F-Class Competition Shooting
When many people start shooting F-Class the last thing on their minds is getting involved in any super serious competition shooting. Generally the early stages of beginning F-Class shooter's development simply involves getting their gear to shoot accurately.
Different rifles require different shooting techniques and in the early stages a new F-Class shooter is often far from being competitive, particularly if they've bought an off the shelf rifle and aren't yet established with their reloading. This is normal because it takes time to match the shooter to the rifle and vice versa.
The gap between a beginners skills and those of your typical competition shooter were even greater in the past before F-Class grading was introduced. With the introduction of a B-Grade the gap is now significantly smaller, but it is still there.
With all that in mind the question needs to be asked...
Why Shoot Competition F-Class?
The simple answer... To get better!!!
Through practice, research and tinkering with your gear and reloads you can improve your shooting to quite high levels. Shooting competition can accelerate the learning process significantly and help you to grow your shooting skills. You'll meet different shooters who will have different techniques which may or may not suit you.
Competition shooting exposes you to higher levels of wind reading and equipment preparation skills than you might otherwise be exposed to. Competition shooting also exposes you to different ranges with different prevailing conditions and different flag arrangements allowing you to expand your wind reading skills.
With the introduction of F-Class Standard B-Grade you don't have to worry about being completely out of your depth, skills and equipment wise. The current B-Grade cut-off is ideal suited to factory rifles and beginners or those who like the socials aspects of competition shooting more than the competitive aspects of competition shooting.
The first thing to remember though when it comes to competition shooting is that it's really just "more shooting" and more shooting can't possibly be a bad thing.
Longer term benefits come when you start to place or win ranges and events.
Being able to bring home medals, patches, trophies and prizes is very rewarding.
If you decide to get involved in competition shooting you will find that there are two core competition formats that you will commonly encounter. The first and most local is typically the coached team (grade) shoots. The other is the OPM's or Open Prize Meeting.
Each of these types of competition shoots is covered in detail in their own sections.
Team Shoots (Grade Shoots)
Team shoots or Grade shoots are typically run by the District Rifle Associations (DRA's) and involve the DRA's member clubs competing against each other. The clubs will enter one or more teams made up of club members and occasionally ring-ins from other clubs who cannot fill a team.
Getting into a team generally involves putting your hand up to fill a vacant position on an existing team or getting enough fellow club members together to form a new team.
MDRA Grade Teams Pin
If you're just interested in getting a taste for the format you could always request to shoot as a reserve for an existing team however that can lead to frustration in situations where you end up scoring better than existing team members. Still it's a way to show what you can do so don't discount its value. You might get shuffled into the regular lineup.
What's different about teams shooting?
Team shooting involves having a wind coach whose job it is to watch the flags and tell the shooter when and when not to shoot as well as where to aim and how much to adjust when required.
The dynamics of the shooter coach relationship should differ for F-Class and T/R. A good T/R coach does not make a good F-Class coach and vice versa.
Because T/R requires a lot of shooter concentration just to shoot, the coach is expected to take on all the duties relating to wind reading and performing adjustments.
In F-Class where the effort required by the shooter to get off a good shot is significantly less there is opportunity for the shooter and coach to work together in the decision making process. It's definitely a case of two heads are better than one. This is a concept which that is so alien to many established shooters that it still attracts criticism however I have observed more and more F-Class teams adopting the technique with great success.
NSWRA DRA Teams medal
To be honest one of the most difficult aspects of teams shooting is having to deal with being coached to a lower score than you would ordinarily achieve on any given weekend. It's very frustrating and off-putting for both those new to teams shooting and those who have been doing it for a while. The whole purpose of a teams shoot is to achieve higher score that would otherwise be possible by the shooter alone. With T/R it's generally a no brainer that a coached shooter will perform better but with F-Class that's far from the case.
Don't let that discourage you though. With practice and time your team will improve.
It all depends on the coach.
Halfway into my third year of teams shooting and having been coached by a number of different coaches of different skills and backgrounds I have developed some ideas on what makes a great F-Class coach. A good coach is one who talks to the shooter, who explains what they're seeing in the flags and vocalises their decision making process. A good F-Class coach will defer to the shooter on matters of equipment performance and for performing adjustments. That way the coach cannot make the mistake of adjusting unfamiliar equipment the wrong way. With the mind boggling array of F-Class equipment out there it's basic common sense to adopt this approach. Coaches who operate this way are fantastic for the sport and for the skills development of the shooters they are coaching.
Like any regular weekly shoot, a teams shoot will involve you setting your gear up behind the mound ready to get called up. The shooting order will be determined by the team and may be random or strategic so don't be surprised if the shooting order changes based on condition changes or equipment issues. Do expect to be asked to perform some check scoring duties.
NSDRA Josephson Teams medal
It's a good idea to inform the coach about a number of things before shooting commences.
The coach needs to know:
- Your scope click magnitude such as 1/8, or even millrad.
- If millrad it's convenient to give the coach a conversion chart to use.
- Tell the coach your expected vertical group size. Will it group in the x ring, the 6 ring or should the coach expect the odd 5 ring flier up or down.
- Low magnification scopes and those with reticles like target dot reticles are not always the best things to hold off with so tell the coach if you're using one so they know to wind on clicks rather than holding off.
- Confirm your elevation setting with the coach.
- Confirm that you are set to zero windage before you start.
Areas where you learn to shoot better.
Your skills can improve in two ways from coached team shooting. The first is when you have a good coach who does what I described above. Listening to them vocalise their coaching job gives you an insight into how they are planning their shoot and what they're looking for when they observe the flags. The other way that your shooting improves is where you take on the responsibility of being the coach. When you're freed from the responsibility of having to operate the rifle you are free to pay attention solely to the flags.
By adopting the coaching technique of talking to the shooter you will find that the shooter will actually assist in developing your coaching skills.
Teams shooting is not restricted to DRA grade shoots. There are a number of representative teams matches throughout the year. After club teams the next level of representative teams shooting that you can get involved with your local DRA's representative team and shooting in the DRA teams match at the end of the shooting year. The next is the city v country teams match. There are other teams competitions run by DRA's like the NSDRA's Josephson and there is are teams shoot run in conjunction with a Queens like the NSW Queens Sargard.
OPM's or Open Prize Meetings
OPM's are a solo affair but can have team aspects to them depending on the minor competitions set up by the organisers. OPM's are run by either individual clubs or DRA's and in the case of a queens by the State Association.
The most obvious aspect of an OPM is that you will generally travel to a different range to compete in it. Regardless the procedures are generally the same at each event so the following should outline what to expect so that you don't run into any surprises.
When preparing for a prize shoot you will need to consider how the range you're attending will differ to your regular range. For instance I never need a pen at my regular Saturday shoot but you cannot live without one at a prize shoot. Also your home range may be on electronic targets while the prize shoot may be on paper and you will require binoculars or a spotting scope in order to score and check score. You need to remember your license and membership card. Directions to many ranges is not always obvious given that many do not have internet presence so be prepared to phone the organisers in order to get directions. Being prepared for the little things will stop you losing focus on the big things (like your shooting).
Various Range Medals
The first step in a prize shoot is just like your regular weekly club shoot where you will need to sign in. When the prize shoot is run by a club or DRA that you're unfamiliar with, at a range that you've never been to before, knowing which clubhouse you have to visit to sign in can be a bit of a mystery. This is not helped in situations where there are a lot of local shooters milling about in their own club houses.
The easiest thing to do is to look for the one where people are filling out forms and lining up with forms in their hand. The alternate thing to do is to ask "where do we sign in?" Murphy guarantees you'll ask this of the one other new shooter who's also lost and wondering the same thing :-)
When you find the right spot there will be entry forms for you to fill in. When filling in your form you will have fields for the obvious things like your name and club. There could also be fields for grade and there could be fields for veterans, ladies, juniors and tyro. Typically all of these additional fields are for T/R only however don't be afraid to tick the veterans or ladies if you qualify because you never know. If there are no entries for these in T/R the prizes can sometimes be re-allocated to F-Class. Don't bother ticking Tyro as it's definitely T/R only even though it may be marked on your membership card.
With the grade field write your grade in as either F-Open, F Std A (or FA) or F Std B (or FB) as appropriate. If you're not graded yet because it's your first prize shoot then put down F Std B (unless you're shooting F-Open)
Upon submitting your form and paying your entry fee you will be give a set of score cards for the day with one card for each of the different distances you will be shooting. Sometimes a target number will be written on the second card as part of their target allocation process. Fill out your name and club on each of your cards. It's worth doing it straight away as you will find yourself being quite busy through the rest of the day. Don't be surprised if you're given printed stickers with your details on them to stick on the cards.
Out on the range
The shooting order for the first range will be what's called a walkup start. What this means is that you will be allocated to your first target when you're out on the mound.
When you arrive out on the mound the first thing to do is to set up your gear. Adjust your elevation for your first range and ensure that everything you need is ready to go. Do not hand your first score card to the RO until you are all set up. If you do hand your card to the R/O immediately then you will invariably find yourself being called to start shooting while half your gear is still in your car :-) This is something that usually catches first timers out so just ignore the R/O's calls for people to hand in their score cards and attend to your gear. Pay attention to the slope of the mound and make prior adjustments to your gear if necessary. Anything that will reduce your set up time when your name is called will help you a lot.
Once you're ready to go, you should hand your card to the RO. The R/O will either allocate you to the bottom of an existing target or will put you in with other cards they're collecting for allocation onto a new target.
If you're allocated to an existing target head over to that target and give your card to the person scoring the current shooter. They should have a little clipboard or board with rubber bands to hold the score cards for the target. Each of the targets will have a blackboard associated with it for displaying shooters names and scores; you should add your name to the board.
If you're allocated as a group to a new target the RO will hand you or someone else a handful of cards (usually 5 or more) and tell you to do a "draw". What you do is turn the cards over and get someone to number them on the backs in random order and then you sort the cards into the numbered order. That dictates the shooting order for that target. Listen for instructions being called out like "4 and 5 to score and check score" which indicates which shooters are going to be first to perform scoring duties. Whatever the numbers called out the higher up the board you are over the other scoring duties victim means you score first. It's at this point that you're glad you organised all your gear before you handed in your card.
The most important thing to do though is to tell the people there that it's you first prize shoot. It will make things go a lot smoother if those around you know that they may be called upon to guide you in the procedures.
Except for those occasions where you're called up to score or check score first up the sequence of events is as follows:
- When you're called up, set up your gear on the mound ready to shoot.
- Perform a cycle test when requested by the scorer. If they haven't asked you offer to do one. This is typically just for the first shoot of the day.
- Clear your gear quickly and immediately return to sign your score card.
- Relieve the person check scoring on the black board for the shooter who is shooting after you and remember to sign the appropriate check scoring spot on the next shooters score card.
- Score for the person shooting next making sure to call the score of each shot and call out how many shots that have recorded.
- Move back to the check scoring until the shooter you just scored for comes and relieves you.
Don't worry. You will mess it up. Hopefully the person you forget to relieve from the check scoring duties will understand your situation as a prize shoot virgin.
For the second range in a prize shoot listen out for instructions on how they're allocating targets. It will vary from OPM to OPM so be ready for anything.
Common methods of moving to the second target are:
- The pre allocated target where your target number was written on your second card when you're signed in and which may involve doing another "draw"
- The "roll on through" which means that you just start back on the top of the target and you shoot through the same shooters in the same order.
- The "2 down and 2 across" where you stay with the same shooters except that you move your board across by 2 targets and the third shooter on the board becomes the first shooter. This is indicated by drawing a line above or below the name of the shooter expected to shoot first.
On second and subsequent targets the last and second last shooters are expected to score and check score.
Various Aggregate Patches and Medals
Prizes, Patches and Trophies
Prize shoots aren't called prize shoots for nothing. Based on how well you're shooting on the day you could find yourself in the winners circle. With that in mind it's good to know what to expect when it comes to the rewards on offer.
Expect the results at an OPM to be tracked by each individual range and also by range to range aggregates. For shoots that span multiple days there will be daily aggregates as well as a grand aggregate covering the entire competition.
The prizes awarded at an OPM can and will vary from OPM to OPM however the tallying and comparison of results is generally the same. Because of the variations in rewards on offer I will try and cover the most common scenario only. The most common prize allocation at OPM's involves handing out gold, silver and bronze medals for the top 3 shooters at each range. For single day shoots patches will usually be handed out based on the days aggregate. Prizes of cash or objects can accompany or replace medals for the range prizes. Prizes and cash will sometimes accompany aggregate patchs.
At prize shoots involving 3 or more ranges you will generally find that the organisers are running pairs and teams competitions over the second and third ranges. You can usually pair up with anyone but the teams are typically intended to be comprised of shooters from a single club. Usually that's relaxed when there are not enough shooters from one club to fill a team.
The rewards for these will usually be cash but sometimes they are actual prizes.
Areas where you learn to shoot better.
Prize shoots have quite a number of ways in which they can influence your shooting skills.
- By asking questions and listening to the answers learn a lot about how different people approach their shooting.
- Shooters like to talk about the conditions on the day and how they're going. Listening in is a great way to learn.
- You can observe how different people set up their equipment.
- Different ranges have different prevailing weather conditions. Nothing broadens skill sets like experience.
- Mistakes seem a lot bigger at a prize shoot which means the lessons learnt are bigger too.
- You learn to be better organised and more focused.
Grading and Ranking
It wasn't that long ago that F-Class was ungraded and everyone was lumped in together regardless of their level of shooting.
This had beginners and those with factory gear dumped in with experienced shooters shooting expensive custom rifles.
Luckily due to the ever growing popularity of F-Class and the subsequent increase in attendance rates at OPM's this mismatch has been corrected. Grading rules were introduced to create an A grade and a B-Grade for F Standard. B-Grade caters for shooters who want to have a go but who aren't interested in trying to keep up with the super serious shooters and their "race guns".
The grade is determined based on percentage like ratios averaged over the shooters last 8 prize shoot attendances.
I cannot speak for other states but in NSW we are fortunate to have a very well maintained F-Class grading system. This is a credit to the NSW F-Class association, the NSWRA and most importantly the NSW clubs who have been doing an exceptional job of submitting the results in a timely fashion.
The grading system and it's cut-offs have so far proven to be quite fair and beginners should not avoid OPM's simply because the think that they're not good enough.
In addition to the grading system NSW also has a ranking system arranged using the grading data. If you have 8 prize shoots worth of grading data you qualify for an official ranking.
Current Grading and Ranking data is available on the NSW F-Class association website.