I’ve shot rifles my entire life and spent the last couple of years trying to learn the precision and long-range game.  Although I am still very much a beginner with a long way to go I have become interested in competing to see just how good I am compared to other shooters.  I quickly became overwhelmed and anxious with the level of competitors and competitions out there. My factory rifle, mid-range optic, and newness to the sport paled in comparison to the custom rigs topped by high-end scopes and ran by shooters with thousands of rounds of experience.  I found a couple of local matches and studied their course of fire. With the entry fee and 120+ rounds fired, a weekend could easily cost a couple of hundred dollars. All this combined to give me quite a daunting feeling and left me too intimidated to sign up for a match.

Enter NRL22.  The NRL22 is a subset of the National Rifle League and only allows the use of .22LR.  Most stages are limited to 100 yards and under. I discovered a local match just down the road that had a monthly match with only a $20 entry fee and a 50-round course of fire.  Even with better than “bulk pack” ammo I could shoot a match for well under $50. I fired off a couple of questions to the match director, he eased my fears and I signed up for the next shoot.

My first match was the October COF and happened to be on an unseasonably warm day with very little wind.  No wind was a wonderful phenomenon for a .22LR match. I showed up early to the 41 Lead Farm range to meet the other shooters and help set up for the match.  I quickly realized how great a group of people these were. Everyone made me feel very welcome and at home. Once everything was set up, the shooters were registered, and zeroes were confirmed – we were ready to shoot.

It would be far from accurate to say I cleaned the first stage.  In fact, it was the worst stage I shot. I rushed through it. The 2-minute time limit sounded extremely short when in reality it was more than enough time to calmly shoot the stage.  That was my first lesson of the day.

Lesson number two happened multiple times throughout the day, and that was that I could benefit from different gear.  My rifle and scope setup shot fine, but the ancillary pieces of equipment could make a big difference over the course of a day’s stages.  I could really benefit from knee pads (quickly learned when a large rock implanted in my knee during a kneeling stage), a different bag setup for obstacles, and a sling for positional stages.  Those can all easily be picked up before the next match. I was also offered bags and any other piece of gear I wanted from all of the other competitors. They were also quick to offer hints and strategy to help the new guy out.  What a great group of people!

There was all manner of rifle/optic combinations on the firing line from base Ruger 10/22’s, bolt action’s like my Savage MKII, and semi-custom Kidd and Volquartsen’s.  Looking at each other’s setups and discussing the advantages of each different system was a large part of the fun for a gun nut like me.

At the end of the day, I didn’t come out on top, but I came out with a new group of friends, a new appreciation of the amount of training that can be done with a .22LR rifle, and a little more confidence to shoot a match with a centerfire rifle and longer distances.  As soon as the match was over, and the placing was decided I was already thinking of what I could practice before next month’s match. I was hooked.

A couple of weeks later I was chasing a sounder of hogs across a pasture trying to catch up and get a clean shot.  When the opportunity presented itself, I had to drop to an unsupported kneeling position and quickly get lined up for the shot.  Hmm…. I’ve had to do this before, no problem!

For more information or to find a local club match, visit www.nrl22.org

Author – Ryan Curry was born and raised in West Texas.  He is an avid outdoorsman that enjoys shooting, hunting, hiking, and camping.