The Ultimate Firearms Destination for the Gun Lifestyle

Zeroed In – Regina Milkovich

Photos by Kenda Lenseigne

The Wonder Woman of Long Range Shooting

If someone told us that we “shot like a girl,” we’d hope they were comparing us to Gina Milkovich, the Wonder Woman of tactical precision rifle shooting. Gina has emerged as one of the most dominant long-range rifle shooters in the nation, male or female. The Precision Rifle Series (PRS) is the NFL of sniper-style precision rifle matches and is loaded with some of the best long-range rifle shooters on the planet: military and police snipers, professional rifle shooters, and industry legends. As of this writing, Gina is ranked 10th overall in the Precision Rifle Series’ Open Division standings. In just six years, Gina has gone from being an unknown novice who had never fired a bolt gun to a top-level competitor among the stiffest competition around.

In April of 2016, Gina became the first woman to ever win a PRS match when she took first place in the Open Division at the NORCAL Tactical Bolt Rifle Challenge, beating out 74 other shooters for the top slot. This was no fluke, as she took second place at the Bushnell Brawl in Kingville, Texas, only two months earlier. Her prowess in the long-range game has earned her a list of sponsors that would make Ricky Bobby jealous and the respect of every shooter in the series.

Gina didn’t get to the top of the pile by reading Internet forums; she got there through disciplined practice, good training, and mental preparation. Her story is an important one for many of us who often spend more time talking about guns and gear than we do training with them.

We sat down with the reigning queen of the PRS to talk about her life, competitive journey, and her obsession with a certain female superhero.

RECOIL: Where did you grow up?
Gina Milkovich: Both of my parents are Air Force so, all over the place. I’ve lived in Arizona since I was about 12 though, so for the most part, here.

How did you get into long-range shooting?
GM: My husband shoots a bunch of different disciplines, and they were all too fast, too busy for my level of experience — I’d gone plinking, and that was about it. He took me to a long-range match and put me behind a spotting scope, and I thought it was the coolest thing that I’d ever seen. These guys were hitting targets 400 yards away, which now is like a chip shot, but at the time that was amazing to me. I wanted to do that; it wasn’t nerve-wracking, the guys were all really nice. I figured it would be more my pace.

What is your career background, were you ever in the military?
GM: Nope, civilian the whole time. I work in law enforcement, but as a dispatcher; I’ve been doing that for about 18 years. My mom is really anti-gun, so I didn’t ever really grow up around guns at all. When I started in dispatch, some guys I worked with took me out shooting, but it was just plinking. It wasn’t until I met my husband that I actually started shooting seven years ago.

How did that go over with your mom?
GM: Oh, she hates it.

She hasn’t come around since her daughter is a pro shooter?
GM: No, not at all. It’s weird because in the Air Force she was an expert marksman, but she’s not comfortable with it at all.

Walk us through your competitive path, how did you get from shooting that first match to where you are today?
GM: I haven’t really known any different. It took about eight to nine months to get a rifle; we bought a used left-handed .223. Went to the range, Tim [Gina’s husband] ran me through the safety portion, helped me get it sighted-in, taught me some real basics, and then told me, “You’re shooting a match tomorrow.”

How did that first match go?
GM: I shot one of our monthly matches and finished fourth or fifth; from then on I was hooked. I shot monthly matches for about six months, and then shot a big national-level match and got my ass kicked, I was 58th out of 59 shooters. I wanted to improve from there, so, for me, it’s always been about trying to beat the guys who are on top. I’ve taken some training classes to try to improve, and it’s just one match to the next match, pretty much. I’ve had some equipment issues, and I’ve gone through a couple of different sponsors and fine-tuned my gear a little bit. I got a new job a couple of years ago so now I can go practice quite a bit more; my scores have steadily improved because of that.

What are you shooting now?
GM: I shoot a 6XC, it’s one of the calibers that David Tubb came up with. I had a .223, then I had a .243 and burned the barrel out really quick, and then switched to the 6XC. I tried a 6.5mm for a year, and went back to the 6XC and have pretty much stuck with that. I go back and forth with what I like more, my 6XC or my .308; they both serve similar but different purposes.

Shooting 2015 Precision Rifle Series Finale in Tehachapi, California.

Shooting 2015 Precision Rifle Series Finale in Tehachapi, California.

You’ve been through some different rifles. Sponsors aside, do you think that any make or model or rifle, barrel, scope is head and shoulders above the others?
GM: Well, I don’t know. The guys who are at the top of the Precision Rifle Series right now, there’s not a whole lot of the same up there. You’ve got a bunch of different kinds of rifles and scopes, different actions, different calibers, different stocks even. It’s more what the shooter is comfortable with, and what they have confidence in.

Who builds your rifles?
GM: Mark Soulie at Spartan Precision Rifles out in San Jose, California, built my match rifle. I use a Vortex Razor Gen II scope; it’s the bee’s knees. I had a friend of mine at Sniper’s Hide (he shoots for a different optics company), he was having trouble finding his target, and I let him look through my scope. He was like “Oh my God, that’s so clear!”

Spartan Precision Rifles-built 6mmXC with Defiance Deviant action, Hawk Hill Custom barrel, Center Shot muzzle brake, Timney Trigger Calvin Elite left-handed single-stage straight trigger set, McMillan A3-5, and Vortex Razor Gen II with EBR-2C reticle. Paint by Wes Rolan of Rolan’s Cerakote Shop in New Mexico.

Spartan Precision Rifles-built 6mmXC with Defiance Deviant action, Hawk Hill Custom barrel, Center Shot muzzle brake, Timney Trigger Calvin Elite left-handed single-stage straight trigger set, McMillan A3-5, and Vortex Razor Gen II with EBR-2C reticle. Paint by Wes Rolan of Rolan’s Cerakote Shop in New Mexico.

Tell us more about your rifle, component-wise.
GM: It’s a Defiance Deviant Tactical action. I have a Hawk Hill Custom barrel on it with a Center Shot muzzle brake, and I just picked up a McMillan A3-5 stock for it. I had a friend out in New Mexico paint the stock for me so now it’s all patriotic. We took it back to McMillan for show and tell after the paintjob was done. I use a Timney flat trigger, the Calvin Elite model — it’s set at about a pound right now. McMillan and Timney are right down the street in Phoenix, which is nice.

What’s the biggest misconception about female competitive shooters?
GM: That we can’t do it, that we’re not competitive, basically. Having a “High Lady” trophy is nice at some of these matches but, for me, I want one of those top five trophies or top three trophies. Women haven’t been finishing very high over the last few years in PRS, so it’s nice to see some of the girls steadily getting better and finishing in the top 20. For me, I don’t want to be the best female shooter — I want to be the best shooter. I’m thankful that I have a really good support team who thinks I’m capable of actually doing that. I’ve never heard that I couldn’t or that I’m just a woman and should be happy with “High Lady,” I’ve never heard that. For the most part, I hear: “She’ll kick your ass, she’s actually competition.”

Clockwise from top left: CZ452 .22LR in a Manners Composite Stock, Stiller Precision 6mm XC in a PDC Custom chassis, Remington 700 .223 Ackley Improved in a Manners Composite Stock, Defiance 6mm XC in a KMW stock. All the centerfire rifles have Timney Calvin Elite single stage straight triggers.

Clockwise from top left: CZ452 .22LR in a Manners Composite Stock, Stiller Precision 6mm XC in a PDC Custom chassis, Remington 700 .223 Ackley Improved in a Manners Composite Stock, Defiance 6mm XC in a KMW stock. All the centerfire rifles have Timney Calvin Elite single stage straight triggers.

What separates you from the rest of the pack?
GM: Luck? I’m not actually sure. This year has been kind of mind-blowing for me. I’ve never shot this well, this consistently, but I’ve also been practicing a lot more and have been working a lot more on the mental side. That, in some respects, has helped more than anything.

What do you think the difference is between good long-range shooters and great ones?
GM: Practice. Really, that’s all it is with any of the shooting sports. Dry-fire practice and practice, period. Most people really, from what I’m seeing, don’t dry-fire nearly as much as they should or they don’t give it the credence that they should.

Cerakote by Wes Rolan from Rolan’s Cerakote Shop.

Cerakote by Wes Rolan from Rolan’s Cerakote Shop.

In your mind, what’s the most difficult aspect of the long-range game?
GM: Wind reading. I heard a long time ago that “elevation is science; wind reading is voodoo.” And I 100-percent believe that.

Who are your mentors, as far as long-range shooting goes?
GM: Jacob Bynum from Rifles Only has been a big one, my husband is another, and Lindy Sisk who works out at Rifles Only. Lindy is one of the smartest people I’ve ever met in my whole life — he’s a retired engineer who teaches out there part time. Those are my top three.

What have they taught you?
GM: Confidence. That the majority of skill, no matter what the shooting sport, lies between your ears. If you don’t think you can make the shot or accomplish the task, you’re not going to be able to do it — you’ve already set yourself up to fail.

It sounds like you’ve read Lanny Bassham’s book With Winning in Mind?
GM: [Laughs] Yes, I have.

When was your first national-level match?
GM: May of 2010. That was the first big one, the NORCAL match in 2010.

How many matches do you shoot in a year?
GM: This year it has been six, and I’m registered for two more. I think this is the most matches that I’ve shot in one year. Normally, it’s between maybe three and five.

Best advice Regina says she ever received was never to shoot prone unless she was testing loads or zeroing a rifle.

Best advice Regina says she ever received was never to shoot prone unless she was testing loads or zeroing a rifle.

You had some good finishes in 2015, but you’ve really stepped up your game in 2016. What do you think has made the difference?
GM: I found the right recipe for ammo, fine-tuned and focused my practice, and worked on my mindset. I literally write out the same phrases over and over leading up to a match with pen and paper almost every day in a journal. I’ve written them out so much that I mutter them under my breath before I shoot a stage. That’s probably the biggest change actually. Mindset. I went from thinking I could maybe finish top 20 to knowing I could finish top five.

Also, there are a group of us ladies who shoot PRS who’ve all talked amongst ourselves about ways to improve our mental game. We’re all competitive by nature, but behind the scenes we’re sending each other messages of encouragement and tips on how to shoot a stage better or reloading recipes that worked. We initially called ourselves Team Triangle because we were “channeling lady power,” but I think some thought that was a little too risqué and tongue-in-cheek. We’re definitely a sisterhood with rifles, though.

What types of match stages do you excel at?
GM: Barricade stages are the ones I tend to excel at now. A majority of what we do is shooting off some type of barricade: a rooftop, window frame, doorframe, barrel, tank trap, etc. None of them allow for comfort, so knowing that some of the fundamentals are going to drop off helps. If I can remember to not hold my breath, I can usually hit the target from whatever is used as a barricade.

And, I like stages with short time frames, lots of thought goes into those. They seem like a trade-off to me. Do I take my time and get good hits knowing I’m not going to complete the course of fire? Or move quickly, use holdovers, and accept that I might miss one or two shots. I love positional stages too, even though I’m still working on getting five out of five standing offhand. If I’m writing a stage for a competition myself, I almost always include the things I suck at so I can watch other shooters solve the problem and then try some of their methods when I practice.

During matches, do you prefer to dial for DOPE or use the reticle?
GM: I dial for DOPE if I have time, but I like holdovers a lot. I especially enjoy stages that are written so a holdover is a necessity without it actually being a requirement. It’s definitely a lot faster to use reticle holdovers than to dial, but probably not quite as much of a mental hug knowing you’re dialed for the right distance like dialing DOPE would be.

What reticle do you use in your Razor?
GM: I have the EBR-2C in all of my Razors. I like having the tree in there for wind as well as elevation holdovers. When I first started running them I thought it might be too busy, but I don’t notice the tree in there anymore until I need it for a holdover.

shooting-prone

Have you taken new shooters out and introduced them to the sport?
GM: Oh yeah, absolutely. My local club does a clinic about once every two years. We’ll have a whole group of shooters come in at hardly any cost to them and teach them fundamentals, basics, how to use some of the common props. At our monthly matches we do the same thing, coach them through different stages. We’ll show them how to use the prop first and then let them run it, depending on how they do we either correct them or give them a big pat on the back. We also give them wind calls. We do a lot of teaching on a local club level.

What are the most important aspects of long-range shooting from a teaching perspective?
GM: Body alignment and natural point of aim would be the first two. I see that being the mistake that people make more than anything else. People slapping their trigger with no follow through is another big one—they almost always miss.

Do you think that some people are naturals?
GM: I think so. I think I’ve seen it more with women. I don’t know that it’s natural or that we just don’t have bad habits. We had a “ladies only” class at Rifles Only last August, and the instructors all said the same thing — that it was the best class they’d ever had. None of us argued with them; it either worked or it didn’t. If it didn’t work, we found another way to do it, but it wound up being successful all around.

Do you do much shooting besides precision-rifle shooting?
GM: I’ve been working on pistol because I’ve sucked at it in the past. I’m getting a bit better and more confident. Pistol keeps getting thrown into precision rifle matches; from what I understand from pistol shooters is that they are easy points. I don’t want to leave easy points anywhere, so I’ve been practicing that a lot.

Do you have any suggestions for a first rifle for precision shooting?
GM: The PRS, in their rule book, has a whole appendix on what qualifies for the Production Division. The idea is to allow shooters to enter the series without excessive cost. The top MSRP for the rifle is $2,000, and it allows another $2,000 for the scope. There are affordable suggestions in that appendix. I always tell people to start there and then go find a local club, and see if someone has a loaner rifle that they’ll let you try out before you go spend a bunch of money on a gun that you don’t know if you’re gonna like.

Most of the guys on the club level are really friendly and don’t have any problem loaning out gear; I know that we do that. We have a couple of loaner rifles just between my husband and I, and we’re working on two that are specific for the club, a .223 and a .308, that we can loan out to get more people involved. We want to get more people behind the gun to try it out to see if it’s something that they want to do.

Do you do your own loading?
GM: I do. I have a reputation for waiting until the very last minute to load for matches. I’ve gotten better lately, but I’m still usually finishing up loading within hours of when I either have to get in a car to drive to a match or jump on a plane. If I load too soon then I start second guessing if I messed something up or if the charge was going to be too fast or too slow, or if I really spent enough time testing the load before I loaded up 225 to 300 rounds. First-world shooter problems.

What does your loading procedure look like?
GM: I use a Dillon 550, but run it as a single stage, so I size and deprime all of my brass after they’ve been cleaned in the tumbler. I toss it all in the tumbler again to get the lube off after sizing. Once it’s all clean, I load them one at a time: primer, powder, bullet. I use Norma brass, CCI 200 large rifle primers, and Hodgdon H4350 for 6XC. Same primers and Varget for .308 and whatever brass is handy.

I use an RCBS ChargeMaster to weigh the charges. Almost all of my dies are Redding competition full-length sizing dies now. Once they’re all loaded up, I mark them with a Sharpie in a pretty color that’s easy for me to spot after the rounds have been shot so I don’t lose too many of them at matches. About every other firing I trim the brass with a Giraud trimmer. We haven’t bought an annealer yet, but it’s on the “I want” list.

I’ve been running 115 DTACs in my 6XCs off and on since I starting shooting a 6mm, but I’ve been using them consistently for the past year. Sierra makes them for David Tubb and Superior Shooting Supply. I use Sierra 168-grain Tipped MatchKings and 175-grain Tipped MatchKings in my .308, but also have some of the HPBT MKs in both. I have 77-grain HPBT MatchKings or 80-grain HPBT MatchKings for .223. To actually answer the question, I generally shoot the 115 DTACs, unless it’s a caliber-specific match like the .223/.308 only match last year. Then I shot 168 TMKs in my .308.

We read that you gave a rifle away. What’s the story with that?
GM: After I won the Tactical Bolt Rifle Challenge in Sac Valley, I gave the GA Precision custom 6mm Creedmoor rifle that I picked up off the prize table to a National Guardsman who was using borrowed gear for the match. Giving away the top prize was something I said I was going to do when I won a national level match. I initially was trying to keep the part about the rifle quiet, but after the match, the match director, Justin Lagge, and NORCAL Practical Precision Rifle Club former president Vu Pham both blew it up on social media. Even Steve Reichert shared their post. Hard to keep it low key after that.

If you could have one firearm for the rest of your life, what would it be?
GM: It would probably be my bolt gun, even though my husband might not like that answer.

Anything else that we should know about you?
GM: I might have a slight, pretty well-documented obsession with Wonder Woman.

What’s that about?
GM: I’m not actually sure how this started. I loved the show with Lynda Carter, like so much so that I used to make myself dizzy spinning in circles trying to become her. You don’t have to tell anyone that, though. I mentioned something a while back, or posted a picture of Gal Gadot, I’m not sure. Independence Day is my all-time favorite holiday and Wonder Woman (despite being from Themyscira) always seemed to embody everything good about the red, white, and blue, and she’s a badass.

Only a handful of female superheroes it seems, and most only play bit roles to a male superhero. Plus, she’s the only female in the original Justice League. People actually send me Wonder Woman stuff now. That’s weird for me. Appreciated, but weird [laughs]. Books, stuffed dolls, stickers. The McMillan stock I have was just painted with a whole Wonder Woman theme on it. When I asked Wes Rolan, who also shoots PRS, from Rolan’s Cerakote if he could do something that was American and Wonder Woman, but not primary color — ’80s-era Wonder Woman, more Gal Gadot-post apocalypse-ish Wonder Woman, he said absolutely. It came out great.

Other than your Wonder Woman obsession, what are you never without?
GM: I always carry my cell phone, it’s like attached to my hand. My cell phone has my data on it, I have a data book but I run Shooter off my phone more frequently than any other data program. It has a similar algorithm in it to what’s in my Kestrel, but I remember that I need to fine-tune my Kestrel about 10 minutes after I needed to do it. Shooter is already done so I just run off that.

everyday-carry

Gina’s EDC
> Kel-Tec .380
> Kershaw folding knife
> Cell phone

Regina “Gina” Milkovich
Hometown: Phoenix, AZ
Family: Husband, Tim, and two stepkids
Age: 43
In the safe:
> CZ 452 for rimfire precision matches
> Remington 700 .223
> Remington 700 .308
> Three custom 6XCs
Achievements:
> Winner of numerous local matches in AZ, NV, TX
> Won 2016 Norcal Tactical Bolt Rifle Challenge
> Second overall finish at the 2016 Bushnell Brawl
URL: www.reginamilkovich.com
Instagram: @regina_milkovich

wonder-woman-tattoo

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