As firearm and ammunition costs have skyrocketed recently and once-common items have become… uncommon, accomplishing anything related to shooting is now extremely difficult. This is especially true for something that was already not particularly cheap. Case in point: precision rifle shooting, or long-range rifle shooting.
Long range shooting is fun. You should try it sometime.
Of course, “long range” is a relative term. If you rarely shoot your AR-15 past 25 yards, then hitting something at 300 might seem like a daunting obstacle. At the other end of the spectrum, guys shooting .375 CheyTac practically need satellite imagery to hit targets at the extreme end of their maximum effective range.
For the purposes of this article, I’ll cover shooting out to 600 yards, which is enough of a challenge to keep seasoned shooters on their toes without being too difficult for a new shooter to consider. As I occasionally shoot at informal 600 yard shooting matches near my home, this is a topic with which I am somewhat familiar. You might not want to enter matches any time soon, but you might still be interested in “going the distance.”Â What follows are a few things I’ve learned along the way which might be helpful to those looking to start shooting farther than they’re used to.
1) You Might Have What You Need Already
While most matches are won with accurate rifles, they are more importantly won by skilled shooters.
Almost any rifle capable of propelling a bullet past supersonic speeds at your desired range is suitable for entry level practice or matches. At 600 yards, that means your dad’s old hunting rifle or even that M4 Carbine clone you paid too much for will do the job.
This Ishapore Enfield in .308 proved to be more than accurate/precise enough for informal 600 yard shoots.
If you were looking to use long range shooting as an excuse to buy a cool new rifle, hey, don’t let me stop you. But if you take that money and invest it in range time, ammunition, and so on, it’s my personal opinion that you’ll be far better off – and you’ll have more experience with which to make purchasing decisions for the future.
2) Be Flexible
You might not have anything really suitable for long-range shooting right now. That’s okay. You have a lot of options! Of course, each one of these options has its proponents and detractors. Everyone loves to argue in favor of their pet rifle or cartridge.
As I said above, if the projectile fired by the rifle you’re looking at remains supersonic well past the distance at which you want to shoot, it’s at least capable of getting you started. Some are better than others, obviously, and it’s best to choose something that’s intended for maintaining accuracy and velocity at extreme ranges.Â For long range shooting, strongly consider getting a rifle with a fast rate of twist for a given caliber. That will enable you to use the largest range of projectiles. If you’re not sure what that means, see point 4.
However, some very suitable candidates may not be immediately obvious.Â Conversely, the most obvious choices may not be suitable for you – for example, due to ammunition availability issues.
.260 Rem offers low recoil and exceptional external ballistics, but good luck finding it on the shelf at Walmart.
Â I like my .260 Rem and 6.5 Creedmoor rifles because they’re eminently suited to the task, but it’s sure a lot easier to find ammo for my .30-06. When I’m really serious about a match, I’ll take the time and spend the money to prepare accordingly. But if I’m just looking to maintain proficiency and/or have fun, I won’t hesitate to use surplus or bulk-grade ammunition in less-than-ideal rifles.
Others might be overkill. You could use a .338 Lapua to snipe midgets on other continents, but many matches prohibit such beasts for reasons of muzzle blast and additional damage to targets – not to mention that you won’t be shooting nearly as much at $4 a round.
Some have a lot of data or good factory loads, but aren’t ideal from a ballistic sense. One of the most popular cartridges for 600 yard shooting is .308, and there are plenty of known good .308 handload “recipes,” as well as a number of super-accurate factory ammunition SKUs. But .308 drops a lot more than some of the 6.5s or the more powerful .30 cartridges like .300 Win Mag, and it’s one of the first cartridges to sell out when there’s a whiff of panic in the air.
What I’m getting at is that each and every one of these cartridges is capable of “getting it done.” Try to avoid making a hard decision to include or exclude certain rifles/cartridges until you look at what’s available and affordable for you.
On that note, keep your mind open when it comes to rifles, too. I’ve had excellent results with rifles from a variety of manufacturers, including Remington, Savage, Tikka, and Weatherby. And some of my most accurate out-of-the-box rifles have been very inexpensive, such as the Tikka T3s, Weatherby Vanguards, and Savage Trophy Hunters.
Another thing to consider is that some people might be looking to unload good bolt action rifles as they switch to semi autos for long range shooting or as they try to buy ARs before they think they’ll be banned. So keep an eye out for good used rifles.
3) If You Spend Too Much Money On Anything, Make It Ammunition
There are a number of ways to approach the purchase of ammunition for long range shooting. The competition-oriented stuff will shoot flatter, farther, and with less wind drift than Walmart-grade soft point hunting ammo or 5.56mm M855, but a rifle and ammo combination mechanically capable of maintaining 3 MOA is more than enough to stay entirely on the black, or center of the target, if you do your part.
Of course, if you can get your hands on match ammunition for your particular firearm, you would be well-advised to do so. A quality rifle will shoot much more consistently with good ammunition than it will with mass-produced bulk ammunition. Examples of what I use when I shoot factory ammo include Federal Gold Medal Match and Hornady Match, as well as HSM ammunition loaded with Berger bullets.
Match ammo lives up to its name – but at $1 per shot or more, you’d be better off not wasting it.
However, if you pay too much for match ammo, you won’t shoot as much – so you won’t be able to maintain proficiency. Chances are that a thrown shot on your part will drop your score more than a slightly higher variation in muzzle velocity.
To that end, buy a lot of ammo when it’s available at a price you can afford. I’ve made a lot of purchases I regret – none of them involve ammunition, with the exception of poor-quality surplus ammo from third-world countries that ended up being unsafe to shoot.
Of course, this article would not be complete without a mention of reloading/handloading. I wholeheartedly recommend getting in to handloading, but right now, components are in extremely short supply. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t piece together what you can to get started, but unlike years past, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to start handloading in a short period of time. In the meantime, make sure you save all of your factory brass.
Â 4) Study Ballistics
Knowledge of a topic will help you make the right purchasing decisions. And since a lot of long range shooting involves a bullet flying through the air, you should learn about how bullets fly through the air.
.338 Lapua ballistics chart
There have been more recent books on the topic, but one of my favorites isÂ The Bullet’s Flight From Powder To Target, which covers a lot of information about internal and external ballistics. The author conducted a lot of studies and experiments and then wrote a book about them. Although it was published over a century ago, physics hasn’t changed much since then.
Another great (and free!) resource is Fr. Frog’s page on external ballistics. Once you’ve learned a bit about the topic, you can use the JBM ballistic calculatorÂ to estimate the trajectory and wind drift of your chosen cartridge, provided you know things such as ballistic coefficient and muzzle velocity.
5) Shoot .22LR, But Do So Wisely
The most effective way to shoot smaller groups is to become more proficient at rifle shooting. If you have no formal or quality informal marksmanship training to use as a basis for skills development, see if there’s an Appleseed shoot in your area. Outside of the US or in areas where those shoots may not be frequent, try to find a range where precision rifle shoots are held and see if the range officers or competitors know someone willing to observe your shooting and offer tips for improvement.
.22LR rifles come in all shapes and sizes, but very few are unsuitable for marksmanship practice.
A common method for new or old shooters to improve skills involves the use of .22LR. Although it’s hard to find at the moment, and I wouldn’t recommend paying exorbitant prices for it, this is the method I use when I can’t or don’t want to shoot centerfire. That said, I don’t blast through as much .22 as I can whenever I feel like it. My most effective shooting trips generally involve firing 50 to 100 rounds in a deliberate manner. Once round counts start to reach into the hundreds, I feel that I reach a point of diminishing returns.
If you’ve been thinking about getting in to long range shooting, don’t let current prices scare you. Give some thought to exactly what you want to accomplish, research the topic, and then go have fun.