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In our last installment we stepped into the fast-paced world of 3-gun competitions, where going fast was the key to success and moving around the course was an integral part of the challenge. This time we look at CMP/NRA High Power competitions, where keeping your heart rate low and staying still are the key . . .

What is NRA/CMP High Power?

The National Matches have been a staple of the American shooting sports since 1903. Every year (except during WWII) the best shooters in the United States have been competing against each other to prove who was the best shot. The structure of the rifle competition portion of those matches has changed since 1903, but it still feels more regimented and strict than 3-gun or other competition types. In 3-gun shots can be “good enough” and still win if you have a fast time, but in CMP/NRA High Power competitors live for that perfect shot.

CMP/NRA High Power is most similar to Olympic smallbore. Competitors fire from a specific position (standing, seated / kneeling or prone) at a target some distance away, firing 22 rounds within a generous time limit. Competitors shoot in squads, multiple people firing simultaneously but at their own individual targets. At the end of the day, the competitor with the highest score wins.

While the NRA and CMP technically have different rulebooks for their specific competitions, the rules are nearly identical and even reference rules in each other’s rulebooks. For this reason High Power matches typically are labeled as “NRA/CMP” and use both sets of rules.

NRA Rulebook –

CMP Rulebook –

What kind of equipment do you need?

A rifle, an “Empty Chamber Indicator” (ECI) and some ammo is all you really need to start competing. Targets are provided by the range and everything else is optional as per the rules. Just like in 3-gun there are specific divisions, and the different divisions have some gear specific rules, but they are all about excluding specific devices, not including required gear. Empty chamber indicators, on the other hand, are always, always, ALWAYS required.

If you enjoy this kind of competition and are looking for some aides to assist your score (or just make prone more comfortable) there are a number of items which are allowed in almost all divisions. Here’s a list rank-ordered by usefulness and price.

  • Spotting Scope – The targets are far away, and the ability to see your score is somewhat important. A good spotting scope is a must-have for every competitor. Make sure to get one that is good for long distances and can be mounted on a tripod, this will allow you to mount it on something and make it easier to see through from different positions.
  • Shooting Mat – A padded mat can be a real help especially when on concrete or gravel shooting surfaces. The mat cannot provide any support to the rifle beyond what the ground would normally provide, so no shooting rests or built-in supports. Even a little padding will help save your elbows in the long range stages.
  • Sling – Relying on your muscles to keep your rifle on target is a surefire way to miss. Your muscles will get tired and start shaking, but a long strip of tanned cow hide never will. The m1907 leather sling, the same one that our grandfathers used in WWI and WWII, is the best option out there that works with both rulebooks. For some divisions a web sling can be substituted, but personally I’m sticking with the classier leather look.
  • Shooting Glove – Just like with the muscles in your arm keeping your rifle steady, relying on your hand to keep your rifle up will only work so long. Using a shooting glove (or any heavily padded and stiff glove) will not only provide some support to your hand and enable you to hold the rifle better, it will also dampen the effect of your pulse on the rifle’s movement. At 600 yards, the difference between systolic and diastolic blood pressure can be the difference between a 10 and a 7.
  • Shooting Jacket – This is another tool for keeping you steady. While standing or sitting, having an extremely tight jacket to hold you up can be a real help. It also helps keep the sling in proper position during prone. It’s a little spend-y, but worth the expense.

What are the divisions?

Divisions in CMP/NRA High Power are based on what kind of rifle you’re using. Much like the divisions in 3-gun, the idea is to keep competitors on a relatively even footing so that someone with a 7.62 NATO AR-10 and gigantic telescopic sight isn’t directly competing with people using .223 Rem AR-15s with iron sights. Equipment is mostly the same between the divisions with the exception of “F-Class” and “PALMA” rifles, which we’ll cover in a later post.

The divisions for High Power Rifle are pretty much what you’d expect, and fall into progressively more strict categories. The rulebooks do have some differences here, so make sure you check your rulebook of choice before entering competitions. I’ll provide a reference to the specific rule at the end of each description. Some matches will ask you to specify the rule number under which you are shooting, so an easy reference might be useful.

  • M1 Garand – There are entire matches devoted just to the finest battle implement ever devised. These matches include the Service Rifle M1 Garand [CMP 6.2.1, NRA 3.1 (a)] as well as the “Unlimited” M1 Garand [CMP 6.4.1] which allows more customization.
  • Service Rifle – In my opinion, this is the toughest division (and therefore the one in which I shoot my ArmaLite NM A2 AR). The rifles cannot be altered beyond what’s allowed in the rules, and there are very few adjustable parts. Above all, the sights are iron sights only, meaning long range shots are very difficult. The division is broken out based on the specific service rifle you’re shooting, including the M1 Garand [CMP 6.2.1, NRA 3.1 (a)], the M-14 or M1A [CMP 6.2.2, NRA 3.1 (b)], the M-16 [CMP 6.2.3, NRA 3.1 (c)], and even the M-110 [NRA 3.1 (d)].
  • Service Rifle (Foreign) – A CMP specific rule, but technically these rifles can fall under the “Any Rifle” division below as well. Any rifle that has been issued as a service rifle of any nation in the world can compete in this division. [CMP 6.3.6]
  • Tactical Rifle – The first real NRA specific rule, this division was designed to allow a telescopic optic on rifles whcih otherwise meet all the requirements for the “Service Rifle” division. Bipods may be attached but not used. [NRA 3.3.2]
  • Match Rifle – Another NRA specific rule. This division is designed for highly customized and finely tuned AR-15 style platforms (translation: money sink). Service Rifles from other divisions can compete under this division as well, but if you’re planning on building a match rifle you’d best read the rules yourself. [NRA 3.3]
  • “Any Rifle” – This is an NRA specific rule, but as the least restrictive it’s probably the first one you’ll want to compete in. You can use any rifle you want with any scope or sight you want, as long as it’s safe and the caliber is smaller than .35. [NRA 3.2]

What are the positions?

The standard shooting positions are offhand (standing unsupported), seated / kneeling (shooter’s chocie), and prone. Matches will typically start with the least stable position at the closest firing line and get progressively more stable the further back they go. The images below are taken from my grandfather’s 1960 edition of the NRA Handbook, showing just how little this sport has changed in all those years.

The standing position is the hardest of the three. Without any support the shooter must hit a target 200 yards away. The best way to shoot this position is exactly as pictured, bracing your elbow against your body and leaning back slightly. This will give you some stability when shooting.

Kneeling sucks. Every time I’ve done it my legs have fallen asleep and refuse to work properly the rest of the day. Most CMP/NRA matches allow the substitution of sitting, which I highly reccomend. If you’re forced to use kneeling just follow the picture, and make sure to wrap your sling around your arm for support.

The sitting position is simply sitting cross legged, making sure the sling is on your arm, and resting your elbow on your front knee. The book didn’t have a good picture of this one, so ask the other competitors for help if you don’t understand.

Prone is the most stable position of the three. Loop the sling around your arm and shove your gloved hand between the sling and the rifle, then lay as flat as you can get.

These are just basic descriptions of the positions, more detailed descriptions can be obtained through a google search or by asking the other competitors at a match. They’re nice people, ask nicely and you’ll get some great tips.

What are the courses of fire?

Matches can consist of a single stage of fire (for example, seated at 200 yards only) or multiple stages of fire. Each stage will require 12 to 22 rounds of ammunition, but be sure to bring extra in case of a malfunction. Courses of fire are fairly standard, and match directors select from the “menu” of courses to determien what the match will consist of. Matches that include all of the courses of fire are called “XTC” or “Across the Course” matches.

Each course of fire typically allows the use of “sighters” before the shooting starts to ensure that the rifle is properly zeroed. Sighters are shot one at a time (shoot, wait for the target to be scored, shoot again) but are not included in the score (strage rules apply if convertable sighters are allowed, check with your match director).

The courses of fire are:

  • 200 Yards, Standing, Slow Fire – Loading only one round at a time, shooters will fire 10-20 rounds depending on the match. 1 minute per round total time limit (10 minutes for 10 rounds).
  • 200 Yards, Sitting or Kneeling, Rapid Fire – There is a mandatory magazine change with rapid fire shooting. Shooters will load 2 rounds in one magazine and 8 in the other (total of 10). Shoot the 2 rounds first, change magazines, then fire the 8 rounds (this is to keep Garand shooters happy with their 8 round en bloc clips). 60 second time limit.
  • 300 Yards, Prone, Rapid Fire – Just like the previous stage, except in the prone position.
  • 500-600 Yards, Prone, Slow Fire – Back to firing one round at a time. Follow the same rules as the standing course of fire, except from the prone position.

How does a match work?

Before the match begins, try and pre-register. With so many competitors it’s important for the match staff to know who is shooting what division so they can be grouped together appropriately. It also means that your scorecard will probably be pre-printed so you won’t have to fill one out at the registration table.

When you get there, head to the registration table and check in. You’ll get your squad assignment there and be told whcih firing position you’re assigned to. Firing position will tell you which target is yours, and squad will tell you when you shoot. Some matches change the names but the idea remains the same.

When you’re on the firing line, make friends with the other people assigned to your firing position. You will not be interacting with other people on your squad the entire day, only the people on your firing position. These are the people who will be pulling your targets and spotting your shots, so be nice.

Once the match begins you’re doing one of three things. You’re either shooting, spotting, or pulling. There’s very little “downtime” at a match so be ready to go as soon as it’s your turn. Make sure to give your scorecard to someone who has agreed to keep score for you, as you cannot write down your own score.

Pay special attention to putting your ECI in your rifle’s chamber before you leave for the match. The match staff are real strict about the rules and doubly strict when it comes to safety, and that ECI needs to be present and visible in the chamber of your rifle anytime you’re not firing or preparing to fire. It’s an even better idea to bring some sort of case to carry your rifle around in (that’s what I do) just to be on the safe side.

When it’s your turn to shoot you will be given 2-5 minutes of “preperation time.” This is the time to get your stuff on the line, get suited up and in position, and do some dry fire practice at the targets. You can remove the ECI from your chamber once your rifle is on the line and preparation time has begun, but do not load any live ammunition. Following the preperation time you will typically be given the opportunity to fire “sighters,” 2 rounds to ensure that the rifle is properly zeroed. Fire one sighter, the target will be “pulled” (lowered into the pits) and “scored” (markers placed indicating where the bullet hit and the point value associated with that hit), then fire again.

After the sighters are fired the targets will drop into the berms. Get ready for the course of fire you’re about to shoot, because the clock will start when the targets pop up again.

If you have a mechanical issue with your rifle, stop firing immediately. Inform the match staff of the malfunction. You will be given the opportunity to either fix the rifle or complete the course of fire with an identical rifle. You will then be given the opportunity to complete the course of fire you stopped shooting before moving on with the rest of your squad.

If you are unable to fix or replace your rifle you will be disqualified from the match, but it’s far more likely that someone will lend you a rifle for the rest of the day. High Power shooters are friendly people, ask around and you’ll be able to find whatever you need.

After you’re done shooting slap that ECI in your chamber, quickly pack your stuff up and get off the line. The person keeping score for you will then hand you your scorecard for that stage, sign it if it looks accurate and hand it back. Now it’s your turn to keep score.

When spotting, everything you need to know will be on the target. For slow fire stages, the disk in the middle of the target will tell you the position of the bullet hole, and a bright orange disk on the outside of the target will tell you the score. The positions, clockwise from 9 o’ clock, are typically 5, 6, miss (top middle of the target), 7, 8, 9, 10 (bottom middle), X (this has changed recently, ask someone if you have concerns). An X is still 10 points, but is used to decide ties (more Xes are better). More about scoring in a bit. Make sure you write down every score you see for your shooter, there may even be space for sighter scores.

For rapid fire stages, the target will remain up for all 10 rounds. After time has elapsed, the targets will drop and orange markers will be placed in the bullet holes. A chalkboard will be attached with a tally of the score, easily visible through a spotting scope. Starting with the highest score value, mark the scorecard the same as if they were slow fire shots (if there are 5 Xes, write X in 5 boxes).

If you’re not shooting or spotting, you may be asked to go pull targets in the pits.

How do the targets get scored?

With the competitors being 200-600 yards from their targets, going down and scoring each shot would be a pain in the ass. This is why most High Power matches will take place at ranges with pits and moveable targets, so a person can stand below the target and score it as you fire your shots. The people are protected from your bullets thanks to a large earhen berm and several feet of concrete.

Target pullers will typically be other competitors in the same match that you are shooting. One set of squads will shoot while the others pull targets, switching at points during the day to ensure that both squads shoot all of the stages.

Sometimes the people at your firing position will hire a pit puller for the day, typically a middle or high school student trying to earn some extra money. Throw $20-$30 into the pot if they offer to let you use their puller.

When pulling, pay careful attention to your target. The moment a bullet hits the target for slow fire or spotters pull it down, place a white marker in the bullet hole if it’s in the black or a black marker if it’s in the white, pop the orange scoring disk in the appropriate place, place a pastey over any exposed bullet hole, and haul it back up. Lather, rinse, repeat. Go as fast as you can, a person’s score may depend on how quickly you do this. For rapid fire shots, DO NOT MOVE THE TARGET until time has elapsed.

Be sure to wear hearing protection in the pits, the bullets are still traveling at supersonic speeds and will create a small sonic boom when passing overhead. Also, NEVER EVER EVER reach any higher than the top of the berm.

How do I find matches near me?

The best thing to do is to sign up for the NRA’s Shooting Sports USA magazine. It’s free and has a listing of every NRA High Power competition in the United States. Other than that, just look for long range shooting ranges around you and one is guaranteed to have this kind of competition.

Is it worth it?

That’s up to you. For me, High Power reminds me of my college days and the good times I had back then. It’s a sport stepped in history with a long tradition. For other people it may be slow paced and annoying. High Power isn’t for everyone, but I’ve met some of the most interesting and intelligent people in the pits.

Next time: USPSA / IPSC!

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  1. Nick,

    I’d like to tag along sometime with you. These competitions sound like something I should get into, if only for the heck of it! (Buy my lunch and I’ll be your target puller 🙂 )

    • Ben,
      I just spent three days with at the National Matches in Ohio. If you volunteer they will give you free lodging and a hat and a t-shirt. I worked in the Pitts for two days and met dozens of great shooters. Then I worked the firing line for a day and spent 8 hours learning the flow of a match and watched every step the shooters took to set up and compete. GREAT EXPERIENCE – Will do it again next year.
      Shannon Hand at [email protected], 419-635-2141, ext. 701.

  2. Is this the type of competition you need to enter in order to qualify for a CMP rifle from Uncle Sam?

    • You have to be a member of a qualifying organization (the CMP even has its own club for this very purpose, for those who aren’t members of another qualifying organization), and be engaged in “marksmanship or other firearms related activity,” which can be as simple as having a CHL. So shooting XTC would qualify you, as would 3 gun, or one of the various handgun games.

      See here for more info:

      But highpower shooting is certainly a good way to qualify.

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  4. I have a zastava m76 in 8mm mauser. It was Serbia’s sniper rifle and is still used in the Balkins by Croatia and maybe Bosnia. The iron sights are typical east block sights. A Zrak 4x scope is originally issued with the rifle with original markings. I also have a 8x scope sold by East Wave with Slavic markings. Both are fixed power PSOP type of units. The rifle has ten round magazines and the bolt locks the action open after the last shot is fired. The barrel is 21.5 inches and a fixed wood stock pistol grip is present. The bipod is removable.

    What class would the rifle qualify for and why?

  5. I and my teen-aged sons are looking forward to participating in a Service Rifle event for the first time.

    Something that is NEVER mentioned ANYWHERE is to how to go about zeroing the rifles, and with which targets. For example, what target is used for Service Rifle? Depending on quality of eye sight, out to what range do competitors typically zero for point-of-aim/point-of-impact, and at what range do competitors generally use a 6 o’clock hold?

    I wish to purchase the same targets that will be used in an actual competition so I can go out and get a good zero, and get some good practice. You know, practice with what I am going to play with.

    Thanks very much!

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