Competitive shooting has been described as the one sport where the objective is to remain as still as possible. It's also said that shooting is mostly a mental game. So it's one of the few sports where women and juniors compete with men on a truly equal basis. How often do 15-year-old girls beat their fathers in golf? Well, it's not uncommon in high power rifle matches.
High power rifle is one of the competitive shooting disciplines that the CRPA supports as part of its goal to encourage participation in the shooting sports. The name "high power" isn't meant to intimidate prospective new shooters. (Remember those competitive kids.) It simply denotes that centerfire rifles, .22 caliber and larger, are used. Yes, there is a "low power" rifle discipline, where competitors fire the .22 rimfire. It's called smallbore, and in case anyone thinks smallbore must be for children, note that it's an Olympic sport. (An upcoming issue of The Firing Line will have a feature on smallbore rifle.)
In the typical high power match, competitors shoot both slow fire (one shot per minute) and rapid fire stages, usually for a total of 50 or 80 shots. The most common "across the course" format starts at 200 yards. Competitors fire 20 shots from the standing position in 20 minutes. The competitors are split up into groups, or relays, so that while one relay fires, another relay of shooters keeps score and another operates the targets. At ranges with protected targets, or "pits," the relay running the targets places a marker on the shot hole after each slow fire shot, and the firing and scoring competitors see the location of each shot through spotting scopes. After the standing stage, competitors remain at the 200-yard line to fire the sitting position.
The first rapid fire stage is fired sitting. When the command to fire is given, the relay in the pits raises the targets and the clock starts counting down from 60 seconds. Competitors get into position and fire two shots (or five depending on the type of rifle) and then reload. With a semi-automatic, such as an AR-15, that means switching magazines. Competitors with bolt action rifles reload with clips. The objective is to fire 10 well-aimed shots before the time expires and the targets are pulled down. The relay operating the targets puts markers in each shot hole and hangs a small scoreboard with the shot tally on the target and then raises the targets for the competitors and scorers to see. Competitors are given a couple minutes to examine the targets and record the scores before the targets are lowered, repaired, and a second string is fired.
Competitors move to the 300-yard line to fire the second rapid fire event, which is fired from the prone position. It's still 10 shots with a reload required, but competitors have 70 seconds to fire. If the conditions are favorable, it's possible for competitors to "clean" the rapids, keeping all their shots in the 10-ring.
The last stage is the prone slow fire match. On a full-distance range, it's fired from 600 yards. Like the standing stage, it's fired one shot at a time, 20 shots in 20 minutes. Again, the relay pulling the targets marks each shot, so the competitor gets immediate feedback and can make sight adjustments. The key here is to judge changes in the wind speed and direction after each shot, quickly decide on the appropriate sight change, and fire quickly.
Though this is the most common match format, the NRA sanctions many others. Reduced-distance matches follow the same course of fire, but use scaled-down targets. Thus a high power match can be held on ranges as short as 100 yards. Other courses consist solely of firing from the prone position. The Palma format is the best known of these and is fired at 800, 900, and 1,000 yards. The NRA Long Range course is the only event that allows competitors to compete in a separate scoped rifle category known as F-class. New this year is an NRA-sanctioned prone match known as "Mid-Range." It's fired at 300, 500, and 600 yards.
All high power courses use traditional bulls eye or "10-X" targets where each shot is worth 10 points. (High power rifle silhouette uses steel targets, and will be the subject of a future article.) Thus for a regular 80-shot match, you would see scores in the 700-range for most competitors. As in other disciplines, the X-count is used to differentiate competitors with the same point total.
As you would expect, most matches reward the overall winner. But cash awards are usually given to high-scoring competitors from each skill level, from marksman to high master, and often for the individual stages of the match. A typical match entry fee might be $20. Most of the money is returned to the competitors for awards and the balance pays for targets and range fees.
Big matches can draw 100-plus competitors from across the country, including service teams such as the Marine Corps Team, the Air-Guard Team, and the Army Marksmanship Unit. The entry fees often include a barbecue after the match and provide for substantial cash awards and other prizes. A few exceptional matches, such as the Creedmoor Cup held in Oceanside, offer thousands of dollars in sponsored prizes, and have clinics, practices, and firing events running over several days.
Though you can start shooting high power with most any rifle that's equipped with iron sights, most competitors soon obtain true "match" or "service" rifles. The service rifle category is dominated by the .223 caliber AR-15. But people still compete with the other two NRA-legal service rifles, the Springfield M1A and the M1 Garand. Other military rifles, such as the M1903, M1 carbine, British Enfield, and Mauser may be used, but are classified as "match" rifles. That category includes anything that is not a service rifle, including highly modified AR-15s, match-conditioned Remington 700s and Winchester Model 70s, and a variety of rifles specially designed for high power competition like the Eliseo R-5 (www.competitionshootingstuff.com) and the CSR-1 and Tubb 2000 (www.creedmoorsports.com).
The goal of most people competing with the service rifle is to earn the Distinguished Rifleman badge. Distinguished status is highly regarded among competitive shooters and is awarded to civilians for excellence in both service rifle and pistol by the Civilian Marksmanship Program, www.odcmp.com. (Each of the services also awards Distinguished badges according to similar criteria.) For an interesting history of the Distinguished program, see the article by Dick Culver at http://www.odcmp.com/competitions.htm.
The CRPA also awards a separate state distinguished status for several disciplines, including highpower rifle. Competitors are awarded the CRPA Distinguished plaque after finishing in the top three places at three state championship events.
The last several years the CRPA has sanctioned five high power rifle championships: Service Rifle, High Power (match) Rifle, Fullbore, Palma, Long Range. These matches are held at the Coalinga Rifle Club, about 200 miles north of Los Angeles. The Palma and Long Range events, especially, bring people from several states and provinces and often from England who take advantage of the great range facilities and camp in trailers and RVs. The Coalinga events feature an excellent outdoor tri-tip barbecue that everyone looks forward to. Starting in 2010, a 100-Yard Reduced Course match was added to the high power lineup. The Mother Lode Gun Club hosts this match at their range in Jamestown in the Sierra foothills over the Independence Day weekend.
So where do you go to learn more about high power or competitive shooting in general? A good place to start is by visiting a match. NRA-sanctioned high power matches are held at ranges all over California and are open to everyone. The NRA competitions website lists the locations and people to contact for most of these matches:http://www.nrahq.org/compete/calendar.asp.
Some ranges also hold local or "club" matches that are not listed. Steve Quinn's CA high power rifle website at www.CArifle.com lists many of the local clubs that hold matches. Members of CRPA can also contact the office at (800) 305-2772 for more information.
For a while, California's "assault weapon" laws made it more difficult for competitors to enter the sport of high power because if you didn't already own an AR-15 style rifle and the necessary magazines, you were stuck with a bolt action, or one of the .30 caliber rifles approved for service rifle. That has changed over the last few years as many manufacturers brought California-legal AR-type rifles onto the market. Now there are many options for shooters who want to get a competitive AR-type rifle. Note that a rifle that’s suited for high power competition won’t be the same one that’s ideal for three-gun matches, or tactical matches, and so on. So when you shop for a rifle, be sure the people you’re talking know what kind of competition you’re interested in.
For details regarding the California Rifle and Pistol Association State Championships, Junior Marksmanship Programs or general information relating to the High Power Rifle discipline, please contact us: