Level Your Reticle: It’s common to use ballistic reticles for long-range shooting. This is how you make swift corrections for windage and trajectory. However, in order for those reticle corrections to work, your reticle has to be level. When you install your riflescope, take the time to make sure the reticle is absolutely level with the rifle. Otherwise, as you make trajectory corrections, the greater the distance, the farther you’ll be from the target. Installing a level on your scope for quick field references isn’t a bad idea, either.
Establish Your DOPE: DOPE stands for “data on previous engagement,” and utilizing DOPE is a key to getting hits at long range. You obtain your DOPE by shooting at targets out to as far as you want to shoot, and by making annotations of the trajectory and windage corrections along with the atmospheric conditions. By establishing your initial DOPE, and by continuing to record subsequent shots, you’ll eventually have an encyclopedic reference for shooting at any distance and in any condition. In case you’re wondering, this is exactly what a precision rifle logbook is for.
Learn The Language: Long-range shooters speak in one of two languages, either MOA or mil. Both are angular measurements that allow you to compensate for trajectory and wind, and both are just as precise. You need to decide which system you want to use. Some like the MOA (minute of angle) system because 1 MOA is close to an inch at 100 yards, which is something most are familiar with. The mil (milliradian) system is a degree-based measurement that many shooters find easier because it is divided into tenths. Just as important as picking the system is being able to apply it in the field and making sure your reticle and adjustments are for the same system. It can get complicated when your reticle is in mil increments and your adjustments are in MOA.
Range With Your Reticle: After you learn the language, learn to estimate distance with that language and your reticle. Yes, rangefinders are very affordable and accurate these days, but sometimes they’ll give wonky readings or simply won’t give you any readings at all. If you can range with your reticle, you can confirm rangefinder readings or establish range without a rangefinder.
Create A Pre-Shot Routine: Precision shooting means precision execution. In order to drive a bullet 1,000 yards and get a hit, everything must occur just right. By establishing a routine, you help ensure that rightness. Your routine may vary, but at a minimum, it should include checking your position, leveling the rifle, checking your natural point of aim, adjusting parallax, reading the wind, consulting your DOPE, making the corrections, controlling your breathing and breaking the shot.
Get Square: As hard as it might be to believe, your position behind the rifle has a direct influence on the flight of the bullet. This is because if the launch platform varies from shot to shot, so will the bullet’s path. So you want to be square behind the rifle before you shoot. This will help the rifle recoil straight to the rear consistently with every trigger pull.
Communicate: Serious long-range shooters work with spotters just like Marine snipers. But working with your spotter is not enough—you need to establish an understandable and easy method of communicating corrections and reads. There is no right or wrong method other than that it should be concise, clear, correct and unambiguous. (This is a complicated way of saying that what the spotter says needs to be completely and quickly understood.) The spotter and shooter need to work together as seamlessly and coherently as a quarterback and his center in the football world.
Read The Wind: Modern ballistic software makes compensating for trajectory and wind at long range very simple. So too does good DOPE. But there are two things these calculators cannot tell you: how hard the wind is blowing and which direction it is coming from. The best way to learn this skill is by shooting in the wind and reading the results on target. However, working as a spotter is also a very good way to learn the wind. Wind is the most prevalent miss-causing gremlin when it comes to long-range shooting. And remember, you don’t just read the wind where you’re at—you need to read the wind all the way to the target.
Calibrate Your Adjustments: It’s a given assumption that if the adjustment turrets on your riflescope say they move the reticle in 0.25-MOA or 0.1-mil increments with every click, then that’s what they do. But the truth is, that’s rarely the case. One click might translate to 0.26 inches or 0.11 mils. If you’re just making an adjustment of a few clicks, It’s not a big deal. But with a 0.01-mil discrepancy per click, if you dial in 10 mils (100 clicks), you can be off as much as 1 mil—more than 3 feet—at 1,000 yards. Once your adjustments have been calibrated, you then know exactly how far a single click, 10 clicks or 100 clicks will move your reticle and point of impact.
Learn To Hold Over & Under: Not every trajectory correction has to be dialed in, and depending on the situation, it can take too much time. Fortunately, with a spotter and a mil- or MOA-graduated reticle, you can simply hold the correction over or under the target. Generally, you should have time to dial in the correction for your first shot, but if you miss you need to re-engage as soon as you get the call from your spotter—before the wind can change. Holding over, under, or right or left is often faster than clicking your scope’s adjustment knobs.
Stop Shooting Groups: Long-range shooting is not the same as a benchrest competition. Your goal is to get hits—not to shoot small groups. When you’re on the range practicing, don’t get all wrapped up in the size of your groups. Concentrate on establishing the range, reading the wind, making the correction and getting the hit. Slight deviations in wind that are undetectable can alter your point of impact slightly from shot to shot. This could make you think you are shooting poorly or that your equipment is junk. Forget the groups and get hits; otherwise, you’ll be chasing your tail all day long.
Remember The Fundamentals: As with every other form of shooting, the fundamentals matter for long-range shooting, too. Sight alignment and trigger control are the keys to marksmanship; you put the sights on the target and pull the trigger without moving the gun. Remember your positioning, breathing and pre-shot routine, and focus on the fundamentals. No matter how high-tech your equipment is, if you jerk the trigger, you will miss!
Lieutenant Colonel Jeff Cooper established the American Pistol Institute (API) in Paulden, Arizona, in 1976. He called the location chosen for this school “Gunsite Ranch.” This facility was initially focused on training civilians to use defensive handguns. Since then, the school’s name was changed to Gunsite and ultimately Gunsite Academy. The curriculum changed, too. Today, Gunsite teaches courses on almost every facet of firearms, including precision rifles.
- RELATED STORY: 12 Next-Gen Precision Rifles For Long-Range Shooting
Precision or long-range rifle shooting is very popular right now, and if you can swing the green, taking either the Precision Rifle 7 or Long Range Rifle class at Gunsite Academy is highly recommended. However, for those with a wallet that might be a bit thin right now, here are a dozen long-range shooting tips from Gunsite range master and long-range rifle instructor Cory Trapp.
This article was originally published in ‘Ballistic’ Spring 2017. For information on how to subscribe, visit outdoorgroupstore.com
Because in today’s world you and you alone are your own first responder.
by Will Dabbs, MD / Jan 31, 2017