs mercilessly between each shot.  Firing from a sling, this is high-power not bench rest people, it performed.  So far, it continues to.  This is the scope that sits on my "B" gun with the older barrel.  I'm confident enough in it that I'd tackle XTC and rattle battle with it.

We are beginning to see more scopes in this genre appearing from other manufacturers.  This is a very good thing for the sport.

The Weaver K-4

Born in El Paso when competing in high-power meant using an M1903 Springfield, M-1 Garand, or Winchester Model 70, the fixed power 4X Weaver K is not to be trifled with.  It is in my opinion, the epitome model for NRA/CMP reduced course and 200-yard Modern Military Rifle competition.  Take the fixed power simplicity concept of the NF Comp SR to its very basics and you have a Weaver K-4.  If Modern Military Rifle is your game, in my opinion, every dollar you spend past a K-4 is decorative.  You're allowed to.  But performance wise, there's no gain I can see.

Really! Straight up. I'd still stick a Weaver K-4 on a gun and hunt for Games Match achievement medals with it. They drive really well. But then again, would you expect less from a scope meant to perform sitting on top of hunting rifles that kick like elephants? And you can get used ones for about fifty bucks on eBay.  The same observation goes for any number of other new and vintage 1" diameter scopes when it comes to 100-yard and 200-yard matches. Keep it simple.

Note:  Here is where I actually had a bit of a bone to pick with the rules committee at the CMP.  In 2016, a company named Iron Sight Inc. (ISI) offered a custom-shop modification to the Weaver K's to install Micro-Trac turrets in them essentially creating a Weaver T-4 across-the-course optic.  In practice the parts is parts assembly dialed around 1/3 moa per click but it had Micro-Tracs with all the turret repeatability and double springs Weaver T-series optics are reknown for.  Alas, someone at the CMP declared them illegal.  I thought then and still do believe it was a wrong decision. Refusing to let the custom-shop ISI's stand alongside other custom-shop scopes such as the variations on Leupold tubes that adorn the firing line at Camp Perry seemed rather unfair to me. ISI is a commercial business with a proper IRS EIN number no different than any other enterprise that does work in the optics market; in their case, doing custom and repair work on a number of well respected brands. I thought what they were doing was exactly the kind of industry response we hoped to encourage in the meetings of 2014. I believe the CMP's decision in this case served more to stifle innovation by many brands and delayed the arrival of options from other manufacturers who could have answered the need for affordable optics sooner. A most unfortunate episode. The story does have a happy ending.  The modified Weavers eventually became a catalog product called the IST4 offered by ISI and are now certified for use in CMP/NRA XTC matches on Service Rifles.

The Vortex PST 1-4x24

This is a a tale of a scope that was dropped by its manufacturer just as a new market segment was beginning to activate for it.  I made a special point of stopping by Vortex booth at the 2016 SHOT Show to discuss parallax distance pre-sets for scopes like this PST.  It was clear from group experiments in 2015 that a "highpower competition" version of the Viper 1-4X PST with an objective lens parallax pre-set to 200 yards or 300 yards would be a workable piece of kit.  It became clear though that Vortex was planning to discontinue the model in favor a more expensive HD line replacement aimed at upscale 3-gun, hunter and military purchasers.

It's too bad.  The little PST was a decently priced optic with good overall performance.  You don't need perfect glass to shoot at bullseyes.  You do need an easy to navigate reticle as well as decent feeling and repeatable turrets. The Vortex had these. With it's parallax focused for closer targets found in plinking and 3-gun, it was a scope that you had to be extra careful getting behind ever time particulary at longer distances.  A model with the right parallax distance pre-set would have solved it and, in my opinion, Vortex missed a change to take an early lead in the service rifle optics arena.

By creating the product void, Vortex opened the door for scopes like the Leupold Mark AR and the Konus XTC-30 to address emerging demand unfettered.  Their HD line is too expensive and it's just better to go with the cheaper models.

Update: The Vortex Viper 1-4X PST is apparently back on the market for the time being as the Vortex Ranger.

The Pride-Fowler 1-6X RR 7.62/5.56

So about that original protype Pride-Fowler from 2015?  It's also evolved.  As originally predicted was the trend for martial purpose optics, this turned out to be a 1-6X magnification, first-focal plane, solid click turrets optic in the vein of a scope you dial combined with an etched ballistic compensation reticle set-up for 7.62x51mm 175 gr. and 5.56x45mm 77 gr. ammunition with distance to target estimation hacks in keeping with military ACOG and RCO fastest-to-engage practices.

It also works well as a highpower scope. The reticle is busier than ideal for bullseye shooting but not unworkable.  The turrets and knobs are robust and have solid clicks, something I found out from the Chinese OEM factory are features out of a catalog menu added to the turret.  The travel per rotation of a scope is really a function of the thread pitch of the erector and traverse screws.  It likes my 77gr Sierra Match King load, which it should seeing as it approximates the military Mk262 Mod 0/1 round used in designated marksman rifles. It likes M118-LR out of a 20" AR-10/LR-308 too.

Of course, it's entirely non-compliant with the CMP's maximum magnification rule and I'm not presently holding my breath that the CMP will extend the same courtesy it does to optics users in Rimfire Sporter matches of setting the scope to the rule book maximum magnification and taping an inspection sticker on the scope to lock it in for the duration.  We'll see how that goes as more of these 6X to 8X optics become standard issue mil-spec optics with National Stocks Numbers (NSN's).  For now, I'm perfectly happy to shoot it as a match rifle at club matches to keep gathering data on how this branch of optics innovation evolves.  The way I look at it, in the end, I'm a curious student of the gun, not the rulebook.

Scopes I haven't tried.

The Leupolds.  There are several of these ranging from low priced to high end.  The main reason I haven't explored them is because so many of my friends have them on their guns. The reports on them are numerous and, at this point, consistent.  A Leupold in the hands of a skilled competitor can win any match. People have offered to lend me one to run tests on.  One of these days I will.

The March. This is the optic that has adjustable parallax which makes head/eye position less critical to align.  On the pricey side, I've never been able to justify the cost to curiosity equation enough to give it a go. The thing is, match winners always tend to seem to be driving NightForce or Leupold glass so I'm hard pressed to jump on the wagon.  Don't get me wrong, having shot plenty of any/any, PRS and small-bore matches, I'm keenly aware of how advantageous it is to have adjustable parallax in high magnification optics.  At 4.5X, not that sold.

Vortex HD's. I think I'm just happy with that cheaper 1-4x Viper PST that I haven't chased one of their Big Kahuna models down to compare it.  Also, I don't own any 34mm mounts or rings although I do admit to having drooled over Spuhr rings forever.  Hakan has some of the most interesting nuance innovations built into them.

Hi-Lux XTC 14x34. I have a curiosity about this emerging in 2018 scope mostly because it has objective parallax adjustment. I've been a fan of this type of parallax feature vs. the turret knob type all the way back to the behemoth Unertl Varmints sitting on POSA bases on top of a Winchester Model 70.  The fact that it's an under $500 suggested retail scope is even better.

The SHOT Show plethora of scopes.  These include offerings from Nikon, Sig, etc that one finds walking the floor every January.  Some of them look pretty interesting because of cost or features.  Many are clearly only going to be good for reduced course or Games match use, which is fine, there's a need for that. I'm a huge proponent of encouraging beginners with a 16" AR to try high-power at 100 or 200 yards with minimal equipment, including optics. It's about fun and learning. I do scour the SHOT Show and am most keen to test any scope models that have potential to work across the course at full distance, including their potential for mid-range, long range and rattle battle use. These models, outside of the mainstays named above for high-power, tend to be few and far between on the showroom floor.

The Bottom Line

Here's the learning from tinkering with all these gizmos over the past three years.  Basically, the same rule applies to all these pre-set parallax scopes. It's all about the three fundamentals.

1. Sight alignment means putting your head and eye in the same spot behind the optic consistently. It may not be the same spot for each position, but it needs to be consistently the same spot for each position.

2. Focus means the discipline of hyper concentrating on the reticle.  If the last thing you see is the reticle, it's in.  If the last thing you see is the target, it'll pocket shot.  It's that simple and that rule applies to every optic.

3. Trigger control. It only works if the gun's not moving when it goes off. On the plus side, you can see the wobble that's always been there clear as day at 4X.  Some people are bothered by this initially, it'll pass.

There is no magic. Fundamentals. It's still about the monkey getting it right.

Saturday, September 08, 2018

Bloomberg News Hit Piece Reopens Question: Is the Press the Enemy of the People?

On September 4, 2018 Bloomberg News publish a story written by reporters Neil Weinberg and Polly Mosendz covering a rifle tournament in Talladega, Alabama sponsored by the U.S. Civilian Marksmanship Program, the US government public corporation chartered to carry on the mission of the former U.S. Army Directorate of Civilian Marksmanship by the Clinton Administration. They were accompanied by photographer Stacy Kranitz.

The article was, as would be expected from an organization of Michael Bloomberg, decidedly negative in it’s interpretation of the CMP’s mission questioning going into everything from questioning the motivations of President Theodore Roosevelt to implications that present day US taxpayers are footing the bill, which is untrue, the CMP draws no funding authorization from the US government general funds and relies solely on building an endowment fund from the sale of surplus rifles that, ironically, gun control advocates would just as soon scrap as worthless. This was clearly a hit piece op ed masquerading as news. Fine. Whatever. One expects this given the strong anti-gun bias of its namesake.

What was not fine is that this team of reporters failed to identify themselves to the event sponsors until they were discovered and confronted. And furthermore that Miss Kranitz took personally identifiable photographs of persons attending this event and failed to obtain the written permission to publish their images. Notice the captioning describing the persons in the photograph as men; something in these social justice warrior tribal pettiness times is code for “the enemy”.

"men" - SJW trigger word for enemy.
Mr.Keith Schachle, purported in the article to have posed for a photo, reported later in the week on that he was to not pleased to see a portrait of himself in the article. On Facebook, now a seemingly more reliable source of facts and backstory than Bloomberg News, Mr. Schachle reported that “he turned around and there she was taking my picture”. The dour look on his face at that circumstance truly is “a picture saying a thousand words”, I’d wager to say a few of them four lettered. Another man, whose photo was taken from behind because of his t-shirt, which was obviously chosen by Bloomberg’s editors to cast him in a negative light, also reported being upset at “seeing myself” in the article. Neither man signed a release, according to their statements on Facebook.

Mr. Keith Schachle, U.S. Distinguished Shooter medal awardee
and High Master classification. Not some nameless participant.

Harmless? Apparently not. Bloomberg New’s implied character assassination of Mr. Schachle, who holds Distinguished Rifleman Badge, an honor bestowed to few Americans that is directly descended from President Roosevelt’s 1903 marksmanship initiative, as well as a High Master classification in the sport, manifested later in the week when a derogatory meme based on the widening viral ridicule of Colin Kaepernick surfaced featuring Mr. Schachle’s likeness.

Mr. Schachle's image becomes a Colin Kaepernick themed derogatory meme
because he "posed" for an anti-gun Bloomberg News article.

Other persons on Facebook who were at the shooting tournament where this incident occurred reported that these reporters were intrusive and interfered with the match; which quite honestly speaks highly of the tolerance of gun owners, and armed ones at that. I mean, can you imagine if a Fox reporter snuck into an Antifa gathering and was outed?

The truth of the matter is that shooting, and high-powered rifle target shooting in particular, is one of the safest sports to participate in both from an inherent safety and athletic injury rate perspective. It’s a sport based on calm, deliberate, focus to accomplish degrees of marksmanship skill. And it’s a sport that is, thanks to the social media infrastructure of Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook, a community where everyone is probably no more that two degrees of separation from anyone else. This is not a faceless impersonal mass of humanity like Manhattan Island. Shooters know each other worldwide. This is a grassroots community that literally is behind every blade of grass.

Come on Bloomberg News, it’s 2018. The print and tv media know their industry is already rapidly being dis-intermediated by the Internet and this powerful force called social media that WILL identify anyone, anywhere on this planet and nearby space within hours of it appearing. What were your editors thinking not telling those reporters to get permissions or get bent? That’s just sloppy workmanship in this day and age. I’ve worked with reporters many times on many things. This was a total bonehead move; something that should have been caught before those photos were approved.

Adding salt to the wound, CMP officials who commented briefly on Facebook noted that they were unaware of the presence of Weinberg, Mosendz and Kranitz until attendees at the tournament complained about the reporters activities. Quite honestly, it’s a tribute to the CMP that they granted them interviews instead of informing them that any material collected prior to their identifying themselves is off the record, being told to please leave the property immediately, and contact a public affairs representative at another time for any further inquiries. Bloomberg News got lucky catching nice people being far too nice to a hostile press incursion. This will probably never happened again and, because of Bloomberg News, all other news organizations who might have a future legitimate need to cover the shooting sports will suffer because of these three reporters’ unprofessionalism.

Bloomberg News would do well to (1) remove all identifiable images that do not have properly signed releases from their article, (2) seek out and apologize to the persons that have been maligned, and (3) discipline the reporters involved for their breaches of journalistic ethics and the reputational harm they have caused to Bloomberg News and the rest of the press.

So here’s a silver lining thought for the media. Bloomberg News has a chance to prove what CNN White House correspondent James Acosta implored President Trump and his staff to consider, to make a proper gesture to Americans who are already wary of the media that the press is not the enemy of the people. Remember how many papers ran coordinated editorials asserting the the press is not the enemy? All that coordination and hope for legitimacy? Well with this incident, Bloomberg News is not helping lend much credibility to that case. Perhaps the rest of the media will chime in and remind them that there is this thing called journalistic integrity. Maybe Mr. Acosta himself should make that point on his network.

I’d be happy to discuss it.

Note: As part of preparing this article, permission to use Mr. Schachle’s name and likeness were explicitly requested and granted in proper journalistic fashion … via Facebook.

Thursday, August 09, 2018

My Decade as a GSM Instructor

I was in the first GSM Master Instructor class.  It was taught at Camp Pendleton in November 2006 as part of the CMP Western Games.  It was a three-day class by then head of the Civilian Marksmanship Program, Gary Anderson.  We were guinea pigs for an experiment.  Our mission would be to take what we learned back to our clubs and create programs to teach the sport of high power riflery to Americans, most of whom, were unfamiliar with shooting, let alone the firearms of Games competition.  It was one of the most rewarding shared experiences of my life and it began a 10-year journey that both my love for the sport. The class was truly experimental.  Gary spent lots of time not only teaching his prepared material but working with us on feedback about how to alter and improve the curriculum.  If you have copies of the early teaching materials for the GSM course, the photos were of people I knew taken during that first Western Games. 

I took what I learned back to the Burbank Rifle and Revolver Club (BRRC) and, working with Wayne Fenner, my friend and fellow sponsor of the California Grizzlies Junior Rifle Team, adapted BRRC’s training match program to the CMP’s approach.  Over the course of almost a decade, I taught a battalion of Americans from every walk of life and every political and ethnic background that is the landscape of Southern California how to operate and compete with the U.S. Rifle M-1 Garand.  It defined one weekend of every month of my life.  We experimented with every CMP match format that came out, often discussing concepts with Gary and the CMP team.

It was a second hand deja vu process of sorts.  Somewhere along the way I obtained a copy of Edward C. Crossman's book, "Military and Sporting Rifle Shooting: A Complete and Practical Treatise Covering the Use of Modern Military, Target and Sporting Rifles".  It was written in the 1930's and the modern rifle being alluded to was the U.S Rifle M1903 Springfield.  In it were a series of exploratory letters about the vision and implementation of competitive shooting.  Ed Crossman was a founding member of the Burbank Rifle and Revolver Club.  At one time he oversaw the development of BRRC's riflely program, the same job I had as the club's Activities Chairman and GSM Master Instructor.  Funny how things go in cycles.   

Looking back, I trained a hell of a battalion. Many of the students I taught went on to become accomplished competitors in their own right.  I’ve watched them win metals, major tournaments, become distinguished riflemen.  Some set national records. One made it to the Olympic Trials.  I beamed with pride like a proud papa at all of it; ok, sometimes like a benevolent drill instructor. The true reward was to hear from all of them again and again over the years.  I’ve never been to a match since then where someone doesn’t call out my name to say hello, often to say thank you, I wouldn't be here if it weren't for you.  It humbles me.

I’m from the old school that says you pass on what you have learned because you pay forward in gratitude to those who taught you; and so it was the decade I was BRRC’s GSM Master Instructor of record. I did it for free as gratitude to those who taught me. And there have been many. My first line coach was a steely eyed woman named Noma. My last line coach, at another Western Games/Creedmoor Cup, has the same first name that I do. I remember when I got my State of California Firearms Instructor license.  I submitted my CMP GSM Master Instructor certificate as proof of competency.  CA-DOJ licensing had never seen one before. They were delighted.  I was beyond proud.

If you want to make a difference to the growth of our sport, consider taking the time to become a GSM Master Instructor.  Set your goal the same as I did.  Teach another battalion of Americans what it means to be the caretakers of our heritage from behind every blade of grass.

Monday, July 23, 2018

How I Work Up for Nationals Using My Data Book

Everyone has a system they use to work up for Nationals.  It's not your matches throughout the year.  This is that what you do in the two to three months at key junctions leading up the P100 and NTI where it either comes together or it doesn't.  This was my work up in 2017.  Enjoy.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Five Steps to Set Up Your Detachable Carry Handle AR-15 to Shoot Across the Course

Across the course highpower rifle competition is a challenging sport requiring consistency and precision.  The full distance course of fire consists an offhand and rapid sitting stage both at 200 yards, a rapid prone stage at 300 yards and a slow prone stage at 600 yards.

Marksman, sharpshooter and early expert class competitors typically shoot this course of fire with the same ammunition for all stages.  The most common of these is ammunition based on 77 grain boat tail hollow point bullets, the most common of which are the 77 gr. Sierra Match King, 77 gr Nosler Custom Competition.  Common competitions loads tend to approximate the ballistics of the U.S. military's Mk 262 Mod 0/1 ammunition used in designated marksman rifles.  Interestingly, this also approximates the ballistic path of US M118-LR 7.62x51mm sniper ammunition.  It's not an accident.  Standardization has many advantages for training and procurement for military systems.

77 gr ammo has the following ballistic drop characteristics when zeroed at 200 yards, the typical zero distance for a highpower rifle competition guns.

Distance (yards)Up (moa)Plus, moaClicks, 1/2 moaPlusClicks, 1/4 moaPlus
200 yd004060
300 yd2.5+2.510+516+10
600 yd13.5+1132+2260+44

Summary Video

Watch this video to get an overview of setting up the sight for a 200 yard zero.



Step 1 - Determine if you have a 1/2x1/2 or 1/4x1/4 rear sight

For service rifle competition using an AR-15 equipped with a detachable carry handle rear sight, setting the gun up properly is critical.  The reason is because the rear sight system only has around 18 minutes of angle (moa) of vertical travel from the bottom to top of its range.  This is around 36 clicks of movement range in a 1/2x1/2 moa rear sight and around 72 clicks of movement in a 1/4x1/4 moa rear sight.  Both still only give you 18 moa of total elevation.  This is critical to keep in mind.  This is not at all like the fixed carry handle M-16A2 pattern rifles that give much more vertical range of movement.

The rear sight assemble of a detachable carry handle only had 18 moa
or total verticaltravel; not a lot of room to waste.  It's important to make sure 
you have it set up so you can reach 600 yards from a 200 yards starting point 
with the ammunition you are using.  77 grain match ammunition behaves 
well with these sights.

Bottom out your rear sight and count the number of clicks to get to the top of the traverse range.  If closer to 36, you have a 1/2x1/2 rear.  Closer to 72 clicks and it is a 1/4x1/4 rear.

Note:  It is possible to almost double the travel range of the carry handle rear.  White Oak Armament makes a pined rear sight version with a deeper clearance cut in the elevation stud that delivers around 33 to 34 MOA of total vertical travel.  This comes closer to the fixed sight A2.  They're pricier than the basic model but the added travel gives you the option of using tapered front posts.

Step 2 - Set your rear sight to a standard 200 yard baseline point.

Here's the sweet spot.  These positions will give you sufficient movement range from a 200 yard zero to reach 600 yards with 77 grain ammunition.

For a 1/2x1/2 rear sight, come up 4 clicks from the bottom.
For a 1/4x1/4 rear sight come up 6 clicks from the bottom.

Front Sights

Now for the front sight basic math.  All M-16/AR-15 front sights use a common thread screw designed specifically  so that one full revolution of the front sight equals 5 moa of elevation movement in a 20" rifle length gas system service rifle barrel.  This is an utterly reliable constant.

A1-type five detent front sights adjust 1 moa per notch.  A2-type four petal front sights
move 1.25 moa per notch.  Both types change 5 moa of elevation per full revolution; that's
a function of pitch of the screw threads. 

For a detachable carry handle AR, it is critical that your front sight post be either a round pin A1 type front sight which has five cutouts, each cut equaling 1 moa of vertical change OR a four equal sided square blade front sight with four detent cutouts each equaling 1.25 moa of vertical change per cutout.  Remember, both equal 5 moa per full revolution.

Do not use the tapered front sights with a detachable carry handle gun. You can only move these in full rotations because of the tapered post and that will not work for the limited travel range of the carry handle's rear system.  Leave the tapered front posts for the fixed handle A2 guns.

Use round or square front sights for detachable carry handle guns; not tapered ones.

Step 3 - Rough Zero Your Rifle at 200 Yards Using Just the Front Sight

Now zero your rifle for elevation at 200 yards coming as close as you can by only changing the front sight post. Do save ammunition by making changes to your front sight boldly.  Remember that bullseye is good 6 moa in diameter.  Do a little math in our head or on a sheet of paper.

For example, let's say you have a 1/4x1/4 rear sighs and a previous zero with your rear sight at say 34 clicks up from the bottom at say 200 yards, it means your system is off by 7 moa.  That's 34 clicks minus 6 clicks pre-set up or 28 clicks divided by 4 because its a 1/4 minute sight.  So you need to turn the front sight so it is shorter, deeper into the hole, by 1 and 1/2 revolutions.  Then move the rear down to 6 clicks up from the bottom.  Fire a sighter shot or two, it'll be closer.

Another example, say you had a 1/2x1/2 rear instead with the same 34 clicks up at 200 yards zero.  You are almost at the top of the vertical travel limit of you rear. This clearly won't do.  The calculation here is that you want to get to 4 clicks up from the bottom of travel so 34 minus 4 equals 30 clicks divided by 2 because these are 1/2 moa sights.  So you are off by a hopping 15 moa.  Here you need to turn the front sight down, deeper into the tower, by three full revolutions then move the rear to 4 up from the bottom and fire the next sighter.

Step 4 - Refine Your Zero Using the Rear Sight

Once the front sight is really close as in within 1.25 moa from the center, make the final adjustment to the zero by dialing the rear sight no more than 1 moa of correction total..  If it's more than that, reset the rear to either 4 or 6 clicks up from bottom and make a front sight change by one detent up or down as appropriate.  Do this until you've got the shots going into the middle.

Step 5 - Record Your New Dope Card

Record the final number of clicks up from the bottom for your 200 yard zero then re-do your come ups dope card accordingly.  Remember to note both the absolute count from bottom given your final 200 yard zero baseline point in your card.  Mark it on the gun so it's easy to find.  Masking tape and a magic marker work well.

In a book or on the gun, keep your dope info handy.  Top gun is marked in MOA.
Botom gun has markings for sea level come ups as well as for a range at 2,600 ft elevation.
If you do this, you should be able to go across the course with your rifle with ease.


There is no one best way for setting up an AR-15 for across the course competition.  Here are a couple of more of them.

The 100-yard Method

The bottom line is that longer distance you can use to set up your zeros the better.  But if all you have regular access to is a 100-yard range, you can do this.  Bottom your rear sight and come up one click.  Then use the front sight to set up your elevation zero at 100 yards.  It'll be 2 to 2.5 moa up to 200 yards from this zero.  This will be more than enough to be on paper for sighters in an NRA match.  You get two sighters from position in NRA matches and you stay in position to fire your string.  It's a life of luxury compared to EIC shooting

I do not recommend relying on this or any single distance zeroing method for a CMP EIC match.  For EIC shooting, you need to confirm a hard no wind zero while in your actual firing position to account for cant and other head/body geometry variables, using the actual ammunition you will use at each stage of fire. There are no sighter shots when hunting leg points.  Every round counts.  Every point lost means no soup for you.

Advanced Shooting: The Perfect Eye Position Method

While this article concentrates on basics, there are some really cool advanced methods out there for shooting XTC.  Credit for describing this method to me goes to the very talented Sagen Maddelena, a former California Grizzly rifle team member who has gone on to become a truly spectacular Olympic caliber competitor.

Put your head on the stock and move the rear sight to where it looks perfectly aligned with your eye, kind of how you'd set up the rear sight of a match rifle.  Then set your front sight for a zero at 200 yards firing offhand so your natural head position is perfect.   Dial your normal adjustment for your cant, if any, for rapid sitting and also dial your normal come up on the rear for 300 yard rapid prone.  Here's the perfect eye trick.  For 600 yards, take your front sight tool and turn the front sight blade two or three full revolutions to take up 10 or 15 moa, your choice, then dial a final correction on the rear sight to get to you 600 yard dope.  This keeps the rear sight peep hole around the same height above the stock comb so it's perfect for your face and bone structure the entire match.

Yeah, that's innovative.  As another shooting champion friend Dennis DeMille once told me, at a certain point, your coaches can't teach you anymore, so it's up to you to discover the next level up the food chain on you own.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Manhood Around an AR-15

Don’t be a mall ninja. Work on your fundamentals. Build your discipline, responsibility and focus. Be “well regulated”. It’s not a theatrical prop. It’s not a toy. Don’t treat it that way.

Most people in America haven’t a clue how to be responsible citizens around firearms. But it goes deeper than that at this point. Most people in America don’t know what it means to be a good man. And by “good” I do not mean conforming. I mean that solidness about you that the men and women in your life rely on, are comforted by, and love.

Of course a good man knows how to nurture. Of course you are sensitive to other people’s needs. Of course you are gentle and kind to others. WTF? Good is as good does asshole. Be good!

But there are times when you’d also better understand, like when you pick up an AR-15, that there are rigid codes, rules and skills that are expected of you. And that you will be judged by your peers and by strangers on how well you measure up at those times.

Sadly, too many of America’s males do not presently measure up. They have neither the skill nor demeanor worthy of the respect expected of a man. I lament that this is so. Males deserve a better America in which to flourish and contribute to the totality of our society as men. Instead, they are beaten down for trying to be good men.

Just to put the bluntest possible point on this. This is a message to men about manhood. Strong, steady, cogent manhood. Responsible, reliable, trustworthy manhood. The message is that if you don’t know what that means or don’t feel like you have it where you want it to be, do whatever you have to do to learn and become it; misguided societal pressure be damned. If you do have it, don’t be a pud, offer help to others where you can.

But know this, in the end, we all discover that we teach ourselves to make a good man out of our innards. Yeah dude. It is a lonely journey. There ain’t no mama on this ride. Get on with it.

Brother. It’s worth it.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

2017: California “Bullet Button” Gunowner’s Checklist

New laws taking effect in January 1, 2017 in the State of California will eliminate the “bullet button” feature the firearms sales landscape.  As it has been since 1989 when the original Roberti-Roos Assault Weapon Law was passed, a window of registration, conversion or removal begins that will affect California gun owners.  The new laws include not just the popular AR-15 but all other semiautomatic rifles also incorporating the bullet button feature.

1. Do you presently own a semiautomatic rifle equipped with a bullet button?
a. Yes, proceed to question 2.
b. No, skip to question 9.

2. Does your bullet button equipped firearm have any other features that would cause it to be affected by the new laws?  These include, muzzle devices, collapsible stocks, pistol grips, forward grips or any other cosmetic features enumerated by California laws.
a. Yes, your firearm is affected.  Proceed to question 3.
b. No, your firearm is not affected the new law.  In fact, why is there even a bullet button on your gun at all?  It was not required even under previous laws.

3. Do you wish to retain the other features of your firearm?
a. Yes, go to question 5.
b. No, go to question 4.

4. The 2017 California law continues to provide for what are known as “featureless” semiautomatic rifles.   The most common legacy featureless rifles include firearms such as the M-1 Garand, M-1 Carbine, Springfield M1A series and Ruger Mini-14 series rifles.  These rifles have fixed stocks, no pistol grips and plain muzzles; plain meaning not a flash hider or a 22 mm NATO specification grenade launcher spigot. You can modify your bullet button gun to this configuration by removing and/or replacing parts.  Once reconfigured, the rifle is legal in California.   As a bonus, you can remove the bullet button from the gun and replace it with a regular magazine catch.  This actually makes the rifle even safer to use because you can once again execute stoppage clearing drills the way these rifles were designed to be operated in the first place.  Do you want to convert your gun into a “featureless” rifle?
a. Yes, congratulations.  Once you complete your conversion, you will have a California legal rifle.  There is no need to further register it as the additional registration only affects firearms with features.
b. No, proceed to question 5.

5. OK. So the additional features on your gun are necessary or desirable to you.  Let’s start right in. For your type of shooting, do you need to perform magazine changes?   This is a necessity in certain forms of competition such as CMP/NRA high-power target competition or the rifle phases of 3-gun action shooting.   Collapsible butt stocks have utility for managing length of pull to adapt to differing shooting positions. Some muzzle devices improve a rifle's shot-to-shot stability and are important in both the action and precision competition disciplines. Many of these features also improve the operational handling for defensive use firearms.  Do you plan to use your rifle for any of these applications?
a. Yes, go to question 7.
b. No, go to question 6.

6. The California 2017 laws only affect feature equipped firearms is the magazine can be detached with or without the use of a tool without requiring the physical disassembly of the rifle.  For instance, disassembly in the case of an AR-15 is to open the action also known as cracking the action open. “Cracker” or “Top Loader” action AR’s first appeared in California in the early 2000’s.  They were awkward machines and were particularly problematic when double feed jams occurred – it happens – as the bolt carriers would be stuck in a rearward position preventing the action from swinging open. Remedying a malfunction required popping both action pins to completely separate the lower from the upper with live rounds in the gun. Not really ideal as the solution is more armorer skill level than operator, but not unworkable.  In 2017, modified magazine catches will be marketed to consumers that will prevent the magazine from being released unless the action is cracked open.  Are you interested in this option?
a. Yes, congratulations.  Once you complete your modification, you will have a California legal rifle.  There is no need to register it.  Bear in mind that this option is limited only to rifles that can be modified in this fashion; probably only mil-spec AR-15’s at the outset.
b. No, consider returning to question 4 for a “featureless” conversion or proceed to question 7.

7. From this point on, we enter territory that will require registering your rifle as a California statutory assault weapon.  We begin with the question of who the users of your rifle will be.  California’s assault weapon laws are specific. A person under the age of 21 is not allowed to possess, handle or operate a statutory assault weapon registered with the California Department of Justice. The gun must remain under the supervision and control of the registered owner at all times when in use. So the first question is will do you anticipate that a person under 21 years of age will use the rifle?   This includes your own children and/or participants in a junior training program.
a. Yes minors will use the rifle.  Sorry, the registration option is not open to you.  You should return to question 4 and consider the “featureless” conversion or return to question 6 to consider the “cracker” conversion depending on you anticipated use.  Unfortunately, after January 1, 2017, your only other option if you do not wish to do either of these conversions is to dispose it outside the State of California.  You can no longer legally sell your gun within the state. You may wish to register your current rifle and obtain an additional featureless rifle in 2017, see question 9.
b. No only adults over 21 will use the rifle. The registration option is available to you.  Proceed to question 8.

8. UPDATED Jan 16, 2017: Now comes the personal  politics question.  Do you want to register your rifle with the State of California?   The 2017 laws provide for a registration mechanism to enable owners of bullet button guns to register their property with the state as California statutory assault weapons.  Once registered, the rifle receives legal treatment under the same provisions that CA AW’s have received since 1989.  You can keep all features intact.  Theoretically, under equal treatment under the law principles, you should be able to remove the bullet button and replace it with a normal magazine catch that will make the rifle safer to operate.  However, CA-DOJ decided to write their draft of the rules specifically preventing gun owners from changing out their magazine releases to regular ones.  This may or may not hold true in the final regulations, see note 1.   In the meantime, unless you convert the gun into featureless rifle (see question 4), you should keep your rifle in bullet button configuration until you have registered it with the State of California and received your AW letter from CA DOJ.  Do you wish to do this?
a. Yes, congratulations. You are on your way to owning a California legal statutory assault weapon. These windows of new registration have opened repeatedly every few years since the original 1989 Roberti-Roos Act was passed. You are part of a continuing legacy of a quirky balance in the State of California that has incrementally restricted access to firearms by Californians but that has more often than not served to create explosions of demand in what is one of America’s largest and most vibrant regional firearms markets.
b. No, your options are now quite limited.  There is no provision in the new 2017 laws for Californians who wish to just leave their bullet button guns the way they are to legally retain them without interference. This is a definite flaw in the way the laws were structured and likely needs a new law written to address the gap. It’s one thing to restrict the future sale of future bullet button guns but as presently written, the new laws impose a de facto tax to register their rifles or shoulder the cost of converting their rifles to avoid registration.

9. This is the clean up question if you presently do not own a bullet button gun and think you might want a rifle in the future.   California is one of the largest regional markets for firearms in the United States; so large that despite the many quirks of its laws, manufacturers still find profitability in designing specific firearms models for California consumers.  If you look closely at the model numbers of new firearms sold in the state, they are suffixed “-CA” to indicate it’s a California law specific model.   Such will be the case with the post-bullet button era semiautomatic rifle market as well.  There will be “featureless” AR-15’s and other firearms models on dealers shelves.  The cycle that has repeated itself since 1989 begins anew.

Note 1: I'm still not convinced that CA-DOJ is actually authorized by the letter of the law to impose a requirement on gun owners registering bullet button guns to not be able to change to a magazine catch once their rifles are recorded as statutory AW's. My gut says CA-DOJ is pulling a fast one stretching their words beyond the letter of the laws as passed. Lawsuits will result from their stretching and their case is weak because so-called featureless rifles can have normal magazine catches. It's quite arbitrary, punitive and kind of hostile. Time will tell.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

First Time at Camp Perry

The beginning of Day 2 of the NRA National Championship Match at Camp Perry, Ohio.
Dawn breaks over Rodriguez Range.  It's the second day of the NRA 2400 point aggregate. Another 80 shot match will begin squad roll call after the Camp Perry cannon goes off and the colors are honored as the national anthem is played.  I'm on relay two which means I'll be shooting in the pair shooting my twenty-two shots of 200 yard offhand first then go to the pits to pull targets.

I've been here for two weeks now having driven from Los Angeles, California to Port Clinton, Ohio.  The drive out following Interstate 40 was a wonderful journey seeing the United States of America from ground level.  It's much better than flying over it.  I-40 replaced the old historic Route 66 many years ago but there are sections of it preserved in business districts along the way.  It's part of the adventure to get off and explore them.  The diners are delightful; the people even more so.  You'll find breakfast out of "Happy Days", lunch in holes in the wall serving French cuisine and Belgian pastries, and dine at family restaurants where the au jus is so rich you dip your sandwich in and it comes out stew.   Part of the journey is desert, most of it is cornfields.  It's vast and you begin to realize just how much food we grow in America.  In highway terms, days of it.

Preparing for this journey has taken months.  From the time I committed to go to Camp Perry as a member of the California contingent of adults and juniors, I've shot local and state matches and expended a couple of thousands rounds of match ammunition in practice.  This included training in the 103 degree heat of Coalinga, California where the official California State Championships are held; hence the adult team being from the Coalinga Rifle Club.  The junior contingent from the state have their own organization, the California Grizzlies, which I have proudly financially supported for years.  This is a gaggle of hard holders.  It's fun to shoot with them.  It's also a well organized machine that arranges lodging in on base "huts", feeds people in an evening chow line, and provides laundry service every few days. As a shooting team, we organized ourselves into individual competition days, team competition days, and designated coaching days.  That team organization turned out to be vital to making my Camp Perry experience even more than I ever imagined possible. It means you get to do things that you would not get to do if one just went there alone.

The team of the State of California at the 2016 U.S. National Matches.
I arrived at Camp Perry a day ahead of the rest of the California team.  The ever helpful staff of the U.S. Civilian Marksmanship Program helped me out by arranging for one night of base housing in the BOQ.  Safely in my little closet sized room for the night, I met up with friend Johnny Fisher and we drove into town for my introduction to the critical landmarks of Port Clinton.   The Walmart and Kroger to buy supplies, the restaurants, the coffee shop, and Andy's Party Mart, where you get your daily ration of "baby head" ice cream.  It got that name from one of the Air Force team members who described the serving scoops being so large they were as big as a baby's head.  The name stuck.  The regular serving is too large after eating dinner, or even having a couple of crackers.  Get the kid size in a cup.  I promptly became addicted to raspberry chocolate.

"Baby Head" ice cream from Andy's Party Mart.  Because a serving is as big as a baby's head.
Navigational beacons in place but team not yet arrived, I helped the CMP with their preparations for a ribbon cutting of their new electronic range facility on Petrarca Range.  This is a new pistol and rifle practice range that the CMP installed with the same Kornsburg electronic target systems as the much larger CMP range in Talladega.  I used it to get some offhand practice; the immediate feedback of the electronic targets meant being able to maximize your time concentrating on technique.  Other people used the range to do function checks, position tuning with new equipment, getting 100 yard zeroes - that's better than no zero for a match at Nationals.   The CMP provided lunch as thanks for helping and I got checked in picking up my competitor packet which included my squadding assignments.

By late afternoon, the lead elements of the California team began to arrive and I got the keys to my hut.   These are modernized versions of old prisoner of war huts from World War II with built in air conditioning.  As summer camp accommodations go, a life of luxury.

The huts at Camp Perry, Ohio.
Life is four to a hut.  You get a bed and a locker.  You go to Walmart to buy a liner, sheets and a pillow. You keep the a/c on at all times.  It prevents the bugs from coming into the hut.  I had the place to myself for a couple of days until the rest of the boys arrived.  The main hardship of my alone time?  No coffee grinder and fresh beans yet.  Runs into Port Clinton to get iced lattes would have to suffice.  Yeah, yeah.  I'm from California.

Summer camp accommodations  :).


One's first visit to Camp Perry is a series of baptismal rites.  I shall now enumerate them.

Walk the base.  Do not drive around.  Get used to walking.  Walk from your hut to everything.  Walk to the administration buildings.  Walk to the ranges.  Walk to commercial row.  Walk to the CMP North Store.  Walk to the CMP or Army trailer to have the triggers of your rifles(s) weighed.  Walk.  This is your primary mode of transportation while on base for the next couple of weeks.

Go shopping.  It's called Commerical Row.  It is the best shopping mall for competitive shooters ever. The sale prices here are Black Friday quality. You stock up on supplies. You can buy elusive powders lin quantity with the same lot number.  Same with bullets and primers.  Everything you need to keep making your pet loads. Oddly, not cases. This is a service rifle tournament.  Pretty much everyone is using LC or WCC cases. The military guys shoot new ammo handed to their teams by the case, mostly 77 grain Mk262 Mod 0/1.  My short line loads are nearly identical 77 grain Sierra Match Kings in one fired Lake City '98 headstamp cases.  Other people's ammo runs from 69 grain to 82 grain bullets.  Everything can drive into the X ring with a good hard holder at the controls.  I stocked up.  Then I began politely watching my expected cubic feet and gross weight capacity for the drive home as other people asked if I could take stuff back for them instead of shipping their loot.

Learn about the perils of Perry.   One, evacuate the range.  It rains at Camp Perry.  Sometimes that rain comes with lightning.  When that happens range controls issues an evacuation order.   Depending on where you are and how much time you have, you either grab your stuff and make for a sheltered structure or leave your stuff under whatever rain cover you have and leave it there until the storm cell passes.   This happened on squadded practice day.  There was no squadded practice.   There was learning to make a better rain cover for the next two weeks because it'd probably happened again.   I was particularly proud of my final design which involved a very large tarp and many bungee cords.  Modern art to be sure.  I received many compliments.

Peril two.  Cease fire, boat in the impact area.  One has not truly been to Camp Perry until your shooting string is put on hold while range control sends someone out to tell an errant yacht or jet ski that it's not a good idea to go into that area with all the bouys with the signs on them that say, Danger. Live Fire. Keep Out.   Camp Perry has this procedure down to a science and it doesn't take too long.  One is delighted by the novelty of it the first time.   Several times later, not so much.

More walking. Final squadding each day takes place at the 200 yard line. One Rodriguez Range that means you walk from the parking lot 400 yards to the assembly line. On Viale Range, it means you walk 800 yards to the assembly line.  You do this the first couple of times and then you wise up and take the very nice people mover.  I love the Camp Perry people mover.  It's like "Mr. Toad's Wild Ride" at Disneyland with your AR-15.

Colors.  This is a truly moving part of shooting at Camp Perry.  At 0700h, a cannon fires.   Everyone on the base turns to where the flagpoles are.  We stand at attention and honor the flag of the United States of America as our national anthem is played.  For CMP week this year, that anthem was played live by a trumpet.   There are thousands of people here.  And we all pause and remember how lucky we are to be free and realize that so many before us shared a uniting thought, "For this nation, I would give my life."  If you do nothing else when you come to the U.S. National Matches, this is your bucket list item.

Port Clinton.  The town of Port Clinton is lovely.  It's actually a resort town full of yachts.  Quite pretty.   The culinary must do is to sample the local perch and walleye.   Check.

Dining by the harbor in Port Clinton, Ohio.
And finally Pokemon. Do not ask too many questions or expect cogent explanation. Suffice it to say that I was reliably informed that both Camp Perry and Port Clinton are full of Pokemon locations. That is all.

Shooting Gear

I brought two rifles with me to Camp Perry.  The first was my iron sights configured AR-15.  Being my very first trip to the Nationals, I wanted to check off a bucket list item to shoot irons at a national match.   The gun has a Geiselle trigger and an upper I assembled from White Oak Armament parts. The barrel is a Krieger that had 3,800 rounds arriving at Perry.  The sights are pinned 1/4x1/4's.  I run 77 SMK's short line and 80 SMK's seated 15/1000th's off the lands long line with it.   The zeros for the dope card were calibrated at 680 ft above sea level in Coalinga, Californa; roughly the same altitude as Camp Perry.

The other rifle I brought was for NRA week.   It's a 2016 rule Service Rifle, Optic.  It has a collapsible UBR stock and a Geiselle Mk VII quad rail.   There's a weight in the rear compartment of the UBR - not the big blister one - and half a weight in the float tube.   The barrel is an older DPMS .223 that was cryo treated back in the day.  Round count on arrival at nationals was around 1,800. Same ammunition combination.  The chamber on this barrel has a shorter throat so I brought a Lee Hand Press with an RCBS competition seater die to set the 80's back to proper jump come NRA week.  The sighting system for this gun was one of the very new Nightforce 4.5X Competition SR's with the CMP R223 reticle.  Parallax is set to 200 yards.  It's mounted using Nightforce's superbly engineered AR-15 service rifle Unimount. I received the optic a week and a half before leaving for Ohio and had basic zeros for it at 100, 200, 300 yards plus a center hold and 12 o'clock hold basic zero for it at 600 yards recorded at the Burbank Rifle and Revolver Club in Castaic, Californa at an altitude of 2,600 feet. This would be the first time the rifle ever fired in any match.  Well if one has to shoot Minuteman style come as you are and do your best, why not at the NRA National 2400 Aggregate as a baptism of fire.   Good to go!  So glad there are sighters at NRA week.

The M-16A2 type Service Rifle (top) and the 2016 Rule Scoped Service Rifle (bottom).
CMP Week

The Civilian Marksmanship Program National Matches are among the most prestigious high powered rifle competitions on earth.  For the individual rifleman, The President's Hundred (P100) and the National Trophy Individual (NTI) matches are the pinnacle of service rifle competition.   You go toe to toe with eleven hundred other people spread out over two ranges spanning roughly eighty firing points each running six relays per range.   It's a race to be the best.  You are on your own with whatever skill and experience you brought with you.

It starts with the President's Hundred.  P100 is thirty shots.  You need to make ten good offhand shots, make one solid wind call and hold like there's no tomorrow at 300 yards, and surf the wind ten times at 600 yards. That's it. Short and sweet. If you finish in the top 20 out of 1,400 you get to go to a shoot off.  Ideally, you get one squadded practice window to check your zero and sniff the wind at 300 yards.  No such ideal in 2016.  Squadded practice was cancelled due to lightning.   Everybody goes to P100 naked.  It's a fair fight.

The sum total of my experience shooting this range started at zero. My first record shot at 200 yards offhand began a very steep climb up my learning curve.  I began with my Coalinga no wind zero. The shoot broke good.  It came up elevation good but it went right.  Ok, that must have been me.  Check your NPA, settle down and do it again.  Comes up same place. I need to dial a minute and a half of wind?  Since when do you need to put wind on at 200 yards?   Well apparently at Camp Perry on the big end with the wind coming in from the left at near full value, maybe you do.  But my head's still murky thinking I must just not be breaking them clean and it's my nerves being the first time on Viale.  So I do it again.  Fine.  I'll dial wind.  Things get a little better on paper and I'm going, "Ok, I can do this. It's my first time. This is all about learning new things and not finishing dead last."

Next comes one rapid fire string at 300 yards. I feel more confident. I've called wind and centered up before.   I check my wind meter.   Estimate my dial.   Build my position.  Stand up and put my concentration on the target.   The string goes off.  I land a nice group out the right side at the border between the 9/8 ring.   Apparently, I did not dial enough.   So we go out to the pits and I chat with the guys that have done this before.  I tell them what happened.  They all smile and say "Welcome to Perry" this is one of the few ranges where the wind has the same velocity pushing on your bullet from your firing point to the target.  Most everywhere else, trees or terrain weaken the wind pattern.   Here, dial aggressive.  I find out just how aggressive at 600 where I again underestimate how powerful the breeze is and pop an 8 out the right for my first shot, double my dial, and then start to learn how to surf the shifts for the remainder of the string.

The end result of my first P100.  Offhand 85-1, Rapid Prone 86-0, Slow Prone 90-1 for total of 261-2X putting me in 595th place out of 1,139.  Middle of the pack.  Not my best day ever but I notice that everyone is congratulating me on joining the club of people that have shot at Camp Perry.  I feel suddenly so at home among a thousand strangers who've become my family.

The next day is the NTI.  This is the mother of all Excellence In Competition matches.  Fifty shots.  It's a cloudy day and the wind is coming from the right, opposite of yesterday.   Dial aggressively at Perry burns inside my mind.  I shoot my offhand string and deliver an 84-1, about the same as yesterday.  NTI has rapid sitting so I get to this for the first time at Camp Perry.  I set up my position and snuggle deep into the rear aperture to see the target in the overcast.  The shot plan yields me a 90-0, well below my average.   Next comes another bout with rapid prone at 300 yards.  Dial aggressive at Perry.  I got this one.  Maybe not.  Today I've over dialed and I place my group in almost the same spot on the right side of the bull as yesterday.  91-0.  This range has now shattered my confidence and I am a convinced I am a wind calling dunderhead.  Fortunately the clouds clear up and my mood brightens with it and when we get back to 600 yards I finally do something right popping a 189-5 at the slow prone stage.   Total for the day is a paltry 456-6 good for a deep back seat 490th place out of 1,074.

At dinner later in the week I relate that this range is kicking me hard. I tell people about how hard I was pushing my eye into my aperture.  They smile that welcome to Camp Perry smile again.  They ask what sights I'm shooting on my A2 and I tell them I've got an 0.050" front and 0.038" rear to maximize depth of field.  They smile more broadly and tell me my problem is that I'm from the Western provinces where the sun is bright and the ground is devoid of flora.   Lot's of light.  It's green here and we have clouds I'm told.  Not nearly the same ambient lighting.  You have the wrong sights my son.  Where there's green grass you want a big fat 0.072" front the size of an aircraft carrier deck and a huge (they said "yuge" because the RNC convention was just in Cleveland) 0.046" hole in the morning and maybe close it down to an 0.042" rear aperture later if the sun comes out.  But that desert glare sight system of yours will lose you about 5-8 points in these parts.   Well there you go. Learn something every day.

To tell you the truth, I'm glad I learned these lessons the hard way.  It's more meaningful this way.  It enriched my first tour of Camp Perry and left me hungry to put this learning to use in the future.  I checked off one of the most important bucket list goals of my shooting career, I shot the P100 and NTI with iron sights.  My irons gun earned its "Hell I was there!" sticker.

My A2 iron gun last 4-digit serial number 3010 earned the right to wear the 2016 Nation Matches sticker on its stock.
The remainder of CMP week for me was about teamwork.  I shot the four man NTT team match with the California adult team. It was a learning experience shooting with a 4-person team I'd never shot with before.  The pair firing went fine as we'd practiced that at Coalinga.  The rapid coaching was different from other teams I've shot with in the past. I felt a bit out of my comfort zone that day still reeling from the shock of days 1 & 2.  I felt like I let the guys down and really should have got my head back in the hunt.  I resolved to get out of whatever funk I was feeling.  This was Nationals. Breathe it in and live it already. It's what I came for.  I would find out talking to people later that this sensory shock effect that Camp Perry has on first timers is universal.   Everyone goes through it.  It's part of the baptism.

Hanging with the California team.
The next day I coached one of the California teams in the NTIT Rattle Battle match.  This was the day I finally felt I began to be comfortable at Camp Perry.   Walking up and down the field first as a verifier and then as a coach, I felt back in the game.  At team matches you get to confer with your teammates comparing wind calls and observing the effects of their calls as the shooting members of their squads send rounds downrange.  You watch the traces of bullets arcing in the air going left or right of the bull's center depending whether or not the call was right.  This process was cathartic.  I began to remember that I really can read a range once I get the hang of it.

Life in the pits. The people you meet. The friends you make.
The family you realize shares your love of the game.
Team day three was all about being in the pits; specifically, pulling pits for the National Trophy Junior Team (NTJT) match.  You pack food and a lawn chair and hang out in the pits.  I was paired with a very nice lady from New Jersey whose daughter was shooting on that state's team.  It was a great day of bantering and getting to know people from all over the country.

NRA Whistler Boy Junior Match

The first match of NRA week was a very special coaching day for me.  I got to coach one of the California Grizzly junior teams in their two-man Whistler Boy match.   I've been a financial supporter of the California Grizzlies since the day they were founded.   I've helped coach young shooters and seen them go off to Camp Perry and do amazing things.  Finally, I got to coach two of these fine young people in an actual match at the Nationals.  It was cool.  My team consisted of two bright young men, Tanner Hines and Matthew Nelson.   Both Marksmen, the boys managed a team score of 871-10 shooting well above their classification into the Sharpshooter league.  My team shared a firing point with the team of Sharpshooters Katherine Conley and Reilly Sutton from the state of Washington who shot a team score of 898-15.  It was a great day doing one of the things that I have always enjoyed most about this sport; giving back to the next generation so that one day they will do the same for the next.

The top teams from the Whistler Boy Match being recognized on stage.
My NRA Week

The centerpiece of the NRA portion of the U.S. National is a 2400 point Aggregate championship consisting of three days of 80-shot matches with sighters.   Each match consists of 20 shots each in standing and rapid siting both at 200 yards, rapid prone at 300 yards and slow prone at 600 yards. You get two sighting shots per stage so at the end of the game you'll have fired at least 264 rounds of ammunition; more if you have to shoot an alibi or re-fire string.  Like the P100 and NTI, these are individual matches.  It's you against everyone again.   There are fewer people at NRA week; 297 entries for across the course.  Another 92 are on the other range shooting the Mid-Range Nationals. The huts are a ghost town compared to CMP week.  Everyone there is hunting for awards and there are plenty to be earned.  The NRA Championship match is packed with commemorative cups, one for each firing stage of the tournament series.  There are additional cups for each 80-shot XTC and championship awards for overall high-power winner and one just for sevice rifle shooters.  There are additional NRA awards for the various skill level classifications consisting of high master, master, expert, sharpshooter and marksman classes.

Squadding for NRA Week.

On the change over day between CMP and NRA week, I changed guns.  It was time for the iron sighted A2 to go back in its case and the scope equipped AR to make its debut.   I took the rifle over to the CMP's Petrarca electronic range and spent some time sending some rounds downrange.  This gun is almost identical to the rifles being used by the top shooters at Camp Perry this year.  The NightForce 4.5X SR on it is so new only the military teams had them.  The one on my gun was a Test and Evaluation unit that the company Fedex'd me specifically to test at Nationals.

Getting basic zeroes for the scoped gun in California a week before going to Ohio.
A scope brings several advantages and one very big change to the shot plan for service rifle shooting. The big advantage is seeing better.  With irons, you play a balancing act changing front and rear sight pieces to compensate for light conditions.  As your eyes get older, you fight floaters crisscrossing your sight picture and trying to manage your eye comfort so it lasts the entire string of fire.   No such problem exists with an optic.  There's always enough light and there's always good focus.  Indeed, you can maintain a far more comfortable focus on a properly set up reticle than a front post.  At 4.5X, the target is huge and you can easily see into the X ring as you aim.  Do not bother to turn the magnification down.  That wobble you see was always there.  Now it's visible and you can work on improving your hold to shrink it.  It changes and improves your technique.

The big change in shot plan with as scope is that you build your position around the scope. This is different from an iron sighted rifle where you build your position around the stock dimensions. One is far more concerned with being perfectly and consistently behind the scope when shooting an optic. In this regard, the collapsible butt stock shows its worth.   The one I had was a Magpul UBR with a weight insert to help balance the gun's center of gravity better.  Being able to collapse the stock to A1 or less lengths for offhand and sitting vastly improves ease of positioning the eye begin the glass. Same with extending it to greater than A2 length to optimize head placement and shoulder tension in prone.   Basically, it's almost a match rifle; better because you don't need an allen wrench to change the settings.

Critical notation, the scope dials the opposite direction from the A2's sights.   A2 windage knobs turn like a car's steering wheel to move the impact left or right.   An optic turns like a bottle cap, open the cap to go right, screw it in to go left.  I dwell on this for a reason.  It's easy to make the error of turning the scope the wrong direction after you've been driving an A2 for a week.  I did for my first string of offhand. I did the dufus move dialing myself all the way to a miss before I slapped myself.  I learned that the Midrange and Long Range guys have a trick for this.  They typically shoot one day irons and one day scopes in their regionals.  In addition to writing the number of their firing point on their hand, they draw an arrow to remind them which direction turns right each day.  Good idea.  I learned this after I made my error; as every teachable moment should be at Camp Perry.

Still, the zen of the game for the NRA Championship is "shoot your average".  This is the culmination of a year's worth of preparation.  Everyone has worked hard to be here.  It's time to execute, to do what you know and do it the way you know how today.  Where you wind up in this field of amazingly stellar talent is a calibration of your investment in this craft.  Enjoy being part of the orchestra.  There is no other like it.  Shake each error off and move on to the next shot.

Here's my tale of my tape for the 2016 NRA 2400-point National Championship,

Match Name Score
441 Day 1 OF 154.01
442 Day 1 RS 191.02
443 Day 1 RP 195.06
446 Day 1 SP 188.06
414 Day 1 728.15
444 Day 2 OF 188.01
445 Day 2 RS 192.04
448 Day 2 RP 192.05
449 Day 2 SP 194.03
415 Day 2 766.13
450 Day 3 OF 181.04
447 Day 3 RS 197.04
451 Day 3 RP 194.04
452 Day 3 SP 186.01
416 Day 3 758.13
400 Total 2252.41

In the end, not the greatest score and not the worst.  I shot my average 93.8% even with a dufus-dial move at my day one offhand.  This is not bad using a gun I'd never shot in a match before.  My show up and shoot effort says it really doesn't matter what gun I have in my hands, I'm going to shoot my average.  Color me happy.  And there's a bonus. On Day 2, the day of the photo at the very beginning of this article, I did well enough in Expert class to take home my very first NRA Award Points.  Now there's a nice souvenir.

The best souvenir from my trip.

I ended my time at Camp Perry attending the awards ceremony for the NRA Championship matches. Another drive through America's heartland this time via Interstate 70 would take me home from what will always be one of the most special vacations of my life. The things I saw, the things I got to do, the new things I learned, the people who's company I enjoyed. So many stories. So many moments. These will be the lasting memories of my first time at the U.S. Nationals.