There are many practical rifle matches across the country and they’re not all the same. On the surface they may appear similar but the course of fire may dictate different equipment and shooting styles. Some may be more of a pure shooting match with limited movement whereas some matches, like the Competition Dynamics events and the Mammoth Sniper Challenge, require miles of hiking. Some may be individual matches and some may be team matches. There are all kinds of different matches so it’s best to look up specific matches for course of fire descriptions and post-match discussion, but I can offer some insight about a few formats I’m familiar with, namely individual precision matches, designated marksman matches, and .22 rimfire practical rifle matches.
The first type is the individual precision match and is the most common. One example of this match is the Precision Rifle Series. This organization partners with matches around the country and shooters earn points based on their finish at each match. This culminates at the end of the season with a finale match where a shooter’s finish there is combined with points the shooter has earned over the year to crown a season champion.
In individual precision matches you shoot for points at distances from close up to over 1000 yards, most of the time from field positions. Some matches also test your positional shooting ability with a sling, so it’s nice to know how to use one. Practical matches usually try to limit how often you may shoot with a bipod and rear bag from the prone position so it’s good to practice other positions if you can. Typically, you’ll get a certain amount of time to complete each stage (par time) to shoot all the targets and you’ll be scored on the number of hits you get.
These matches test your shooting skill under some stress (from time contraints, moving quickly between shooting, difficult shooting positions, or some pistol shooting) so you need to shoot accurately and quickly. Sometimes they like to put targets like tiny dots on paper or small objects like eggs or golf balls at close range, under 200 yards, and it’s usually steel targets of varying sizes farther out. There may also be unknown distance stages where you’re given the size of the targets. You estimate their range using your reticle and then you engage them. At a match my wife and I shot a couple years ago they tested our understanding of the reticle and adjustments. There was a 3/4 moa dot at 75 yards on the middle of a piece of paper. On the back were three other dots that you couldn’t see from the front. You were given the distances to these targets in millimeters, centimeters, or inches and you had to figure out how many mils to dial or hold while aiming at the middle dot to hit the dots you couldn’t see. Other matches may also test your ability to shoot moving targets, through loop holes, and at targets at an angle.
The second type of match I’m familiar with is the designated marksman (DM) match. The biggest difference between this match and the individual precision match is that the designated marksmanship match is a two-person team match. One person shoots while the other spots. When the first person is finished shooting, the teammates switch. My wife and I shot these together and communication was very important as we were constantly relaying to each other where the bullets were going and necessary corrections. Sometimes we even tried to give each other tips like how to quickly improve a shooting position or where to move to get a better view of the target.
Designated marksman matches are not like the team matches labeled as “team sniper matches,” whose course of fire is similar to individual precision matches except with a team component. At DM matches you still shoot from field positions but there is a greater emphasis on speed and targets are a bit larger and not as far as they are in individual precision matches. At the matches we shot, there were 6-10″ steel targets from 100 yards to 600 yards but most of the targets were under 400 yards. It’s basically like the rifle part of 3-gun without the closeup shooting and smaller and farther out targets. Instead of chasing after points like you do in the individual matches, in DM matches the emphasis is on time and you want to finish hitting all your targets as fast as possible. Each failure to hit a target or hit on a no-shoot target incurs a penalty. The team that takes the shortest amount of time for both shooters to shoot all the targets wins. Because of the way a DM match is structured, a semi-auto rifle may be just as competitive as a bolt-action rifle. In terms of who wins at DM matches it’s about 50/50 semi-autos and bolt-action rifles. We’ve shot the match with both .223 AR-15s and bolt-action rifles and although we felt more confident with the bolt guns our best finish was actually with the AR-15s.
Shooting practical matches doesn’t have to be expensive and we also had a lot of fun shooting rimfire practical rifle matches. The rifles and scopes didn’t cost nearly as much and the matches themselves were much cheaper, with $10 entry fees. The course of fire could be completed with 40-60 rounds and took only 45 minutes or so. A nice touch at both the DM Match and the Rimfire Match we shot at was that they ran on tee times. Instead of everyone meeting early in the morning and waiting to rotate through stages everyone just came at their tee time and would leave after their shooting was done. It was great.
The distances in rimfire matches aren’t as far as they are in the centerfire matches but they still require good wind calls and knowing your corrections. At the club we shot at, targets go to 150 yards and are small enough to make it a good challenge. The shooting positions weren’t identical to those found in big centerfire matches due to a difference in props but they were very similar and you still shot under match pressure. It was great practice but at a fraction of the cost.
These formats and listed matches are by no means exhaustive. They’re just what I’m familiar with. There are certainly more formats out there and there are many great matches for people to choose from. A good place to find some is under the competition section of Sniper’s Hide or your local gun board. The competition sections will have match announcements and discussions. You might have to drive a bit for a match but plenty of people do and I think that they’d all agree that it’s worth it.