Mike Keenan is a professional shooter sponsored by Alpha Munitions. I first got connected with him via Jeff Gurwitch, who I recently interviewed to discuss the link between competition and tactical shooting. I mentioned to Jeff that I was very interested in pursuing PRS-style precision rifle competitions and asked if he knew anyone I could talk to.
Mike was the answer.
My goal for this interview was adopting a beginner’s mindset, which wasn’t all that difficult seeing as I’ve never actually competed in a PRS event. I wanted to suss out tips, tricks, and “ah hah!” moments that might help someone like me just getting started into the sport.
I think it was a success. We focused our conversation on two primary areas:
- The biggest benefits of competing in PRS
- The baseline equipment to get started and have fun
Mike was very generous with his time, so I want to throw a shout out to him as well as his team, Alpha Munitions.
We started the conversation off by getting a short glimpse into Mike’s competitive shooting background. He began competing in USPSA pistol shooting while a midshipman at the US Naval Academy. Though he admits that he didn’t know that his early matches were even sanctioned by USPSA at the time.
While in flight school for the Navy, his competitive shooting dropped off so he could focus. On top of that, buying sufficient ammunition to practice with his own money was also more difficult until later in his military career. Prior to getting involved in PRS, the concept of “long-range” was dramatically different.
He’s been competing in PRS since 2017 and is already winning several matches and gaining points.
On the Benefits of Competition
When I asked Mike about the biggest lessons he’s taken away from PRS, he focused on three primary things:
- Teamwork & sportsmanship
- Time management
He really emphasized the sportsmanship side of things, and flatly stated that the competitors he’s met through PRS are the friendliest and most helpful he’s ever come across in any shooting sport.
Everyone is willing to help out another competitor, right up to offering advice and loaning their personal equipment if required.
Everybody wants to win, but they want to win because they earned it and not because the next guy had a gear malfunction or beat himself. That’s part of being a good teammate and sportsman.
If any new shooter shows up, everyone will go out of their way to help them out and make sure they have a good time.
Aside from sportsmanship, Mike also mentioned that PRS helps teach discipline and time management. The discipline side of things comes from keeping your head in the game, following the rules, and staying on top of practice.
I thought the way he talked about time management was also interesting. Mike mentioned that the actual courses of fire at most matches wouldn’t be that difficult if it wasn’t for the time pressure. PRS teaches you to manage your time and plan ahead.
Early in the conversation, Mike mentions his current rifle configuration. He shoots a 6mm Dasher cartridge and casually let it be known that he burned through five barrels in the last year. I wanted to draw attention to that because I think it highlights where a lot of gun conversations go wrong on the internet.
Too many shooters obsess over picking just the right cartridge for their first rifle. Even though I’ve run into the same mantra again, again, and again with professional tactical shooters to stick with a 308, the temptation is always there to buy “the one that will make all of the difference.”
Mike understands the temptation, but his burning through five barrels also illustrates just how much professional shooters actually shoot. From their perspective, the cost of a new barrel and having it mounted pales in comparison to the amount they spend on ammunition, match fees, and travel expenses to do what they do.
The hard truth is that worrying about the “perfect” cartridge doesn’t matter to someone who is only putting 500 rounds per year through the barrel.
At the high levels of competition, where the point spreads from the top 10 positions are measured by fractions, and they burn 5-8 barrels per year, every point starts to matter.
Until you get to that point, worry more about your own shooting fundamentals and have fun.
The Bare Minimums
I broached the topic of the bare minimums to gert started. Mike suggested that you will, of course, need an accurate rifle equipped with a good optic and a bipod. While this doesn’t have to be a $5000 custom rifle, it does need to be of good quality and reliably accurate. He specifically mentions Tikka’s offerings as a great factory rifle to get started with, particularly the Tikka CTR.
Aside from that, he also suggested that you need at least one bag to use for competition. He suggests the Armageddon Gear Game Changer, which my own research shows is the most popular bag in PRS. He also mentions Wiebad as another option, who is known for the “Fortune Cookie.”
As I searched for other common examples, a third option came up from Bison Tactical known as the “Tactical Udder.”
The reason that these bags are so helpful is that they conform to the rifle as well as any barricade that match directors decide to put in front of you. They help dramatically speed up the construction of a stable shooting position during a match.
We also touch on optics. Mike suggests buying the best glass you can afford, and look for a first focal plane scope. That’s not because you need to mil-range any targets, because you don’t.
I was surprised to learn that match directors typically distribute the distances to each target ahead of time, so there’s no need to range in the field.
The reason you want a first focal plane scope is for easier holdovers and spotting of misses at any magnification. He points out that a lot of competitors are running scopes in the 4.5-30x or 5-25x range, but typically stick to the 14-18x magnification levels for the improved field of view.
Before the First Match
Mike told me that nearly all competitors are perfectly happy to help out a newbie shooter so long as they show up with two vital conditions met:
- They have a good zero on their rifle
- They know their rifles ballistic data
By ballistic data, he means that they need to actually know the velocity of their ammunition through the rifle as well as the ballistic data of the rounds themselves. Without these two conditions met, there’s not a whole lot anyone can do to help the new guy out.
We spent a brief amount of time talking about cartridges for competition. I told mike that my plan going in was to use my 308 until the barrel burned out and then replace it with something more appropriate to the sport. He relayed that it’s a workable solution, but 308 will definitely put someone like me behind the curve, especially if I’m not running a long 26″ barrel to make up some velocity.
He told me that when it comes down to choosing the cartridge, the most important question to ask is whether or not you plan on loading your own ammunition or buying it from the factory.
If buying factory-made ammunition, then you need to stick to cartridges with factory match ammunition available for reasonable prices, or else you’re never going to practice or compete enough.
For that, he suggested either the 6.5 Creedmoor or a 6mm Creedmoor. The 6mm class cartridge is dominating the PRS matches right now because of its mix of ballistic efficiency and low recoil.
The reason you want low recoil has nothing to do with being a wuss or saving your shoulder. It’s about keeping the rifle steady after the shot so you can spot your own hits and misses.
My own research shows that 223 can be a viable cartridge as well if matches are held at intermediate distances up to 600 meters, but spotting does become a problem at longer ranges. PRS does have the “tactical” division which is limited to 308 and 223 rifles.
Practicing With Limited Distance
If you’re like me, you might not have ready access to the kinds of distances and ranges often shot during a PRS match. I asked Mike about the best ways to prepare for a match when you’re limited to 25, 50, or 100 yards.
He told me that the fundamentals don’t change, really. While there isn’t really a substitute for learning to call wind and deal with your ballistics at long range, a lot of the match’s difficulty is not in the shot but in building a position. He suggested that you should spend a lot of time practicing getting into and out of shooting positions.
That doesn’t just mean the classic marksmanship positions, either. Rather, it means learning to quickly get on a barricade, build a stable position, get the shot off, and then do it again. That’s time management, and it makes a huge difference.
I hope you enjoyed this interview with Mike Keenan. I learned a lot of new information that helps me feel both more confident to sign up for a match, whenever my rifle is finally done, and also develop some ideas for where to put my emphasis for practice.
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