Want to become a long-range foxer – or just test your rifle set-up to its very limit? Mark Ripley shows you the basics of long-range shooting
How do you get started in long-range shooting?
That’s a question I often get asked. There seem to be more and more people wanting to experiment with their rifles’ capabilities, but don’t know where to start and what equipment they need.
There are many factors that will influence your shooting, from the calibre you are using and the ground on which you shoot, to the type of ‘long range’ you will be able to achieve.
In fact, the term ‘long range’ itself can have many interpretations – for instance, 300 yards may be a very long shot to some people, particularly if they are using a small calibre or rimfire.
For someone who regularly shoots out to perhaps 1000 yards, though, a 300-yard shot would probably be well within their comfort zone and not considered ‘long range’ at all.
The type of ground you shoot over may not necessarily lend itself to shooting at any great range, in which case if you wish to test yourself and your rifle’s ability, I would highly recommend a trip to Wales to one of the excellent firearms training facilities nestled among its hills.
I recently went for a session at Orion Firearms Training, which has the potential to offer targets from 50 yards out to in excess of 1200 yards using steel reactive targets.
If you do have some ground where you can stretch your rifle’s legs, I’d suggest getting one or two steel targets of your own. SSS Targets offer an excellent range at a very good price.
I would recommend larger targets such as a 300mm gong or full-size fox target for ranges over 300 yards – this way it’s much easier to get ‘on target’ and see how, say, crosswinds affect your shots on the face of the target. There’s nothing more frustrating than just missing a target but not really knowing where your shots are going!
What gear do you need?
For most of us dipping a toe into long-range shooting, it will just be for fun and as a way of getting to know our stalking or foxing rifle so you can gain a little more confidence on those slightly further targets you may have otherwise passed up.
If, on the other hand, the bug has really bitten, you may wish to upgrade your rifle, your scope, your bipod, or start down the route of loading your own ammo.
There are numerous ways to improve a rifle’s performance, and if precision shooting at range is something you’re serious about, a trip to a good reputable gunsmith will no doubt be on your to do list in the future.
Dane & Co Rifles have undertaken work for me on two of my rifles, and I can honestly say that Paddy Dane’s craftsmanship and knowledge is second to none.
You may well be surprised that a custom or semi-custom rifle built to your specification isn’t as bank-breakingly expensive as you think – often isn’t too far above the cost of a high-end factory rifle.
If, however, you’re simply looking to make tweaks and upgrades to your set-up, a decent quality scope is a worthwhile upgrade. I’m a big fan of Nightforce scopes for their reliability and their positive click turrets.
You can often pick up second-hand models at a reasonable cost, along with other brands such as Zeiss, Swarovski, Leupold, Vortex and Sightron, which offer good long-range scopes for various budgets.
Depending on your calibre, most scopes will have enough elevation in them to get you to perhaps 1000 yards. However, if you plan to go further than your scope will allow you to dial, it’s possible to add an angled rail for your scope. Typically a 20-30 MOA rail is ideal.
There are also several things that will add to your accuracy and ability down-range, such as a decent bipod (as you will want to be shooting prone for best accuracy).
I bought an Atlas bipod a couple of years back, and though they are not cheap, they really are very well made and in my opinion one of the best bipods on the market. When using a bipod, to prevent the rifle ‘skipping’ you will want to maintain a slight forward pressure on the bipod or ‘load’ it.
At the other end of the rifle, a rear bag is a must. You can get the rather nice TAB gear bags from Sporting Services, costing you around £27.50.
The idea of these bags is to rest the butt of the rifle on it and squeeze it with your left hand (for a right-handed shooter) to raise the rear of the rifle and relax your grip to lower it, thus raising and lowering your point of aim. Once you get on target, by maintaining the pressure on it you can hold very steady as you fire.
A light trigger break of around 1.5lb is also favourable. A gunsmith may be able to lighten your current trigger or replace it with a custom one, which can make a surprising difference to a rifle’s accuracy.
How to Train
With your target set out and your rifle set up as well as funds will allow, what next?
Start firstly at your zero range. Check your rifle is actually zeroed at 100 or 200 yards (or whatever range you zero at). It’s important everything is right at close range, as errors will be exaggerated at longer range.
Measure your range with a laser rangefinder to ensure it is exact when you zero. You will also need it to range targets in the field. You can’t compensate for a distance exactly if you don’t know exactly what it is! You can pick up a rangefinder for a little over £100 and is really a must-have item.
Choosing a nice calm day, and with everything zeroed correctly and your rifle grouping nicely at your zero range, it’s time to push out further – say, 50 yards at a time out to 300 yards, assuming you’re using a centrefire rifle.
At each interval, you should be able to see on your target how much you are dropping and gain a good idea of how much holdover you need to give. Using holdover will most likely be your only option if you don’t have a scope with target-style turrets, but it isn’t easy to be precise with this method, especially at further ranges.
If you’re dialling your turrets or holding off, either way you will greatly benefit from using some form of ballistic calculator to work out your drops. I find the phone apps Strelok and Bullet Flight are two good ones to use. After entering all your rifle and bullet data, you can then enter the range and estimated wind speed to gain a scope correction or ‘dope’.
A word of caution here. If you do use such a calculator, remember that if you enter rubbish data, you will get rubbish corrections! Start off at closer ranges and gradually work your way further out to confirm your drops – don’t just go out to 500 yards without confirming it, or you may well send a round dangerously off target.
Another really good gadget that I use is one of the Kestrel wind meters that incorporates a ballistic programme. These little things are very accurate and will factor in, as well as the wind speed you have read with it, other environmental factors such as temperature, humidity and even the rotation of the earth.
This brings me on the biggest cause of a missed target: the wind. The wind is often constantly changing in not just strength but also direction, making the timing of your shot critical. There’s really no quick way to learn to ‘read’ the wind – it’s something that all long range shooters strive to master through lots of practice.
With the internet at our fingertips, we have a very good supply of knowledge in the form of both text and video content that can teach vast amounts on long range shooting. YouTube has many instructional videos on shooting technique and shooting long range, which can massively help those new to the subject.
If you have any particular questions on the subject, you can find me on Facebook at 260rips Long Range Shooting, where I would be happy to offer advice.
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