The growing popularity of long-range shooting has prompted firearm and optics companies to develop new products that make it easier to hit your targets from extreme ranges, and while these rifles and scopes are loaded with new features and new technology that makes precision shooting easier than ever before, it's still important to do your best as a shooter to understand the basic tenets of shooting and to eliminate variables wherever possible.
A great deal has been written with regard to selecting the proper rifle, caliber and ammunition for long range shooting, and those are all important elements if you're serious about shooting at ranges beyond a half-mile. But it's equally important to focus on details like parallax and diopter adjustments, body position, trigger control and even your cleaning regiment.
Long range shooting is a game of details, and if any detail is overlooked, it can- and oftentimes does- mean a miss. And when you're paying the price for premium .300 Winchester Magnum, .30-378 Weatherby and .338 Lapua ammo, you want to get on target as quickly and consistently as possible. If you're one of the thousands of shooters that has made it your quest to extend your skills- and your hits- beyond the previously established limits, don't let any detail slip by. Here are six important considerations to help you make the shot of your life.
Parallax problems occur when your scope's objective and the reticle are not on the same focal plane, and that can create major problems for long-range shooting. If you're transitioning from using traditional hunting scopes to long-range optics you might not be familiar with parallax because many hunting rifles have parallax set at 150 yards or so and, under most standard field conditions, parallax error is so small at moderate ranges that it won't significantly affect shot placement. The same can't be said for shooting at very long ranges. Adjustable parallax scopes allow you to adjust focus distance, bringing the objective and reticle onto the same plane to reduce, or at least greatly eliminate, parallax error. Most scopes with side parallax adjust have ranges marked on their adjustment knobs, but these are simply a reference point; looking through the scope at the target allows you to properly adjust parallax so that the target comes into proper focus with minimal or no reticle movement.
Adjust your Diopter
Most modern long-range scopes have diopter adjustment rings that allow you to quickly adjust your scope's focal length to your eye. This allows you to adjust the scope so that the reticle is in focus for your eye, and it eliminates fuzzy, blurry images. Some scopes come with a threaded eyepiece that requires you to focus the reticle and then lock the scope into position. Scopes with diopter rings simply require a twist of the wrist to bring the reticle image into crisp focus. With most scopes it takes just a moment to adjust the diopter, but having it properly focused can make a surprising difference in accuracy at extreme ranges. Looking through the scope at a light-colored background helps your eye focus on the reticle and allows you to find the perfect diopter setting.
Get Better at Doping the Wind
Most serious long-range shooters know exactly how to adjust for elevation; they have the dope on their load, they know their range, and they set their scope accordingly. But wind drift consistently complicates things, particularly because at very long range, changes in terrain and air currents between the shooter and the target cause changes in the wind that can make a bullet drift off target in a hurry. To remedy this, watch the area around your target through the scope before you fire to determine the wind speed at that location. What are the grass and dried leaves doing at that range? Sometimes these minute, often-overlooked clues make the difference between a hit and a miss. If you want something more advanced, check out Nikon's new SpotOn Wind Meter, which plugs into your smart phone and- when paired with the SpotOn app- will actually provide your wind dope automatically based on your ballistic data. It's $35 well spent.
Understand Your Scope
Today's long-range optics are extremely advanced, but simply buying an expensive scope doesn't guarantee accurate shooting. For starters, you'll need to know which scope to buy and how to use it. For years, second focal plane scopes (in which the reticle is positioned behind the magnification lenses) were the standard, but there are a growing number of first focal plane options. FFP scopes have reticles mounted in front of the magnification lens so subtensions remain constant across the magnification spectrum. Are you going to select a scope with MOA or MRAD lines or a BDC reticle? A host of optic companies now offer custom turrets matched to your rifle and load, a simple method for long range shooting. It's also important to select a scope with a turret with elevation to take shots at long ranges, and a zero-stop feature that automatically resets the turret simplifies range adjustments. All these features come in different scope models at different price points, so be sure that you know what you want and how to use your optic properly.
Most serious long range shooters agree there's a sweet spot when it comes to cleaning a rifle barrel- a freshly scrubbed barrel won't shoot as consistently as a barrel that has been fouled with a shot or two (or three, or four depending on your rifle). But too much fouling can build up in the barrel or the throat of the rifle and the result is oftentimes major changes in POI. Most serious long-range competitive shooters work hard to find the sweet spot when it comes to cleaning, and that can take some time. Generally, the most accurate barrel is one that is slightly fouled, but again that's a generalization. Some rifle barrels, particularly premium barrels, perform well when they are perfectly clean. To get the best accuracy possible, maintain a constant cleaning regiment that helps you glean the most accuracy from your barrel, whether that means it needs to be kind of clean or kind of dirty. Once you've established what level of fouling works best, stick with the routine.
Proper Body Position and Breathing
Long range shooters seek to stabilize their rifles so that there is little or no movement once the target is in focus. It seems, then, that body position when lying prone would have little effect on the outcome of the shot. In reality, consistent body position is essential. Positioning your body so that the spine is parallel to the axis of the bore of the rifle allows you to handle recoil most effectively and helps with follow-up shots if needed because the gun is pushed straight back into the shoulder, and the muzzle moves straight up as opposed to left or right. Having your feet spread apart helps stabilize the shooter. Trigger control is a learned skill, and it takes time to master the art and eliminate the "jerk." Follow-through is most often discussed when shooting shotguns, but it's equally important for long range shooting, and your most stable shot will come at the "bottom" of a breath, near the end of each exhale. Learn to coordinate body position, trigger pull and breathing, and you'll be better prepared to make long-range shots.