I really didn’t know what to expect as I signed up for the America’s Rifle Challenge (ARC). I hadn’t competed in any kind of action shooting matches since leaving Montana in 2013. Most of my training focused squarely on marksmanship fundamentals, and usually no further than 100 yards.
Well, the best way to break out of comfort zones is to get out there and push yourself, ready or not.
On Saturday April 27th, 2019, I showed up at the doorstep of the Peacemaker National Training Center in Glengary, West Virginia for a match. This article is a quick rundown of the facility, the competition, my equipment, and a few lessons learned along the way.
Let’s get to it.
Peacemaker National Training Center
The PNTC sits just off of I-81, not much past the border between Virginia and West Virginia. It’s a large facility with gravel roads snaking all around. It houses a total of 16 ranges, including close range pistol, skeet/trap, and long range precision.
The facility serves a wide variety of audiences. Aside from it’s own closed membership, it regularly hosts matches for the Precision Rifle Series (PRS), military training exercises, open training to the public, and private events. The series of 12 linked semi-enclosed spaces along the so-called “Liberty Range” serves as an ideal place to host a staged match like the ARC.
In the future, I’d love to get out there again and do some training on precision rifle and pistol.
The NRA America's Rifle Challenge
The ARC is somewhat of a new beast within the NRA. It was originally called the America’s Rifle Match and sponsored by Daniel Defense back in 2015. The original idea was to provide an introduction to using an AR-15 in a competitive environment. My understanding is that those early matches involved a lot of instruction on the fundamentals as well as getting out on the range in squads.
The program seemed to fall off the radar for a while, but is now back as the America’s Rifle Challenge. Aaron Farmer, Deputy Director of the NRA’s Competitive Shooting Division provided our inbrief and some more details. From what I can gather, the new version has two levels.
There are some other differences between the old ARM system and the new ARC. For example, the ARC uses standard USPSA targets and has a more simplified system for rifle divisions.
Since I already had a good amount of experience running an AR-15 in both tactical training as well as marksmanship matches, I was comfortable signing up for Level 2.
Completely missing from my searches, though, was what to expect once I arrived.
PNTC put out a list of required items ahead of the ARC match. I combed through it carefully, but I was sure there would be extras.
- A safe and serviceable semi-automatic, detachable magazine rifle, already zeroed
- No Cartridges over .308
- Eye and ear protection
- Chamber flag
- At least three (suggested five) magazines and minimum 250 rounds of ammunition. It is advisable to bring 350 rounds.
- At least one, serviceable Kydex or nylon magazine pouch worn on the body to conduct reloads
- A one to two point convertible or pure two point sling attached to the rifle
- Appropriate footwear and clothing for all-season outdoor use. No Sandals
- It is highly advised to bring support items such as lubricant, water, etc.
ARC Equipment List
This is the gear I brought along with me and actually had a use for. I’ll get to the extras in a moment.
- 20″ Government BCM with TA-110 and UBR 2 stock
- 8 magazines, all loaded to 30 rounds
- FTW Multipurpose Sling
- ~20L backpack
- Hat (Outdoor Research radar pocket cap)
- Windproof jacket (I wore my Vertx smock)
- My battle belt, sans knife
- A camera
Now, for the list of stuff that I also brought but didn’t use:
- Second rifle (the Recce)
- Knee pads
- Pistol (CZ P07), three mags, and ammo
- Shooting mat
- Extra lube
- SKD PIG gloves
- Dump pouch attached to the battle belt
In hindsight, I should have brought some sunblock and a cleaning rod to help deal with a problem I had later in the day.
I brought the pistol because I just didn’t know if there might be an opportunity to use it. My belt still had the holster it, so I figured, “Why not?”
However, the match rules once I got there forcefully stated that pistols were not to be carried nor holstered during the day. Doing so was grounds for ejection.
Good to know.
The second rifle was a “just in case.” I almost had to break it out for the back half of the day right after the plastic chamber flag broke off and a big chunk ended up down the bore of my rifle. Luckily, another member of my squad had a cleaning rod in his car for me to use.
America's Rifle Challenge Stages
And now we come to it: what actually happened.
Having never participated in a rifle match like this before, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. The PNTC broke the day up into an AM match and a PM match. I signed up for the latter, but arrived early enough to watch the end of the AM portion. I had an idea of some of the stages before we really got going, and my binoculars were very helpful in getting a better look at the layout.
The match director divided all of the PM participants into four squads. Each squad had a mixture of competitors from each division.
For the ARC, there are three divisions and all of them are based on your rifle.
- Stock: Rifle may have one iron or red dot/holographic sight (non magnified) and a backup iron sight if desired.
- Limited: Rifle may have one fixed or variable magnification optic of no greater than 8 power and a backup iron sight if desired. A rifle with a red dot/holographic sight and a magnifier is in this class
- Open: Rifle may have one fixed or variable magnification optic of no greater than 18 power, and a backup iron sight or a red dot/holographic sight installed.
Both rifles I brought had fixed magnification optics, putting me in the limited division.
In hindsight, I think these divisions are too broad. If I were to have my way, then I would roughly follow my own optics classification system: irons, red dots, fixed magnification, low power variable/red dot magnifier, and high power magnifier.
Here is of each stage and some notes for future performance. Unfortunately, I only have a handful of pictures and a one-second video.
Stage 1: CQB to Mid-Range
This was actually stage 4 of the match. The way things were staggered for each squad meant that this was the first one my squad attempted. The task was pretty simple, but the nerves were high.
Upon start, you had to enter the first “doorway” and “neutralize” the first two targets with two shots each to the A-zone of the head. The white paper was “no shoot” and you were penalized if you hit it.
Once those targets were complete, you went through another “door” and repeated the same thing in the next room. After that, you went to the blue barrel and had to place two shots each on steel plates at about 150 yards.
Each plate was probably about eight inches wide.
You were only allowed 14 shots in the magazine for the stage, enough to shoot each target twice.
I’ll admit, nerves got me here. To the point that I entered the room and squeezed the first shot off only to be met with a “click” because I had failed to actually load my rifle. A quick immediate action drill solved that one, but I ran into the next challenge: offset.
To be fair, I handled this better than my squadmates, but I hadn’t sufficiently practiced offsets with my rifle and optic. I zeroed the ACOG for about 100 meters, but these targets were at about 10 yards. That means my shots were going to land significantly lower than point of aim.
I remembered my time at MVT in 2017, where we practiced this, and I aimed for what I thought was an appropriate spot on each target. Each one got a controlled pair.
Most targets were an A and B zone hit, with one in the no-shoot area. Most of my other squadmates either shot right over the top of the targets or put them all in the no-shoot area.
When it came to the barrel, I took a significant amount of time to make my shots. The first was a miss while I figured out my holdover, but the rest connected.
So, two big things stand out:
- After the load and make ready step, check your weapon
- Know your zero and practice your offsets
Another realization I had was just how unrealistic a “game” can be. This stage rewarded running right into the middle of the room to make your shots. Realistically, you would pie the corners and fight from behind the wall. Another squadmate of mine, a SOF officer I later found out, was clearly frustrated by the lack of realism.
Stage 2: Windy City
Stage 2 had the highest round count for the whole match: 30 rounds.
The setup was simple, really. You started in the standing and dropped to prone. From there, you had to place two hits each on steel targets at 100, 300, and 500 yards. Once satisfied with the prone, you moved to the ladder wall and did it again from your position of preference. After that, you ran to the end where you had to place two shots in the A-zone of a head target (as with the previous stage) at 50 yards.
To be frank, this stage messed everyone up. The wind blowing at 30 mph and gusting to 40 just made that 500-yard target extremely difficult to hit. The one-second video clip above is me trying to hit that 500-yard target, which I only managed to do once. That’s still more than most of my squadmates could hit it.
You could fire as many shots at each target as you wanted, as long as you didn’t shoot more than 30 rounds for the whole stage.
The major takeaway for me here was that fundamentals will take you a long way, but the real mastery is in knowing the wind. As I watched through my binoculars while others shot, I could see the grass whipping and moving in different directions over the course. The wind was unpredictable, and made spotting and calling shots extremely difficult.
Even the designated RSO spotter, pictured above, had trouble distinguishing a hit from the target just blowing around.
I was at an even further disadvantage because I simply didn’t know my holdovers. I had only zeroed my rifle with the 75gr Frontier the day before, and had no calculated holdovers to work with.
So, here’s the big lessons:
- Know how to read the wind and what to do in it
- Spending all of your time practicing at 25-50 yards is nice, but no substitute for dealing with these kinds of conditions for real
Stage 3: CQB
This was among my best stages. I felt much more comfortable working inside of 25 yards, and posted some of the best scores in the squad for both speed and accuracy.
Once again, the ammo count was limited in this stage. You simply had to work your way to each gap in the fence to place two shots on each target. Some targets were no-shoots and required head shots, but most were full sized USPSA. From prior experience with my zero, I knew I had to aim at the top of the A-zone to make clean hits.
I ran this stage clean in about 33 seconds.
Surprisingly, I didn’t find the 20″ rifle to be all that much of a hindrance, though I’m sure my 16″ would have been slightly better.
The big lesson here was safety.
In this stage, you had to move forward and backward during the course. The range was very strict about the 180 degree rule, where your muzzle never crosses the horizontal plane and comes back towards the bystanders (even if it’s pointed towards the dirt).
On this stage, you had to be very careful because your mind tells you to turn around and work your way back the other side of the targets. Without being mindful to carry your rifle awkwardly pointed downrange as you moved back towards the start point, it would be very easy to break that rule.
The other big takeaway here echoed the first stage regarding offsets. They still applied, but having the entire center mass available as a target made it significantly easier. All of my shots landed in the middle of the A-Zone.
So, in short:
- Be mindful of the muzzle
- Know your offsets
One other quick note here on the ACOG. I honestly can’t remember if I was shooting with both eyes open or not. I feel like I was, and superimposed the glowing reticle over my other eye’s field of view. This proved very efficient.
Stage 4: The Warehouse Fight
This was the most fun stage to me. It involved similar skills as the previous stage, but had an additional problem solving element.
You had to stay on a particular track as you moved. Each target again required two shots. The first two were immediately to your left in the open as you started. Then you moved along a wall with windows in it, shooting at targets as you moved post. You even had to kick over a popper to trigger a swinging target in the background.
In all, it was fun. The trick was to strategically pick when you would shoot at which targets and from what vantage point.
For me, the big one here is taking the time to walk the course and game out how you want to tackle it.
Stage 5: CQB to Midrange II
The last stage was somewhat similar to the first in that it mixed a few different skills. I actually felt very comfortable on this one as well, but took a procedural error that cost me in the points.
The stage started with three targets placed at 15 yards. You had to place two shots on each, reload from bolt lock, then place two hits more on each.
I was thankful that I practiced my reloads a lot prior to the match.
After those initial targets, you had to move to each of three positions and place two shots on steel targets at about 120 yards.
The first position was a small airplane body, the second a stairway barrier, and the third a small metal structure. I progressed through these quickly, but I mistakenly thought I hit one of the targets twice when it was only once.
This stage involved both the skills and distances I was most accustomed to. My biggest mistake was rushing.
Slow down, take a breath, and make sure you completed everything you were supposed to do before moving on. Those procedural errors add up and hurt you a lot in the long run.
In all, I enjoyed my time at the America’s Rifle Challenge. It was a very informal atmosphere that emphasized having fun over trying to win. I realize that the NRA is trying to get this program back on its feet and this was more of an experiment than something official. I didn’t win, but placed in the top third of my division and the top 25% overall. Not bad for never having done anything official like this before.
I think the divisions are a little too broadly defined. Skill is also not accounted for at all, so the regular 3-gun competitor in our squad was just crushing everything.We could barely compete.
I’ll also admit some frustration that the rules in the stage briefing sheets were somewhat disconnected from what actually happened. It seemed that the RSO on the stage changed the rules on us so something read in the briefing sheet, like the requirement of a reload, was often not actually needed.
My guess was that someone messed it up earlier in the day, and the RSO was trying to be consistent through the rest of the match.
Now, for round count, I bought 500 rounds for this and brought along 370 or so. I ended up only needing about 100. They way overestimated the round count.
The 20″ rifle worked just fine, though I’d be very curious to try the stages again with my Recce and compare. Looking at how everything went, I think the Elcan would have been the superior optic for the day. My TA-110’s reticle was just too large and imprecise for some of the shots at medium range. The crosshairs in the Elcan would definitely have been an advantage.
As far as other gear goes, I don’t think any changes should be made. The battle belt continued to function very well.
Over to You
I hope you enjoyed this recap. Let me know if you have any questions about shooting an ARC of your own in the future.