Deep Creek Montana Dasher
Duane Capehart's 6mm Dasher for 1000-Yard Montana Matches
If you’re interested in world-beating 6mm Dashers, head North, up to Missoula, Montana. There, at the Deep Creek Gun Range, a crew of very skilled shooters has been re-writing the record books with some amazingly accurate Dashers and 6BRs. Among Deep Creek’s “living legends” is Duane Capehart, who posts scores with his eleven-pound Dasher that many Heavy Gun shooters would envy. Duane and his fellow Montana marksmen have pushed the envelope of 6mm performance at 1000 yards. We’re proud to offer this profile of Duane, and his stunning candy-apple red Dasher.
Though Duane is an exceptionally modest fellow, make no mistake about it, he is one of the top long-range benchresters in the country. Over the years he has set a half-dozen world records, and he still holds the Williamsport 10-match, 100-shot Aggregate Score Record, a stellar 93.2 in the 16.5-lb class. (The Montana club is affiliated with Williamsport.) Think about that for a minute. It takes skill (and some luck) to shoot a really great group. It takes more skill to do that for a match Aggregate. Now imagine setting the best Aggregate Score over an entire YEAR. That’s the shooting equivalent of the Decathlon–a really difficult feat to accomplish. [Editor's Note: Duane told us that, in 2004, his friend Leo Anderson accomplished something equally amazing. Over the course of the year, shooting his 11-lb Dasher, Leo posted a 10-match, 100-shot Aggregate of 95.7 Score and 10.069" Group (for ten shots per match). This was a new Montana club record, but it didn't go in the Williamsport record books because Leo shot in the 11-pound class which Williamsport doesn't currently recognize. So, remarkably, Leo's club record in the 11-lb class beat Duane's World Record in the 16.5-lb class! Acknowledging Leo's masterful shooting skills, Duane told us: "Right now Leo is probably the best 1000-yard Dasher shooter in the country."]
Check the scores for the NW 1000-yard Benchrest Assn. matches and you’ll usually find Duane right among the very top shooters in both 16.5-lb and 11-lb classes. He won the Association Championship three years ago, and finished second in 2004 in the 11-lb class. There aren’t many people on the planet who can shoot an 11-lb rifle at 1000 yards better than Duane. He’s drilled many 5+” ten-shot groups with his Dasher, more than once posting small group for match, besting all shooters regardless of weight class.
When asked about the 6mm Dasher and how it compares with a standard 6BR, Duane replied: “The best I’ve ever shot was with my 11-pounder one day, I was just working up a set of cases and it was just a little over 4″–not as tight as Kyle Brown’s record but awfully close. The Dasher can get you nearly a couple hundred more fps more than a standard 6BR–150 fps easy–with both cases at pressure limits. We’ve got guys getting 3200 something with a 32″ barrel–that’s quick. Nothing else seems as competitive [as the Dasher] in the 11-lb class. With our weight limit, barrels have to be fairly light, and the 6.5s and 30s produce too much heat. The barrels won’t hold 5-6 sighters and 10 rounds. Here at Deep Creek, it’s either 6BR, 6 Dasher, or 6.5-284–those are the only ones that are competitive. I don’t think anybody’s experimented with a 6XC yet–I don’t think any of the Dasher guys will run the 115gr bullet this year.”
What Makes a Match-Winning Eleven-Pounder
Duane’s rifle features a BAT action, Lee Six benchrest stock, Walther barrel, and a Jewell trigger set at 1.5 ounces. It was chambered in 6mm Dasher with a 40°-shoulder and .262″ neck. Edward Kenzakoski smithed the Dasher. Duane notes: “Ed’s a 1000-yard shooter who has done most of my guns, including my Heavy Gun, a 76-lb .308 Baer. He’s as good as they get. Ed’s done work for me for eight years. He is very meticulous. When he gets through with it, it’s right. He doesn’t do many rifles, but a lot of his guns show up winning in Pennsylvania and out here too. His specialty is the big calibers and long-range hunting rifles. He does the 16.5-lb guns for a lot of the Williamsport folks and he makes 100-lb heavy guns too. He does his own aluminum stocks, he does it all. He’s one fine man and a good friend. He comes out and hunts elk with us out here in Montana.”
Duane also wanted us to mention Bruce Thom: “Bruce at BAT did two 16.5-lb guns for me this year, both in .308 Baer. One was built on a Hall action and the other was on a BAT. Let me just say, you can’t get any better. You do the brass for one rifle, and you can shoot them in the other gun–there’s no difference in the chamber! That means you can load for both guns at the same time.”
When asked if he’d engineer anything differently for his next 11-pounder, Duane told us: “I’d have a little straighter stock with less drop–I’d have it just as flat as it can be and stay within regulation. I might make the barrel one to two inches longer and put a muzzle brake on it, a short one with just two rows of holes. Leo Anderson uses a short brake like that and it works real well without adding too much weight.” If you’re curious about that fabulous front rest, it’s made by ProMach Mfg. in the Kalispell area, (406) 857-3258. It costs about $900. There’s also a matching rear unit. Together they run about $1100.
BAT Action–Prototype #1
Duane’s Dasher sports a BAT Right Bolt, Left Port, Right Eject action, with multi-flats and a distinctive diamond fluted bolt. This is BAT “PT-1″, Bruce Thom’s original RBLP short prototype. Duane tells us the 6.5″ action is a delight to use–smooth to operate, and capable of running stout loads. The underside of the action is machined with a cut-out that serves as a recoil block when the action is bedded in the stock, eliminating the need for a separate recoil lug. Mated to the BAT is a 27.5″ Lothar Walther barrel that Duane calls the “Okie” since it came from his friend Burton in Oklahoma City. The 8-twist barrel features very hard German steel, conventional 5-groove rifling, and a profile similar to a Shilen # 7.
For optics, Duane runs an older, 45X Leupold Benchrest scope (front parallax focus, 1/8 MOA target dot)
in very slick Jewell rings with precisely-machined floating inserts. Duane says these rings are worth every penny of the $100 price: “I’d like to have them on all my guns. You just put them on and forget ‘em. They self-align to your scope, hold solid, and you don’t have to lap them.” Duane is very happy with the Leupold: “this old 45x is a fantastic tracking scope, when you adjust it, it moves just the way it’s supposed to. I have three Leupolds and I also use Nightforce and Sightron. I’ve never had any of them that didn’t track well. The NightForce on my Heavy Gun also holds its settings really well. It’s a fantastic scope–just heavy. I would love to see a 22-ounce NightForce. On the Leupold 45X I use a 20-MOA base so I can reach 1000 yards and stay in the middle of the scope. I leave it zero’d at 1000.”
Load Development and Reloading Methods
Duane reports: “My normal Dasher load is Hodgdon H4895, standard, current stuff, though I’ll be trying out RL15 to see if I can get a little more velocity. My H4895 load is 33.0 grains. When it’s a little cooler temperature I might shoot 33.5, but it didn’t make much difference. With my previous barrel, 33.0 grains ran 2940-2960 fps, ES was 12-15 fps. I don’t pay attention to SD very much.
I used to try to sort brass based on chronometer readings but I haven’t done that in a few years. I’ve quit doing that–now we check ‘em out at 1000 yards. We even fire-form our brass at 1000 yards. You can tell a lot at that distance. Sometimes we’ll have 12-13 shots in 5-6″ but then you’ll get a few that will go maybe one foot out–high, low, right or left–anywhere really. That is usually a brass problem. We cull those and use that brass for foulers.
For bullets, I like the 106gr Clinch Rivers. However, I do sort by bearing surface. Once you sort them by bearing surface, if you then weigh them you’ll find the results will be pretty much the same. Do ten that are the EXACT same bearing length, and you weigh them, I bet they’ll be the same. I don’t weigh ‘em any more, I just sort ‘em. It makes sense if it’s a longer base to ogive, then it’ll be heavier bullet. I’ve weighed a lot of 30s and it was real easy to correlate that.
I resize every round on all the guns every time, bumping the shoulder back about one-half thousandth. For dies, I use Neil Jones’ custom dies with neck and shoulder bushings. (I won the Jones dies in a drawing at our Annual Championship Match–everybody gets a prize.) These are about perfect–you can’t fault Neil Jones’ work–they’re perfect. I’ve also used a Wilson and I’ve shot real good with it as well. When it comes to neck tension, I like mine pretty tight. I use .259, .260, and .261 neck bushings, depending on the condition of the brass. I jump the bullets .005-.012″, but Scott Nix and some other Dasher shooters get good results seating well into the lands. Among the top guys at our club, including Scott, Jim Barta, Bill Martin, Dave Powers, and Leo, you’ll see bullets seated from about .020″ in the lands to .015″ out.”
Technique for Shooting the 11-lb Class
Duane tells us: “With the Dasher, I hold the gun lightly. It recoils maybe an inch. I put a little pressure on the side. I kind of palm it, lay my thumb along the top. I’m a bag squeezer. I squeeze the bag to change both windage AND elevation. With the 11-pounder I never touch the front rest. However I do adjust the rest with my 16.5 and my Heavy Gun. Let me say that rest holds pretty good. When I slide the gun forward it’s pretty close to right where it needs to be.” Comparing the Dasher with his heavier guns, Duane says: “It’s a lot more fun to shoot the 11-pounder. You got to kind of drive it which takes some skill. The Heavy is more about loading and a good barrel. That Heavy Gun shows you how good a loader you are and how good you are with brass. The Dasher is more about the shooter.”
When asked about his shooting style, Duane replied: “I shoot according to conditions. I usually get ‘em down there as fast as I can. But I’m not that good at reading wind at 1000 yards so, if it’s unstable, I’ll hold up until the conditions improve. I’ll usually get 10 shots down in one and a half to two minutes–depending on the conditions and how well I set the rest. Most of the time I’m at about a minute and a half. If it’s stable, not cloudy, I might take three minutes because I’ll be lookin’ at wind flags. If it’s nasty, but stable nasty, and pretty even, I might shoot faster (or if the mirage is rollin’ the same way all the time). Speaking of mirage, let me say something about the Reno match–any one who says they can read that kind of mirage is dreamin’. It was one of the hardest ranges I’ve ever shot.”
Advice to Beginners From an Experienced Shooter
We asked Duane if he had any advice for folks who are just getting started in long-range competition. He told us: “If somebody’s beating you, try to find out why and don’t be afraid to copy them. If a guy beats you two or three times a row they’re doing something right. I’m not ashamed to say I’ve learned some good tips on reloading and flag reading from my fellow shooters. I’ll always listen to guys who are beating me.”
As for equipment, Duane says: “Get a custom action, a real good barrel, and a good stock. Listen to what people tell you and work together with folks in your club. For example three of us went in together on the Dasher reamer that Dave Kiff made for us. Go out to a couple matches. Somebody will let you shoot a gun. Don’t just jump in with your checkbook. Come out and learn a little bit before you invest a dollar.”
Deep Creek Gun Range in Missoula, Montana is home to one of the most active and successful long-range shooting clubs in the country. On any given weekend, a new 1000-yard record is possible here, with so many world-class shooters and conditions that can be ideal. The club uses the Williamsport Rules, with a twist. As in Williamsport, groups are ten shots, “Light Gun” class is limited to 16.5 pounds, and “Heavy Gun” is up to 100 pounds. However, the Montana shooters have something special–an 11-pound class. This was set up to help new shooters get into the 1K game, but it has developed into a very popular and competitive discipline in its own right. Most of the 11-lb rifles are 6mm Dashers, with some standard 6BRs or 22BRs in the mix. There are a few .243 Ackleys, 6.5s or other wildcats, but the 6mm Dashers and 6BRs rule the roost in the 11-lb class. It is not unusual to see Duane, Leo Anderson, or one of the other Dasher shooters post small group for match with an 11-pounder, beating out the big boomers.
The Missoula Club (Northwest 1000-yard BR Assn.) has some great shooters, and it boasts one of the top 1000-yard ranges in the country. Many world records have been set here, including Kyle Brown’s 4.2″ Ten-shot World Record, set in 2003. Duane tells us: “Guys like Leo Anderson and Bill Martin have each set a half-dozen records. We’re probably the best Dasher-shooting club in the country because we shoot 10-shot groups. If we did 5-shot groups we’d be awesome. We do pretty good when we go to NBRSA shoots. Bill and Leo still hold some world records, and I still hold that ten-match Agg. Score record, so I guess we’re not so bad. You know I’ve heard some of the Easterners say our record groups are small out here because the range is so good. They say it’s like shooting in a tunnel. Well, we welcome anybody to come out to Missoula to shoot with us, and sample our good Montana conditions.” Despite their competitive nature, the Deep Creek shooters are a friendly group, more than willing to share their shooting knowledge and reloading skills with others. And new shooters are always welcome.
The Club Championship, held each August, attracts many of the best long-range shooters from around the country. Thousands of dollars worth of prizes, including barrels and Nightforce scopes, are donated by sponsors. Go visit and shoot with some of the best.
To shoot with Duane and the rest of the Deep Creek gang, contact:
Northwest 1000-Yd Benchrest Assn.
Matches held at Deep Creek Range in Missoula, MT. Club practice sessions held each Monday and Thursday, from 7:00 – 11:00 AM. Shoot starts each day at 9:00 AM. 11-lb matches are only shot on Saturday. Questions? Call (406) 821-3737 (Duane), (406) 892-4262 (Jim Barta), or (406) 752-0072 (Leo). Alternate Club Website
Here’s a photo from the Deep Creek Range taken on March 13 when Duane was out load testing. Talk about commitment to the sport! This was one of Duane’s “Dawn Patrol” missions. He likes to sort brass by shooting at 1000 yards when the air is still and calm, right at day-break. Temperature? Duane said it was about 17 degrees! Who knew 1K Benchrest was an extreme sport? Duane reports it’s not unusual to see shooters in snowmobile suits during winter testing. Whatever it takes to win, right?
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Topics: 6mm, 6mm BR, 6BR, 6mm Dasher, Dasher, 6mm Improved, Light Gun, 6PPC, Hart, Krieger, Lothar Walther, 1000 yards, 1K, Missoula, Montana, Kalispell, Deep Creek, IBS, NBRSA, “F” Class, TR, Target Rifle, Leupold, Jewell Rings, Benchrest, BR, Bench Rest, Single-shot, competition, rifle accuracy, Wind, BC, Ballistics, Norma, Hodgdon Powder, Varget, 4895, H4895, RL15, Reloader, Clinch River, Sierra, MatchKing, Competition Shooting, Stocks, Lee Six, MBR, BAT, BAT Machine, Kelbly, Stolle, Panda, stainless barrel, reloading, powder, case forming, neck-turning, Lapua Brass, bullets, precision.