Every time I step out of my comfort zone and challenge myself, I grow and learn a lot about myself or the subject matter in which I am interested. Therefore, I have recently adopted the motto “Do hard sh*t”. It’s a way for me to not take the easy road and to try to live the life that I want to live. This motto was tested again over a recent weekend.
As I was about to return from a vacation with the family, a buddy of mine texted me, inviting me to an AR Accurized match in two days at Cowtown Range in Phoenix, Arizona. I thought about all the reasons I should say, “maybe next time, bro.” But that would have been the easy way out. So, I said, “Sure!”.
I figured this was the perfect time to run my Saint Edge Elite ATC; the only problem is that my optic wasn’t zeroed and I had no data or “DOPE” for the gun. If you are not familiar with DOPE, or “Data On Previous Engagements,” it essentially means that at X distance I need to dial or hold X mils or MOA to hit my target. You might think DOPE is easily interchangeable, and sometimes it is, but every rifle is slightly different and prefers specific ammo over others.
When I first got my Saint Edge ATC Elite, I made some .4” groups at 100 yards with 77-gr. bullets, so I figured my best chance at success was to dig into my precious stash of Black Hills Mk262 77-gr. rounds for this match. The next day I met a buddy at the range to sight in the rifle with my Leuopold Mk5 3.6-18×44. He also gave me his DOPE for his 16” suppressed AR-15 that he runs 77-gr. rounds through. Then, I used a ballistic calculator to get some data on my specific bullet. I figured I could compare those two sets of data and get a rough idea of my DOPE.
The match consisted of five stages with five to seven targets per stage from 200-700 yards. Each stage required about eight to 10 hits in 90 seconds with 20 rounds max to fire. There was a total of 75 shooters for the match in different divisions. I signed up for “open” division, which meant there were no restrictions on bipods, bags or optics used.
The morning of the event, I showed up as prepared as I could be, excited and a little nervous. But, I was ready to have a cool experience and learn some new things. Thankfully, all the people in my squad of 15 shooters were super nice and very helpful. Spotters were calling adjustments and hits, people were sharing information and gear, and it was overall a welcoming and easy-going match.
As I watched the shooters ahead of me, they were all using a specific type of shooting bag that I didn’t own. But keeping with their generous spirit, a buddy let me use his to try out. I also noticed nearly everyone had their own method of either dialing for one target and then using holds, or just holds for all the targets. “Holding” refers to using the little tick marks on your scope below your reticle rather than dialing the adjustment with your turrets. I’ve mostly only shot distance dialing, so using holds was going to be a new thing for me.
On the Line
I was feeling pretty good until I was next in line to shoot. Then my mind started going through all the things for which I was unprepared. But before I could get spun up, my name was called. Deep breath, just shoot the match, and have fun.
The timer went off and I fell into the sport. At first it was a little hard for me to find the targets quickly in the distance, but as I started making my hits I gained confidence in my ability. To my surprise and satisfaction, I completed the first stage in under the 90 seconds allotted.
After the first stage and having experienced a taste of the match, it was much easier to shake off the nerves and just enjoy the process of learning. My goal from the start was just to end up in the middle of the pack. I would be happy with that.
Heading into the fifth and final stage of the match, I was only down three targets from timing out on a stage. I was feeling great, and my rifle set-up was performing flawlessly. Besides of course my shoot and pray DOPE, since I was holding it was hard to really get an accurate DOPE through the day. But, it was working well enough.
The final stage was starting prone and then moving to a suspended platform that moved when you shot. For the last four stages I was using my buddy’s shooting bag, so I grabbed it for my prone set up. But once I got into position, I realized I should have used mine that I am used to. I was having a tough time getting the bag set up under the B5 Systems Precision Stock. I ended up dropping four targets on that last stage. But that’s competition! You learn so much by having those experiences and I have so many thoughts on what to do different or better next time. I also feel like I made a lot of new friends that I am looking forward to shooting with in the future.
As far as the gear went, the Leupold optic was tac sharp, the TMR reticle was easy to pick up for my holds, and the throw was smooth for quickly finding targets. The ATC was a bit of an eye-catcher. In the line-up of black AR-15s, the coyote brown ATC Elite really stood out. Between stages, quite a few of my squad members would come over and handle the rifle and comment on the unique design.
A couple hours later, the match results were posted. I placed 16th out of 36 in my division; pretty spot on for my middle-of-the-pack hopes! The competition was fierce, as the difference between first and seventh place was only three points.
Overall, I am happy that I decided to just wing it and sign up for the match. It took a lot of the mystery and nerves out of shooting competitions for me and showed me a world of welcoming, generous people that had the same passion for long-distance shooting and learning as myself. I look forward to progressing that placement into the top 10 next time!
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