Steve Lockwood and Josh Davis join Daniel Shaw for today’s episode of The Mag Life Podcast to talk about Precision Rifle shooting. Steve is a competitor and Josh is a former active duty army sniper, now turned enthusiast. Both work at GunMag Warehouse. Steve is the purchasing manager and Josh is the order fulfillment manager. Steve just got back from a major shooting event, the Precision Rifle Finale.
Listen in as the three discuss the benefits of precision rifle shooting, from how to get started in the sport to the camaraderie that you’ll find amongst the people who love the sport.
Host: Daniel Shaw
Guest: Steve Lockwood and Josh Davis
Introduction/Timeline: Stephanie Kimmell
1:31 How do you get invited to something like a national Precision Rifle competition?
Daniel asks if it’s common for people to just shoot a few matches and then make it, or if people work all year long to accumulate enough points to be able to go to the national championship. He asks, “What’s the goal?”
Steve started competing nationally about three seasons ago, with the goal to make the Finale in that season. He says he dry-fired about an hour per day, five days per week, along with training at the range every Saturday and Sunday. He shot about 18,000 rounds over the course of 12 months in order to train up and get better at the sport. He made it in by the skin of his teeth.
2:16 How did Josh get into the army sniper program?
Josh says he got pretty lucky in that regard. Coming out of training, he joined an airborne infantry battalion. The head of the battalion sniper section invited him to try out for the reconnaisance platoon. So, he took a risk. He tried out and was selected, later being picked for the sniper section.
Josh says, “We did a pretty good train-up and I had my opportunity to go to the schoolhouse at Fort Benning. I spent the whole rest of my short five-year career doing that.”
Obviously, he liked it well enough to continue with precision rifle shooting as a civilian.
3:40 How is long-range shooting different from other kinds of shooting?
Daniel opines that long-range isn’t the most exciting form of shooting. You have to take your time, there’s math and calculations involved in getting that first-round impact. But he acknowledges that to some people it’s extremely exciting. There are guys who do other types of shooting as well, but precision shooting has become their main area of expertise. He asks Josh, “What’s the draw?”
Josh says that for him personally, “There’s just something about hitting a small 10-inch target at a thousand yards that puts a smile on your face. The level of precision it takes all the different factors that come into consideration, from environmentals to velocity, ballistic coefficient. To me, it’s almost like the culmination of marksmanship at the highest level.”
He says there are levels that exceed precision rifle shooting, as in Extreme Long Range (ELR), “but for your average Joe who doesn’t want to spend $7 every time he pulls the trigger, PRS and regular precision shooting is just a good way to exercise your fundamentals and learn a whole lot about every form of ballistics from internal to external.”
Precision rifle competition shooting is a good way to put everything you know about shooting together for a common goal, which is to just hit really small stuff from really far away.
5:16 Steve has competed in other shooting sports disciplines, so why has precision rifle shooting become his main one? Daniel asks, “Is it because you’re best at it?”
Steve says he had a pretty natural progression in shooting sports. He used to compete in high-power rifle, which is a little bit closer range at 100 to 200, maybe out to 500 yards, depending on the facility. When he relocated for work to a place that didn’t have any rifle matches, he got into pistol sports, USPSA and IDPA predominantly. Then, 3-Gun Nation kicked off, so he got involved in that. He was in the first ever 3-Gun magazine and competed on a national level in all three of those sports, simultaneously.
“I won quite a few titles in USPSA and IDPA and kind of got bored with the sport, didn’t know what else to do and in that time a long range facility opened up in the vicinity of where I was living, because I had relocated again.”
His new employer sent him to a PRS match, since he was the only one with skill doing it, so that’s how he got started in Precision Rifle shooting. He says, “I went, had a great time, and just took off from there — never stopped.”
6:33 For those who don’t work in the firearms industry, the regular end-user out there, how do you get into it?
Digging into YouTube videos and such, it can seem daunting, with the cost of rifles, gear, equipment, and backup rifles. At a glance, it looks like it has a very high dollar amount and can become time consuming, with a very high learning curve as well. But Daniel notes that he doesn’t think that’s the case, talking to Steve and Josh and hearing their stories.
So where do you start, and whats the bare minimum you need to get out and experience Precision Rifle shooting and see if its something they want to pursue?
7:24 The first thing you need is a proper mindset.
Steve advises, “If you have the wrong mindset going into it, you’re going to have a horrible experience. But if you go in with whatever you own, whether it’s an ar-15, an AR-15, your grandfather’s hunting rifle…just go out and show up and be willing to learn and understand where you are in your learning process. You can have a great time.”
He tells a story about the North Texas Precision Championship about a year ago. He was in a squad of seven people. He was in first place, going into that match, so he was competing to win the North Texas title.
“I had five new shooters on my squad. All five of them never had shot a match. One of them had only bought a gun a couple weeks prior. They all showed up, and I love coaching new shooters. I had a blast, they had a blast, and I believe all of them are still in the sport. They came out with the right mindset, stuff they already owned. Some of them have progressed more, some of them just kept wanting to have fun shooting what they owned.”
8:21 The Importance of Growing the Sport
Daniel brings up something that he has seen in every competition he’s ever shot in, as well as in some of the video that Steve and Josh broght back from the recent competition. It’s that the people involved unanimously prioritize growing the sport. They want to be their best and are disciplined with their training.
Some of the people at the matches spend a crazy amount of money and/or have lots of sponsors from the industry. And there’s the other side of the spectrum too, with competitors who don’t have very much but they do what they can with what they’ve got. And, if a new person shows up, they’re dedicated to helping them grow in it. Gear and guns are loaned out, sometimes even letting someone use better ammo. It’s people taking care of and teaching each other.
He remembers when he used to shoot in service rifle matches, people were handing him things that he didn’t have that they though he’d need. “They thought it was awesome that somebody that wasn’t 60 years old was out there shooting in an NRA service rifle match. I had the same experiences with IDPA and USPSA, where everybody’s just really trying to help each other out.”
Steve follows up by saying that when he got into competitive shooting a little over a decade ago, there was a big age disparity among the shooters.
“When I got into it I was in my mid-twenties and there were very few people in my age group. The next closest person would be fifteen to twenty years older than I was. So I think that they saw the young shooter getting into the sport was ambitious, and they liked that the sport was going to carry on. There’s a lot of tradition to it. We talk about the second amendment. We all know that we all need everyone in the community and we need the younger generations to continue going forward. And comraderie is really the only way to do it.”
Josh agrees, saying that more participation benefits everyone involved.
“The more people that are into this, the more companies that are going to come out, the more existing companies that are going to roll out better products. They’re going to compete. Prices are going to get better so that barrier to entry isnt so high.”
Not only that, there’s the understanding that there’s that many more people out there who are familiar, comfortable, and trained how to effectively engage targets at long range.
He remembers the first match he ever shot. At the time he was a trained army sniper.
“I showed up open-minded and I’ll tell you, it’s humbling to get circles run around you by a dentist. I realized, hey, there’s so much more to this to learn that you don’t necessarily get, even from a professional background in the military and law enforcement. There’s guys out there who, like Steve said, will put 18,000 rounds downrange in a year because they have the time and the income to do it.”
He points out that there are many budget and time constraints in the military or in law enforcement, that you don’t necessarily get to do that all the time. “So, these guys seem more than willing to help you out, let you use gear, make suggestions. But the most important thing is to just show up, get out there, give it a shot.”
13:33 Making Progress
Daniel says that like many things in life, be it a training course, reading (even academic) medical/trauma stuff, and even video games, he wants to learn. He likes to measure himself and see that he’s getting better at something. This is very easy to measure, as in, “Did I hit or miss?” or “How many rounds did it take me to get on?”
He wonders if maybe the reason for such a level of camaraderie in the shooting sports is that at the end of the match, everybody is still there because of the Second Amendment, the right to keep and bear arms, and the desire to get a little more well-regulated, keeping themselves and each other to a high standard.
Steve talks about helping the newcomers, “When it comes to a lot of the shooting sports, it does have a high cost of entry, especially if you want to take it seriously. And in my situation, I didn’t have a mentor getting into the precision rifle and I learned a lot of things the expensive way. And I want people to learn through my mistakes. And hopefully, they can pay it forward when they reach a higher level.”
Daniel says that he sees a lot of Precision Rifle shooters on social media and it’s easy to distinguish between trainer influencers and competitor influencers. It’s easy to see the ones who enjoy teaching others and are happy when a new person shows up. They just love coaching new shooters and are able to help them take a faster path so they can skill all the stuff that sucked, cost too much time, money, ore energy. Those folks have a servant’s heart.
“JJ Racaza was on the podcast recently, to me he’s one of those guys. He’s amazing. Well disciplined shooter and practicer of his craft but he is just genuinely trying to pass along information…He’s trying to transfer knowledge in almost everything he does out there. And those kind of people are great for growing those sports.” much.
Steve has a quick story about JJ, “The first USPSA match I ever showed up to, I was a young kid standing in the corner because I didn’t know anyone and I was 20 years younger than everyone else, with the exception of JJ. He saw nobody was talking to me and I didn’t know what I was doing and I looked like a nervous, scared little cat. He walked over and started a conversation with me becuase he knew that, and he wanted to make sure my first time was a good experience.”
Daniel says, “That’s awesome. That’s exactly how I see JJ.”
17:22 What was Josh’s first competition?
It was after he had just gotten back from Afghanistan, summer of 2018. It was a club match near Austin that his Dad invited him to.
“I came out and it was just amazing. Super fun. Great course of fire, super-nice guys. I was in a squad with what I could tell were really experienced guys. I knew that because everyone was wearing jerseys with a hundred sponsors on it. It was a little nerve-wracking but every one of them was just super-cool, super-humble. Every one of them was offering me to try out their rifle, see what I liked and what I didn’t like. It was a great experience, that’s all it took for me.”
He was stationed in Alaska so after that match, he went back and quickly got involved with the Precision Rifle guys up there. “With the population of Alaska, everyone who’s into this particular sport — every one of them knows each other up there. It’s a very tight-knit group. They welcomed me in and the next thing you know I was going to every club match they put on every month, met some really great people. And it’s just gone on from there.”
He also says, “When it comes down to it, at the very least, you’re likely to meet some good, like-minded individuals who you can bond with, share stuff with, share knowledge, bounce ideas off each other that you might not otherwise meet in your day-to-day life.
21:31 Finding a Shooting Buddy
Sometimes new shooters will come to a firearms class who don’t have a range buddy. He places quite a bit of importance on that, because like-minded friends can help you get better at shooting, help you be a more responsible owner of defensive firearms, and basically help you grow through shared experiences and conversation.
He says, “Nobody’s ever left a class without having somebody to shoot with afterward, because they make multiple friends there that they can go shoot with, go to the range, train with, whatever, just hang out, that are like-minded, they have the same goals.”
It’s the same thing with the competition. You cannot go to a competition and not find some new people to go out and practice with.
Josh says that every time he goes to shoot, it seems like he meets someone new, “…and like I said, my time up there in Alaska, one of the guys that I ended up meeting up there became one of my best friends. He’s a great mentor. To this day I talk to him almost every single day, and it’s not all to do with guns. He gives me a lot of guidance in my professional life, dealing with personal stuff, so you know, guns aside, generally, the type of people who engage in this sort of activity are just wholesome, good, salt of the earth type people. So even if guns don’t end up being a passion of yours, at the very least, its just good people.”
23:30 What’s the bare minimum that somebody needs to go sign up and jump into a Precision Rifle Match?
Steve says it takes enough money to enter the match and find your local club’s Facebook page. “Every state has a regional club page. Go on there and say you want to try it out but you don’t have anything. You’d be surprised how many people throw things at you for you to shoot your match. So if you show up with the match fee and an open mind, you’re going to be able to shoot that match.”
24:06 What are the regulations as far as which firearms are allowed?
Steve says that the clubs can have their own rules, but generally, as the sport goes, nothing bigger than 300 Win Mag. “Inside of that, you could show up with a .223 and there’s a division specifically for it. So they could run an AR, there’s even a gas-gun division, so if you wanted to run a .223 in an AR you could still have a great time.”
Josh mentions that more and more directors, as time goes on, have dedicated loaner rifles for people to use. “They may say to just bring some ammo and they have a rifle for you to shoot that whole match just so you can try and get a feel for it.”
25:54 What keeps you going back to Precision Rifle competitions?
Steve says he’s always trying to become better than he was before. Why does he want to be a better shooter?
“I think there’s a lot of reasons a lot of us want to be better shooters. For me, I want to be the best all-around shooter that I can possibly be. Who knows what’s going to happen in future times I just want to have the discipline, whether its in shooting or not. To be able to sit there and have the patience to be able to read winds, and do all that — it’s a mental mindset and a mental discipline that you need to maintain. You could carry that through all aspects, through your professional life, your hobbies, your home life. Discipline, passion, a good work ethic, will get you through a lot.”
27:02 Misconceptions about Precision Rifle Shooting
Daniel goes back to the story Josh told about getting his butt whipped by a dentist, which points to a common misconception that you have to be a sniper to be able to compete in Precision Rifle. It’s not true at all. But what did Josh learn from that that he was able to take back?
“What a lot of guys don’t realize is that, in general, the civilian world is leaps and bounds ahead of, at least, conventional military forces when it comes to techniques, tactics, procedures, especially gear. The acquisitions process in the military is slow, painful. There’s so much stuff out there that’s being developed at light speed compared to the military counterparts. As an example… the exposure to positional stuff.
“You’re at the schoolhouse. You put a lot of rounds downrange, but I’ll be the first to tell you, the majority of it is off your belly, in the prone, which, when you’ve done it once, you’ve done it a thousand times. If you have good fundamentals, it’s pretty hard to mess up.
“But the positional stuff, shooting off unsteady platforms, balancing your rifle, different grips, different ways to position your body — it’s very practical and that’s the thing a lot of guys don’t understand. Even professionally trained snipers, when it comes down to it, the odds that you’ll be shooting off your belly, or in the prone are going to be pretty slim.”
Daniel comments, “Especially for the urban environments that we’ve been in for a while?”
Steve asks, “How many times do they let you take that rifle home so you can dry fire?”
Josh says, “That’s another thing, it’s not like you’re bringing your rifle home every night. It gets locked up in the arms room and it’s a process to get it back out. Getting to practice as a civilian, even if you want to go as far as to pattern your rifle up after what you’re issued in the military, it’s so beneficial, especially with the positional stuff.
“The other thing is the focus on maintaining a high likelihood of hit, high-hit percentage while doing it as quickly as possible. There is some of that in the schoolhouse environment, but these guys just take it to the next level at these competitions, because that’s what gets them the points, that’s what gets them the wins, that’s what gets them rank. So they just become incredibly efficient at finding out the quickest way to engage targets at range, which is just such a huge part of the sniper’s job.”
He says that gear is another big issue.
“Before I shot my first match, my sand sock was a GI issued sock filled with airsoft bbs with a zip-tie around it. It got the job done, but I legitimately did not know any better, that there was stuff that was so much more suited for that.”
Daniel says that when he was at DM school, he was told to have his sand sock the next day. So he went to the grocery store, bought a little bag of dried beans, put them in a sock, and sewed it together.
“Yeah, that’s like field-craft 101,” Josh says, “That’s what they teach you, it’s cheap, it’s pretty effective, and if it goes down on you, it’s not that big of a deal. But now, there’s just so much better stuff out there. It’s the kind of stuff you get exposed to when you take a step out of your comfort zone and go get your butt whooped by a dentist or a mechanic.
“You see this type of stuff and it really does worlds for you. I can’t tell you how many sniper buddies I have in the army that didn’t think it was necessary, they thought they were the pinnacle of what a long-range shooter should be and then when I finally did convince them to go, it really opened their eyes and pointed out some big flaws.
32:10 What are some of the most important things you’ve learned from Precision Rifle shooting?
Daniel says that there have been times when he learned something from a class when he was off-duty, that he knew he had to take back to teach his guys.
“I’ve done some things when I went to some classes when I was off duty, and I went back the next week and was like, I’ve got to teach my people this This is a big deal. This is something that I’ve been missing in what I’ve been teaching them, and I need to get them caught up because this is huge!”
Josh says the biggest thing has been placing a greater focus on positional stuff.
“So unlike in a military setting, in a competition setting it’s all known distances, so one of the harder parts of your job as a military sniper is taken out. That leaves the positional stuff, and, that was the main thing I took away.
“In these competitions or at least the ones that I’ve done, a prone shot is actually pretty rare. Most of it is some weird, awkward position, and to me it’s so much more realistic as far as what you can expect on a modern battlefield… for all you know you could be stacking up boughs on the floor to get you tall enough to look through the loophole. Or it could be the opposite. You could be crouching lower than you normally would, even in the prone. You could have to bend over a limb or a branch. So it’s just getting comfortable at identifying the most stable way to take uncomfortable shots. That would be the biggest takeaway I took from these competitions, and as soon as I got back to my section, that was one of the main things I focused on.”
33:59 Where can people go to check out PRS and get started?
PRS has its own website precisionrifleseries.com.
However, there’s a benefit to finding them on Facebook because most of the big shooters are engaged in the group and they’ll answer any questions you have. You’ll know you’re getting good knowledge from reputable people because you can research their names and you can even see their scores.
34:37 What advice does Josh have for people who want to pick up Precision Rifle shooting?
“My main advice would be to just try it. As just mentioned your easiest access is going to be social media. It doesn’t take long at all to locate your local groups. Get them to accept your request for invitation into those groups and then just start asking questions. Before you know it you’ll have an address, a time, and the minimum you need to show up with and I’m sure everyone that shows up will get you taken care of from there as far as gear.
“But honestly, gear is the last thing you should be concerned about until you do it a time or two. You may have to bring ammo, but outside of that just show up. If you’re curious, find some people, network with them, talk to them, ask all the questions you want. And then, just find the time, set it aside, go do it.”