In this discipline, learning how to prevent mistakes pays dividends for both first-year unclassified shooters and twenty-year High Masters.
Highpower rifle is more than a shooting-skill game, although there’s no question that the shooter’s skill is far and away the most important element in his or her success. Still, scoring well across the course demands more than talent in aim and break. Compared to ISU-style shooting, in which score is almost exclusively determined by internal factors such as pure holding ability, there are many external factors at work in Highpower. Wind, weather, time, and distance are among the uncontrollable elements that cause problems, but there are also many controllable factors that contribute to poor Highpower performances.
To make Highpower move toward being a test of pure shooting skill, several elements need to be addressed and their effect reduced. There is no question that setting up the firing point, developing routines, and preparing for certain likely problems all combine to make you a better shooter.
My attitude is that if I am not happy with something, I either replace it with something I like or modify it to work for me. Ill fitting or incorrect equipment costs more points than you might imagine. For instance, I moved the rib pad, straps, and sling hook on my shooting coat. Sometimes the influence is indirect because it affects just your confidence, but there it is and it’s not helping. I will not accept anything I don’t like, and it’s really not difficult to nullify most annoyances.
Let’s look at some of the items needed to remedy or prevent technical problems and examine other essentials I consider mandatory on the firing line.
THE OVERLOOKED SHOOTING STOOL
One of the most important purchases you can make is buying a suitable shooting stool. This multi-purpose item functions better than gear bags, as do stools made for hunters. Get one made expressly for competitive shooting.
The stool is important because it provides orderly and comfortable access to shooting gear. This can make the difference between a minor problem wrecking or even nullifying a string and your moving ahead like nothing happened.
I use a $36.98 Creedmore Sports stool (Dept. PFS, 612 Foussat Rd., Oceanside, CA 92054, telephone  541-7162), and Champion’s Choice makes a similar $32 product (Dept. PFS, 201 International Blvd., LaVergne, TN 37086, telephone (615) 793-4066). Similar products are available from OK Weber Inc., Dept. PFS, P.O. Box 7485, Eugene, OR 97401, telephone (503) 747-0458; and Turner Enterprises, Dept. PFS, 2200 Seminole Ct., Plano, TX 75074, telephone (214) 424-8409.
To get my gear organized into a package I can easily carry, I bought additional gear bags designed to attach to the stool. These bags are delineated by their general contents: tools in one, parts in another, and so on. This approach is far preferable to stuffing everything into the large central pouch on the stool. I reserve that space for the bulkier items such as ammo containers and gloves. Since these pouches don’t add much bulk to the stool, the package remains compact, but is better organized and more accessible.
One of the most important pieces of gear a Highpower shooter owns is his spotting scope. Selecting a scope begins with understanding its function. The scope is primarily used to view the flow and behavior of mirage as an aid in judging wind conditions, not for “spotting” bullet holes. As such, stay with lower-power, wider-angle eyepieces—get something that allows the best view of the greatest air flow over the widest area. I use a 20X wide-angle eyepiece. There are times when the scope functions as an aid in viewing the target face, so it’s also wise to select a high-quality product. I use an old West German scope made by Opto. They aren’t widely available in the United States.
There are two things I am adamant about in scope and stand design. One is that a scope should have a 45-degree eyepiece. The other is that it should be mounted in a saddle-style stand. It’s imperative to position the scope as near to the eye as possible when shooting prone slow-fire. Immediately before and immediately after each shot, I am on the scope viewing mirage. The less I have to move to see, the better, and the angled eyepiece makes that easier.
Likewise, the saddle, in conjuction with the angled eyepiece, allows you to rotate (position) the scope quickly and easily. If the scope is rigidly fixed to the stand head, as it is with a camera-style mount, such fine tuning is not possible. In offhand I don’t normally use my spotting scope, but I usually will set it up about waist-high at my right side. It’s there in case I want to spot a close shot. In both rapid-fire events, I position the scope so it’s accessible enough to peek at my first shots during the reload if necessary, but mostly I have it on the line to watch conditions prior to shooting. I don’t bring the scope in nearly as close to my face as I do for prone slow-fire. It has to be far enough away that there’s no chance of me or the mat knocking it over as I take my position.
TOOLS AND OTHER ITEMS
There is little worse than having something slip out of adjustment and compromise your shooting position. I’ve made some simple modifications to my gear to reduce this possibility.
I once reached a wrench around to adjust my handstop position and inadvertently twisted the screw that loosens the whole works. That screw head is now filled with epoxy. Such remedies result mostly from bad experiences; however, take a critical look at any fastener (especially those associated with the sighting system), assume the worst, and see if it’s possible to head off any problem it could cause.
To make on-the-fly modifications of my gear, I fashioned some Allen wrench combination tools, which resemble a lug nut wrench. I carry two of these in my stool as well as a loose version of each necessary size. I don’t want to hunt for one; when I need it, I usually need it now. Also, I carry a torque wrench in case I have to break my gun down. A torque wrench is the only correct way to tighten action screws. With a properly bedded gun and properly torqued screws, reassembly will show an insignificant, if any, change in zero.
It’s wise to carry a spare sling swivel and sling. These items won’t bend or break until they are under pressure, and that only happens on the firing line. I carry spare stripper clips, ear plugs, ink pens, and a few other small items that are prone to failure or misplacement. Make sure these parts have been tested and found to work. Unopened packages have no place in shooting gear.
As for personal items, a headband can prevent perspiration from smudging shooting lenses, and treating glass surfaces with an anti-fog cleaner prior to shooting reduces the chance of condensation. There is no worse predicament than going down for rapid-fire, looking through the sights, and finding you can’t see. Therefore, keep a small towel handy. Also, always pack your wet-weather gear if there is any chance of rain.
This may sound like I’m carrying around a lot, but not really. Compared to what most other competitors pack, I’ve omitted better than half the paraphernalia. My range luggage resembles more what one of the crack Service team shooters carry. I realize where the limitations of preparedness end and unnecessary burden begins. One item I don’t carry to the firing line, for instance, is a cleaning rod and maintenance gear. I have that gear, but I don’t use it on the line because most technical problems that befall rifles are not easily remedied on the line. It’s wise to pack a spare parts kit that might include sights and other major components, but be realistic. It’s pointless to lug anything to the line that’s not easily and quickly replaceable.
PREPARING TO SHOOT
When athletes in other sports step onto the field, they are ready to play. Likewise, shooters should come to the line prepared.
When it’s to shoot any Highpower stage except the 600-yard prone slow-fire event, I have on my coat, sling, glasses, and hearing protection. My clips are loaded. All I need to do is pick a spot on my firing point, place down my scope, lay out my gear, and wait for the 3-minute preparation period to begin. Preparedness is less a factor in the 600 because I normally finish my string well below the time limit, usually six to eight minutes.
When I advance to the line, I follow the same program every time. I first find the best possible spot within the firing point. Don’t just walk up, plunk down the scope, and set up around that. Though I do suggest setting up around the scope, take care to determine where that base point should be. Since a Highpower firing line is almost never smooth and level, critically look at where you are about to stand, sit, or stretch out. There’s no reason to end up with an elbow in a hole or a rock underfoot. I’ll move anywhere within my firing point to find the best terrain, but I’ll also accept that I may not be able to avoid poor terrain. In that case, I immediately alter my stock or shooting position to accommodate the prevailing conditions.
You also need to realize that uneven terrain can be an advantage. It’s possible to use the ground to adjust or refine your natural point of aim and weight distribution. For example, in the sitting position, my ideal position is with my feet on a slightly higher plane than my rear. But I don’t like to have my feet lower than my rear. Check your point to see if it can accommodate your preferences, and avoid terrain that opposes those set preferences.
Ideally, all I worry about during the prep period is finding my natural point of aim and warming up for the event. I will have been watching the wind beforehand to see if there’s a pattern to it. Though I study conditions again prior to shooting, I arrive on the line with a good idea of what to expect.
It is important to spend as much time as possible confirming and adjusting natural point of aim and dry-firing, which means that the more time that can be created for this, the better. The shooting position must feel the same each time out, which often means adjusting the rifle, working with the terrain, or both. It’s imperative to have sufficient time to make these adjustments and get comfortable with them.
Not paying attention to your natural point of aim is probably the single most common and costly mistake I see people make. There’s no excuse for it. I don’t know how many times I see people just walk to the line, load the gun, and start shooting offhand. The short time and simple effort necessary to discover your natural point of aim makes each event much, much easier.
I warm up to shoot offhand even before leaving for the range. After breakfast I find my position, hold the gun, and rehearse my upcoming performance mentally. Since most Highpower matches schedule offhand first thing in the morning, it’s surprising how much faster it is to find the position and natural point of aim at the match after this little warm up session. I warm up for the rapid-fire events on the firing line by operating the bolt several times to remind my muscles what they need to do.
Bringing the rear sight to zero is compulsory prior to shooting any event. One of Highpower’s greatest disasters comes after forgetting to take the sight to event zero before firing a string. That will not happen if the shooter establishes two separate times he checks his event zero.
I make my sight change for the next event before I leave the line for the previous event. I index the sight windage knob back to its no-wind zero setting and then move both windage and elevation to the correct zero for my next event. I then double check my event-zero when I’m on the line for the next stage. At this time I calculate any wind I need for conditions and put it on.
For those not familiar with these concepts or terms, no-wind zero is a predefined starting point for the windage knob. My no-wind zero is my 300-yard rapid-fire setting: 0 on my windage knob would result in a vertically centered shot on a calm day at 300 yards. Event zeros are unique settings necessary to center shots from different yard lines and shooting positions. Therefore, my no-wind zero is also my event zero for 300 rapid. I then have three other event zeros which work from that setting.
I hold the rifle with varying degrees of cant to make it fit my body better. In offhand the rifle is canted toward my left. In sitting it’s canted to the right, and in prone it’s canted left, but not as much as in offhand. I attached my rear sight base so the sight sits vertical in in prone, and I then rotated the clamp-on front sight mount to match. Since my sights are level for this event, that’s why my no-wind zero is for 300 rapid. If a shooter held his gun upright for each position, no-wind zero would be essentially the same at 200 and 300 yards. Drift caused by the effect of bullet spin requires a minor compensation at 600 yards.
Elevation, by the way, is more variable than wind from match to match and day to day, and that’s why I don’t have an elevation “zero” setting indexed on my sight knobs for any particular yard line. Obviously, though, elevation zero needs to be high on the checklist in preparing to shoot an event. My elevation is indexed using the vernier scale on my rear sight.
MASTER THE BASICS
Because so many external, uncontrollable factors can affect your Highpower performance, it’s vital that you control on the basic elements of the sport in your favor. To make your Highpower scores climb, troubleshoot the essentials. You’ll become more technically competent as a result, and you’ll be more confident to boot.