How to get started in long range shooting
So you want to get started in long range rifle shooting? Congratulations, you have picked a hobby that makes up one of the fastest growing sports in the US and in my opinion is one of the most enjoyable.
This is for a reason. It's a ton of fun to calculate your strategy for making contact with a target that is waaaaay out there, execute all of the fundamentals correctly, squeeze that trigger, then see the target react as impact is made. It sounds really easy but it is definitely not. If it were, everyone in the military would be classified as a world class sniper.
We won't get into here what it takes to be a sniper in the miitary but I can tell you that it requires much more than just being able to connect with a rifle at long range.
With that said, most people can learn to be successful at long range shooting. There are videos all over youtube showing 12 year old, or younger, kids connecting at 700 yards using their dad's big bore custom rifle.
What they don't tell you is their dad or mom, built the rifle for accuracy, invested a small fortune in doing so, developed the best load, reloaded the ammo, calculated hold over, made the wind call, and made dope adjustments on the scope. The parent probably also spent a great deal of time coaching the kid on the proper shooting fundamentals and the young person with no experience managed to connect at least once.
Not to take anything away from kids or anyone who connects at long range. My point is to communicate to you that there is a lot more that goes into being successful at long range shooting than just executing the shot.
So what are those things? What is the quickest and most effective path to becoming a very good long range rifle shooter? This is the subject matter of this report. Read on.
Start within your capabilities
Now that you've decided to go full force into long range shooting and just can't wait to hear that "ting" on a metal target at 1000 yards, let's make sure you get started on the correct path.
Let's assume that shooting big bore rifles at 1000 yards and beyond is your goal. You can find a great gunsmith who has been used by some of the pro's nationally or just a good one in your region that has built a name for producing quality rifles. He can coach you through selection of barrel, frame, action, bolt, trigger, etc. Some of the nationally known guys can even deliver a developed load and provide shooting instruction at their own private range.
Many people go this route and can, with the help of the professional, get impacts at 1000 or more yards pretty quickly. The price for this kind of service is usually available for the low price of around $5000 to $15000. Yes, that's one rifle and all of the services described above. Some can even go higher.
Would I go this route? Yes, I have already done it and have a custom rifle, actually a few, to show for it that I can shoot at 1 moa or less at 700 yards. I can't testify to it's accuracy at further ranges because I have never had the opportunity to shoot this rifle at further distances.
When I had this rifle built, I had years of long range shooting experience. The average person, especially a beginner to long range shooting is probably not ready for this kind of investment or challenge.
Even if the investment were made, a the beginner who actually connected several times at 1000 yards and beyond with the coaching of a professional, will quickly discover that the professional will not always be there which will make hits much more of a challenge. The percentage of impacts will quickly go down once they are out on their own. There is much more to learn beyond squeezing the trigger before you can become competent at making contact at extreme distances.
The first time you shoot that custom rifle you will learn that fact after kicking up more dust than hearing target impacts. Now you have made a pretty good size investment, have great equipment, but have no idea how to use it and will have to spend a small fortune, as a beginner, in ammo at two dollars per round, to develop your skills.
I promise I am not trying to turn you off to the hobby of long distance shooting, but I do want you to know exactly what to expect. Becoming competent, even with the best equipment takes time and a lot of practice.
So what is another option to get into this sport without spending the kid's college fund and mortgaging the house? One option, and I believe the best is to start small. Start with rimfire rifles. There are many really good target / longer range rimfires available out of the box from $300 to $1100 or you can build a custom long range rimfire riflestarting from scratch for around $1200.
Savage, Ruger, CZ, Anshutz, Volquartsen, and many others also offer bolt action and semi auto rifles capable of less than 1 moa at 50 yards, all which can do the job at 300 - 400 yards or less and they are entirey affordabe for the average guy.
Another good thing about this option is it is easier to find a place to shoot, especially in the east. There aren't a great many 1000 yard ranges in the east but 200 to 400 yard ranges are abundant. A 100 - 200 yard range can present a decent challenge with tiny little targets like golf balls.
Shooting a rimfire at 300 yards will deliver the same challenge and requires the same skill set as shooting a 308 or 6.5 mm Creedmoor at 1000. Bullet drop is close and wind effect is very close. Believe me, if you can accurately estimate wind hold, drop, and all of the other variables with a rimfire at 300, you can jump to big bore any time you are ready.
Rimfire ammo is also a fraction of the price of the big bore stuff. Depending on the big bore caliber you shoot, you can spend well upwards of a dollar to three dollars per trigger pull. At this writing, 22 caliber bullets can be easily purchased for around 4 cents each and 17 hmr close to 20 cents.
These prices aren't for the top of the line match ammo lines but even they offer a substantial savings over big bore ammo. The remainder of this article will be directed towards those that have decided that long range rimfire is a practical solution to scratch the long range itch.
That doesn't mean that we can't move into big bore PRS matches, or long range big game hunts when ready. It just means that we can have a lot more fun per dollar invested and when we do decide to pick up that big bore, we will be much more effective with it. Probably 90% of my shooting, and I do a lot of it, is with rimfire.
What equipment is needed?
Rifle Of course the first thing you will need is a good rifle. Can you get started with your old stock Ruger 10/22 that belonged to your grand father. Absolutely you can.
The NRL 22 games are set up for a guy just like you to help you get up and going quickly and develop interest in going further before having to drop any money at all. Matches are usually 100 yards or less and all stages will have a different challenge. For more information on these matches click here.
Shooting open sights or a scope at 100 yards can be a lot of fun when the targets are small and present a real challenge. If you don't have a high performance rifle don't let this keep you from getting started. Any shooting will give you a good base to use when / if you decided to go further.
Eventually you will want to look into a higher performance rimfire rifle. There are many on the market now with larger diameter target barrels, performance stocks and chassis, and some really good triggers. The Savage FVSR , for around $300 comes out of the box with their trademarked Accu-trigger which can be adjusted down to around 1.5 lbs of pull. I own several of these and can tell you that even custom triggers you can buy for the 10/22 and other rimfires aren't a lot better than this trigger for rimfires.
There are as many options for customizing a Ruger 10/22 as any other rifle on the market. Most of the custom 10/22s you will see at a match will be built from scratch, or actually started as a stock rifle but all parts are new and none of the original Ruger parts remain. You don't have to be a gunsmith to build a super accurate 10/22. The parts are just basically bolt on or bolt together. The trick is tuning all of these parts to work together for optimum accuracy.
Ruger also has it's own line of bolt action rimfire rifles called the Ruger American. In addition, the Ruger Precision Rimfire may be the best overall buy right now for long range rimfire shooting. It comes completely ready for super precision work. Instead of coming in a normal stock, it comes already mounted to a completely adjustable chassis that can be set up perfectly for any shooter. From the tests I have seen from this rifle it is also a sub moa rifle
I personally love the old Ruger 1230 which is a tactical version with a heavy barrel and overmolded stock. The trigger that comes with it is not bad, especially in the price range of around $500.
If you want to start from scratch and build your own super accurate rimfire, check out the website for Kidd Innovative Designs at coolguyguns.com. They have everything you would ever need for building your own custom 10/22. Volquartsen and Magnum Research offer their own versions of the Ruger 10/22 design. All of these rifles are super accurate right out of the box but can vary substantially in price.
Before buying your first rifle, check out the Lithgow. They are not really well known here in the states but are finely made works of art that are super accurate out of the box. The only problem is the $2000 price range to get this fine workmanship.
For our purposes the rifle that generally works will have a heavy barrel to minimize harmonic movement during the shot as well as moderating the barrel temperature changes.
It will have a trigger preferably adjustable to around the two pound mark or a little less while still being safe and a stock that allows a vertical pistol-like grip for the trigger hand and a stock comb that is either adjustable or is high enough to allow cheek weld.
The stock will securely hold the action and will have no flex or point of impact change whether shooting from a standing position, sand bags, or bipod.
The barrel will be free floated from one inch past the action and the entire assembly will be as light as possible for field and competition use.
The rifles mentioned above, and most high performance rimfire rifles on the market come with most of the requirements mentioned above. Some will need to be modified more than others to optimize performance. The price you are willing to pay will be a factor in what mods are required. I find generally that it is best to purchase a rifle with the requirements above already integrated and do the small inexpensive mods myself.
Scope The old saying is that you should invest at least as much into optics for your long rifle as you have invested into the rifle itself. On big bore rifles I agree completely. You never want to waste money on a cheap garbage optic that will destroy itself under the recoil of the rifle or due to normal daily use. At 1000 yards or beyond poor glass in a scope could actually prevent seeing the target clearly enough to shoot with precision.
Our goal with our little tack driver rimfires are basically the same at 400 yards as our goal would be with a big bore at 1000 yards or beyond. To hit the center of the target every shot, but at 400 yards the glass doesn't have to be quite as perfect and the recoil of a rimfire is no where near as damaging to an optic. I am not saying that a garbage scope will work but I am saying that many $300 scopes will work well where a big bore might require a $2000 - $4000 or more, scope for optimum performance.
What our rimfire scope does have to do, and do well, is repeat POI shot after shot. If your scope is built with external elevation and windage adjustements you should be able to change those settings with good tight audible clicks and then see the POI return exactly when the settings are returned.
If your scope won't do this and the problem is not obvious, it is not worthy of long range or precision shooting. Get rid of it and purchase a better scope. But before you do, make sure that the reason it won't come back to original POI is not because of you or your shooting technique. When testing this, you must have a very stable rest. There should be no effort on your part to move or hold the cross hairs exactly target. If your cross hairs are moving requiring you to hold tighter to keep them on target, your technique is not correct.
The scope should have an adjustment for parallax opposite the windage adjustment knob. Although I have scopes with the adjustment on the objective end of the scope and they will get the job done, I find it very inconvenient to have to break my address position to make an adjustment. It is much convenient to have your target picture and make the adjustment at the same time which is possible with the first option.
There is more information on this website on how to buy a long range rimfire rifle scope along with my recommendations.
Spotting scope With long range rimfire shooting being at distances of 400 yards or less you can get by without a spotting scope in the beginning if you have a rifle scope with glass good enough to give a clear picture at that distance and magnification of 20x or more.
You should be able to easily see impacts at 300 yards on paper targets unless your target is black. Rimfire bullet holes are pretty tiny and will not be readily evident unless there are contrasting colors to make them pop. The splatterburst type targets are really good for this. The outline around the bullet hole is bright yellow against a black background. These can be easily seen with 20x or more at 400 yards.
As I mentioned earlier, your rifle scope can be used to determine target hits at 400 yards or less with the right magnification, but a spotting scope can be purchased for a reasonable price that will make it easier to see misses (off target) if you have another person available to be your spotter.
Having a spotter will get you on target much quicker than any other method. Because the spotter is looking at the target without the affect of recoil on his scope, he can see things that the shooter will never see and therefore call needed adjustments more accurately.
If you are interested in purchasing a spotting scope, here is my recommendation for long range rimfire. It is very affordable, is of excellent quality, and will last forever.
Ammo With a 22lr it is widely known that with the most popular barrel twist rates, the most accurate ammunition will have a muzzle velocity of a little over 1000 ft / sec. If you look at the higher priced ammo for that caliber and what competitors shooting for accuracy are using you will get confirmation of this.
This is widely known because there has been more 22lr ammo fired than any other caliber in the world. A lot is known about the accuracy of the other rimfire calibers like 17hmr, 17hm2, 22wmr, etc. but no one can make the type of blanket statement I made above about the 22lr.
With these other calibers you will have to do your own testing with different brands of ammo. As rimfire shooters, we don't have the luxury of developing a good load for our rifles by reloading. Our load development is basically trial and error.
You are looking for an ammo that will shoot 1 moa or less at 50 yards. This translates to a half inch or less group. Which theoretically means the variability at 400 yards will be 4 inches. In reality your groups at 400 yards will be larger than 4 inches because of the other variables that come into play. If you can get one half inch or less at 50 yards you are shooting a very good set up.
Stable rest There is nothing more frustrating than going t the range to have an enjoyable day shooting and find very quickly you can't hit anything. A day at the range when you lose confidence in yours and your rifles ability to impact targets is not enjoyable. You go home and just can't understand what happened after all of the effort you put into acquiring and tuning equipment and technique.
I have seen guys with top of the line, state of the art rifles topped with $2000 scopes go the range to work on finding the best ammo for their set up and use a stack of 2x4s for their rest. After shooting way too much ammo they just couldn't understand why their groups were two inches at 50 yards.
Having an unstable rest, that causes your body to strain or tense up even slightly to hold the cross hairs on target is going to cause your accuracy to suffer. No shooter is going to shoot his best groups using boards to rest the foregrip of his rifle and his left hand to to hold the rear of the stock. Even though you can't see the drastic movement through the scope it's there. If you can see movement you are at a true disadvantage.
Spend a little money on sand bags or a sled for testing loads, ammo, or zeroing. Doing that will bring your confidence in your ability and your equipment back. Then when you are in the field and can't use rest you just have to worry about doing your part.
Find a place to shoot
Once you have a rifle and it is set up with a good long range optic, finding a good place to stretch your little tack driver out to 100 yards plus is the next step. This is usually not a difficult task as most public shooting ranges, other than pistol ranges, will have at least 100 yards to play with.
If you are restricted by your range to short distances shooting at smaller targets and developing precision is also an enjoyable challenge. One of my home ranges is only 218 yards but we have a blast shooting at golf balls.
If you are not familiar with available shooting facilities in your area just google it. Most gun clubs will show up in a simple search and give the information to get in touch withe the club. Joining a club also gives you the opportunity to learn from experienced shooter who have been doing this for quite some time and usually you end up making friendships that will last a lifetime.
If there are no organized clubs in your area another option is to seek permission from a land owner. Just make sure you have a plan of how you are going to insure safety before you approach him / her. You should always have a natural barrier behind your targets to prevent bullets ricocheting to places that are unsafe.
Getting together with a few friends in a farmer's field and shooting long range with rimfire rifles can result in a really good time.