May 16, 2023
By Alfredo Rico
A few years ago, my start into Precision Rifle Series (PRS)-style shooting was disappointing. I entered a steel match organized by the NorCal Practical Precision Rifle Club (NCPPRC) in Northern California. NCPPRC holds monthly long-range matches and has many shooters who compete regionally and nationally. I thought being able to shoot small groups while prone would give me a high hit percentage. The problem was that most of the shooting was from improvised props and required skills I did not have. The pressure from the timer only made things worse. As the saying goes, “If you’re not first, you’re last.” In my case, I literally came in last. The person who topped the field was sponsored shooter Daniel Bertocchini. I recently met up with him to get seven competition tips for a new shooter. Our discussion turned into a crash course on competitive PRS / National Rifle League (NRL) shooting for beginners.
Bertocchini is a U.S. Navy veteran who was a part of Strike Fighter Squadron VFA-94 that forward deployed around the world. After the Navy, he turned his attention to fast land vehicles and worked for the Audi/VW racing team. He currently works at CSTactical, an online store that caters to precision shooters, law enforcement, and military.
Bertocchini has a list of impressive wins. In 2022, he won the NRL Ghost Hunter in the Open Light Division and was part of a squad that won the 2022 NRL Hunter Championship in the Team category. Other wins include 2021 PRS Central Coast Chaos AG, 2020 NRL MDT Steel Challenge, 2019 PRS Hornady PRC, and 2019 NCPPRC Shooter of the Year.
His shooting skills have earned him sponsorship from familiar names in the precision shooting arena that include Alpha Munitions, Benchmark Barrels, Bix’n Andy, CS Tactical, Hawkins Precision, Henderson Precision, Leupold, Lone Peak Arms, and MDT. An interesting fact: Bertocchini was part of the team of shooters Leupold consulted while developing their precision rifle-specific reticle, the PR2.
1. Shooting Gear
Figuring out what shooting gear to get is hard, especially since there is a ton of specialized equipment. I asked Bertocchini what equipment he recommends for a new shooter seeking to compete. He advises that all you need is a rifle, optic, bipod, one support bag, and two to three good magazines. Add to that a small backpack to fit your ammo and ancillary gear, and you are good to go.
I pressed for specifics on what is important on a rifle, and he said to choose one with an M24, MTU, or heavy Palma barrel profile. This is what most shooters use because they can shoot long strings of fire without overheating the barrel. Also, use a muzzlebrake. It will help reduce recoil and make it easier to spot your shots. A trigger with a 1- to 1.5-pound weight works well. Anything heavier may influence the shot too much.
He mentioned how important it was for the rifle to fit the shooter and recommends a stock with an adjustable length of pull and adjustable cheekpiece. He added, “Set the length of pull a little shorter than you normally would. It will help you square up behind the rifle in other shooting positions. Having a thumb rest and bag rider will make shooting easier.”
Optics can be a lengthy topic. Here, he kept it brief: “Durability, reliability, and clarity are important. The scope will be knocked around, so you want it durable. You also want the turrets to be reliable. When you dial 8.2 mils or go back to zero, it should do it accurately each time. Choose a reticle that you can clearly see the targets in the field, because targets in some competitions like the NRL series can be hard to discern. A throw lever helps change magnification quickly, and a bubble level is a must. Most of the time, you will be shooting from 12X to 15X.” He emphasized establishing a good zero.
There’s a saying that goes, “Fear the man with one rifle.” After watching Bertocchini shoot, I’ve modified that to “Fear the man with one support bag.” I’ve seen shooters bring three bags to a stage, but he shows that you can do a lot with a single bag. He often uses an Armageddon Gear Shmedium bag for front and rear support but says that Armageddon Gear’s Game Changer or WeiBad’s Fortune Cookie are also great.
With precision rifles, it’s easy to think you need a sub-half-MOA rifle. Bertocchini says ammo that consistently shoots 1 MOA or better every time is acceptable. What’s important is the standard deviation (SD). Ammo with single-digit SDs is the best, but a SD of 15 is good.
2. Ancillary Gear
There are a few other items that should be part of your kit. A Kestrel weather station/ballistic solver is a must, because changes in weather and shooting angles can affect your elevation, and you want to get as perfect of an elevation estimation as you can. Carry tools that will allow you to disassemble the rifle completely in the field. Bertocchini uses a set of Fix It Sticks for that purpose.
For a DOPE card, Bertocchini writes the info he needs on a piece of wide, blue masking tape and slaps it on his support arm.
A tripod is useful but not necessary. You can get away with borrowing one from another competitor during a match.
3. and 4. Get Stable and Don’t Fight the Rifle
When Bertocchini talked about shooting gear, he emphasized the importance of getting stable and not fighting the rifle. “This is why a well-balanced rifle is critical. When you rest your bag and rifle on a barricade, let the rifle and bag do the work and get on target with little manipulations.” Bertocchini showed me on a tank trap. He laid his Armageddon Gear Shmedium bag on an end, placed the rifle on the bag, and then took his hands off. It didn’t move.
He explained that the first shot is the most important shot, so take your time to get stable. If you find yourself fighting stability, move out of it. You’ll spend more time fighting a bad position than finding a good one.
I asked about reticle wobble. He said you will always have wobble, and it gets worse the longer you hold it. Take several deep breaths before you shoot to help stabilize yourself. We then moved onto competition tips.
5. Stage Preparation
The important part of doing well on a stage is mental preparation. Understand the course of fire and make a plan. Find the location of the targets and use reference points or geographical features to remind you where they are at. Put yourself in a position that will make it easy to transition to the next. Mentally run through your plan.
Another tip is knowing the actual distance to the targets based on your shooting position. On the course of fire, a target distance may be listed at 500 yards, but the distance may have been taken perpendicular to the target. If your shooting position is at an angle to the target, it may be far enough away to account for the extra distance in your elevation call.
While in stage prep, set your elevation turret to the first target distance and know the wind call.
When it comes time to shoot, Bertocchini advises that a beginner not worry about the timer. They should focus on their plan, square up to the target, and get stable. If you are using a bag for front support, feel the balance point and control the rifle with your body and support hand. Your shooting hand should not influence the position of the rifle, because it can cause inconsistencies. Once you shoot, focus on follow through. If you miss, don’t be afraid to make corrections.
7. After You’ve Shot
Once you’ve completed the stage, make the rifle Safe and step off the line. Then, zero your scope and load mags to the round count for the next stage. While waiting for your squad to finish the stage, be helpful by picking up shooters’ brass and handing it to them after they shoot. Be engaged and watch other people shoot. The stage will run smoother and faster.
Your foray into PRS-style shooting is easier than you think. Keep your gear simple, learn to get stable, and have a plan. The rest will fall into place. If you’re doing it right, you will have fun along the way.