Competitive divisions that make sense

*Nine

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NOTE: This explanation is long, but I included it because I wanted to give some background. Hopefully the background information explains where I’m coming from and what I’m trying to accomplish in the event that someone disagrees with my conclusion. No single system of determining divisions can solve every problem or ensure a totally level playing field especially when dealing with equipment as diverse as we have in this sport. Further, this is only part of a solution, we also need match directors who are committed to matches that provide a great experience for all shooters, and we need shooters who remember this is all supposed to be for fun and improvement. If you don’t want to read the background info then skip down to just above the table.

As this sport has grown and evolved and what once were largely field or hunting oriented precision rifles started to turn into dedicated gaming guns much has been said about how to fairly divide equipment into divisions that not only attempt to provide a relatively level playing field for competitors but also bring in new shooters. We must ensure that we have structures in place that welcome new shooters and provide them with both meaningful competition and the opportunity to engage in that meaningful competition without having to immediately overcome a giant financial barrier.

Attempts have been made to create divisions for new shooters where equipment is cost limited and/or allowed based on its availability to the market. These attempts have failed, in some cases essentially telling prospective shooters that they’re going to need to spend thousands of dollars on a rifle alone, then thousands more on gear, or in other cases by allowing (and then disallowing) sponsored shooters to use rifles that aren’t actually available to the general public. None of this is welcoming to new shooters, none of it provides them a positive experience, and none of this benefits the sport as a whole. A prospective new match shooter doesn’t want to show up with $2000 worth of rifle and scope and immediately know that they’re facing guys with $2500 “production” guns with $2500 scopes. Similarly, they don’t want to show up for their first match and get absolutely wrecked by some sponsored shooter using a “factory” rifle that they can’t even buy. Simply put, Production does nothing to encourage new shooters to join the sport or lower any cost barriers.

Another group of shooters who seem to feel left out at this time are guys who want to shoot for fun. I know it’s impossible to dictate what’s fun for one guy or the next, or to point to something and say it’s objectively not-fun, but it’s clear there’s a widespread feeling here that what this sport has turned into in many cases is not fun. Initially I got into competitive long range shooting in 2010. Back then matches tended to be small and relatively local affairs for the most part (I’m aware of bigger affairs like Steel Safari and the SH Cup and all). The guys who showed up for these matches were, in some cases, using their hunting rifles because they wanted to practice field shooting skills. Other guys like myself had “match rifles” that were built on stocks better suited to precision shooting, with barrels a little longer and heavier than the other guys’ hunting rifles, and with muzzle brakes and the exciting new optics that started hitting the market around that time. These rifles weren’t quite as light or compact as hunting rifles, but we were in some cases walking miles each day at matches and shooting in field situations off tree stumps, old tires, handmade shooting sticks, etc… so the rifles needed to have some semblance of “field” utility. Nobody was hiking around with weights stuck all over their rifles. What everyone was doing was welcoming new shooters, joking around and giving each other a hard time, helping spot and make calls, and in general participating in a way where everyone involved was becoming a better shooter. Fast forward a few years and the PRS shows up, fast forward a few more years and these matches were a thing of the past. The mood of matches changed dramatically and as the gear race picked up speed and cliques formed and solidified I drifted away from competitive shooting. From reading lots of threads here I get the sense that I wasn’t alone in how I felt or that I just stopped participating.

So now we have two groups of shooters who aren’t being served by what the PRS has done to the match world. I don’t know how much longer the PRS can keep extracting money from the base of shooters they have, but if they’re not being welcoming to new shooters and they’re losing guys like me who don’t want to deal with the drama and attitude they brought to match shooting then the match world has a big opening for groups who can better serve the wider precision shooting community. In some instances other organizations have appeared to try to do what the PRS does, but do it better, and in other situations match directors have simply refused to associate with the PRS and run their own matches. Personally, I’d be happy to see most matches going back to being independent, local affairs. I don’t need my scores kept on a website somewhere and I’m certainly not going to pay a bunch of money to line a few pockets for the privilege. I’ve often heard it called for on this site for matches just to go back to independent affairs, but one thing that doesn’t solve is how to appeal to the wide spectrum of shooters we have now. A big part of that is how to accommodate the current PRS shooter with a totally match-focused rifle vs. the guy who wants to see what this sport is all about with his $1000 rifle. Or how about the guys like me who have no interest in building 27 pound rifles with 6 ounce triggers but still have great match rifles from before the gear race. How does any match, whether it’s an independent match or a match put on by a governing body who wants to supplant the PRS accommodate these different shooters and provide each with a positive experience?

Gear has never been a totally even playing field, someone has always had the better scope, the bullet that drifts a little less, the barrel that shoots just a bit tighter, or the really dialed-in handloads. In the past much of that could be overlooked as the range of gear we saw at matches wasn’t nearly as extreme as it would be today. A guy could show up to a match with a basic 20” .308 gun with a quality scope and while he wasn’t likely to win he also didn’t look out of place. Further, with the general mentality of the people who were shooting at that time and the lack of prize tables it really didn’t matter that the new guy came in near the bottom of the pack. He wasn’t totally blown out by absolutely tricked out match guns that cost 10 times what his rifle cost, and it’s likely he still went home happy and as a better shooter than he was when he showed up. Now, I understand no rule set other than an absolute spec series can claim to have gear parity, and that’s not my goal here nor do I get the sense that anyone really wants that. The goal here is to establish a system where a match, whether it’s small and independent or part of some series, can provide a meaningful competitive experience to a group of shooters who have gear more diverse than we’ve ever seen before in this sport.



Before we get into the specifics, allow me just a little more time to outline some of the considerations taken into account going into this:
  • Divisions are not based on cost.
  • Divisions are not based on production availability.
  • Divisions are not based on any sort of “spec” gear, nobody is required to run anything specific at all.
  • There are no dead-end divisions. If a match only has 2 new guys it’s not just them alone, they’re still competing against similar gear.
  • This does not require any additional work by the Match Director. There is no adjusted scoring, no different targets, no differences in stage design or setup.
  • The criteria used for determining the competitor’s division is simple, objective, and can be very easily checked. This leaves out some stuff that might be a good idea, but it also is much harder to game or abuse because it is very simple.
  • Lastly, this is of course a work in progress, any of this could be adjusted or changed to account for oversights or other concerns.

The actual proposal:

Divisions would be broken down as follows, and perhaps named if catchy names were suggested:

25 Points
30 Points
Unlimited

Here’s how points are calculated:
Screen Shot 2021-02-15 at 19.12.23.png


That’s it, just pick the appropriate points for your rifle from each color category and add them up. The idea here is that these are the things that determine the “shootability” of a rifle package during a typical stage. A heavier rifle, a rifle with a brake, a rifle with a lighter trigger are easier to shoot with and spot your own shots. A rifle shooting a 6mm round vs. a 6.5mm also recoils less and is easier to spot. These factors are certainly not the only factors that go into how a rifle shoots, but they’re very easy to check and leave the smallest amount of room for abuse. Obviously the cartridge list would have to be expanded as surely you’d have plenty of “well what about X?” questions.


Lastly, allow me to outline the idea behind the three divisions…

The 25 point division covers lots of “new” guys with 308 rifles or the cheap Savage or Mossberg entry level rifles, it’s also well suited to experimenting with smaller cartridges and maybe even some lighter semi auto guns. Do you want to try running a long 308? How about a 6mm Grendel bolt gun with a long barrel and moderate overall weight? Lots of interesting stuff can fit into the 25 point category. A guy with a factory Ruger Precision Rifle could even make it into the 25 point division depending on the specific configuration of his setup.

The 30 point division is for “normal” match rifles, what we saw for years and years before the sport tried turning itself into benchrest in the field. Here a guy with a custom barreled RPR can shoot against a guy with a Surgeon or GAP, cartridge choice is open but balanced and other aspects of what make a rifle “shootable” ensure the rifles here are reasonably well matched.

Unlimited is for rifles where either by their specs (exceptionally long barrels, thick barrel contours, heavy scopes) or simply by intentionally adding weight for stability the rifle is outside of what would traditionally be considered a precision rifle for field use. If you want to bolt 5 pounds of weights onto your chassis and use a trigger that you barely have to touch this is the division for you.

This post is already long enough, hopefully this helps someone. Regardless of who is running matches the fact remains that the range of shooters and gear showing up today is vastly broader than even in the recent past. If we can have a small number of divisions that are simple to understand and enforce then we can provide any shooter with suitable gear a fun and meaningfully competitive experience.
 

AznTactical

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I like the idea but how do you prevent people from adding 4lbs of weights when their initial inspection accrued 28 points (now cheating because it's actually 32 points)?
 

*Nine

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I like the idea but how do you prevent people from adding 4lbs of weights when their initial inspection accrued 28 points (now cheating because it's actually 32 points)?
I have a couple of ideas… one is that since it would be very quick to determine all of this stuff a RO could be assigned to go around and just show up at a stage and take a look at the gear. He wouldn’t keep re-checking stuff, but his arrival would be unannounced and he’d check those shooters and move on. The other idea is you have a gear check stage like a chrono stage at a USPSA match, again it would take very little time to check since the criteria are so simple and hopefully since the gear is being checked in front of the whole squad you’d have someone in the squad who would say something if a person started bolting weights on 20 minutes after leaving the check station.

At some point you have to have trustworthy shooters, I’d hope that there wouldn’t be blatant cheating and that if someone tried that then someone in the squad would call them out on it.
 

J-Hon

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I dig it. I like the flexibility in the points, which should allow some different gaming potential as to what is most important in a rifle while still keeping a high degree of focus on shooter skill (at least at the lower point levels).

Doing some quick math on this rifle (a middle-of-the-road 17.5 lb 6.5CM) I'm @ 28 points with your scoring. I could drop some weight and be in the 25pt class, or add a brake/weight for less recoil and be right around the 30pt limit.



30pts seems to give the flexibility for most common rifle+chassis+brake setups, without getting into the super heavyweight / 2oz trigger stuff that we have now.
 

Tree

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I like that other ideas are coming out regarding divisions. This is one area I struggle with in rifle shooting. To that point I struggle to find a need for divisions at all (with the exception of caliber as that is the biggest differential)

What I think we are all trying to do is get new shooters to come out with what they have and continue to come back.

Does a division do that or not? Is it more about creating stages that are geared toward the mid pack shooter vs the top shooters at local events?

I think classifications more than divisions will get shooters to stay in the game. As can see how they do against like skilled people. They improve they see there classification improve.

Every sport has “gear”. The gear can definitely help but is the gear what really makes a good competitor good or is it the training?
 
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*Nine

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I like that other ideas are coming out regarding divisions. This is one area I struggle with in rifle shooting. To that point I struggle to find a need for divisions at all (with the exception of caliber as that is the biggest differential)

What I think we are all trying to do is get new shooters to come out with what they have and continue to come back.

Does a division do that or not? Is it more about creating stages that are geared toward the mid pack shooter vs the top shooters at local events?

I think classifications more than divisions will get shooters to stay in the game. As can see how they do against like skilled people. They improve they see there classification improve.

Every sport has “gear”. The gear can definitely help but is the gear what really makes a good competitor good or is it the training?
I tried to touch on the “why” of why I think a few different divisions helps in my long, rambling preface. Basically, in the past the difference in gear between established shooters and new guys was much smaller than it is today. Not that in the past you had many new guys showing up and winning with basic gear, but years ago a new guy could show up with a basic .308 rifle and do pretty well if he was a good shooter. These days that’s just not going to happen, and I’d argue that it provides a better experience for the new guy if instead of “I came in 74th out of 80 shooters“ he can say ”I came in 6th out of 13 shooters“ who have gear more in line with what he’s using.

EDIT: I’d also like to see what interesting things people come up with if they’re able to compete in a division where they’re forced to make trade offs. The 25 point division is well-suited to new guys with basic rifles but it’s also suited to experimenting with gas guns and some “smaller” bolt gun cartridges.
 
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Tree

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In looking at this though it doesn’t help. Here’s why.
AG costume carbon fiber stock with a Ti action in 6br and muzzle break with 1lbs trigger. And a lighter high quality scope gets me under the 25lbs mark. Make the barrel a carbon fiber and I have room to spare.

It is balanced and while light would have minimal recoil.

if you look at the major drivers it’s weight and caliber. Would seem simpler to do the power factor and weight as the driver. Which I believe is what the NRL hunter series did except they put a minimum power factor and maximum weight.
 

*Nine

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In looking at this though it doesn’t help. Here’s why.
AG costume carbon fiber stock with a Ti action in 6br and muzzle break with 1lbs trigger. And a lighter high quality scope gets me under the 25lbs mark. Make the barrel a carbon fiber and I have room to spare.

It is balanced and while light would have minimal recoil.

if you look at the major drivers it’s weight and caliber. Would seem simpler to do the power factor and weight as the driver. Which I believe is what the NRL hunter series did except they put a minimum power factor and maximum weight.
That’s a very fair point, a buddy and I were discussing this yesterday and trying to think of ways to game it. Since this is really nothing more than a draft at this point, and since it follows the “simple to identify“ criteria we initially set out I’d just toss something in there adding points for “exotic” materials. On one hand that rifle you gave as an example would be interesting because now you’re experimenting with how light you can make a rifle with high “shootability” and I’d argue that’s actually a really cool thing that definitely is more in the spirit of practical field rifles, but I also wouldn’t want to see the 25 point class turn into something where you need a super high end rifle with exotic materials to win.

Off the top of my head maybe the 25 point class should be a 24 or 23 point class, and/or we’d just add a criteria where a carbon wrapped barrel is +1 point or a Ti action is +1 point. The beauty of the points system is it’s easy to go back and adjust the balance as needed and you don’t have to rewrite a bunch of rules to get what you want.

I used to shoot a lot of USPSA, and I’m very familiar with power factors. I’d prefer to avoid that if possible because it‘s a lot more work to go around collecting ammo randomly and then having a chrono stage.
 

Tree

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I think the power factor in rifle would easier as you could actually just classify by caliber. (General assumption xx caliber in factor ammo with 3200fps max).

From an MD perspective I would much rather say hey what caliber you shooting and way your rifle. 😁

But ultimately I think simpler is better for both shooters and MDs.
 

Crabcore

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I really dig the points system. I don't think I have seen a proposal like this before. The beauty of a system like this is that future products can simply be added to the list and assigned points values. I think some of the support gear should have points too. Maybe 1 point per bag you bring with you.

I would really love to see a more complete list. This idea does a good job of avoiding a lot of the pitfalls of the current systems.

There will be a lot of people who comment about being difficult to police. You can never keep everyone from cheating, but the vast majority of shooters would align themselves correctly and not have issues. This has potential.
 

*Nine

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I really dig the points system. I don't think I have seen a proposal like this before. The beauty of a system like this is that future products can simply be added to the list and assigned points values. I think some of the support gear should have points too. Maybe 1 point per bag you bring with you.

I would really love to see a more complete list. This idea does a good job of avoiding a lot of the pitfalls of the current systems.

There will be a lot of people who comment about being difficult to police. You can never keep everyone from cheating, but the vast majority of shooters would align themselves correctly and not have issues. This has potential.
Thanks, I actually took this idea from some racing organizations where it’s possible that competitors will have vastly different car setups, but are competing within just a few categories so they use a points system that attempts to provide a balance by allowing one guy to run a turbo that costs a lot of points, but that limits how many points he has to spend on a larger displacement engine or limits his points available to spend on really nice brakes. Determining the “value” of a point and how that relates to each piece of gear is the trick, and of course would have to be adjusted as needed.

The accessories thing is another area that would need to be addressed, and it’s also an area where it’s easy to have an extra undeclared bag jammed into your pack or something, so again we have to trust the competitor at some point and we have to hope his squad mates will also keep each other honest. As the main criteria for breaking down the divisions are based on what makes a rifle “shootable” I’d be tempted to have a simple accessories allowed/disallowed list for each division. Perhaps the 25 point division would allow 1 bag for example (I’d imagine most guys would want something to act as a rear bag) and the 30 point division would allow 2 total bags and Unlimited guys could festoon themselves with pillows if desired.
 

MakeSawdust

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This is easy to game with very little effort. New Gamer Gun = 223 shooting 88 or 85.5. TL3 with sendero contour steel barrel, tt diamond, krg bravo, muzzle brake. The gun will be under 15 lbs. There will be no recoil. You will give up little to nothing on the 6br except energy and ease of load tuning.

I already shoot this setup as a practice rig without a brake and trace is not hard to see. It is a little harder than with a 6 Dasher with 108s in a Foundation with an MTU barrel and a LB gen3, but I think, with the addition of the LB gen3 we are right back where we started.

If I added right, that is a 24 pt gun.

My current match gun though, is about 37 or 38 pts, but offers very little in the way of an advantage over the 223 setup. It is a small advantage, but not much.

As soon as one guy figures it out and wins, that's where the game will go. Everyone will follow.

I personally think a lot of this is mental. I shot last year with a TL3 in a bravo. I had either a 243 Ackley shooting 115 DTACS in a Remington Sendero contour or a 6 Dasher in an MTU contour shooting 105s. There is a pretty noticable recoil delta between the two, but it didn't seem to make a difference in where I placed. That was mostly determined by how I practiced in the days leading up to the match. That part definitely made a difference.

I understand the desire to put something in place. I personally don't think we have the numbers to start dividing people up. If you want to divide it up, the thing that makes the difference is recoil. Figure out a way to divide people based on recoil and you have it. You are as close as anyone I have seen. Maybe the system of points just needs tweaked a little.

Props though, this is definitely the best system I have seen to date and focuses on the shootabilty of the different systems.
 

*Nine

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This is easy to game with very little effort. New Gamer Gun = 223 shooting 88 or 85.5. TL3 with sendero contour steel barrel, tt diamond, krg bravo, muzzle brake. The gun will be under 15 lbs. There will be no recoil. You will give up little to nothing on the 6br except energy and ease of load tuning.

I already shoot this setup as a practice rig without a brake and trace is not hard to see. It is a little harder than with a 6 Dasher with 108s in a Foundation with an MTU barrel and a LB gen3, but I think, with the addition of the LB gen3 we are right back where we started.

If I added right, that is a 24 pt gun.

My current match gun though, is about 37 or 38 pts, but offers very little in the way of an advantage over the 223 setup. It is a small advantage, but not much.

As soon as one guy figures it out and wins, that's where the game will go. Everyone will follow.

I personally think a lot of this is mental. I shot last year with a TL3 in a bravo. I had either a 243 Ackley shooting 115 DTACS in a Remington Sendero contour or a 6 Dasher in an MTU contour shooting 105s. There is a pretty noticable recoil delta between the two, but it didn't seem to make a difference in where I placed. That was mostly determined by how I practiced in the days leading up to the match. That part definitely made a difference.

I understand the desire to put something in place. I personally don't think we have the numbers to start dividing people up. If you want to divide it up, the thing that makes the difference is recoil. Figure out a way to divide people based on recoil and you have it. You are as close as anyone I have seen. Maybe the system of points just needs tweaked a little.

Props though, this is definitely the best system I have seen to date and focuses on the shootabilty of the different systems.
Thanks for the compliments on the system. As far as the gamer gun you defined above, I have mixed feelings on that. On one hand of course it’ll have an advantage over the “new guy” basic rifle that’ll also compete in this division, but on the other hand it would be wonderful to see people experimenting with lighter guns too rather than just bolting tons of weight on for stability and recoil management. Perhaps points could be adjusted to bump that rifle to the 30 point division, or perhaps we’d look at the 25 point division not as ”the new guy division” but as a division where new guys can compete and, while they’re still out-gunned, they’re also not going up against the guy with the 29 pound 6BR and his collection of pillows.

Regarding the recoil specifically, that was the idea behind making the 6mm guns worth 10 points and the 6.5 guns worth 7 points. The Grendel/308/223 gun points were a combination of recoil but also the fact that the external ballistics aren’t as good as the short action 6/6.5 stuff. A power factor breakdown would be even more effective in separating them objectively, but that’s a significant increase in complexity of match direction now because you’ve go to randomly collect ammo from shooters, then chronograph everything and weigh bullets if necessary. Now, that’s not undoable and a well-run match with experienced guys handling that task can make it work but I figured initially I’d err on the side of keeping it very simple to implement.
 

Crabcore

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One area I would add to create a little more variance is barrels.
factory barrel = 0 points
aftermarket barrel = 2 points
carbon wrapped barrel = 3 points

I didn't do any math on those numbers, but it keeps points down for factory rifles, while the customs have just a few more points baked in. The couple examples in this thread would be pushed over the 25 point mark if they had an extra 2 or 3 points added.

but this is a good example of the flexibility of the points system. There will be some sort of optimized setup which will get discovered eventually, but that is the nature of any competition.
 

*Nine

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One area I would add to create a little more variance is barrels.
factory barrel = 0 points
aftermarket barrel = 2 points
carbon wrapped barrel = 3 points

I didn't do any math on those numbers, but it keeps points down for factory rifles, while the customs have just a few more points baked in. The couple examples in this thread would be pushed over the 25 point mark if they had an extra 2 or 3 points added.

but this is a good example of the flexibility of the points system. There will be some sort of optimized setup which will get discovered eventually, but that is the nature of any competition.
I like it, and it fits all the criteria I was going for as far as simplicity to determine, not being based on a dollar figure, etc…
 

A.Huggy

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I love this idea.

The two main effects I see a system like this having are:
1. Evens the playing field making factory rifles with cheap plastic stocks, heavy triggers, and lighter barrels potentially competitive.
2. Makes things a lot more interesting in terms of shooters having different strategies.
Maybe we will see some heavy 308's win some matches against super light 6mm's? That would be really fun to be a part of.

There's no question that a system like this can work, it's used in a lot of leagues for many different sports. I think we can learn a lot from seeing how other sports have implemented this.

I have particular experience with ChampCar, an automotive endurance racing club. Each car is given a stock point value and modifications add value. This value is called a Vehicle Performance Index or VPI. There is a maximum VPI of 500 points
Ex:
a stock Honda Civic = 300 points
Fancy suspension modifications = 100 points
Aerodynamic modifications = 50 points
Total = 450 points so the car is legal to race

Every competitor will claim the VPI of their car before the race and go through a tech inspection to verify the VPI is correct. After the race, the top 5 finishing cars are subject to inspection by all competitors. For a nominal fee ($50) any competitor can file a protest against a car if it is suspected to be in violation of a rule or have an inaccurate VPI.
I'm over simplifying how the ChampCar system works for the sake of example, but it is one of the best examples of quantifying competitive performance that I know of.

It will take some trial and error and thorough research to get the points appropriated correctly for our sport.
Is a brake work 3 points or 4?
Is a brake worth more on a 300 win mag than on a 223?
That's the kind of question that will have to be constantly asked, answered, and adjusted as the sport evolves. Hence most systems like this in other sports are maintained by an elected board of directors and reviewed yearly; usually assisted by petitions submitted by members of the league.... yea it's a lot of overhead, wishful thinking considering the state of the PRS these days.

The tech inspection and post-competition inspection for top competitors is something I think should be implemented regardless of how classes are divided up. I've seen too many people trying to get away with shooting 6.5's in tactical class or running 185gr Bergers in their 308's. Or swapping rifles multiple times during a match. It's deplorable and damaging to our sport.