Thursday, August 23, 2018

Review and Range Trip – With the Ruger Precision Rimfire

I’ve been enjoying poking my nose down the rabbit hole that is “precision shooting”.  I began with a DPMS LM308.  This year I sold that particular system and purchased a Ruger Precision Rifle in .308.  It’s a great gun.  With a VORTEX mildot scope it becomes and exceptional buy.  However, with “cheap” PMC X-TAC ammo running $.75 per round, not to mention match grade ammo running nearly double that . . . it’s a pricey platform to learn and practice all the little details of precision shooting on.

In response to this Ruger released their Ruger Precision Rimfire rifle as a trainer for the Precision Rifle series.  It allows you to learn, experience, practice, work out kinks at a much-reduced cost.  I am shooting Eley Club ammunition.  In lots of 500 rounds the cost is only $.15 per round.  I’ve made two detailed trips to the range after initially sighting in the rifle shooting 50 rounds each trip.  That has taken about 1-1/2 hours each trip, but I believe I got good work done.  And, that’s what this post is about . . . the weapon system, how it’s configured and what I worked on during this last trip.

Let me say up front that this post is meant for the “new and inexperienced shooter".  That is the focus of my blog.  However, I do share these posts on instructor groups as well so I can receive their feedback and share my approach as well.  Hopefully we all learn from the post and the responses.  Time will tell.

The Ruger Precision Rimfire is an 18”, 6.8 lb., bolt action rifle with a 15 round magazine provided (though it will accept standard Ruger 10/22 magazines).  It is built around the form factor of the Ruger Precision Rifle series including their adjustable trigger.  Mine came set for 2.5 lbs. of pull.  I mounted a sling swivel to the provided MAGPUL M-LOK handguard and then attached a Caldwell tripod.  I also mounted a Nikon ProStaff Rimfire 3-9 X 40 scope with BDC reticle. 

The standard range distance for this rifle/scope combination is 50 yards which means you’re looking for group sizes of ½ inch or less.  In a previous trip I tried a number of types of ammunition ranging from the Winchester “333 rounds per box” cheap stuff to my final selection – Eley Club 40 gr rounds.  That is the only round I fired on this trip.  Honestly, over that past 2-ish years I’ve been working on precision shooting I find that after 50 rounds down range my learning and evaluation diminishes so that’s what I’ve settled on for now.

What a good training rifle should do is to emulate, as close as possible, the final rifle you will be shooting.  The Ruger Precision Rimfire does this exceptionally well.  You can fully adjust the stock, the trigger pull, even the length of the bolt throw to emulate its “big brothers and sisters”. 

So, what the heck does one “work on” when attempting “precision rifle shooting”?  Here is my list and my thoughts as they are today . . . time and additional experience will probably change some of these things.

Weapon setup:  the mounting of the scope, bipod, the adjustment of the trigger pull, the setup of the adjustable stock, the type and use of a bag for additional stability and finally, zeroing the system are all initial items.  I’m pretty happy with everything right now.  The zero has held solid, the bag and bipod are working well . . . so all is well in this part of my world.

Ammunition selection:  I was aided by simply perusing the internet for recommendations for precision .22 caliber ammunition.  Ely bubbles out pretty damn quick as “the” vendor many folks use.  There was an exceptional test of 22 ammunition completed and posted by the folks on the website.  If you are looking for comparisons between the host of 22 ammunition available, take some time to look at their work.  You will note that there is little difference between the different Eley rounds and the Club version is much more economical than their match grade option.  As I said, I am happy with that particular choice.

Mounting the rifle and obtaining a consistent and stable sight picture through the scope:  Obviously this is one of a number of elements (in my opinion anyway) to placing an accurate and precise rounds down range.  It consists of a handful of components to do it well.  Loading the bipod – leaning slightly into the bipod to stabilize the front of the weapon and to help mitigate the recoil.  Next is the cheek weld on the comb on the stock.  Finding that spot on both your face and the comb that, when the two meet, your sight picture is exactly as you want it to be.  Next is using your support hand to grip the bag, placing it under to butt of the stock and squeezing it just the right amount to get the vertical placement of the reticle of the scope on your target.  And learning to do this particular process quickly and consistently.  Next is gripping the stock.  What works well for me to help with stability is that I DO NOT wrap my thumb across the back of the grip but rather simply lay is forward along the right side of the grip.  Placing the trigger finger is next, about 1/3 from finger tip to first joint works well for me.  This gets me ready for the actual shot . . . and must be “firmed up” prior to each and every round I send down range.

Next is trigger press:  For about half of the rounds – once past the “cold bore” stage – around 10-13 rounds - I used the “press slowly and be surprised by the shot” approach for half the remaining rounds and then I changed to the “deliberate press” that is simply firmly pressing the trigger to the rear in one quick, smooth press once I see the sight picture I wanted.  And making sure this DOES NOT turn into jerking the trigger.  Finally, follow through – hold the trigger to the rear, come back on target and then work the bolt for the next round.

Hopefully this explains how sending 50 rounds down range can take an hour and a half to do.  It takes time to feel your way through each round, to insure you are doing what you want and . . . when you don’t . . . making notes to account for the “How the hell did that happen!?!?!?” rounds.  On the targets I’ll show these are called “flyers”.

So, for this trip, how did I do . . . and what did I learn.  Let’s start with sheet number one.  A few quick words about these specific targets.  I made these and I use them in my rifle instructor course for BSA rifle instructors.  They are typically shot using iron sights at 50 feet.  However, for a 9x scope, they work great for 50 yards.  And being a lazy critter, I can post two targets in one trip down range and conduct my entire trip without having to schlep down range.  The scope allows more than adequate spotting capabilities at 50 yards.  And, as you can see, rather that writing notes in a DOPE book, I can simply annotate the target and either take a photo of the target for my records or punch holes in it and put it in a range notebook.  I actually do both of these things.

A “cold bore shot” is that first round through the barrel.  It’s placement on the target will not be the same as with a warm barrel.  Most final adjustments made to the scope are after a number of rounds have been sent down range and warmed up the barrel.  That’s why there is typically a place where you can mark your cold bore shot in your DOPE book.  DOPE stands for Data Observed on Previous Engagement.  It is a history of your rounds through the specific weapon you are shooting.  It is particularly handy if you are developing you own loads, but it also lets you learn how your particular rifle shoots . . . and lets you catch issues as they crop up.  These may be mechanical ( say a loose scope ) or perhaps you’re beginning to jerk the trigger or developing flinch.  They are very good tools to help you as a precision shooter.

As I said, they let you know how your rifle performs.  How many times have you heard a shooter at the bench next to you pull out his rifle, send his first couple rounds down range and then say something like “Darn it!! I just zeroed this thing last week and look at it!  It’s nearly an inch off!!!  CRAP!!!”  And then they start cranking on the scope which devolves into “chasing the hole” as their barrel heats up.  I’ve seen this all too often.

You will note that on Sheet 1, target 1 the group is a bit high and only has 4 rounds on it.  Look a bit to the right and you will notice a single round on the left edge of target 2.  That was my first round of the day.  Heavy sigh . . . and while the round group is still ½ inch-ish.  You will notice that by the time I am through target 2, and half way through my 5 rounds on target 3, the groups are beginning to tighten and increasing in accuracy with typically having one flyer thrown in on too many of the 5 round groups. 

So, for true evaluation of how I am doing with mounting the weapon, bagging the rear, placing the reticle where I want it, watching my grip, working on trigger press and follow through, targets 4 and 5 on sheet 1 have value and all of sheet 2 has value.

On target 4 I am posting a ¼-inch group with one flyer and on target 5 I have a ¼ x ½-inch group that indicated by bag work sucked.  Notice the rounds are in a nice, vertical line indicating either I was remiss in the amount of pressure I applied to the bag for each round, or my breath management needs work particularly the pause at the bottom of the cycle.

Note that on target 1 of sheet 2 I have an OK group but it is on the “fat” side of ½ inch.  This is the last target where my trigger press was such that I slowly pressed the trigger waiting for the “surprise”.  This leads to a long-duration trigger press.  The longer it takes, the more things can “wiggle”.  Beginning with target 2 of sheet 2 I worked on a “deliberate” but smooth trigger press.  When I saw the sight picture I wanted, I paused my breath and just pressed the trigger.  Wasn’t concerned with “slow” and focused on “smooth”.  The groups definitely tightened up . . . but each target each had a “flyer”, one round that was uncharacteristically much farther away from the primary group.  This would indicate that for 1 out of the 4 rounds I “jerked” the trigger and did not “deliberately and smoothly” press the trigger.

So, what’s the bottom line for this particular trip?  First, the setup is solid.  The shot placement was precise and mostly accurate for the 50 rounds.  The ammunition is consistent.  The results here pretty well matched my initial sighting in and familiarization trip to the range.  Overall my technique is OK – I think – and yielded ½ inch-ish groups.  That said, it’s apparent the weapon is capable of ¼ inch groups or better.  And finally, the flyers simply show that each and every round is important and I need to focus on EVERY ROUND.

It was a good trip IMHO.  I confirmed that weapon setup.  I got to experience the move from cold bore shots to shots when the barrel is “up to temperature” and actually see the difference.  I was able to work on a couple different approaches to trigger press.  And, I have a list of things to work on for the next range trip.

So, thoughts for new and inexperienced shooter . . . and perhaps experienced shooters.  Take your time on the range.   Yep, it’s fun to make holes and make it go bang . . . but back to a favorite phrase of mine – “Practice with purpose”.  Define your range trip, have a plan, execute the plan and evaluate your work as you go.  Document your trip whether it be in your DOPE book or on the target that you keep or take photos of.  We all spend a fair amount of money on our toys . . . and it takes work to get the most out of them.