Long distance shooting is up on your to-do list once you are a gun carrier, so check out these tips if you're on your way!
In this article:
- The Basics: Long-range Shooting for Beginners
- The Right and Best Equipment for Long Distance Shooting
- Importance of Choosing the Right Long Range Ammo
- Types of Ammunition
Long Distance Shooting and Your Best Rifle and Scope
The Basics: Long-range Shooting for Beginners
The release of the movie American Sniper, which chronicles the life and death of a true American hero Chris Kyle, as well as movies like Shooter, Sniper or TV shows like NCIS LA, raised the interest in long-distance precision shooting.
In this article, we will look at the skills and tools you need to make that 1000 yard shot. While I’ve been shooting for some time I’m not an expert shot by any means.
So to get a better understanding of what it takes to shoot long distance, I attended a course given by Nathan Charlton of Hellsgate Tactical. Under Nathan’s tutelage, I was able to make hits on an 18” x 18” target at 995 yards, nearly twice the distance as my longest shot previous to taking the class.
Since taking the class and lots of shooting later the longest shot I’ve made is just over 2000 yards. This shot was made using a Barrett M82 weapons system chambered in .416 Barrett.
This is a $25,000 weapon and in this article, we’ll show you the basics that will get you started in the long distance shooting world for a lot less than that.
The Right and Best Equipment for Long Distance Shooting
In long range shooting or any type of shooting for that matter, there is accurate fire and precise fire. Accurate is hitting your target and precise is hitting the same spot on the target.
The goal, of course, is to be both accurate and precise, and to do that you need the right long-range shooting equipment.
For most of us when choosing equipment cost is a factor, when equipping yourself for long range shooting it’s very easy to spend a lot of money very quickly.
While the temptation for a new shooter is to buy the biggest gun you can get and the most powerful rifle scope on the market but the reality is that is not the best way to go. When choosing a rifle the first question to ask is how far do you want to shoot and what will you be shooting at.
If you are going to shoot steel plates at 1000 yards, then a .308 caliber will work just fine. But if that steel plate is at 2000 yards or more, then something like a .338 Lapua or .416 Barrett is the way to go.
The downside to that is they are a very expensive round with match grade rounds $100 for 10 rounds. Finally, unless you intend to shoot a steel plate that’s inside a ballistic protected vehicle, like a tank, you really don’t need a rifle in .50 BMG.
2. Quality Over Cost
In reality, most shots you will need to make are in the 100 – 500-yard range. To put that in perspective, 500 yards is 1500 feet; the Empire State Building is 1250 feet and a ¼ mile drag strip is 1320 feet.
Your long-range shooting rifles need to be reliable, accurate and precise, and a caliber that is in common use today. For me, that is .308 Remington (7.62 x 51). I chose this caliber for a number of reasons.
The most important being that it is in use by the armed forces around the world and is extremely common in the civilian world as well. My weapon of choice in .308 is a DPMS LR-308, this is a semi-auto rifle based on the AR-15/M-16 platform.
I’ve discussed this weapon in another article so I won’t go into too many details here, but this is the rifle I used in Nathan’s class to make that shot at 995 yards.
Keep in mind that this is not an inexpensive weapon, current MSRP is $1200 and the used market running 3 times that. There are quite a few rifles that come in an easy to find caliber at a reasonable price so choose wisely.
Now that you have picked a weapon, the next item is the long range rifle scopes.
There are a lot of options out there ranging in price from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars. In the past, I’ve picked the scope with the largest objective lens and the most zoom and of course the cheapest I could find.
So I was pretty surprised when Nathan recommended a fixed 10 power scope with a 40 mm objective lens. I was pretty skeptical that I could even see a target a 1000 yards with 10x scope much less hit it.
The scope that I purchased was a Bushnell 3200 Elite tactical at $199. It has a 1” tube with turret adjustments for windage and elevation and features a Mil-Dot reticle. This scope is built like a tank and can easily handle the recoil shock of the .308 round.
But why a Mil-Dot instead of a Minute of Angle (MOA) or Bullet Drop Compensator (BDC), or any one of a dozen other reticule styles? The Mil-Dot reticle is primarily used for range finding, by using the known grid of the reticle at an unknown distance to estimate the distance to a target.
The Mil-Dots on the reticle can be set up as aiming points to compensate for holdover and wind drift. Mil-Dot scopes are set up to range find at specific magnification, as are the Bushnell scopes. However, some scopes can be used for range finding at whatever particular magnification the manufacturer has set the scope up for.
But every Mil-Dot scope has to be set at a specific magnification when you are using the reticle to estimate range. It’s really pretty simple, but it will require some math or an app on your smartphone or PDA that does the math for you.
The Mil-Dot reticle seen here consists of a series of dots or hash marks. The distance between the centers of 2 dots is fixed at a specific magnification and distance.
That spacing known as a Mil is 3.6 inches at 100 yards. 1 Mil at 100 yards is 3.6 inches or 1/10th of what it is at 1,000 yards (1/10th of 36 inches). Or 36 inches at 1000 yards, at 200, 300, 400, etc… it is 2/10, 3/10, 4/10, etc.
If you know the size in inches of a target, you can tell how far it is by the number of mil-dot increments it spans in your scope. Looking through the scope at a target 100 yards away, the distance between centers of two mil dots is 3.6 inches.
If you figure the chest of a deer or antelope to be 18 inches high, at 100 yards the number of Mil dots it spans is 18 ÷ 3.6 = 5 Mil Dots. So, if you look at a deer through the scope and the chest spans 5 Mil Dots, that deer is 100 yards away.
If the chest spans 2.5 Mil Dots, then the deer is 200 yards away. The formula for figuring this is Height of item in inches x 27.8 (25.4)/Mils read = Distance to target in yards (meters).
5. Target Distance
Here is an example; the average human head is about 9 inches in height, so during the Zombie Apocalypse when you place your Mil-Dot scope on that zombie out there and it spans 1 mil, or 9 x 27.8/1 = 250 yards.
Knowing the distance to a target is very important at long ranges, this form of distance measurement must be precise to the nearest ½ Mil or you will miss the target.
For example, if the zombie looks to be 1½ Mils, it is 1333 yards away. But if it is 2 Mils, then it’s 1000 yards away. So you can see an error could result in a miss of 333 yards.
We will get into how to use this information in a later section.
Now you have your rifle and scope you’re ready to go shoot, well not quite. There are a number of other items that you need to make that shot at 1000 yards.
First, you need a stable shooting platform, which means a Bi-pod, sandbag or a pack that can be used as the front rest. You will also need a small bag you can use as a rearrest.
This also means shooting from a prone position whenever possible. When in the field you will want some sort of mat or drag bag.
You are also going to need some sort of system that gives you the current weather conditions, such as a Kestrel. In addition to all of this gear, you are going to want a ballistics calculator.
There are plenty available for your smartphone. I’ve been using Bullet Flight by Knights Armament and it seems pretty accurate.
Importance of Choosing the Right Long Range Ammo
One of the most important parts of precision shooting is the ammunition that you use. All ammunition is not equally made.
There is a bewildering variety of available ammunition types, but it can be broken down into two main types. What I call field grade and match grade.
Field grade is massed produced and each round can vary from the next enough to cause a miss at long ranges. Match grade can also be mass produced but each round is as close to the next as possible to ensure consistency.
With the ammunition shortage, you will have to shoot with whatever you can find. However, it is important to understand how these differences can affect your shot, and what types of rounds you should choose when selecting ammunition to shoot.
The two rounds that I have chosen as examples are the 150gr FMJ and 168gr A-MAX Ultra Match, both in .308 Winchester. Both of these are loaded by Beck Ammunition in Fort Worth Texas.
I used their 168gr A-MAX round while shooting at Nathan Charlton’s class. Beck Ammunition provides ballistic data sheets for their ammunition and most manufacturers put some of the basic data on the box the ammunition comes in.
This data are a must have when using a ballistic calculator. The two most important bits of information from this data is the Ballistic Coefficient of the bullet and the Muzzle Velocity of the round.
Types of Ammunition
Below are examples of the data for the two rounds.
As you can see there is a significant difference between the two rounds at 500 yards, and for reference, I’ve shown the data for the A-MAX round at 1000 yards. The differences in performance of the round will cause completely different shooting solutions for the same target at the same distance.
There are lots of information available online and in lots of books, one of the best is Applied Ballistics For Long-Range Shooting by Bryan Litz, containing loads of information that will be helpful.
This video from Field & Stream will show you the 10 steps for hitting at long range:
Long distance shooting seems badass on film but it takes some practice and the right gun and ammo which suits your needs. These long-range shooting tips and insights will provide you with the guide to get you started or make the best choice when it comes to your guns and ammo.
Training for long distance shooting? How would you rate your experience? Tell us all about it in the comments section below!
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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on May 20, 2015, and has been updated for quality and relevancy.