Learning to Shoot Long Distance

Learning to Shoot Long Distance

By C. Terrell Prudé, Jr.
July 27, 2015

5-inch group at 900 yards The ammo used to do it

Howdy folks, "Cowboy T" here, San Francisco Liberal With A Gun!

See those pictures up there? Wouldn't you like to be able to do that at long distance?

Recently I took a long-range shooting class put out by the folks at BangSteel.com. According to them, they can have you ringing a 18x24" steel target reliably out to 1,000 yards and even farther, even if you've never shot that kind of distance before. In their words, "you can successfully engage targets at 1000 yards with a rifle you may have purchased at Walmart." That sounded like quite the claim, there.

So, I decided to find out if that's true.

I'm a very good test case for this, as it happens. First, I am a firearms enthusiast. Second, I've never done anything like this before; up to then, the farthest I'd ever shot was 50 yards. Third, I'm naturally inquisitive and curious and enjoy a new challenge.

And finally, as a social Liberal, I do believe, and must believe, in the entire Bill of Rights, most certainly including the Second Amendment to our Constitution.

It's a right, not a privilege. It never has been about "hunters and sportsmen" as some of our politicians today like to claim. Remember that.

But since we are talking (primarily) about hunting game animals here, some might say, "hey, typical 'deer hunting' distances on the East Coast are in the neighborhood of 100 yards! Why should you want to learn how to shoot accurately at ten times that distance?"

Fair question. Here's my answer.

Well, it's the same reason that runners wear ankle weights when training. If you can score a hit at 1,000, you can score a hit at 100 with ease. As anybody who's good at what they do will tell you, there's no such thing as "overtraining". Also, the Appleseed folks have pointed out that an American Rifleman back in the day could hit "a man-sized target with iron sights at 500 yards." I thought, gosh, if that's true, then with telescopic sights, 1,000 should be possible.

And besides, you never know. It is possible that one may indeed find one's self in a "have-to" situation. Let's hope that never happens, but as the Boy Scouts say, "Be Prepared." There's a reason I still practice those Boy Scout knots and such, and when I needed that knowledge, I was sure glad I had it. Same with this.

Besides...sounds like fun! :-)

As it happens, I do have a rifle that I purchased at Walmart, a Ruger American Rifle in .308 Winchester. They had these rifles for $297 at a Black Friday sale. Additionally, I have a Remington 700 ADL--the type with the blind magazine--that I bought for $349. This is the "Varmint" type with the thicker and heavier 26" barrel. Since both are budget rifles from reputable companies, I felt that they would be good tests of BangSteel's claim.

They make some suggestions as to how to equip one's rifle for the class. A 15 to 20 MOA riflescope mount, they say, is pretty much mandatory for reaching way out there (I found this to be true). An alternative would be the Burris Signature Series scope rings, the ones with the available shims of 0, 5, 10, and 20 MOA in pretty much any direction you want. Since, as a former Boy Scout, I believe in "Being Prepared", I got both...just in case.

They also suggest that a budget riflescope will work fine for the course. There is, of course, the possibility for some--oh, how did they put it?--ah yes, "pedigreed piece of crap." :-) So, they make several recommendations, based on their experience. I happened to have two scopes in 3-9x40, a Redfield Revolution and a Leupold VX-1. Given Leupold's reputation, I figured both of these were good, solid choices for under $200, shipped. The Redfield went on the Ruger American (the so-called "American Revolution" package), and the Leupold went on the Remington 700.

Here are the gun platforms, in detail. We'll start with the Ruger.

Total cost of the platform: $698.

And now for the Remington.

Total cost of the platform: $738.

Both rifles are bone-stock, no sanding out of the barrel channel, no shimming, no bedding, none of that. Straight off the shelf. Everything on both rifles was torqued to proper specs, and the scope base screws were blue-Loctite'd to prevent slippage. Those mounts weren't going anywhere.

Also note that all of this equipment was brand-spanking-new. Neither rifle had ever been fired outside of the factory. The rings, mounts, bipods, and riflescopes had never been used. I was going into this with totally new gear. And that was the point. Can a newbie learn how to hit a target at 1,000 yards, with gear he just bought, on a budget?

It seems that the answer is, "yes".

A 5" group at 900 yards with a "cheap rifle"

The first thing we did was to get the rifles zeroed in at 100 yards. Since both scopes were new, they still had some "settling in" to do. So, we exercised the windage and elevation adjustments to help smooth things out.

Another thing we found is that even though the Redfield Revolution is rated for 56 MOA total of adjustment—and that this figure is accurate—the scope likes it better if you don't push the elevation adjustment quite to the limit. Specifically, we had a little trouble holding zero consistently at distance. See, to reach way out there, you need to do about 35 to 40 MOA of adjustment from the 100 yard zero, even with a 20 MOA scope base. That puts the internal optics tube very close to, and even possibly touching, the "outer" scope tube (the one you put the rings on). Due to how most riflescopes are constructed, you can see this especially when you need to adjust windage. So, that's why we applied the 10 MOA Burris shims, to give the scope's internals a little "breathing room" that way. From then on, the scope held zero rock-solid.

Interestingly, even though the Leupold VX-1 is rated for only 52 MOA of adjustment, we didn't need to add the 10 MOA Burris shims on the Rem 700. Observed ballistics told us that the bullet was coming out at a higher velocity; the 700 ADL did in fact shoot a little bit flatter. We believe this is because the Federal Gold Match ammo may be just a little warmer than Hornady's Match ammo (we weren't using Superformance), and the extra 4" of barrel compared to the Ruger American probably also helped out a bit. So, we stayed with the 0 (zero) MOA inserts.

The instructors, Dan Newberry and his son, Forrest, taught me how to read the wind by looking at the grass and the tree foliage. They also instructed me on whether the Coriolis Effect (the Earth turning underneath you) matters at all. It does, a tiny bit, but not enough to matter; the biggest challenge is reading the wind with precision. That takes practice, as I found out. Why does that matter? A 5 mph crosswind will push a bullet about 4.5 MOA, which is, for practical purposes, 45" at 1,000 yards. That's almost four feet. You will miss your target if you don't account for the wind; the Coriolis Effect is maybe 2% of this, so it's negligible. Maybe it matters at 2,500 yards, but not at 1,000.

Also, humidity doesn't hardly matter. You can shoot in the rain without significant effect, and since it was a rainy morning, this was demonstrated. But air density does matter, which means air pressure (determined mostly by altitude) and air temperature must be accounted for. Now, this is not negligible, and Dan showed me how to account for that when determining how far to spin the riflescope's dials.

So, once we got the zero going, we checked things at 200 and 300 yards, then back to 100 yards, to verify that the scope's adjustments were tracking properly. They were. This is Leupold we're talking about, after all.

When I started, I didn't know Jack Squat about how to read the wind or hold over for it. But after two days of instruction, both on the range and in the "classroom", I was reliably hitting just over 1 MOA groups, with either rifle platform, no matter how far I shot. My best group was 0.5 MOA at 900 yards, with the Ruger American. With the Remington 700, I hit a just-over-1 MOA group at 1,100 yards. And I feel like I could do it again.

A 14" group at 1,100 yards with another "cheap rifle"
Yes, that is "scope eye" from yesterday--oops

Thanks to Dan, I now have some "truth tables" for both of these rifles with this ammo. It will be neat to see what they will be able to do with a handload tuned for them, and I am in the process of developing those handloads now.

So, given both gun platforms, which would I choose for which task?

Well, the Ruger American is light and handy. It comes to the shoulder pretty quickly for that reason, and you can manoeuver around the woods pretty much all day with it, without too much concern of it getting snagged on something or getting tired from its weight. I can run with it if I have to. But because of that, it does have more recoil than the "Varmint Barrel" style rifles. It's not what I personally would call objectionable, but it's worth noting, especially for new shooters. But boy, can this rifle shoot. In a woodland hunting situation or a "have to grab something NOW" situation, I'd probably take the Ruger.

The Rem 700 ADL Varmint is not as light, not as handy, and thus easier to shoot and get back on the target. I wouldn't want to have to tote it all across the woods. Being as tall as I am (I'm a pretty big guy), the barrel length wouldn't be objectionable, but most people aren't nearly 2 metres tall! So, that's probably a concern for shorter folks. Additionally, you will start feeling that weight after a while if you're traipsing through the woods with it. But...if I were to teach someone long-range riflery, I'd pick the 700 ADL Varmint every time, precisely for that reason. The extra weight makes it a pleasure to shoot all day. It's like going from a light-weight Honda Civic to a Mercedes E-class in that respect.

I also need to point out the advantages of hold-over points on some modern riflescopes. Many hunters prefer the traditional Duplex reticle, and it has worked very well for decades. Probably millions of game animals have fallen to hunters using the Duplex reticles. Even at distance, you can get the job done with one. But it is easier to do more precise holdover if you've got a reticle with holdover points, like the Accu-Range reticle or similar. Mil-dots will also give you that functionality. So, for distance work, having compared traditional duplex to a slightly "busier" reticle, I'll take the sightly "busier" reticle.

"But Cowboy T, what about the Nightforce, Schmidt & Bender, US Optics, and Swarovski gear? What about the custom actions from Surgeon and the Krieger barrels, bedded in McMillian riflestocks and Accuracy International chassis? Are you knocking that gear?"

Ay caramba...yes, I've actually had people ask me that! So, let's address that now.

The answer to that assumption is an emphatic, "NO, I would NEVER knock such gear; it's very good stuff." If you can afford it, go for it! But remember, we're talking about a distance hunting setup here. Neither of the setups described here will ever win a "Tactical Match" competition or anything like it. That's not the purpose, nor the point. Rather, the point is to be able to hunt and make ethical shots on game animals at a distance, if you need to, with off-the-shelf gear available to most people, i. e. practical riflery. Emphasis on the word, "practical" here. And learning how to do that was accomplished here.

The biggest challenge, again, was learning how to read the wind. Elevation, that's actually pretty easy. It's a matter of practice. When you're out and about, one good thing to do is to just watch the wind, watch the grass and the trees, and see how well you can gauge the windspeed.

I am now a member of the 1,000 Yard Club. :-) And if I can do it, you can do it. Remember, all of this was accomplished with "budget" gear. This is stuff you can find in just about any gun store. So, if you've been thinking about it and thought you had to spend megabucks to do it, you don't. It is actually affordable, so give it a try and see what you think of it. You may be pleasantly surprised, just as I was.

Safe shootin'!

- T

Copyright (C) 2015 by C. Terrell Prudé, Jr.
Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium without royalty provided this notice is preserved.

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