Much Ado About Nothing...
It's not just a Shakespearian comedy, it's also a description of this "news" report from WSBTV. They are scared that people are lawfully buying and using explosives. They used one of the video's from Joe's Boomershoot site as part of their report, which drew some reaction from the man himself. Seems a little reckless to be using video from a man who has acquired the necessary licenses to do what he does to incite fear and panic in legislators. Perhaps even libelous.
Building a Boomershooter
I briefly flirted with the idea of putting together something based on the AR platform. As it turned out I'm glad I didn't; I'm not very familiar with that platform and trying to learn it rather than an already-familiar bolt-action would have probably interfered with actually learning to shoot accurately. I may try it for a future event, though -- but I'll make sure I have a lot of time for familiarization first.
Eventually I ended up at .308 sort of by default. Just about every source I found indicated that .308 could perform very well for accuracy and consistency; there's a good summary in this guide to practical long-range rifle shooting. Few places would call it the best option but almost all of them listed it as a "good" choice. There were reasonably-priced sources for match-quality ammunition (and by reasonably priced, I mean about $1.30 / rnd, as opposed to $2 or more for some of the "best" loads). Most sources indicated it would perform well out to 300 or 400 yards, but beyond that would start to drop rapidly -- requiring more scope adjustment and better range estimation.
By this time I was watching the calendar advance with some trepidation, as it was already early january; there were only about 3 months of preparation time left. I figured good performance to 400 with the option of shooting farther was the best I could reasonably ask for at this point and started looking for rifles.
The "standard" option for accurate long-distance shooting in .308 seemed to be the Remington M700 (in many variations). The many various options available in that action was actually a disadvantage; there were at least three or four different models labeled as the "most accurate production rifle we make", with no way for a novice to make an intelligent choice between them. I was more than willing to spend the money on the best they had... if I could only figure out what it was.
I was vacillating between the Sendero SF II ("the most accurate rifles we produce for over-the-counter sale" but not available in .308) and the VSF ("well known for being our most accurate standard production rifles") when Eugene suggested I take a look at the Savage 12 F-class in 6.5x284 NORMA and 6 Norma BR. That threw the ammunition question back into the fray, but I short-circuited the problem when I discovered the Savage 12F/TR, very similar to the F-class but in .308. I quickly settled on that as the rifle of choice, with one of the Remingtons in the back of my mind as an emergency backup choice if there were problems.
There were problems.
I stopped by my local FFL to ask them to look for the 12F/TR for me. I assume they had no luck... despite several inquiries I never heard anything back from them. Waiting for something to happen there wasted a month. Oh well.
I called another local dealer and while he didn't stock any, he did have a link to his distributor's inventory and was able to tell me they had two in stock. Great -- I figured I'd call around the local dealers to see if anyone had them actually in the store, since I was definitely starting to feel the time pressure... but no one did, and when I called back to order the rifles it was too late. Someone else had already ordered both of them.
Following the "rapid escalation" theory of problem solving, I called every listed Savage dealer in Austin. No one had anything in stock, nor anything available from their distributor, at least not that they were willing to look for. I was down to about five weeks away from the shoot, and I still didn't have a rifle. It was time for drastic measures.
I called up the list of Savage dealers for the entire state of Texas, conveniently arranged alphabetically, and begin calling them. All two-hundred-and-change of them, one by one, not just checking stock but also checking with their distritbutor. Eventually, on the second day of searching, someone admitted to being able to order them and said his distributor showed several in stock. Two deposits later, and I had rifles on the way. (It would be another two weeks before I had a chance to actually pick them up, from a gun store only about 75 miles away).
But I still needed a scope. I had heard a lot of good things about the NightForce scopes, and nothing at all bad about them, but they were very pricy. Of course, so were other highly-recommended scopes; it seemed that spending at least as much on the scope as on the rifle was going to be necessary. Worse, the delay in picking up the rifles meant I had only about a two weeks left before I would need to get on an airplane for Idaho.
I was able to locate a local shop that carries the NightForce scopes and had, luckily, the exact model I was looking for: a NightForce Benchrest in 42x with the NP-R2 reticle. It's a little surprising to find a store that would stock a $1300 scope, but I wasn't going to complain. The shop itself was a fairly interesting discovery; it has all sorts of interesting and expensive things. The neighborhood should probably have clued me in to this; it's some of the most expensive in Austin.
I stopped by to pick up the scope on the Friday before Boomershoot weekend, and asked about getting the scope mounted on my rifle -- I had talked with the store's gunsmith about doing that in a hurry on the phone earlier, since I had never done a scope mount myself. Unfortunately their gunsmith doesn't work Fridays... but they would be happy to sell me the scope I had reserved anyway, along with scope rings for it, and I could come back Monday...
That conversation generated a quick order for a NightForce scope base (20 MOA), plus a lapping kit from Midway. Maybe I hadn't done it before but damned if I would let that stop me. Of course, the soonest I could possibly get the rings, base, and lapping kit together with the rifle and scope was Monday anyway... so a quick call to the store Monday morning saved me from the "interesting" (also known as "risky") course of doing it myself, but cost a potential day of shooting practice with the finished rifle.
Practice? Who needs it? I had already figured out by this time that I wasn't getting any worth mentioning.
I did, however, get the rifle back from the gunsmith Tuesday evening, and immediately went to the range. In all fairness he mentioned that the scope was misaligned off to one side, but any potential fixes would take longer than I had available. I took the rifle as-is and drove straight to my local range.
With only perhaps 2 hours before closing, I had time to verify the boresighting that the gunsmith had done and get myself onto the paper at 100 yards, but not much else. I did run into some issues with the action; basically, the trigger is so light on this model that Savage has set up an equally sensitive safety mechanism. Closing the bolt "forcefully" (their terminology) engages the safety and prevents the rifle from firing -- but does not always block the trigger from being pulled. The result sounds disturbingly like a misfire. The first day at the range I spent more time struggling with that issue than anything else; in those two hours I fired maybe 10 shots at most. I was also breaking in the gun by running patches down the barrel after each round, so not all of the delay can be blamed on the mechanism.
The end of the day came too quickly. Tuesday was over, I was getting on a plane Thursday, and I hadn't even sighted the rifle in properly. Boresighted, yes, but the 10 rounds or so I had fired on Tuesday were break-in rounds and not really trustworthy. Wednesday was going to be busy.
Got back from Boomershoot and have been busy getting caught up. I did however get the chance to take the rifle out to the local range to make sure it still worked. It was in the context of tempting someone else into possibly attending Boomershoot as well, so we'll see how that goes. At any rate, I was able to shoot the rifle again for a few hours.
I basically had all my earlier impressions reinforced. The mechanism is very finicky, and I still have occasional problems with the safety engaging incorrectly when I close the bolt. Definitely the most delicate mechanism I've ever shot. When it shoots, it shoots very well. The scope is still misaligned (note to self: call the gunsmith and get stuff moving!) but so long as the wind is only coming from the right direction, it's all fine.
The target below was shot at 200 yards, after a few rounds to bring the rifle's zero back to conditions in Texas rather than conditions in Idaho and adjust for the correct range. Each square is an inch.
It should be obvious from the cluster of three that the other two were my fault. Counting just that cluster, the rifle seems to be capable of quarter-minute accuracy. If you use the cluster of four, it's still half a minute, and only a little worse if you count all five shots.A very nice rifle, and as I've said several times already, it shoots better than I do.
By coincidence there was someone there with one of the 6.5mmBR models of the same gun. Perhaps not by coincidence, his scope mount was also misaligned badly off to one side by his account. I may have to mention this to Savage if I need to send the gun back. According to him, he had already sent his back and gotten it returned with snarky comments -- well, ok, a snarky target. (To paraphrase, "The gun shoots fine for us! Here, look!") I don't know if that's the whole story, and I certainly didn't see any of the actual correspondence, but I found it interesting in light of my own experiences. For the record, my spotter's rifle (same model) does not have the misalignment issue.
I have some images of the rifle itself. They won't be great quality as I'm using a cell phone camera. I had a much better camera along, but haven't been able to get the pictures downloaded yet -- technical problems.
The first is a close-up packed in its case for the trip.
Still in the case, but a shot of the whole rifle. I figured it would be safest to bring my ammunition with the gun rather than rely on other means. You can't really see it clearly, but there is also a Harris bipod on the front of the rifle.
Why the bipod rather than the traditional benchrest swivel? Well, the design of the rifle makes it easy to pull off the bipod, so it's easy to have both.
The stock on the rifle is very nice and the pictures definitely do not do it justice. It has a very nice finish and, while it doesn't glow in blue or red like many of the other rifles at Boomershoot, it's still a very nicely done piece of work. More subdued than attention-getting, which is the way I prefer it.
On the whole I was very impressed with the rifle. I had only two significant concerns. With any luck I should be able to correct both of them before too long. I'll be back with some better pictures when I can get them out of the camera...
Better Boomershoot photos...
If you're looking for better Boomershoot photos, check out Xenia's blog. The ones I've been posting come from my cell phone camera, which works but isn't exactly a great camera. I did have someone there with a better camera, but haven't had a chance to retrieve their pictures yet. You can also check Barron's blog.
The Other Way to Shoot Boomers
Most people who come to Boomershoot do so with the idea of practicing their long-range shooting with an accurate rifle. A few, however, think that iron sights and volume of fire are the way to go.
From what the owner of that little beauty told me, it was converted to semi-auto and they didn't really have much chance of actually hitting anything at boomershoot ranges -- but it was fun to play with. They had hopes of hitting the larger targets at the 380 line mainly by luck, but anything longer than that turned the whole thing into a very expensive way to move snow and dirt around.
I forgot to check back after the event to see if they managed to hit any boomers with it.
Picture of the shooting position
My shooting position at Boomershoot. I was travelling fairly light, so I was basically limited to throwing down a tarp and two mats, with minimal sandbags. I was able to borrow sandbags from other people there and next time will definitely bring more (mind you, I might acquire the filling material locally). Others who were there put a lot more effort into preparing their spaces.
It's not immediately obvious but most of the actual targets are in the left of this picture, with the furthest out starting about the center line. The picture was taken before adjusting the shooting position to more closely match the target area. Note how the mats are set up perpendicular to the berm when they should be pointed substantially left.
At the top left of the picture you can see a patch of snow. That's about 500-600 yards away and provided a good range marker for the two days of the PRC. It was mostly gone before the actual event and the targets in the snowfield itself pretty much got rid of any remaining snow.The device on the tripod is a spotting scope, sort of like a telescope but optimized for a wide field of view. It's easier to see a bullet impact through a spotting scope than a riflescope, though a good riflescope can definitely be used. My spotter and I traded off between the two. One definite advantage to the spotting scope is that you can get your head out from behind your rifle; after three days of shooting pretty much all day, I was definitely having trouble remaining in the right position to see and spot through my riflescope. It's one good reason to make sure your shooting position is as comfortable as possible -- at least if you'll be stuck there for three days.
Day 2 of the Precision Rifle Clinic
Now that I'm back at home I figure I can write up a more complete report...
Day 2 of the clinic had mostly the same people as day 1; a few more field fire shooters, but only two more people for the training portion. Those two were basically taken through the day 1 course, while the people who had been there on the first day got a brief refresher and some additional thoughts from the new instructors -- mostly on spotter-shooter dialog. The instruction was not as useful as on the first day, but we got to shooting at targets faster, giving more of a chance to apply what we learned the first day.
On a personal level, I spent a significant portion of the morning figuring out what exactly was up with my rifle's windage zero. As it turns out, several different factors were causing problems. On the first day, Eugene had spent some time shooting my rifle to establish a zero; he was able to get a pretty good zero for 380, which he wrote down as R18. Since my rifle scope is a Nightforce Benchrest model, it has a total of 40 MOA windage adjustment available. I had zeroed the rifle at 100 yards the day before leaving with something like an R6; Eugene was counting MOA right of the scope center rather than from 0. Between all the different adjustments I ended up with a zero at about R33, which shot fine, except I didn't have more than about 1 MOA left to adjust for wind from the right.
Once the confusion got sorted out, we took a long look at the rifle barrel versus the scope alignment, and there is a noticable off-angle. That rifle is going back to the gunsmith who mounted the scope, and from there, either new rings, new bases, or a new rifle from Savage... because something in those three things has the scope mount way off. Don't get me wrong, I'm happy with the way the rifle performed during the event, but it's too far off center to settle for. Especially with the limited number of clicks the benchrest scopes allow for. What might be tolerable in one of the NXS scopes (which have 80 MOA adjustment range) won't fly for a benchrest scope.
After the rifle issues were sorted out, I was able to settle down to shooting targets in earnest. My spotter and I were having a bit of an off day, which I attribute mainly to being worn out from the frantic pace of preparations, travel, instruction, and shooting the first day of the clinic. Nonetheless we were able to settle in and shoot fairly well, reaching steel targets out to 500 and 600 yards consistently.
Our boomers at the end of the day took longer to hit than the day before and we ended up taking only two of three each; the others we bounced around a bit with edge hits but couldn't get anything solid enough to detonate. Not bad for two relative novices to long-distance shooting... but not what we had hoped for, either. Being tired out does make a difference, and it's more than just going to bed early can take care of.
Bloggers at Boomershoot
Of course, the man behind Boomershoot is a blogger. I also met Phil of Random Nuclear Strikes who has an after-action report posted along with some pictures of Boomershoot rifles. Mine are in there; I'm planning a more detailed post with closeups later for those interested. He was sharing a tent with Dave, whose blog name I did not catch, and David. Much possible ground for confusion there! UPDATE: Looks like Ry Jones was there too, but I didn't make the connection at the time.
Day 1 of the Precision Rifle Clinic
Yesterday was the first day of the precision rifle clinic at Boomershoot. it was a very effective instructional experience - more details to follow. I was hitting targets out to 600 yards on a rifle I had only touched for the first time on Tuesday. bear with the sparse reporting until I return; the cell phone is a pita for typing long missives.
UPDATE: A little more thorough update now that I'm home. The first day of the Precision Rifle Clinic was a mix. The instruction was everything I had hoped for; Eugene (the lead instructor) covered all the basic information about long-range shooting that I knew existed but had no practical knowledge of. He also touched on several things that I had not been aware of, some that are obvious in retrospect... and some not. To summarize the topics covered from memory:
Once I got the setup corrected, with the mats realigned and the sandbags I was using to support the stock of my rifle adjusted to keep my rifle naturally pointed at the target I was shooting at, results were a lot better. I was able to produce solid hits from the 380 yard target line.
Oh, yes, and I should talk about the conditions.
When I arrived, it was cold. Very cold. Below freezing cold. By the time the instruction started it was snowing heavily, although the snow itself wasn't sticking. The wind was blowing at about 15 mph across the line of fire, but it wasn't a steady wind; there were gusts from 10 to 20 mph. The only good thing about the weather was that with the snow falling we had an easy way to gauge where the wind was blowing our shots.
There was a lot of windage correction going on during the morning shoot, which covered up a bit of a technical problem I was having with my rifle and scope. Specifically I was needing to crank on a lot more wind than others were seeing. This didn't really become obvious until the wind and snow died down a little in the afternoon, giving me the chance to see more of the rifle's performance. Eugene shot the rifle for a bit to verify my windage zero and ended up cranking it almost all the way over to the right. This produced good results but left me little room for adjustments.
With the right zero on the rifle I was able to start reaching out to the 500 and 600 yard targets successfully. My spotter and I were learning to talk each other onto those targets, but the most effective spotting came from the instructors; it seemed like they almost always had someone behind us to help spot.
For those who haven't tried, spotting is hard to do well at range; you need to be able to see very subtle visual cues to determine where each shot went, up to and including "trace" -- which is almost literally seeing the bullet in the air. (Actually, it's seeing the air that the bullet's flight disturbed -- the supersonic shock wave). Pairing an inexperienced shooter and spotter together can make it very hard on both of them, so we got a lot of help to get things sorted out.
I end the day by shooting at three Boomers, two small and one large, and got all three of them. The first two took only two or three shots, the last one a little longer than that. Bear in mind these are 4" square targets at 380 yards -- not trivial to shoot well. I was very surprised and pleased at being able to handle them. The much reduced wind and lack of snow in the afternoon helped a lot, too. My spotter was able to take her boomers with about the same number of shots, except her last, which she bounced around 5 or 6 times without getting a detonation.
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