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Precision Rifle Competition Pre-Stage Checklist

Photo courtesy of Nightforce Optics

Shooting precision rifle competitions involve a lot of mental and equipment preparation both before a match and before a stage. Long range shooting requires more than just aiming at the target, because even if you do everything “right” you can still miss your target. Performing well at a match requires a strong mental focus through planning and execution. One way to help clear the mind and prepare yourself is to create a pre-stage checklist for every stage. Having a simple and repeatable process helps prevent small mistakes that can lead to big problems.

Pre-Stage Checklist:

  1. Understand the stage – When range officers (ROs) ask if you understand the course of fire or have any questions, you should already have a thorough understanding of the stage. This means you know where the targets are at, what the target engagement order is going to be, what the shooting position(s) will be and know about any other special stipulations. Before you go to the line, mentally perform a dry run, visualizing everything that needs to happen from start to finish. Now when the ROs ask if you understand the stage, you can give quick rundown back to the range officer, which lets you review your plan one last time and provide a quick rundown of your shooting plan to make it easier to spot or follow you through the stage.
  2. Data check – Ballistic computers can do a lot, but they rely on having good inputs for intended outputs. Perform a check that you have the correct stage data, verify it is for your correct rifle and that your atmospherics are accurate. If you are referencing information on an arm-board or gun data board, make sure the data is legible.
  3. Ammo check – There isn’t much worse than trying to shoot a stage and you find out that your magazine is only partially loaded. Ammunition management is very important and up to the shooter to manage. Verify that you have enough ammo to complete the stage plus a few extras in case of a malfunction or lost equipment. A good habit is to not put empty or partially depleted magazines back into your magazine pouches or primary reload pouch or pocket to prevent issues.
  4. Equipment check – Shooters today have access to a wide variety of tools and equipment to shoot precision rifles. If you’re going to use certain pieces of equipment, make sure you have what you want and that it is set up as you’d prefer and within the stage or match rules. Do you have the right rear bag, is your tripod set or is anything else you need setup and at hand for the stage?
  5. Scope check (data, parallax, power setting, scope covers) – Your scope is your link to the target, but hitting the target requires the scope to be set up for every shot. Before starting, ensure that you have the correct data you want on the turrets; your parallax is set; you are on the desired starting power and your scope covers aren't covering the lenses.
  6. Rifle check – With your scope set, look over the rest of the rifle to make sure it is set up correctly. Is your bipod setup how you want it? If you are using a sling is it attached securely and if there anything else attached, is it properly mounted and setup? If you are running a suppressor, is it still tight and is the mirage cover still in position? Setting up the gun correctly before you are on the clock helps for smoother stages.
  7. Chamber check – Nearly all competitions work on a cold range and usually require some sort of chamber flag or empty chamber indicator. When given the command to load and make ready, remove the chamber flag and ensure your chamber is clear.
  8. Breathe! – Right before a stage, take a big breath and don't panic.

This sounds like a lot to remember, but after a few stages it can start to become habit and then a routine. When shooting precision rifles, consistency is key. Having a consistent method to start a stage can help calm you and reduce potential problems by performing gear checks. An easy way to also look at it is work top down, body to rifle. Is your head right, is your equipment right, is your scope right, is your rifle right? If you can answer these with a confident yes, you're already ahead of the power curve on being ready for a stage.

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