Before you can address weaknesses, you have to identify them. However, there may come a time when you're better off to simply determine where you know the problems are not.... and toss everything else in the trash.
So, my rebuilding year started off with a list of the things I trusted and felt confident in.
First, my action - a GA Precision Tempest. Mine is actually one of the very first ever produced, and now has almost exactly 10,000 rounds of live fire through it. I have never had a single failure or hiccup on my Tempest. The closest I have ever come to questioning it was when I got a bad batch of imported primers with a 1-2% failure rate. No other lot of primers has ever malfunctioned in my action, and no other issues have ever manifested. So, that's safe.
Next, my chassis - a PDC Custom Gen 5 Competition. I've actually been through several iterations of the same design over the last few years, and have always been happy with it. I guess it helps when you have the ear of the guy that makes them, and he's willing to integrate new features when you ask for them.
Glass - Since I'm writing this for the Bushnell Blog, it should come as no surprise that I use and trust Bushnell scopes on my rifles. Everything from my old Elite 6-24 I shot my first matches with, through the first generation XRS, and now the XRS2 and DMR2 Pro. I've beaten up my scopes, cranked knobs for days on end, and fired thousands of rounds of live fire with them and never suffered a single failure with them.
After that, I had some long conversations with friends, with an eye towards getting other perspectives on things I suspected may have contributed to some of my frustrations. A few key items stood out.
First, the hardware...
Muzzle device - I ran a suppressor for my first year of matches, and switched away from it. The weight of the SDN-6 really didn't work well for me on a precision rifle, and I saw a significant difference in recoil and ability to stay on target when using a brake. I have a Thunderbeast Ultra 7 that's much lighter, but I still didn't care for the greater difficulty in keeping the optic on target through the recoil - a critical component of precision rifle matches, as you don't have a spotter to give you corrections.
Brakes have a down side, too, however - muzzle blast. Lots of it. As a general rule, the more effective the brake, the louder it is and more concussion it generates. I had come to the conclusion that this blast was causing problems for me as a 2-day match wore on, and hearing protection wasn't enough.
Enter the Area 419 Maverick - a hybrid muzzle brake and suppressor system that can give the performance of a high end muzzle brake without the nasty concussion. So, there's the first new change to test out.
Bipod - I've run a Harris for years. It's heavily modified with an ADM quick detach picatinny mount that replaces the factory sling stud mount, and Primary Adaptive Solution Systems (PASS) adapters to run Atlas-pattern leg extensions and feet. While the Harris is a pretty reliable bipod, it does have quirks and weaknesses. I wanted to find out if my bipod was suspect. After doing some significant research, I settled on two possibilities - Atlas and Warne. Both of those are in the plans for testing against my tried and true Harris.
Scope mount - Ever since I built my Tempest in 2015, I have run Spuhr scope mounts. While the Spuhr is a great piece of equipment, it's not the only game in town. I ran into issues with mine this year that were honestly self-induced, it still left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth. As a result, I thought this was another chance to try something new, and see if I could find something I liked better - and also to see if I could address a 'software' problem I had run across during my research. I ended up settling on a Hawkins Precision Heavy Tactical mount in the 1.27" height variety from Altus Shooting Solutions. (Side note: Mark your screws on your scope mounts, and check the torque on a regular basis, especially if your witness marks aren't lined up. I shot multiple matches and chased phantom problems this season because I failed to do this. Like I said above.... my fault.)
So that's the hardware side. It's the easiest and most concrete kind of problem to address, but it's not the only kind. Next up, I had to look at the software problems, which we will address in part two.