Perhaps you’ve heard of the Precision Rifle Series but didn’t know where to look for more information on the sport itself. Have you wondered what the “Precision Rifle Series” is and who can participate? Maybe you wanted to know what types of equipment is involved? Or how much does it cost to try it out? What exactly do they do anyway? I’m going to try to briefly answer these questions.
The Precision Rifle Series kicked off their first official season in 2012. I don’t remember exactly how many matches were in the first year, but in 2013 there were only 16 nationwide that counted for the point series. Basically, the PRS kept track of scores from the large competitions held nationwide. Shooters were ranked using a point system based off the winner’s score. Scores were tracked to hold a series finale at the end of the season. Automatic qualifications for the Series Finale were a win, two top 15% finishes, or by overall points that landed the shooter in the top 50 nationwide. As the series progressed and became larger, the number of shooters allowed in the Finale grew as did the sub-divisions. The Club Series and Club Series Finale in 2013-2014 was a lot of fun and kick-started a lot of local clubs to grow in numbers and talent. In the 2015 season, there were sub-divisions for regional finalists, military/law enforcement, ladies, seniors, and juniors. In 2016, two new subdivisions were added: club competitor and international competitor.
Precision rifle shooting has seen steady growth in the numbers of participants. The matches I’ve heard stories about from the mid-1990’s all sound just as fun as the current ones, with the same level of competitiveness and comradery; they were just smaller -perhaps 30 to 40 competitors. With the growth of the sport, more local areas have started up clubs to organize their talent. With those clubs come more facilities catering to what we do. The 2016 season has over 30 national level competitions with attendance varying anywhere from 60-170 shooters, including international matches in Canada and Africa. Club matches and club series are popping up all over the United States requiring less travel time and out-of-pocket cost to people looking to get involved in a new and challenging sport.
(Photo Credit) Regina Milkovich
Club level competitions are the breeding and training ground for the national level events. While there are some shooters who started on a national level, most have a local club they’re associated with and this is where they learn what works for them. The course of fire at a local level mirrors those found at national level matches, but usually have a longer par time or slightly lower level of difficulty. These matches are where shooters have the opportunity to try their skill out on a rooftop, floating platform, shoot house, barricade, or even work on wind reading skills under time pressure. Seasoned competitors are able to guide newer shooters and help them develop the confidence and skill set needed to improve from month to month. All are welcome at these club level events so people bringing rifles they use for hunting or target practice are generally allowed. Some courses of fire are adapted so shooters using a rifle with an internal magazine (top feeders) are not at any disadvantage. At some point, those newer shooters may feel they are ready to sign up for the Precision Rifle Series, choose a division, and find out how they stack up against other competitors nationwide.
The Precision Rifle Series itself has three divisions for the 2016 season; Open, Tactical, and Production. Membership for the 2016 Season cost $100 per shooter.
Open Division is exactly as it sounds: open to any rifle up to .30 caliber and with a maximum velocity of 3,200 feet per second. A majority of competitors sign up for this division because there are no restrictions on caliber or cost of equipment. It’s basically the “run what you brung” category. The other two categories are more specific in their requirements. The competitions are between two and three days in length, a minimum round count of 120 rounds, a minimum of 12 stages, and these matches also have to have at least 60 shooters to count for series points. There have been some exceptions to those rules but they are few and far between.
Tactical Division was created to provide shooters the chance to test their skill level using military and law enforcement calibers. This also allows military and law enforcement competitors the ability to use their department issued equipment to compete against others using similar calibers. The only limitation to the division is that competitors must shoot either .308 Winchester or 5.56 NATO/.223 Remington only. Modified rounds like the .223 Ackley Improved are prohibited to keep the playing field level within the division. Tactical Division competitors shoot alongside Open Division shooters with the exact same course of fire and match standard requirements. This is the perfect division for those looking to push themselves with a specific caliber. Benefits for both of these cartridges include a much longer barrel life than most Open Division shooters will experience, so only one rifle is needed for both practice and competition. Plus, some of the shooters best able to read wind are those who have shot .308 or .223 for a full season.
The last division is Production. This division, on face value, appears to have the most rules. However it is the division nearest to my heart because the whole thought process behind Production is to create a less intimidating venue for new shooters to become familiar with precision rifle matches. Range Officers and other shooters are allowed to coach Production Division competitors when they are on the clock which is different from Open and Tactical division where corrections and guidance are not allowed once the time for the course of fire has begun. The purpose of the division is also to help out shooters with limited means or lack of equipment. Let’s put it this way: there’s an entire section of the PRS rule book defining allowable rifles and scopes. This division is restricted by cost, but any caliber up to .30 and within 3,200 fps is allowed. The MSRP of the rifle may not exceed $2,000 nor can the scope. The overall cost of the combined rifle and scope may not exceed $3,000 total. It is highly recommended that shooters chose an optic that can be used to safely engage targets at longer distances and has a reticle that can be used for hold-overs and/or adjustable turrets. There are a bunch of options out there that fit both the requirements to be successful in this sport and the cost limitations. Rifles used must be in the original factory configuration and are not allowed to altered or modified in any way. Because this division was created with the newer shooter in mind, the matches are one day only in length, may not exceed 80 rounds of ammunition, and have at least eight different courses of fire. In order to count for PRS points, they are supposed to have a minimum of 45 shooters, however this season it appears that requirement has been waived.
All three of the divisions have their own overall ranking system. Competitors may only choose one Division to compete in. No changing Divisions mid-season if you don’t like how it’s looking for you. Some matches have awards for Tactical and Production Division shooters, but a majority of competitions have competitors walk the prize table in order of overall finish regardless of what division each shooter has chosen. At the Season Finale, there are separate awards for each Division and sub-division along with cash prizes for the top Precision Rifle Series point leaders.
(Photo Credit) Paul Reid
Like most shooting sports, there is a lot of friendly banter between competitors but you’d be hard pressed to find a more helpful group of shooters. While it’s not the cheapest sport to get involved in initially, there are always at least five people who have the exact bag, tripod, bi pod, magazine, or other piece of gear you need. Some clubs and venues even have loaner rifles you can use to try out the sport. Purchasing a used rifle can get you just as far as a brand new custom rifle. Most of the top guys and gals in the Precision Rifle Series didn’t start out with a fully custom rifle. They started with a Remington or a Savage or something similar and built up from there. The first modification was most likely a new barrel. The most inexpensive way to get involved is finding one of those second-hand rifles and modifying it to fit your needs. Competitors are definitely proud of their gear and are normally more than happy to let you dry fire their rifle to try out a trigger you’ve been eyeing, or look through a scope you’ve been on the fence about purchasing. The first step, the hardest step, is to show up and try.
2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 Precision Rifle Series Top Female Competitor
2016 NorCal Tactical Bolt Rifle Challenge Overall Champion