Is Competitive Shooting A Money Game?
Well, yes and no. It depends on your goals. If you want to be national champion then yes. You’re going to have to pump serious cash; and many other things, into your campaign to reach those levels. The days of some random guy showing up with a rattle trap 1911 to a pistol match and taking overall match winner are basically over and I don’t think they ever really existed in the romanticized way that people tend to fantasize about these days.
In my younger days I was competitive in palma shooting for a while but that was already a game requiring substantial money and skill and I only had the latter and not enough of it to be a champion. Later on I did a lot of running deer shoots (this is shooting at a moving deer silhouette on tracks at 100yrds standing unsupported) and that was pretty easy to be competitive in. I could use any ol’ hunting rifle from the rack. The short range and fast shooting was a lot of fun and kept the money out of the game for the most part. F-Class is a money game if you fit in with the crowd but it doesn’t have to be. You just probably won’t win without the expensive stuff.
Nowadays I’m doing a lot of metallic silhouette competitions. Silhouette both is and is not a money game. If you’re reasonable about your goals and don’t have to be national champ then you can be highly competitive within any of the classes with pretty mundane equipment. The reason for that, I think, is that there is a standard gun (heavy gun) and hunter gun (light gun) class within each of B, A, AA, AAA, and Master classes. Hunter guns really are commonly put together at a factory and not at a gunsmith unlike standard guns. The weight limit for hunter gun means that the barrel profiles are normally slender and stocks are not ultra fancy. This is where a lot of guys actually use a pretty plain deer rifle. As long as you’re not shooting a .22 cal centerfire and you’re not using a magnum chambering you can use any ol’ deer rifle.
When you step into standard gun the higher weight limit allows for a lot of custom work and heavy barrels and silhouette specific stocks are the norm among the regular serious competitors in the upper classes. Here’s where the path gets leveled. The B,A,AA,AAA,Master classes all have mixes of people using highly custom rifles and much more factory-ish rifles. It’s not always the guy with the fanciest rig that wins. It’s always the guy that shot the most targets in his class and standing up really evens the field because you are easily as important to making the shot as your rifle. Also because you start out unclassified you get put into the right class your first time and so you’re not trying to punch above your weight. As long as your rifle will reliably put 5 shots under an inch @100yrds you’ll be able to be very competitive.
In silhouette shooting when you start shoving money into the hole hand over fist you’re really just trying to pick up that 1 extra hit or be that little bit more comfortable, etc… The guys with $5,000 in their rifle and $3,000 in their scope aren’t dominating the sport at every level because their bodies are as-issued. The most consistent master class shooter I’ve ever seen uses a hunter weight gun for both hunter and standard classes and is in impressive physical shape. That rifle is nice and semi-custom built but not anything particularly special. You could replicate his rifle for $1500. Another master class shooter I know very well has a $6K standard gun rifle but he’s a bit more of a spotty shooter though and frequently scores AAA level. Spending 4x the money on the rifle hasn’t helped and he’s an ass kickin’ shooter. The point is, if you were to take an off the shelf Savage 10 in .243 or .260rem and drop an appropriate stock on it and topped it with something like an SWFA 20×42 SS you could easily be competitive out of the boxes.
Part of the reason silhouette shooting is less a mandated money hole than F-Class; for example, is the targets are 2-3MOA so your rifle doesn’t NEED to print .3″ groups at 100yrds. I’ve competed with ammo that printed 2MOA and while I missed a few I would have hit with more accurate ammo I was still not last place. Since a 1MOA rifle is all you really need and every bit under 1MOA you can get it only helps by exactly that much the field is well leveled between the guys that dump cash into their gear and those of us that; like me, have to be somewhat more frugal.
As a point of full disclosure, the rifle I use in silhouette competition is a Savage 110 left hand action with a Shilen match barrel with a .8″ muzzle. It sits in a full length glass bedded Nesika Bay left hand stock and wears a Weaver T-24 AO scope on top of a 20MOA riser in tall rings. The barrel is installed shouldered, no nut, and there’s been a full action truing and blueprinting done to it. I bought the rifle used for $1000 with 1000 7br cases, most of them primed, and some ammo. It had about 3K rounds through it when I got it and has another 500 through it now. The barrel should be good deep into the 7-8K round range. You can find deals like this at almost every match but especially at state matches. I shoot it right handed much to the amusement of other shooters. Still, I just moved from B class to A class and I plan to be in AA by the end of the year. Not bad for having only 1000 bucks of skin in the game. You can do the same. Hell, I started with a tactical oriented .308 Savage 10FPSR with a 10x US Optics scope on it and was competitive right away.
The best part of competing is when you go the 2nd time and you see how much better you do. After a while you’ll start really advancing fast if you put some effort into it. Matches are not places where you get picked at or sneered at for doing things your own way. They’re supportive and fun environments with a bunch of people that just like getting together to shoot. Whatever you do, don’t get into competitive shooting to win. Get in it to get out and shoot. You are the weapon, the gun is just a tool. Learn how to use your tools.