AR-15 Church Shooting Gun Debate
(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
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By Brian P.

A few years ago, I decided I wanted to become a rifleman. A practical rifleman. Through disciplined self practice, and help from the online community, I have been able to ever expand my skills from a 100 yard skill-set to a 600 yard comfort zone. If I can do it, anyone can, but a lot of people don’t think they can make that jump.

I have run into many AR owners who think that if they can’t shoot 1 to 2-inch groups like they see online, they aren’t shooting well. They perceive their rifle equipped with a red dot as being too imprecise to carry them past close-range shooting. They doubt their skills, but they haven’t tried to apply the skills they have.

Because they don’t think they can do it, they don’t shoot at longer ranges. But I’m here to tell you that you can.

Let’s knock that mental wall down and develop a simple shooting program for all the new AR-15 shooters out there. Let’s identify an easy-to-master system that can carry their rifle out to distances they once dismissed.

Today we’re going to create a basic program to get you (or someone you know who needs this) a tool set to reliably drop rounds on a target out to 400 yards. Let’s get started.

AR-15 rifle with Aimpoint
Igor at work / Public domain

AR15s Everywhere, No Two Alike

Due to the variety of rifles out there, it’s important to define what we are working with. Our average new AR-15 shooter is likely running his or her gun as a carbine in a 16-inch format topped off with a backup iron sight, a red dot sight, or a low power variable scope.

There is likely to be a tactical sling, but it may be a model that’s not capable of being used to steady a shot. The new shooter may be shooting anything from 50 grain varmint rounds to 55, 62, or 69 grain SMK. If we’re lucky, the gun is zeroed somewhere between 50 and 200 yards.

So we have some wiggle room in the rifle setups. Different zeros, different ammo choices, and different sighting systems will be present among any number of shooters heading to the range this weekend.

While each individual set-up is unique, are they unique enough to make us miss a man-sized target out to say, 400 yards? Let’s look at the data . . .

Velocities tailored to a 16-inch barrel, 1000 ft elevation, 59 degrees Fahrenheit, 200 yard zero, (G1)

Yards 50gr V-Max 55gr xm193 62gr XM855 69gr SMK
200 0 0 0 0
300 -7.3 -7.1 -7.7 -8.86
400 -23.7 -22.7 -23.5 -26.9


Ballistically, many of the popular loads are within a few inches of each other regarding bullet drop. Out to 400 yards with a 50 to 200-yard zero, we have strike points that stay well within a minute of each other.

The first step in stretching a rifle’s legs it to understand the path the bullet takes once it exits the muzzle. While shooters may not memorize the above table, they can use it to understand our next point: those drops correspond well with repeatable reference points on a human silhouette.

BDC and your Red Dot

Above is Bullet Drop Compesator man. I made him based on average human head width, height, shoulder width, etc. He’s a great display for discussing “the chest, the head, the hat.”

The chest is your 0-200 yard point of aim for any of the discussed loadings. The 50-200 yard zero is flat shooting enough that we don’t need to change holds inside of 200. The head is your 300 yard aim point and will drop rounds slightly above center of mass for any of the discussed loadings. The hat is your 400 yard aim point. Visualize a hat and shoot it off your target’s head. you will easily drop rounds into the mid to low torso of your target at 400 yards with any of the discussed loadings.

Using those three reference points, we can see all our common loadings easily drop right into the target. For example, shooting with 50 grain V-Max at 400 yards, the shooter should visualize a hat on the targets head, and put dot on the hat to shoot it off. Bam, you just compensated for 23.7 inches of drop without the need for a fancy BDC reticle in a scope. At these distances, it’s important to adjust your point of impact past your initial zero. Your group may be minutes off at extended distances that you won’t be able to see with your initial zero.

So We Don’t Need A Scope with BDC?

No, not at all. Well, not at these distances. Magnification helps acquire the target and will no doubt help you in firing on targets at these ranges, but a BDC reticle isn’t necessary for this basic level of skill.

A scope with cross hairs will suffice, or even a red dot sight with a 4 MOA dot. In fact, I prefer a red dot for this exercise over irons since it doesn’t obscure the target. Shooters rocking only a BUIS will have the most difficulty as 1) they obscure the target as we compensate for drop, and 2) the irons require focusing on the front sight instead of a target focus.

If you simply must use irons, get a set with rear elevation adjustment built it, but know that modern sighting systems far surpass irons in speed and precision. A 2 MOA or 4 MOA red dot obscures less of your target and is a finer aiming reference than the wide A2 front sight for practical shooting.

I still practice with irons, but I don’t worship at the altar of “riflemen must use irons” as a modern rifleman must use modern rifles.

Practical Ranging

So the three holds are easy, but we need to learn a quick way to estimate distance. This is a skill that needs to be developed on your own and for your individual sighting system, but here’s a handy chart if you have a red dot and need it done the easy way.

The top row represents dot size and the red is where the dot should begin to obscure the target’s head. The blue is where it should begin to obscure or match the width of the shoulders.

Screen Shot 2014-11-10 at 8.29.29 AM

As you can see, it’s usually not weapon capability shooters lack, just knowledge. Developing your own chart and evaluating your own data can help you develop an easily-applied approach to practical shooting.

With all the BDC calculators available for your phone, all the shooting information and skills available at your fingertips, there has never been an easier time to self learn marksmanship.

I’ve been teaching myself to shoot for a few years now. My time spent online and at the range soaking up knowledge has permitted me to achieve a dream of mine…to develop my skills as a rifleman. Using only advice from fellow bloggers and forums, I was able to develop my skill set to shoot in my first NRA High Power match with a pot-luck A2 rifle and score 688-4x.

While this may be small beans to some, it was important to me. It showed me that I could develop my skills without formal, expensive instruction. If I can do it, anyone can.


This article was originally published in 2014.

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  1. I’m not in the new shooter category but this is an outstandingly practical article. Well done.

    • Agreed. My thanks to both Brian (author) for penning a must-read article, and Dan for publishing it.

  2. its pretty easy these days to put a 5.56 ar pattern rifle together for less than 1000 dollars including an optic that is capable of hitting 10 inch steel out to 500 yards with the right factory match ammo
    ive done it multiple times in the last few years
    its not really the cost or availabilty of components in putting together a platform to do it
    rather its finding the time and a place to do it

  3. Thank you for this instruction. I am contemplating my first rifle purchase (currently, all I have are pistols and a shotgun). My rifle choice is a Ruger Mini 14 Tactical in 300 blk. If I cannot find one, I will be happy with the same in .556. Yes, I know 300 blk. is not designed for long range. Still, the advice above would apply, with practice and some adjustment.

    Again, thank you.

    • My ARs are in 5.56 and .300 BLK. Blackout is an excellent cartridge for up to medium range (200 yds).

      • Haz,

        Medium range…exactly….I live in a small city; my neighborhood is more like an old suburb….tree-lined streets, homes mostly from the 1920’s to 1950’s. If heck breaks out, most of the shooting will be within 20-50 yards. If heck doesn’t show up, well, The Mini 14 will be some fun at the range.

        Best wishes!

  4. It is interesting how few really understand ballistics, but this is a good tutorial. Once at a local indoor range now replaced by a grade school they set up a ballistic handgun challenge based on a relatively short range just to see how many got it right. The answer was to hit the bowling pin you shot below the pin. Almost everyone, who tried shot at or above the pin and missed.

  5. Excellent plain language advice. I doubt I would ever consider something 200 yards away to be a “threat”, but I still use that range for recreational shooting. As I read this I could relate to every example he uses.

  6. Long range shooting.and how I do it.
    Get settled in your shooting position, close your eyes, open your eyes, is the crosshairs still on target? If yes your position is good. Now relax ,take a deep breath , let half out, close your eyes again and yank the trigger. I might add jerking the gunm helps when using larger calibers.

  7. With all the great videos on YouTube and firearm forums, you can learn about many aspects of shooting and reloading. I know I have and continue to learn from others on the Web

    But, I will say taking classes especially for handgun gives you another set of eyes to help with proper technique and see errors you may be making.

    Great article.

  8. To learn basic rifleman skills, I can heartily recommend Project Appleseed (
    They run 2 day events that will provide instruction that will enable the student to hit targets out to 400 yds.

    • I agree with the Project Appleseed recommendation. Great instruction and great people.

  9. Terrible writing. “-7.3” what ? Inches of drop ? FPS ? It is always necessary to label the data.
    “Compesator” ? Is that like compensator ? Spellcheck is your friend.

  10. Interesting article.That said, I would suggest starting out with a bolt action rifle, before going to the semi-automatic.

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