July 21, 2011
We all have our definitions of what constitutes "long range shooting," and we all have our personal range limits as well. For me, I think long range starts when you have to abandon a dead-on hold with your center crosshair and start to figure either the holdover or the alternative aiming point. At this point there's really no mystery and no magic; you have to figure out the shooting solution, and now it's just a matter of magnitude. In that regard it's a bit like artillery fire. The longer the range, the more complex the solution. Fortunately, even the most rabid long-range riflemen aren't quite yet to the point where the rotation of the Earth has to be factored into the shot.
A big difference between long-range field shooting and artillery is that "almost" doesn't quite cut it. A near-miss doesn't do you any good at all. There is, however, another similarity in that, at extreme range, the target may not know exactly what's going on, so it's occasionally possible to "adjust fire" and walk a bullet into the target. This is exactly the way artillery is brought on target, as in "right 50, add 100, fire for effect."
This is just one of the problems I have with the concept of extreme-range shots at game animals. Although we are definitely trying to kill a specific animal, we aren't at war with the critters. Near misses do us no good. So when a range is reached when there is no longer a very high probability of a first-round vital hit, we are actually out of range. Obviously this varies tremendously with the conditions. With my .300 Weatherby set up as it was, a 300-yard shot, just three inches of holdover, shouldn't be an issue. But add a 30-mph crosswind, and maybe even 300 yards is a bit too far.
In my day military snipers were almost a dirty secret. The terrible way we treated Carlos Hathcock is a prime example. Therefore I think the way we admire, almost revere, our modern-day snipers is wonderful. They deserve the respect they currently receive. On the other hand, I think it's extremely inappropriate to transfer what they do in combat to what we as hunters do in the field. Oh, sure, the "hold 'em and squeeze 'em" part is great. But in most cases the sniper doesn't have to achieve a clean kill in order to accomplish his mission. In fact, it could be argued that a wounding shot is even better than a killing shot; the guy that's hit is out of action, as are the guys who have to take care of him.
It could be argued further that the sniper doesn't necessarily have to hit his target to accomplish his mission. Doctrinally, an important part of the sniper's role is to demoralize the enemy and break up troop formations. This can be done by taking out leaders and crew-served weapons, but it can also be accomplished by near misses. In hunting this doesn't work.
This article is an expanded excerpt from Boddington's "The Shooting Solution" article, which will appear in the September/October issue of RifleShooter magazine.
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