Ray's shooting career began quite early in life hunting with his Dad. By 12 years old, a hand-me-down .22 rifle was a constant companion. He began competing in NRA matches in 1991, as a Service Rifle shooter and earned a place on the Michigan Rifle team in 1993 and 1994. He earned his Distinguished Rifleman’s Badge in 1995 and began competing in Long Range with a Palma Rifle that year.
Ray represented the USA as a shooter on the Palma team and as a shooter and coach on several US Goodwill teams. Ray has been the winning coach on numerous events in Canada and the U.S. over the last decade. His international accomplishments include a Silver medal as a shooter on the 2003 U.S. Palma Team and two Gold medals as a coach on the 2008 and 2014 U.S. America Match Team. The 2014 team set a new record for team aggregate score.
In Farquharson Class, he was the FTR individual Silver medalist at the first F-Class Nationals in 2004 and has coached the FTR National Championship Team squad in 2004, 2008, 2011, 2012 and 2014, the latter four as part of Team Sinclair.
Your favorite reloading product?
I don’t know if they are my favorite, but certainly the most used are my Rockchucker and my Mitutoyo calipers.
Optic you find most useful?
Nightforce Competition scope.
Rest, bipod or shooting accessory you can’t live without?
Duplin Bipod and a rubber bipod mat that I make that helps improve recoil consistency.
How did you get started shooting?
Hunting with my dad.
Why did you get into FTR shooting?
I had been shooting long range/Palma for a dozen years and decided it was time to try something new.
What do you find most challenging?
Staying focused and disciplined when I am not shooting well or as well as I expect myself too.
What is the one piece of gear you cannot do without?
What is the one piece of shooting gear that people would not suspect that is a mainstay in your bag?
A journal. I try to make notes about whatever I think is important every time I go to the range. I use it to keep track of zeroes and barrel round counts too.
What is in range bag for meet days?
Ammo, Shooting glasses, hat, rear bags, tools to adjust the stock or make minor repairs on the line. I have a small range kit that has a chamber mops and grease, a case extractor, a brass drop rod to knock stuck bullets out of the bore and a few other things.
Walk us through an average day at the range.
Well, the average day at the range would be practice, because I do a lot more of that than shooting in actual Matches. My practices generally fall into two categories: the first is working on specific aspects of my shooting procedure, so I may be trying position variations or I may be working on some weakness I identified in the last match. The second is just working on reading the wind.
Even though I do a lot of practice, it is not enough. You have to compete. You have to put yourself into the stress of competition.
Walk us through your load development.
I do as little load development as possible. Once I find a good load that will keep me well inside the 10 ring for twenty record shots, I go practice more important things. When I do work on a new load, I will shoot a series of three shot groups, incrementing the powder charge .2 - .3 grains. I almost never shoot groups at less than 300 yards and prefer 500 yards. I look for nodes, basically I am looking for groups that cluster at the same elevation for several powder charges. For example, the groups at 43.5gn, 43.7gn and 43.9gn are all 1” above the point of aim, while 44.1 and 44.3 moved farther away from the point of aim. In that example, I would focus on 43.7gn. I would probably come back with 43.6 and 43.8 and see if they are in the same spot. If those groups look good, I’ll play with seating depth/bullet jump using 10 shot groups to try and find what works best. After that I will confirm at local 600 yard matches. I am looking for a load that shoots consistently throughout a 20 shot string. It is important to keep in mind what you are developing your load for. In NRA Highpower, whether it is F-Class or iron sight matches, virtually all of our competitions are 15 or 20 shots plus sighters. You need to find out what the last five shots of that 20 shot string look like. It is not uncommon to find that a load that shoots tiny 5 shot groups, will shoot very big at the end of a 15 or 20 shot match. Just shooting a series of three or five shot groups and picking the best one is going to lead to frustration on match day.
Walk us through your pre-competition preparation?
If I am travelling out of state, I will bring everything into the living room and lay it all out to make sure I am not forgetting anything. I will usually make a list a few days ahead of time to check off as I pack.
Who would you recommend for metal work on your rifle?
Kelblys, Warner Tool, Randy Gregory, Clint Cooper, Wayne Daniels
Who would you recommend for stock work on your rifle?
Alex Sitman, Masterclass Stocks
Who has been your biggest influence in shooting?
There have been a lot over the years. Early in my Service Rifle days, Larry Hayner helped me a lot. When I started shooting Palma, I would wait at registration until Pete Church showed up and then I’d ask if he wanted to get squadded with me. I would ask him questions all day long. Leo Cebula has always been helpful with leadership advice.
What rear bag do you use?
Edgewood or some homemade bean bags. I am alternating back and forth at the moment trying to decide which gives me the best match accuracy.
What do you do to mentally prepare before you shoot?
I just try to filter out everything not related to the day’s event.
What is something you would not recommend before a shoot?
A four hour drive to the range.
Did you come from another discipline?
Basketball, Service rifle, then Palma.
When not shooting FTR what other things do you enjoy doing?
I was active for many years in my local club’s leadership, though now that I am Captain of the US Rifle Team (FTR), I have stepped away from that. While I am not an official Big Brother, I have a “little brother” that I spend a fair amount of time with when he is not in school or traveling with his mom. We have spent a lot of time working on projects out at the club. Last year, I taught him how to use a back hoe. Usually, though, we just go to the movies or maybe a minor league baseball game or something.
What style of action are you using? (Right feed/Right eject)
Stolle Panda Right Bolt, Right port
What is your process when beginning to work up a load?
Call someone with the same barrel and chamber and ask them what their load is.
What would you suggest for someone wanting to get into the sport?
Buy a used rifle and a good scope. For the beginner, the scope is the most important piece of equipment. It hurts to dig a couple grand out to buy it, but a cheap scope will hold you back. If you are just starting out, look closely at the Nightforce NXS 8x32.
What your ingredients to the winning team Sinclair recipe? (What is your strength in team Sinclair?)
We all know what our responsibilities are and come prepared to perform.
What training drills do you use?
I try to devise drills that will address things that I think I need to work on.
How often do you practice?
How many rounds do you shoot in a year?
2000 plus with my competition rifle, all of them are with Lapua brass and Berger Bullets.
What do you wish would be available to further the sport?
More 1000 yard ranges and allow the use suppressors in NRA competition.
Best advice you would give a beginner?
You are the biggest variable in your performance.
You will note in a few other answers above that I don’t find spending a lot of time doing load development productive. I do not like to reinvent the wheel. It really isn’t hard to find a load that is good enough to win. Can you tweak it to reduce your groups by ¼”? Sure, but the shooter who is spending that same time developing wind reading skills and perfecting position is going to beat you, every time.
You don’t need the fastest load or the highest BC bullet to be in the top ranks, you need consistency and reliability. Your rifle has to be consistent and reliable. Your scope has to be consistent and reliable. Your ammo has to be consistent and reliable. Most importantly, you have to be consistent.
What do you need to compete?
At the moment, more Varget and CCI BR2 primers
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