The sport of long range-shooting relies on the quality of the shooter’s equipment just as much as it does on the skill of the shooter. It’s doubtful that a great marksman could land a shot at a thousand yards with a wooden scope held together by Krazy Glue and happy thoughts. It would be equally improbable for a pacifist who’s never held a firearm in his life to even make paper at 300 yards with an Accuracy International AWM.
Therefore, if you’re trying to get into long range shooting for the first time, it’s important to get the correct gear for your unique needs and skill level. Choosing the correct caliber, rifle parts and optics that fit your shooting needs will save you the money and embarrassment of failing from trial and error.
There is a caliber out there for every job. For shooting at 300 to 400 yards, you can’t go wrong with a 5.56x45mm. The Army’s marksmanship exam requires that students shoot at 300m pop-up targets with either red dots or iron sights, which means these intermediate rounds travel with a rather flat trajectory. The round can actually travel much further, and in a long-barreled AR-style rifle could go as far as 800 yards. However, at that range you’ll be achieving what the army calls “area accuracy” instead of hitting exactly what you’re aiming at.
For accuracy from 400 to 800 yards, a .308 Winchester is a good round. This full-sized cartridge has more velocity than the 5.56x45mm thanks to its larger mass and powder content. At ranges beyond 500 yards, wind becomes much more of an issue for a 5.56x45mm than the larger .308, which can be combat effective up to 1,000 yards but will lose point accuracy at 800 yards.
For true long rang shooting from 800 to 1,000 yards, the 6.5 Creedmoor should be your go-to round. It has a flatter trajectory than the .308, and with its lighter weight and increased muzzle velocity, does not suffer from bullet drop as drastically as the .308 at longer ranges.
An upgrade to the 6.5 Creedmoor, the 6.5 PRC, fires the same bullet at higher velocities. This does not mean, however, that one 6.5 can be interchanged with the other in the same rifle. They are two different cartridges with the same diameter. The main difference is the 6.5 PRC’s higher powder capacity and ability to maintain supersonic speeds for longer ranges than its Creedmoor counterpart. A 6.5 Creedmoor round will drop below supersonic speed at 1,475 yards, while a 6.5 PRC will stay supersonic until about 1,650 yards. This means the 6.5 PRC is the ideal round for shooting up to a mile.
Logic dictates that lighter weapons would be preferable to heavier ones if they’re going to be hauled on your back as you trek through the woods looking for hogs, however, for long range shooting, you want something extremely heavy. Some competition rifles weigh as much as 25lbs, and the only way to shoot them in a position other than on a bench or in prone would be to use a shooting rest like a Kopfjäger tripod to hold up the weapon.
A heavy rifle will fight the recoil of a large caliber round, which will allow the user to maintain eyes on his target to inspect his shots. The recoil of firing a full size round from a light rifle will throw a shooter’s aim off, forcing him to reacquire his sight picture. Another useful feature of a heavy barrel is its heat tolerance. Shooting multiple high velocity rounds through the same barrel will heat up the barrel so it expands. With a heavy barrel, the accuracy penalties of a hot, expanded barrel are minimized.
To further mitigate recoil, a threaded barrel will allow you to attach a muzzle brake to your weapon. Muzzle brakes dissipate combustion gases when a weapon is fired, reducing horizontal recoil and making shots more accurate. When shooting at extreme ranges, muzzle brakes are a must.
A free floating barrel also helps immensely with accuracy. When a bullet comes screaming through the barrel of a gun, the barrel vibrates as the bullet flies out. When the barrel maintains contact with the weapon’s stock, the vibrations are increased, leading to a decrease in accuracy. A free floating barrel, as its name implies, floats freely within the weapon, providing more consistent accuracy.
Lastly, the right trigger can make a big difference when shooting. Heavy triggers require much more physical input from the user. If the rifle is pressed firmer into the shoulder or the grip changes slightly, these minute changes affect accuracy. They also make newer shooters anticipate recoil, throwing off their shots. A lighter, more sensitive trigger is also much more responsive.
If you’re not sure where to look for parts and money isn’t an object, Mcrees Precision is considered the Ferrari of the long shooting world. All the parts manufactured by this company are geared towards shooters who intend to shoot targets well over a thousand yards.
One of the most important factors in long range shooting is choosing the right optic. It would be unwise, for example, to use an LPVO for anything beyond 300 yards. The right glass, magnification, rings and mounts can make all the difference between hitting steel or dirt at long ranges.
Before mounting a scope, it’s good to use the correct base for your particular shooting purpose. A 20 MOA (Minute-of-Angle) base would be suitable for long range shooting, since the base is canted down at a slight angle towards the barrel. However, a setup like this would not be necessary for engaging targets at close range. A 20 MOA base allows you 20 extra MOA of elevation, which is great for long range shooting. However, a scope with a high max elevation and a ballistic compensating reticle, doesn’t necessarily need a 20 MOA base, since the reticle itself can be used to compensate for elevation.
The humble scope rings are often overlooked since all they do is hold a scope in place, and some shooters don’t think about that too much. However, a scope will slide in a bad scope ring, destroying any finely tuned adjustments. MDT and ADM make quality products, while Sightmark’s scope rings are solid and very durable at a great price point.
One of the most important parts of an optic is the glass quality. You can’t hit what you can’t see, and poor glass distorts your scope picture. The best glass comes from Europe and Japan, but some specimens from China have come out with surprising clarity.
Swarovski is the Rolex of the optics world, and thus offers the greatest optical quality on the market bar none, however they have a price point to match, restricting their usage to the people who can afford actual Rolexes. Leupold is somewhat in the middle. Its optics are of excellent quality and are marginally more affordable than Swarovski’s products. Sightmark, on the other hand, is a surprising contender since the price points on their products don’t seem to match the quality of their optics. The sub-$1000 Sightmark Presidios, for example, all use high-grade Japanese glass that are found in much more expensive optics.
Keeping all these different factors in mind will give you an edge above others on the range or in the field if you’re trying to score a long range shot for the first time. Always remember your fundamentals and have a good spotter with you, and you’ll keep those plates pinging.