At the 2016 SHOT Show, JJ and Denise Johnson of Rocky Mountain 3-Gun fame approached Nightforce Optics about an idea they had for a new match. With the rapid growth in long-range precision shooting, it only made sense to run a match at the NRA Whittington Center in Raton, N.M.
The match plan was simple. Shooters drag around an accurate AR-15 chambered in 5.56/223 and a precision rifle chambered in any caliber they want, from 6 mm to .30 caliber. They are also required to bring anything and everything they might need, like bags, shooting sticks, food and water. All their gear then goes with them for a 2- to 3-mile hike in the spectacular scenery that only Whittington can offer. (Don’t forget that the range is about 6,500 feet above sea level, where there isn’t much oxygen.)
Nightforce jumped at the idea and became the main match sponsor for the Nightforce Precision Tactical 2-Rifle Match in 2016. I was not able to attend the inaugural match, but this year Uncle Sam eased up my schedule and I was able to go. Again for 2017, Nightforce was the main match sponsor.
Friday night Mother Nature decided the range was not wet enough and it rained, and then it rained a little more.I drove down to the match a day early to see some old friends, check out the match and relax a bit. The weather in northern New Mexico had been rainy for the past several weeks, so the weeds had grown tall and the ground was damp. The good part of this is that the freshly painted white and orange steel targets would be easy to see against the dark green backdrop. The bad part of the equation was the damp dirt would provide very few clues to where your bullet went in the event of a miss. This match uses an 8,500-foot-tall mountain as a backstop, so at least we had that going for us.
My squad of fellow shooters was comprised of three regular Joes like myself, a member of the Army Reserve Shooting Team, a law enforcement officer—Craig Calkins—and one lady shooter. In other words, we had all walks of life represented in our squad. Overall in the match, there were lots of sportsmen and marksmen of all types. The match staff/range officers consisted of shooters looking to give back to the sport. Some of them were Colorado-based Marines with a weekend off that heard the call from the match directors that they were running short on ROs. Most of the staff members shot the match a day or two ahead of the main match to ensure everything was good to go.
With the large amount of equipment required to be carried around the course, the 2-rifle match is not for the faint of heart. Photo by Cindy Desplinter
Friday night Mother Nature decided the range was not wet enough and it rained, and then it rained a little more. It had all the makings of a muddy day, but it turned out to not be too bad. We started off the match Saturday morning with the Pledge of Allegiance, then a short and sweet shooters meeting that covered all safety and match rules. My squad would shoot stages 6-10 on Saturday and 1-5 on Sunday, starting off with a long hike to stage 9 at the far north end of the range.
Stage 9 was an interesting stage using an abandoned house from the early 1900s as the shooting area. Constructed of what appeared to be railroad ties, it made for some interesting challenges. The short range AR targets were relatively close, but small enough you had to pay attention. The precision targets ranged from 30 yards to 900 yards. Yes, 30 yards with a bolt gun and a 25x scope. The big test here was knowing where your rifle would hit up close. And the target, a TiddlyWink, is essentially a dime sized poker chip they had taped to a cardboard target. If you hit it, it totally disappeared. I had to dial up my scope to my 400 yard zero to connect on the 30-yard target.
The following stage was a “blind stage,” meaning you were not allowed to see or range any targets until it was your turn to shoot. In the end it was a simple, but high-stress stage. Most everyone on my squad did well on this stage.
Later that afternoon we got to stage 7—a simple but very difficult stage. All the bolt-gun shooting was done using shooting sticks of some sort, and the distant AR targets were out around 375 to 400 yards. My buddy Charlene did well shooting off of a tripod, as did most others on my squad. I was rewarded with five first-round hits out of my bolt gun, but promptly fell apart on the AR targets. I forgot they were 400 yards away, and not the 300 that I had in my brain. The result: lots of points lost.
Sunday would go better for our squad, despite starting off on the difficult Stage 2. We were several feet up on a platform using a tree branch as support for the bolt gun, trying to hit pie-plate-sized steel targets at nearly 500 yards.
To hit the far targets Sunday, most of us ended up holding over the 875-yard target by about 15 feet and 3 to 4 feet of wind drift.Sunday’s shooting was mostly prone or something close to it, and the winds were steady. To hit the far targets Sunday, most of us ended up holding over the 875-yard target by about 15 feet and 3 to 4 feet of wind drift. Most everyone at matches like this dial their scopes to the proper number of clicks to hold dead on for elevation and just guesstimate the wind call. With most modern scopes, holding off is easy with the addition of front focal plane reticles and lots of hash marks. At the day’s end, I had only missed a few targets and had zero brain issues, which was a nice change from the day before.
At the end of the match, a police officer from Albuquerque, N.M., came out on top with 176.75 points, and I ended up in fourth with 173.5 points. In fact, the race for the top five was very tight, with less than a handful of hits separating us.
Match Sponsors like Nightforce, Hornady, Burris Optics, Troy, JP Rifles, Geissele and many others donated a ton of stuff to the prize table. The top two shooters grabbed Nightforce scopes, and the third, $1,000 cash. That’s not too shabby for two days of shooting!
For the match, I dragged around about 45 of 50 pounds of equipment, including an Accuracy International PSR in .243 and a Larue OBR lite. Both had Schmidt & Bender scopes on top, a 5-25x and a 1-8x. They also had Atlas bipods and Thunderbeast suppressors—pretty much the same stuff I have been using for the past five to 10 years.
Bring on 2018.
Tom “Hoser” Freeman has served in the United States Air Force for more than 20 years. He is an accomplished competitive shooter and a frequent contributor to NRA American Warrior and America’s 1st Freedom magazines.