How to Shoot Long Range

long-range-shootLearn the tactics for making ethical, long distance shots.

Last fall I shot a handsome whitetail buck at 420 yards. I knew the distance before the buck ever stepped out of the timber at last light by, having ranged the spot with a laser range finder an hour earlier.

Now you may ask, “Was that an ethical shot?” For me the answer was simply, “Yes.” Going back in time, I would never have even attempted that shot but today with the knowledge, experience and equipment that I had at my disposal, I was not only confident I could make the shot but was also sure of a clean kill. But before I get into the details of how you too can stretch your barrel, I would like to emphasize that this kind of long-range shooting is not for everyone nor should anyone take such a shot at game unless he is very confident that he can make a clean kill.

Rifle

There are a number of  components that are essential in being able to reach out over a long distance and make an accurate shot. Let’s start with the rifle. First and foremost it must be of a calibre that can, at these ranges, deliver  a bullet of sufficient grain weight to produce an adequate amount of energy for the game you are hunting. Here is where the .300 Magnums come into their own. The buck I mentioned in the lead paragraph was taken with a .300 Winchester Magnum.

Why are the .300 Win Mags so effective? Well, simply because a 180-grain bullet leaving the muzzle of a .300 Winchester Magnum at 3,200 feet per second still retains 2,260 foot pounds of energy at 400 yards, more than sufficient for any deer, moose, or elk that walks. Besides, I just like the larger size wound channel of a .30 calibre over any of the smaller calibres for this type of shot.

The rifle must also be extremely accurate, capable of reproducing sub-one-inch, 100-yard groups. In fact, I would like to push that group size down to as close to a half-inch as possible. Remember that a tight, one-inch group at 100 yards becomes about four inches at 400 yards. Its trigger must be all but perfect — it must be light and break cleanly at the same weight each and every time, as any flaws here will lead to a poor shot and a missed or wounded target.

Scope & Range Finder

A quality scope is another essential component that, while not being as critical as the rifle, still plays an integral role. First, it must have sufficient magnification to allow the hunter to make a quality shot at ranges that test both the rifle and the shooter. I’m of the view that a variable scope of something in the order of a 4-12x will do nicely. For this kind of shooting I also like a bright scope with an objective lens of not less that 44mm but would prefer a 50mm lens, especially if you need to make a shot under low light. It must also be sharp, without any distortion, thus providing a very clear image of the target. In so far as a reticle, there are many options but a reticle such as the Leupold Boone & Crockett Big Game Reticle, which provides aim points right out to 500 yards and windage allowance for up to a 10 mph shift, is a good choice. There are also scopes on the market, such as the new Swarovski BT, which provide a colour-coded elevation turret allowing you to quickly dial in three additional ranges for point on shots beyond your original zero. All are very helpful but to make them effective you must also know the range of your target, which brings me to a range finder. There are any number of quality range finders out there to assist you in determining precise distances, but for me the ultimate answer is my Leica 10x-42mm binoculars with a built in rangefinder. They allow me to quickly range distances or targets while glassing so I never have to take my eye off the target. Additionally, while glassing on my stand I often range in numerous points where I might expect a deer to appear so that I already have these stored in my memory bank should a deer appear near one of these locations.

Bullets

The right bullet is the third essential component and here things can get a bit tricky But first let’s talk about bullet design. It should have a very high ballistic coefficient (BC); in other words, be of a design that can travel downrange with as little impact on its flight path as possible. It should have sufficient grain-weight to retain its downrange velocity and be designed with a spire point and a boattail. For example, in .30 calibre, a great choice would be a bullet such as the Hornady 180-grain SST with a BC of .480. Berger also makes some very accurate aerodynamic bullets such as their .30 calibre 175-grain VLD with a BC of .528.

Now comes the tricky part, for instance, a bullet that was designed with a thick jacket for deep penetration may not be a good choice for long range shooting as the velocity to open it up quickly enough may no longer be there. Conversely, bullets that may have opened up a bit too quickly at short ranges may now just come into their own. Thus, I would highly recommend that you find a quality general purpose bullet that is designed for moderate velocity driven expansion that also has a BC that approaches or betters .500 — and shoots like a house on fire.

Shooting Sticks

Last on my list of essential equipment is a good quality shooting bipod or tripod. For me, and I suspect most hunters, it is just physically impossible to be able to make a precise shot at long range without the aid of a solid rest. I have used a variety of  shooting sticks including quite a number of homemade assemblies but the versatility of my most recent acquisition, the Bog-Pod tripod (www.boggear.com), rendered the others to my basement. With its rotating head and quickly expandable legs it fits about any situation I find myself in

Long Range Shooting

While you may have all the right equipment, if you feel unsure of either yourself or the shot the odds are that you are going to miss So how do you gain that confidence? Here is how I did it I took up competitive shooting and shot in as many shooting club events or competitions as I could attend. Next, I began to hunt varmints including everything from ground squirrels to coyotes. When it came to the smaller varmints, I would force myself not to make a shot of less than 250 yards and with the larger varmints I was often presented with shots out to well beyond 400 yards. Last, I practiced as often as I could at ranges that offered distances out to 500 yards. Practice should and must include the use of the shooting sticks that you will use in the field. Put in your time and soon these distances seem to shrink

There are three final elements to consider. The first is the trajectory of the cartridge and rifle combo you are shooting. We all know that gravity plays a significant role in how your bullet arrives at the target. Thus, you must establish exactly how much drop is occurring at all the potential ranges you may wish to shoot at. This is even more important if you don’t have a scope to accommodate for this effect. Ballistic tables in a quality reloading manual can be a great help here but it is also important to double check these numbers in the field. Once they are established, you may even want to put this information on a label and attach it to your rifle stock. All too often we tend to overshoot so remember that the 180-grain Hornady SST I mentioned leaving the muzzle at 3,200 fps and sighted in for two inches of elevation at 100 yards is only about four inches low at 300 and about a foot low at 400. In other words, on that big buck — I wouldn’t hold off hair right out to 400 yards.

On any long range shot you must also take account of the wind. If it is too windy I  would limit myself as to how far I was prepared to take a shot, as the variables at very long ranges become just too great. Here is once again where practice on a 500 yard silhouette range can really be helpful. You quickly learn just how varying degrees of wind can effect your shot and how to adjust for it.

Which brings me to my last element  and that is you must determine your own long range capability. For some it may only be 250 yards, for others it may be well beyond 400 yards but once established, don’t push the limits as it can lead to a misplaced shot. But conversely, the sense of accomplishment gained from making a precise long range shot can be extremely rewarding and worthy of the effort required to make it.

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