F-TR Nat’l Champ Derek Rodgers Interview
While attending the 2013 F-Class World Championships at Raton, we had a chance to talk with Derek Rodgers, who had just been named the 2013 U.S. F-TR National Champion. Derek’s F-TR Win at Raton makes him the only shooter to have won U.S. F-Class National titles in both F-Open and F-TR divisions. Derek was excited about his performance at Raton: “F-TR was my first love in competitive shooting and [winning the F-TR title] has always been a personal goal to achieve”. In this Q&A session, Derek tells us about his rifles and his Nationals-winning .308 Winchester load. Derek also provides some advice for new shooters in the F-TR game.
Q: Readers want to know about your rifle. How did your select your stock, action, and bipod? And tell us about working with your gunsmith Doan Trevor and the quality of his work.
Derek: For my F-TR project, I carefully chose as many lightweight components as possible, without compromising performance. I wanted to put the weight savings (from light components) into a heaver, stiffer barrel. The rifle features a left port, left bolt Kelbly F-Class Panda action fitted with a Kelbly trigger. The stock was acquired as an uncut blank. It’s a McMillan Prone stock and is very comfortable in design. It also has a nice vertical pistol grip and gentle palm swell. This makes getting behind the gun feel very natural. [Editor’s Note: Though Derek is a right-hander, he shoots with a Left bolt-Left port action. This allows him to stay in the shooting position, right hand on grip, while manipulating the bolt (and feeding rounds) with his non-trigger-pulling hand.]
CLICK on Rifle Photos for Full-Screen Versions
Doan Trevor built the entire rifle. Doan even made all of the hardware on the gun. Doan was able to drop pounds vs. ounces as a result. Doan’s 3-way butt-plate hardware alone weighs just half a pound! Doan was highly attentive in helping me build the gun the way I wanted. His bedding and fitment is clean and he has creative ideas for the competitive shooter. While my stock is fiberglass, Doan really shines when it comes to building stocks from wood blanks. In fact, Doan built the stock used by second-place finisher Lige Harris, and also fourth-place Trudie Fay. I feel fortunate to have Doan so close. He’s truly a master craftsman who can quickly turn a project into reality.
I chose a Bartlein barrel on this rifle. It is an 1:11″ twist, 32″ long, heavy-contour barrel to stabilize heavy bullets. This barrel was a real hummer from the start. I shot six shells over the chronograph to determine initial chamber behavior and all six loads shot into 1 hole at 100 yards. Each cartridge had 0.5 grains increase in powder. That’s never happened to me before.
Up front, I used a Duplin Bipod. It weighs just 17.2 ounces and is made in North Carolina by Clint Cooper and supplied through Brownells/Sinclair. It is a new product for them and it has already proved to be an extremely lightweight, solid platform. Kelbly rings and an NXS 8-32X scope top the rifle off.
Q: Could you talk about your experience shooting at Raton — dealing with the challenging winds. Did you have any strategy going into the Nationals? Did that change?
Derek: The Raton winds can be intimidating to a person that has never shot there before. In fact, one of the first comments I heard was that it was ugly and nasty out there as the flags ripped straight out to the NW. I glanced downrange and thought it looked like another beautiful New Mexico day (being from NM does have its perks). There is usually no shortage of big wind out here. I’m fortunate to shoot 1K matches locally at a Del Norte Gun Range located outside of Albuquerque. It prepared me to shoot when I can see the mirage and proceed with caution when I can’t. It is the same elevation as the Whittington Center and gives me true testing with actual come-ups that will work dead on at both ranges. My strategy going in to the match was to shoot heavy 200 grain Berger hybrid bullets. I felt like it was the best compromise between BC and velocity. My load held an incredibly flat water-line and that gave me the confidence to either shoot through the entire string in tough wind or stop and wait until the switching winds returned to what I like to see. I was fortunate to pick the correct wind-sets and jump in when I needed to — or wait when the mirage didn’t look right. It paid off as I saw competitors’ targets raised with wide ring spotters. A few times I watched my clock and let a couple relays tick down to the last several minutes before finishing. The winds are quite challenging here and wind pickups and let-offs are huge! The wind calls are definitely magnified in Raton.
Q: You are the only shooter to have won both the F-Open and F-TR U.S. National Championships. How would you compare and contrast F-Open vs. F-TR?
Derek: Now that I’ve won both F-TR and F-Open National titles, I have finally captured the elusive F-TR national victory. F-TR was my first love in competitive shooting and [winning the F-TR title] has always been a personal goal to achieve. I could not be happier to win in my home state with a spectacular level of expertise in attendance. You really need to remain 100% focused in F-TR and try not to miss any condition change. If you do, you will pay dearly as the .308 Win just doesn’t have the extra horsepower to plow through the minor wind changes like Open guns can. Needless to say, F-Open shooters have their hands full in Raton as well; high BCs and fast, booming magnums aren’t the only way to get good scores. Open shooters need to be just as in-tune with the wind. Most of the Open Class shooters use sophisticated rests and cartridges superior to the .308 Win. However, I saw rough conditions disrupt many top shooters as they handed over their score cards to line officers. Although not in a front rest, I have learned to manage my F-TR gun to keep it tracking straight back under recoil. I had two main concerns in Raton this year with my F-TR rifle: 1) Keep all my shots on paper even if the winds blow 25+ mph; and 2) do NOT shoot another target! It’s very easy to do if your bipod slides over during recoil. That was less of a concern for me when I shot Open. Open Class rifles have a more stable foundation that stays in place better. However, just one crossfire at this level will take you out of contention to win anything in Open or F-TR. Both classes are very tough these days on the upper level and you can’t afford to give away points.
Q. What was your load for Raton and did you have to make any adjustments for the altitude or temperature?
Derek: My load for the upcoming Nationals was something I used earlier in the year to win the 2013 East Coast Sinclair Nationals: Berger 200gr Hybrids, Lapua brass, Varget powder, Wolf LR primers. I felt it was very consistent against some of the best F-TR shooters around. However, my biggest concern was my load being over-pressured in late summer. It was a hot year in New Mexico. In June, I made a couple trips to Raton and discovered my loads that I felt were safe were actually on the hot side. I tested locally in the heat of the day vs. calm cool mornings. I also spent quite a bit of time studying past load data / temperatures and came up with a game plan to work with what I had. I kept my fingers crossed that the ambient temperature would stay in the low 80s. I knew my load shot well from 50-80 degrees, but above that and I thought I may have problems with the groups coming apart late in a string. I saw this happen to me in the past with temp-stable powders in a .308 Win. In fact, .308 Win loads become much more critical when pushing the cartridge to its full capacity. Had the temps been in the mid to upper 90s, I’m sure the rifle would have shot differently.
Q: What advice would you offer to someone getting started in F-TR competition?
Derek: I think shooting F-TR has allowed me to really get an idea of what the wind is doing. If a new shooter is interested in trying it, the best tips I can offer is to partner up with a few experienced shooters that know how to hand-load carefully and compare shooting notes. This helps someone get traction with proven methods. Another tip would be to get matches under your belt–at different ranges. It may seem trivial, but each range is different. The shooter may benefit by seeing something that he hasn’t encountered before. The other thing I’d suggest to new shooters is not to worry about your score when starting. Keep shooting. More trigger time is key. I’d recommend working on eliminating your lowest ring value first. For example, if you’re lowest score was a 6, next match try to only shoot better than 7s. Once that is eliminated work on your 8s. When you consistently shoot 9s and 10s then you can be assured that your technique is solid and manageable. Higher scores and Xs will come….