The feeling you get when you can hit a tiny target, almost out of sight, is really amazing for many of us. Taking your skills to that level takes some time and training, but it’s gratifying when you achieve that next step in your shooting skill set.
One reason many shooters are moving up to longer ranges is the challenge. It’s pretty easy to hunt or plink at the range and get good hits on target sub-200 yards, but when you start to go longer, some skill and technique are involved as is the need to do some basic math and a few more tools. These complications mean that it’s harder and more time-consuming to shoot this way and that makes it appealing to those who want to go to the next level.
Here we explain the basics of how to get started in long-range shooting.
How to “ring steel” at 1000 yards
When you hit a target at 1000 yards and hear the steel “ring” it’s a real buzz! It’s a fantastic feeling being able to achieve that level of accuracy.
Achieving this goal is oriented around several key areas you’ll need to master to be consistent at distance:
- Understanding and practicing the “fundamentals” of shooting – working on your technique
- Choosing and setting up the right tools for the mission: the weapon system and associated equipment
- Using high quality, consistently accurate ammunition (match or hand loaded) in the right caliber for the task at hand
- Using a range of new skills and knowledge about how to modify the firing solution and zero, based on environmental factors
- Practicing and testing the chosen setup at distance and noting that information (DOPE) as you improve
Training, and experience, are the most critical factors for success.
What is long-range shooting in terms of distance?
Wikipedia defines long-range shooting as “a collective term for shooting disciplines where the shooter has to engage targets at such long distances that he has to calculate ballistics, especially with regard to wind.” Bryan Litz, Founder, and President of Applied Ballistics LLC defines long-range as “where you need to make significant adjustments to your zero to hit a target due to gravity drop and wind deflection.”
There are likely many ways to categorize what long-range shooting means to different people, but we’re defining this way:
- Short range is less than 300 yds.
- Long range is 300-1200 yds.
- Extra-long (ELD) range is greater than 1 mile
What is the difference between range “plinking” and long-range technique?
The big difference between simple range target shooting and long-range precision shooting is the need to compensate for bullet drop, environmental conditions and to have the tools to figure those things out so that a firing solution can be made. Unlike range shooting or hunting at short distances where you can eyeball the bullet drop, at 1000 yards you need to be accurate, precise and to have a set of adjustments to put into your scope to compensate – you can’t really guess where the bullet will hit.
Shooting at distance also means that you need your shooting “fundamentals” to be first-rate (a stable platform, natural point of aim, proper sight alignment and sight picture plus trigger control) because any errors at all are exaggerated at long distance. Most of us are looking for sub-MOA type accuracy to be able to stand any chance at longer ranges.
What are MOA and sub-MOA?
MOA stands for “minute of angle” and the reference to sub-MOA is a way of expressing the accuracy of a rifle or shooter. One MOA at 100 yards is one inch – that means to be able to shoot sub-MOA you need to be able to shoot a group of shots that are less than an inch in diameter at that distance.
What is the best caliber for Long Range Shooting?
There is no “best” caliber. There are many choices, and these are driven by what you intend to do. If you are casually shooting, that’s one thing, vs. long-range hunting or entering a Precision Rifle Series (PRS) match. Each of these will help you decide what is best for you and each has several caliber choices to pick from. Long range shooting requires calibers that can shoot long distances, maintain velocity, and avoid deflection from the wind as much as possible.
So, for long-range hunting or target shooting, we now know we need to choose a caliber that has a high ballistic coefficient (BC…more on that later), and so the critical difference between target and hunting will be around the ability of the caliber you’re shooting to take down the target animal – small, big or large game. Also, we should consider other factors such as cost, availability, and recoil. The length of time it takes a round to remain supersonic, and its retained energy on impact are two more of the many considerations.
A common caliber for hunting (and military long-range shooting) is the .300 Winchester Magnum (Win Mag), and for target shooting today, is the family of 6mm and 6.5mm cartridges. However, there are many calibers to choose from, and it can be overwhelming trying to figure it all out. Some would say that the .300 Win Mag has been superseded by calibers around the 7mm due to having a better BC and more range. But then again, getting ammunition can be more difficult, so each choice has different considerations.
What is BC and why is that important?
BC stands for ballistic coefficient. In simple terms, this is all about the shape of the bullet. Certain bullet shapes perform better at longer ranges. They tend to have a more aerodynamic shape with a boat tail design. Each bullet has a BC number, you can find this on your box of ammo in many cases or from the manufacturer’s site.
This BC number is essential as you need it when calculating the trajectory (bullet drop) of your shots.
What is a precision rifle, and do I need one?
A precision rifle is simply a rifle that has been built to a higher standard in terms of components than your average hunting rifle with regard to shooting at longer ranges. It’s also likely in a chassis rather than a traditional stock, more like an AR.
Often these rifles are offered in longer range calibers and have rails for easy attachment of optics. They also tend to be heavier which helps reduce the effects of recoil.
You don’t need to have a special rifle to shoot long range, but you do need one that’s consistent and one that has a good barrel that’s chambered in the right caliber round for the distances you want to shoot.
What is the essential gear to get started?
This may surprise you, but the most significant single budget item should be your optic, not the rifle. Most good quality modern rifles, in the right calibers, can reach out to 1000 yards but the same can’t be said for lower cost optics.
Optics for long-range shooting also tend to be different than scopes geared for hunting. They usually have a bullet drop compensation (BDC) reticle with hash marks that allow the shooter to compensate for wind conditions (and even drop).
These scopes also need turrets that enable the shooter to “dial in” the changes needed for different distances. These turrets need to “track” accurately. That means they need their adjustment increments need to be precise and consistent. Cheap scopes often have issues in this area.
The other key feature is a parallax knob that allows the shooter to remove parallax from the scope as this will affect the final point of impact if not compensated for when shooting at distance.
Then there is the ability to read the conditions out at distance, and that requires better quality glass and higher magnifications than a “regular” low-end scope.
Then there is the rifle. The key is to get one with a good barrel, a good stock and one designed for the task. The average hunting rifle is not ideal for longer ranges. It may be able to do reach the distances you’re shooting for, but it’s likely not going to be consistent or repeatable, and that’s a big part of the sport…both precision and accuracy.
These are the fundamental basics to get started, however, you will also need a range of additional tools if you plan to do it seriously.
More long-range tools
The tools are what we use to determine our firing solution. They are used to estimate the wind locally, to do the same for environmental conditions that affect the trajectory of the bullet, to range the targets and to look at the environment to determine the effects of Wind, and its direction and speed down range. So, a windmeter, rangefinder and Binoculars/Spotting Scope are additional tools that are helpful.
Many long-range shooters will also use a phone app to do the math required to work out the drop to the target based on the data generated by the tools. The app. will allow the shooter to create a “ballistic table” in real-time and use that data to make changes to the optics in order to hit the target.
There are plenty more options, like scope levels and bipods that should be considered – every part of the system counts as the room for error is much smaller at distance.
So, what does it cost to get started in long range shooting?
Long range rifles used to be designed for practiced military snipers, often based on the Remington Model 700 and other similar actions. Today, with the sport having become popular worldwide, manufacturers have stepped up, offering more cost-effective options for the general public.
For as little as $2-3000, you can put together a very capable long-range “system” (rifle, scope, bipod, range finder, wind meter, cleaning kit, and accessories) capable of nailing long-range targets out past 1000 yards, using quality ammunition.
So, we know we need the “basics” to get started, it is best to focus on your core equipment of rifle and scope first – get the best you can, or save and make sure you have the right tools to get going. Then you can add-on the extras. A used rifle and scope can be acquired to save money…it’s all about the quality of the system that matters.
Examples of budget rifles that all claim sub-MOA accuracy out of the box at long-range are the Remington Model 700 SPS Tactical, the Ruger Precision Rifle, The Tikka T3, Browning X-Bolt Long Range, or the Savage 12 Long Range Precision just to name a few. Today we are spoiled for choices at reasonable prices.
Of course, there are options to spend a great deal more, such as custom rifles from the likes of Gunwerks and GA (who specialize in long-range hunting rifles built to your specification), or the more military type from Accuracy International, Cadex Defence, Surgeon, Barrett, Blaser, Steyr, and many more.
The options are vast, and as usual with any large purchase, taking time to try out what you can, and asking questions at your local club, dealer or in Facebook groups help with making the right decision. The time-honored saying of “you get what you pay for” generally applies here as does “measure twice and cut once.”
Get the very best you can afford, especially with the optic (you usually want to spend more on tour optic than your rifle), to avoid having to trade up later. You would also do well to consider your “mission” and therefore what caliber rifle you need (hunting, target or match) before you go shopping.
In the end, you need a heavy-barreled rifle with a good trigger, bipod and quality stock, plus a good quality higher magnification scope to get started. You will also need high quality “match” ammunition, and few more optional tools, like a rangefinder, wind meter, and spotting scope, that we will cover in detail later in the course.
Long range shooting is indeed costlier than a basic hunting or target setup but is also accessible to most shooters with a reasonable budget. For as little as $3000, you can put together a “system” (rifle, scope, bipod, range finder, wind meter, cleaning kit, and accessories) capable of nailing long-range targets out past 1000 yards, using quality ammunition.
Takeaway: Don’t get caught in the equipment race.
No amount of money or equipment will buy you a spot in the winners’ circle. Buy the best equipment you can afford, find a good load for it and go practice your technique at short-range. A lot. Once you’re consistently hitting the mark at 100 yards and shooting single ragged hole groups, then it’s time to try longer ranges. Guess what the wind is doing and take a shot. Observe what happened and record that information for later use. Now rinse and repeat. Often.
So many people think it’s about the amount of money they’ve spent. In reality, it’s about the amount of time they’ve spent practicing.
What is the biggest issue when switching up to shooting long-range?
By far the hardest part of the switch is learning how to read and compensate for the effects of the wind (and other environmental factors). Wind is the big equalizer. Those that are good at reading and making changes to their shots for it are by far the best long-range shooters – even with inferior equipment. They will outshoot those not as experienced or skilled in wind reading.
Learning how to read the wind can’t be easily taught. It’s the one thing that needs lots of in-the-field experience and personal trial and error. Once you master reading the wind, you’ll be on your way to being an excellent long-range shooter.
This post really just scratches the surface, briefly hitting the high spots. Look for more on these topics in detail in future posts.
For more useful tips and learning resources visit https://www.longrangeshootingbooks.com/.