Far out

I had the AT308 on test last month for an initial appraisal of its capability. I wanted to demonstrate the barrel change and subsequent return to zero of the AT, and to stretch the range out to what I would consider a good deer and fox capability. I realised no responsible shooter would ever engage live quarry with a rifle that may need to be checked for zero, and after switching the barrel in and out I found the zero held pretty well but still needed minor tweaks after reinserting the barrel. Once zeroed, the rifle held perfectly, despite being transported hundreds of miles and manhandled in and out of various high seats and vehicles.

The Accuracy International AT got me thinking. It’s solid, dependable, accurate, and surely built for longer-range shooting. I wanted to further test that latter capability. Of course, shooters have very different ideas of what ranges they will happily go out to, and I’d never berate anyone for keeping within their own self-imposed limit, whether it’s 100 yards or 200. The fact remains that we all need to shoot well within our capabilities, and realistically appraise our own ability to deliver an accurate shot. I don’t want to get too deep into ethics – each shooter is responsible for their own actions – but we owe it to our quarry to deliver a quick kill, and that means training out to further than the distance we intend to shoot in the field, so we can shoot confidently within that distance.

After shooting some factory loads at 100 and 200 yards, I decided to build a load for the rifle around my favourite fox bullet, the superbly accurate 87gn VMax. Pushed out at 3000fps, this bullet performs well on deer and fox. I’m not trying to say this the best load you can get – but it’s a load that I like, and one that covers me for everything I usually encounter on the ground I have access to. So it’s a good starting point for our test.

The brief

I wanted to accurately shoot the AT out to 400 yards, test the accuracy of the rifle, scope and load, and figure out the dial-ups needed to be able to aim directly at a ranged target. The results might not enlighten seasoned shooters who are already proficient in longer-range shooting, but there will be some of you out there who are keen to work on the skills and kit needed to accurately make kill shots a bit further, if the situation presents. My own drive to shoot further is born out of long journeys to Scotland, trying to shoot roe deer, and seeing deer repeatedly on clear fell areas that are beyond the reach of my kit and my ability.

So how exactly do you start to go about building your ability and skill set to shoot further? The key for me is testing and repeating on paper many times before shooting at live quarry, and then only at live quarry that you know very well. If you take nothing else from this apart from a better understanding of your loads’ external ballistics, along with a few tips to help deliver a follow-up shot efficiently at a range that you would never normally shoot at, I will be happy. Range is all relative anyway, but as it increases, so do the potential errors of miscalculating.

The kit list

As an accurate rifle and scope combination, the AT topped with a Schmidt & Bender 3-12×50 PMII will do just fine. From there my next most important item is an accurate rangefinder. My current choice is a pair of 10×42 Leica Geovids in yards. I have owned these binos for several years; they range well and I enjoy using them to spy my quarry. Of course, there are plenty of options on the market. Whether you go for a rangefinder-bino combination or a separate rangefinder, the choice is yours – it just needs to be accurate and you need to be able to use it correctly to get the right range for your target. Familiarity with your kit is key. Practise ranging bushes, trees, crows in the grass – anything that you can. The more stably you hold the rangefinder, the more readings you will get, and hopefully more accurate ones too.

In difficult situations I will range behind and to the sides of my target to make sure I am getting a true target range rather than any foreground or background – an error that will cause at best a miss and at worst a wounding. I regularly rest my rangefinders on my shooting sticks – it not only gives a stable fatigue reducing glassing platform but it also improves ranging accuracy.

The next item on the kit list is a ballistics chart. You can get software for your computer and you can download apps to your smartphone, and these items will help you, but only after you have all the information required.

You will need the average speed of your load. If you don’t own a chronograph, find a friend who will lend you one or help you get then just keyed into your ballistics program and away you go, but it’s not so.

Let me explain how I proceeded with the AT. Setting up a target board at 200 yards against a suitable backstop, I chose an area that would allow me to drag my kit and shooting mat back to 300 then 400 yards. My first three-shot group at 200 yards printed a group around the inch mark (rear bag and bipod prone) and produced an average velocity of 2969fps. Chronograph packed away, I dragged back to 300 yards from target.

At this point I started to key the information into my preferred ballistics app. The detail you must key in is extensive. Common bullet ballistic coefficient data is usually found in a drop-down selection menu – then there’s distance from chronograph, sight height from bore, zero range, and even the ability to select from various drag functions, G1 through to G7. Most hunting/varmint bullets fit the G1 well enough. It is not essential to use a ballistics app, but I find it quite handy when run alongside my chosen methods.

A chronograph is not essential but very useful for external ballistics and load development

At the 300-yard point I had a dial-up figure of 2.25 MOA that could be applied to the elevation turret to get me very close to my ‘bull’, with three rounds printing around the black centre at 1.75in. Finally dragging back to 400 yards, with the conditions now flat, calm and sunny, perfect for the job at hand, and with a predicted 4.99MOA dial-up, I sent the next three shots on to the target, all three hitting low by 4.5in. On closer inspection I had only dialled 4MOA instead of 5 (my excuse is being used to a 400-yard dial up of 4MOA on my Ackley). It’s a rookie error, but it highlights the point of double-checking once everything is dialled before pulling the trigger.

I was more than happy with the accuracy, but I knew that the sterile conditions of a range testing day are rarely replicated in the field. The distances will vary, as will the incline or decline, and the terrain will lead you to cant the rifle believing you are levelling it. Practice and experience gained on paper, metal gongs and clays will help you hone your skills. The data I had from 300 and 400 yards, while not absolutely bang on, showed I was just half an inch low at 400 yards – less than group size and far less than any wind calculations that may be out. I saved the ballistic profile and labelled it accordingly.

If you don’t have a ballistics program, you have two options: either use a ballistic reticle that will allow you to hold over, or shoot for actual drop, take a measurement and adjust your scope accordingly, then reshoot to check the point of aim and the scope’s internal adjustment. This is a little more time-consuming and you will use more ammunition, but it is very much tried and tested. The downside is then figuring out how much to dial for 358 yards after you have ranged your target. You either run a ballistics program or you shoot between and dial based on your results on paper. This is difficult to put on to paper and may warrant an explanatory video, but if you have an interest in extending your range, I would guess that you have done some research already – or, if you have had your interest piqued, you will hopefully go on to explore a little further. You will either gain some more skills or decide that pushing the bullet further out is not for you or your kit.

Stuart feeds the data into the ballistics app before another range testing session

My last piece of invaluable kit is a Kestrel wind meter. I would much prefer a longer shot on a still day, but when it’s windy, a wind meter will open your eyes. Remember, a wind meter will give you the wind speed where you are and not necessarily where your bullet may be going. This could be extremely variable where the terrain can cause winds that will affect your bullet vertically as well as horizontally. I cannot stress enough that you will have to get out into the field in differing conditions to really learn to read the wind. I am, at best, mediocre at this, so I avoid shots that just don’t feel right.

Use one of the weather guides as well. I like XCWeather as it gives a wind speed and a maximum gust speed, as well as a heading. This also splits down into three-hour or one-hour windows – particularly useful for planning a stalk, and doubly useful for getting an idea of the potential conditions. Just remember, all the gadgets in the world will not guarantee that your bullet will place where you have expected or calculated. Be brutally honest with yourself, and practice as much as you can.

In the field

The opportunity arose for a morning stalk on some fallow ground that also holds plenty of muntjac. Expecting some fallow to show, I decided not to shoot at the two muntjac I saw, only for the fallow not to show up in the end.

Three days later I was on my roe ground. The extreme wet conditions saw me snug into the muck hill box seat, only to find that the muck hill had been spread on the field behind. With large puddled areas frozen over in front of me and hedges devoid of leaves, I could at least have a good view of any roe or fox that dared come into range. Glassing confirmed no roe in the vicinity, but I spied a large dog fox browsing through a field margin. A shot at 218 yards from a comfy rest saw him flop and kick to the shot, resting just out of visibility. A pleasing end to my exploits with the Accuracy International AT. There is no doubt in your mind as you raise the crosshairs on to your target with this rifle – confidence in the shot is total. Yes it’s heavy, but it is built for the job that it does so well.

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