This past February, while down in Phoenix for the 2017 Berger Southwest Nationals, I had the opportunity to meet Bryan Litz.
Mr. Litz really needs no introduction, as his name has become synonymous with long distance shooting. He also just happens to be one of the most down-to-earth persons you’ll ever meet.
Bryan formed his company, Applied Ballistics LLC. in 2009, with the purpose of breaking down the science of ballistics and presenting it to the shooting community as an aid to accuracy for sport and military use. Sounds like rocket science? Well, it kind of is. Did I mention Bryan also is an Aerospace Engineer and worked as a civilian contractor for the Air Force before starting his own company? Just add that to the long list of his accomplishments: US Rifle Team, state and national record holder in long-range shooting, author, Ballistician for Berger Bullets, and yes, Rocket Scientist.
With all this in mind, not only was it very cool getting to watch him shoot at BSWN, I was even more excited when Bryan took me up on my offer of an interview.
LOASW: Your current company is Applied Ballistics. What did you do before?
Bryan: I formed Applied Ballistics while I still worked for the Air Force as a civilian contractor. My job there was modeling and simulation of air-to-air missiles. At that time I was involved in competition shooting as a hobby, but that hobby grew in seriousness to the point I needed to form a company for the small revenue I was generating from writing articles, and doing bullet designs for some companies on a contract basis. Originally, Applied Ballistics was never intended to be more than a small part-time ‘gig’, meant to help fund my shooting hobby.
LOASW: What made you decide to switch careers?
Bryan: Discussions with Bullet companies about employment eventually turned into tempting prospects which ultimately compelled me to leave the government. I went to work full-time for Berger Bullets in 2008, and still work for them to this day.
LOASW: Backtracking a little – When did you first become interested in shooting?
Bryan: My first memories of shooting were at the age of about 9 or 10. Pellet rifle in the back yard. My Dad taught me to shoot, stressing the importance of accuracy. I was driven to hit targets, mostly small targets at long distance. My grandfather was on the All Army shooting team back in the ‘50’s, and was distinguished in both rifle and pistol. Shooting is part of my families DNA and I benefited from that from a young age.
LOASW: Did you grow up around guns?
Bryan: Yes, but not so much competition shooting. My Dad is an avid hunter, and so most of my exposure to guns was about ‘putting meat on the table’. Back in his day, handloading was something you did because it was economical, and that was important in those times. Once I got started on the road to accuracy, it wasn’t long until my handloads were costing more than the ‘store bought’ stuff!
LOASW: What sparked your interest in Competitive Shooting and how old were you when you started competing?
Bryan: Hunting groundhogs in the farm-fields of Pennsylvania thru high school is where I truly connected with long-range shooting. My Dad heard of a competition range (The Original Pennsylvania 1000 Yard Benchrest Club in Willamsport, PA). So we visited there one summer and I immediately found my trusty 22-250 inadequate for the job of 1000 yard benchrest shooting. So I saved my McDonalds wages until I could afford a 7mm Remington Magnum and began competing in my first matches at the age of 15. That first year I relied on my parents to drive me to the matches.
LOASW: What discipline did you first start competing in?
Bryan: Benchrest was the first discipline I competed in. At that time it was the only form of competition I really knew about, or at least the only one I’d seen. It was a huge mis-match to my situation because benchrest is a highly gear driven sport, and the winners typically have many $1000’s of dollars wrapped up in equipment. I was a broke highschool kid who needed my parents to drive me to the range my first year, and my second year, I had to rely on fellow competitors to jump start my old pick-up truck that was always breaking down. Nevertheless I enjoyed the hell out of shooting 1000 yards. I can honestly say that I don’t have any more FUN shooting these days with all the best equipment as compared to those bad ‘ol days when I had maybe $900 total wrapped up in all my gear. Those who remember me from those early days might recall the home-made shooting rest and McDonalds French fry box that I carried all my gear in. Later when I picked up prone/sling shooting, my shooting mat was a piece of carpet (pink, no less), and my shooting coat was a military field jacket with belts sewn in it.
LOASW: What was your biggest challenge when you started competing and how did you overcome it?
Bryan: Money was probably my biggest challenge when I started out. I had plenty of fun with my budget kit, but was certainly constrained by lack of access to quality gear. I overcame this with hard work and making the most of what I had. Learning how to mitigate the deficiencies of my equipment was an important stepping stone which has been highly valuable even now when I’ve got better stuff. It’s a good skill to have, to be able to spot something about to come unraveled.
LOASW: I know that you recently switched from Sling shooting over to FTR; what led you to make that change and were there any challenges in switching disciplines?
Bryan: My early experience with Benchrest only lasted a season or two, I was shooting sling by ’97 and continued this up thru 2015. After nearly 20 years in a shooting jacket, I felt it was time for a change. F-class was highly visible, and presented a fresh new challenge. Also, I was living in Michigan at this time and surrounded by a core group of dedicated FTR shooters including my Dad who’d come to work for Applied Ballistics. It was a natural transition, switching to F-class. Many of my hard-earned lessons from shooting sling (like wind reading and match strategy) helped me excel at FTR, but I did have to learn a lot of new things like how to shoot a completely different kind of rifle. It took a good season till I had it mostly figured out and I’ve been doing well ever since.
LOASW: Do you think you’ll eventually go back to Sling?
Bryan: Someday, maybe, for ‘old times sake’. But at this point I don’t have plans to re-engage that discipline with a great deal of seriousness. Of the long-range shooting disciplines I’ve sampled, success in sling shooting is most acutely tied to physical attributes related to youth, in particular vision with iron sights. I have a great deal of respect for those older competitors who still rise to the challenge of sling/iron shooting even when past their physical and visual prime.
LOASW: You were a firing team member on the 2015 US Palma Team, do you have any plans for the 2019 team?
Bryan: I have fond memories and best wishes for the US Palma Team and I wish my old team-mates the best of luck in 2019. However I will not be a part of the team myself.
LOASW: Moving forward to present day, your company Applied Ballistics, is pretty much a household name amongst serious shooters. When it started out, what was your vision for the company and how has it changed over time?
Bryan: Applied Ballistics was first formed to process the small income I was generating from writing articles and some minor contract work in ballistics. It really took off when I published my first book: “Applied Ballistics for Long Range Shooting”. The success of that book is what really catapulted Applied Ballistics into its current activities. The first years were spent writing ballistics solvers, learning how to measure ballistic coefficients and working on books. Since then I’ve been fortunate enough to partner with very smart people whose expertise extended the reach of Applied Ballistics into software applications. We’ve also extended our instructional model beyond books and DVD to live seminars which are well received by long-range shooters in all disciplines.
LOASW: What advancements in the next few years do you expect or want to see in the field of long-range ballistics?
Bryan: Currently, Applied Ballistics area of focus is in Extreme Long Range (ELR) Shooting. We’re focusing on the science that will enable us to reliably predict trajectories accurately enough to hit targets with the first shot at ranges beyond one mile (1760 yards). This is the natural extension of everything AB has done to this point. We’re just pushing the envelope to master uncharted territory. Last year the AB ELR team won the King of 2 Miles Match (http://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/nra/ssusa_201703/index.php#/1 ). Highlights were 2 of our team shooters scored first round hits on the 2477 yard target. This year we’re hoping to improve on this by applying what we’ve learned about the science of accuracy, equipment refinement and team development.
LOASW: What advice would you give to someone new to competitive shooting?
Bryan: Find a mentor, someone who lives near you who has experience and is willing to share it. You will cut years off your learning curve if you can get someone to share their experience with you who’s “been there done that”.
LOASW: And saving the best for last… What is your favorite movie and why?
Bryan: My favorite movie is Cool Hand Luke, mostly because of Luke’s (Paul Newman’s character) indomitable and unbreakable spirit in the face of adversity. The guy just doesn’t quit!