So, you’ve decided to enter the long-range realm. Perhaps you’ve become a crack shot at less than a hundred yards, or maybe you just want a break from the rhythm and repetition of your usual shooting game. Whatever the reason, this guide will be a useful tool for preparing your long-range shooting experience, to ensure you come away with a rewarding, fun new hobby.
Just how far are we talkin’?
The truth is, no one knows. It’s not an exact definition, with estimates ranging from a basic hundred yards to over five hundred. After all, it largely depends on the rifle you’re shooting, since what is the long range to a .22 rifle is obviously different than what is the long range to a 0.50 rifle.
Generally, hanging at around the 300-yard point is a good idea, since it’s not so far as to make most calibers useless, but is also far enough down the range to make sure you’re not boring yourself.
But three hundred big ones means that you’re going to have to take some definite steps to get your shooting game ready for that kind of league. And, naturally, it all starts with your head.
Mind Over Matter
Any shooter, new or professional, young or old, casual or diehard, knows that shooting takes discipline. In Liam Neeson movies, former CIA agents can shoot across streets, one-handed, behind their backs, without even looking. But in the real world, it’s a long, slow, grueling process.
And it’s that very process that makes it so rewarding when you land a perfect shot or nail a target just right.
The reason we tell you this is that switching from short-range to long-range will likely be difficult at first. In the case of the infamous ‘riding a bike’ example, you’re going from riding a plain old bike to switching to one with gears and handbrakes and the works.
You will likely have trouble at first, with hitting targets on cue and with controlling every aspect of your shot. With practice and intense discipline, however, very soon you’ll be making shots across football fields.
Even more so than at short range, expect your mind to clear when shooting at a long range. Experienced shooters report the world slipping away after a certain while until there is nothing left beside themselves, their rifles, and the target. Embrace this, lose yourself in your targeted discipline, and you will naturally see gradual progress in your long-range shooting technique.
One key area to start is where you’re shooting from. Most long-range shooters are lying down on their bellies, so we’ll work from that assumption, but other factors come into play.
The ground you’re lying on needs to be solid, even or consistent, and able to hold you for long periods of time. If any of those factors aren’t met, you’ll have a rougher time when it comes to shooting (trust us).
You’re likely going to be lying down on the ground for hours at a time, to ensure that you’re at least a little comfortable where you are.
If the ground is swampy or marshy, for example, you’ll have a rougher time as you sink deeper over time – not to mention the cleaning conditions and elevation levels.
Meanwhile, if you’re on solid ground but it’s uneven or inconsistent, you’ll get frustrated and sore way before you land that perfect shot.
Ideally, you’ll be on the flat, elevated ground, with a sturdy base to ensure you’re shooting from the best possible spot. An afternoon of long-range shooting tends to leave you sore anyways; might as well minimize the unnecessary pain to your torso and body as much as possible, right?
One of the hardest things for newer shooters to fully grasp, at both the short-range and long-range level, is that you must remain still. Fully still. As in, stiller than you have ever been.
Clearly, this will already be easier for experienced shooters than someone who has never held a gun in their life. We’re back to the riding a bike example; on the learning curve, some things carry over. But even for people with a lot of shooting experience, it will not be easy to master the stillness needed for long-range shooting.
See, the farther the distance at which you’re shooting, the more important a lack of movement becomes. Up close, some swaying or breathing-related moving is nothing to cry about, as the target will likely still be hit in some form due to basic math.
That all changes as you up your distance. At two, three hundred yards, any sort of breathing, even controlled, will mess up a shot to the extent that you may actually miss. At five hundred, you’ll be lucky if the shot comes within spitting distance of the target.
One useful practice exercise to manage your shooting position and breathing techniques is to simply practice lying down and getting in the mindset. Get your rifle in the grip you want it, employing any bipods, tripods, or other stands if need be, and assume the position you will take when shooting. From there, acclimate to the feeling of the rifle in your shoulder, to the sight of the target through the scope.
Once you can do this all and it feels natural, you will be all the readier to begin shooting.
Nature’s fickle side
We have all seen the snipers in the military, or at least the snipers in the military of the movies. Their spotter is beside them, reading out various factors they need to take into account, while the stony-faced sniper does mental calculations to get their shot just right.
In reality, chances are you’re not going to need to be doing all of this, at least not at the amateur or casual level. While at the more professional level there are definitely perks to it and even fun to be had while doing algebra on the fly in the field, at the starting level it’s largely unnecessary. In fact, even the more advanced long-range shooters of the world need not concern themselves too much with it in the modern age, as cell phone apps and other devices do all the heavy lifting for them.
That being said, some of nature’s more fickle matters do actually matter in the long-range shooting realm, no matter the shooter. At such long distances and over various terrains, the most probable headache that Mother Nature can toss you is in the form of that old familiar pain: wind.
It happens to the best of us. You get out there, you’re all set up, you get on a hot streak of hitting your target consistently, and suddenly something changes and your bullet is whizzing higher or lower or more to one side or the other.
The wind factor has changed.
While at a short-range wind is definitely a factor, its importance grows exponentially the longer the distance. So, when firing at three or four hundred meters, knowing the wind factor around you (or to/around your target) will be vital, or else you risk spending a very frustrating afternoon missing shots.
Finally, there’s arguably the most important step when transitioning from short-range to long-range shooting: the scope.
There are many factors to consider when shopping around for a long range scope. These include magnification, eye relief, reticle options, the objective lens, and lens coatings.
Magnification, the most obvious one, is the degree to which you can zoom in or out, magnifying your target in the lens. Many people go much harder in this category than they need to, but finding a magnification that works for you is pivotal, especially since once you master the 300-yard, you’ll likely be going farther and farther out from your target.
You should also keep in mind the amount of eye relief you have – this refers to the distance at which you can keep your eye from the scope while getting the clearest, best-lit image. Not only is it important on a safety level, as a powerful rifle’s shot can damage an eye that’s too close with its recoil, but it’s necessary when working out the kinks to a good shot.
Reticle options, which are rather self-explanatory, demonstrate all of the different kinds of reticles in your rifle scope, ranging from basic crosshairs to grids and even distance/angle measures. Like with magnification, find one that works to your abilities and skill level.
Finally, there are lens-based specifications like lens coatings and an objective lens that is important to keep in mind. The former refers to various chemical treatments of the glass of the lens, in order to ensure the clearest view (and therefore the most accurate shot). Meanwhile, the latter is a measurement of the width of your lens when looking through it; you want it large enough to give you the whole picture, but not so large it becomes a nuisance.
Once you’ve found a scope that works for your specific style, try pushing it farther, by increasing your distance and hitting harder targets.
Getting Started & Getting Out There
If that all sounds well and good, then it’s time to take the first step! Getting a quality long range rifle scope, so that you can see and hit any target at the distance of your choice, will get you started, and help ensure you stay on the shooting range (or in the field) for many shots to come.