August 16, 2005

High Power Primer

I like shooting High Power Rifle matches. That's not the same as being good at them, but I like shooting them anyway. To spread my addiction I'll try to give you an idea of what's involved. This will be a summation & I encourage you to follow the links I provide for a more in depth treatment. I don't blindly praise it. I have my criticisms of it. But I think you'll find it's an interesting sport & a decent way to develop some basic riflery skills.

Updated 11-05-05 19:00 : A reader pointed out an error I made & I added a correction accordingly.

High Power Rifle covers a lot of ground. There is Palma; Metallic Silhouette; International; Long Range Rifle Match. Infantry Trophy deserves a look as well cause it just seems like fun.

But probably the most popular is the NRA High Power National Match Course of fire. There are variants of the National Match Course such as President's Match (scroll down) (also look here & here for more on the President's Match); Leg or Excellence In Competition Match (which is the National Match course shot with Service Rifle but no sighters used in the quest for the Distinguished Rifleman Badge); M16 EIC Match (scroll down); Regional Match (80 rounds) & Regional Match (100 rounds). The Regional Match is probably the most common variant & is the one I shoot & likely the one being offered by your local gun clubs.

There are a few variants of the National Match Course that are firearm specific such as the John C. Garand Match; Springfield Match; Vintage Military Rifle Match; High Power Sporting Rifle (scroll down to the bottom).

The governing rules for all High power matches can be found in the CMP Competition Rulebook (.pdf) &/or the NRA High Power Rulebook

There are two basic classes of rifle in High Power Matches - Service Rifle & Match Rifle. Service Rifle is what you'd expect it to be - rifles that don't vary much (if at all) from the configuration they were issued in when they were used by our military. Match rifle allows for modifications to Service Rifles or for completely purpose built rifles based on non military actions. One thing they have in common is that iron sights must be used. No scopes (except in the Sporting Rifle class & some mid to long range matches which allow for any rifle/any sight).

The most popular rifle in High Power is the M16/AR15. Most Service Rifle shooters use an AR & many Match Rifles are built from AR's. Why? Cause they're very good target rifles. It's not that difficult or expensive to get them to shoot sub MOA (Minute Of Angle or 1" at 100 yards) groups. The 5.56x45mm cartridge is common enough to be inexpensive & it has very low recoil.

Until the AR started becoming more popular about 10 or 15 years ago the M14/M1A was dominant on the firing line. You'll still see a few M1A's on the line but they're usually Match Rifles as opposed to Service Rifles. They'll do the job if you can. While not as accurate as most Match AR's they will usually be sub-MOA.

I shoot the Garand. *Because of the CMP rules it's a Match Rifle instead of a Service Rifle. To be a Service Rifle it has to have USGI parts or their commercial equivalent made to the same specs as the USGI. What tripped me up was my choice of stock. Seems Uncle Sam wasn't using laminates for furniture on rifles so even though the external dimensions are the same the choice of wood keeps me from using it in the Service Rifle category. Adding a stainless steel barrel would do the same thing (& one of those is on my list). I've done some other things to it since it was a Match Rifle anyway but I'll get to those in another post*. But a stock Garand with no internal bedding or external modifications that deviate from USGI specs is a Service Rifle. They're less expensive than the M1A or the AR but it does take a little work to get them to realize their potential. Still by my reckoning it's cheaper to get a Garand competitive (for a beginner) than either of the other two Service Rifle options. Contrary to the opinions of some the Garand & the M1A are not antiques & can be quite competitive. But more on that in a bit.

There are other equipment needs besides the rifles used & decent advice can be found here, here & here.

To sum it up though, High Power Rifle consists of shooting at targets from 3 different positions over three distances (200, 300 & 600 yards respectively) with iron sights. There's a classification system based upon your skill level & you compete against those in your own class. There are both slow fire & rapid fire stages & the target size varies with distance.

For example here's a page that sells targets used in High Power. The SR target has a 13" black scoring circle on a 40" by 42" paper & is used at 200 yards (for slow fire standing & sitting rapid fire). That's with a 3" X ring & a 7" ten ring. The SR-3C is pasted on the SR target for use at 300 yards (rapid fire prone). It is 24" by 24" & has a 19" black. The X ring & ten ring sizes are the same as for the SR; the only change is the 8 ring is in the black. The MR target is used for 500 yards but if you throw on a MR-1C repair center you have the 600 yard target. That'd be a 36" black on a 64" by 72" paper. The X ring is 6" & the ten ring is 12". It's used for slow fire prone. The big difference between the MR & the MR-1C is the 7 ring is in the black on the latter. Now three feet to aim at may seem like a lot but I assure you it seems mighty small when it's a little over a third of a mile away. That same page has reduced targets which are made to approximate how the actual targets look at reduced ranges. The one that is used at 100 yards to simulate the 600 yard target has a 5.75" black (with a .75" X ring & 1.75" ten ring), which make the 6.35" black of the reduced 200 yard target seem generous (along with it's 1.35" X ring & 3.35" ten ring. 6.25" is what the 300 yard reduced target's black is with a .79" X ring & a 2.12" ten ring. The front sight on most rifles will cover up those targets at distance (well not completely - there should be just a smidgen of black on either side of the post but it's really, really small). Here's the NRA Rulebook section listing the dimensions for the targets.

Getting back to the 600 yard target, if my sight is capable of half MOA corrections (.5" at 100 yards) then one click on either the windage or elevation will move the point of impact 3" at 600 yards. That means if I'm holding on the dead center of the X ring one click will put me out of it. I'll be honest with you; I cannot hold on the ten ring, let alone the X ring. From prone I'm good for about 2.5 MOA with my Garand. That'd be a 15" group at 600 yards which is a solid 9 ring hold at best. If you can hold 4 MOA then you are looking at the 8 ring at 600. & keep in mind that's without taking into account all the other variables. There's the light to contend with (light can effect how you view the target which invariably effects where you're hitting), mirage & wind. Wind is probably the big thing.

Just for the helluvit it I ran a .308 diameter 175 grain Sierra Matchking going at 2,640 FPS through my ballistics program. If you put the top of the front post on the bottom of the aiming black (a 6 o'clock hold) you have to hit 19" high to hit the X ring. That's a 670 yard zero which would be 45" high at 350 yards. It'd be cruising along at 1,674 FPS as it hit the target.

A 5 mph crosswind will deflect a 175 grain bullet traveling at 2,640 fps about 18" by the time it reaches 600 yards. That'd put you in the 6 ring if you were holding dead center. A 10 mph crosswind will deflect the same bullet around 35.5". That'd put you off the paper if you were holding dead center. A 5 mph wind at a 45 degree angle will drift the bullet 12.5" which will put you in the 7 ring & a 10 mph wind at the same angle will cause 25" of drift which would put you in the 5 ring. That's all assuming that you were holding exactly in the center of the target & the wind was constant across the entire range. Wind is seldom if ever constant across the entire 600 yards when you are shooting & my luck is not better than yours.

& to make it all seem a little more surreal the abbreviations for the targets mentioned above are as follows. SR means Short Range. MR means Mid Range. They don't consider it Long Range till you get to 800 yards. Then they give you a 10" X ring; a 20" ten ring & a 44" 8 ring finishes off the black to leave you with a 6 ring of 72" (actually it's not a ring - the rest of the paper after the 7 ring is worth 6 points). A 44" aiming black at almost a half mile (actually the same target is used up to 1,000 yards).

But that's High Power. It's not easy but it's doable if you put a little effort & thought into things.

The first High Power match I shot was a Mid-range Regional Course of fire. That meant 80 shots at 200, 300 & 600 yards. I used a borrowed Garand. I went because that used to be the way to satisfy the marksmanship requirement in the CMP. By the time I got around to it they became more lenient but I figured it'd be fun to try. I thought I was going to a beginner's clinic for High Power but it turns out it was an actual match. I drug a buddy along with me & we both used one of the club's Garands (not easy for him since it was A: his first match & B: he was a southpaw). Scores were pitiful. The only consolation was that I beat my buddy by ten points. But at 600 yards - well I had had some trouble getting the sights set during the previous stages (i.e. I didn't know what the hell I was doing). At 600 yards I took my two sighters. I shot over the scoring rings on the first shot. On the second shot I didn't adjust the sights but just held on the bottom of the paper. I hit the X ring. Acting like I knew what I was doing I added a forgotten number of clicks tot he elevation & held on the bottom of the black (6 o'clock hold).The 8 ring was the closest I got for the rest of the shots & I had more Misses than hits in any scoring ring. But using a hasty sling (I didn't know a damn thing about how to use a sling back then) with questionably consistent sights on a borrowed rifle shooting mil-surp ammo I could hit a 64' x 72' piece of paper. In realistic terms that mans if two enemy soldiers are standing side by side I'd hit one of them, & probably the one I was aiming at.

So hitting the target is not beyond a beginner's capabilities. The hard part is hitting the target exactly where you want to hit it (the X ring or at least the ten ring).

At another match a while later I got reminded of how easy it is to be hard on yourself when you're doing better than you think you are. It was at a reduced range Regional Match which meant that we used reduced targets to simulate the longer ranges as we only had 200 yards to work with. I shot a fairly low score in one of the stages (I forget which). For some reason no matter how much elevation I put on my sight I kept hitting low (turns out my sight wasn't snugged down like it should have been - which taught me to always check the basic stuff every time). The shooter next to me saw I wasn't thrilled about my score so he asked a few questions, gave a few pointers & then said that there was a bright side. I asked what & he stepped in front of the target facing me. I couldn't see any of my bullet holes. He chuckled a bit as I got the point.

Which brings me to the bigger point; High Power Rifle is fun & it's treated as a game but there's a very serious purpose to it. The National Match was created in 1903 by the u.S. Congress (yes, our u.S. Congress) to encourage civilians to become more proficient marksman in the event they were ever needed. The government over the years started become less enthusiastic about the whole idea of a Nation of Riflemen & has been withdrawing support from the National Matches. For a more in depth take on the erosion of support go read a previous post of mine called The Nationals & Defense.

What's worse than the government unenthusiastic view of the national Matches is the seeming view of some of the competitors. It's a game where points are accumulated & awards given. That's fine. But for some it's become more about the points than about the reason you're shooting. Some treat it like golf, where the goal is not to become better but to win the game. Now there are some pretty good shooters amongst this group & I am in no means knocking their skill. What I have doubts about is their motivation. When it becomes more about the exercise than what that exercise is supposed to prepare you for then it's not long before the exercise is modified to the point of not being productive in the original context. In simpler terms what I do fret on occasion is that High Power shooting will become more about racking up points than developing the skills needed to maintain freedom.

Equipment races are part of any sport. So far the rules of High Power have done some limiting of such tendencies. But one thing that always struck me as a bad sign is the emphasis on a shooting coat. Here's Creedmoor Sports page on their coats. Fine coats they are, no doubt. But they're purpose built for High Power matches.

"... Shooting offhand in a Creedmoor heavy shooting coat is like leaning against a fencepost for support. Better Scores prove it."

That's from their page & a little part of me cringes when I think of the implications. They also have coats made specifically for sitting & prone. Now I will assume that the canvas & leather makes for a durable garment, but can you imagine going hunting or camping in one of those coats? Could you imagine going into combat with one of those coats? I can't. The coat I use for High Power is the same one I use for hunting, camping, hiking & generally when it's below freezing. It's got a nylon shell with a wool lining & it's warm as hell. It's not too stiff so my movement isn't hindered & it's not nearly as pretty as the Creedmoor coats. Now I have thought about adding some padding to the right shoulder & left bicep of my coat, but honestly it doesn't really need it (Garands don't generate that much recoil - at least to me).

But imagine carrying this rifle into the woods. I'm sure it's a fine & accurate rifle (& for the asking price it better damn well reload cases while it's being fired!) but it does not make me think of many practical situations where I'd wish I had one.

The same applies to some of the gloves & hats that are popular amongst the competitors. (I don't mean anything disparaging against Creedmoor Sports. They seem to make quality products & have a good reputation. They’re just the most convenient examples I have of the previously mentioned items.) When I shoot I use an insulated work glove & a ball cap (typically turned backwards as the hearing protection always drags the bill down over my eyes). Now it's not that using such items is bad. They'll definitely help improve your score &/or your comfort level. But they have no pragmatic value to a soldier, which is what the National Matches is supposed to do - get civilians proficient with shooting in a martial fashion.

Now before you jump on me for shooting a Match Rifle let me re-iterate that my Garand was chunked in that category solely because of the material used to make the stock. I've made other modifications of a non permanent nature that would also put me in the Match Rifle category but none are impractical for real world needs. In fact I wouldn't hesitate to take my Garand hunting or into harm's way as it is right now. None of the modifications I've made are High Power rifle specific; they're all for the purpose of increasing the accuracy, ergonomics &/or reliability of the Garand.

The rules of High Power also do a little to defeat the purpose of the matches. In 1903 loading one shot at a time was not uncommon. The chief military thinkers reasoned that a magazine (in a bolt action rifle) should be used as a reserve for emergencies while normal firing should be done by loading each round individually into the chamber. That's why the 1903 Springfield has a magazine cut-off lever on the left side.

In slow fire (both standing at 200 yards & prone at 600 yards) you must load one round at a time into your rifle. The reasoning is to not give an advantage to the semi-autos over the bolt guns. An M1A would be able to shoot the entire string without having to work the bolt. Ditto for an AR. A Garand would have to be loaded two & a half times (including the first clip) whereas a Springfield or Enfield (that'd be a 1917 Enfield) would have to be loaded 4 times (with 5 round stripper clips), but the bolt must be worked for each shot. The slow fire strings have a time limit of twenty minutes (not including sighters for which two additional minutes are given).

I see no reason to give a level playing field to bolt action rifles. Nor do I see a reason to give me & my Garand a leg up by limiting M1A's & AR's to 8 shots in each magazine. If the purpose was to make sure you were proficient in using your rifle in the event of losing your magazines or clips but still having ammo then I could partially buy into it. That's not the case though. It's solely to keep the semi-autos from having an advantage over the bolt actions. In the real world, where good hits are judged by how many fewer people are shooting at you you'd take any & every advantage that you could. If the enemy was 600 yards away you wouldn't load one round at a time. You'd load as much as you could & shoot as quickly & as accurately as you could until it was time to move. (Of course there are other real world considerations such as cover/concealment but I think High Power should be teaching the basics primarily so the shoot'n'scoot scenarios aren't being neglected because they're not valid points - they're just not a major concern in this context.)

Another issue I have is with the AR. More specifically the cartridge it's chambered for. To make High Power reflect the real world a little more closely it should take a hole at least .25" in diameter to score. That'd mean the AR shooters would have to have two bullet holes touching each other to get the points. The cartridge simply lacks power sufficient to stop an enemy with one shot. It should take two or three hits with that little .224 bullet to equal the same point value as anything .25 caliber or over.

Another thing about the AR - at 600 yards most folks use a bullet that won't fit in the magazine. Typically a 69 or 75 grain bullet is used for 200 & 300 yards but an 80 grain bullet is used at 600 (or occasionally a Very Low Drag 77 grainer such as the Hornady A-max). The heavier bullets are seated beyond the magazine length so they can only work by being manually inserted into the chamber. Again, if you had hostile types 600 yards away would you want to feed your ammo into the rifle one round at a time?

Mainly the rules I would have changed or added would be pragmatic in nature. Stop penalizing shooters who use rifles were designed to shoot without manually working the bolt between shots; have some reflection of the effect of the shot factored in to scoring, & don't encourage equipment that has no practical value outside of competition.

Course if we really wished to reflect the real world we'd have to do a few other things, such as making cover/concealment & movement between shots a part of the event. High Power though is meant to teach the basics of Riflery. It does this well & from what I recall is the most popular shooting sport the NRA promotes.

High Power rifle, despite my grumblings, is a very fun & enjoyable thing to do as is. It could be better & some of its participants could be more mindful of its purpose but nothing in this world is perfect. If you’ve never been to a match I’d highly recommend going. Hopefully that will get you interested enough to participate in one. Many gun clubs offer instructional clinics on how to get started in High Power. Look at this CMP link & you'll be able to find clubs in your state that have High Power matches & new shooter clinics. Go to one and then go to a match. You don’t even need a rifle as most clubs have Garands or AR’s that they’ll loan you to shoot the match with. High Power shooters (in my experience) have always been super friendly when it comes to helping out new shooters. I think you’ll find the same is true if you start participating. It’s not an inexpensive sport to pursue seriously, but it doesn’t cost that much to get started & see if it’s something you’d like. All you’d be out the first time (assuming the club you go to has loaner rifles & a coach to guide you through your first match) is a $25 entry fee & around $25 in ammo.

Look into it. The links scattered through this post will help you figure out what you need to get started. Give High Power shooting a try. I think you’ll be surprised at how fun it is & probably even how well you’ll do. Then encourage a friend to give High Power a try. After all, the more people who shoot the more people who will likely not vote for gun control. Besides, if the day comes when you’re down in the foxhole you’ll want all the help you can get. Wouldn’t you prefer that help be experienced? I know I would.

* As JR pointed out in the comments I was wrong. A laminate stock or stainless steel barrel that have the same outward specs does not make it a Match rifle. I relied on an explanation of the NRA & CMP rules from someone who read them to mean that "mil-spec" meant material as well as dimensions. Two match directors in the last month (whom I've asked about it) have told me that the dimensions matter, but the material doesn't except for John C. Garand Matches. So if I wouldn't have installed the recoil pad & the Alley globe style front sight I could still be shooting a Service Rifle. Thanks to JR for correcting me on that.

Posted by Publicola at August 16, 2005 06:40 AM | TrackBack

Good post. I keep planning to get in to high-power...someday!

Posted by: Thibodeaux at August 16, 2005 08:55 AM

Your categorization of your M1 as a "match rifle" because it has a laminated wood stock is incorrect.

While your rifle is not legal for the John C Garand "matches", it is most certainly legal as a "service rifle" for CMP Excellence In Competition and NRA Highpower Rifle matches.

Refer to CMP rule 6.1.1(2) Stocks: Must be standard military-issue wood or synthetic stocks or similar stocks of commercial manufacture.

Posted by: JR at August 31, 2005 06:35 PM

You're also wrong about the stainless steel barrel, BTW.

I also disagree with your analysis of the rules of the sport. Highpower is a test of marksmanship ability within a framework of rules. It is not, nor was it ever intended to be, a test of tactics or a simulation of combat.

If you want matches that simulate tactical scenarios, there are other sports for you out there.

Highpower is just fine the way it is.

Posted by: JR at August 31, 2005 06:40 PM

Things are busy right now, but I'll re-check the rules. From my understanding the interpretation of the section you cited is that the stock must be of wood similar to that used by the military. Uncle Sugare never used laminates, so its ineligible for Service Rifle. But like I said I'll re-chek when I have some time.

The SS barrel - how am I wrong on that? Again Service Rifle is designed to keep the rifles in a condition similar to that in which it was made. SS was never a military spec & the rules for SR don't allow SS. Again I'll look it up when I have time.

& I never said it was supposed to be a test of tactics or a combat simulation. What it was in the begining & to some extent still is is a method of emphasizing the basics of martial riflery through competition. The whole purpose of High Power was to make sure the civilians would have some familiarity with riflery in case they were ever called up for service. Not that they would be ready to go into combat skipping basic training, but that they'd have the basics down so less time could be spent in basic training teaching them which end of the rifle to put against their shoulder.

Course I am relatively unlearned int he varieties of rifle sports. If you woudn't mind what are some of the more realistic &/or advanced matches?

& don't worry; since the rules for High Power have went through only relatively minor changes in the last 102 years I doubt they'll change any because of the grumblings of a psuedononymous blogger.

Posted by: Publicola at September 1, 2005 03:33 AM
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