While shooting is, at some level, an instinctual art, that all changes when you factor in longer ranges. At that point you can’t ignore instincts but data and mathematics take over. It becomes a world of precision where you have to remove every variable. For that, we are going to need a few things.
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The first and most important tool for long range shooting is the rifle. Let’s face it, there are some rifles that just aren’t up to snuff when it comes to those 500, 800, and 1000 yard shots. This isn’t a time when you can pick up any rifle and hope for the best. Precision rifles are designed to prevent error and fluctuation in point of aim. Start here and you have a good foundation to build off of.
There are a number of production rifles at reasonable prices that can do the job. The Remington 700 is a classic in this department. If you step up the price, rifles from Bergara are a perfect starting option. You can spend what you like with McMillian, Accuracy International and other near-custom manufacturers or just go for a custom rifle. Just be aware that the price steps up steeply as you get into the custom guns.
Long Range Scope
Just as with your rifle, not every scope is a long range scope. Sure, any of them can extend your range a little but if you want accuracy over distance, it needs to be a quality, precise tool. It can’t have any slop and must hold its zero no matter what. The general rule is that a scope will cost more than the rifle you put it on. This isn’t always true but it does help you to figure out the expenses involved.
There are a number of companies that produce quality scopes from old favorites like Nikon and Leupold to the new comers like Nightforce and Vortex. Those aren’t an exhaustive list. There are plenty of scopes that can do the job. Just be mindful that it has a ranging reticle, turret adjustments, and is shockproof. Those are minimums. Having something waterproof that is made to exacting specs with good quality control will only make your life easier.
Can’t shoot without bullets and guess what? Not all ammo is suitable for long range shooting. Remember that accuracy is always a result of removing variables. One of the biggest variables in the action of the shot is the bullet. It needs to have a consistent speed and cross section or the point of impact will never be good enough to get a firm zero off of. For this, you need something a little better than the white box they sell at the local big box store.
Most serious long range shooters load their own ammo to remove any chances of error. While this is a great idea and a rewarding hobby, it isn’t necessary. Especially when you are fist starting. There are plenty of options for match grade ammo that you can buy off the shelf. It’s costly but it’s worth it. Just remember to try a few different types before you decide on one and then stick with that ammo. Some rifles will slightly prefer different weights and loads so get a good mix until you find what works for you.
While it is possible to get by without a spotting scope, they will make many of the processes you do so much more efficient. This starts at sighting in but will be helpful for a variety of things as you progress in the long range art. The biggest use will always be noting impact locations versus point of aim. This can help you walk in tricky shots or get your first zero.
When you look for a spotting scope, you will notice a wide variety of prices for scopes that look similar. The primary thing you are going to need is optical clarity. This is more important than even the power of the scope. As you magnify the amount that some spotting scopes do, you will magnify the imperfections in the optic system. Vortex makes a good low end scope while the Nikons and Leupolds have always had an excellent reputation.
Though you should learn to range through your reticle, doing so is an art all its own. Starting out having a rangefinder is a definite advantage and can be a learning tool. Try to range through your reticle and then go to the rangefinder to confirm your estimates. This will be invaluable as you grow as a shooter.
Then there are the times where you don’t have time to do the math to get a range through your reticle. This is common with hunters who may have a short window to make their shot. A long range shooting rangefinder is far quicker than manual methods. For the price these run, it’s a worthy investment.
When you shop for a rangefinder, make sure you get one specific to shooting. There are models that are universal as well as models intended for golf. You want one tailored to the long range rifle shooter. They have features and built in calculations that can be very helpful.
No matter what you do, some variables can never be removed. They can even be challenging to compensate for. While range is a simple math equation, wind is the true challenge of the long range shooter. Not only is it hard to read but it can change quickly and even move in different directions along the course of your shot. Learning to read wing is HARD.
To help with that, there are plenty of pocket anemometers that will read the wind at your location. This at least gives you a baseline for what you are seeing along the path your bullet will take. Kestrel has long been the favorite but there are many other companies making these helpful devices. Some have built in ballistic calculations but a standard model will often work for most people. Leave the bullet calculations to the actual calculator.
While many people glorify shooting off a bipod, it really isn’t the way to go. In many long range competitions you will never see one used. Instead opt for a sandbag. Sure, it’s heavier to pack around but you will be thankful for the extra stability they provide. They are also very cost effective and available. You can get a cheap one from many big box and shooting stores that will last for years.
You don’t need anything special. You can even make your own. My first one was made from a cut off cushion and some rice. Now you can get one for less than $20.00 that will work wonders.
The last specific item I would recommend is a good shooting log or data book. The term often used is Data on Previous Engagements or DOPE. This is good to record so you always have a solid foundation to build off of. Maybe your rifle shoots a little off when it’s colder outside. Maybe heat causes the wood stock to swell. Maybe your ammo isn’t quite up to snuff. This is the detective tool to figuring out those problems.
If long range shooting is removing variables through examining data, this is the data. It’s all about your rifle, your setup, and your shot. It has everything you need to figure out how to be a better shooter and then, when you are better, what you need to do exactly to hit your mark. Many shooters go without these tools and it is often to their own detriment.
While the above list is fairly comprehensive to the long range shooter, it does not cover any gear that is general to shooting. You still need safety equipment like eye and ear protection. Good targets are useful. But those are all things you should have or that are readily available. The last two things you are going to need are the hardest. A place to shoot and the right mental attitude. Lose the ego and get to the range. Let your gear show you how to make the shot.