Distinguished Riflemen invited to compete in new Perry match
by Dick Jones
In the years following the Civil War, review of battle results created an awareness that the average citizen came into the military with few shooting skills. Over the years that passed, a growing awareness of this resulted in the creation of the National Rifle Association (NRA) in 1873, and later the National Board for the Promotion of Rifle Practice. Eventually the Director of Civilian Marksmanship (DCM) was formed.
The DCM was a department of the Army charged with increasing the level of rifle and pistol marksmanship among the civilian populace. When I received my Distinguished Rifleman badge some 20 years ago, it was under the auspices of the DCM. The inscription on my Dogs of War Medals begins with “Presented by the Congress of the United States.” The United States has always been a nation of riflemen and it’s my hope we always will be.
In the last few years, there’s been a growing interest in recreational shooting. Shooting and gun ownership have gained considerable ground in social acceptance. While this was happening, the AR 15 rifle platform was growing by leaps and bounds. My generation loved the guns portrayed in movies; hence we fell in love with Winchester lever-actions and Colt Peacemakers. The new generation has the same movie and entertainment-based affinity and they are madly in love with M16/AR15 type rifles.
This year at the National Championships at Camp Perry, OH, the NRA is beginning a new match to showcase the capabilities of these remarkable guns and similar rifles. The match is called the National Defense Match (NDM) as a reminder of the original reason for forming the NRA, encouraging citizens to become proficient marksmen.
The match will be an exciting event with the winner being based on time rather than score. Misses will result in lost seconds varying from only one second for missing the bull at close range to 15 seconds at the longest range of 500 yards. The inclusion of the longer ranges and the high values attached to long range shots assures the match is not simply a fast shooting exercise but an event that demands real shooting skills.
I’m fortunate to have been chosen as one of the 60 rifleman from across the US invited to compete in the inaugural match. I’m currently preparing my equipment and getting ready for the event which will be fired Aug. 13 and 14, as this issue of Gun Week is going into the mails (Results will be published in a later issue). The course of fire requires shooting blazing fast at the short ranges to stay in the hunt and will require real shooting and wind reading skills at the longer ranges. Not only does this require a versatile rifleman, it requires a versatile rifle.
The closest range shots in the NDM are fired at five different targets on one sheet of paper at seven yards. This multi-aiming-point target is used in almost half the match. This target is used for 71 of the 164 shots of the match, until the range exceeds 30 yards. Since almost half the match, and the easiest part to shoot clean, are timed shots at close range the rifle can’t be a heavy long range rifle. The rifle must be fast handling in those early stages or so much time will be lost, the best long range shooting won’t be able to overcome the handicap. Once the change is made to the longer range target, the shooting will remain fast until the 200 to 500 yard shots begin.
Fifty of the 164 shots are fired at ranges beyond 200 yards in positions including sitting, kneeling, and prone. These longer range shots will require accuracy and a rifle that can quickly get back on target for the next shot. While I have no idea of how other riflemen will tackle the difficulties of this match, I envision shooting techniques similar to shooting the Infantry Trophy Match. An accurate rifle, held hard, and the capability to quickly compensate for windage and elevation changes will be required.
This transition from a fast handling rifle to a precision long range rifle is going to make the National Defense Match interesting and challenging. I suspect there will be two schools of thought, some shooters shooting quick short range times and losing some points at the longer ranges and others sacrificing speed on the short range shots to make up time on the long range high value shots. At the close ranges where miss values are just five seconds, competitive scores will require shooting ten shots at five different targets and competitive times will be below ten seconds. This will require lightning speed in acquiring the targets and executing the shots. At the longer ranges of 300, 400 and 500 yards, serious marksmanship will be needed but, even more importantly, shooters must be able to judge the effects of the wind and some of the best riflemen will suffer from bad wind calls.
When I first received the invitation for the National Defense Match, I instantly began to ponder what kind of rifle would be best suited for shooting this kind of event. I knew I would be using one of the AR platform rifles. While there certainly are other rifles suited for this kind of shooting, there is no weapons system more versatile than the ARs.
I’ve decided a Designated Marksman type rifle with relatively light weight but a precision barrel and trigger will give me the accuracy I need but still handle fast enough to quickly hammer the close range shots. The NRA D1 target we’ll be using at longer ranges is 18x30 inches, just slightly smaller than the old Infantry Trophy target. While the 30-inch height will allow for six minutes of angle to stay clean at the longest 500 yard shot, the 18-inch width will require three and a half minutes of angle for windage. Staying in the six-inch ten ring in the 300 yard Rapid Fire stage of the National Match Course requires two minutes of angle. Provided the rifleman can produce two minutes of angle, he only has a slight window of error in reading the wind and there will be no spotting scopes or high quality wind flags on the range. Those long range shots have a miss penalty of 15 seconds, so reading wind is going to be a real factor in this match.
While most competitions turn into an equipment race, Program Director Trey Tuggle insists this match will remain as simple as possible. To keep the weight of the rifles at normal rifle weight, shooters must carry or wear the rifle for the whole match. Specialized clothing and equipment are not allowed. Shooters will simply shoot on the grass in the prone and kneeling stages.
My preparation for the match began with a careful review of the course of fire and the time penalties for misses. The short range targets will not be hard to hit and penalties are low but slow shooting will put even an exceptional long range shooter who can read wind behind before he ever gets into his field of expertise. The miss value of all the short range targets is 570 but the miss value of the targets at 200 yards up is 600.
I began by practicing at the longest range on the short range target. At the longest range of 30 yards, the NDM-5 120 target has five 5” by 8˚” bulls. At the longest range of this target, a rifleman only needs to hold about fifteen minutes of angle to shoot a perfect score. While I know the long range part of this match won’t be a cake walk for even really good riflemen, I know the short range high speed part is certainly not my normal shooting style. Three gun shooters will adapt quickly to this stage and guys like my friend Iain Harrison, from Top Shot, will absolutely smoke this part of the match.
My early practice drills were aimed at sharpening my speed shooting skills. My nature is deliberate shooting because that’s the kind of shooting I’ve done in most of my shooting career. I really have to push myself to shoot fast. Remember that in Conventional High Power, rapid fire is ten shots in 60 seconds. My speed drills are meant to push my normally sedentary shooting metabolism into high gear.
While I’m used to shooting fast at long range from my Infantry Trophy days, (on a good day I could get about 25 hits on the 600-yard target in 50 seconds), this is quite different; there’s a lot of difference between a 14 pound match M14 and a seven pound AR. I talked to my friend Chris Cerino, who is also shooting the match and, as a three gun shooter, he doesn’t plan to use a sling as part of his position.
My accuracy practice drills centered around accurate, fast shooting and establishing a position that would allow me to keep my position through a ten-shot string. I grounded the grip with my cheek pressing the butt down into my shoulder, and shot some nice tight groups just over two MOA. Providing I can make a good wind call, I hope to have some advantage over the fast shooters on the longer range targets.
When Tuggle sent me the email inviting me to shoot the match, I instantly emailed back my reply. This sounded like sure fun and a certain hit because of all the interest in practical rifle shooting and AR platform rifles. It promises to be a match where a guy can bring his tricked out AR and have an afternoon of fun while becoming a better shooter. I believe tactical/practical shooting is the coming thing and this match offers a balance of speed and serious accuracy that promises to rattle some brains and create excitement.
I knew I need serious high speed practice blended with precision at the longer ranges and I’d need to expend a lot of rounds to get good at this. No one is a bigger proponent of using .22 rimfire for training than I but I knew that, neat as it is, my Grandson’s M&P .22 wouldn’t be a sufficient practice vehicle.
I called Frank and Theresa White at Compass Lake and Frank sent me one of his .22 rimfire uppers. I chose a configuration as close to what I thought would be the perfect NDM gun with some versatility to use the upper as a practice gun for Conventional High Power if desired. The upper sports a 20-inch heavy barrel, a floating hand guard and a flat top receiver. Frank’s .22 uppers have the reputation for match rifle accuracy and the service rifle versions are a favorite practice rifle for guys working on their Distinguished Rifleman Badge. I’ve talked to a couple of guys who use these guns to compete in club level smallbore matches and win; they’re simply that good.
I opened the box and couldn’t wait to get a scope on this thing and see what it would do. When I put the upper on a Bushmaster lower I had handy, I noticed the spring on the rear of the upper that served to take any play out of the attachment from upper to lower. This is a truly well thought out product. The proof is in the shooting though and with the first groups, I knew I had a winner. With Federal Match, the gun would shoot half inch groups in position at 50 yards. This is truly the ultimate practice AR and the standard by which all others are to be judged.
For my business gun to actually shoot in the match, I went with the DPMS Standard Black Prairie Panther with a 20-inch 1-8 fluted match barrel, a two stage trigger and the flat top receiver. Straight out of the box I got groups less than two inches at 200 yards in position. Using 20-round magazines to allow grounding the butt of the pistol grip and supporting the front of the gun with my left hand on an ATI front grip, my position was almost as steady as a bench rest. The trigger is as good as my across the course AR and the sub MOA accuracy was more than enough for a speed match like the NDM. The best part is the gun’s light enough to wear all day long, a requirement in the NDM.
The NDM balances speed with accuracy and until we see how some of the matches run, it’s going to be hard to figure where to put the most emphasis. I feel traditional scopes will have an advantage on the longer range, high value targets in this match and I chose Nikon’s M.223 2-8 variable. I’ve had a great experience with the 3-12 .223 and I liked the reliable, repeatable target turrets and the ease of setting your base zero. I also used their .223 mount, a one piece unit that’s offset forward to allow for a good prone position. This mount puts the scope at perfect height for offhand with the A2 stock for me and it comes off and goes back on with no change of zero. At 2X power, I can acquire targets quickly and when the scope is moved up to 8X I can shoot the long range stages accurately and make repeatable windage and elevation adjustments. In keeping with the spirit of the match, this scope is truly affordable at about $350.
Once the gun was in hand, I worked on getting a solid zero using the positions I’ll be using in the match. The M.223 comes with the elevation marked for the 55-grain bullet but using the same settings for the 77-grain bullet gets me remarkably close. In fact with the 30-inch height of the D1 target, I could use those settings and stay on paper just fine. I’d just be about a minute low at the longer ranges. All my zeroing was done from my actual shooting position and I was pleased that the scope was accurate in movement distance and repeatability.
At the time of this writing, we’re a little over a week from the match date. I plan one more zero check/practice session with my friend Chris Cerino and we’ll shoot the match the following day. It’s going to be interesting to see what other shooters bring, I’m sure there’ll be wide opinions on what’s needed to best perform in this match and the equipment will evolve somewhat in later matches. Overall though, I think this is going to be a great shooting discipline that blends speed and marksmanship in a real test of the shooter.
It’s exciting to be involved in this innovative new type of shooting and I’m honored to be lucky enough to get to shoot this first match. I have no illusions of winning and know I was chosen more for my ability.
Return to Archive Index