F-TR: Scoping It Out

F-TR: Scoping It Out
by Germán A. Salazar
Three months past the day of the rotator cuff surgery on my right shoulder, I find myself shooting and enjoying F-TR matches. As of today, I've fired four matches, all at 500 yards during the Phoenix "Summer Season" which is limited to that distance. It has been a true learning experience, more challenging than expected in some ways, perhaps not as much as I feared in others. I'll share some of my observations and experiences, none of which will be news to our experienced F-Class readers, but they may answer a few questions for sling shooters contemplating a busman's holiday into F-Class.
My four match scores to date, on the NRA MR65F target are: 594-22, 594-27, 589-28, 596-26. All were fired with the same rifle, a Gilkes-Ross action in a Robertson/Sitman Highpower Prone stock with an Anschütz 5020 trigger set at 2.5 lb., a 30" Krieger 1:11" twist barrel chambered by Clark Fay of Raton New Mexico, with a Leupold BR 24 scope and a Rempel bipod. This is simply my old Palma rifle with a scope and bipod attached. I'm also using an old Smallbore kneeling roll under my chest for support as my right arm is not yet strong enough to rest on while shooting.
Carpet Under the Bipod
The two ranges at which we shoot during the Summer have very different firing lines: one is relatively soft red dirt, the other is concrete. I quickly learned that a piece of carpet was an essential component under the bipod. Without the carpet, the bipod tends to dig into the dirt with every shot, resulting in odd elevation shots. On the concrete it isn't quite as essential, but it smooths the recoil movement appreciably and is worthwhile. John Lowther gave me a short-nap carpet remnant to use for this, but my car floor mat also worked well.
I shot the first three matches with a Leupold BR24 with a 1/4 moa dot. Tha dot size is a bit bigger than ideal as it tends to obscure the entire X ring, especially in heavy mirage. For the most recent match, I switched to a Leupold BR24 with a 1/8 moa dot; this one is a bit too small, but it allowed for greater precision in aiming. Somewhere out there is a "Goldilocks" just-right dot size, but for now I'll stick to the 1/8 moa dot.

Gilkes-Ross rifle with Leupold BR24 scope.
John Lowther again jumped in to give me a hand with scopes by lending me his Nightforce NSX 12-42 scope. I tried it during a recent practice session, but unfortunately, the slots in my rifle's scope rail seem to be on the low end of the width tolerance and the crossbar in his Farrell rings wouldn't quite go in properly. Although I couldn't shoot with it for score, I was able to evaluate the effect of the additional magnification. In short, I can certainly appreciate the enhanced ability to hold-off with precision that the additional magnification provides; but... for now, I remain a clicker not a shader, so this is of less importance to me than it might be to someone who prefers to hold off. Another factor against the Nightforce in my case, is that it would take my rifle/bipod combination over the F-TR weight limit. Although I could reduce weight with a buttplate assembly replacement, there's really no urgency to do so because I'll stick to the Leupold for now.
A small item to note is that my shooting glasses were just as useful with the scope as they are with irons. Having the lens centered in front of the eye was just as useful with the scope as it is with irons.
Clicking or Shading
That brings us to the question of clicking the scope versus holding off. I've been shooting iron sights and clicking sight knobs for most of my life; trying to hold off made me very uncomfortable and the reflex pull of the trigger just wasn't there. Once I returned to holding center and clicking, I was more comfortable and was able to execute my shots more quickly and cleanly. By zeroing the windage knob I was also able to easily return to a previous setting when conditions warranted.
The most serious limitation of the Leupold BR24 scope isn't the magnification, it is the 1/4 moa clicks. My method of shooting, with iron sights and the standard NRA target with its 2 moa 10 ring, is to use 1/8 moa clicks and to click constantly - always working to center the shot and adjusting for the slightest shift in the wind. Unfortunately, when that style of shooting is applied to the F-Class 1 moa 10 ring and a scope with 1/4 moa clicks, overcorrection and lost points happen quickly. In the most recent match (596-26) I dramatically reduced the amount of clicking and it paid off with a nice 200-7 in the first string and a good overall score. The X count was down a bit, but for the first time, I didn't lose any points to overcorrection.
Reading the Wind

Viewing through the spotting scope.
Ultimately, any rifle match comes down to reading the wind. All of our work on equipment, loads and shooting technique don't count for much if we miss a significant wind change and needlessly lose points. In conversations with other F-Class shooters in our club, I found that few were using a spotting scope to see mirage; they were largely relying on the rifle scope. However, the rifle scope is focused on the target, as it must be to eliminate parallax, and thus cannot show mirage with the same clarity as a spotting scope that is focused roughly halfway down the range. After our initial discussion of this topic, F-Open shooter Charles Gooding began to use his spotting scope for mirage reading and his scores have taken a distinct upward bounce.

Aiming through the rifle scope.

I position the spotting scope in the same manner as I did when shooting from the sling. It is very close to me and can be used without moving the head from the cheekpiece. The object, as always, is to minimize movement in order to maintain a consistent position and to minimize the time lost between the last glance at the mirage and breaking the shot.
This picture shows the basic positioning of the spotting scope in relation to the rifle.
Sling vs. F-TR
A number of friends have asked me to compare the two forms of shooting, and that is a very interesting question.
In a nutshell, sling shooting is certainly more taxing physically, but F-TR places a higher premium on perfection in wind reading. I'm certain that my wind reading skills will improve as a result of shooting F-TR. The accuracy standards required for success in either are roughly equal; all competitors have a top level rifle and perfect ammunition. Continuous refinement of equipment, ammunition, shooting technique and wind reading are the keys to success in either category. In reality, there are more similarities than differences and competitors in either one should try the other when the opportunity presents itself - there is always something new to learn.
Obviously, I have a great deal yet to learn about F-TR shooting, but I'm looking forward to it. Based on my rate of recovery from the shoulder surgery, it may be a year before I can shoot in a sling again, so there will be plenty of time to work on it.

All contents Copyright 2012 The Rifleman's Journal