North Texas "Natural" Shines in F-TR
Gifted Gal Breaks Records in Her Very First Year of Competition
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What happens when you combine a talented young F-TR shooter with two wicked-accurate .308 Win rifles built by a nationally-renowned gunsmith? Well, in April of this year, that young shooter, Sierra Scott of Texas, broke three National F-TR records. We're pleased to spotlight Sierra, a gifted "natural" shooter. In her very first year of organized shooting competition she was breaking records -- with borrowed rifles! Two of Sierra's new records were later eclipsed by Michelle Gallagher, but that doesn't diminish what Sierra has accomplished so early in her shooting career.
For this article, Sierra posed with her rifle for photos. At the photographer's request, she removed her shooting glasses for the photo session. Sierra always uses eye and ear protection when at the range using live ammo.
Sierra Scott -- A Rising Talent from the Lone Star State
The story starts out with Sierra Scott, age 22, from North Texas, who has only been shooting competitively for about one year. Back on April 28-29, 2010 at the Texas State Mid-Range Championships at Camp Swift, Sierra managed to break two F-TR records. But she had to overcome some serious problems along the way.
Shooting a standard .308 Remington 5R during Day 1 of the match, Sierra found that her scope wasn't tracking like it should, as demonstrated by puzzling results on the target. Sierra explained:
"I knew something was wrong, conditions were good for 600 yards, but one shot would hit at 12 o'clock in the 8-Ring, then the next shot was 5 o'clock, 7-Ring. At the end of the first day, John Killen, another North Texas shooter, offered me the use of his back-up .308 Win rifle and ammunition for Day 2. With just a few dry-fire warm-ups before the first match at 300 yards, I felt ready to go. With two sighters and 20 shots for record, I shot a 197-4X at 300 yards to break the existing women's F-TR record. I followed that with a 190-10X at 500, and a 191-4X at 600 yards. The 191-4X also broke the existing NRA womens' F-TR record. After the match, John informed me that the borrowed rifle was the same rifle he used to win the 2008 Texas Mid-Range Championship in the F-TR division."
Unfortunately for Sierra, her records proved short-lived. Two months after Sierra's record-breaking performance, Michelle Gallagher of Prescott, AZ shot a 197-10X at 300 yards to establish a new womens' mark at that distance. Michelle followed that with a great score of 197-8X at 600 yards to set the present record.
Sierra Sets Another Pending Record in Oklahoma
After her strong performance at the Texas State championship, Sierra planned for her next big match, the Oklahoma Shootout. There was only one problem -- she still needing a competitive rifle with a reliable optic. Thankfully, another Texas shooter came through for Sierra. She explains: "With the next match just a month away, Lesley Jones loaned me his rifle for the Oklahoma Shootout, which is held in two location. The 1000-yard match on Day 1 takes place at the John Zink Ranch in Tulsa. Then competitors go down to the Arcadia Range outside Oklahoma City for the 600-yard events on Day 2. I'm telling you, 1,000 yards is tough at Tulsa. The firing line is 90 feet above the wind flags on a hill shooting down into a valley. My first time at that distance was hard, very hard. But on Day 2 we were back at the Oklahoma City range in Arcadia. Having shot there at a couple of times, I felt real good with the range and the way the matches are run there. The second match was 15 shots for record and I posted an 150-6X, a score that is now a pending NRA National Record in the womens' division."
Editor's Note: In fact, Sierra actually shot seven Xs, as you can see by the scorecard, but the scorer totaled the Xs incorrectly. Sierra missed that mistake, and signed off on the card, so it is 150-6X officially. Sierra says: "I learned a good lesson from that -- always double-check your score card!"
Note that Sierra actually shot seven Xs. The scorer erred in the X-total, listing six Xs. Sierra didn't notice the mistake.
Learning the Tricks of the Trade
Sierra enjoys the interaction with veteran long-range shooters she meets at matches: "It's real fun to listen to the guys talk to each other at the matches about the wind conditions, load development, shooting styles, mirage etc. A lot of it sounds like disinformation and misdirection, a little like listening to some politicians. I am very fortunate to have some great shooters surround me and give me good instructions, tips and comments. The time for the straight information is at dinner at out of town matches, away from the firing line. Guys like Dean Morris of Oklahoma, Lesley Jones, John Killen, Richard King and Skip Barkley of Texas are all very good shooters, great guys and willing to speak as they see it."
Accurate Rigs Smithed by Dave Bruno
Both of the two rifles Sierra used to set records were built by Dave Bruno of Bruno Precision Rifles, LLC using top-of-the-line components, including Tom Manners carbon-reinforced stocks, BAT actions, and Bartlein barrels. Using these components, Dave built several ultra-accurate rifles over the past year for North Texas shooters. Dave really knows how to build winners.
Here are the specs on Sierra's two record-setting rigs. Rifle #1 featured a BAT MB multi-flat, single port action, Bartlein barrel in heavy varmint contour, a Manners MCS-T1 stock; and Jewell HSR trigger. Rifle #2 has a BAT dual-port action, Bartlein barrel, Manners MCS-GAT stock and a Jewell trigger. Sierra tells us: "The thing that I really like about the Manners thumbhole stocks is the ability to pull the stock into my body and shoulder." On both rifles, Sierra uses the ultra-stable, wide-base F-Class bipod from Sinclair Int'l. That design provides a platform for F-TR shooters that is nearly as stable as the heavy pedestal rests used by F-Open shooters.
What the Future Holds for Sierra
When asked about her future plans, Sierra told us: "One of the all-time best shooters -- male or female -- in America is Nancy Tompkins. It would be great to follow her example and try to achieve some of the remarkable skills she possesses. Another great American female shooter is Michelle Gallagher. Being a full-time student at the University of North Texas, I want to continue to shoot during my last year in college and after I graduate. One of my ultimate goals is to become a sponsored shooter competing in Team Matches. Hopefully that would include a place on the F-TR Long Range Rifle Team. For right now, it's practice, practice and more practice."
|Best Loads, Reloading Methods, and Case Prep
Favorite Loads -- Reloder 15 and Quality Bullets
[This information was provided by Paul Scott.] Both rifles used by Sierra were built using similar components. The Bartlein barrels have the same twist rate and Dave Bruno cut both chambers with the same reamer. So, finding a load that shot well in both rifles was not too hard. Since many good shooters in North Texas have very similar rifles produced by Dave Bruno, we can share information on what works, load-wise. If necessary, in a pinch, we can even share ammunition or brass at a match. John Killian and Lesley Jones have spent countless hours searching for the perfect load using different brass, powder, primers, seating depth and bullets.
Each rifle likes Berger 185gr BTs and Berger 168gr VLDs, as well as Sierra 175gr SMKs. Load development is initially done at 300 yards. At this distance, both rifles were producing 10-shot groups under half-MOA. We settled on the Berger 168gr VLD and ran the bullets through a home-made bullet tipping die using a Forster seating body and a custom sleeve that John manufactured. This reshapes the meplat to create a more uniformed bullet from shot to shot. Sierra observed, "You can see the difference beyond the 600-yard line using a tipping die. At the 1,000-yard line, using the Berger 185gr BT, we found that non-tipped bullets were costing us about 1.75 to 2.25 MOA." With the 168gr VLDs, we soft-seat the bullet .020" in the rifle lands, with about .002" neck tension. The VLD can be a little pickier when jumped compared to the 185gr BT or 175gr SMK, but we have zero complaints with any of the bullets. The load we use is 45.0 grains of Alliant Reloder 15 powder with no-turn Winchester brass and Fed 210M primers.
Case Prep and Reloading Procedures
Our reloading procedure is pretty straight-forward. We are getting about 7-9 reloads out of the Winchester brass. After the cleaning process, we check every piece of brass for signs of case separation and neck cracks. We don't turn the brass necks, just haven't found the need to do the extra work. After cleaning, we full-length size our brass every time, using the Redding full-length Type S dies and bushings. We keep the expander ball in place and neck size just the top half of the neck. As needed, we trim the brass to 2.010" COAL using a Giraud Power Case Trimmer. From there we dump our powder from a RCBS powder measure, weigh each charge with a 10-10 scale and trickle up to the desired weight. I do keep my scale in a shoebox to eliminate any air movement that might be present. The final reloading stage, bullet seating, is done with a Forster Co-Ax press and Forster Seating Dies. Run-out for the finished ammunition is held to a minimum.
For Sierra's F-TR guns we normally use Winchester brass. When purchasing new Winchester brass, I pick up several bags at once, so that I can weight-sort them, then bag and store the sorted cases for future matches. To clean our fired brass, we recently started tumbling them in liquid solution using stainless steel "pin" media and a rotary Thumler's Tumbler. You can purchase the stainless media and the rotary tumbler from Stainlesstumblingmedia.com, a new Utah-based company. The brass comes out bright and shiny, looking brand new, with clean primer pockets and zero carbon on the inside. I'm impressed with this method so far. It seems less time-consuming than ultra-sonic cleaning. Some people worry about the stainless media, but I've seen no evidence that the pins harm the brass in any way. Plus the media literally lasts forever.
|Sierra Scott Talks About Competitive Shooting
We had a chance to chat with Sierra Scott. She has an interesting perspective on the shooting sports. While she is relatively new to the precision rifle game, she has been involved in competitive athletics for many years. She has developed a strong will to win from her participation in Division I softball and other team sports. But she finds that competitive shooting offers a different type of reward -- the pride that comes from individual accomplishment. As she says: "At the end of the day, I only have myself to blame or be proud of…."
Q: Why did you get involved in competitive shooting?
Sierra: It was just one of those things. My dad was into hunting and as I was growing up I went on hunts with him. When I saw that my dad liked competitive shooting, I figured if my dad's into it, I'll probably be into it also. It was just a fun experience to go hang out with my dad and his buddies.
I wasn't concerned that competitive shooting wasn't a "girl thing". I've always believed I can do anything the guys can do. And when I got started about a year ago, my competitive nature sort of pushed me. When I first started shooting in competition, my dad beat me the first couple matches, but my competitive drive kept me going. After the first 2-3 matches I got more comfortable and more in tune with what I was doing and made progress. Soon I was able to beat him.
Q: What do you enjoy most about competitive shooting?
Sierra: First, I really enjoy being able to hang out with my dad. The biggest draw is that I get to hang out with my dad and spend time with him. Secondly, I enjoy the hands-on challenge of shooting. I enjoy getting behind the trigger, and manipulating the gun successfully. It is very rewarding to put the shot exactly where I want it to go, even when I'm hundreds of yards away from the target. Making the shot creates a sense of pride. Also, my family is pretty competitive, and I feel proud knowing that I have been successful in a male-driven sport.
Q: What is the most memorable moment in your shooting career so far?
Sierra: At the Oklahoma shootout in Arcadia, I shot a perfect 150 at 600 yards. Of course the score made me feel good. However, I was shooting with another shooter who wanted me to pay more attention to my shot charts. I don't like to chart when I shoot. To me it's distracting, and takes away from my focus on making the next shot perfect. But when I shot the 150 -- without dropping a point -- that gave me satisfaction. I proved I can do it my way and it works for me. That gave me a big sense of confidence. When you're the only woman on the firing line all the guys out there are trying to give you advice. They see a young female person, so they are all giving me their two cents. And it is a little overwhelming cause it makes you second guess whether you really know what you're doing or not. That's why it was satisfying to shoot well.
Q: Your dad says you enjoy the challenge of shooting, and you enjoy "beating the boys at their own game." Is this true?
Sierra: It's very much true. I've grown up around more male-influenced activities. Going out there and being able to compete on an equal level with "the boys" is fun for me. I take a sense of pride from being able to compete successfully with men. In the shooting game, there are still some guys who think that we (women) can't do as well as men, but there's no reason we can't do as well. Women can have the same "will to win" as men, but it is a little different. Women are socialized to "play nice", but from the experience I've had, we are just as hard on ourselves (and others) as men are.
Q: Do you have any special techniques that help with your shooting?
Sierra: I try to stay calm and relaxed when I am behind the rifle. I try to stay focused but still aware of what's going on around me. You have to be aware of the wind, the mirage, whether it's the first shot or the 50th shot down your barrel. Like other sports, shooting requires mental focus, but you still have to be aware of what's going on around you.
Q: You have been involved in team sports, such as playing Div. I softball -- how does rifle competition compare to team sports?
Sierra: The biggest difference is that, at the end of the day I only have myself to blame or be proud of -- for the outcome. The mental preparation is similar -- you have to be aware of your environment and your surroundings. The art of shooting isn't as physically demanding as softball. You don't have to spend many hours every day in the gym or on the field to be a good shooter. But in the shooting game, there are hours that you spend reloading and cleaning your gun and making sure all the mechanical features are working. And you need to spend time learning new techniques -- learning how to get an edge on your competitors. So it's like having homework. I would just say it's learning to be prepared for any circumstance.
Q: Some shooting instructors believe that females are better natural shooters because they focus well, and women take instruction better because they don't have ego issues. Do you agree?
Sierra: I don't know if women are able to focus better. I can see that a group of novice women shooters might progress faster than a group of novice men. I think women are probably better listeners. I think possibly women can "silence" their egos better than the guys can. As for listening to coaches, I'd say that women are willing to take all the advice they can get. Women probably keep an open mind because, unlike men, they aren't burdened with the idea that they have to be good at shooting. For guys, shooting is part of the "male identity". That creates a lot of pressure.
Q: If other young people ask you "Why would a girl get involved in competitive shooting?" what would you tell them?
Sierra: I would say there's a lot of history involved in the art of shooting -- it's our Second Amendment freedom to keep and bear arms. As a female it is important to be able to protect oneself, so why wouldn't I want to be competent in my ability to protect myself with a firearm?
I would add that any person, male or female, should try something before pre-judging it. I've always been about trying things, at least trying things once, so you can at least have a fair opinion of whether you like it or not. I absolutely enjoyed this [competitive shooting] from the start. I enjoyed doing a father-daughter activity with my dad again. I have a lot of fun going out there and being the "only girl on the line". But it's not for everyone, same as with any other sport or hobby.
Q: For other young women who may be getting started in shooting, what general advice would you give them?
Sierra: I would recommend that they get involved fully, be passionate about it. Competitive shooting is not something to do half ass. Do it full force. And always keep learning. Find out what other people know. Talk with other good shooters, listen to what they have to say, do your research.
As far as the mechanics, without giving away too many secrets, I'd say be comfortable with your equipment and your position. The more practice with your discipline and your equipment the better you will do.
Here's another important point: you have to be aware that each shot is independent of each other. Don't let the last shot affect the current shot, and don't let the next shot affect this one. Take it one shot at a time. I failed to follow that advice down in Oklahoma and it cost me. Instead of focusing on the job at hand I was thinking about how well I'd done in the previous stage. I almost became complacent and I ended up shooting 9s instead of 10s. Like I said, don’t let the last shot affect the current one.
Q: What are your future plans for competitive shooting? Would you like to shoot for the national
F-Class team someday?
Sierra: I would enjoy shooting for a national team. It would be a lot of fun to shoot for Team USA because not a lot of female athletes have the opportunity to compete for their country. There's no more womens' softball in the Olympics.
I think it would be a lot of fun to do anything on the national or even international level. That is a bigger stage and I'd expect it to be more fun (and challenging) than any of the competitions I've done so far. I also like team shooting. I've done a couple team matches, and it is definitely easier when I don't have to make the wind calls. On the other hand, when the coach is calling the wind, it puts more pressure on your mechanics. I feel pressure to hold up my end of the deal because the coach is telling me exactly where to put the shot.
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