June 24, 2013
By Ben OBrien
The 1,000-yard shot is just cool. Chicks dig it, and there's no doubt that your buddies at the range stand in awe of any guy that can sit down at the line and send one out that far — and hit.
Of course, bench rest shooters and military snipers regularly train at such distance, but most gun guys and hunters don't fall into either category — I certainly don't. There's really just not that many outdoor gun ranges that you can practice at 1,000 and not many real-world uses for the ability.
I shoot for distance to prepare for hunts that I know will require competency at varying ranges, for general proficiency's sake and,well, because it's damn fun. I've blown up tannerite at 800, shot plenty of water jugs at 600 and pretty regularly tested rifles out to 500 yards.
But, before two weeks ago, I could've counted on one hand the times I'd pulled the trigger at a target over 1,000 yards. I suspect that's the case for most readers.
When I set out for the NRA Outdoors Long Range Shooting School in Evanston, Wyo., in early June, I intended to push my boundaries, and spend two days learning the science of long range shooting and challenging myself to consistently ping steel out to 1,000 yards. The ultimate goal of the course, which was run by instructor and hunting guide Justin Richins, was to apply that knowledge to the realities of hunting in several real-world scenarios laid out in the high elevation of Wyoming's mountain terrain.
Before the weekend was over I'd achieved my goals, and experienced one of shooting's most unique classroom sessions. Here's the list of gear that made me an out-of-the-box 1,000-yard shot — six of eight hits prone off my pack. Not too bad.
The Right Spotting Scope
The spotter becomes the biggest tool in any long-range shooter's arsenal. It's important your spotter is able to clearly and quickly communicate windage, holdover and any other changes from shot to shot. As instructor Justin Richins told me, 'The spotter is essentially making it all work. The shooter is just pulling the trigger. ' Obviously, this only goes smoothly when your buddy is using a quality scope. Beyond just great glass, get a spotting scope with plenty of eye relief that is easy to use, has maximum field of view and isn't to bulky.
What I Used: With an 80mm objective lens, the Swarovski ATS 80 provides high detail recognition, and a wide exit pupil provides bright images in low-light situations. Swarovski guarantees all the necessities in its ATS line, including rapid target acquisition and a large field of view. All of this came through for our group. My spotter was able to adjust his focus out to pick up wind mirage, which enabled us to dope with ease. The Swarovskis worked so well, I was often able to pick up the bullet trace as it cut the mirage, lobbing toward the target.
The Right Ammo
OK, we can all assume most operators think .338 Lapua and .50 BMG when they're considering a long-range caliber. While these are certainly the best choices for snipers who are shooting at more than just a steel gong, there are plenty of other options that will do the trick for hunters and shooters. If you're considering hunting big game with a .50 BMG, you're probably just bored or overcompensating.
You've got to have a flat-shooting, hard-hitting cartridge that has proven performance at long ranges. Ask yourself how much you're willing to pay per shot and just how much recoil you can handle — the answer will steer you in the right direction. Make sure your choice has enough bullet weight and velocity to maintain plenty of energy when its hits the target, and doesn't fall below the subsonic threshold.
What I Used: Federal Premium Vital-Shok .308 cartridge with Sierra GameKing 165-grain bullets was our go-to load for this exercise. GameKing bullets feature Sierra's Spitzer Boat Tail shape, ensuring a flat trajectory along with excellent wind resistance and solid energy delivery, but the bullet was not quite as heavy as I would've liked. Still, this is a relatively inexpensive cartridge and is a proven killer for all big game. For a cheap and flexible cartridge option, this did the trick for me.
The Right Rifle
The first thing to understand about your 1,000-yard gun is shooting half a mile isn't as challenging as it used to be. A good spotter will increase your chances of hitting tenfold and the latest ballistic technology will fill in the rest of the gaps. The second thing to understand is, of course, minute of angle (MOA). At the very least, you've got to have a gun that will shoot MOA (1 inch) groups at 100 yards, which translates to 10-inch groups at 1,000 if all goes according to plan. Is that the most accurate rifle in the world? Not at all, but it'll get the job done for less than the cost of a custom bolt gun supped up for going long.
What I Used: The Weatherby Vanguard Series 2 line features a match-quality, two-stage trigger and a cold-hammer forged, 24-inch barrel, and is capable of producing .99-inch three-shot groups at 100 yards or less, which qualifies for our long-range discussion. Available in several different models at varying price points, Weatherby touts its Vanguard rifles as "the most accurate 'out of the box' rifles" on the market, and for good reason. I was able to put six of eight shots on target at 1,000 yards shooting prone off my pack, with varying winds to stiffen the challenge. My bench performance at that range was much better. Of course, the rifle could have had an adjustable stock, heavier barrel and other specialized features, but that would certainly require more coin.
Price: $649 to [imo-slideshow gallery=50],399
The Right Rest
If you're in a training class, you've got to work in a step-up process. We started with some dry-fire drills before moving to the bench and eventually to positional practice. When we hit the bench, the rifle rest was essential. To hit a target 10 football fields away, you've got to be comfortable and you've got to be able to easily adjust. As bench shooting is where you find comfort with your whole setup, don't skimp on the rest.
What I Used: With a cast aluminum base, Caldwell's Fire Control shooting rest is about as stable as it gets, and we beat the rest around pretty badly as we moved from place to place — it held up well. The Fire Control features a multi-directional control arm that allows the user to continually adjust downrange crosshair alignment, and we consistently made adjustments using one hand with fluid movement — we didn't need to change our shooting positions to make moves.
Price: Full-length, $299.99; Front-end, $269.99
The Right Riflescope
Here's where we separate the men from the boys, the consistent shooters from the, 'Holy crap, I actually hit the damn thing, ' guys. Be sure to understand first and second focal planes and the difference between a mildot reticle and MOA reticle. Both examples have advantages and disadvantages. Traditionally, most shooters were trained on MOA adjustments, but new-age tactical guys are leaning toward the mildots based on the ease of which you can make follow-up shots via custom turrets. Second focal plane scopes — the reticle seems to grow and shrink when you increase or decrease power — are also popular, as they're easier and cheaper to produce. It's just up to your preference, but just make sure you use quality mounts, pick a scope that comes with a ballistic calculator app and has the highest magnification possible for your price range.
What I Used: The Swarovski Z6i line offers a large zoom range in each model, plus a ballistic reticle system that can be used as illuminated or non-illuminated. In addition, a large eye relief offers better flexibility, safety and accuracy for adjustments for the precision of long range. We used Swarovski's MOA-based, second focal plane 2.5-15x56 Z6i 30mm scope, which had plenty of field of view for the job. Pair that with their proprietary ballistic calculator app, and our adjustments soon became easy.
Price: Visit SwarovskiOptik.com for details.
The Right Training
Justin Richins, a successful big-game guide and licensed outfitter, was the mouthpiece of this event. He has a litany of long-range harvests to his credit and has coached many clients to one-shot kills at long range. Guiding in areas where long-range shots are a necessity, Richins' knowledge of long-range hunting techniques has made him one of the top guides in the industry. The ultimate goal of the course was to apply that knowledge to the realities of hunting in several real-world scenarios laid out in the high elevation of Wyoming's mountain terrain.
The thin air, deep canyons and shadowed ridges in and around the Cowboy State's open ranges provided the perfect backdrop for one of hunting's most unique classroom sessions.
The three-day event featured a step-up process of training. First, an hour-long classroom session, followed by a morning of zeroing and bench rest shooting, and an afternoon of positional practice — prone, kneeling and sitting — out to and including 1,000 yards.
Instructors covered everything from the simple calculations of MOA to the 'chop down ' method of shot correction. I certainly came away appreciating the science of the 1,000-yard shot, and feeling confident in what I could do.
The Right Gear
To make the 1,000-yard shot, you've got to cover all your bases. Get the right gear: a wind gauge, weather app for your phone and the proper eye and ear protection. It's the last piece of the puzzle; don't let yourself down on this one.
What I Used: SportEar XT 4 electronic earmuffs offer excellent hearing protection — blocking out sounds over 85 decibels — while simultaneously offering up to eight times sound amplification. Best of all for our group, XT 4 earmuffs are comfortable and modestly priced.
Wind speed also plays an important role in long-range shooting, so be sure of Mother Nature's influence on your shooting with the Caldwell Wind Wizard. This tool measures wind speed in mph, ft/min and km/h, and can also measure wind chill and temperature in Celsius and Fahrenheit. The Wind Wizard also features a LCD backlight for low-light conditions.
Price: SportEar XT 4 earmuffs, $99.99; Caldwell Wind Wizard, $39.99