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Nor Cal Tactical Bolt Rifle Challenge
Innovative Competition with Challenging Course of Fire

Location: Sacramento Valley Shooting Center
Sloughhouse, CA 95683
Dates: May 26-27, 2007
Match Director: Vu Pham

In the first-ever Nor Cal Tactical Bolt Rifle Challenge, 43 shooters battled through a variety of innovative scenarios, many involving shooter movement or targets at unknown distances. The event delivered far more "action" and variety than most precision rifle matches. It looks like the organizers have hit on a winning formula. Though this was the first match of its kind at Sac Valley, all available spots "sold out", and the match attracted big-time sponsorship. The happy winner was Dave McGrath who came home with a $2200+ U.S. Optics scope. Dennis Lorenzo finished second, while Marc Soulie took third.

There were a variety of stages in the two-day match, held May 26-27. There were short-range target recognition events, Mil-Dot ranging exercises, long-range target shooting at both steel and paper targets, plus a variety of "run and gun" evolutions, including "Man on Man" timed scenarios in which shooters engaged multiple targets, from all shooting positions, in a race against the clock. The full selection of stages is listed below. If you're hoping to start a tactical match at your own shooting area, the courses of fire provide a host of great ideas for match directors.

Match Winner Dave McGrath had this to say: "First and foremost I'd like to comment on the outstanding job match director Vu Pham, his ROs and volunteers did with their inaugural tactical match. The time and effort needed to put together a professional match like this must be monumental. My hat's off to all involved. My greatest thanks go to the many sponsors of the match. The prize table was extensive and generous. Thank you very much for your continued support of our shooting community."

Nor Cal Tactical Bolt Rifle Challenge

Photos: Copyrighted photos by Zak Smith, Cameron Wong, Scotty Strachan, and Spaniard used by permission.


The Hardware--Precision Rifles for Rugged Duty

Match rules limited the field to bolt-action rifles, from 6mm to .30 Caliber, with a max velocity of 3100 FPS (to prevent damage to the steel targets). The competitors fielded a diverse arsenal of rifles, mostly customs, but with a few factory rigs as well. There were many Accuracy International rifles, and Rem-actioned guns built on the AI Chassis. Calibers ranged from .243 Winchester to .300 Win Mag. (No 6.5x47s appeared at this match--but we expect that to change--wait 'til you see the new 6.5x47 we are developing with Zak Smith currently. It hammers, and mag-feeding is flawless.) Here's a list of the top finishers, and their choice of calibers: 1st Dave McGrath .308 Win, 2nd Dennis Lorenzo .284 Win, 3rd Marc Soulie .260 Rem, 4th Mike Miller .260 Rem, 5th Dave Kearly (n/a), 6th Cameron Wong .308 Win, 7th Don Augustine .243 Win, 8th Ronald Walter .243 Win, 9th Fred Sakai (n/a), and 10th Jody Matsler .308 Win (probable).

McGrath's Winning Rifle: Rem 700, factory trigger, Rock 26", 11.25-twist MTU-contour barrel, AICS chassis, NightForce NXS 5.5-22x50 scope (NPR2). Gunsmith: Randy Cain, R+D Precision.

Detachable magazines were not required in the match, but Cam Wong reports "the top feeders were at a big disadvantage". Many of the stages were shot "on the clock". Being able to recharge one's rifle with a magazine saved precious seconds. While many of the rifles sported muzzle brakes, you didn't need a brake to do well in the match. Most of the rifles were heavy enough (14+ pounds), that recoil was manageable, even with the bigger calibers. Because this match was held in California, suppressors were not allowed. In some of the photos, you'll see a few rifles sporting the large Nor-Cal Precision "Tactical Vent System & Flash Hider". This looks like a "can" but it is merely a flash hider/brake system rather than a noise attenuator.

r & d precision rifles AICSProbably the majority of the rifles employed either Accuracy International or McMillan A-Series stocks, though there were some military surplus stocks, HS Precisions, and factory rigs.

Most rifles were fitted with an adjustable cheekpiece or lash-on cheekpad. Many of the cheek riser pads did double duty as ammo carriers. In the timed stages, and longer courses of fire, having extra rounds carried on the gun proved useful.

So how accurate are these rifles? With narrow stocks and triggers in the 1-lb to 3-lb range, these guns wouldn't win many benchrest matches, but they are still very accurate compared to a typical factory .308 or .243. Vu Pham tells us--"Tactical competitors look for half-MOA accuracy in ALL field conditions. From a bench, many of these guns will shoot well inside that." We bet that, with handloads, any of the top dozen shooters' rifles could put three shots in 0.3 inches at 100 yards. And more importantly, these rifles deliver a consistent Cold Bore Shot (CBS)--a key factor in actual tactical applications.

Choice of Calibers -- By the Numbers

All precision rifle shooters can benefit from a very accurate, flat-shooting cartridge that bucks the wind. This is doubly true in the tactical game. Unlike long-range benchrest, you have no sighters to gauge wind conditions. And unlike Palma or F-Class, there are no spotters after each shot and you normally don't have wind flags to watch.
260 Remington Tactical competition
Accordingly, good long-range ballistics are vital to tactical shooters (particularly when targets are at unknown distances). A tactical rifle must also be inherently accurate, and "dead-nuts" reliable. There are no "do-overs" in tactical matches. You're shooting on the clock and if you have a serious misfeed or other technical problem, you're likely to drop points.

Until a few years ago, tactical competitions were dominated by the .308 Win, and, in fact, that "veteran" cartridge did place first in this Nor Cal match. However, increasingly, tactical competitors are moving down in bullet weight and up in velocity in pursuit of better long-range ballistics (with less recoil). The .243 Win, 6.5x47 Lapua, and .260 Rem all out-perform the .308 in the wind. Here are some viewpoints on the choice of tactical chamberings:

.243 Winchester: "I favor the .243. Why would I run anything else? Think about it. I'm sending a 0.585 BC 115 at 3150 fps--that'll shoot inside the 6XC and .260 Rem with ease. I'm pretty sure I have found the Holy Grail of comp rifles. There are no brass issues like you can get forming .260 brass. I don't have to worry about doughnuts, reaming necks--none of that. And the choice in brass is great too--run Lapua if you want max reloads and great accuracy. Run Winchester if you're on a budget, and so you won't cry if you lose some cases in a match. I can get 10-round mags, and feeding is 100% reliable, since the case is identical to a .308 except for the neck. Accuracy-wise, I don't think I'm giving up anything to the .260 Rem or the 6XC. As for the .243 AI, yeah, the cases look cool with that 40° shoulder, but I think the standard .243 feeds a little better. And I don't think I really need the extra performance of an improved case. Run the ballistics for my load--115 moly DTAC at 3150 fps. You've got less windage than a 2950 fps 6.5-284, with cheaper brass, cheaper dies, cheaper bullets, and less recoil." -- George Gardner, GA Precision.

6.5x47 Lapua: "I shot my new 6.5x47 rifle recently in the Allegheny Sniper's Challenge, finishing 5th overall and 1st in my squad. This round is definitely giving me .260 Rem class performance--2960 fps with the 123 Lapua Scenars. Accuracy is there in spades, and the round feeds fine with AI CS mags and Rem 700 action. I'm happy with the cartridge, and never felt under-gunned, even at long range. Any misses that happened were because of the wind and the trigger-puller, not the cartridge." -- Jason Baney, SmackTheSmiley.

.260 Remington: "With regard to the .260, Not only have guys come away from the big/overbore magnums, they have ALSO come away from the 308. The Colorado area practical/long-range crew has all but ditched the .308 Win for the .260 Rem. At the begining of 2005, at least half the shooters would be shooting 308s. Today, we have just a few, maybe 10%. We mostly see 308s used by LEO or new long-range shooters now. Still, it could be argued that with the mainstream 'discovery' of the 155gr Lapua Scenar, the .308 Win is an EVEN BETTER LR cartridge than it was two or three years ago when virtually nobody in the US was using the Scenar. I am mollified to see more widespread use of this bullet now--when I was looking into .308 loads for my AWP originally, it was the obvious choice (engineers look at relevant parameters for analysis, not dogma), and a lot of old timers had a lot of resistance to it versus the 175gr SMK." -- Zak Smith, Demigod LLC.

"I like the 260 Remington. I get 2850 fps from a 139gr Scenar and it flies like a 190-grainer from a 300WM with about half the felt recoil. Throw a muzzle break on this and you get some fast recovery periods between shots. At last year's So Cal Match, guys shook their heads at my little .260 as it ran the 5-round, 300-yard MOA drill in 23 seconds. I could not have done that with a .308, 7mm, or 300WM, but it was easy with the .260. It's a good caliber/bullet combo. Now Remington brass has at times sucked, and that is an issue. I just had three cases out of a 500-count batch with head diameters so large they would not fit my rifle's bolt face. The rim diameter was way too large. I am seriously thinking of going to the 6.5x47 for the better brass, but with Norma and Winchester potentially coming on board, I am waiting to see if things improve in the .260 brass department." -- Mike Miller, Tactical Intervention.

.308 Winchester: "In recent tactical matches such as TacPro, Rifles Only, etc., you see a dominance of the .243 Win and other 6mms with the top shooters. At the April Sacramento match, which had around 45 shooters, I took first place shooting the .308 with 168gr Sierra MKs. And Dave McGrath won this Nor Cal Challenge using a .308 with 175gr SMKs. This tells me that the .308 caliber, which in my opinion is still the workhorse for tactical matches, can shine like a purebred with the right circumstances, (mild and constant wind in my case), or with the skills and marksmanship Dave McGrath displayed during the Nor Cal match". -- Desert Frog

Now if you want a great .308 Win solution, try the 155gr Lapua Scenar. Run them at over 2900 fps and you don't give up much to a .260 and you still have option of easy-to-find match-grade and surplus ammo." -- Mike Miller, Tactical Intervention.

NOTE: Jason and Zak did not attend the Nor Cal match, but both have competed in major tactical matches and have extensive experience with tactical rifles in .308 Winchester, .260 Remington, and 6.5x47 Lapua.
CaliberBullet Wt.BCMuzzle Vel100-300yd DropWind Drift 700Wind Drift 1000Recoil
6mm BR105 Berger0.5562900 fps11.0230.1268.414.54
6XC115 DTAC0.5852985 fps10.1427.2461.246.50
.243 Win115 DTAC0.5853100 fps9.1425.8757.657.55
6.5x47130 Berger0.5952920 fps10.7327.6562.017.17
.260 Rem142 SMK0.5802820 fps11.7329.8167.468.35
.308 Win155 Scenar0.5082875 fps11.4734.2178.089.80
.308 Win M118175 SMK0.5052650 fps14.3339.3289.0210.35
.284 Win175 SMK0.6082850 fps11.3227.7862.5812.66
Listed BCs per Bullet Maker Specs. Velocities are typical match loads in 24-26" barrels. Drop and Drift are calculated in inches using Point Blank software, for 1000' Elevation, 70° F, and 10 mph, 90° cross-wind. Recoil for 14-lb rifle.

zak smith 6.5x47 Lapua Accuracy International

Blueprint for a Successful TAC Match

Vu Pham and his assistants put in hundreds of hours planning for this match, and developing the course of fire. Pham provided over 30 pages of detailed instructions to his Range Officers (ROs), outlining everything from target placement to scoring procedures. The end result of all this hard work and attention to detail was a match that ran smoothly and earned rave reviews from the participants.

Because Pham and his co-horts did such a great job drawing up the "script" for this match, we've decided to publish the complete stage "menu" and course of fire instructions. This way, if you want to run a similar match at your club or shooting range, you can duplicate the successful Nor Cal "blueprint". Or, for fun, try out some of the popular stages during your regular practice sessions. Vu Pham has also offered to provide his complete set of Match Instructions to other club's match directors on request. Without further ado, here is the "play by play" for the Nor Cal Challenge, including every stage and all courses of fire.


Morning: After being divided into Alpha and Bravo squads, the shooters headed out to Sac Valley's 1000-yard range. Alpha shot first, with Bravo squad in the pits pulling and scoring.

Long-Range Stage--1000-Yard Range
Course of Fire (COF):

200 yards -- 1 Cold Bore Shot (CBS) on 2" Dot.

200 yards -- Off-Hand, 3 rounds. 45 seconds shoot time.

300 yards -- 1 MOA Dot after raising their heart rate with a short run. 3 rounds. One minute prep time. One minute shoot time.

300 yards -- Positional. 3 rounds. 45 seconds shoot time. Most people shot sitting.

500 yards -- Head shots. 3 rounds. 1 minute prep time. 45 second shoot time.

500 yards -- Timed Exposure Targets. 6 rounds (2 per exposure).
Targets come up three times over the course of two minutes--exposed each time for just 5 seconds. Shooters had to fire two rounds each time targets came up (one round per target).

Target Work Beyond 500

600 yards -- Head shots. 3 rounds. 1 minute prep time. 45 second shoot time.

600 yards -- Timed Exposure Targets. 6 rounds (2 per exposure).
Targets come up three times over the course of two minutes--exposed each time for just 5 seconds.

800 yards -- 3 rounds center mass. 1 minute prep time. 45 second shoot time.

800 yards -- 3 rounds center mass after seeing markers to make corrections. 1 minute prep time. 45 second shoot time.

900 yards -- Exact Repeat of 800-Yard Course of Fire.

1000 yards -- Exact Repeat of 800-Yard Course of Fire.

Shooter Comments:
"The 1K range was a a concern. I have little experience past 600 yards, so I tried to limit point loss. Bravo Squad shot second and it seemed like the wind was picking up a little. When I dropped points at the closer ranges, I tried not to get rattled and moved on to the next stage. The 800, 900, and 1000-yard targets were tough because the wind was tricky. The first three marked shots at each distance helped tremendously with correction holds. Considering the task of running that many shooters through the 1K range--twice--the ROs kept a tight ship and finished right on schedule." -- Dave McGrath, Match Winner

"From 800 to 1000 yards, the wind was extremely capricious when it was our squad's turn to shoot. The month before, I did extremely well on the same range, winning first place at the monthly competition. This time the wind was very unstable, changing speed constantly. Despite having good experience with reading mirage, I missed most of the longer shots. Beautiful range though." -- Desert Frog

Short Range Precision Stuff Day 1

Faces Target: In the morning we showed all shooters six faces to memorize. By about noon we put the targets up at 75 yards and shooters had one minute to engage as many faces as they could without shooting a "good guy". If a "good guy" was hit, they got a 0 on the stage.

MOA Drill: 8 Dots at 200 yards, 1.5 minute shoot time.

MAN vs. MAN: Alpha and Bravo shooters went head to head. Both shooters were "moving and shooting at the same time. One minute prep time. Two minutes shoot time. (One of Vu Pham's favorite courses of fire. A lil' 3-Gun flavor here.) This was on a 200-yard bay.

Shooters staged their rifles at 175 yards left of a barricade and then backed up about 20 yards.

The Tactical Game

"You think this is easy? OK, you try to hit a 1 MOA Dot at 300 yards, with no foulers, no sighters, no spotters, and no wind flags.

Now do it, first time, every time--after running to your rifle and jumping down in the dirt. And if you think it's easy to hit at 1000 without sighters or flags, think again.

There are no 'test shots' or warm-ups in this game. Whenever a round was fired in our match, points were either earned or you got zero. If you couldn't get on target and dope the wind without sighters you had problems." --Vu Pham

As buzzer sounds, shooters run to their rifles. They go prone and shoot an MGM Sniper target (Tiny Popper) 100 yards away. Then they get up and move to the barricade and shoot from behind the barricade in any position they choose except prone. 3 Las Vegas Steel Targets at 175 yards.

After the poppers were hit, shooters move right and, from prone, engage 4 clays at 175. After breaking each clay they had to shoot a MGM Dueling popper at 75 yards.

100 points to the winner. Shooter gets 50 points for completing the stage in par time and within round count limit. Shooters had 9 targets and 12 rounds MAX.

Special Exercise – Ranging Targets (No Live Fire)
Round Count: 0
Target Count: 10
Range: 88 to 598 Yards
Time Limit: n/a
Targets: 8 IPSC Silhouettes and 2 Mini IPSC Steel
Position: Any
Point Value: 10 points per correct range call (100 points possible)

At the end of their respective sessions on the 1000-yard range, each squad assembled on the far side of the berm behind the 1000-yard targets. From that vantage point, shooters looked down at 10 targets, placed at unknown distances. There were 8 cardboard 30"x18" IPSC silhouettes, plus two small, 17"x10" steel targets that were partly buried so you had to range on the head. (The steel targets were bonuses--you had to range all 8 silhouettes correctly to get any credit for the steel.) Using only their in-scope ranging marks (mil-dots or hash marks) or spotting scopes, shooters had to calculate the correct distance to each target in 10 minutes. The actual target placements ranged from 88 to 598 yards. You earned points of you were within plus/minus 10 yards. Many shooters found this one of the most challenging tasks in the entire match.

Shooter Comments:
"This was a great stage and not a round was fired. The COF was to determine the range using your Mil-Dot Reticle. Very deceiving and wake up call for some of us. I have a feeling you may see this COF in the near future." -- Spaniard

"The unknown distance was well setup with over 10 targets nicely layed out in the field - we had a specific amount of time to complete the task of ranging. We did have to hurry up but there was enough time to complete the task. The final score showed that the vast majority of shooters needed work in their ability to range targets at unknown distance. Only 9 out of 43 shooters managed to range half of the targets correctly. That should tell you something." -- Desert Frog



Day 2 was conducted on the Steel Range and the 200-yard bay. Bravo squad went to the steel range first, while Alpha started on the 200-yard bay.

STEEL Range Events

Stage 1:
Started out with a Cold Bore Shot (CBS) on a hostage target. Shooters were to only fire on command. After the start of the buzzer, shooters had 3 seconds to engage their target.

Stage 2:
From a barricade, shooters had to fire 2 standing, 2 kneeling, 2 sitting, and 2 prone shots, engaging Las Vegas Steel Poppers at 200 yards.

Stage 3:
Mini IPSC Paper Targets

Slow fire 8 rounds on a mini IPSC target on 8x11 paper at 420 yards.

Stage 4:
Car and Roof--2 minute shoot time.

Starting from the roof platform, shooters had to engage a MGM Target and hit the "T" in the head and then reset it. Then, engage two 10" plates at about 250 yards from roof. Then shoot two mini IPSC Las Vegas Steel Poppers from the roof at 320 yards.

MOVE--Shooters move off the roof to the trunk of our sweet Crown Vic and engage one 12" Plate and 1 Mini IPSC at 540yards.

Shooter Comments: "I really enjoyed the assortment of stages throughout the match. Everything from high precision, target identification, reticle ranging, positional, long range, run and gun--you name it--this match had it all! The only down side to this match and it's diverse COF is now the strong 'local' shooters have been exposed to these type of stages! I think those of us that have competed in this style of match had a bit of a leg up on these folks. Not any more!" -- Dave McGrath, Match Winner

200-YARD BAY Events:

Stage 1 – Know Your Limitations
Round Count: 6 Possible
Range: 200 yards
Time Limit: 90-second prep time. 90-second shoot time.
Position: Prone
Point Value: 2 MOA – 5 points, 1.5 MOA – 10 points, 1 MOA – 15 points, ¾ MOA – 20 points, ½ MOA – 25 points, ¼ MOA – 50 points. 125 points possible.

Stage 2 – Weak Side Only
Targets: Six 3" Circles
Range: 200 yards
Round count: 6
Time: 90-second prep time. 90-second shoot time.
Point Value: 10 points per hit (60 points possible.)

Stage 3 – Stop the Rhino
Round Count: 6
Range: 125 yards
Time limit: 90 second prep time. 1 minute shoot time.
Point Value: 10 points per hit. (60 points possible.)

COF: Shooters will have rifles in their hands on the 125-yard line with loaded magazine, bolts open. After start buzzer sounds, shooters have 1 minute to fire 2 shots standing, 2 shots kneeling, 2 shots sitting. Target is a charging Rhino image.

NightForce Tactical ScopeStage 4 – Know Your Scope
Round Count: 5
Range: 100 Yards
Time Limit: 2 minutes prep time. 1:15 minute shoot time.
Target: Know Your Scope Paper Target
Position: Prone
Point Value: 10 points per hit (50 points possible)

COF: Shooters will have 2 minutes to prep and ready their rifles in the prone position. First shot will be at the 1" RED DOT at the bottom left hand corner of the target. Then...

Go UP 8 MOA on your scope and shoot at the RED DOT.
Go RIGHT 6.5 MOA on your scope and shoot at the RED DOT.
Go DOWN 8 MOA on your scope and shoot at the RED DOT.
Go LEFT 6.5 MOA on your scope and shoot at the RED DOT.

No holding-off allowed, you must use your windage and elevation knobs. Total shoot time is 1 minute 15 seconds.

Mr. Murphy appeared after this stage. Quite a few guys failed to finish their full 4-part scope movement within the prescribed time limit. If they got through just three movements (Up, Right, and Down), this left them 6.5 MOA to the right of normal zero. Some guys just picked up their rifles, and failed to return the reticle to zero before the next stage. Making that mistake dropped Marc Soulie from first to third place overall. (See Comments below).

Shooter Comments:
"I learned a lot and most of all I learned that I need to pay attention to the little details more closely. I [messed up] on the very last stage and dumped 8 easy shots for 10 points each because I didn't return my scope to zero after the [Scope Movement] stage. Then first place beat me by exactly 10 points and took home a brand new USO SN-3 scope. One shot. Just one shot. That freakin' hurt. It's OK though--everyone made mental errors of some kind and the guy who won was the guy who made the least and shot the most consistently." -- Marc Soulie

Stage 5 – Shooting 1" Dots
Round Count: 8
Range: 100 yards
Time Limit: 1 minute shoot time with 1 minute prep.
Target: Eight 1" Dots
Position: Prone
Point Value: 10 pts per hit (80 points possible)

COF: Shooters will ground their rifles. At sound of buzzer, they will drop prone and fire 8 rounds at the eight 1" dots at 100 yards.

Shooter Comments:
"Now I really understand the importance of giving each and every single shot of the match all of the attention, focus and stress it would get if it were the only shot of the match. It's never over until the last shot is fired. Forget the previous shot good or bad, and prepare to shoot 'the next match' right up through the very last shot of the match. This is key." -- Marc Soulie

"This was a very well-balanced match, testing the shooters in all the facets of a tactical marksman--shooting skills and mental abilities had to be in good shape for that match." -- Desert Frog


Zak Smith Talks About the Tactical Shooting Game

Zak Smith TAC TalkZak Smith has competed in USPSA/IPSC, 3-Gun, and long range rifle matches since 2003, with multiple top-10 finishes at major events including the Snipers Paradise Sniper Challenge, TacPro Sniper Tournament, Tiger Valley 3-Gun, and Int'l Tactical Rifleman Championships. As a principal member in Colorado Multi-Gun LLC, Zak has also served as a Match Director in multi-gun competitions. Zak also tests and reviews guns and shooting products for major print magazines including Guns & Ammo, Shotgun News, and Combat Arms Magazine. We asked Zak to share his thoughts about Tactical Competition--both the nature of the game, and the rifles and gear that are employed. Here are his comments:

Tactical Rifle Match Formats
Tactical matches seem to fall into two types: 1) True field-style matches with targets spread throughout terrain and virtually no special rules as to shoot positions/order; 2) Drill-based matches with very specific courses of fire and limited target locations, ranges, and types. The second kind of match is more appropriate for square ranges.

The Rifle--What Works in Tac Comps
A wide variety of guns, actions, stocks, and scopes show up, even in the top ten. Some are really "not pretty", and some are all pimped out. There is usually a mild inverse relationship between the bling factor and performance. However, certain features consistently serve to reduce human error. (e.g. zero stop scope knobs, single or 2-turn knobs, reticle and knobs matching MOA/MOA or MIL/MIL, load tuning for reliability not absolute accuracy or case-busting velocity.)

ultimate sniper stock Zak SmithSome would consider the rifle in the foreground of this picture an ugly gun (with a low-tech stock), but its owner, Mike, is one of the best practical long-range rifle shooters I know. Mike just loves that Choate stock, even though it's super
ugly. It works for him. That just proves function trumps fashion--and, ultimately, there is no substitute for a good trigger puller.

Choice of Calibers
Over the last four years, many guys have gotten away from the big 6.5mm, 7mm and 300 magnums, away from the .308 Win, and into 260 Remingtons (6.5mm-08). In some cases this gives up ballistic advantage, but with a .260 Rem you can run a short action, get good barrel life, and still enjoy excellent ballistics compared to a .308 Win. That said, the .308 Winchester is far from obsolete. It still is very accurate, offers unrivaled barrel life, and you can find excellent loaded ammo at reasonable prices. However, guys still shooting 308s have finally realized that the 155gr bullets blow away the heavier 175gr SMK.

Muzzle Brakes and Suppressors
To brake or not to brake? On these smaller calibers (.260 Rem, .243 Win), people are about split 50/50 on brakes or no brakes. Suppressors are still uncommon, even in the "Free" states. At the matches I attend, 5% or fewer of the rifles wear cans.

Top loaders don't have much disadvantage for rifle matches that value first-round, long-range hits a lot more than elapsed time, but despite this, a Detachable Box Magazine (DBM) is becoming standard. I've found that the AI AW magazines are very flexible for feeding anything approximately the same size as 308, even a bit wider, longer body, or different taper, etc. I'm working on a 6.5x47 Lapua Tactical Rifle project for AccurateShooter.com, and I've found the AI AW magazine works just fine with the 6.5x47 cartridge. [Editor's Note: Jason uses a Rem 700 action with AI CS box magazine, and it also works great with the 6.5x47 Lapua Cartridge.]

When it comes to optics, don't scrimp. Premium optics do make a difference. The U.S. Optics and Schmidt & Bender single-turn or double-turn knobs really help when you have to switch distances rapidly. They also lessen the risk of losing track of your click value. The danger of multi-turn turrets like the Leupold M1 or NightForce is specifically that it is easy to get off one full turn/revolution. Almost every match someone gets off one full turn and the spotter can tell immediately because the miss is FEET high. As far as magnification, most guys are running glass with 14-17x top ends. I'm the odd guy out with the 3-12x50mm Schmidt & Bender being my favorite. You'll find a comprehensive discussion of tactical optics in my article, Practical Long-Range Rifle Shooting--Part II, OPTICS.

Gear and Accessories
My preferred gear list depends on the specific match format, rules, and expected challenges. But here's a list of what I normally throw in the pack and actually take out on the field course. For stationary-style stages, I just carry what I need for the stage on my person. A lot of guys go WAY overboard in bringing gear, wearing gear, and packing gear on a field course. Keep it simple.

Zak's Load-out List:
Rifle, Ammo (add 50% to estimate of amount), Magazines (one to three AI-AW magazines depending on match), Accuracy Int'l bipod, Stoney Point shooting sticks, Rear Bag, Dope (come-up) Sheets (and any specific data sheets for movers, etc., depending on what is expected at match), Tools (on the AI-AW 1.5 chassis, you need to remove the cheek riser to get the bolt out.), Laser Range Finder, Binoculars (if target location will be an issue), EarPro (and back-up), and of course plenty of H20 plus maybe a Power Bar or two.

Tactical Resources and Links
GunsmithsTraining CentersWebSites & Forums
GA Precision
Gruning Precision
Iron Brigade Armory
LongShot Rifles, LLC
Patriot Arms
R+D Precision
KMW Long-Range Solutions
(Terry Cross) (318) 748-8732
Area 52 (Spindler Arms)
Badlands Tactical Training Facility
Central Virginia Tactical
Rifles Only
Sac Valley Shooting Center
TacPro Shooting Center
Tiger Valley
Accuracy International
LV Steel Targets
Nightforce Optics
Snipers' Hide
Schmidt & Bender
Surgeon Rifles
U.S. Optics
West Coast Tactical
Zak Smith Website

Highly Recommended Gear for Summer Tactical Competitions
harris bipod pod-lockcamelback ambush 100 ouncesUS Optics anti-cant device
Harris 'S' Bipod with KMW Pod-Loc--Every tactical shooter needs an adjustable bipod, and the Harris is still the best choice for the money. The $26.50 Pod-Loc is a "must-have" upgrade for swivel-model Harris bipods. Order the Pod-Loc from major suppliers or direct from KMW LR Solutions. PH: (318) 748-8732.Camelback Ambush Hydration Pack--Camelback is the world leader in backpack hydration systems. The "Ambush" model holds 100 ounces (3 litres) of water plus 180 cubic inches of cargo. D-Rings allow attachment to tac vests or rucks. The "Ambush" pack comes in black or desert camo fabric. Price is about $80.U.S. Optics Anti-Cant Device--The rail-mounted, metal-clad U.S. Optics bubble level is the best product of its kind on the market. It has a threaded protective cap to survive the hard knocks, and it folds away when not needed. A scope-tube mounted model is also available. Price for the folding rail-mount version is $68.00.Sniper Tools Angle-Cosine Indicator "ACI"--This simple tool gives you the angle-corrected distance when making up-angle or down-angle shots. It is invaluable when shooting in hilly terrain, or when matches require extreme angle shots. The $99.95 ACI is used by American, British, and Canadian Special Forces.

- For Match Directors -
Vu Pham's 10-Point Plan for a Successful Match

1. Work as a Team. The ROs and set-up crew will make or break a match. Being the match director is the easy part in my eyes. It's the rest of the team that makes it all happen.
2. Timing Is Everything. When you think you have too little to do, you already have too much. We ended up cutting out three stages on Day 2 which worked out perfectly.
3. Do Your Homework. Test and re-test your Courses of Fire. Make sure they work and can be scored fairly. Build redundancy into your target set-up. Things WILL fail or break. We had triple back-up on our targets.
4. Promote Your Match. We made a concerted effort to "get the word out" for this match, and the response was great. You need to market your match ahead of time, and that goes for obtaining sponsorship as well.
5. Take Care of Your Shooters. Make sure your shooters are comfortable. Our temperatures were in the low 90s. Whenever there was a down time we tried to make sure all our competitors had shade and liquids to hydrate.
6. Delegate Responsibilities Clearly. The more organized your effort, the better. Each worker should have clearly defined duties. But in addition, everyone has to know each others' job just in case a team member gets stuck doing something else.
7. Provide Good Instructions. We provided complete written instructions to the ROs for all the stages--down to the placement of targets and spacing of shooters on the line. Preparing written instructions forces you to anticipate problems ahead of time.
8. Safety Is Key. We ran a TIGHT line when it came to safety. 43 competitors + large caliber rifles equals no room for error.
9. Have an Emergency Plan. You should always plan for the worst. Luckily one of our shooters is a EMT and he was kind enough to bring his kit--just in case. All ROs also had medical kits on them as well. Have a medical evac plan so that when you do have a medical emergency everyone knows what to do.
10. Go with the Flow. There will be hiccups, screw-ups and mix-ups. Just roll with it and fix them on the fly. This is where your crew will make you or break you.

Editor's NOTE: Vu Pham and his match assistants Mike Cecil, Clint Moshetti, and Shawn Shaw deserve special credit for making this match happen. Collectively, they purchased over $4000.00 worth of steel used in the match (mostly from LV Steel Targets). In addition to that financial outlay, these men put scores of hours into planning and organizing the event.


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Nor Cal Tactical Bolt Rifle Challenge Credits
Vu Pham wants to acknowledge the capable assistance of all the following volunteers, whose hard work made the Nor Cal Challenge possible.

Range Officers: Mike Cecil, John Karlovich, Clint Moshetti, Shawn Shaw

Setup Crew/Spotters: Rod Davenport, John Dunlap, Bill Farnham, Keith Hansen, George Perrine, Dave Russell, Eric Williams
Scoring Girls: Van Pham, Loan Pham

Special thanks to: Stephanie Britton, Sac Valley Shooting Club (SVSC) Range Manager; Andrea Clark, SVSC Web Master

Topics: Vu Pham, Sacramento, Sloughhouse, Nor Cal, Norcal, Nor-Cal, Tactical, Remington, Bipod, Harris Bipod, .243 Winchester, .243 Win, .260 Rem, Remington, .308 Winchester, .308 Win, 7.62x51, .284 Winchester, 6.5-284, 6.5x47 Lapua, 6mmBR, .300 Win Mag, U.S. Optics, NightForce, Leupold, Leica, Schmidt & Bender, McMillan, Accuracy International, AI, Accuracy Int'l, Surgeon Rifles, Course of Fire, Barricade, LV Steel Targets, LaRue, Popper, Silhouette, Stage, Run and Gun, 3-Gun Match, Mildot, Mildots, Ranging, Spotting Scope, Drag Bag, Boonie Hat, Scenar, Sierra, Amax, Magazine.

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