Shooting Events: Getting Started in F-Class

Getting Started in F-Class
(or: How easy it is to have fun with rifles and equipment you probably already have…)
by Rod Vigstol

Forks Rifle Club, Grand Forks, North Dakota
I don’t know about you guys, but it sure has been a long off-season winter for me. No F-Class shooting currently going on in my area at this time, its winter up here and unlike some folks we know, we can’t shoot in the winter. There is something about frostbite and freezing your trigger finger after the first shot that just takes all the fun out of it.

My first year of competing in F-Class was great and I have been busy preparing for this coming season.

The last match I participated in was the F-Class Nationals in Lodi, Wisconsin. Since that time, my thoughts have been preoccupied with F-class topics: getting a new stock, chambering up a new barrel, brass work, equipment review and improvement. But even more so, I am focusing on improving my skills as a shooter. One thing that really helps is having other shooters to compare notes with, to discuss the effects of wind, light, form, mental conditioning, etc. However, therein lies my problem - I don’t personally know that many skilled competitive shooters, and the guys I that I shoot with have pretty much the same skill sets I have. But there is hope, I will be attending a Wind Clinic in Elk River, Minnesota this April and I am stoked to suck up all the knowledge I can absorb.

Looking back over the past year, because of F-Class, I found a real good shooting buddy, Brad Sterup, this past year. Brad had never shot F-Class before this year, but had the basic knowledge of what an F-Class match is, good equipment and the desire to give it a try. The nearest organized shooting opportunity we have here in Fargo, North Dakota is up in Grand Forks at the Forks Rifle Club.

Brad Sterup with his .308
The Forks Rifle Club is a fantastic range for serious shooters by the way. It is a 160 mile round trip from Fargo, so Brad and I car pooled to the matches and during that time, we found we have a lot in common. This past year, I shot in F-Open, while Brad shot in F-TR. Brad even went on to win the Mid-Range overall aggregate in F-TR this year at our club. Honestly, I am pretty envious of the gorgeous trophy he received for his shooting efforts. I mean hey, I talked him into shooting with me, I’m older and better looking, so why didn’t I get something too?

In retrospect, I got something better; I got a new friend who I can discuss shooting, accuracy and marksmanship with and is on the same page as me. Even better, I got someone involved in the sport I love, hook line and sinker! Brad is in the process of building a new rifle for F-Open and I know he is going to be a threat to my shooting self-esteem. Aside from meeting Brad, I was able to make other new friends with members of the Forks Rifle Club and a couple of these guys are very accomplished shooters.

By now you might be asking: “Okay Rod, but where are you going with this story of yours? Sure it’s a warm and fuzzy tale of how you found a poor boy wondering aimlessly on the prairie then suckered him into paying half your gas so you could go shooting. Big deal, now there are two of you Tundra Wookies running around thinking you can shoot.” My point is, if you’re lonely, time to get your friends on the firing line with you! It’s a lot easier than you think.

Tracey Janisch
If you’re reading this, you have more than just a general interest in the shooting sports and in the awesome rifles that shoot tiny groups at insane distances. You probably even have friends that enjoy shooting as much as you do. The quandary you may find yourself in is your friends haven’t quite jumped into it head-first like you have and they haven’t spent a lot of money and time obtaining the equipment you have to go shoot these matches. But you know what? Your prairie dog shooting buddy or coyote hunter friend can attend these matches and shoot alongside with you. He or she more than likely already has the basic equipment to needed to shoot a match. They can have a great time, and get hooked just like you did.

It really is that easy, in fact, I just did it again. That is, I got a shooting buddy, who doesn’t have all the fancy gear I have, all fired up to give F-Class a shot this coming year with just the shooting and hunting gear he already has.

After some birthday cake and ice cream the other night, my brother-in-law Noel and I invariably starting talking about shooting, deer hunts gone by and future prairie dog shoots, etc. Noel is great hunter, good marksman, likes accuracy and fine rifles too. He, like many others are of the notion they need to have a custom action with a custom barrel chambered in some blazing exotic wildcat cartridge with a million dollar scope on top of it to shoot in a F-Class match. They tend to worry about looking like a complete greenhorn. I advised Noel: “Grasshopper, this is where you are mistaken, you already have the means to accomplish this goal, and you are simply overlooking the obvious.” “Really, enlighten me Sensei.”

I am speaking primarily to folks that have access to their local rifle club with rifle ranges varying from 100 to 600 yards, where F-Class Mid-Range matches are held, or can be held. I will explain what I have experienced when attending these matches.

Ruger M77 VT - Serious prairie dog  medicine,
great rifle to try F-Class with
Most varmint shooters, whether they shoot prairie dogs, hunt coyotes or whatever, probably already have a “varmint rifle” of some sort. Whether it is the typical varmint style rifle like the Remington VLS in .22-250, or a sporter weight Ruger 77 in .223, you almost ready to shoot F-class.
Chances are you already have the following equipment:

• A variable power scope in the 4.5-14x range or higher, will work just fine to give this great sport a try.

• A front bipod like the trusty old Harris 9" to 13” or maybe you even have a Caldwell front rest.

• A rear bag or similar to rest the butt stock.

• A basic shooting mat from Midway or at least a piece of carpet or canvas to lay on.

Well, heck son, you have the basic equipment, let’s go shoot F-Class. What? You don’t think you can shoot past 300 yards? You’re worried about looking silly? Trust me, we all had to start somewhere and I’ll help you. Besides, you already have the basic knowledge of how to get on paper at 500-600 yards. Let’s get on the computer and go to a ballistics resource site like JBM Ballistics or many others, and I’ll prove it to you. Leave the looking silly up to me, it’s one of my natural talents.

We already know that your .22-250 is sighted in for 200 yards and shooting a 55 grain Hornady V-Max bullet at 3600 fps. This is one of your favorite varmint loads and you can hit pop cans at 200 yards all day long, right? The computer ballistics program shows us that this load, zeroed at 200 yards will need a scope elevation adjustment of 1.5 to 2 MOA to be on at 300 yards and an additional 8.5 to 9 MOA to reach to 600 yards. “Wow, is it that simple?” Yes it is… But let’s dump in some additional environmental data in to the ballistics program such as the expected temperature, altitude, humidity and several wind factors, like a 5 mph & 10 mph crosswinds. Now we have some core data to make our adjustments from; print that little data sheet and keep it handy. But before we go to the range, we need to grab a few other essential pieces of equipment like ear and eye protection.

Jackson Soeby - Son of Tod Soeby,  2011 IBS 1000 yd BR Nationals winner
A few other trinket things I like to have with me on the line are:

• Notebook to take notes and record scope adjustments made (so I don’t get all screwed up wondering which way I need to adjust). Don’t forget a pen or pencil.

• A small piece of canvas or carpet to place your bipod legs or rest on so it doesn’t sink into the ground. I use Bob Pastor’s huge Viper F-Class feet on my rest, they will not sink.

• A kitchen timer so I know how much time I have to shoot. Typically we have 17 minutes to shoot a 15 round relay and 22 minutes to shoot a 20 round relay. This is not a race to see who can get his rounds downrange the fastest. Take your time and think about each and every shot.

• Elbow pads, for one or both elbows. Some berms or firing points are soft, others not so soft.

• Shooting Hat, one of those things that look silly on your head, but is worth its weight in gold. Permits you to not only block out the sun from the front, but the sides. Makes you look serious too…

• You will need an “Open Bolt Indicator” or OBI for short. This is the yellow plastic thing you stick in place of a closed bolt on your rifle. It is a safety item as it signifies to those around you that your rifle is in a safe condition. Just ask for one and someone will have an extra or you can buy one at the match for a $1.00.

• Camping Chair or small stool to sit on when it’s your turn to score the other guy. This may or may not be necessary as some matches are informal and you may find yourself recording your own scores. In an NRA Approved Match, you will score the other person and he will score you.

• Cleaning Rod. Trust me on this one, it is far better to have one with and not need it, instead of finding out you somehow left a cleaning patch in the chamber two seconds after being given the command to load by the line officer. This I know from experience.

Gary McKenzie
Alright, we’re almost ready to go shooting. Have you got everything we discussed? Are you sure? Okay, where is your ammo? I knew you forgot something, been there & done that… Now you may be wondering how much you should bring. That is pretty easy to determine, but depends on the match format and which club is running the match. Find out how many shots the match consists of (40, 60 or 80 are typical) and bring 10 to 12 extra for sighters; that will cover you well.

All right, now we are ready to go to the match and have fun. At High Power Rifle matches (F-Class is a division of High Power), 99% of the time, it has been my experience that there is a lot of help available for the asking, you just need to ask. There are many super folks out there ready and willing to take you under their wing and guide you through this first time. Just stick with them and they will show you the ropes. The best of them remember being the “Rookie” and so they will know of the concerns you may have.

Nobody I know likes to be embarrassed and walk around feeling like you wearing a blaze orange dunce hat. You owe it to yourself and to your shooting buddy to ask any and all questions you may have. So please ask questions and never assume you know it all, regardless of what you may think, none of us truly know it all. Funny though, how we seem to run into folks that think they do - stay away from those folks!

Okay on the other hand, maybe you don’t have a shooting buddy or friend that is active in this sport but you’re bound and determined to attend one of these matches to see what it’s all about. GREAT! Go for it! This is how I got started because it seemed like I moved every couple years and within my circle of friends at the time, no one seemed to be as interested as I was about shooting. In retrospect, I have been told many times I march to the beat of a different drum. Que sera, sera!

So rather than just read about shooting F-Class or High Power and whining to my wife about how I had no one to play with, I sought out these types of matches and attended them by myself. It was simple, I wanted to learn and I was going to do what it took. The first F-Class match I attended was 1000 miles away from my home. I did my research ahead of time and found out about a match that was to be held in the area I was to be traveling in. I then contacted the match director, the rest is history.

Tom Reiten and others readying for pit duty
My work takes me all over the country and as a result I have shot in different matches all over the states over the past 10 years. Not only F-Class, but also Service Rifle, LR Benchrest, Smallbore, etc. But more important to me is that I have met some fantastic folks and forged great friendships by doing one simple thing: contacting the match director to volunteer my time at a match.

It is as simple as making a call or sending an email to the match director advising that I would be in the area, bored in a hotel and would like to help at the match doing whatever needed to be done. Match Directors are volunteers themselves and I’m telling you, these folks love to have extra help. It was a win-win situation, I got to meet new people and make new friends, all the while learning something about the particular discipline of the match I was attending and the Match Director got cheap help.

You get to see first-hand the varied types of equipment and accessories you may need. More importantly, you too will meet great folks and make new friends. More often than not, when you volunteer to help out, somebody will ask you why you are not shooting. When they find out your visiting the area and have never participated in this type of shooting or maybe you just have any shooting gear with, you’ll be very surprised to see how many folks offer to let you shoot their equipment and even ask you to shoot with them on a team match.

Okay, back to my earlier focus and that is getting started shooting local when you don’t know anybody who participates. Just finds out who is the match director and contact him ahead of time if you can. If you can’t get a hold of anybody, just show up at the scheduled match well ahead of time and be the first guy there waiting. Introduce yourself to the folks coming to the match until you meet the Match Director; tell them you’re a new shooter and that you have not done this type of shooting before. They will generally appreciate this information, it will make their job easier and more likely than not, they will get you hooked up with someone who can mentor you through this process. But be sure to advise them you have no experience in a formal match setting; whether it’s getting set up on the line, shooting the match itself or that you have never worked the pits before.

Rich Plum, deep in mental preparation
Like I said, we have all been rookies, newbies, new kids on the block or whatever. So we all have a good idea of what may be going on in your mind, the questions you may have, the concerns, etc. I’m telling you this sport is full of fantastic people who deep down find it far more fulfilling to help a new shooter get started than running a clean target. You just have to take the first step to get involved.

As a side note, if I can be of any assistance to anyone one reading this, to get started, hooked up, answer any questions, eat your food, etc, please send me an email and I will do my best to help you out. I can be reached via email at: Nodak7mm (at) yahoo (dot) com I really would like to hear from you.

Rod Vigstol

All contents Copyright 2012 The Rifleman's Journal