“What exactly do you consider to be long range?” That’s a good question and it is truly subjective. If you have a Ruger 10/22 in your hands, 100 yards is long range. If you’re shooting at a whitetail with a Remington 870 loaded with slugs, an 87 yard shot is long range.
However, when you move west of the Mississippi River and the country starts to open up, long range with centerfire rifles doesn’t even begin until you are farther than 300 yards. Some would argue that long range doesn’t start until you are past 500 yards.
Regardless of your definition of what “long range” shooting happens to be, I think we can all agree that the primary goal of rifle marksmanship is to be able to hit your target with the first shot, on demand, regardless of the conditions or the distance. Such is the stated goal of the High Elevation Precision Rifle class put on by Student of the Gun each summer in wonderful Wyoming.
What Constitutes ‘High Elevation’?
When we say our rifle class is a “high elevation” course, we’re talking about geography or distance above sea level. There’s a good bit of science involved in precision rifle shooting and one factor that cannot be ignored is atmospheric pressure or for the layman “heavy or thin air.” The air is thinner the higher you climb.
There’s a valid reason why ballistic calculator apps want you to input the elevation. Additionally, there’s a good reason why five of the top 10 world record sniper kills were taken in Afghanistan.
To put it simply, you can do things with rifle bullets at higher elevation that you can’t do with bullets at sea level. Also, in the west, where the climate is generally much drier than the east or south, mirage is less of a distraction.
At the Spur Ranch in Wyoming, the rifle range is located at 7300 feet above sea level. This definitely qualifies as “high elevation” and we can get more performance out of rifle bullets, all things being equal, than would be possible east of the Mississippi or on the coasts.
For example, according to the Hornady Ballistic Calculator app, a 168 grain bullet traveling 2600 fps from the muzzle will be going 1215 fps at 1000 yards at 100 feet above sea level. Using the same specs, that bullet will be going 1578 fps at 1000 yards at 7300 feet above sea level. The longer you can keep your rifle bullets traveling at supersonic speeds, the farther you can make reliable and predictable hits on target. When rifle bullets drop below supersonic, predictable impacts or shot adjustments becomes a crap shoot.
Every American is a Rifleman
In the Marine Corps, one of their mottos is that “Every Marine is a rifleman.” Even cooks and aircraft mechanics in the Corps are required to qualify with the service rifle at boot camp and again annually.
If you have a working understanding of the history of the United States of America, you will understand that this nation was founded by riflemen. We believe that it’s the birthright and duty of every American citizen to be a skilled rifleman. This is an anomaly to the rest of the world.
Through the High Elevation Precision Rifle course, we provide citizens with the opportunity to bring their rifle/scope/ammo combination to a class and a range to which few people have access. The number of 1000-yard ranges east of the Mississippi is small. The number of one mile ranges is even smaller. In Wyoming, we have a range that stretches to 1.5 miles.
What Rifle Do I Need?
While many shooters will choose to bring a higher end rifle with expensive optics to the course, a multi-thousand dollar rig isn’t required. During the latest class, a student used a Ruger Ranch rifle chambered in .223 Remington with a Black Spider Optics 1-4x scope. That combination cost well under $1000. He was able to successfully and repeatedly hit targets on demand out to 500 yards.
Previously, we had a student who purchased an inexpensive Savage .308 Winchester rifle and combined it with a scope that cost him around $300. Again, gear that was well under the $1000 range. He was able to engage targets successfully and repeatedly out to 800 yards.
Conversely, some folks with more disposable income will spend more and reach out farther. During the summer of 2022, a student brought a Barrett MRAD rifle chambered in .338 Lapua Magnum. He reached out to 1000 and 1400 yards, then moved on to one mile. On the last day he got a “confirmed kill” on the 1.5 mile target.
During our latest course, those who brought 6.5 Creedmoor rifles were able to successfully score hits at 1000, 1400, and 1 mile. This despite having to deal with unpredictable wind conditions.
Regardless of the hardware, every student achieved more than they had ever done before and left with a genuine confidence, not only in their gear, but in their own abilities. That’s the primary purpose of the training.
Fundamental Rifle Marksmanship
Regardless of the amount of money you spend on gear, the ballistic calculator you use or the match grade ammunition you buy, the “X” factor is the shooter. We can’t purchase our way around fundamental marksmanship skills and that’s the foundation upon which we build the course.
Every shooter is admonished at the very beginning of the class that, “If you can’t group three rounds into an inch at 100 yards, you’re wasting your time and ammo shooting at 1000 yards.”
In addition to engaging targets from 100 yards to 1000 yards, students also participate in challenging exercises. One of these stages requires them to locate targets at unknown distances, estimate the range, and then engage them successfully.
Student of the Gun University
Paul Markel is a United States Marine combat veteran who has been teaching Small Arms & Tactics for over thirty years. His son, Jarrad, is his primary assistant and has been coaching the High Elevation Precision Rifle class since 2017. Student of the Gun University is the training arm of SOTG. Each student receives the “Precision Rifle Range Book” with enrollment. This text is also available on Amazon.com.
In addition to long range rifle, they offer pistol, carbine, shotgun, and traumatic medical courses. Interested parties should follow the link and sign up to receive notifications as the training calendar is updated. Remember, you are a beginner once, a student for life.