Screen Shot 2013-05-04 at 11.55.47 AMThunder Valley Precision is a shooters paradise! Tom Sarver is the owner and operator. His range is simply spectacular, honestly – I have never seen anything like it. I did participate in two events, the Intimidator match on Saturday and the Head Hunter and Short Course combo on Sunday. It was the first time I had ever participated in a firearms match of any type, and I was nervous and excited in the days leading up to it. Luckily, I have a couple of great friends who are mentoring me, and I was in good hands.

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I read as much as possible about the matches before hand, and asked Don and Bill a million questions in the days leading up to the match. Over the last two years, I have been training with them about once every two months (as we live in different states) and using simulators like “Shooter Ready” to practice dialing elevation and wind into my scope. Eventually, Don invited me to come to TVP, so I could take a step toward my goal of competing legitimately in long range competitions. In order to start improving in proficiency, this weekend was invaluable to see how the really good teams like Peter & John or Bill & Don communicated with each other, how they called corrections, and the steps they took before hand to prepare for each stage. When I practice with Bill and Don at their farm, it is very calm and enjoyable – but they always say I need to increase my speed, that I need to learn that I can hit a target even if everything is not just perfect. When I am at the farm though, I had no real incentive to increase my speed – only to ensure I hit the target every single time, in other words, perfection. After this weekend, with timed stages, I realized how long I was really taking and discovered about a hundred steps in the process where I could shave time. Everyone was really nice, and understood this was my first time ever shooting in a match. It was clear that I was a complete novice – so I know they basically ignored the time clock when I was shooting. I promise that I will be faster next time! I cannot say enough about how kind everyone was – and I sincerely appreciated it!

If you have never participated in a match like this before, I’ll take you though the process from my perspective and all the things I learned. I share this information, because I think that sometimes people, especially ladies, might be interested in doing something like this but may never take the step because of the unknown.

Preparation prior to the match

I was using Bill’s rifle, so he did most (all) of the prep work for this match. He did take time to talk to me about the steps he had taken to prepare. The target ranges were posted for these matches on the TVP website, but Bill and Don had data sheet in a dope book made by TVP specifically for the event.

The night before, we all opened our favorite ballistic calculator apps on our smartphones and entered the data for the load of the rounds we were using.  We entered data like the bullet weight and type, feet per second (fps), barrel twist, type of powder, amount of powder, etc. (I’ll share info on my favorite ballistic iPhone app in a separate blog post.)

After all that data was entered, we only had to tap a button, and the app automatically produced a range card with suggested elevation come-ups. These apps also give you a precise calculated come up if you enter the exact range for each target. So, we went through the known ranges for this match and entered the come ups for Bill’s rifle in the space beside each target.  Because they have shot this course before, they already had data for most of the targets. There is another space on the data card to enter any corrections the shooter had to make while shooting to hit the target, which increased accuracy throughout the day and for use in future events.  (These apps only get you so close, but they may not be perfect.) Once our range card was completely filled out to our satisfaction, we were able to relax, and got a good night of sleep. (Although I was like a kid at Christmas and sleep came slow…)

Day one – Intimidator (four stages/four targets)

We got to TVP around 8:00am on Saturday morning, we were the first people there. The match started at 10:00am, but Tom opens the range at 8:00am to zero scopes and warm-up, etc.  Around 8:30am or so other people started showing up and we chatted with different folks. Don and Bill found John, Peter, and their friend Scott who they had met at other matches – what super guys, intelligent, funny, and kind. Listening to them discuss this sport we all love is like being an audience to a Ph.D level discussion on firearms.

I was using Bill’s 284 Custom Remington for this match, since my 6XC is not going to be ready for a while.

284 my favorite rifle ever, that is until my 6XC is ready!
This 284 is my favorite rifle ever, that is until my 6XC is ready!

Bill checked his rifle and his zero. Then he took a few shots to check his dope and let me do the same. This .284 is the reason I HAD to get a custom rifle myself, after shooting Bill’s rifle a couple years ago, I have never found one that I love more than his baby. I am sure that my 6XC will eventually take the place, as it will be mine and made to fit me perfectly. In the meantime, I am thankful that Bill is kind enough to share!

The entire group headed up to the first stage of intimidator. Since Bill and Don were a team, Tom assigned me with two other shooters who did not have teammates, Scott and Kurt. I think that Scott had taken on this course once before and Kurt definitely had more experience than both of us. I was set up to shoot first, followed by Scott, then Kurt. By the end of the day I was able to spot their shots and tried to make wind calls for them, but at the beginning of the day it was all I could do to remember all the things I needed to do. So, I would like to take this moment to thank them both for being so patient!

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My teammates and I for the intimidator course

From my perspective, here is the process I came to learn after taking on target after target:

  1. Dial your dope for the first target while you are waiting for other’s to shoot (assuming you know the range, which we did.)
  2. When your turn comes, place your rifle down pointed toward the target, flip up the scope cover as required. (If it obvious your bipod needs adjusted, do that immediately.)
  3. Get down behind the rifle, and acquire the target. I “may” have gotten addicted to zooming to the highest power to make my shots, so I had to zoom out to find the target (usually).  Don encouraged me to find a mid range power level and stick to it, as he said I it would cut time in acquiring the target, not to mention – he said I would be able to hit the target just fine even if the target didn’t fill my ENTIRE reticle.  **smile**  I am going to have to work on that one. Toward the end of the second day, I discovered he was right, but I am going to have to practice like that for a while. Someone, maybe John said, “Small power, small error, increased power, increased error,” or something to that effect.
  4. Make a decision if you need to hold wind, this might be based on wind flags, your spotters call, from watching previous shooters, etc.
  5. If you are the first shooter, take your shot and hit!  Or…
  6. Listen for a correction from your spotter, this might be “Hold 1 tenth Left” or “hold 3 o’clock on the target” or “one tenth high” or “no call”.
  7. If you are the 2nd shooter, the 1st shooter will tell you what wind they held when they hit, use this information to aim.

Note: I learned that the first shooter frequently gets a lower score than the second shooter, because they are the one figuring out the actual wind hold, etc.   The 2nd shooter’s hit rate will be higher if they quickly follow with their own shot. I noticed with both Bill & Don as well as with Peter & John, that they were both ready to actually shoot the target and when one hit, he gave a quick wind call and the other quickly followed and would hit in most cases.

After the first stage of four targets, my neck muscles were sore. I realized I had tensed all my muscles so tight, that I felt it all the way to stage two.  The first was the worst, I did relax after that – a little.

Intimidator has 16 total 12″x12″ steel targets divided among four stages.  You can see the stages and distances along the top of the score sheet in the photo below.

Results at the end of the day: Congratulations to Peter and John, they won the team competition!

My favorite stage was #2, I actually hit every one of those targets on the first hit!  (Although, remember – if a 2nd shooter does better than the 1st, I was really like a 3rd shooter.  Don was calling wind for Bill, Bill was annotating corrections, and I was using Bill’s rifle and his data book.)  Did I mention that Bill also kept me from making stupid mistakes, in spite of my occasional protests…  (Thanks Bill!)

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Day Two – Head Hunter (four stages, five targets each)/Short Course Combo (five stages, four targets each)

The second day was a mixed combo of Head Hunters (HH) and Short Course (SC). The HH is made of 20 6″ x 9″ head shaped steel targets, all under 600 yards, and about half in the 300-400-ish range. For HH, you only get one shot at each target, One Shot – One Kill.  The Short Course was the same as Intimidator, with closer targets – you got three chances to make corrections and hit the target. I think all the targets were around 500 yards and closer, they were 12″ x 12″ steel targets. I would like to bring my very accurate Remington 5R .223 (trued by gunsmith Mark Penrod with a Jewel trigger and an Accuracy International Stock) with me to try the short course, it would be a hoot! I think the SC had five stages of four targets each, but if I am wrong, I welcome the correction.

We showed up at the range on Sunday morning to very steady, persistent rainfall.  It was a pleasant temperature, maybe 55 or 60 degrees, but the rain only let up a few times throughout the day.  We had good rain gear, and felt dry – but, the rain brought different challenges.  Everyone had soaking wet data cards. Bill had an arm band with a plastic window where we placed smaller range cards we made for HH.

Don was my teammate for the second day. We shot the first stage of the SC first. We didn’t really know we were going to shoot the short course, we thought it was only HH, so we had not preplanned all our come-ups for the SC.  Tom gave us all the distances for the stage a few minutes before the group got started, and Bill had his ballistic app open and I was writing elevations as fast as we could go. I was still using Bill’s rifle, so when he found out that we also had three shots at the SC targets, he started to get a little worried about ammo to cover the day for both of us on both courses. So he just told me, “You had better hit on the first shot!.” (Luckily my second day was much better than the first day.)

Screen Shot 2013-05-05 at 8.48.36 AMSince we had not known the ranges for the SC until about three minutes before we shot, we made a quick range card for them, but ended up just scribbling the come-ups on our hands so we didn’t soak the paper. Hey, I am sure if are reading this, you want to hear about the good the bad and the ugly.  Shooting in the rain was not an issue, other than we were sharing mats, and especially during the 1st stage of HH, had to take great care not to get mud everywhere!  Because it was a dark day, it may have made seeing the targets even easier, and the rain showed the direction of the wind.  (Although Tom has several wind flags at key points on his range.) I am going to blame the rain and how cold my hands were on a couple of other mistakes I made – and leave it at that.

Over all, the short course was fun – I missed the closest target and maybe one other one completely the whole day – and I hit most of them on the first hit.  We were not keeping score, on that one, so this is my story, and I am telling the one that Don and Bill think is true. Ha! I was using a great rifle, the targets were closer, and by Sunday I had lots of practice!  Most of the people had fun with the SC.  Screen Shot 2013-05-04 at 9.51.30 PMPeter and John used some of these targets to practice with their shooting sticks, Don used a stage to try his sling, there was a gentleman out there with his .223, it was a laid back fun day. There was even one stage that we had to shoot with a log supporting the rifle. I had never done that before, but it was that moment where I felt something click, where I “knew” I had no choice but to pull the trigger when it was “good enough” and not perfect.  I kept hearing Bill say “Hit” when I was shooting off the log, and my confidence when up a lot. I guess moments like this were the whole point of the weekend.

HH was a blast, I want to go do that again! The last stage is ridiculous! Check out the scores below, only a couple of targets were any further than the others had been all day, but there were very few hits that stage from anyone.  The position we were shooting from was across a gully, and the targets were at various elevations scattered on a hillside across the gully. The wind was hard to read and when you corrected for what you thought the wind was doing on that stage, it was (more often than not) wrong.

Results at the end of the day:

We did not write down the short course scores, and due to the pouring rain, it is a miracle the Head Hunters score sheet survived! Here are the Head Hunter Scores for April 28, 2013: Congratulations to Bill for connecting with the most heads all day!

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Overall this was a great experience.  I mainly learned how far I still have to go to really feel like I know what I am doing in this sport. Still, I can not thank Bill and Don enough for teaching me and getting me this far. For the rest of you out there who want to try something like this, Thunder Valley Precision is a great place to shoot. The people were nice, Tom has an amazing range, and everyone is glad to chat and answer questions. Nothing but fun!

Long story short, I cannot wait to do it again!



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