In 2005, the NRA recognized what is now F-Class competition, which has taken off like a rocket. If you doubt me, go shopping online for anything connected with the sport. What you’ll see is “Out of Stock” or “Can be backordered.” F-Class was the right sport at the right time. It coincided with the craze for long-range shooting, appealed to hunters who could not afford $15,000 to go and kill an elk, but would still like to do some meaningful shooting, and spoke in beguiling tones to an aging population of competition riflemen who could no longer tie themselves up in slings or see iron sights.
F-Class is a word of mouth game. People look around, and see who is shooting the best scores, and ask what they’re using, and then go out and buy it themselves. In due course, some gear gains pre-eminence. And if something doesn’t work, that gets around as well.
Savage, as nearly as I can see, is the pre-eminent rifle, both in pure factory form and as the basis for custom guns. I can’t think of anything equivalent in the shooting sports. If you walk down the firing line, the overwhelming majority of what you see will be out-of-the-box Savages or modified Savages, or true custom rifles built on the Savage Model 10 action. If you’re interested, a Model 10 action costs around $600, and there’s no end of aftermarket parts with which you can modify it. A true custom F-Class action, like the Stiller, or the Deviant, which I would buy just for the name, runs from $1,100 to $1,400, to give you some perspective.
At the last F-Class shoot I went to, one of the competitors had a custom Savage with a massive target-style stock that was made not from laminated wood, but from a truly wonderful piece of dark-honey-colored walnut. The rifle had its own fitted case, and had the bolt not been on the wrong side, I would have tried to buy it. This was a gun into which a lot of thought and care and money had been put, and at the heart of it was a Savage action. That says a lot.
One of the main adjustments that a hunter has to make going into F-Class is the quantum leap in accuracy that’s necessary. If you shoot big game at ranges of 300 yards or less, three-shot 1.5-inch groups will serve you fine.
In F-Class, at the Mid Range level (300 to 600 yards) most shooters agree that the minimum degree of accuracy that allows you to avoid dishonor is five shots in ½-inch, which is certainly within the reach of the Savage target rifles I’ve seen.
One High Master with whom I discussed the matter says that 100-yard groups are irrelevant, since no one competes at 100 yards. What he looks for is groups that measure .75-inch at 300 yards. When you consider that the X-ring of a 300-Yard F-Class target is 1.42 inches in diameter, and that the diameter of a golf ball is 1.68 inches, and that you’re going to be shooting at something smaller than a golf ball from three football fields away, this makes sense.
Another High Master says that the only groups that interest him are 20-shot groups, since you shoot for record in strings of 20, and if your first five rounds go into .50 inch but your next 15 shots go into 3.5 inches, you won’t be taking any trophies home.
I’ve personally shot a Savage Model 12 LRPV in .223 that would do all this, and with some to spare. And that’s just one gun.
Having established the dominance of Savage rifles, let’s move on to some other items that are overwhelmingly popular.
Berger bullets. Sierra bullets continue to be shot by the English Long Ton (2,240 pounds) but you hear “Berger” more often at an F-Class shoot than you hear “Burger” at a McDonalds. If you shoot a .308, you’ll hear Berger Juggernaut Target, a 185-grain long-range projectile that refuses to obey the laws of gravity.
Lapua brass. The toughest brass around. Simply does not give out from repeated use.
Sinclair International F-Class Bipod. It looks like a giant spider, is a pain in the ass to mount on the sling swivel stud, and can’t be carried from one berm to another because it ain’t tactical. But everyone uses it because it’s steady as a boulder.
Forster Bench Rest Seating Dies. Use anything else and people will look at you pityingly, or edge away uneasily. You may be personally hopeless, but use Forster dies and your handloads will by God, be concentric.
Nightforce Scopes. There are three types of people who shoot F-Class.
Those who have a Nightforce scope.
Those who want one instead of what they’re currently running.
Those who have one and want a second for their backup rifle.
Nightforce is as dominant in the arena of glass sights as Savage is in rifles, but Nightforces cost money. What they offer is an outrageous degree of superiority in durability, ergonomics, and most especially in the precision and repeatability of their adjustments. I don’t know of any other maker who is close.
Vortex Scopes. If you haven’t sold your kids for medical experiments to raise money for a Nightforce, there are a great many Vortex scopes on the line at half the price or much, much less, and their owners like them more than a little.