Precision Rifle Series Finale

Reaching the PRS Finale is a great accomplishment for any shooter. With so many shooters nationwide trying to qualify for the event, just being in the show is huge. Read PRS Shooter Melissa Gilliland's take on the PRS Season Finale

What an honor and accomplishment it is to be invited to the Precision Rifle Finale in this series of national tactical rifle competitions.  The 2015 season started a year ago in October 2014.  With several matches to compete in all over the USA throughout the year, only your top 3 scores are captured for the season. This year was a little different as the PRS also had different classes and Regional qualifiers to get you to the Finale. I qualified as one of the Top 3 Ladies in the Series, along wih Regina Milkovich and Sydnei Tatum. I was extremely excited and couldn't wait for the trip out to California.

Melissa Gilliland

Not knowing what was in store, I packed up "Lissa" (Jakes twin sister), my custom built Ashbury Precision Ordnance SPR-6.5 Creedmoor competition rifle.  My rifle has a 22" APO Pinnacle Series spec fluted barrel Rock Creek (1-in-8.5” twist), AAC Blackout muzzle brake, Ashbury’s very own SABER SX octagonal bolt action receiver, a Tubb T7T two stage trigger, all wrapped up in a lightweight SABER ASX-A3 V17 modular rifle chassis system.  

As a sponsored Bushnell shooter, I use a Bushnell Tactical Elite Series XRS 4.5-30 with G2 reticle in Spuhr mounts.  I stay consistent with the factory loaded Hornady Match grade 140gr AMAX ammunition which delivers an average velocity of 2750FPS.  My support gear consists of a Kestrel Sportsman series hand held weather station, Armageddon Gear precision rifle sling and Data Arm Band, Wiebad support pillows and a homemade rearbag made by my loving husband Jim. 

Melissa Gilliland

With my bags packed and rifle ready, I headed to Atlanta to catch my California flight.  I arrived in Los Angeles on Friday September 4th.  With my Husband holding down the homefront, it gave me piece of mind so I could focus solely on this match.  After arriving, getting my rental truck and driving for 2 hours, I arrived at the private range in time to get registered and get a good solid zero on my rifle at this location which had a DA of around 6400.  Phil Cashin, one of my squadmates, was on the zero range and spotted for me while I confirmed DOPE on my rifle.  I absolutely love this sport. Though you are competing against each other, everyone will always bend over backwards to help you.

The Finale was held on a private ranch in Tehachapi California which is run by Dal Bunn.  This gentleman was enthusiastic and had a heart of gold, not to mention a wicked sense of humor.  The Match Director Mike Voigt, has run several successful tactical rifle matches and is an accomplished shooter himself.  With all the Range Officers (RO) in place, we were ready for the weekend.  Syndnei Tatum, fellow East coast competitor & friend, had warned me that I would be waking at 3 in the morning because of the time difference.  Well I’d be damned, I went to sleep that Friday night & woke during the night at you guessed it, 3am!

The first day of the Finale started at 7 am.  There were 11 members in our squad.  We were told before the match that we all needed to carpool in no more than 3 trucks per squad.  Most of us jumped in Joe Mazzolas beast of a truck & headed to the first stage.  This private ranch was absolutely gorgeous. Rolling terrain, steep inclines & nothing to see but miles and miles of desert.  I was ecstatic to be squaded with fellow Team Bushnell teammate Bryan Sikes. Usually my Husband Jim Gilliland or good friend/Bossman Tom Fuller is on my squad.  I was on my own here & knew if something went wrong mechanically with my rifle or if I had questions, Bryan would have my back.  As it turned out, everyone on my squad was there for each other.  Again, it goes to show you the tight knit community we have within the Precision Rifle Series community.  

Melissa Gilliland

We started on Stage 9 “They Are Out There”.  Upon the start signal, we had to engage each of the three targets (12”x18” steel plates) with three rounds each.  Sounds easy enough, right?  You had a target at 1063yrds, 1013yrds, and 1106yrds.  Well, lets just say I didn’t start off the match too well, but the first stage was over and there was no where to go but up!  The next few stages proved equally challenging with the wind switching left then right.  One cool stage was “Over the Edge”.  It consisted of a low angle target around 30-35 degrees. I carried my MilDot Master with me for one of these moments. My husband coached me on how to use this clever little device. I got my target range of 585 yards, slid the scale to it then looked to see what angle of range matched my 30 degree which was 510 yards. Since this was my first target to shoot, I dialed my DOPE at 510yrds and center punched it twice. I had three other targets to engage and dialed elevation for that specific yardage, since they weren't at that inclination angle. Ah…success!

Melissa Gilliland

We shot 5 stages that morning then broke for lunch.  The wonderful ladies of the ranch crew had made chili accompanied by fruit, rolls & dessert.  After a quick bite, we were off to the next 5 stages.  A great stage here was the “Buzz Saw”.  You had a steel gate or “tubes” to shoot off and each shot must pass within the designated areas.  A different tube must be used for each target. Upon start signal, you were to engage the 5 targets (148 yrd small diamond, two targets 308 yrds, and two targets at 706yrds.  Out of 10 possible points, I scored an 8. Now how is that for a confidence builder!

After everyone was done shooting, we all were treated to a nice steak dinner along with cold beer in a PRS Finale mug courtesy of Short Action Precision.  After a few raffle draws and a full belly, it was time for a nice warm shower and sleep.  It was so dusty and windy that day, as soon as I got to my room I cleaned off my rifle, daubed out my action (courtesy of a dry hotel washcloth), wiped down my bolt and applied my Hoppes 9 lube. My rifle Lissa was ready for Day 2.

Day 2 started our squad on Stage 19 “Kneel! Or Sit”.  You could use supporting equipment for this stage, so most of our squad used either a backpack or hog saddle.  You had 3 targets at 295 yrds, 320 yrds, and 460 yrds, after only dropping one round on this stage, I was feeling good about my performance and was ready for Stage 20 “Shoot-Move-Shoot some More”.  All targets must be hit before moving on to the next target.  Upon start signal, a shooter will engage each of the 3 targets across the canyon once.  Then the shooter would run to the next designated position and engage the 6” diamond from standing position. Once hit, you move back to your original position and engage the 3 targets again across the canyon.  

I had my plan and ran it through my mind several times.  To maximize time, I dialed in elevation and planned to use holdovers.  Me and my Bushnell Elite XRS 4.5-30 are like one now. I absolutely adore this scope and all of its capabilities that it offers me.  On the sound of the buzzer, I fired my first shot. "Impact" yelled the RO.  Pulled the bolt back and got into position for my second target.  Once my target was in the crosshairs, I gently pulled the trigger. 

Nothing. I squeezed again, nothing. I thought maybe the round was bad, so I manipulated my bolt and put a new round in. Still nothing. Panic set in. There were many things running through my mind…”was it my trigger, was it my bolt, what the heck could be wrong. Oh dear god where is Bryan Sikes…”. I was under the 90 second time stressor and it felt like a lifetime during my panic. I heard whispers of people on the side and heard safety switch. I quickly looked down and had instant relief, embarrassment, madness and happiness all rolled into one. But, I just held my head down in shame. My damn safety switched got bumped on during my movement. Ugh. I told myself, “This stage is going to be my lowest scoring stage”. And it was. When you have stages like this, you have to just learn from it and let it go.  In the end, the rest of my stages were great and no more “safety” switch accidents!

Melissa Gilliland

At the end of the day, it was an awesome match.  I am so proud to be a part of this community and this Series.  Congratulations to Dave Preston for Winning the PRS Finale.  He is an awesome shooter and I hope to be on his squad in a future match so I can learn from him.  Huge Congratulations to Regina Milkovich for taking the Top Lady honors.  Not only has she been a mentor of mine for the past year, but she has been such a sweet friend. 

I would like to Thank Mike Voigt, Dal Bunn and the entire ranch crew for making this match one that everyone should strive for.  Thank you to the RO’s for taking time to be here and help make this the best match of the year!  Thanks to Contingency X for taking some hot videos as well as photos.  Thank you to my sponsors Ashbury Precision Ordnance, Bushnell Tactical, Hoppes 9, Armageddon Gear, Hornady and Wiebad.  All of you have played a huge role in my life and from the bottom of my heart, THANK YOU. Here’s to looking at the upcoming 2016 PRS season and seeing new shooters in the circuit. 

Some other Top Ladies of the Precision Rifle Series