How to get started in Long Range Rifle Shooting

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Long range rifle shooting has been around since the beginning of the firearm. However, it has exploded in popularity over the last 10 to 15 years. It’s no wonder that it has when you can lay down behind your rifle and ring that steel plate at 800 Meters or beyond. It just makes you want to do it again and again. Sometimes for a shooter the prospect of shooting over a 100 meters can be a daunting one. So much so that often people that want to try long range rifle shooting just never do.

The other factor that can put a lot of shooters off is the cost. Granted if you get bitten by the long range bug you can end up spending a lot of money. But at first that does not have to be the case. In this article I will talk about what you can do to take an existing hunting rifle and use it for long range rifle shooting.

Long Range Rifle Shooting Equipment and Costs

So, the odds are that if you are a shooter already that you probably have a bolt action center fire rifle in the safe right now. Maybe it was dads old 30/06 deer rifle or something along that style. Now most hunting rifles are usually pretty light weight and the optics can be pretty low end. However, with a few inexpensive modifications you can start to get a feel for the sport.

Winchester Model 70 hunting rifle
Winchester Model 70 Hunting rifle

Stocks

One of the biggest issues with using a hunting rifle for long-range rifle shooting is the stock. Usually, they have been designed to be fairly light and somewhat smaller. This makes the rifle easy to carry in the woods and quicker to shoulder for the quick 100 meter or less shot. The trade-off with this is often the stock that does not fit the shooter that well. The other issue that I run into the most is that the cheek plate is never high enough to get a good sight picture through the optic. This means that the shooter has to hold their head up to get a good sight picture.  

REM 700 BRAVO S/A CHASSIS
$349.99 At Brownells
  • Fits all Remington 700 short actions
  • Available in black and flat dark earth colors
  • Weight: 2.9 pounds
  • M-LOK compatible


Prices correct at the time of publishing

Cheek Rest

This issue is a pretty easy one to overcome. There are a number of manufacturers out there that make adjustable cheek rests. These are inexpensive and easy to fit to the rifle. Prices range between less than $15.00 to $100 for something fancier. My advice would be stick to something simple. Stay away from the really cheap versions as the straps tend to fail quickly and the cheek rests ends up moving around on the rifle. I tend to like the Kydex versions, but most of those will require drilling a hole or two through the stock.

long range rifle shooting
Kydex Cheek riser fited to a hunting stock
Our Pick
Kydex Adjustable Cheek Rest Riser .080" for scoped Rifle
$29.99
  • Light Weight(6 Oz) And Extremely Durable
  • Perfect and consistent Cheek Weld
  • Scratch Resistant and Stain Proof
  • 100% Made In USA
  • Includes mounting hardware


Prices correct at the time of publishing

Recoil Pads

The other effect of a light weight hunting rifle is the recoil. Most guys that I know do not shoot the rifle they hunt with enough because of the recoil. We can mitigate this in two ways. The first would be to take the rifle to a gun smith and have them install a hard mounted recoil pad. This option can be hard to do yourself as often the stock will need to be shortened a little, depending on your pull length requirements. Also, most hard mounted recoil pads will require some amount of adjustment and fitment to the rifle.

Recoil Pad
A custom fitted recoil pad.
Pachmayr Deluxe Field White Line Recoil Pad
$23.00 - $34.12
  • Designed to be a good choice for either rifles or shotguns
  • Excellent recoil Absorption
  • Full length of the pad-5.70 in


Prices correct at the time of publishing

Slip on Recoil pad

The other way to deal with this is to use a slip on pad. A slip on recoil pad is an inexpensive way to help mitigate some of the recoil on a lightweight rifle. A slip on recoil pad costs between $10.00 and $20.00 and takes about 30 seconds to install. The down side of them is that they can move around when you are shooting. This can make shouldering the rifle exactly the same way each time a little troublesome. The recoil pad will also add to the length of pull of the rifle, (Length of pull is the distance from the trigger to the center of the butt stock). The length of pull can change the way the rifle feels to shoot and can play a big part in being comfortable while shooting.

slip on recoil pad
A slip on recoil Pad

Long Range Rifle Scopes

The optic or scope that is fitted to the rifle is going to be the next thing you will need to look at. Most older hunting scopes are usually a pretty low quality. Often the magnification will be low, and the reticle will be a duplex or fine wire style. While this is Ok for a quick short range shot it will be a problem once you start going out to longer distances.

Rifle scopes are one of those things that we will go into much deeper in an article all to itself. There is such a huge choice and range of pricing out there that it will make your head spin. Not to mention reticle choices, turret choices and increments. The goal of this article is to get you into shooting faster for as little upfront investment as possible.

Basic Scope Set up

Before you go to the range you want to check the basic set up on the scope. The first thing you need to do is check the position of the scope on the rifle. To do this you need to:

  • Get down either in the prone position or on a bench depending on how you intend to shoot and adjust the cheek rest so that you can see clearly through the scope. If you need to lift your head to see through the scope, then the cheek rest needs to be higher. if you have to slide your head down off the stock to see clearly then the cheek rest needs to be lower.
  • Check the fore and aft adjustment. When looking through the site if you have to move closer to the scope to see, then you should move the scope back towards you. If you have to move your head back, then the scope needs to be moved forward away from you.
  • Make sure that the scope mounts and rings are correctly tightened even if you did not move them. Scope mounts should be tightened 30 to 65 inch-pounds depending on the mounting bolt size. The scope rings should be tightened between 16 to 18-inch pounds.
  • Adjust the reticle focus until the crosshairs are clear in the scope. Make sure to close your eyes often and reopen them to check the adjustment. The reticle should clear and sharp the minute you open your eyes.
  • Once you are done, close your eyes. Breathe in and out then open your eyes. If everything is done right the scope should be in perfect focus and with a clear view through it. If you have to move your head around to find the focus, then you need to start again and work through the setup procedure.

Checking Zero

So, if you have a usable scope that you have set up correctly, then the first thing to do is zero it and check it for repeatability. If the scope does not test well then it is time to spend some money. One thing to remember is you can always transfer a scope to a new rifle. It is better to buy a better scope and grow into it than to buy a lessor quality cheaper scope and have to try and sell it later. Most cheaper scopes have low to no resale value, so it does not make sense to throw money away on them.

If you are looking at having to buy a scope the Vortex DiamondBack scopes are good entry-level scope at an affordable price. I purchased the EBR-2C MRAD reticle scope for an AR build about a year ago. For the money, the scope has performed really well and is very repeatable.

Great Value for money, We use this scope
Vortex Optics Diamondback Tactical First Focal Plane Riflescope
$349 to $549.00

Vortex diamondback scopes are a very affordable Front Focal plane line of scopes. They are available in both MOA and MRAD reticles with matching turrets. They are also available in multiple sizes 4-16 x 44 and 6-24 x 50

Prices correct at the time of publishing

Ammunition

When you go to range to zero your rifle, make sure that you use a good quality brand of ammunition. We will go into bullet choices later in this article, but at first you want to use good quality match brand of ammunition. Brands like Federal and Hornady, that have been around for a long time and are the way to go. Do not worry too much about the bullet weights for right now.

Make sure the ammunition you choose matches the caliber of your rifle. Also make sure that your rifle is safe to use with the ammunition. If you have a much older rifle, then you may want to have a gunsmith check it out before you start to shoot it. At this time, you want to stay away from reloads, unless they are yours and you are confident of the quality. Reloads can introduce an accuracy issue that you just don’t need when starting off.

Focus on good shooting practices

No matter the type of shooting you are doing the biggest influence on accuracy is the shooter themselves. You need to have the fundamentals of shooting really down pat and be able to replicate every time you pull the trigger. The following points are quick over view of what you need to do.

Looking through the scope

When you are down behind the gun and looking through the scope you need to limit the amount of time you continue to focus on the target. If you spend more than about 8 seconds your eyes can begin to play tricks on you. Your scope set up can affect this greatly. If you are straining to see or have to hold your head up to see, then it will cause you to work a lot harder to line up the scope.

Alignment to the target

The first time you look through the scope the odds are that the target will not be directly in front of you. You need to adjust the rifle position so that you will instantly acquire the target. If you have to move around to get onto target. You should re-adjust the rifle or move your body until sight is on target. If you have strain to hold on the target it will result in a bad shot as your muscles will be working too hard. A good indicator of good target alignment is after the shot the rifle will still be on target. If you have to try and look around to re-acquire the target, then your alignment is not so good.

Breath control

As we breath in and out the rifle will move with us. If we cannot control our breathing at the moment we press the trigger then there is a good chance it will affect the shot. A few points to remember and practice when you are the range:

  • Breath normally before taking the shot
  • Do not breath in and then try to hold your breath while you press the trigger. This technique will result in you letting all your breath out when you fire resulting in a bad shot.
  • Breath out about ¾’s of a breath then hold and slowly press the trigger.
  • Do not try to hold your breath for a long time, if it is taking too long to get a good sight picture, stop, close your eyes, breath and start again.
Watch our video for tips how to improve your long range shooting

Grip

The rifle should be snugly located back into your shoulder. Although you do not want to have a death grip on the stock. If you try and pull the stock back into hard then you will be all tensed up. This will make it harder for you to get a good sight picture and maintain good control.

For a good grip you should:

  • The trigger hand should have a good grip on the stock and the index finger lightly resting on the trigger.
  • Do not try to squeeze the grip too tight, instead apply a medium pressure and pull back towards your shoulder
  • Your other hand should grasp the butt of the stock close to your shoulder and pull the rifle back into your shoulder. You can also use this hand to adjust the rifle up and down to help target acquisition.
  • If you are shooting without a bipod or front rest, then you should be using a rifle sling. In which case your front hand should be all the way up at the front of the sling swivel and the sling wrapped around your arm to pull the stock back into your shoulder.

Trigger control

Even if you are doing everything else right a bad trigger pull can mess it all up. The trigger pull should be a nice smooth press, directly back towards you. With the sight aligned on the target, breath out and hold, then press the trigger. It should almost be a surprise when the gun goes off.

Trigger quality and pressure ratings can play a large part in trigger control. Most hunting and military type rifles have pretty heavy triggers. This means it takes a lot of force to press the trigger until the rifle fires. The reason for this is a heavy trigger is a safer trigger. You have to mean it to press it. It is also safer if the rifle is dropped in that it is less likely to discharge.  

  • A heavy trigger is a dis-service to accuracy, but a service to safety
  • A light trigger is a service to accuracy, but a dis-service to safety.

Starting off small

On the first trip to range start off small. Do not expect to be able to just throw the gun down and start hitting that 1000 meter gong. Especially when you have no real sighting data or ammunition data. Instead start off at the 100 meter range. With a reasonable quality rifle and good shooting skills you should be able to shoot a 1” or better group. Then move up to 200 meters and so on.

Shooting longer distances

As you move up in distance you will have to increase the barrel elevation. There are two ways of doing this. Depending on the scope your using you dial up or hold over. The dial up method means that you will adjust the scopes elevation knob up. This will allow you to hold the cross hairs on the target and press the trigger.

long range rifle shooting
Hold over to allow for bullet drop

Reticles for Long Range Shooting

The hold over method means that you aim higher or even above the target so that when the bullet gets there it will hit the target. To do this the reticle will need some type of reference points on the cross hairs. Trying to hold over with a duplex or fine wire cross hair scope is almost impossible to be consistent and have good results. This is where the tactical sights come in to play. Having a graduated reticle allows you to pick a specific point on the reticle and hold that on the target.

Different recticles, long range rifle shooting
Showing the difference between fine wire and duplex reticles. These types of reticles are not a good choice for long range rifle shooting

Finding the elevations to use is part of the fun in long range shooting. It takes time and there are a number of factors that can influence how much elevation change you need to compensate for bullet drop.

Buying a first rifle for long-range rifle shooting

If you do not have a rifle that you can start with there are a number of ways to find a reasonably priced rifle. Big box stores like Cabela’s, Sportsman’s Warehouse, or Bass Pro shops routinely run fairly good deals on rifles like Remington, Mossberg, Savage, Ruger, just to name a few. You can pick up a brand new rifle for around $450 – $700 without a scope.

The other option would be to look at used rifles. Sites like gunbroker.com will often have people selling used rifles already set up with a scope, bipod, and cheek rest and be ready to shoot. Another option would be to check out the local gun range and look on the bulletin board. There you will find local people selling off used rifles.

Choosing a caliber for Long Range Rifle Shooting

Choosing a caliber to start shooting long distance today can be like walking through a minefield. There are so many choices and articles on what you should be using or not using it will make you head spin. My advice when starting off would be to stick to the NATO standard rounds like .308, (7.62 NATO), or 5.56 NATO round. The .308 would be my first choice over the 5.56 just because of its range capability.

Some of the many advantages of using military specification ammunition are:

  • Usually it will have good availability. You can go just about anywhere in the country and be able to buy a box if you needed to
  • There is a lot of published data on performance. This makes it easy when starting off and getting rough elevation data
  • Price point, because so much ammunition is produced, and availability is good it helps keep the price down.

Rounds like the 6.5 mm Creedmoor have become more popular and more available. The ballistics on these bullets are impressive and because so many people are now using it the price point and availability is getting better. Now as of mid-2018 the US military announced that they would be picking up the 6.5 Creedmoor you can bet that availability and pricing will only get better.

Finding where to go Long Range Rifle shooting

Now you have all this information you need to find a place to shoot. The NRA website has a list of ranges and clubs that cater to all different types of shooting. You can check it out here (https://explore.nra.org/programs/clubs/)

Simply put in your zip code and look through the list to find something close to you. Depending on where you live sometimes you can find areas on public land where you can shoot. Remember to be safe and be aware of the bullets path. Make sure you know where that projectile is going to end up. Do not shoot across a road or into an area that you cannot see.

Shoot as a Team

Once you’re hooked, get some training. There are a number of ranges around the country that offer training for long range rifle shooting. Shoot with a friend, long range shooting works best with two people. This allows one to act as the spotter while one of you shoots. This will help you get on target and dialed in much quicker.

Remember to take it slow, always use good shooting habits, have fun, and be safe….

Kurt (aka Shooter 1)

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