Introduction to Long-range Shooting

Long-range shooting is one of the fastest growing activities in rifle sports today.  While it may seem like a difficult sport to get started in, with proper tools and understanding, hitting long range targets with confidence is not a mystery.  While there is a lot of outdated information available that can be difficult to navigate, regardless of the distance, the fundamentals of long-range shooting don’t change.  The ability to hit a long range target accurately and repeatedly comes down to five fundamental elements:

1) Proper training
2) Precision targeting scope and reticle
3) Accurate ballistic solution
4) Quality match grade ammunition
5) Long-range rifle

These elements are discussed below in order of importance.

1. Training
Regardless if you’re trying to shoot a mile or 300 yards, practice and understanding the variables affecting a long-range shot are crucial.  At long-range, previously unnoticed inaccuracies become magnified so building on proper fundamentals and understanding how and why your system works is imperative.  There are many good books, DVDs, and training courses available that take a comprehensive yet accessible approach to long-range shooting.  Some of the best books and DVDs we recommend include;

Applied Ballistics for Long-range Shooting, Bryan Litz (Book)

Putting Rounds On Target, Bryan Litz (DVD)

Making Long-range Easy, Todd Hodnett (DVD)

2. Targeting Scope & Reticle
The first piece of equipment required for long-range shooting is a quality targeting scope with adjustable Mil or MOA turrets and a targeting reticle.  Don’t underestimate the importance of a quality scope.  This is where the most resources and attention should be spent when first getting into long range shooting.  With little more than a properly employed, quality targeting scope, even a standard hunting rifle can be successful at long ranges.  Important factors include:

• Accurate Adjustments – Turrets that adjust accurately and consistently to move the position of the reticle will dictate a scope’s accuracy.  Internal adjustment will need to be sufficient to reach your intended shooting range.  Reticle selection, whether Mil, MOA, or Horus style is a matter of preference and all Kestrel® Ballistics units will work equally well with each.

• Quality Optics – Luckily for shooters, most large brands today offer lenses of reasonably good quality.  Optical performance differs mostly in clarity at the extremes and in increased durability.

• Magnification – The amount of magnification will depend largely on cost and application.  As a point of reference, military snipers historically trained with 10x fixed magnification and most competitive PRS shooters have mid 20x maximum magnification.

• Focal Plane – In first focal plane scopes the reticle will grow and shrink with the magnification level and reticle measurement spacing will always be accurate.  This is valuable when shooting at variable or unknown distances. In second focal plane scopes, the reticle image is fixed and measurements are only accurate at one magnification level which is more suitable for fixed distance shooting environments.

 

3. Ballistic Solution
The flight path of a bullet can be calculated to a high level of precision by using a ballistics calculator which incorporates the physics of external ballistics, locally measured environmental data and accurate information about the target, gun, and projectile.  Kestrel ballistic weather meters with the Applied Ballistics solver combine all these tasks in one device, providing accurate elevation and windage solutions for any round and in any environment. 

• Ballistics Calculator - Top military and competitive shooters around the world rely on the Applied Ballistics solver because of its advanced mathematical modeling techniques and scientifically measured bullet data.  By employing independently measured air-resistance drag models specific to your bullet, while also accounting for wind, aerodynamic jump, spin drift, Coriolis Effect, muzzle velocity and drop scale factor calibration, the Applied Ballistics solver that runs in every Kestrel Ballistic unit is the standard for long range accuracy.

• Target Information – As distances increase and bullets hit targets while dropping at steeper angles, an accurate range to target becomes increasingly important.  This can be best measured with a laser rangefinder. If a laser rangefinder isn’t available, ranging with a Mil or MOA based reticle or using GPS are secondary alternatives.  Vertical angle and direction of fire have a measureable but typically lesser impact and are also accounted for in the Kestrel.  LiNK® enabled Kestrel units can connect with LiNK compatible laser rangefinders to capture and input this target data quickly and accurately.

• Environmental Data – Reading the wind the most difficult skill for long range shooters to master.  Kestrel meters measure wind speed at the shooting position (the location with the most influence on the flight of the bullet) to within 3% accuracy.  Both pressure and temperature have a large impact on the air’s density and therefore the amount of air drag the bullet experiences.  Temperature also impacts the explosive force of the powder in the cartridge and therefore its velocity. Humidity has a smaller but measureable impact.  Precise ballistics data requires accurate measurement of environmental variables at the time and place where the shot is taken.  As these variable can have significant variation over short distances and change rapidly, Kestrel Ballistic Weather Meters are the ideal tool for capturing these variables in real-time and at the location of the shot. 

• Rifle & Bullet Measurements – The physical characteristics of the bullet itself and the specifications of the rifle it was fired from also have a large impact on the flight of the bullet and its point of impact.  Most notably, the bullets BC or Ballistic Coefficient is a measure of how well the bullet resists air drag.  The Applied Ballistics bullet library contains independently measured ballistics data for over 500 bullets.

4. Match Grade Ammunition
Accuracy at long rage can also be improved through ammunition selection.  In addition to providing consistent muzzle velocity, the bullets used in match grade ammunition provide superior aerodynamic performance, allowing for higher retained velocity, flatter trajectories, and less wind deflection.  Additionally, characteristics of the rifle such as barrel length and seating depth can cause a difference in load performance, so finding a load that the gun “likes” can improve performance.  Caliber selection for long-range shooting is a point of much contention with no clear right or wrong answers, however, below is a short list of cartridges commonly used at each range.  This is not a complete list nor does it define what a bullet is capable of, simply what is commonly used.

0 ~ 600 Yards  - .223, .270,  30-06

0 ~ 1000 Yards - .308

0 ~ 1500 Yards – 6mm, 6.5mm, 7mm, 300 WM

0 ~ 2000 Yards - .338 Lapua, 50 BMG

5. Long-range Rifle
The precision of a rifle is measured by how tight a grouping it can shoot, often expressed as the MOA it can hold.  MOA (minute of angle) is an angle measurement that can be roughly simplified to one MOA = one inch for every 100 yards of distance, so a one MOA rifle can shoot a one inch grouping at 100 yards, 5 inch group at 500 yards, and 10 inch group at 1000 yards.  Many common hunting rifles can shoot one MOA groups without modification, which can be sufficient to begin shooting at long range, however, more accuracy is always desirable.  There are many modifications that can further increase accuracy by increasing rigidity and consistency and/or making the rifle easier or more comfortable to shoot.

• Bipod, Sand Sock, Pillows, Sling – These accessories help provide a stable shooting platform.  Selection will depend on the type of shooting being done.

• Match Grade Trigger – An adjustable match grade trigger with 1.5-3 lb pull weight and crisp break helps shooters maintain even trigger pull and reduce muscle tensing in anticipation of recoil.

• Match Grade Optic Mounts – Quality scope mounts keep the scope from moving under heavy recoil.  Angled scope rails allow scopes to use more of their internal adjustment range and reach longer distances.

• Precision Stock – Adjustments to stock cheek height and length may be necessary to provide correct and consistent shooter positioning and eye alignment through the center of the scope.

• Free Floating Barrel – Eliminating contact points between the barrel and stock eliminates outside influences and changes to barrel harmonics from shot to shot, (similar to a tuning fork).

• Bedded/Glassed Action – Creating a perfect fit between the action and the stock increases rigidity and maintains proper alignment.

• Match Grade Barrel – Often called a heavy or bull barrel, a thicker barrel is more rigid, reducing the amount of barrel vibration and uneven flexing as the barrel heats.  Added barrel weight also helps absorb recoil force.

About the Author:
As the leader in ballistic weather meters, Kestrel has partnered with pioneers and thought-leaders in long-range shooting to offer improved solutions and accessible information to the growing community of long-range shooters.  As part of this effort, the team at Kestrel has worked hard to learn the components and mechanics of long-range shooting themselves.  Kestrel Sr. Product Manager Austin Wilcox wrote this piece in consultation with our partners and friends in long-range shooting in an effort to share some of that knowledge.

For more information on wind measurement and long-range shooting, click here

For more information on sources of inaccuracy in long-range shooting, click here

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