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  • Writer's pictureSun and Shadow

A First-Timer's Guide to the NRL Hunter Match Experience

Are you interested in or heading to your first NRL Hunter match? This is the article for you! We just shot our first NRL Hunter event with the Leupold Southern Hunting Challenge at Arena Training Facility in Blakely, GA. We'll discuss what to expect at the event and set you up for a great weekend of shooting!

Your field skills will be tested at every NRL Hunter event!

NRL Hunter is a field-style precision rifle match based around preparing hunters for their season or a hunt. Shooters will carry their rifle and gear to shooting positions and all stages are set up to be blind, so that the shooter must find, range, and engage all targets. The matches are run all over the country, and many matches pair the type of animal target or hunting style with the real animals and hunting styles of that region. For example, here in the southeast, our targets were southeastern animals like deer, bear, wild boar, and coyotes. Up north, shooters might see turkeys, deer, moose, or other animals local to the region. Western shooters might see elk and prairie dogs. Each match will bring a different target and challenge based on the range and region! Targets will be placed between 100 to 1000 yards and sized appropriately for the vital zone of that particular animal.

First, check out the rulebook to see which division your rifle qualifies for. I shot a Ruger Precision Rifle, and while it is an unmodified factory gun, it was ineligible for the Factory Division because it's too heavy. I opted to join the Open Heavy division so I could see where I stack up against other regular NRL Hunter shooters. As an individual shooter, my only other option with this rifle was to be in the Skills division, which has a lower entry fee and allows ROs or others to coach you during the event. I was confident enough with my field skills so I opted to join Open Heavy, but the Skills division is a great option for shooters that are new to the sport.

You do not need to be an NRL member to shoot an event, but members are able to shoot for points in the championship series and have early access to sign up for events. The weekend's schedule should be posted on the NRL Hunter web page, Practiscore, or emails for your specific match. I arrived Friday afternoon for check-in and Power Factor confirmation. At check-in, I filled out my rifle's data sheet that included the rifle, optic, accessories, and ammo specifics that I would be using for the weekend. Some of these items are for match data, and others are for NRL's data on equipment use to provide to match sponsors. My rifle was then weighed to make sure I was under the max limit for my division. Open Heavy allows rifles to be 16lbs or less; Open Light rifles must be 12 lbs or less; Factory rifles must be completely factory-built and must weight 12lbs or less also. My empty rifle weighed in at 15lb 5 oz with suppressor, bipod, and my Triggercam. Slings, if used, are not counted as part of the rifle's weight.

After weigh-in, we were given three colored zip ties; one was attached to the scope, one was attached to the bipod, and the last one was attached to the rifle chassis. The zip ties were color-coded by division and also allowed ROs and match staff to determine whether any of these pieces of equipment had been switched out after weigh-in. I took a few extra seconds during installation of the zip ties to make sure they would not interfere with the way I interact with the gun, and put them in spots that would be out of the way but still visible.

A support bag or two are highly recommended! Note the blue zip ties on this rifle, which designate the division and approved equipment.

At check-in, we were given the opportunity to squad, and were then handed an "NRL Hunting License," which is a hand-written copy of your scores for each stage that will be reviewed and signed by the ROs. This paper copy is your back-up in case there is a tablet error during scoring. Since we were expecting rainy weather, I stuck my sheet on a clipboard and sealed it in a gallon Ziploc bag for protection against water.

My NRL "Hunting License" for the weekend, which acts as a written scorecard in case there is an issue with electronic scoring.

Once the check-in was complete, we went over to the zero range where I was able to confirm zero and have my Power Factor (PF) checked. Power Factor is a simple measure of the rifle's recoil and is used for a match tie breaker. Power Factor is determined by multiplying your bullet weight by the bullet velocity, which is measured on a chronograph across 3 shots by a match staff member.

POWER FACTOR (PF) = Muzzle Velocity (fps) x Bullet Weight (gr)

A higher PF means there is more recoil, and if there is a tie, the shooter with the higher PF will be placed higher than the shooter with the lower PF. My Ruger Precision Rifle is chambered in .308 Winchester and I was shooting 175gr SMKs at 2520 fps, so my PF was recorded at 441,105. As a note here, a lower PF can be more forgiving to shoot, but might also put you on the wrong end of a tie-breaker if you're concerned with your placement in the competition.

After zero confirmation and PF check, we were done for Friday. All of the stages at NRL Hunter are blind, so you may not walk the course or look at any stages beforehand. On Saturday morning, we were given a safety brief and squads were directed to our first stages. This particular match had us relatively co-located with our vehicles, but I've heard that some matches will have you out hiking all day. It's important to understand what kind of match you'll be attending and what equipment, food, and supplies you'll need to have with you for each day.

Since this was our first NRL Hunter match, we still have a lot to learn about the sport and equipment. However, our friend William Righter from RTR Precision has a lot of experience with the series and shares some useful gear tips in this video. Check it out!

As all NRL Hunter stages are blind, requiring individual teams to find, range, and engage all of their targets, the match format must be kept generally simple. Each stage will have a maximum of 8 rounds fired per shooter, split between one of three basic target and position combinations:

  • 1 target engaged from 4 different positions

  • 2 targets engaged from 2 different positions

  • 4 targets engaged from 1 position

To keep the target order simple for each stage, you'll be told which order to engage the targets, which may be in a few different fashions:

  • Near to far

  • Far to near

  • Left to right

  • Right to left

You'll be briefed on the target shapes, number of targets, number of positions, and target engagement order before you start each stage. Also before you start, the RO will point out the shooting positions or required props, as well as a designated spot where you can see all of the targets. This spot will be marked in a 'V'-shape, with the open end of the V indicating left and right limits for where to search for targets. Keep in mind that the spot you can see all targets may not be close by to the shooting positions, and you also do not have to find and range targets from that point; however, this spot is a position that you are guaranteed to see all of the targets for that stage.

Once you're given the stage information, you'll have an opportunity to ask any stage questions, and then the RO will start your time. Individuals have 4 minutes to find, range, and engage all targets, while teams have 6 minutes to complete all of the work. Some shooters keep a timer on them to help manage their time. During the stage, you may ask ROs yes-or-no questions about the targets, although they may be limited on the answers they can give if you're not specific enough.

During your target search, it's important to make sure you're searching for the correct targets. For example, you may be briefed that you are to engage a single buck, but you see multiple deer targets out in the field. It will be important to confirm that you're looking for a deer target with antlers, rather than a doe. Hunters should be able to discern their targets, and the match might have a few of these false targets out to ensure you're paying attention.

Finding and ranging your own targets are part of the tested skills at NRL Hunter.

Your rifle will be unloaded until you are ready to start engaging targets, at which point you can pop in your magazine. During the firing sequence, you must engage the targets in order. You're given two shots to get an impact on each target before you must move on. A first round impact will net you two points for the stage and a second shot is not required; you can move right to the next target or position. If you miss the first shot, you are given a second opportunity for a correction. A second-round impact will net you one point and then you can move on to the next target. If you miss both shots, you'll receive no points and must move on to the next target. Thus, a perfect score will be 4 first round impacts on all targets or positions, for a total of 8 points per stage.

Another important note here: as there are time limits for each stage, you might not be able to find all of the targets before you need to start shooting. If so, you'll have to let the RO know which target you're going to start on before you shoot the first round. This can be as simple as saying "I can't find them all so I will start on the bear facing left next to the pine tree," or other similar description to talk the RO on to your target. If you see another target while you're shooting, you can only engage it if it's in the firing order; for example, if you start shooting on the first target and find the second target in the order, you can engage the second target. But if you start shooting at the second target and then find the first one, you cannot engage the first target and need to move on.

Once the stage is complete, you'll need to be quick packing up and getting out of the way so that the next shooter can begin. It took me a few minutes to pack my equipment back up, so I just moved everything to an out-of-the-way spot before putting my tripod and gear back in my pack. This helps to keep the match moving along. This particular match did not have a shooting order, so it was up to each squad to manage themselves and determine who was going to shoot next. After the first stage or two, my squad had it figured out and got into a nice rhythm.

We got about 10 stages in on Saturday and 6 on Sunday, which gave us time to do awards and prizes and leave the range at a reasonable time Sunday. Saturday evening, the match hosted an event BBQ dinner with live band after. It was a very nice community-building experience. After we completed shooting Sunday, the scores were tallied up and awards were presented. There was also a generous prize table walk and I'm pretty sure everyone came away with something. Thanks to all the sponsors that supported the match!

Shooters bring all of their gear to each stage and set up on the clock!

For scoring, remember that this match is based on points (2 points for a first round impact and 1 point for a second round impact). The shooter in each division with the highest points will win, but there can be many ties up and down the order. This is where the Power Factor will come into play. In my case, there were multiple shooters with the same points as me in my division, but since I had the highest PF, I was ranked above them for score.

The Leupold Southern Hunting Challenge was our first NRL Hunter event and we had an incredible amount of fun. I thoroughly enjoyed the match format, tested skills, and the opportunity to try something new. I recommend you check out the NRL calendar to find a match near you!

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