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The Basics of High Power Service Rifle Competition

By: Serena Juchnowski

“High power? Let’s go lie in the mud!”

That’s how a fellow high power competitor recently described the discipline to me. At first I laughed, but the description really isn’t too far off.

Military Roots
High power service rifle, like three-gun, smallbore, or any other shooting discipline, has its own rules, equipment, and standard course of fire. High power service rifle draws its roots from military training for combat. Thus, it is natural that those firearms deemed “service rifles,” or those legal for high power competition, include the M1, M14, M16, and their civilian counterparts. The rule books list the exact specifications for a rifle to be “legal” for competition. While some competitors choose to build rifles, firearms manufacturers such as Rock River Arms and Armalite produce “National Match” rifles that already meet these specifications.

The defining characteristics of high power include maintaining concentration, taking accurate shots, wearing shooting coats that resemble straightjackets, reading the wind, and braving the weather. I once attended a high power match that went through four seasons, with sun, rain, snow, and wind, all in one day. Though high power matches take place across the country, this type of challenging weather is typical for Ohio, specifically Camp Perry, the home of the National Matches.

Though high power can be muddy, it isn’t always. The competition course requires competitors to shoot in three positions at four different distances: standing at 200 yards, sitting at 200 yards, and prone at 300 yards and 600 yards.

Service Rifle Equipment
The most popular service rifle in use today is the AR-15, the civilian version of the M16, so I shall speak in terms of it while explaining the basics of high power. A service rifle may be equipped with traditional iron sights, or with a scope not exceeding 4.5x magnification. Each rifle also must have some sort of sling, whether it be a military web sling or a leather one. Slings must also adhere to National Match standards. The strict rules regarding service rifle equipment are designed so that individuals compete based on skill rather than expensiveness of equipment, though gear quality does usually play a factor.

Other basic equipment includes a shooting jacket, glove, mat, stool, and a spotting scope. The jacket and optional sweatshirt underneath serve to tighten up one’s position. The glove provides better grip. The mat provides stability and cushions the ground. A stool is useful for carrying equipment, while a spotting scope allows one to note the locations and values of one’s shots, shown by spotters, and make sight adjustments if necessary.

Every range may have a different course of fire depending upon space and time. Many matches follow the Civilian Marksmanship Program’s (CMP) National Match course of fire or some variation thereof. (The National Rifle Association has their own course of fire.) The National Match course has no sighting rounds – those fired only to confirm zeroes and not for record – while other courses, specifically NRA courses, may allow one or two sighting shots.

The first stage is slow-fire standing at 200 yards. Shooters are to fire ten shots in a time limit of ten minutes. The second stage is rapid-fire sitting at 200 yards. Shooters are to fire ten rounds in sixty seconds with a magazine change. Speaking in terms of the AR-15, shooters are to load one magazine with two rounds and a second with eight rounds. The third stage is rapid-fire prone at 300 yards. Shooters are to fire ten rounds, with magazines loaded “two and eight” like for rapid sitting, in a time limit of seventy seconds. The last stage of fire is slow-fire prone at 600 yards. Shooters are to fire twenty rounds in twenty minutes.

Every shot is worth ten points. Scoring Rings specify an X, ten, nine, eight, seven, six, and five. Anything outside of these rings is considered a miss. An X is counted as a ten, but it is more desirable as it is in the center of the ten ring, providing another challenge to competitors as one can always work not only to increase scores, but to increase X-count as well. Scores are recorded for each stage. A stage with ten shots will be out of a total of 100 points, while a stage with twenty shots will be out of a total of 200 points. By adding the individual totals of each stage, one can calculate the aggregate. For the National Match course of fire, an aggregate is out of a total of 500 points.

Shooters may use slings in sitting and prone, but not in standing. The sling, however, must remain attached to the rifle. Standing is considered the most unstable position and for many is the most difficult to master, though each position has its challenges. Wind, for example, becomes a significant factor at 600 yards. Across the course, high power shooters are subject to environmental changes and factors, as I mentioned before, including snow, rain, sun, and temperature.

High power service rifle is a fun discipline that promotes marksmanship and encourages camaraderie. Those looking to try high power without investing in equipment can consult local clubs and ranges to inquire about high power matches and/or programs. Many clubs have junior high power programs that will supply juniors with ammunition, equipment, and coaching. Another fantastic opportunity is the Small Arms Firing School (SAFS) held at Camp Perry, Ohio during the National Matches and at CMP games events across the country.

Serena Juchnowski is a high power service rifle competitor and regular contributor to Junior Shooters magazine, writing from Ohio. Contact her at serenajuchnowski@gmail.com.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Gunpowder Magazine.