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Beginner’s Guide to Long Range Marksmanship

Long Range Marksmanship.

For the purposes of this article, I am not going to get into all the details of setting up your rifle, mounting the scope, what caliber is best, which rifle to buy, etc. Most of that is subjective and that would be a book. (Literally.) My purpose here is to convince you that long range marksmanship is a necessary skill worth developing for strategic value and which factors you’ll need to consider as you build this skill.

For our purpose, long range begins at 500 yards. Most battle rifles are intended for use up to 300 yards, but any rifle can reach out and touch someone at 500 yards or beyond if proper care is taken with the shot. It’s mostly an issue of gear, technique and practice. Just as a reference, most hunting with a rifle is done at 50 yards. You’re in a blind or tree stand to be unseen by an animal at close range. You’re in a forest of trees … generally, you’re not taking 300 yard shots.

So in the normal course of hunting, a box of bullets, any bullets that fit in your rifle, are likely to work for you. Bigger game, like elk, moose or bear, certainly you’ll want a heavier gauge bullet and rifle. But when you decide that you want to reach out, your rifle needs to be treated like the engineered tool that it is, and not a high tech slingshot.

Real World Purposes and Use for Long Range Marksmanship Skills.

Long Range Marksmanship Paul Markel

In a survival setting, long range marksmanship can be used effectively to warn off trespassers. The crack of a bullet at supersonic speed will be heard clearly, as will the nearby impact of the bullet. Both will arrive at the same time. This is an effective way of telling an honest person that you are home, watchful and deliver a serious message – ‘You’re on my property, without invitation. Turn around.’

Using Long Range Marksmanship for Early Engagement.

Being able to put a large caliber bullet through a watermelon at 1000 yards is like bringing a katana to a knife fight. It allows you to exact early removal of advantages the opposition may bring, including vehicles, leadership or that poor sap carrying binoculars. The intimidation factor should not be underrated.

There is a reason that all of the world’s best military super powers employ snipers at a very high level. This is not something that should be discounted.

Long Range Shooting and Hunting

Ideally done at close range, but if supplies are low and an opportunity presents itself, an accurate shot at long distance can put meat on the table that might not otherwise be there. If you are a capable marksman, putting food on the table under a myriad of circumstances becomes a much easier task. This makes it a must-have skill for anyone who is into preparedness, and also for anyone who fancies themselves an outdoors-man.

Vocabulary You Need to Know for Long Range Shooting.

There are two classes of long range marksmanship, out to about 1500 yards and extremely long range, which extends to well over 2500 yards. Yes, that’s approaching two miles. At ranges like that, one needs to take into account the direction of the shot because the rotation of the Earth will have an impact on where the bullet lands. Yes, that’s a real thing! It’s called the Coriolis Effect. There’s a lot to learn, but we’re going to compress some of it down for you here.

We should cover some vocabulary and concepts before diving too deep into this subject. As we won’t be talking about extremes, I will leave out things that have only a minor effect at ranges around 1000 yards. If you really want to dial in on this, then a simple blog post will only scratch the surface for you. In order to truly master this style of shooting, you’re going to need to seek out professional training, or be prepared to spend a lot of time and ammunition practicing.

Most likely both.

Ballistic Coefficient.

A measure of a bullet’s performance. usually either the G1 or G7, where a higher number indicates better performance.

Subtend.

How much an angular measurement “spreads out” over distance.

MOA or Minute of Angle.

Minute of angle. An angle measuring 1/60th of a degree used to objectively measure a firearm’s precision. One MOA subtends to 1.047” at 100 yards, often rounded to simply 1”. Most hunting scopes are available with turret adjustments in ¼ MOA “click” increments.

MIL or Milliradian.

Milliradian. Another angular method of measurement measuring 1/1000 of a radian. Effectively, it is defined by how much it subtends; 1 Mil subtends to 1m at 1000 meters. This “Metric” method can make the mental arithmetic simpler for some users. Most tactical-style scopes offer reticle with either dots or hash marks in the reticle that correspond to MIL measurements, and turret adjustments in 1/10 MIL increments. The main takeaway here is that MILs and MOA are not interchangeable. Always make sure to have your turret adjustments match the reticle hash marks, i.e. MOA reticle/MOA Turrets. Many older scope models would use MIL dots with MOA adjustments, so be aware and make sure you make a smart purchase.

Internal Ballistics.

Refers to what happens while the bullet is still in the barrel. This includes everything from the striking of the primer to the bullet’s last contact with the muzzle.

External Ballistics

Refers to the behavior of a bullet in flight after it leaves the barrel.

DOPE or Data Observed on Previous Engagements.

DOPE is more than just a cool word people say while out on the range. Sure it sounds cool too, but it also has an actual meaning. Often backronymed as “Data Observed on Previous Engagements”. Information recorded during the course of shooting used to predict future shooting. This includes everything from elevation and windage adjustments, to environmental factors.

The best way to record your DOPE is through the use of a shot log. There are also a number of mobile applications that are currently in use that work effectively. Items like the MantisX are a great way to use technology to your advantage while learning precision marksmanship.

Drop or Bullet Drop.

Vertical adjustments in elevation made to account for the “drop” of the bullet due to gravity.

Drift or Wind Adjustments.

Horizontal adjustments made for wind.

Hold off/Hold over.

Using the reticle’s hash marks/dots to adjust for elevation or windage, rather than making turret adjustments.

Gear You’ll Need or Want for Long Range Marksmanship.

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Long Range Marksmanship is an incredibly daunting task. Only the absolute best shooters in the world can reliably pull this off. That said, at the highest levels, gear can often make the difference between hitting your shoot dead on, or missing by several feet. While an excellent shooter can always shoot well regardless of their equipment, the greatest shooters know that their equipment can also make the difference between a hit or a miss at two miles.

Here’s the bare minimums of what you’ll be looking for.

Scopes for Long Range Precision Marksmanship.

The primary discerning difference between a hunting rifle and long range shooter is the use of a scope. Frankly, iron sights at 50-75 yards are good enough if they are aligned correctly and a red dot sight is a sure thing at this range. Beyond 100 yards is the province of magnification and correction for drop and windage. Good advice would be to buy the best scope you can afford, even at the detriment of the gun that it might go on. One can easily sell a gun. A used scope is hard to sell. A gun will wear out. A scope should outlast any gun if it is well cared for.

Bipods and Other Stability Platforms.

A long range shot requires a firm foundation. Any pod, mono or bi, is going to be better than a ‘steady hand’, so definitely have one. Make sure your purchase here is strong as well. Always do your due diligence, check reviews, and make sure you aren’t getting a product that is below the standard you are looking for.

Muzzle Brakes and Muzzle Devices.

This accessory reduces felt recoil, increases accuracy and allows you to get back on target for a followup shot very quickly. Definitely have one. You won’t regret it.

A suppressor or silencer (depending on which word you prefer) is also a viable option in this style of shooting depending on your intended range to target, and operational environment.

Choosing the Right Rifle for Long Range Marksmanship.

We could talk a great deal about which rifle to have, accuracy and ethical taking when it comes to hunting game. An ethical shot is one directed to the heart and lungs of the quarry with the intent of killing them quickly. I don’t know about you, but it’s hard to talk about ‘ethical’ when what you’re talking about is shooting someone in the chest and they drown in their own blood. However my point here is that one need not spend a great deal of money on a rifle. One MOA at 1000 yards is a 10” circle. This is easily a kill shot for a human. One can spend a great deal of money for a rifle and ammo that can achieve ¼ MOA accuracy down a tube in an indoor range but that’s a completely unnecessary expense.

At the end of the day, you need to choose the right rifle for you, and your intended use. An entire book could be written about this topic alone, but we’ll leave the ultimate decision up to you. In the end, the caliber of the rifle is going to matter almost as much as the manufacturer anyways. It doesn’t matter who put the stamp on your gun if the round it fires won’t travel the distance required to hit your target.

Custom or Factory Barrel?

There is no comparing a factory made barrel and a custom made barrel. Please don’t try. A factory, as its name implies, is in the business of VOLUME. A custom made barrel, as its name implies, is about QUALITY. If you can, get a custom barrel AFTER you’ve practiced with your factory barrel. When you see the improvements in your groups at range, you’ll wonder why you ever settled for less.

Semi-Automatic or Bolt-Action?

Out to 1000 yards, I am of two minds. Semi-auto will give you a quick followup shot, which should always be your goal and allow you to move to your next target quickly. Bolt action will always provide tighter groups, especially past 1000 yards. If you are looking to deliver a larger caliber round at range, definitely consider bolt action. Just understand that, regardless of which decision you make, you’ll be giving up something for another thing regardless.

Ballistic Calculators.

Yes, yes, and yes. Do your homework, save your money, and get one. Windage and range are very difficult to guess. Any means of measurement is going to give you a far better shot. The results will pleasantly surprise you.

What Type of Ammunition is Best for Long Range Marksmanship?

Precision Marksmanship

Do you want to deliver a warning shot at range or take out a vehicle? The larger the gauge, the larger your message. In a survival environment, most of your engagements are going to be against machinery or personnel. Those will be armored, or not. For any armored aggressor, nothing deals out death more effectively than the 50 caliber. But proficiency comes at a high cost as these rounds can cost $12 a piece and the rifles that fire them start at about $3000.

There’s also the fact that different calibers of ammunition, are all designed to do different tasks at different ranges. For example, a 5.56mm round is not going to get you the same range a 7.62x51mm one. It’s a simple matter of how much propellant is put into each individual round and the physics involved with propelling your projectile over distance.

6.5mm/.27.

These are slippery fast bullets that can maintain supersonic speeds out to 1400 yards and beyond with very reasonable accuracy at those distances. That said, these are harder to come by, and slightly more expensive than your more run of the mill ammunition types.

30 Caliber.

By far the most prolific hunting caliber and very reasonably priced. In a survival environment, one should expect to find these in any cache one might come across, so being able to chamber this caliber would tend to be a very good idea. 30-06 springfield delivers 540 ft/lbs at 1275ft/s at 1000yds. There are many cartridges to choose from, from 300 Blackout on the slow side, to 300 Winchester Magnum on the brute side. There are many weights to choose from, or that may be acquired, from as little as 100 grain to 250 grain or above.

.338 Lapua.

This is the beginning of “big bore”. A lapua magnum can deliver 1975 ft/lbs at 1765ft/s at 1000 yds, nearly 4x that of a 30-06 springfield. That said, this is also the point at which ammunition starts to sky-rocket in price. At this caliber, you’re looking to spend $3 to $7 per round that you fire.

But, I’ll be damned if that isn’t money well spent.

.50 BMG.

This bad boy can deliver 6750 ft/lbs at 2000ft/s at 1000yards, nearly 14x that of a Springfield. Very few things walk away from a strike by a .50 BMG round. In fact, very few things are still in one piece after being hit by a .50 BMG.

Reloading and Long Range Marksmanship.

You definitely want to be tooled up to reload. This is a craft that will take time to learn and do well, but it does not need to be an expensive hobby. Any rifle will benefit from a custom hand loaded round. Every rifle is unique and even tiny measurable adjustments in the cartridges you build will make a marked improvement in your accuracy and consistency at range.

Brass is King.

You’re not always going to be able to find/buy/trade in exactly what you want, so being able to reload odds and ends into the cartridges you chamber is a very valuable option. Brass doesn’t last forever, but if cared for properly, can be reused many times. This, in turn, will save you a ton of money in your long range marksmanship endeavors.

Annealing your Brass.

While on the topic of brass, annealing is a method of extending the life of your brass by a considerable margin. In a survival situation, extending the life of your brass by a factor of 5 or 10 could mean the difference between having a horde of viable ammo when few others do, or being equally as ammunition broke as everyone else.

Reloaders generally don’t bother with this step for two reasons. First, the contribution to accuracy is rather insignificant. Second, brass is generally available for purchase. However, remove that purchase availability and annealing becomes an obvious necessity. Just something for you to consider and stash in your toolbox.

Barrel and Bullet Coating.

In a survival situation availability of anything comes into question. Barrels don’t last forever. 1000-3000 shots is about average before accuracy begins to suffer. Extending this life when no replacement can be relied upon is an issue of not stressing the barrel unnecessarily. Slower bullets, keeping the barrel temp low, careful cleaning will extend life as will coating the barrel and bullets. Molly or boron nitrite coating should be considered on any custom barrel you order. Your rifle and your wallet will thank you.

Ammunition for Long Range Marksmanship.

30 caliber is supported by many cartridges. You might choose a more efficient cartridge over the most popular. After finding/buy/trading ammo, being able to convert/reclaim powder and bullets and load them into your brass is a very good skill to have. Having a cache reserve of other caliber bullets that you plan to use is prudent planning.

Getting a Proper Zero is Everything in Long Range Marksmanship.

Usually done at a target at 100 yards, this should be done with all the equipment that you would use in the field on your rifle. Firing your rifle is like ringing a bell, in this case, your barrel. Everything attached to it is going to affect the harmonic ring. That ‘ring’ is going to affect the accuracy of your group. If the bullet leaves the end of the barrel in resonance with your barrel it will land much closer to its intended mark than if it leaves out of resonance.

Vincing down your rifle in a stand will change the harmonics. Hanging a bipod, a red dot, a flashlight on your rails, will change the harmonics. So when you zero your rifle and when you build your loads, do so with the equipment you plan to use in the field, and do so from the position you plan to normally shoot from. This ensures that your zero is proper, and a fit to the situation in which you intend to attempt your shots from.

Suppressed Long Range Marksmanship – A New Element of Terror.

Precision Shooting for Beginners

There are three sounds that come from firing your weapon, the report of the gases coming out of the barrel, the sonic footprint of the bullet while it is in flight, and the cycling of the weapon’s action. The report of the weapon is generally a very loud boom and can be heard for miles and gives a general direction of where the shot came from. The sonic footprint follows the bullet and is a much more quiet crack and when heard, appears to come from every direction. The action being cycled is an audible noise that can only be heard by those in your immediate area.

Suppressors greatly reduce the report of your weapon. Often to the point that the sonic crack of the bullet is louder than the report. If you’re purpose for long range shooting is military in manner, a suppressor adds a new level of terror to the act of sniping. If you’re intent is to hunt game for a long period of time, then the suppressor does a solid job of not scaring off all of the game in your immediate area.

A Word on Subsonic Ammunition.

Going subsonic with your ammunition may seem counter productive, but hear me out. In a survival situation, you’re likely to be hunting. Suppressed and subsonic, no one is going to hear you, verses unsuppressed, anyone within miles is going to know someone with resources is in the vicinity. Which category do you want to be in, heard or unheard?

I have heard suppressed subsonic 9mm pistols fired where the ACTION was louder than the report. That should be enough to convince anyone to consider subsonic load for their rifle if they have a suppressor.

Hunting subsonic will mean making changes to your loads. Heavier bullets will be in order. A larger caliber would be advised. Subsonic bullets don’t need a long nose. Rounded pistol type bullets actually fly better as subsonic speeds than long nosed supersonic rifle bullets do. Casted subsonic bullets made from reclaimed lead are quite acceptable for the short range hunting application we are talking about here.

Final Rounds on Long Range Marksmanship.

Long range marksmanship is hard earned skill. There’s real physics and ‘rocket’ science to be learned. It will task your brain, but it will be a very satisfying skill to learn. In the end, this is a specialty that few will have in a survival situation, and a skill that any group will find valuable. While the article only scratches the surface of long range shooting, we hope it was enough to at least get you interested in the idea of long range marksmanship.

Either way, let us know down in the comments what you want to know about long range marksmanship. Precision over a distance is difficult, but together as a community we can come together and share our knowledge. Shared knowledge is the king of all know-how. We’ll see you out there.

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