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Small Guns, Big Fun

Rimfire Events and Competition are Exploding in Popularity

Photos by Rob Curtis

Twenty-two caliber rimfire rifles have long been the go-to for teaching new or younger shooters. For many, it’s the first rifle they learned to shoot, plinking or hunting squirrels. However, the last few years has seen an explosion in the popularity of these small-caliber rifles, leading to the development of new equipment, adaptation of equipment from other shooting disciplines, and even the creation of new sanctioning bodies for competitions.

As Tony Gimmellie, a scout/sniper and Team Hornady shooter says, “I compete, or have competed, in almost every shooting sport, with the exception of trap and skeet, for the last 20 years. I have never had as much fun in shooting as I’m having with these 22s.” For those looking to get in on the fun, or better yet get their family members into the sport, there are no shortage of places to turn — which can be daunting.

Today, the firearm industry and the tactical community enjoy a near endless amount of trainers, training centers, and schools, and it’s not uncommon for an individual who’s recently been bitten by the bug to receive training from several former special operators in the span of their first year, focusing on everything from close-quarters battle techniques to the use of night vision devices. What’s uncommon, though, is to find any of those same students who possess iron-clad basic rifle marksmanship. As Caylen Wojcik of Modern Day Sniper says, “People are too busy learning the tricks of the trade before they learn the trade itself.” With the history of America being a nation of riflemen, it’s important that new shooters be able to actually perform the tasks of a rifleman and score hits on targets out to 500 yards. Enter Project Appleseed.

Brent Simoneau sets up targets before the Vermont State Rifle and Pistol Club’s monthly NRL22 club match. NRL22 match targets and props are standardized across all matches so setup is fast and familiar.

PROJECT APPLESEED
While Project Appleseed has events that push out to distance, most of their training weekends revolve around shooting .22-cal rifles at 25 meters. This makes nearly any facility capable of hosting the events. Appleseed shoots are run all over the country by the Revolutionary War Veterans Association, where they “use rifle marksmanship instruction as a gateway to help bring our nation’s history to life and to show that many of the values that our forefathers relied on to win our independence are still very much in demand today.” The events are affordable and family friendly, with the intent of getting as many new and younger shooters involved as possible. Shooters are taught firearms safety before focusing heavily on traditional basic rifle marksmanship. Shooting techniques taught include sling use, the prone position, and the unsupported sitting, kneeling, and standing positions.

Getting Started: Many, but not all, Appleseed events have loaner rifles available if you contact the event organizer beforehand. If you already have your own rifle, you’ll need it, a sling, two 10-round magazines, eye and ear protection, and 250 rounds of ammunition per day.

Young shooters, such as Ryland Shih, are welcome at NRL22 matches. The five-stage format keep things manageable and appeals to folks of all ages with demanding schedules, short attention spans, or both. Photo: CONX Media

Preparation: A Project Appleseed event has very little in the form of requirements — and it’s not a competition, but a learning environment. Shooters who plan on bringing their own rifle should show up with the rifle zeroed at 25 meters. On more than one occasion, unsupported shooting techniques have been described as “tactical-yoga,” so for the more seasoned attendee it’s strongly recommended that you get in the habit of stretching prior to the event. Newer shooters will take away a greater appreciation of our history of marksmanship, and both new and old alike will leave with solid repetitions of marksmanship fundamentals that can be applied universally to other rifle shooting disciplines. If you’ve mastered the fundamentals and you’re looking to test your skill and ability against other 22LR rifle shooters, precision rimfire competitions may be just what you’re looking for.

PRECISION RIMFIRE
Precision rimfire competitions are taking the precision rifle community by storm. Sanctioning bodies like the NRL22 laid the groundwork for this explosion of interest. Founded in 2017, membership in the NRL22 has averaged 100-percent growth in each of the last three seasons. Right now, there are 50 to 70 matches happening across the country every month. Low barrier to entry for both equipment and match fees have really helped the precision rimfire community experience faster growth and, by sheer numbers, become more prolific than its centerfire brethren. “[The NRL is] really focused on growing the precision rifle community, and the shooting community in general,” says NRL founder and president Travis Ishida. “At our 22LR matches we’re really focused on educating shooters, introducing kids to the outdoors and the responsibility of using firearms. At so many matches we have parents thank us because now they have something they can share with their kids that gets them off the couch, and that everyone in the family is excited about and looks forward to. We are really trying to make it approachable for newer shooters, especially women and kids. Everyone’s out there having fun.”

VSRPA competitors Erik Willis and Mike Kerr set up for a stage during the monthly club match at the Vermont National Guard’s Camp Ethan Allen Training Center.

Getting Started: The NRL22’s base class caps cost of entry to make those on a budget competitive. The combined MSRP for rifle and the scope is capped at $1,050. However, in the open class, it’s not uncommon to see $7,000 setups on the line at local matches, with chassis systems from MPA, JP, or Accuracy International playing host to Remington 700 pattern 22LR actions from Vudoo Gunworks topped with high-end Vortex Razor HD and Nightforce ATACR optics. Don’t let that be a deterrent though; positional shooting and timed stages are a great equalizer.

Preparation: Monthly NRL22 matches follow the same basic structure. Each match is five stages, and in order to make life easy for match directors and competitors, all the stages use a standardized set of barricades and props, most of which can be picked up at a hardware store. All an aspiring match director needs to do is register the match with the NRL and download that month’s stage plans. Competitors can download the month’s match book and set up to practice the month’s stages with standardized props — and targets, if they opt to buy a set of the NRL’s standardized, rimfire-rated, steel targets. “I’ve started running them at my club,” says Gimmellie, “and it’s great. As a match director they’re super easy to put together with low costs for the thinner steel required versus AR500 and common props your club probably already has.”

An impressive rack of ELR 22’s are on display at the Las Vegas Desert Sportsman’s annual ELR 22 LR Rimfire Rumble match held in January 2019. Photo: Roger Seymour Photography

One-day matches, with low entry fees, only require a 100-yard range — it’s why rimfire precision is the fastest growing sport in the industry. Regional leagues are popping up all over, too. Gimmellie says his club is also part of the Mid-Atlantic Rimfire Series (MARS), so after they finish the five stages of the monthly NRL22 match in the morning, they roll right into a MARS shoot in the afternoon. Those who want to stay pay the 10 bucks and shoot a whole other match. “So, in one day,” says Gimmellie, “you get to shoot two matches, and you’re still showered, on the couch, beer in hand by mid-afternoon.”

NRL22 competition ranges from coast to coast. Here’s a scene from the 2019 NRL22 national championship match held at Desert Sportsman Rifle and Pistol in Las Vegas. Photo: CONX Media

RIMFIRE ELR
The last, or maybe just the next, frontier of rimfire is rimfire ELR or Extreme Long-Range shooting. Centerfire competitions like the King of 2 Mile Championship are pushing competitors and their equipment to the ragged edge of what’s possible with a rifle. They’re forcing equipment manufacturers, bullet manufacturers, and software developers to create more accurate products, and everyone shooting inside 1,000 yards is benefiting from the technological refinement.

Jeff Brozovich competes in the Las Vegas Desert Sportsman’s annual ELR 22 LR Rimfire Rumble match held in January 2019 where targets ranged out to 500 yards. Photo: Roger Seymour Photography

For rimfire ELR, the ranges are more like 300 to 500 yards and beyond, but pushing a 22LR to these distances requires the same level of skill and commitment seen in centerfire ELR. What was impossible a couple of years ago with a rimfire is now driving the requirement train. Charlie TARACs, an optical device that increases the range of scopes by adding hundreds of MOA to its elevation adjustment range, are even starting to appear on rimfire rifles so they can stretch out beyond 500 yards. But what’s next?

“The ammunition manufacturers never expected this,” says Gimmellie. “They were always most concerned with 50-meter Olympic shooting events and accuracy at those shorter distances. I think the next big advancement will be in ammunition.”

Matt Rainville sets up on a tank trap during an NRL22 match held by the Vermont State Rifle and Pistol Association. Each NRL22 stage brief defines what bags and other shooting aids can be used in an effort to prevent the matches from becoming a gear arms race.

No matter which form of rimfire shooting appeals to you, you really can’t go wrong. Grab your rifle, your ammo, and your friends and get involved.

Sources

NRL
nrl22.org

Project Appleseed
appleseedinfo.org

Rimfire ELR
elrcentral.com
longrangeonly.com


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