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Learning Long-Range Shooting with Leupold and Browning

Richard Nance steps out of his comfort zone and attends the Leupold Optics Academy in Madres, Oregon, for a lesson in distance shooting with Leupold and Browning.

Learning Long-Range Shooting with Leupold and Browning

People tend to focus on what they’re good at and comfortable with. Most of us have an innate inkling to “stay in our lane.” That said, assignments sometimes force writers to veer outside their comfort zone. This was the case when I attended a two-day long-range shooting event at the Leupold Optics Academy in Madras, Oregon.

This private facility is where Leupold conducts product testing and provides training seminars. The expansive range, located about three hours southeast of Leupold’s Beaverton, Oregon, headquarters, will accommodate shooting past a mile as well as long-range angular shooting. As a handgun and carbine guy specializing in close-quarters pistolcraft, I was keenly aware that I was out of my element.

Math has never been my strong suit, and I envisioned having to memorize formulas or make complex calculations on the fly. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case thanks to quality instruction from Leupold staff and having the right equipment.

Browning X-Bolt Target Max Rifle and Leupold Mark 5HD Rifle Scope
Consistency goes a “long” way when shooting at distance. Browning’s X-Bolt Target Max and Leupold’s Mark 5HD made for easy work.

The Rifle

Day one started in the classroom where Browning Product Manager, Rafe Nielsen, introduced us to the X-Bolt Target Max, which we’d become very acquainted with over the next couple of days. The Target Max was the first update to the popular X-Bolt product line to involve mechanical changes. For starters, Browning beefed up the receiver.

Chambered in 6mm Creedmoor, 6.5 Creedmoor, and .308 Win., The Target Max’s receiver is optimized for long-range precision. The rear bridge is 200 percent thicker, and the front bridge is 76 percent thicker than that of the original X-Bolt. This extra weight adds strength and stability. And since a precision rifle must have an excellent trigger, the Target Max got an upgrade there as well.

The patent pending DLX Trigger is factory set at 2.5 pounds but is user-adjustable from 2 pounds to 3.3 pounds. The three-lever trigger design results in a light, clean-breaking trigger. Browning claims it has zero creep, zero take-up, and zero overtravel. After shooting it, I’d agree.

learning-long-range-shooting-03

The X-Bolt Target Max features an Xtra Capacity Magazine System that utilizes AICS-pattern magazines. The Target Max ships with an MDT 10-round polymer magazine. Five-round magazines can be purchased separately.

The Max stock has a target style forend for added stability when shooting from a rest. The vertical grip is perfectly situated for prone shooting, and the comb is adjustable to align your eye with the scope, thus mitigating parallax error. The user can install spacers to adjust length of pull if necessary.

A flat is machined into the back of the receiver, so a bubble level can be used to square and true the reticle and muzzlebrake to the rifle. The included Picatinny rail provides 20 MOA of additional elevation adjustment. The rail is screwed and pinned for stability.




At 9 pounds, 14 ounces, the Target Max is no lightweight. Its heft combined with Browning’s Recoil Hawg muzzlebrake makes this precision rifle surprisingly soft shooting, albeit loud. Browning’s best-selling accessory, the Recoil Hawg, has proved to reduce recoil as much as 76 percent (depending on caliber).

Leupold Reticle

The Scope

Nic Kytlica, Leupold’s Shooting Sports Marketing Manager, reviewed scope design and functionality then addressed the merits of the first focal plane Mark 5HD scope, which include lightest-in-class weight, superior clarity, and optimal low-light performance. Three revolutions of elevation adjustment ensure the Mark 5HD will get the most out of your rifle and load.

The Mark 5HD 5-25x56 won the U.S. Army’s Precision Sniper Rifle (PSR) program contract in 2020. That should tell you all you need to know about its quality and durability. Like all Leupold riflescopes, the Mark 5HD is waterproof, fogproof, and guaranteed to perform (as opposed to merely warrantied against failure).

Recommended


Leupold’s new PR2 reticle was developed with input from some of the top competitive shooters in the country. The impetus of the PR2 is to reduce clutter and simplify holdover, thereby increasing speed and precision.

<a href='https://www.hornady.com/?utm_source=rifleshootermag&utm_medium=in-page-link&utm_term=Hornady&utm_content=476408' alt='Hornady' title='Hornady' target='_blank'>Hornady</a> Match Grade 6.5 Creedmoor Ammo Boxes and  Mag
Match grade ammunition, like Hornady’s ELD Match, is important for consistent shot-to-shot performance at distance.

The PR2 reticle is available in MOA and mil variants. We would be working with the latter during the next two days. Leupold removed unnecessary clutter from the field of view and left only 2 mil on top. (This works because you’re not likely to hold under more than 2 mil with a 100-yard zero.) The void created by eliminating markings on the top of the scope enables you to see trace and impacts.

The PR2 uses .25-mil increments because, as Kytlica explained, Americans are used to dealing in quarters. These attributes combine to make the PR2 easy to interpret and fast to use. If you know the size of your target, the PR2 mil reticle enables you to estimate distance by bracketing the target between mil dots. Or you could cheat and use a rangefinder like Leupold’s RX-2800 TBR/W. Plug that information into the handy dandy Kestrel, and you have your holdover.

Shooting Positions Should Be Practiced
Multiple shooting positions should be practiced for quick execution in the field.

The Training

The live-fire portion of the course started out simply. Each of us fired three shots at a 1-inch circle from a prone position at 100 yards. Satisfied that our rifles were zeroed, we moved to a drill where we fired 2 rounds each in five 1-inch circles. The goal wasn’t speed. In fact, after each shot, we had to come our knees. This forced us to get several repetitions moving into a proper prone position.

Colby Ingram, Leupold’s Chief of Range Operations, provided an interesting tip I hadn’t heard before. Once settled behind the rifle, he directed us to extend our shooting arm as far forward as possible, grabbing the top of the scope. This automatically orients the butt of the stock properly into the pocket of your shoulder. He also advised that when shooting a precision rifle, the less thumb pressure the better.

We began to engage steel targets using a rangefinder to determine yardage and then plugged that number into the Kestrel to get our holdover. After calibrating our Kestrels, we determined a wind value, but I realized calling wind was the tricky part. Initially, we would either dial for elevation or holdover as instructed. Later, we were able to choose which method to use based on the circumstances. For instance, when engaging multiple targets, we learned that dialing elevation made sense for the first target, but then we could holdover for additional targets based on that adjustment. This was certainly faster than dialing elevation for each target. We held off rather than dialed in for windage throughout the course.

When trying to rapidly acquire targets, it became clear that less magnification was preferred. In fact, we were forced to remain at 14X power out to 1,300 yards, and everyone was getting consistent hits. We were allowed to use full magnification as we stretched things out beyond 1,400 yards and then beyond 1,500 yards! The furthest I hit was at 1,525 yards. This was considerably further than I’d shot before, and it was more fun than I could have imagined.

The author hit out to 1,500 yards and beyond using Hornady 6.5 Creedmore
With Hornady’s 6.5 Creedmoor 140-grain ELD Match bullet, the author was ringing steel out to 1,500 yards and beyond.

The square range exercises culminated with spotter/shooter teams. The spotter would pick a target, provide the distance, and make the wind call. The shooter would dial in or holdover as appropriate, accounting for the wind. While the shooter must calculate distance and wind correctly and adhere to the fundamentals to guarantee a hit, he is at the mercy of the spotter providing correct information. While ballistics are a science, we soon learned wind calling is an art.

Next came positional shooting where we braced the rifle on various objects. We used bags to brace against wood, rock, tires, barrels, and sections of chain-link fence at different heights, forcing us to shoot from standing, squatting, kneeling, and seated positions. Of these, standing is the least stable. I found that keeping my legs straight and leaning into the stock helped steady the rifle. Where feasible, using the front lip of the magwell to butt against the object we were shooting helped steady the rifle.

Day two began at 100 yards where we confirmed zero and proper technique. After a few minutes, we began engaging targets at distance, again using the spotter/shooter concept. We shot stages requiring the use of the positional shooting techniques we covered on day one. This helped reinforce fundamentals while performing with the added pressure of a shot timer. Here, it was abundantly clear that holding over was faster than dialing to account for elevation.

The author hit out to 1,500 yards and beyond using Hornady 6.5 Creedmore
With Hornady’s 6.5 Creedmoor 140-grain ELD Match bullet, the author was ringing steel out to 1,500 yards and beyond.

The course culminated with shots on a steel pronghorn target and a steel bobcat target on a mountainous portion of the property. The pronghorn was just under 700 yards at an approximate 10-degree upward angle. The bobcat was a little closer, but at about a 25-degree downward angle. We braced on rocks, and with Leupold staff calling the wind, we were able register hits with ease.

As a newbie to the precision rifle game, I found this to be an exciting and educational two-day event. The instruction was top-notch, and the equipment performed flawlessly. The Leupold Mark 5HD 5-25x56 scope with PR2 reticle made it easy to get on target fast, and the Browning X-Bolt Target Max made it easy to ring steel beyond 1,500 yards. Of course, ammunition plays a factor, and Hornady ELD Match bullets surely helped our cause. Best of all, I realized that with the right gear, which included a rangefinder and a Kestrel, you don’t have to be a math whiz to be a competent long-range shooter.

Shooting Position Demonstrated by Colby Ingram of Leupold
Colby Ingram of Leupold demonstrates how to support the rifle and his body.

X-Bolt Target Max Specifications

  • Type: Bolt-action repeater
  • Cartridge: 6.5 Creedmoor, 6mm Creedmoor, .308 Win.
  • Capacity: 10 rds.
  • Barrel: Stainless steel, 26 in.
  • Overall Length: 46.13 in., length of pull adjustable 13.75 in.
  • Weight: 9 lbs., 14.08 oz.
  • Stock: Composite
  • Finish: Matte blued action, stainless barrel
  • Trigger: Target DLX adjustable, 2.5 lbs. (factory set)
  • Safety: Two-position tang
  • Sights: None; integral 20-MOA Picatinny rail
  • MSRP: $1,730
  • Manufacturer: Browning, browning.com

Mark 5HD 5-25x56 Specifications

  • Power: 5-25X, variable
  • Objective Lens: 56mm
  • Tube Diameter: 35mm
  • Elevation Adjustment: .1 mil per click
  • Windage: .1 mil per click
  • Reticle: PR2-MIL FFP
  • Length: 15.7 in.
  • Weight: 30 oz.
  • Eye Relief: 3.6 to 3.8 in.
  • MSRP: $2,200
  • Manufacturer: Leupold, leupold.com

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