Since the advent of the rifle, which introduced unparalleled accuracy to the world of firearms, men and women have been pushing the limits of long range shooting. From competing in sports to seeking a career in the military special forces, there are hundreds of reasons to pursue long-range shooting.
In the following article, we’ll address the basics of long-distance shooting, explain the challenges involved, and offer some helpful tips on how to approach the technique. Whether it’s your first time “going long” or you want to increase your accuracy, these long-range shooting tips are sure to be a big help.
Why Pursue Long-Range Shooting
Shooting is a skill. Whether you’re pursuing long-distance techniques as a sniper in the military, for competitive sports shooting, or just recreation, you shouldn’t need an excuse to improve it. In recent years, interest in these techniques has increased dramatically, with many people who enjoy firearms deciding to increase their skill and tackle near-impossible long-distance shots.
This growing popularity is partially due to improvements in technology as well. From the consistency of bullet manufacturing to the development of long-range scopes and sighting devices, it’s easier than ever to make shots that many gun enthusiasts would consider impossible.
However, as you’ll see, long-distance shooting requires a lot more than just some fancy equipment. For many, it takes a lot of research, endless hours on the range, and a very focused mind. Furthermore, “ringing steel” at 1000 yards presents loads of unique challenges.
The Challenges of Long-Range Shooting
Most shooters define long-range as any distance between 300 and 1200 yards. Of course, when firing a bullet this far, one can’t merely aim and expect to hit the target. You need to compensate for “bullet drop,” which is the rate at which a bullet’s trajectory changes over distance. Knowing what drop to expect requires intricate knowledge of your rifle, the ammunition, and the scope or sights you’re using.
Shooting accurately at long distances also requires expert fundamentals and a well-adjusted, perfectly-aligned sight. In many cases, shooters will use various calculations and specific long-range tools to set up the shot properly. Contrary to popular belief, long-distance shooting is not as simple as it looks in the movies.
At the end of the day, long-distance shooting is usually more about the time you put in before firing the weapon.
Long Range Shooting Tips
Now that you’re aware of the challenges involved in long-range shooting, here are some long range shooting tips that you can apply on your next trip to the range.
1. Record Data Scrupulously
Surprisingly, the most important aspect of becoming a talented long-distance shooter is the data you collect while you’re on the range. The information you want includes wind conditions, type of ammunition used, and how the rifle itself performed, mil adjustments, your position (kneeling, prone-position, etc). Cross-referencing this data is the only real way to get better over time. Shooting with a spotter can help make this process painless as well.
2. Shoot Between the Beats
Most hunters and casual shooters know that breathing is a big part of shooting accurately. As the distances increase, however, tiny variations that seemed unnoticeable before can have a dramatic impact on performance. In most cases, marksmen will fire at the end of several deep breaths, so that they can time their shot “in-between” their heartbeats.
3. Pull Through the Trigger
Just like golf and baseball, having a smooth, mechanical follow-through is essential to maintaining control at the shooting range. After the rifle fires, it’s vital to continue to squeeze the trigger before slowly releasing it. This follow-through will help you avoid “jerky” or reactionary movements.
4. Zero in Your Rifle
Put your gun in a clamp and line up your sights to a target at 100 yards. Fire and re-adjust your sight/scope until you have three consecutive shots within a 1-inch square. Eliminating the possibility of mechanical error will prove a big help when you move on to longer distances. Using a bipod may help at longer ranges, but shouldn’t be needed under ~800 years.
5. Know Your Rifle
Choosing your weapon is one of the most critical steps to take when it comes to learning how to shoot long range. Lightweight rifles are more comfortable to carry, but they offer very little in the way of stability. Everything from your heartbeat to your breathing will cause a lightweight rifle to bounce, making it almost impossible to execute your shot from any shooting position. Heavier rifles offer more stability, making it easier to hit your target accurately.
If you want to improve your long-range shooting ability, opt for a rifle built with a sturdy barrel on an action known for reliable accuracy. Make sure it’s heavy enough to offset any trembling caused by your breathing but not so heavy you can’t use it comfortably. (Check out our guide on the various types of rifles.)
6. Get a Scope Designed for Long-Range Use
Your scope is arguably as important as your rifle itself. Look for one with high-quality glass so you can easily see targets in the distance. You need top-notch guts in the adjustment turrets and the erector tube suspension. Opt for a model with precise and consistent elevation adjustment. Look for an elevation turret with a zero-stop mechanism for shooting long that allows for upward rotations.
Bear in mind that you’ll use your scope for elevation compensation, too, and choose one with a simple reticle inside the scope. Whether you prefer a MOA or mil scale, make sure the reticle isn’t too coarse to read the numbers.
7. Keep Your Scope Level
Your scope might look crooked, but as long as the reticle is lined up to your rifle’s vertical axis, it’s in the correct position. Leave it alone. Because we hold our rifles at an angle, that can make the scope appear crooked, so the impulse to adjust it will be hard to ignore. For the sake of your shot, you should ignore it.
You can take your rifle to a gunsmith with sophisticated leveling technology or do it yourself. Rest a level against the top of your scope and match it with a level attached to your barrel before installing your scope. From there, all you have to do is place a level on top of your elevation turret and turn the body of your scope until it matches up with the barrel’s level.
8. Get Serious About Bullets
Regardless of what type of rifle you’re using, you’re guaranteed to need ammunition that is powerful, accurate, and consistent. In many cases, a simple trip to the gun shop will be enlightening – other long range shooters are typically happy to give pointers. In general, avoid ballistic-tipped ammunition (standard for hunting) and look for ammo cartridges that have a high ballistic coefficient (High BC).
9. MOA vs. Mils
When choosing your elevation compensation measurement system, you have to decide between using the Imperial MOA (minutes of angle) or the Metric Mils (milliradians). If you have a military background, you might think MOA should be wiped from the face of the earth because mils will save all long-range shooters, but both systems have their good points.
The MOA measuring system essentially lines up inches per 100 yards, meaning 1 inch is 100 yards, 2 inches equals 200 yards, and so forth. One MOA is actually 1.047 inches at 100 yards, but the additional 0.047 can be ignored for practical purposes because you’ll adjust your drop charts and trajectory when using either system.
Mils, however, equals 10 centimeters per 100 meters. If you’re an American, who’s used to the Imperial measuring system, using mils probably won’t be as intuitive. It’s easier for American shooters to envision a target 500 yards away — 5 inches in MOA — than to figure out precisely what that means in meters and centimeters.
10. Know the Weather
Though few hunters and sports shooters think about it, the wind speed does affect the trajectory of bullets, especially over longer distances. This problem is only made worse by the fact that wind is never constant, and can blow in multiple directions. Expert snipers learn to study the wind and make adjustments, but only practice can help the rest of us.
Correctly interpreting and compensating for wind takes practice and luck. It’s the only factor of long-range shooting that can’t be accurately predicted. That being said, there are a few things you should keep in mind:
- Your first shot is your measuring shot in high winds. Be prepared to follow it up with another shot before wind conditions change again.
- Use the dust clouds you stir up when you miss to determine wind direction and speed.
- Use bullets with high ballistic coefficient numbers (BC) rather than conventional bullets; you’ll have an easier time hitting distant targets in high winds.
- Wind near the muzzle of your rifle has the most significant impact.
11. Follow the Bullet
For those on active duty, the first bullet almost always has to count. Luckily, those who are pursuing long-distance shooting or fun or competition can learn from the first bullet hit and make adjustments. In many cases, this is the best way to learn what nuances affect each subsequent shot.
12. Be in Tune with Your Body
Most shooters are taught to take deep a few breaths and exhale halfway while they squeeze the trigger. However, you might find it more useful to empty your lungs and squeeze the trigger during the resulting respiratory pause. Keep your heartbeat slow and your lungs empty (or mostly empty) for more consistent results.
13. Mindfulness is the Best Tip When Learning How to Shoot Long Range
As Tom Maciak, supervisor of technology development engineering for Trijicon, points out, “Long-range shooting is not just pulling the trigger. Long-range shooting is about thinking.”
Know your rifle well, use a proper scope, pay attention to the wind, and find a comfortable shooting position. Becoming a skilled long-range shooter takes practice and patience, but if you follow our long range shooting tips, you can achieve the perfect marriage between technology and marksmanship.
Long-Distance Shooting in Summary
Generally, hitting anything over 200 yards away is going to require a little bit of skill. In the case of long-distance shooting, the shooter has to take a number of factors into account in order to properly make their shot. Such factors include everything from the wind to the bullet weight to the power of the rifle, some of which can change at a moment’s notice.
In the end, repeated trips to the gun range and diligent note-taking are the keys to getting better at this sport. (Check out our picks for the best range bags.)The above tips are just some of the ways that you can get more out of your time at the range, and make faster progress as you pursue the art of long-distance shooting.