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F-Class Nationals 2006
Bair and Sauve Top Tough Competition in California
The 2006 U.S. F-Class Nationals proved a highly competitive affair, with the top places in both Open and F-TR (Target Rifle) classes, coming down to the wire. After three full days of competition, the top three shooters in both classes were separated by just 8 points. Eric Bair, current Captain of the U.S. F-Class team, overcame some gear glitches, and shot very consistently to win his first Open Class title with an 1173, 45X score. Alan Warner led the first two days in Open Class, finishing a close second with 1169, 45X. Third-Place finisher Bret Solomon shot an 1165, with 51 Xs, the second-best X-count among all 75 competitors (John Cowee had 52 Xs).


Brad Sauve earned his second National F-TR title, coming from behind on Sunday to win with an 1128, 21X total. F-TR newcomer Shawn McKenna shot a brilliant match to take second (1125, 27X) considering this was the first time he had ever shot F-Class, and, remarkably, the first time he'd ever shot a scoped rifle in competition. He was using a borrowed rifle and "loaner" scope! We will be seeing more of this young man in the future no doubt. John Dink took third place with a solid 1120-29X, the high X-Count for the F-TR Class. John was shooting an Eliseo .308 "kit" tube gun with a home-made wood fixture to ride the rear bag. In a remarkable display of shooting skill, Palma veteran Lane Buxton took fourth overall in F-TR, shooting with a sling and iron sights. (That's right--without a rest or scope).

Female F-class team Femmes Fatale

TEAM COMPETITION--Inter-Squad Shootout
The Team Competition was hard fought, with factory-sponsored Team Berger and Sierra Spindle Shooters finishing first and second respectively in Open Class. Coached by Robert Mead, Team Berger included veteran shooters Larry Bartholome, Bob Bock, Jim Murphy, and 2004 Open Class individual champ, John Brewer. But the big news in the Team Event was the presence of the "Femmes Fatale" an all-women team lead by Vanessa Warner and coached by the ever-amiable Jerry Tierney. With her signature "barefoot" shooting style, Vanessa shot an impressive 149-9X on Friday, beating all other competitors except Eric Bair (also 149-9X). The "Femmes Fatale" slipped a little on the second day, but they still managed to finish fourth overall, beating most of the all-male teams. Three teams competed in the F-TR class: Team Green, Factory-sponsored Team Savage, and the 'Iron Men' team. With "all-star" talent Lane Buxton, Dale Carpenter, Shawn McKenna, Brad Sauve, and Coach Jim O'Connell, Team Green powered to victory with a 1632-18X. McKenna's impressive 419-6x was the highest individual score among all F-TR Team shooters.

Course of Fire at 2006 Nationals -- How the Points Add Up

The Course of Fire at this year's Nationals was changed this year, resulting in different point (and X totals) than one saw previously. The newly-approved Long Range F-Class target was used. With this target the 10 Ring is 1-MOA at 1000 yards (10") across, and the X Ring is 1/2-MOA at 1000 yards (5") across. This same target was used at each of the three distances fired. A "perfect score" would be 1200-120X.

Friday (Day 1): Palma Course--unlimited sighters at 800 yards plus 2 sighters and 15 rounds for record at 900, and 1000 yards. A total of 45 rounds for score for a possible of 450, 45X.

Saturday (Day 2): Palma Course--unlimited sighters at 800 yards plus 2 sighters and 15 rounds for record at 900, and 1000 yards. A total of 45 rounds for score for a possible of 450, 45X.

Sunday (Day 3): Two 15-round matches at 1000 yards with unlimited sighters for a possible of 300, 30X.

The total possible points in the Grand Aggregate is the sum of the daily matches, in this case 1200-120X. A trophy, medal, and other prizes were awarded in each class to the Grand Aggregate Winners. Medals were awarded in TR and in Open for the high scores at each distance and for the aggregate of the daily matches.

As is common in Sacramento, the conditions put a premium on wind-reading skills. The winds were challenging throughout the match. On Saturday in particular, it was howling during the later relays with the wind vearing from head-wind to side wind. The course has large, tall berms on either side, and a substantial berm in front of the target bay. Many shooters found themselves victims of unexpected vertical coming off the berms. Vanessa Warner observed: "It was very, very windy. Pretty brutal in fact--very switchy. Saturday was really windy. Friday's wind was coming in from the left. Saturday's wind came from the right, or straight up the range in our faces. I think yesterday (Friday) was easier though. It was a little easier to read the wind. But today both the mirage and the flags were both behind wind changes."

2004 Open Class Champion John Brewer told us it took a while to figure out the wind, but once he sync'd up with the condition he liked, he shot great on Saturday, picking up points while other shooters were struggling. John had the top point score on Saturday, a 441-17X: "I got my conditions on Saturday. I was able to read what the wind was doing and instead of just trying to chase the spotter, I was actually tried to read the wind and wait for the conditions I was familiar with. That's something I felt confident with, and it worked. Being F-Class, I was holding off all the way, between 1.5 and 2.5 minutes the whole way. But I waited for my condition. It did get outside those conditions but I wouldn't shoot at that time."

On Saturday, this writer noticed at the firing line that there would be a head-wind that would then vear to one side or another. John timed his shots to avoid a full-value condition: "I would go ahead and take the wind that was blowing at about a 45-degree angle and even getting it when it would pick up in velocity. But mainly I would adjust to the change. If it went to a full 90-degree I wouldn't shoot it; if it went to almost zero I wouldn't shoot. I was waiting for the 45 with which I was familiar."

Like Brewer, Eric Bair was holding off and watching for the conditions. This helped him shoot an impressive 295-9X on Sunday which moved him into first place, edging out Alan Warner: "Yes, I was holding off mostly...the conditions switched from right to left so often that I didn't want to chance having wind on the scope. I lost a match last year because I lost track, centered up and dropped an eight. I had zero wind on for the last two days and was holding off for all those two days--sometimes using [my reticle's] second stadia line close to the target edge. When the mirage is real bad I'll bracket the target with the lines so that I can keep it in the vertical center."

F-Class--A Fast-Growing Sport with World-Wide Appeal
The Match attracted shooters from throughout North America with quite a few marksmen from Europe as well. Match director Ed Eckhoff observed that "we saw a large number of first-time shooters, and we had sponsored teams for the first time--carrying the banners of Berger, Sierra, and Savage". Several individuals from the NRA were in attendance, and they actively solicited comments and suggestions.

Former U.S. F-Class Team Captain Larry Bartholome (7th overall in Open Class) noted: "John Sigler, the First V.P. of the NRA, shot all day Saturday, with a loaner rifle that didn't fit him at all, even when several large towels were taped to the stock butt and cheekpiece. He still beat good number of very good shooters even at 1,000. Not bad for a pistol shooter. The NRA does care." John was kind enough to be interviewed after his fine performance on Saturday. Click the video frame to hear John's enthusiatic comments about the match and the merits of F-Class competition.

Interview with Open Class Champion Eric Bair

Open Class Champ Eric Bair was gracious enough to answer our questions about his win at the Nationals and the issues facing him as the new Captain of the U.S. F-Class Team. To hear Eric's comments about shooting at the Nationals, and the range conditions, click the video frame at right.

Q: You're taking over the helm from Larry Bartholome. What are your goals and objectives as the new Team Captain?

Eric: The Team's goal is to dominate the 2009 F-Class World Championship matches in Bisley, UK. The Team’s primary function is to participate in the international competitions. Our objectives include recruiting and developing candidates for the 2009 Team.

Q: What's in store for the team throughout the remaining months of 2006 and the spring of 2007? Will you have any team competition, any practices?

Eric: We don’t have any practices scheduled for the winter. I’m sure that the shooters will attend local matches as they see fit, I think several members are planning to attend the match in Ireland next spring. The F-Class tryouts will be at Ben Avery in October of next year after the Nationals. Those interested should contact me at XShooter @ att.net or through the website at www.usfclass.com and I will send them the information and requirements.

Q: Who are your major sponsors right now?

Eric: We are very happy to have Berger Bullets as a sponsor, they have been very helpful and are interested in the success of the team. There are several others that have expressed interest, and Vanessa Warner is working with them. The team has, in the past, been self-supporting for the most part, with the team members paying for their travel and equipment.

Q. What's the next big event the team will attend in 2007?

Eric: In 2007, several Team members are planning to attend a international meeting in Ireland in late April, more than likely several will attend the excellent match at Connaught Range in Ottawa Canada in August. I’m sure most will be at the Nationals at the Whittington Center in Raton, NM in September, Right now, it hasn’t received its final approval yet from the NRA, but the Bald Eagles club has offered to host the Nationals next year at the end of the Spirit of America Match, during the same week. More than likely it will be Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday for the Spirit of America, as I understand it at this point, they're going to forgo the team matches due to a conflict with the Palma Team schedule, and then we're going to carry on with the National Matches on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Whittington Center is an excellent facility with 100 shooting positions and plenty of housing on the range and in Raton.

Q: The format here, this year, in Sacramento, is 800, 900, and 1000-yards with a half-minute of angle X-Ring. Can you explain how this is different from the past?

Eric: In the past we used the standard NRA LR target, which was intended for shooters using iron sights on their sling-supported rifles. On the current F-Class target (that we shot on here) the X and ten ring are half the size of the previous target which is better suited to the higher accuracy potential of the supported and scoped rifles we shoot in F-Class. To the second part of your question, In the past, the Nationals were fired at 600 and 1000 yards due last year to the restrictions at the range (they didn’t have 800 and 900 firing points). The Match Director establishes the course of fire for the match based on what is available. As Long-Range Classifications will be based on firing at 8, 9, and 1K, this will be a good way to accumulate the required number of rounds fired in competition for classification.

Q: Based on your thinking (as a shooter), and that of other Team members, what format would you like to see in an F-Class match? Do you think 800, 900 and 1000 is ideal or would you like to see the shorter distance too?

Eric: I personally think that F-Class Open is a long-range game, but the shorter range (midrange) classification is out there and maybe part of what the F-TR shooters want. I need to get more input from them on that question.

Q: How do you feel about the decision not to shoot 600 yards at this match?

Eric: I think the longer ranges are less of a trigger-pulling contest and equipment race and more of a test of the shooter's skill.

Q: What was the biggest challenge you faced in this match?

Eric: Well, the wind and conditions like everyone else had. My biggest challenge with this match was the problem I had with extraction, which caused me to have to knock the cases out of the rifle with a cleaning rod about 30 times over the course of the match.

Q: Did the extractor spring fail?

Eric: No, I replaced it and the extractor and had the same problem, I went through my cases last night and I found that a number of them had a little larger rims--I had probably been using them too long. Served me right for being too cheap to buy new cases for this match, I pulled those out and I didn't have any problems today.

Q: What are your thoughts about the competition so far? How did the team members do?

Eric: The range here at Sacramento is very challenging, the terrain seems to allow the wind to swirl in through the middle, so the guys with local knowledge should be able to use that to their advantage. The Team members did very well overall, with a good percentage of them up on the leader board.

F-Class Team Eric Bair Championship Sacramento 2006Tricks of the Trade--Eric's Winning Methods

Q: What is your basic reloading procedure. Do you have any special tricks?

Eric: No special tricks, I do prep the cases by trimming, deburring the primer pockets, a cleanup neck turn and weigh them to remove any that are too heavy or light. I try to seat the primers uniformly. I weigh the bullets to make sure they are none out of the weight range. I am picky about weighing powder, and try to be spot on.

Q: Do you pre-load all your ammo? How do you adjust to conditions at the day/location of the match?

Eric: I do preload, and will do most of my loading in the off season, I’ll seat the bullets long, I’ll measure the throat each evening when at the match and finish seating what I need for the next days shooting I just chase the throat as it lengthens.

Q: How does your shooting style ("bag-handling" and how you hold the rifle etc.) compare to other top F-Class competitors?

Eric: My shooting background is from service rifle, match rifle and four gun (tactical) matches so I have a difficult time shooting free recoil like the folks with the BR background. I guess I use a modified match rifle hold, I'll try to describe it...

After setting up the rest and aligning the bags with the target I'll track the gun a few times to make sure it's stable then tuck in behind it. I'll move to the gun and put my shoulder against the butt, cock my right leg up a bit and put my face on the cheek piece, I use a bit of cheek pressure, enough that I have to push down on the cheek piece to see the full picture in the scope. If I still can see a shadow at the bottom of the ocular I'll press a little harder. I set the rifles up like this, raising the cheek piece until the pressure is right for me. A little different than most, I'm sure, but it helps me be consistent I'll pull the butt in to my shoulder firmly but not tightly and then take the pressure off the grip, rest my right thumb on the wrist of the stock and my finger along side the trigger, when It's time to break the shot I'll carefully place the pad of my finger on the trigger, finalize the hold off and touch it off. I try to watch the flash in the scope to confirm that I'm following through on the shot.

Q: If you could list just 2 or 3 things that have most contributed to your success in precision shooting, what would they be?

Eric: I read everything I can get my hands on relating to long-range shooting. I had the incredible luck of having been selected for the F-Class Team and have been able to watch, listen and learn at the elbows of truly legendary shooters and the finest ladies and gentleman I’ve ever met.

Q: Your scores were very consistent from day to day at the Nationals. How did you achieve this consistency even when you experience erratic conditions and major changes from day to day?.

Eric: I try to ‘get in a groove’ and approach each yardline calmly, set up my kit, S.W.A.G. the conditions and not make big mistakes. Above all I don’t get upset at a bad shot and I have a good time. A bit of luck doesn’t hurt either.

Q: You shot real steady, no mental break-downs, even when you were having gear issues with the extractor. What is your method to keep cool, stay calm, even when the pressure is on?

Eric: Before we are called to the line I will watch the flags to try to see if there are any prevailing conditions and to get my mind on task. I do try to visualize going through the mechanics of firing the string. Once on the line with the gear set up I'm in the scope making sure I'm on the correct target and seeing if there is any mirage to work with. When the targets are up and the shooting starts, that's what it's all about nothing else matters then. One thing about me is that I don't get upset about a bad shot, or malfunction; I just work through it, find a way to fix it, or try to analyze why the shot didn't fall where I had hoped..

Q: Do have any other "advanced tactics" for coping with switchy wind conditions?

Eric: Dealing with switchy head or tail winds is one of the most challenging facets of long-range shooting. Many times the values of the directional changes are unequal and there may be vertical components within, due to terrain features. Paying close attention to the flags after every shot and interpreting the mirage as it rolls, slows, boils and changes and learning when and when not to shoot during that sequence of change is the challenge. One I will be working on for a long time to come.

The Future of F-Class--Eric's Thoughts

Q: Looking down the road two or three years, would you like to see any changes in the sport? We've changed the F-Class targets for one, anything else?

Eric: I'm pretty sure that over time there will be improvements in the equipment. And each year we see the shooters improve their skills. I think the smaller target is great for F-Class and can only lead the sport to a higher level of competitiveness.

Q: Is there room left for technical improvement in the F-class games--could the stocks be improved for better free-recoiling? How about the front rests--could the "state of the art" be improved?

Eric: Good question, I sure there will be improvements in equipment, there are several stock designs in development and I saw some massive Benchrest-type front rests on the line this year.

Q: We've considered the idea of a one-design F-class rifle, perhaps with a max $1500.00 total cost including optics. The idea is everyone would use the same stock and same action, maybe a 6BR or 6.5x47--something with pretty good barrel life. This would be a rifle that could do double-duty as a 600-yard BR gun and something one could use in Varmint matches and even club-level short-range target matches. Call it a "factory class" or maybe a "one-design class." What do you think about that idea?

Eric: I think that's something we ought to look at pursuing. A factory class would open it up to more shooters. At this point this is the first I've heard of the idea, but I think it bears looking at.

Q: The notion is, with a price-capped, one-design class, competitors wouldn't have to invest in really expensive triggers or optics, and the price could be kept much more affordable.

Eric: That sounds like it would be good for the sport. A 6BR can be competitive at 1000 yards if the winds don't pick up too much.

Q: For folks who may be looking at F-Class for the first time, what's the best way for them to get involved?

Eric: Well the first thing you should do is read up on it using resources like this website and others to find the basic equipment needed to go out to 1000 yards. Then go to a local match, take your rifle have a good time, meet and talk to the shooters there and enjoy yourself. See what equipment the other shooters are using. Don't run out and spend a lot of money right off the bat. Have fun, and then work from there. See if you want to go with the TR class or Open. Find out where your strengths are and what you are comfortable doing.

Q: Do you have any advice to newcomers in terms of equipment--what rifle and components they should get?

Eric: In the beginning, start out with what you have. If you have a .308 or a .223, put a bipod on it and go out and shoot TR--that's a good start for anybody.

TECH TALK--Eric's Winning Rifle

Eric campaigned a 6.5-284 with a Nesika Action and 30" K&P, 6-groove "rounded land" barrel. (He had about 700 rounds though the barrel when he started the Nationals). He thinks the "rounded land" configuration might clean up a little easier than conventional rifling.

Eric's match load, for all distances, consists of 49.1gr H4350, Federal 210m primers, Lapua brass, and Berger 140-grain VLDs. He loads his ammo well in advance, then re-seats the bullets (with a Redding seater) the day before he shoots--so he can match the OAL to the current state of his throat. Bullets are seated about .010" into the lands. The stock is a fiberglass McMillan MBR, to which he's added an adjustable cheekpiece. Eric did his own stock work and bedding, while Alan Warner did all the metal-work and chambering. Eric runs a Jewell trigger set at about 8 ounces--Eric noted: "I've seen too many ADs with guys running ultra-light triggers."

Q: Tell us about the rifle you used...

Eric: The rifle I used at this match is actually my backup rifle (the one I started shooting Open class with) that usually has a 6BR barrel on it. My primary gun wasn’t doing well after shooting the matches in Canada and Raton and the new barrel needed tuning (which I didn’t have time to do). This gun has a Nesika K model 1.47" diameter action and a K&P barrel with the chambering and blueprinting done by Warner Tool.

Q: How about optics--What are your preferences?

Eric: I use the Nightforce 12-42x Benchrest model with the stadia lines. I use them for holding off on the target. I generally will put in a baseline for windage and then I will hold off from there. I especially like the
1/8th-MOA adjustments with this smaller target.

Q: Were you mostly holding off for this match?

Eric: Yes, the conditions switched from right to left so often that I didn’t want to chance having wind on the scope, I lost a match last year because I lost track, centered up and dropped an eight. I had zero wind on for the last two days and was holding off for all those two days. Sometimes using the second stadia line close to the target edge. When the mirage is real bad I'll bracket the target with the lines so that I can keep it in the vertical center.

Q: When Allan was shooting his 7mmWSM I noticed his gun was torquing quite a bit and his rear bag was moving. He had to smack the side of his bag after each shot to correct his horizontal. Have you had the issue of the rear bag moving around?

Eric: Not currently. I've been using an Edgewood bag with Sinclair’s heavy sand. The bag weighs 8 or 10 pounds and it generally tracks pretty well. I didn't have a problem with the bag moving today.

Q: What velocity are you running?

Eric: My velocity is right at 3030 fps. I think with most of the 6.5-284s if you can carry it between 29 and a half and 3050 you'll get 'em to fly really well.

Q: What's your cleaning regimen?

Eric: Pretty simple really, a few soppy patches and a few passes with a nylon brush of GM top engine cleaner or Butches Bore Shine to get out the carbon, dry patch, then a few more with Bore Tech Eliminator, if there is any copper, that takes it out. I use Bore Tech coated rods and clean each night after the match. After a couple hundred rounds in the 6.5-284 I'll short stroke the throat with some Iosso to make sure the carbon doesn't build up.

7mm for F-Class--Thoughts from Top shooters.

Alan Warner, shooting a 7mm WSM (using 270 WSM brass), nearly brought it all home this year. Alan actually was the Open Class points leader after two days and finished just four points shy of victory, with the same X-count as Eric Bair (both finished with 45X). Alan's strong performance, using the high-BC 180gr Berger VLDs, had many competitors wondering whether a 7mm might be the ticket in the future, offering a real ballistic advantage over a 6.5-284, particularly in high winds. Ed Eckhoff told us he recently built a 7 WSM (using 270 WSM brass) similar to Alan's, and Stu Harvey has one in the works. Using a 9-twist barrel, Alan shoots Berger 180 VLDs, seated .010-.015" into the lands, pushed by 63.0 grains of H4831sc. Velocity is about 2980 fps. We asked Alan and other shooters to comment on the potential of 7mms in F-Class competition.


7mm win short magnum 7WSM 7 short mag Alan WarnerQ: Tell us about the cartridge you're running.

Alan: It's just a necked up 270 WSM to 7mm and I'm using 180 Bergers. I use the 270 brass because the neck is longer. You don't need the powder capacity that the 7 WSM has and you get .050 more neck than the rest of the WSM cases.

Q: What advantage, if any, does the 7mm have over the 6.5-284?

Alan: I just gave up shooting the 6.5-284 to go to the Seven, and the reason I did is because it's a better bullet and from what limited exposure I've had to the sevens, so far, (I've only got a little over 100 rounds on the gun), it looks like it shoots inside the 6.5 family of bullets by about 15%.

Q: What about barrel life? Jerry Tierney thinks he gets more barrel life with his straight .284 compared to his 6.5-284. Do you have any evidence of that so far?

Alan: None whatsoever. Coming from what I do (gunsmithing), I don't care that much [about barrel life]. I'm planning to do a comparison of two calibers. I'm going to set up a 300 WSM with 210 JLKs against the 7mm with the 180 Bergers, and pair-fire them in sync like we're synching up guns for a team. We'll fire them in the same conditions under one wind-coach call and see which one shoots better. I think they're pretty even.

Q: Do you do anything to optimize the bullets, such as weight-sorting or meplat trimming?

Alan: I don't trim or sort the bullets. I shoot the Bergers right out of the box.

Q: The 7 WSM recoils harder than a 6.5-284. How do you compensate for that? Do you use any face or shoulder contact on the gun?

With the 6.5-284 I didn't because the recoil was so mild. But with the 7mm WSM I got my shoulder real close to catching it because it's coming back real hard. (laughing). [Editor's Note: Click Video to see Alan's 7 WSM vs. a 6.5-284. The difference in recoil is noticeable.]

Q: You've got a lot of adjustments on your rifle. Do you think a competitive F-Class rifle should have an adjustable cheek piece and buttplate? Do these features help with the recoil of the 7mm?

No--it depends on a guy's style. When I first started shooting F-Class, the only thing I knew was shooting Target Rifle, shooting Any/Any Rifles and Shooting Plama [with a sling] and I always had an adjustable cheekpiece and I always had an adjustable butt-plate. Well, shortly after I started shooting the thing I went right away from holding on to the rifle to pretty much shooting it free-recoil. So, the stuff that's on my gun is only there because I put it there a long time ago. It doesn't have to be there.

Q. This is the first year F-Class has used a 1/2-MOA X-Ring. Has that changed your strategy at any of the distances?

Alan: No, only in the fact that, instead of being an X-Ring game, it's now just like Target Rifle, just like Palma rifle--it's a points game. That's the way it should be. It's just that it's become more difficult, in conjunction with the ability of the guns we are using.

Q: What do you think about the new 1/2-MOA target?

Alan: The only thing about this new target I still feel adamantly about is I would like to have the X-Ring [be] white. I know a lot of people don't like that. We looked at it in South Africa when we shot it there and about half the people liked it and about half the people didn't and I was real happy with the white X-Ring, but I know a lot of people were really upset with it.

Q: How do the conditions at Butner compare to Sacramento?

Alan: Well East Coast ranges are always closed in--it's like shooting in a tunnel. Where out here you get full value because it's so wide open. This is more in line with what ranges in the rest of the world are like where you really get exposed to the open conditions.


Q: We are seeing quite a few 7mms on the line this year, maybe more so than last year. What is your thinking as Captain, and what are you hearing from team members regarding a possible caliber change from 6.5-284?

Eric: We haven’t made a formal decision on whether or not we are going to make a caliber change. We, as a team, are looking for consistency and repeatability in a cartridge, and while the 7s perform well, I’m not yet sold on [a 7mm] for a team cartridge. I do think that we will continue development work, Allen Warner’s 7WSM rifle shot well, and Jerry Tierney has done well with his .284 and this shows promise for the future.

Q: Talking about caliber choice, from your own standpoint (and not as a team policy), do you think you might turn to a 7mm? You had to make up ground to catch Alan Warner there in the last relay. Are you tempted to try a 7mm in individual competition?

Eric: I've worked with a .284 Win all summer. At this point we don't have anything conclusive. Right now we've been looking at the 7 WSM and the straight .284. But I don't think the straight .284 has enough velocity for this game at this point. I think the 6.5-284 can equal the .284 with a 180 or 175 in real world performance, with the velocity you can get with the straight .284 case. But with the 7 WSM case you're picking up and easily getting in to the 3000 fps range and I think that's where it needs to be.

JEFF COCHRAN (2005 F-Class Open Champion)

Q: Jeff, you were remarking that it looks like the 7mm is finally working. Do you think the 7mm is here to stay?

Jeff: Possibly... it seems like they may have come into their own in really bad conditions--we're talking about 6 minutes of windage on, or something like that--it's possible.

Q: Do you think the 7mm may have a bit of an advantage with these headwinds and fish-tailing winds?

Jeff: (Long pause) It's looking like it. I don't know that it's here to stay. Could just be a fluke because of the ability of the shooters that are using them. But there are some up them up near the top here and you can't ignore that.

J.J. CONWAY (U.S. F-Class Team)

Q: J.J., there has been quite a lot of interest in the 7mm. What's the advantage and what's the trade-off?

JJ: You know I've asked Alan, and it looks like you get about a 3" or 4" advantage on the wind, when the wind's blowin' bad. That's almost like moving in one full score ring. But the disadvantage is the recoil.

Q: A 4" advantage, that would be with a 10 mph full-value crosswind?

JJ: Yeah, about a 10mph crosswind. A 6.5-284 might go 55" and his 7mm might go 51". I asked [Alan] and he said three or four inches on average.

Q: What about accuracy? Is he losing a little in vertical?

JJ: No, you know Alan told me he fired some 5-shot groups that measured an inch and a half at 600 yards. That's a quarter-minute. That's great.

Q: How much more recoil is one looking at compared to a 6.5-284?

JJ: Noticeable. That's the thing. I shoot my 6.5 pretty much free recoil and I don't care what I got on--there's nothing on my shoulder. Alan says that 7mm actually hurts his shoulder. But you know I talked to him and he said this is the first time he shot that rifle. I think he shot just 45 rounds through that rifle before he came here. So I told him, as you shoot it more, you'll get used to the heavy recoil a little bit. It just takes a lot more shooting.

Q: Well we know a lot of people are experimenting. Bill Shehane, a top 1000-yard Benchrest shooter, has two 7mms in construction this year.

JJ: Yeah, it's probably a good caliber to shoot. Hey, we need to keep making changes because look at the advancements we've made in the last ten years, you know. Nobody could shoot like this ten years ago. You need to try new things to advance.

The Ladies of F-Class
Vanessa Warner captained the 'Femmes Fatale' team, coached by Sacramento local and 2005 NBRSA 1K Champ Jerry Tierney. Brenda Hill, Chery Current and Marilyn Solis rounded out the ranks of shooters.

Team 'Femmes Fatale' performed very well on Friday, with Chery, Marilyn and Vanessa all topping 145 points. Vanessa's 149-9X beat all the male shooters except Eric Bair (also 149-9X), who shot for the Wind Blasters team coached by Vanessa's husband Alan. The Femmes slipped a little on Saturday, having some problems with vertical coming off the berms. Marilyn had the best second-day score, a 139-3X. When all was said and done, the 'Femmes Fatale' finished in a very respectable fourth place (1669-42X), with the second highest X-count (42X) after first-place Team Berger (47X). The Femmes' X-count topped both the second-place Sierra Spindle Shooters' 41X and the third-place Wind Blasters' 40X.

After the match Cheryl noted: "I had the most awesome time at the F-Class Nationals and shooting with such great people was the best part of it. The team match was such a fun thing to do...thanks for letting me share it with you girls! Jerry was soooooooo patient in his coaching, I felt really comfortable." Coach Jerry Tierney told us he had "a great time" working with the ladies. "Make no mistake about it," Jerry added, "these gals are all fine shooters--you guys better watch out." Vanessa told us Jerry was a "sweetheart and a great coach." During the award ceremonies, Coach Tierney was grinning ear to ear as he received a four-way kiss on the cheek from all the 'Femmes Fatale'. The first-ever female F-Class team was a huge success, and a very positive factor for the sport. We praise the 'Femmes Fatale' for their pioneering effort and great shooting. Hopefully their success will inspire more lady F-Classers in the future.

F-TR (Target Rifle) Class REPORT

No stranger to 'big match' pressure, F-TR Shooter Brad Sauve put in a clutch performance on Sunday to garner his second National Championship. Brad shot a class-leading 286-7X on the last day to edge newcomer Shawn McKenna. A modest champion, Brad told us his gun was shooting well and he just tried to be steady, stay focused, and shoot in the right conditions. This year Brad shot his custom .308 Palma rifle built by BAT and Alex Sitman at Masterclass Stocks. It featured a 20-50 power Premier-boosted Leupold on top. Click here to learn more about Brad's F-TR shooting techniques and his reloading methods for the .308 Winchester.

If there was a special Dark-Horse Award for "underdog achievement" in F-TR Class, it would have to go to runner-up Shawn McKenna. Shawn managed to finish just three points behind Brad Sauve (1125 vs. 1128), and Shawn nailed six more Xs than Sauve. Amazingly, Shawn did this with a borrowed gun, and "loaner" optics. Shawn revealed: "Before borrowing this gun from German Salazar, I'd shot less than five rounds through a scoped rifle in my whole life."

shawn mckenna berger bullets F-Class F-TRShawn used a non-swivel Harris BR bipod, fitted to a Palma-style fiberglass-stocked rifle. He'd only tested the gun once before the Match practice day on Thursday. "On Tuesday I'd put 50 rounds through the gun at 100 yards with a ten-power scope". Shawn felt he may have dropped a few points on Friday because he still wasn't completely familiar with the Harris bipod and he felt he had the legs set too high--he didn't realize they could be collapsed to lower his firing position.

Shawn told us he grips his gun hard when shooting F-TR, just like when he is shooting prone. "I grip the gun just like I was in a sling. I even have my non-trigger hand forward on the stock." Shawn admits, in hindsight "if I knew I was going to be competitive, I would have tried to get more practice in before the match. I had to have a heck of a learning curve after the first day. I was down 17 points going into the 1000 on Friday, and ended up only three points behind Brad." But Shawn vowed, "don't worry, I'll be back and (hopefully) I can do even better."

Shawn's rifle featured an RPA Quadlock Action, fitted with a 30" 1/13" twist barrel. He was shooting naked Berger 155gr boat-tails pushed by 46.5+ grains of Vihtavuori N540. Shawn notes that this load is pretty stout and he cautions to start at 45.0 grains, which is just as accurate: "In this rifle 45.5 would hold the X-Ring fine." Bullets were seated "just touching" and Shawn tells us he shot the Berger 155s "right out of the box--no sorting." Shawn noted that not many .308 shooters are using N540 right now (he had trouble finding any load data), but the "Vihtavuori was super-accurate" and he plans to stick with it.

At this match the provisional NRA F-Class rules were applied. That limited F-TR (Target Rifle) shooters to bipod (or ruck-sack style) front supports. (In some other F-Class events F-TR shooters were allowed to use Benchrest-style front rests.) But the bipod rule still allows a lot of creativity and we saw some interesting rigs on the line. John Dink steered his Eliseo Tube Gun to third place. He credited much of his success to his GG&G front bipod. This slides on a rail for easy mounting and dismounting. The height of either leg can be set easily with thumb screws, a feature John prefers over bipods that use notches. John also felt that the GG&G was very rigid and solid when deployed yet it stows away more compactly than a Harris bipod when retracted.

We were very impressed by the oversize Sinclair Deluxe Bipod we saw on one F-TR entry (photos below). This example was mated to a Sinclair metal target stock. The combo worked very well and the wide footprint of the Sinclair Bipod provided incredible stability. Far more stable than a Harris-type bipod, the big Sinclair unit is completely legal for F-TR Class competition (at least in North America). We think it would definitively provide an advantage--both in providing a steadier platform and reducing shooter fatigue over a long match. The $195.00 Sinclair Bipod (item 04-8200) is made of solid billet aluminum with a hard-coat, anodized finish. The large sled-type feet provide good support on nearly any surface. Using the handles at the top of each arm you can quickly adjust height, and/or compensate for un-level ground. It has a quick-detach system that works with a conventional sling swivel. The bipod can also be attached via an accessory rail. The bipod is NOT designed for 3" wide, benchrest-style fore-ends, but it works great with prone or Palma-style stocks with fore-ends up to 2.5" in width. Sinclair tells us "The Bi-Pod also works excellent on AR-15 rifles with current A2 handguards. All you need is the Harris stud (14-005) that mounts on the bottom of your handguard."

Sinclair Deluxe Bipod (above and below)

Behind the Scenes--the Team That Ran the Match

The F-Class Nationals ran smoothly, with hardly a hitch. All the helpers deserve a great deal of credit. As usual, match Director Ed Eckhoff ran a very tight ship. Many competitors went out of their way to tell me how well the match was run and how competent and helpful Ed his crew were. Ed credited his three key assistants: "Without Larry Wilkins on the line, Jerry Pullins in the pits, and Jim O'Connell crunching the numbers, this match would not have been a success."

Jim O'Connell had a battery-powered laptop and printer in his truck. He posted relay results on the bulletin board within minutes of the last shooter leaving the line. Match results were tabulated with amazing speed on Sunday so that prizes were awarded in rapid fashion. A very tasty spread was delivered daily by the "California Grizzlies" food workers. A lot of credit goes to the waddies, who manned the pits. Targets were cycled very fast. The pit crew received a thunderous round of applause from all the shooters Sunday.

This was the first time the F-Class Nationals were hosted on the West Coast. The Match employed an all long-range Palma-style format (800, 900, and 1000 yards). Ed observed: "The match format was kind of a joint effort between myself and the rest of the F-Class team and we decided to use the Palma format. This is the first match we've had with the new F-type targets with the 1/2-MOA X-Ring so there's a number of things that are new for this match." Ed added: "I'm very pleased... we had a number of first-time F-Class shooters and that's good for the sport. Not only did we have a good individual turn-out, but we had 10 or 11 teams shooting up there including the very first women's F-class team."

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Topics: Berger, Savage, Sierra, Team competition, F-Class, Open, Eric Bair, U.S. F-Class Team, Brad Sauve, Berger Bullets, Sacramento, Folsom Shooting Club, Sloughhouse, Jeff Cochran, John Brewer, McMillan, McBros, F-TR, F T/R, .308, 7.62x51, Tactical, Target Rifle, Palma, 600yd, 600 yards, Score, Group, Agg, Aggregate, Benchrest, .223, .308, 6mm, 6mm BR, 6BR, Sling, Iron Sights, 6PPC, Hart, Krieger, 1000 yards, Camp Butner, NightForce scope, 12-42x, Jewell, Benchrest, BR, Bench Rest, magazine, competition, rifle accuracy, Wind, BC, Ballistics, Norma, Hodgdon Powder, Varget, H4350, Federal, CCI, 4895, H4895, RL15, Reloader, Vihtavuori, Sierra, MatchKing, Competition Shooting, Stocks, Badger Ordnance, Badger Rings, stainless barrel, reloading, powder, case forming, neck-turning, Lapua Brass, bullets, precision, Sacramento, Folsom, California.

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