Andy Folk was just 4 years old when he squeezed his first trigger. And while he knew there was something special about the experience, he had little idea it would ignite a lifelong love of firearms and eventually lead to the national stage of competitive tactical long-range shooting.
Today Folk is a familiar face on the Precision Rifle Series. He is also co-founder of “The FIRM” shooting team, and is a respected gun-maker with a reputation for crafting tack-driving shooting platforms capable of consistently crushing targets more than 10 football fields downrange.
“I grew up on a dairy farm outside the little town of Dakota in northern Illinois,” he recalls. “Guns were part of farm life, because my dad often had to do away with a predator, rat or other pest.”
Folk was fascinated by his father’s firearms, and soon asked for a shooting lesson. His father responded by reaching for a rifle he believed best suited his young son’s ambitions. “He didn’t grab a BB gun or .22,” Folk laughs. “He knew I wanted to ‘go big’ with whatever I did. So he brought out his SKS.”
With his father supporting the weight of the famed Russian rifle and bearing the brunt of its recoil, the younger Folk focused on setting his sights on a string of empty cans. “When I started ripping away on the trigger,” he recalls, “I was hooked.”
A Shooter Emerges
Folk’s love of shooting grew over the years. Through early childhood, his father remained both mentor and shooting coach. “He taught me the basics and always stressed the importance of safety,” he says. “We shot targets and hunted together as farm life allowed.”
In his teenage years, Folk gravitated toward tactical shooting. “I set up my own drills and even timed myself with a stopwatch,” he says. “I started with a pistol and progressed into the AR world in my late teens; at 18 I purchased my first long gun.”
Folk admits he knew little about the art of long-range shooting at the time. “I didn’t have a clue,” he says. “All I knew was that our military was shooting 1,000 yards or more. My goal was to reach that threshold as accurately and repeatably as possible.”
Unfortunately, sources of information to aid his quest were scant in the Dakota area. “A long shot for anybody around home was a couple hundred yards,” he says. “The internet wasn’t a factor back then like it is now, so I ended up reading a lot of books.”
Eventually, Folk collected the necessary gear to make ever-longer shots. He also introduced longtime friends Nick Steder and Jarrod Bomkamp to the sport. “We spent a lot of time lying prone in our fields,” he says.
As their skills improved, the young guns yearned for more excitement. “We got bored busting water bottles at 800 or 1,000 yards,” he says. “So we decided to try our hands at practical rifle shooting competition.”
Folk recalls the first event like it was yesterday. “In 2013 we drove down to a match in Missouri and got our butts handed to us,” he laughs. “It was humbling. But we learned a lot, too.” Determined to improve their next showing, the friends ordered additional shooting accessories and undertook a three-week stint of serious practice. “At our next match we placed in the teens against 48 shooters,” Folk reports.
Buoyed by that success, they entered more local matches in Missouri. “After six of those, we decided to try our first official Precision Rifle Series match,” says Folk. “After that, we were into it hook, line and sinker.”
In late 2015, Folk, Steder and Bomkamp consolidated their competitive efforts into a shooting team called The FIRM. “We were doing pretty well in local matches and surprisingly well on the PRS, so we wanted our own official team,” Folk explains, noting they have since added three new members, representing destinations from Kansas City and Memphis to the outskirts of Chicago.
Along the way, Folk began creating his own custom match rifles, both for himself and clients across the country. “I’ve been building guns since about 2010,” he says. ‘I’ve always been a gear-head and loved building things; this was a natural extension of these interests and my love of long-range shooting.”
Until now, Folk has juggled gunsmithing and shooting with his a day job as an industrial maintenance mechanic. “But this year I’ll be going full-time with The Firm,” he says.
Gold Medal Advantage
Like many competitive long-range shooters, Folk loaded his own rounds for much of his career, but says all that changed when The FIRM received a case of Federal Premium 260 Rem. Gold Medal Match ammunition for testing in the spring of 2016.
“I’ve been tailoring loads for years,” he says. “I got my hands on the Gold Medal ammo three days before the PRS South Dakota Steel Classic in May.” Pre-match testing quickly revealed it provided stellar velocity, standard deviation and accuracy, Folk was sold.
“I took it to the match and the ammo was flawless,” he reports. “I led on day one and finished in eighth place, my best showing to date in a national match. If the pressure of being in the lead hadn’t gotten to me, I could have done even better—but that’s on me, not the Gold Medal.”
The FIRM also conducted a series of comprehensive tests on Gold Medal. Again, velocity, accuracy and standard deviation received high marks—as did other key characteristics including cartridge size and powder charge consistency.
“Average velocity was over 50 feet per second faster than advertised on the box; accuracy was sub-MOA; and overall we found Gold Medal performs statistically equal to the best handloads around,” he reports. “We’re convinced that it’s a viable choice for anybody who wants to shoot competitively.”
Since the South Dakota match, Folk has shot Gold Medal exclusively. “It hasn’t let me down in seven national matches and I’m qualified for the PRS Finale,” he says. “I’ve also learned some long-term lessons of how it affects barrel life. Basically, the barrel stays cleaner all the way down to the muzzle brake, and there’s minimal wear in the throat area compared to handloads. This tells me the barrel is going to last a lot longer with Gold Medal.”
Folk admits he often receives funny looks and fields plenty of questions when fellow competitors realize he’s shooting factory ammo. “People are floored at first, but when they see how well Gold Medal performs, they want to hear all about it,” he grins.
Folk gladly extols Gold Medal’s benefits, including cost, performance and not having to worry whether your loading hand-loading equipment malfunctioned at the moment of truth. “Those are important considerations,” he says. “But by far, the biggest benefit to shooting factory loads is the time saved by not having to load your own ammunition. While the competition is hunched over their presses, you can practice shooting right up to the time you hit the driveway to head for a competition.”
Along with straight shooting, Folk says The FIRM aims to encourage newcomers to the sport. “We want to be known as the guys who welcome new shooters, who anyone can talk to with questions,” he says.
Often, those questions center on handloading ammunition. “My response is always, ‘Don’t worry about that. You’ll go farther, faster if you shoot a reliable factory load like Gold Medal and focus on improving your shooting skills instead,’” he says.