The subject of long range shooting is something that is often met with a mixture of opinion. Some people will be amazed at what can be achieved with a modern rifle and equipment, while others will see it as unnecessary especially when long shots are taken on game. In reality the ability to connect with a distant target be it paper, steel or game, is in fact more about ballistics and knowledge than about someone's ability to shoot accurately. The vast majority of shooters are capable of shooting a good group at say 100 yards, but without delving into the ballistics of your rifle and ammunition as well as gaining some experience of wind reading you will most likely never shoot further than perhaps 300 yards.
It was probably some 6 or 7 years ago that I became interested in long range shooting. I have some very open-hill ground with little cover that I control fox numbers on, and was finding it difficult to get close to them here, often seeing them on the opposite hillside and perhaps 400-500 yards away. I began to gather as much information as I could on shooting longer ranges and also upgrading my equipment to suit. This is actually one sport where you can improve your chances of success by buying better equipment! I pretty much learnt what I have learnt so far (you never stop learning) by trial and error and missing a lot! Hopefully I can save you a little time and ammo here.
If long range shooting is something you wish to get into, then first of all we need to look at the equipment needed. Your choice of rifle will most likely be limited to what you can afford, or what calibre you may be granted for the ground you have (in the UK), for the general shooter we will stick to common centrefire sporting calibres. The .308 Winchester has always been a popular calibre and for good reason, although for longer ranges the 6.5 calibres have an advantage with their flatter trajectories, the .308 remains popular with many shooters. At the other end of the scale the 223 is capable of long range using a faster twist barrel to stabilise the heavier bullets available to buck the wind better. In truth any calibre can be used but to varying degrees of success. It’s generally accepted that the 6.5 calibres such as the 6.5x55, .260 Rem, 6.5x47, 6.5 Creedmore, etc. give the best performance of the sporting calibres before you start looking towards the more dedicated calibres such as the .338 Lapua Magnum.
To the majority of foxers or stalkers shooting at range, they will most likely be using their everyday foxing/stalking rifle and stretching its potential rather than buying a dedicated long range rifle so I won't go into too much detail on calibres, you will just need to realise each calibre's limits and shoot within those limits. You will also need a good quality scope ideally with target-style turrets that allow you to accurately dial in corrections, or at least have a reticle with mil dots or hash marks to hold off for elevation and wind drift.
Reloading is very much the norm for lr (long range) shooters partly due to cost and partly due to consistent quality of ammunition, however good quality ammunition often performs exceptionally well with the high quality of manufacture that shooters demand these days. Whether you decide to reload or shoot factory ammo, you will need to find a suitable brand that your rifle shoots best. A slow twist rate barrel will be more suited to shooting a lighter bullet and a fast twist will better stabilise a heavier bullet. As a rule of thumb, a light bullet will have a flatter trajectory but will be affected more by the wind, where a heavier one will have a slower more curved trajectory but will suffer less the effects of the wind. I personally prefer a heavier bullet for the simple reason that it is a lot easier to calculate bullet drop than it is to calculate wind drift.
Assuming you have chosen a bullet or ammunition that suits your rifle and shoots accurately you now need to gather some ballistic information. There are numerous smart phone apps, online calculators and gadgets that will give you ballistic information based on the information you input. The need to enter accurate information into these programmes is crucial, the phrase rubbish in - rubbish out is very appropriate here! One of the biggest areas for inaccurate data here is with bullet velocity. To get this right you need to use a chronograph to gather the velocities of say 10 rounds and take an average. With all the info entered you should be rewarded with a reasonably accurate drop chart and windage adjustments to use however, you may need to adjust some of the information such as muzzle velocity to fine tune the suggested corrections to match exactly your actual bullet drops in the field. It’s important to confirm your drops at various ranges on paper before shooting at live quarry.
With the use of a wind meter and some wind-reading skill you should be putting rounds on target out to 500 yards before too long. Past this sort of range other factors become increasingly more influential such as spin drift caused by the rotation of the bullet and even the rotation of the earth below the bullet will begin to have an effect on its point of impact. A good ballistic app should be able to factor these things in. I use a Kestrel windmeter with a built-in ballistic calculator which factors in just about every environmental condition to give an impressively accurate prediction for each shot, combined with an accurate range finder this makes for a reliable set up. Accurate lr shooting is not just down to good ballistic information, wind reading ability and quality equipment, but also good shooting technique.
The most stable shooting position will always be the prone position resting on either a sandbag, rucksack or bipod with a rear monopod or rear bag to add further stability to the position. Not all shooters will be comfortable using the prone position if it’s not a position they are used to but with a little practice they will soon find it to be the most stable.
Everybody has their own ideas of what they call long range, based not only on the calibre of rifle they are using but also on the individual’s ability. To some a 300 yard shot may seem long range where to someone else this could seem common place, either way it’s important to remain within the ranges you are confident with when shooting live game and to practice on steel or paper at further ranges until you are confident to extend the range further.Your biggest enemy when shooting lr will always be the wind. A lot of shooters will not shoot in windy conditions and so will never learn to correct for it. I personally will not take extreme shots on game in particularly windy conditions unless I am certain I know what the wind is doing, and will instead spend the morning shooting steel or bits of chalk on the hillside for practice. The only shots you ever learn something from are the misses, all the others are confirmation you got it right. The ability to connect with a steel target at 1000 yards and hear the 'ding' come back a second or two later or to see that fox crumple to a perfect chest shot at 500 yards make all that practice worthwhile.
The Internet, and in particular YouTube, offers an excellent source of information and tuition on lr shooting as you will have already found, along with various shooting magazines and books all of which will help you gain the ability and confidence to start to push the ranges you shoot at further and further. Over the future articles on here I hope to delve into some tips and tricks for stretching out the ranges as well as looking at and reviewing some top kit from some of the big names in the shooting industry. Until then, please feel free to have a look at my YouTube channel on long range shooting and foxing - "260RIPS" to whet your appetite!
By Mark Ripley