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Basics of High Power Competition
Rules, Equipment, and Course of Fire
The most popular form of organized rifle-only competitive shooting in the United States is NRA High Power Competition. There are more High Power matches held across the country than benchrest matches by a huge margin. High Power Competition encompasses primarily Service Rifle and Match Rifle, with the lesser subdiscipline of Sporting Rifle. If you think F-Class* or Benchrest shooting is tough, High Power presents another level of challenge altogether. Apart from a sling, there are no mechanical crutches in High Power--your arms and body must support the full weight of the rifle as you engage the target from a variety of positions. The vast majority of High Power matches are iron sights only**. These factors place a premium on good eyesight, training, and overall fitness.


High Power Competition--A Practical Definition

The predominant American-style "High Power" match is a multi-position, multi-distance event. (This is commonly called "Across-the-Course" competition to distinguish it from prone-only High Power matches). It's important to understand the distinctive meaning of "High Power" as that term is applied to rifle matches under American NRA Rules. Most typically, American-style High Power competition means iron sights, three positions (standing, prone, and sitting OR kneeling), with both rapid-fire and slow-fire stages. This form of competition evolved from the U.S. Military's course of fire.

According to the NRA: "Four strings of fire are the basic building blocks of any NRA High Power rifle course of fire or tournament. These are:

1. Slow Fire, standing - 10 rounds at 200 yards in 10 minutes.
2. Rapid Fire, sitting or kneeling - 10 rounds at 200 yards in 60 seconds.
3. Rapid Fire, 10 rounds prone - 300 yards in 70 seconds.
4. Slow Fire, 10 rounds prone - 500 or 600 yards in 10 minutes.

Every NRA High Power Rifle match for which classification records are kept is a multiple or a combination of one or more of these strings. The popular National Match 50-shot Course, for instance, consists of 10 rounds slow fire standing; 10 rounds rapid fire sitting or kneeling; 10 rounds rapid fire prone and 20 rounds slow fire prone. The "Full Course" Match is an 80-round event with 20 rounds slow-fire standing; 20 rounds rapid-fire Sitting or kneeling; 20 rounds rapid prone; and 20 rounds slow fire prone. This total possible score is 800. This is the course of fire on which Carl Bernosky recently set a new record, scoring 800-42X.

Matches fired all at one distance and in one position are known as 'single-stage' matches and are usually 20-shot matches (2 times one of the basic strings).

'Slow Fire' [requires little explanation]. The shooter takes his position on the firing line, assumes the prescribed position and is allowed one minute per shot to fire the string, single-loading each round.

'Rapid Fire', on the other hand, is more elaborate. In rapid fire sitting or kneeling, the shooter uses a preparation period to establish sitting or kneeling position; then comes to a standing position and, on command, loads either 2 or 5 rounds (depending on the firearm) into the rifle. When the targets appear or the command to commence fire is given, the shooter gets into the firing position, fires the rounds in the rifle, reloads with 8 or 5 more for a total of 10 and finishes the string. The procedure for rapid fire prone differs only in the firing position and the time spent."

Three-Position (Across the Course) vs. Prone-Only Matches
As noted above, the classic American High Power event involves position shooting with the "National Match" Course of Fire. However, prone-only High Power matches are also sanctioned under NRA High Power Rules. The 3x600 prone-only High Power match is quite popular, and prone-only matches are also shot at both shorter and longer ranges. For many competitors, prone-only High Power matches are less hectic than three-position matches, and prone-only matches can be more forgiving for competitors who lack the time to practice all three positions.

High Power Qualifications and Rankings
One of the distinctive features of High Power competition in the USA is the ranking system. The NRA Classification system places all shooters in a particular class: Marksman, Sharpshooter, Expert, Master, or High Master, depending on their average scores. The classification system is designed to let shooters compete against others at a similar skill level. Temporary classification is established after the first tournament. When 120 shots fired in NRA-sanctioned competition have been reported, the shooter receives his (initial) classification card. Complete information on the NRA Classification System is in Section 19 of the NRA Rule Books. Here are the benchmark 10-shot average scores for various classes (from Rule 19.15, table 2):

MarksmanSharpshooterExpertMasterHigh Master
below 84.0084.00 - 88.9989.00 - 93.9994.00 - 96.9997.00 and up

The ranking system seems confusing at first, but after a couple of matches most shooters figure out how everything works. It's a time-tested system that has proven effective in attracting new shooters and providing ongoing positive reinforcement for match participants.

* In certain matches F-Class competitors shoot alongside High Power shooters, and many High Power Rules govern F-Class. However, for the purposes of this article we will consider F-Class a distinctly different discipline since it is shot only from the prone position employing a rest.

** Some long-range High Power "any sight" matches allow the use of high-power scopes, but this is the exception to the rule. Also, the Sporting Rifle class, introduced in 1985, features hunting-type rifles which may be equipped with telescopic sights. The course is fired at a single distance--either 100 or 200 yards--and rapid-fire strings are only 4 shots to accommodate the typical hunting rifle.

USAMU Marksmanship

In the following article, reprinted from the CMP First Shot Newsletter, USAMU Shooter SPC Nathan J. Verbickas covers some of the basic elements of High Power Shooting. Nathan focuses on what he terms the "Bare Necessities", those essential hardware components and accessories one needs to get started in the High Power game. [Text and photos Copyright © 2007 USAMU and CMP, used by permission.]

Bare Necessities for High Power Rifle Competition
by SPC Nathan J. Verbickas, USAMU Service Rifle Team Member

Whether you watched someone compete in a High Power match, or have just heard conversation about it, it's clear that something has peaked your interest in the sport. Being interested in something is great, but without information, it won't get you very far. We have heard new shooters ask people on the range what they need to do to get into High Power and the responses that a lot of people give are scary! The next thing you know, you are in the store spending a few thousand dollars without even knowing why. In an attempt to avoid this situation, lets sit down and talk about some of the essentials, and more important information associated with the sport of High Power Rifle Competition.

High Power Rifle Competition

In most cases, it is entirely possible to compete in a match without buying anything. We will go over the few things that you do need to have to compete, which usually all can be found by just asking around. Does it make more sense to try the sport and make sure that it is something you want to pursue fully before spending a good amount of money? I have been in gun shops in the past and witnessed people trying to return a lot of very expensive shooting equipment because they just did not end up enjoying the sport. Yes, it happens.

High Power Rifle CompetitionThe first thing that all new shooters need to understand is that they are entering a sport that is already established. As with any other sport, there are rules and regulations that can be confusing at times. You will also be competing shoulder to shoulder with people of all different classifications and experience levels. This includes shooters who may be in contention to win whatever match it is that you have decided to enter. With that being said, one of the first things that you should track down is the most up to date versions of the NRA High Power Rifle Rules booklet ($2.50 from NRA Program Materials Center), and the CMP Competition Rules (FREE 2007 Edition, 60-page Acrobat file). These can be found easily on-line or by contacting each organization.

Section 6.0 of your CMP Rulebook and Section 3 of your NRA Rulebook defines authorized equipment. Obviously, you will need a rifle. Pay close attention to the types of rifles described in these sections as authorized. More often than not, people are surprised to find that they already own or know someone who owns an authorized High Power Rifle.

High Power Rifle Competition

Most clubs and associations that support a High Power program at their range will have service rifles for new shooters to use in their competitions. There may be a raised match entry fee for this service. If you have no luck after checking these resources, it may be necessary to purchase a rifle. Another call to the CMP can usually help with this. Be sure when you do find a rifle, that you have a minimum of two clips or magazines for that specific system. The other obvious requirement to compete would be ammunition, which is defined in CMP Rule 6.6 or NRA Rule 3.17. [Editor's note: You can compete with factory new ammo, commercial reloads, or your own handloads. For more info on .223 Remington Ammunition suitable for AR15-platform rifles, see our 223 Cartridge Guide.]

High Power Rifle CompetitionNow we will take a look at some of the less obvious requirements defined in these rules. Contrary to popular belief, a sling is required in service rifle competition. It is listed in CMP Rule 6.1.1 and NRA Rules 3.1, 3.1.1, and 3.1.2 as a characteristic of the rifle itself. The sling may be used for support in the Prone, Sitting, and Kneeling positions, but not the Standing position. During Standing, the sling must be attached to both the front and rear sling swivels (CMP Rule 8.1.3(1) and NRA Rule 5.12b). Don't let this worry you. If you haven't found a sling in the same place that you found your rifle, a simple M-1 web sling can be purchased for about ten dollars. Sling features are defined in CMP Rule 6.1.1 (3) and NRA Rule 3.13. Another required item is the Empty Chamber Indicator (ECI), according to CMP Rule 5.5.1 and NRA Rule 3.21. This is a crucial part of High Power Safety. The ECI is to be in the chamber of your rifle at all times other than your preparation period, while actually firing, and when cased. An ECI can be purchased from the NRA for one dollar. The final thing that is required for competition is Responsibility. This includes Safety, Discipline, and Etiquette. And yes it is required, by the rules in CMP Section 5.0 and NRA Section 18, and your own common sense. As a part of your responsibility, you need to realize that this sport is not just about your shooting. It is about everyone’s shooting. This is why you are responsible for pit pulling and scoring duties (CMP Rule 5.3 and NRA Sections 10 and 14 respectively) as well. These duties are just as important as your firing. Always strive to give better pit and scoring service than you receive.

High Power Rifle Competition

With your understanding of the importance of scoring and pit pulling during a match, we will discuss some things that are not required, but strongly encouraged. In order to properly perform your scoring duties, you should have a few pens, a stool or chair, a Ziploc bag (in case of rain), and some type of optics. Keep in mind; you will be firing out to 600 yards in most courses of fire. At this distance, you will probably not be able to see the scoring disks, or even the chalkboards during rapid fires. Again, don't be concerned. These are all things that you more than likely already have. You do not need an expensive spotting scope. A pair of binoculars would be sufficient. Something else that is inexpensive and [mandatory] is eye and ear protection. High Power matches are not exactly short. It is a long process that takes a large portion of the day. You need to take this into account before leaving for the range. A small cooler of snacks and plenty of water is something that you will never regret bringing.

High Power Rifle Competition

That about does it for the necessities. Right now, you are at the bare minimum of what you need to complete a match. There is some other equipment that is nice to have, and can be substituted to save money. It is a matter of personal choice if and when you want to use any of the following. You will be shooting outdoors, and at times, in adverse conditions. Rain gear is usually helpful in this situation. The classic garbage bag poncho is a cheap alternative, though it doesn't breathe very well. If you decide to only bring out one set of rain gear, do the right thing and give it to your rifle. A rifle case is a helpful addition, for transportation purposes, but should still be covered in the rain. Also bring a small bottle of lubrication, and use it; especially if your rifle does get wet. If you don't like lying on the wet ground, a mat, piece of carpet, or even a poncho could be used as long as it does not create artificial support. You do not need a $300 shooting coat, but something to pad your shoulder from recoil and your arm from the sling, is useful. Many people use a simple issue field jacket, or a sweatshirt. Any kind of a glove that might cut down on the pinching of the sling on your hand, as well. If you own them, try to wear your boots instead of your shoes. It will provide you more support for shooting, and just in general over the day. You may want to bring a towel to wipe away annoying sweat while shooting. Be sure to keep yourself organized. A small backpack can make your life much easier on the range.

Well, that is what to bring to the range. But when? A brand new shooter does not want to fire their first competition at the National Matches. Find that local gun club that supports a High Power Program and ask questions. A list of CMP Affiliated Rifle Matches can be found at the CMP Club & Competition Tracker Page. The more information you have, the better off you will be. Get a copy of their match schedule, and make a plan. Find out the course of fire for the match you will be firing and ensure that you have enough ammunition for your record shots, sighters, and possible alibis. Learn the stages of fire and range commands for the course of fire you will be shooting. All of this information can be found in your CMP and NRA Rulebooks. This information will seriously cut back on confusion throughout the day. You should have your rifle zeroed and ready to go before you try to compete. You do not need to be a member of the NRA to enter in NRA Approved Matches. If you are not already a member, you can still shoot in competition, although membership is not a bad idea.

I hope that you do enjoy the sport, and stick with it. As you shoot more, your knowledge of the sport will progress, and with knowledge will come the skill. With the skill, will come an excuse to start buying stuff. Safe and Happy Shooting!

High Power Competition at Reduced Distances

While the "classic" High Power National Match Course is shot at 200, 300, and 500 (or 600) yards, it is possible to compete at shorter distances as well. The NRA recognizes that many clubs don't have suitable ranges for the longer legs. Near urban areas it's getting harder to find a range that even goes out to 300 yards. Therefore, competitions may be conducted at shorter ranges with reduced-size targets. Both the numbered rings and the X-rings are shrunk in size.

Every official NRA course of fire normally conducted at 200, 300, or 500 yards can be run at 100 yards on official NRA reduced-scale targets. At 100 yards, the SR-1 target simulates the 200-yard target, the SR-21 target replaces the 300-yard target, while the MR-31 target simulates the 600-yard target. Reduced 300- and 600-yard targets are also available for firing at 200 yards.

1. CLICK HERE to download SR-1, SR-21, and MR-31 .pdf fascimile targets suitable for printing on 8.5" x 11" paper.

2. CLICK HERE for a "Target Generator" page that produces SR-1, SR-21, and MR-31 .pdf files for printing on oversized 11" x 17", A3, and B4 paper stock.

Because of their smaller size, reduced targets work well on stationary frames. And since they are not so far away, it is more practical for each shooter to pull his own targets after each string and remove them for scoring. This obviates the need for pit crews and makes it easier for smaller clubs to run high power matches it there are a limited number of participants or if fully protected pits are not available.

High Power Rifle Competition Equipment

Rifle: Rifles to be used in High Power Rifle competition must be equipped with metallic sights (Some long range, 1000-yard matches allow the use of "any sights"), should be capable of holding at least 5 rounds of ammunition and should be adapted to rapid reloading. Tournament programs often group competitions into two divisions, Match Rifle and Service Rifle. Match Rifles can be modified ARs or bolt actions, special limited-run production guns such as the Tubb 2000, or full customs including composite and metal-stocked "Space Guns".

Photo courtesy Creedmoor Sports.

The rifles currently defined as "Service Rifles" include the M1, M14, M16 and their commercial equivalents [such as the AR15 and Springfield M1A. While aftermarket triggers and barrels are allowed, along with other minor modifications, Service rifles are otherwise held to fairly strict one-design standards. In Service Rifle competition all of the top shooters' rifles have very similar performance so it is shooter skill rather than expensive technology that wins matches--at least in principle.]

Photo courtesy DS Arms.

Winchester and Remington have made their Model 70 and Model 40X rifles in "match" versions and custom gunsmiths have made up match rifles on many military and commercial actions. 1903 and 1903-A3 Springfield, 1917 Enfields and pre-war Winchester Model 70 sporters in .30-06 are all equipped with clip slots for rapid reloading. The most suitable rear sights are aperture or "peep" with reliable, repeatable 1/2 minute (or finer) adjustments. Front sights should be of either the post or aperture type.

Sling: The shooting sling is helpful in steadying the positions and controlling recoil. The sling may be used in any position except standing.

Spotting Scope: A spotting scope or a substitute optical device is important for scoring and observing the placement of shot spotters on the target. The beginning shooter will benefit from the use of about any telescope which gives an erect image. The most suitable spotting scopes, however, have a magnification of from 20 to 25 power and an objective lens at least 50mm in diameter. Eyepieces angled at 45 to 90 degrees are convenient for using the scope without disturbing the shooting position.

Shooting Coat: The shooting coat is equipped with elbow, shoulder and sling pads which contribute to the shooter's comfort. Since there are several styles of shooting coats of varying cost, the shooter is advised to try out several types before making an investment.

Shooting Glove: The shooting glove's primary function is to protect the forward hand from the pressure of the sling. Any heavy glove will serve the purpose until the shooter makes a final choice among several shooting gloves available.

Sight Blackener: The shooter using an exposed front sight such as the blade found on the service rifle will require some means of blackening the sight. A carbide lamp will do this job or a commercial sight black sold in spray cans can be used.

Scorebook: If the shooter is to learn from experience, they should record the conditions and circumstances involved in firing each shot. Sight settings, sling adjustments, wind and light conditions and ammunition used all have a place in the scorebook. Actual shot value is the least important data recorded.

The above text is reprinted from the NRA Competitive Shooting Programs' How to Get Started web page. Copyright © 2007, National Rifle Association of America, All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with Permission.


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Topics: USA, NRA High Power Competition, AR15, AR, Service Rifle, M14, M1, M1A, Springfield Armory, Space-gun, Tubb 2000, T2K, High Power, Highpower, Rifle, Competition, Shooting Match, Course of Fire, Short Course, Long Course, Palma, Shooting Mat, Shooting Coat, Scoring, Reduced Target, Slow Fire, Rapid Fire, Slow Fire Prone, Sitting, Knelling, Standing, prone, sling, bipod, F-Class, full-bore, fullbore, small-bore, Bushmaster, XR-DCM, DCM, Black Rifle.

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