2017 Bushnell Gap Grind A Beginner’s Point of View
This year I decided to branch out and learn more about long range shooting since it is something I struggle with in 3 Gun. I called my friends at Lanxang Tactical and asked if they had a .308 I could use to shoot some long range matches. They let me use a .308 AR-10 that had been used in multiple long range matches, including the Mammoth Sniper Challenge (where they won 3rd place). I mounted a Nightforce SHV 4-14x and with the help of a friend was able to zero it and make a dope card. I was completely clueless, but determined, so I went to a one day match at Southern Oaks. I pulled up and told Phil Cashin I was new and had no idea what to do. I learned a lot that day and I found out there were all these support bags that can be used in PRS! Who knew? Everyone was very helpful and loaned me bags and helped me with advice and smiles. I did not feel like I did well but I fell in love with the game.
Regina Milkovich messaged me and asked if I would be her friend’s amateur for the 2017 Gap Grind. I jumped on the opportunity. I thought it would be a great way to learn PRS and meet some people in the sport. I had no idea what to expect. I had no idea what I was in for! This was one of the best experiences of my life. I am still sore, still have bruises, and still on cloud nine. I felt it was worth telling about.
This was by far one of the largest and best organized matches I have ever attended. There were somewhere around 350 shooters (with 19 women!) that shot 20 stages in a day and a half. We were provided lunch both days that was delivered to the stages, which was greatly appreciated. The squads were evened out so things moved well without one squad on top of the other so there was minimal waiting. The RO’s were amazing. They were out there long hours just to ensure we had a fair and fun match. One even scooped me up when I fell running up some stairs with my rifle during a stage. The entire focus of the shooter’s meeting was safety first, but it was obvious the next priority was to provide a great experience for those of us new shooters. They definitely met that goal and other competitive shooting genres could learn a lot from their format.
Every amateur was paired with a pro. I’ve shot matches on the same squad as a pro before and it has always been great, but that pro gets a ton of questions from a lot of people. In this format, we each had our own personal pro to ask any questions we had. And I had a lot. All of the pros helped all of the amateurs, but it was awesome to have a partner to get to know and touch base with on every stage. My pro was Steph Bostwick, owner of B-Tactical. She was so patient with me, even when I almost gave out of gas on the last few stages of day one. These pros were truly awesome. They had their own match to prepare for and concentrate on, yet I never felt like a bother when I asked them my questions. I felt like I had advice at my fingertips and cheerleaders to encourage me. Everyone there truly wanted everyone to do well.
The stages were hard for me, but not out of reach either. Some stages the pro and amateur shot the exact same thing, and some stages had more generous targets for the amateurs to ensure we had some successes. This was great because it prevented frustrations, but it also gave us a taste of what other PRS matches will be like. Some stages were time stressors, some had difficult targets, and some consisted of difficult positions. This match gave a lot of different experiences in those 20 stages. I learned something on every single one of them and I took notes in my match book. I successfully hit targets at 1000 yards for the first time and I hit the movers at 300 and 500 yards. There was nothing that put a bigger smile on my face than seeing the Magneto Speed indicator light up when I hit the 1000 yard target.
So many lessons were learned this weekend. I’m sure I made every newby mistake in the books. I learned that the next purchase I’m making will be elbow pads. Thanks to Paul Reid for letting me use his on day 2 since my right elbow was killing me. I learned that bolt guns have a good bit less recoil than a .308 gas gun since I had never shot a bolt gun before Friday. I learned to make sure your bi pod legs are extended all the way out if you use a 20 round magazine. I had used a 10 rounder all day and the stage called for 15 rounds so I took the 20 round magazine and when I inserted it on the clock, I learned quickly how to extend those bi pod legs. It was a rookie mistake that I hopefully never make again. I learned that it is much more important to get good hits than to try to engage all targets ineffectively. Rushing is not helpful, at least for me. I learned that there definitely is such a thing as a bad trigger pull on a rifle when it comes to precision. That probably sounds stupid, but when shooting 3 gun most rifle targets are much closer and more generously sized, so it is not nearly as much of an issue as when trying to hit targets at 1000 yards.
I also learned that building a solid position is much more important than reading wind. I went into this thinking “I need to learn how to read wind”. I do need to learn that, but when I review my notes about each stage, I had far more misses from not being able to get stable than from wind calls. If I could have only improved one thing on this match, the one thing that would have gotten me more points would have been better, more stable positions. I still would have had misses from my lack of wind reading skills, but I had more misses due to being unstable. I learned that when the RO gives a “10 seconds” warning, I need to ignore it and not rush shots that don’t produce a hit. It also dawned on me on the second shoot house stage that I should really just start moving as soon as I break the last shot in that position instead of trying to see if it was an impact because whether or not it was a hit, I can’t take it back so I need to hustle and move on. On about the 19th stage I finally started remembering to take the safety off after moving positions! And I learned just how out of shape I am. I definitely need to start carrying a bag of rocks around the neighborhood to build up my strength!
Probably the last two things I learned are the most important things to me. I learned that I love this sport. Every time they yelled impact I literally had to remind myself to keep shooting because I would get so excited that I had a hit. I loved watching my partner shoot the last stage (and killing it!) and watching her trace through my scope. I loved everything about the weekend. OK, maybe everything except that one hill up to stages 18-20. But, I did survive that hill.
The last thing I learned is that there are truly amazing people in this sport. The pros were trying to compete and earn points for the series, yet they all took time to help and encourage the amateurs. People all offered each other equipment and advice and encouragement. Yes, they are competitive and want to win, but they also have mutual respect for each other and want everyone to shoot to their potential. My squad watched me shoot a gas gun against all the bolt guns during the match and they all said I needed to get a bolt gun for this sport. At the end of day two I was in line for the prize table (not in the front since I didn’t place very high) when Tim Milkovich returned from walking the prize table. I asked him how much was left in there since I had an eight hour drive and didn’t want to wait in line for an hour if nothing would be left. That was not because I was ungrateful, but because I needed to start heading home. Realistically I did not expect anything to be left by the time I got to walk the prize table. He said there might be some discount codes left when I got up there. I said “well I need everything, so I would be grateful for a discount code on anything, so I will wait”. He said “yes, you do need everything since you don’t even have a bolt gun”. I agreed. He then said “get out of line, this is yours” and put the bag he was holding into my hand. He gave me the McRees Precision chassis that he had won. I was floored. I looked at Regina dumbfounded and she said “this is what we do”. I was literally brought to tears that someone would hand over their prize that they fairly earned. Tim and Regina are phenomenal ambassadors of their sport, and in general just amazing people. I found that most people I encountered were just great people and would do whatever they could to help me. I cannot name them all because I have not learned everyone’s names yet.
At the beginning of the match I said my goal was to have fun, to learn a lot, and to meet a lot of people in the sport. Paul Reid told me that a good goal for me would be to get 50% of my hits. I met all of those goals. I ended up with 110 points out of 194. I had some stages I bombed, and I had some stages I did very well on. One stage I got 9 out of 10 and I was ecstatic. I have no concept of whether or not that is “good” and I really do not care. I walked away from this match feeling like I won the world because it was like a 2 day master class in PRS and I learned so much that my brain hurt as much as my body. I drove home and tried to think over everything and was overwhelmed by the amount of knowledge I gained and “aha moments” I experienced. I appreciate Shannon Kay, George Gardner, Jason Redding, and K&M so much for organizing it and holding the match. I’m grateful to the RO’s for working so hard and smiling and encouraging us the entire time. And I’m grateful for the pros for taking time out to grow the sport and help each of us to have a great time and get “hooked”. The match sponsors made a match this size possible. I will definitely return to the Gap Grind and would recommend it for anyone wanting to get into the Precision Rifle Series.
Co-host of The Shooter’s Mindset