By Eric Patton, ScopesMan.com
There is no form of hunting as challenging as long range hunting. The act of long range shooting alone is like juggling with so many things going on at once to get a clean shot. When you add unfamiliar terrain, unknown distances, and potentially erratic animal behavior to the mix, it just gets more complicated but in doing so, it gets far more exciting and rewarding. You will never forget your first long range shot at a deer or elk and that is a guarantee!
If you want to develop the skills required to land a 600 yard shot on an American Pronghorn, you have a lot of work to do. While this article is not an attempt to get you to that point, it is a source for getting started and getting some direction on how to get there. Here are 5 rules that you will need to dial in your shots.
1. Equipment Is King
Usually articles start off with how skill trumps equipment and while that may be true of long range hunting, the equipment is still vitally important. The three core pieces of equipment you will need are a rifle of sufficient caliber, an optic of sufficient power, and some way of attaching the two together.
When it comes to rifles, you can’t just grab a budget gun off the shelf and assume it will work. There are .308 rifles that can be had for around $200.00 but their accuracy is around 3 MOA off the shelf. This means at 100 yards, the best you can hope for is to be within three inches. When you take that out to 600 yards, you could have issues hitting a target two feet across even if you do everything else perfectly.
Optics and rings really deserve an article to themselves but at a minimum, you want something that has a magnification somewhere in the 10x to 20x range that is made by a reputable manufacturer. Turret adjustments and some form of MOA or MIL reticle are necessary for the best performance. Choosing the Correct Long Range Scope can be difficult without help.
2. The Shooting Process
Long range shooting is like juggling, you have a lot going on at once and you have to know where every piece is and what it’s doing. A better way of saying this is long range shooting is playing with a lot of variables at once and to get the proper shot, you need to eliminate them one at a time.
You need to be in line with the scope and the rifle. The retile inside the scope should be perfectly horizontal. Your rifle needs to be stable and fitted to your body and you should be relaxed enough not to cause shaking.
Being on target for your shot requires knowing your loads ballistics and being able to accurately gauge the distance and wind speed. Once everything is dialed in, you still have to learn to control your breathing and all important trigger squeeze.
You still aren’t done though. You need to follow through with your shot meaning you keep your scope on the target and continue the trigger pull all the way to the rear. This is good form and keeps you from flinching.
If you did all of this correctly with good equipment, you may score a hit.
3. Your Zero Needs To Be Perfect
I see a lot of advice on zeroing rifles at longer ranges than the standard 100 yard zero. While there are specific situations that this can be useful, it is an advanced tactic. Let’s just stick to the 100 yard zero.
If done properly, you should be able to group 3 rounds in a 1 inch circle at 100 yards. This is provided your rifle is less than 1 MOA accurate to begin with. Too many people shoot 100 yard groups and when they get one that is small enough, they call it good. All this means is that you are missing consistently. You need to get it dialed down as much as you can if you want a chance at 600 yards+.
4. Take Notes
Anyone who has done any significant long range shooting will tell you that no two rifles fire the same ammunition the same way and that no two loads will behave the same out of the same rifle. When you first start out, it’s good to pick a load, whether factory or handloaded, and stick with it. Find what your rifle likes.
After that, start recording every shot. Start with what load you are shooting noting the brand, lot number, bullet weight, and if it’s a handload, note the powder type and how much. Every round fired should have notes about the temperature, humidity, wind speed, range fired, and how your bullet impacted. Over time you will be able to pick out where you can improve your shot placement by figuring out your exact bullet drop and how much wind affects your bullet.
5. Don’t Blame Your Equipment
This final note assumes that you have equipment that is capable of shooting the distance you are going for accurately. If not, your expectation is the problem. What isn’t the problem is your equipment.
If you purchase a 1 MOA rifle and set it up with quality optics, rings, and ammunition and are having issues getting 1 MOA out of it, the problem isn’t your equipment. I have watched people dump thousands on new gear and new rifles when the problem was their fundamentals.
Start at ranges around 100 yards and learn to be consistent where wind will have little effect. Once you are good at 100, go to 200. Keep stepping up the distance. If you still aren’t getting adequate accuracy, put your rifle in the hands of an experienced long range shooter and have them help you set it up. Only when nothing at all can get you or anyone else consistent on your rifle should you consider replacing it.
Thanks to Eric and the Scopesman team for this contribution.
Eric grew up hunting, fishing, and roaming the hills of the Easter U.S. and has dedicated himself to becoming a well-rounded outdoorsman. Anytime there is an opportunity for a little fishing or a morning spent hunting, you will find him in the woods. In his off time, he teaches a variety of outdoor skills including land navigation and basic survival. Recently a Search and Rescue member, he has begun learning the ancient art of human tracking in a variety of terrains.