February 9th, 2018

Berger Southwest Nationals 2018 — Report from Ben Avery

Berger Southwest Nationals SWN Team Palma F-TR F-Class F-Open
Thursday was Team Day at the Berger SWN. The rules called for four shooters. But one Aussie Team had a special mascot shooter to add team spirit.

Today, Friday, marks the third day of competition at the Berger Southwest Nationals (SWN), with individual matches on the schedule. Today’s match will have a Palma format, with shooters competing individually at three yardages: 800, 900, and 1000. This is when it really gets tough — no wind coaches. Each shooter is on his or her own. Yesterday, Thursday, was a Team Day at Ben Avery, with four-person teams shooting at 800, 900, and 1000. We saw some familiar squads on the firing line, such as Team Berger Bullets, The X-Men, and Da Bulls, as well as new squads.

Individual Long-Range Competition starts today, Friday, at the Berger Southwest Nationals. The firing line is full — this match “sold out” early. Photo by Sherri Jo Gallagher.
Berger Southwest Nationals SWN Team Palma F-TR F-Class F-Open

Click Image to see full-screen Panorama of 1000-yard firing line at Ben Avery.
Berger SW Nationals panorama Mid Tompkins range match

Full interim results for Thursday’s Team match are posted on the McMillan Fiberglass Stocks Facebook Page.

Thursday’s conditions were much calmer than the Wednesday (when winds were howling in the afternoon). It was very calm in the early morning but then the wind increased gradually during the day, becoming switchy. Many shooters told us the mirage was difficult to read. The sling division was tightly fought, with Scottish HPS Team and U.S. National Mrnak Team tied on points at 1779 at day’s end. The Scots finished first by X-count, 92 to 85. Finishing third was U.S.A. National Hayes Team, 1776-114X.

Berger Southwest Nationals SWN Team Palma F-TR F-Class F-Open

In F-Open, the “Old Gentlemen” of Team Berger lead the way on Thursday, with a score of 1784-92X, followed by Team Lapua/Brux/Borden in second with 1782-101X. Tied on points in third place, but with fewer Xs, was Team Defiance at 1782-82X. This was a bit of a family affair as Scott Harris coached wife Christine and son Adrian, along with shooters John Moreali and Ben Steinsholdt. Larry Bartholome had top individual score, not dropping a point to finish “clean” at 450-21X. Next best was AccurateShooter’s own Jay Christopherson, with 449-31X.

Berger Southwest Nationals SWN Team Palma F-TR F-Class F-Open

In F-TR, Team “Da Bulls” topped the field with 1762-66X, barely edging second-place Team McMillan which scored 1762-64X. The McMillan team was a powerhouse including current F-TR World Champion Derek Rodgers, and, as coach, former USA F-TR Team Captain Ray Gross.

Berger Southwest Nationals SWN Team Palma F-TR F-Class F-Open
The powerhouse Team McMillan F-TR squads featured serious talent. Left to right here, in their red jerseys, are Captain Paul Phillips, Derek Rodgers, and Coach Ray Gross.

One team featured a Father-Daughter Duo, with father Scott coaching Morgan, his talented daughter. Morgan tells us that competitive shooting has unlocked a new world for her. She has traveled to South Africa with her father to shoot in international matches. Shooting at the SWN is a highlight of her year: “I love the warm weather here — It’s snowing back home in New York”.

SWN VIDEO: Father coaches daughter in Thursday’s Team Match:

Berger Southwest Nationals SWN Team Palma F-TR F-Class F-Open

View from the pits at the Mid Tompkins Range at Ben Avery. Photo by Sherri Jo Gallagher.
Berger Southwest Nationals SWN Team Palma F-TR F-Class F-Open

Kelly McMillan showed us a new F-Open competition stock, the Kestros with “Z-Rail”. This features a box-section aluminum extension on the fore-end. This allows a longer “wheelbase” on the stock, as well as a lower center of gravity. Kelly says his company is working may adapting this extension to include an bipod attachment rail. That way you could shoot the same stock in both F-TR and F-Open divisions.

Berger Southwest Nationals SWN Team Palma F-TR F-Class F-Open

SWN VIDEO: Kelly McMillan talks about new McMillan and MCubed (M3) stocks in this video. Kelly plans to host his Taking Stock Radio Show on Friday, February 9, live from the Berger SWN. CLICK HERE for Kelly McMillan’s SWN Radio Show.

Listen to Kelly McMillan’s Taking Stock Radio Show from Berger Southwest Nationals

Rekindle Old Friendships and Meet New Friends
Some shooters come to to the SW Nationals for the swag (the prize table is amazing). Others come for the sunshine (think warm 80-85° weather). And even more folks come to try out their shiny new toys and to test their skills against the nation’s best shooters.

But we’d say the number one reason most folks make the pilgrimage to Ben Avery every year is the camaraderie — the chance to connect with friends, rekindling connections that may go back decades. Fundamentally, then, the Berger SWN is about the people. For many of us, this is the only time of the year when we get a chance to meet fellow shooters from distant corners of the USA (and other nations).

Team Berger
Old Guys Rule — Team Berger topped the F-Open field in Thursday Team competition. NOTE: this photo shows 2017 team members.

Berger Southwest Nationals SWN Team Palma F-TR F-Class F-Open

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February 9th, 2018

Reactive Rimfire! Roundup of Fun Reactive Rimfire Targets

rimfire reactive steel target spinner dueling tree falling plates Volquartsen
An accurate, self-loading .22 LR rifle, such as this Volquartsen, is our gun of choice for speed shooting with rimfire reactive targets.

Reactive targets offer “instant gratification” — with every hit your target moves, spins, or falls. Shooting reactive targets with a rimfire rifle is fun AND affordable. Times are a-changin’ — rimfire ammo prices have dropped dramatically, so you can now get very good rimfire ammunition for just four bucks a box, such as Norma Tac-22. That works out to a mere eight cents a round. At that price, you can afford to shoot every weekend.

Rimfire Biathlon Target — Tons of Fun
RimfireSteel.com offers the unique Rimfire Steel Biathlon Target, a scaled-down Biathlon target designed for use at 50 feet for training and recreational shooting. This is one of our favorite rimfire targets. You can increase the level of challenge by moving it to 25 yards! Watch the video — it shows how to reset the five plates remotely with a lanyard.

Make Your Own Shooting Gallery with Reactive Rimfire Targets
For .22 LR fans, the folks at Action Target have created a whole series of steel rimfire targets. Much lighter than their centerfire counterparts, these rimfire targets are easier to transport and easier to set up. With this wide selection of reactive targets, you can create your own shooting gallery.


Rimfire Dueling Tree

Rimfire Spinning Jack

Rimfire Plate Rack

Rimfire Buffalo

In this video, Michael Bane reviews Action Target’s line of rimfire targets, which includes plate racks, spinners, dueling trees, and more. As Michael explains: “This line of targets is very well thought out. For example — dueling trees are a lot of fun. But a centerfire dueling tree weighs a lot, it’s hard to cart it around. A rimfire dueling tree is easy to set up, easy to carry around.”

New PT Target “Walks” When Hit
Action Target has just released a new reactive target that doesn’t even need a stand or base. The patent-pending PT Twist rests on the ground, and flops over or “walks” when hit. Constructed from a single piece of 3/16″-thick A514B steel, the PT Twist has no welds or bolts to break or ricochet. Watch the PT Twist in action:

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February 9th, 2018

When and How Scopes Fail — How to Diagnose Optics Problems

Riflescope Repairs

Riflescopes are mechanical contraptions. One of the sad realities about precision shooting is that, sooner or later, you will experience a scope failure. If you’re lucky it won’t happen in the middle of a National-level competition. And hopefully the failure will be dramatic and unmistakable so you won’t spend months trying to isolate the issue. Unfortunately, scope problems can be erratic or hard to diagnose. You may find yourself with unexplained flyers or a slight degradation of accuracy and you won’t know how to diagnose the problem. And when a 1/8th-MOA-click scope starts failing, it may be hard to recognize the fault immediately, because the POI change may be slight.

When An Expensive Scope Goes Bad
A few seasons back, this editor had a major-brand 8-25x50mm scope go bad. How did I know I had a problem? Well the first sign was a wild “drop-down” flyer at a 600-yard match. After shooting a two-target relay, I took a look at my targets. My first 5-shot group had five shots, fairly well centered, in about 2.2″. Pretty good. Everything was operating fine. Then I looked at the second target. My eye was drawn to four shots, all centered in the 10 Ring, measuring about 2.4″. But then I saw the fifth shot. It was a good 18″ low, straight down from the X. And I really mean straight down — if you drew a plumb line down from the center of the X, it would pass almost through the fifth shot.

Is My Scope Actually Malfunctioning or Is This Driver Error?
That was disconcerting, but since I had never had any trouble with this scope before, I assumed it was a load problem (too little powder?), or simple driver error (maybe I flinched or yanked the trigger?). Accordingly, I didn’t do anything about the scope, figuring the problem was me or the load.

Scope Failure mechanical Point of Impact

Even expensive scopes can fail, or start to perform erratically — and that can happen without warning, or for no apparent reason. Here are some signs that you may be having scope issues.

1. Click count has changed signficantly from established zero at known range.
2. Noticeably different click “feel” as you rotate turrets, or turrets feel wobbly.
3. Inability to set Adjustable Objective or side focus to get sharp target image.
4. Shot Point of Impact is completely different than click value after elevation/windage change. For example, when you dial 2 MOA “up” but you observe a 6 MOA rise in POI.

Problems Reappear — Huge POI Swings Affirm This Scope is Toast
But, at the next range session, things went downhill fast. In three shots, I did manage to get on steel at 600, with my normal come-up for that distance. Everything seemed fine. So then I switched to paper. We had a buddy in the pits with a walkie-talkie and he radioed that he couldn’t see any bullet holes in the paper after five shots. My spotter said he thought the bullets were impacting in the dirt, just below the paper. OK, I thought, we’ll add 3 MOA up (12 clicks), and that should raise POI 18″ and I should be on paper, near center. That didn’t work — now the bullets were impacting in the berm ABOVE the target frame. The POI had changed over 48″ (8 MOA). (And no I didn’t click too far — I clicked slowly, counting each click out loud as I adjusted the elevation.) OK, to compensate now I took off 8 clicks which should be 2 MOA or 12″. No joy. The POI dropped about 24″ (4 MOA) and the POI also moved moved 18″ right, to the edge of the target.

Riflescope RepairsFor the next 20 shots, we kept “chasing center” trying to get the gun zeroed at 600 yards. We never did. After burning a lot of ammo, we gave up. Before stowing the gun for the trip home, I dialed back to my 100-yard zero, which is my normal practice (it’s 47 clicks down from 600-yard zero). I immediately noticed that the “feel” of the elevation knob didn’t seem right. Even though I was pretty much in the center of my elevation (I have a +20 MOA scope mount), the clicks felt really tight — as they do when you’re at the very limit of travel. There was a lot of resistance in the clicks and they didn’t seem to move the right amount. And it seemed that I’d have four or five clicks that were “bunched up” with a lot of resistance, and then the next click would have almost no resistance and seem to jump. It’s hard to describe, but it was like winding a spring that erratically moved from tight to very loose.

At this point I announced to my shooting buddies: “I think the scope has taken a dump.” I let one buddy work the elevation knob a bit. “That feels weird,” he said: “the clicks aren’t consistent… first it doesn’t want to move, then the clicks jump too easily.”

Convinced that I had a real problem, the scope was packed up and shipped to the manufacturer. So, was I hallucinating? Was my problem really just driver error? I’ve heard plenty of stories about guys who sent scopes in for repair, only to receive their optics back with a terse note saying: “Scope passed inspection and function test 100%. No repairs needed”. So, was my scope really FUBAR? You bet it was. When the scope came back from the factory, the Repair Record stated that nearly all the internal mechanicals had been replaced or fixed: “Replaced Adjustment Elevation; Replaced Adjustment Windage; Reworked Erector System; Reworked Selector; Reworked Parallax Control.”

How to Diagnose Scope Problems
When you see your groups open up, there’s a very good chance this is due to poor wind-reading, or other “driver error”. But my experience showed me that sometimes scopes do go bad. When your accuracy degrades without any other reasonable explanation, the cause of the problem may well be your optics. Here are some of the “symptoms” of scope troubles:

1. Large shot-to-shot variance in Point of Impact with known accurate loads.
2. Uneven tracking (either vertical or horizontal).
3. Change of Point of Impact does not correspond to click inputs.
4. Inability to zero in reasonable number of shots.
5. Unexpected changes in needed click values (compared to previous come-ups).
6. Visible shift in reticle from center of view.
7. Changed “feel” or resistance when clicking; or uneven click-to-click “feel”.
8. Inability to set parallax to achieve sharpness.
9. Turrets or other controls feel wobbly or loose.
10. Internal scope components rattle when gun is moved.

Source of Problem Unknown, but I Have a Theory
Although my scope came with a slightly canted reticle from the factory, it had otherwise functioned without a hitch for many years. I was able to go back and forth between 100-yard zero and 600-yard zero with perfect repeatability for over five years. I had confidence in that scope. Why did it fail when it did? My theory is side-loading on the turrets. I used to carry the gun in a thick soft case. I recently switched to an aluminum-sided hard case that has pretty dense egg-crate foam inside. I noticed it took some effort to close the case, though it was more than big enough, width-wise, to hold the gun. My thinking is that the foam wasn’t compressing enough, resulting in a side-load on the windage turret when the case was clamped shut. This is just my best guess; it may not be the real source of the problem. Remember, as I explained in the beginning of this story, sometimes scopes — just like any mechanical system — simply stop working for no apparent reason.

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