The Legendary Rifles Only
If you’re anything like me, and you’ve been around precision rifles for more than five minutes, you already know about Jacob Bynum and Rifles Only. The place (and the man) is legendary. The landscape – vast. The shooting positions – unique. The facility – historic. Jacob is one of the industry old-timers and knows a thing or two about the bolt gun. Located just outside of Kingsville, Texas (2.5 hours South of San Antonio), it is a place worth visiting.
As the 2019 NRL/PRS season approached, I decided that this was the year that I was finally going to make it to the Brawl. I signed up and made plans to attend with my good friend and shooting partner, Phillip Velayo. It would turn out to be a battle between the Engineer and the Instructor. Who would best who? Read on to see how this would play out…
Preparation Prevents… How Does That Saying Go??
Months in advance, Phil and I started scheming. As employees of Gunwerks, we wanted to build something special – something that could showcase our shooting system and be well-suited for precision rifle competition. Pooling our passions for the gun, and our unique skill sets in engineering and instruction, we set out to build the perfect rig, and the Gunwerks Competition Rifle was born. We teamed up with the Skunkwerks composites expert to concoct a Heavy Fill carbon-fiber version of our popular Verdict Rifle Stock. Combined with exquisitely designed lines and feature-rich, this heavy Verdict was bound to be a bruiser.
For us, the Verdict provided the perfect amount of customizability for matches. Phil and I could trailer each feature to our liking. Having the long dangly fingers that I have, I chose to run the vertical grip (top) while Phil decided to stick with the more traditional grip, found on our Magnus rifle. I’m a full-faith believer in the Arca-Swiss system and chose to run a full-length rail on the forend. This allows me to mount my Arca-compatible MDT Ckye Pod and my Really Right Stuff tripod anywhere on the forend. Phil, on the other hand, is a bit of a late bloomer and decided to run the mini-Arca rail in conjunction with a traditional Picatinny bipod mount up front.
Day Zero: Team Procrasto
In my high school physics class, my team was dubbed “Team Procrasto.” We were always the last ones done with a project, and we always won. Over 15 years later and nothing has changed. We procrastinated our preparation, and didn’t get the rifles built until the 11th hour. Like, literally. We finished up my rifle at the end of shift on Wednesday. I took it to the Gunwerks Shooting Range in Burlington (a 45 minute drive for Cody in the snow) to zero the rifle and chrono in the dark. My Hornady 108 ELD-M Match ammo shot good enough, and I was happy with the results gathered with the Labradar. It was time to move on to the fun stuff.
With the help of some clutch Dewalt construction lights, I was able to illuminate target arrays at 400 and 600 yards and gather some DOPE – data on previous engagement. I stayed up all night to get some rounds through the barrel – I didn’t want it speeding up on my during the match. At 3:30 AM, I got home, packed, showered, and headed to the airport for the flight to South Texas and Rifles Only…
An overbooked flight and another cancelled flight later, Phil and I were in Texas. Joined by our find Mike Lilly, we were ready for the Brawl.
Day 1: We’re Shooting Off What?!
The first day was fun-filled and jam-packed with lots and lots of rounds. 15-20 round stages led to some hot barrels and tired shooters! We shot from barrels, shipping containers, and towers. We shot from rooftops, 550 cord loops, and tank traps. We shot movers, steel. We even shot paper.
The paper stage was shot from 57 yards off of these Wild Horse Distillery barrels. They were nowhere near stable. Somehow, I managed to get 7/10 despite the fact that the position made the shooter feel like they were on a rocking dingy during a rough storm!
Out West, our matches are a little different than what I encountered at RO. We usually shoot 8 to 12 rounds per stage (10 is average), and often engage anywhere from 3 to 5 different targets per stage, all at various ranges. Here at the Rifle Only, with the exception of two longer range stages and a dual-mover stage (yep, you read that right), we hammered one single target per stage.
One would think that this would make the stages easier. In a sense, you would be right. Sure, we didn’t have to manage dialing (or holding over/under) for various elevation corrections or manage varying wind vectors for wide target arrays. We didn’t have to manage multiple target acquisition and identification via terrain features. But short par times, multiple positions, awkward positions, and movement all contributed to a difficult stages and a challenging COF (course of fire).
After Day 1, Mike and I were sitting in the top 25. Mike landed 65 impacts and was sitting in 17th. I had 62 which put me in 25th. Phil was having an off day, and was sitting at 37th with 56 impacts. As many of you know, Phil won the Precision Rifle Series Finale in 2018, so for him, this was an “off day” to say the least. I guess what you get for ditching your bros and hanging out with Regina Milkovitch (another awesome shooter out of AZ) all day…
Day 2: Redemption?
Day 2 was full of ups and downs for me. I started off strong on the 500 yard Air Dingo stage landing 17/20 shots. It was a super fun stage. 20 shots, 10 from each of two positions. We probably could have accomplished the same ‘test’ with 10 rounds, but it was fun to bang away from that thing!
Immediately thereafter, I got knocked off my high horse and struggled with a 420 yard mover from the tower, where I “0-ferred” a hit-to-move stage where we only had two chances to clear a target.
After that debacle, I cleared my head, learned from my mistakes, and dominated the Double Movers, aptly named “Oh Sh**” for the chaos it induces. With 10/15 hits at 435 yards, I shot quite a bit over average. And, unlike a ton of competitors before and after our little squad (Mike, Doug, and I) we didn’t have to cheat and give each other wind calls and corrections to connect. The amount of “missed just behind it” or “hold a little more in front of it” coaching on the clock was disgusting, but we’ll save that rant for another time.
My momentum continued to build as I cleaned my first stage of the match, “Freaking Culverts.” It felt good to clean a stage, even if I did get yelled at for pointing my cleared and ‘muzzle-up’ rifle in the wrong direction. Oops! I told them they could DQ me if they felt the need, but the ended up giving me a warning, as I did have my muzzle up…
Ultimately, my mistakes on the “0-ffer” stage left me too many points back, and Mike ran away from me. He climbed 4 spots with his stellar Day 2 performance and ended up with a 13th place finish! Awesome job bro. Between my weakness and mistakes, and Phil’s redeeming Day 2 performance the gap got tight. I climbed three spots to 22 while Phil rose 14 spots for… You do the math… 23rd! Technically, we both scored 104 impacts, but my name was above his on the score sheet, so I must have beaten him!!
The Good: Back in the Game
This year, the Brawl fell under the National Rifle League flag. As President of the NRL, Travis Ishida has put tons of effort into crafting an awesome shooting experience for the competitors. He pulls a trailer all over the country, just for the shooters. He has the thing kitted to the brim with everything a shooter could possibly need throughout the course of a match. It is awesome.
On two occasions, this trailer (and the plethora of tools inside) was used to keep shooters in the game.
Mike and I were happy to have had the opportunity to shoot with, and mentor a new shooter during the match – Doug Low. Doug is an Army nurse and a heck of a solid dude. New to the game, showed up to the match with a new-shooter excitement and attitude that was contagious. His positivity was crazy, especially given the struggles he had during Day 1.
Towards the end of the day, after analyzing his performance on the past couple stages, we determined that Doug was having optic issues. My shooting partner Mike Lilly, an MDT team shooter, took the time out to fix it, and fix it he did. With the optic donation and help of US Optics / Spartan Precision Rifles team shooter and all-around swell guy, Nico Detour, we got a fancy USO mounted up on Doug’s rifle. Mike and Doug got permission to go to the zero range and get everything dialed-in.
Doug came into the match with two goals. 1. Have fun. 2. Don’t get last. Well, after his equipment struggles on Day 1, Doug was in dead last. With only 15 impacts on the day, he was pretty bummed. But after the miraculous surgery and quick recovery of his weapon system, he got back into the fight and rang the steel like a dinner bell on Day 2! He had a blast and didn’t get last!! By a long shot!
I know Mike would want the recognition, but he’s gonna get it. At least a short little blip. Mike was a stud, all weekend. He was great to shoot with and was helpful to those around him. All this, combined with his selfless willingness to help a fellow shooter in need, earned him the US Optics Sportsman Award. Well done bro!
The Good #2: The Vibbert
Many of you know Jake Vibbert. His name is usually at the top of the match standings of pretty much every NRL and PRS match. The dude shoots a lot, and he shoots well. He also runs JC Steel, so if you need steel, you know what to do. What you may not know, is how solid of a dude Jake is.
At the end of Day 1, Jake and I were sitting around the NRL trailer when a gentleman, I think his name was Vic, came to the trailer with a problem with his rifle. Jake jumped up and immediately started to diagnose his issues. 30 minutes later, and Jake and I have this dude’s rifle completely torn down – barreled action out, trigger off, and extractor broken-down. A clean pile or parts later, and Vic was back up and running.
Jake was patient and explained everything we were doing to Vic and detailed proper rifle maintenance and cleaning. It was so cool to see one of the top competitors in the sport take the time to sit down with another new shooter and get him back in the game. In what other sport will you see a top-level athlete take the time to help out a new shooter? I can’t think of a single one. Huge thanks to Jake for being a boss and to the NRL for building this culture.
The Bad: Freaking Cheaters!
You know who you are… I’m not gonna say more. Stop coaching on the clock. Stop helping your buddies. This is an individual sport. If you want to play a team sport, go play cricket. Or shoot a team match. I’m not gonna call you out, but I could…
The Not So Ugly: Not Much to Say Here, But I’ll Say Something Anyway
Don’t get me wrong, the Rifles Only Brawl was an awesome match. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I didn’t shoot my best, but I had fun doing it. The match was orchestrated beautifully and the venue at RO was everything I had hoped for. I had high expectations and the locale, the positions, and the rustic Texas ambiance did not disappoint.
We shot fun stages. We had intriguing problems to solve. We were challenged and we were tested.
The only gripe can muster, for I feel that a good AAR ought to try and point out areas for possible improvement, was time and shooter management. With 110 shooters on the books, it was a lot to manage. I get that. So here goes my attempt to offer a suggestion to improve the shooter experience…
The RO Brawl features “open squadding” or lack thereof I guess. It was great. Shooters were free to wander the grounds and shoot any stages that were open that day. We got to shoot with our buddies. We got to do as we pleased.
On Day 1, Mike, Doug, and I shot 9 stages out of 9 available. We were active and busy most of the day. Doing some math, 110/9 leaves 110 shooters spread across 9 stages – 12.2 shooters per stage. Not terrible. We ended up waiting in line a little, but the overall flow was pretty good. We were able to stay in the zone pretty much all day.
Day 2, we shot 5 real stages (excluding the not-for-points MDT drop-gun sponsored stage and the B&T one shot stage). At any given time there were 22+ (110/5) shooters in line. At one point, I counted over 40 shooters in line at the Double Mover “Oh Sh**” stage. I know, we had a couple target breakages that contributed to that. Can’t fault anybody for that one. But hey, this is my observation and I’m free to make suggestions. It seems like we could have added a few more stages – 9 or 10 per day – and reduced the round count on some of the stages. We could have sent the same number of rounds down-range but could have been a little more spread out.
Again, this wasn’t a big deal in the end. I was plenty tired from two full days of shooting. But the down time between stages on Day 2 really took my out of my game. I’m sure Jacob did that on purpose to test our mental fortitude – I guess I failed that one…
That’s A Wrap
Rifles Only is a premier training facility in South Texas. Jacob Bynum is an expert in his craft as a shooter, instructor, and match director. The 2019 Brawl was super fun and extremely challenging in its simplicity. Behind every good man is an even better woman – Lisa, thanks for your hard work!
I had a blast shooting with friends – new and old. I enjoyed the camaraderie between shooters and the positive attitudes that were in abundance. I look forward to shooting the Brawl again and can’t wait for redemption in 2010. Top 10 is beckoning and I’m preparing to answer…