Long Range Shooting: A Brief Primer

It is not the intent of this article to turn you into a professional caliber long-range marksman.  Any article that proposes to do that is straight up BS. It can’t be done. You do need some knowledge as well as a significant investment of time and money inadequate gear in order to be a good long-range shot.  This is just a brief primer on what to do to get started.

Before we go into that, this needs to be said:  Forget everything you ever saw on TV about snipers or long range shooting.  There is way more myth than reality in the Movies as you should well know but I see so many people quoting movie characters when it comes to long-range ballistics.  Any of the Sniper series of movies, Shooter, and American Sniper may be decent movies that at best misunderstand long range shooting and at worst, they are straight up wrong about it.

Long range shooting is hard enough without adding to it.

The whole truth is that you only need two things to be accurate over long range; knowledge and consistency.  That’s it, everything you need right there.

Think of it this way; if you had a laser that you knew would shoot perfectly straight from where you were to your target and you knew how to fire it consistently without throwing off the beam, you could point it at a target and it would hit exactly where you pointed it every time.

But we have these nasty little things called variables that muck things up and that’s where we will start.

Consistency

For a good definition of consistency for our purposes, let’s define it as:  The educated reduction of the effects of variables. What variables? Probably too many to name but let’s give it a go anyway. Starting at the top with equipment because its something we all love.

Selecting a scope is the first thing we need to do to make sure we have consistency.  The zero of the scope can’t change so it is always aligned with the barrel in exactly the same way when at the same settings.   You need a good long range optic , good rings, and good mounts to make sure you are consistent.  These can be purchased off the shelf so consistency isn’t hard to achieve here.

The next is the rifle and it’s a little more complicated.  The bullet needs to leave the rifle as close to the exact same way every time.  That means a good bore, good barrel, and that a round of ammunition fits into the breach the same way every time.  As you tighten up these three variables, price goes up. A decent rifle may be $700 but a great rifle could be $4000 or more.  As price goes up, the benefits get smaller and smaller and only you know how much consistency you want or need.

The final piece of gear is the ammunition.  There is a lot to control here and its about the hardest of the gear choices to control.  Some shooters use specific brands, models, and even batches of ammunition while others reload so they can further control the variables.  You need the same energy, weight, and shape of bullet. Getting there is an art all to itself but one to look into if you get serious.

Those variables are the easy ones to overcome because you can do so with money.  The rest of the variables take a lot more work if you want to get the consistency you desire.  The next step is to get yourself consistent.

You need to learn to do every part of your job when it comes to the shot as close as you can to the same way every time.  That means that the rifle needs to be positioned the same way, your eye needs to be the same distance from the scope, your angles need to be the same, and your trigger pull is vital in the recipe for consistency.

That covers a whole lot in a paragraph and may make it look easy but just like price in guns, it takes more to move from good to great that it does to move from decent to good.  You can start with very little skill and become a good shooter in a few months. Becoming a great shooter will take years.

The final set of variables are environmental and you can’t control those to get consistent.  This is where knowledge comes in.

Knowledge

The first part of knowledge is what we have covered above.  You have to know what to get and more importantly, how to use it properly.  After that, it gets into a part of the real fun of long range shooting and that is learning how your rifle setup behaves with the same ammo under different conditions.

What conditions?  Distance is the usual number one but also wind, temperature, and humidity are important factors.  Understand them and record them with every shot you take. You need a shooting long and one that is comprehensive.

I use a log that is made for one rifle and has sections if I use different ammunition out of it, each ammo will have its own section.  For each bullet, I record the load and for each day I record the temperature and humidity. Each round I track wind speed and distance as close as I can then record where the shot fell on the target and if I felt like I pulled the shot or otherwise affected its path.

Over time and dozens if not hundreds of shots, you begin to see trends and be able to predict how far your bullet will drop at 775 yards with a 4 mph wind on an 85-degree day with 60% humidity.  That’s knowledge and it leads to: Consistency.

If you can nail down all of these factors, you will become a great long-range shooter.

 

Guest post by Eric Patton

Eric grew up hunting, fishing, and roaming the hills of the Easter U.S. and has dedicated himself to becoming a well-rounded outdoorsman.  Anytime there is an opportunity for a little fishing or a morning spent hunting, you will find him in the woods. In his off time, he teaches a variety of outdoor skills including land navigation and basic survival.  Recently a Search and Rescue member, he has begun learning the ancient art of human tracking in a variety of terrains.

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