Many people are familiar with shooting rifles at targets out around 100 to 200 yards with regularity. Some of you may have hunted or target shot out to 500 yards. Have you considered shooting something accurately out to 1,000 yards or more? The challenge of such a shot is what entices many enthusiasts to learn the art of long-range shooting. Some love to hit steel or other targets more than ten football fields away with accuracy. Others love to watch the vapor trail from their projectile land on an animal they spotted from much farther than the naked eye could see. Whatever your intention, it takes discipline. Good equipment does not hurt either.
Long Range Shooting Equipment:
While it is possible to hit a target at long range with sub-par equipment, it sure isn’t doing anyone any favors. To do it with accuracy and repeatability, it takes a solid foundation of a quality rifle topped with rugged optics and surrounded by good support equipment.
The rifle should be able to achieve one minute of angle or less (MOA) accuracy. One MOA roughly equates to being able to keep a group at one-inch at 100 yards, two-inches at 200 yards, three-inches at 300 yards and so on. At 1,000 yards the rifle would, in theory, be able to hold a 10-inch group consistently. The rifle shown is a Remington 700 in .338 Edge. It is capable of four- to five-inch groups at 1,000 yards. This makes it a one-half MOA rifle. Built by Shawn Carlock of Defensive Edge, the .338 Edge is essentially a .300 Remington Ultra Mag necked up to .338 and sends a 300-grain Sierra Matchking bullet at over 2,800 feet per second. This makes a very good long range hunting rifle. The 30-inch Hart barrel is capped off with a very effective muzzle brake engineered by Defensive Edge to keep recoil to a manageable level. The adjustable cheek rest installed allows a solid cheek weld with the stock while aligning your eye to the optic.
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The optic is a very rugged Nightforce NXS in 5.5-22 power. The scope mount is a neat device by Defensive Edge that integrates a bubble level and angle meter. When taking long-range shots the rifle must be level to assure the adjustments dialed into the scope are accurate. The angle meter is used when shooting up or down-hill because the angle effectively changes the yardage the bullet travels.
An important feature of the scope is the ability to dial in the windage and elevation adjustments. When a shooting solution is determined for the yardage you are going to shoot you must adjust the scope. The Nightforce and many others have external adjustable knobs that are plainly marked and easy to manipulate. This particular scope also features zero stops. They allow you to sight the rifle in at 100 yards and set a bottom point for the turrets. This will return you to your 100 yard zero and allow you to readjust from a known point next time. This feature is a godsend in the field, where it may be difficult to remember where the turret is in its elevation.
Long Range Shooting Equipment: Support Equipment
Now that the rifle has been accounted for you need the equipment that will allow you to get your shooting solutions for any given shot. The needed items include a range finder, a weather meter, and ballistic calculator.
The range finder you select for long range shooting must be of a good quality to be able to accurately range targets at extended ranges. Lesser quality units will not have the ability to see targets at long ranges. The Swarovski range finder used in this demonstration proves worthy of the task. It has clear optics with an 8x zoom and the ability to accurately provide distances of targets up to 1,600 yards away. I cannot stress enough how important a good range finder is. If your range estimates are incorrect your shooting solution will be off, and a missed shot is likely to occur.
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You will also need a way to read wind and weather conditions. Inputting these variables into your ballistic calculator will net you a more accurate shooting solution. The Kestrel 3500 shown provides us with the temperature, relative humidity, wind speed, and altitude. With these measurements, our ballistic calculator has a good chance of providing us a first round hit probability at any given distance.
Now that we have the ability to range our target and input our weather variables we need something to calculate our solution. The old reliable way is to use a paper ballistic chart or DOPE book. DOPE stands for Data Observed from Previous Engagements. This would be a book that recorded all your previous shots and what corrections they required along with any pertinent data. This method works but in this day and age a ballistic computer is very handy to have.
The Nightforce version shown here takes the information you provide from the rangefinder and weather meters and combines it with the data stored in it about your particular load to give you the adjustments needed on the scope. You should have already chronographed your load in your rifle to get accurate ballistic calculations. Once the data is inputted it will tell you how many minutes of correction will be needed.
A handheld PDA style calculator is very nice to have but there are also very accurate smartphone applications that can achieve the same results. The Nightforce PDA is no longer available so my suggestion if you are starting out is to use an iPod touch in a good Pelican case. This will be rugged and unlike a phone, will have better battery life.
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The Actual Long Range Shot Process
Now that you know all the basics, here is how the actual shot process might look like for you:
After settling behind the rifle, take your weather meter out and get your current wind, altitude, humidity, and temperature readings.
Input these variables into the calculator.
Use the rangefinder to get current distance measurements.
After ranging the target, find the yardage on the calculator to find the correction needed.
Once the correction is known you can now dial up the elevation turret to the correct minutes. On this particular scope each revolution of the turret is 10 minutes. The 800-yard range here is calling for 15.75 minutes of elevation adjustment. This will require one full turn on the turret and then an additional 5.75 on the dial to be correct.
You would also dial in corrections on the windage knob if needed. Now that the scope should be prepared for the 800-yard shot you are ready to put down the gadgets and get in a stable position behind your rifle. You want to be as comfortable as possible and be in a natural aiming position. Your body should be behind the rifle to absorb the recoil. A shooting mat under the rifle and shooter provide more comfort against the ground. A good bipod on the rifle makes a stable shot easier. A small bean bag under the rear of the stock allows small elevation changes with a squeeze of the bag. It also provides a rock steady rest allowing you time to take the perfect shot. When shooting at extreme distances you do not want to be rushed. A small error will magnify itself at those distances.
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A spotter will make long range shooting much more enjoyable. With a high power rifle it’s hard to shoot and watch the bullet impact due to the recoil. Having a spotter near the shooter with a quality spotting scope is invaluable in correcting for misses. A good spotter will be able to see where the impact landed and call out corrections to the shooter who will then be able to make the necessary changes and get another shot launched. Shooting extreme long range without a trusted spotter is a fool’s errand.
Congrats, if all went well your shot will have landed on target and you will have experienced the satisfaction of making a long range shot. This introduction is in no way a comprehensive guide to long range shooting. If you are serious about it I encourage you to pursue knowledge on the subject. There are many long range shooting classes offered around the country. Long range shooting isn’t for everyone, but it can provide a challenge unlike anything else for those that have tired of bland 100 yard plinking.
By Zack Carlson. Originally published in the February 2014 issue of GunUp the Magazine.