Long-Range Shooting Reconsidered, Part 1

From time to time, I’ve made statements like “…but now, with the range-finding and compensating equipment you can get, hitting … Continued

From time to time, I’ve made statements like “…but now, with the range-finding and compensating equipment you can get, hitting at long distances is not a problem.” So it was a shock to realize that this is not only a gross oversimplification, but to a large part untrue–sort of like a Donald Trump speech.

My own perfidy was revealed to me in a talk I had with an IDPA shooter (I make it a point to engage other life forms in conversation whether I need to or not) who dabbled in riflery. He had competed in an Any-Any match (any rifle, any sight) with his .30/06 hunting rifle, and from here on I’ll let him tell it.

“First, we shot at 300 yards, and I got a pretty good score, and I was wondering what all the fuss was about, but then we got back to 500, and then 600, and I couldn’t even keep my rounds on the target, and the target is 5 feet square. That was enough for me. I went back to pistols.”

For the entire 20th century, 300 yards was the edge of the earth as far as field riflery went. It was the maximum distance at which a good shot, with good, but not specialized, equipment, could consistently hit a big game animal. Since the second millennium, we’ve seen the accuracy of factory rifles increase by a factor of 50 percent, and we’ve seen an explosion of equipment designed to let you hit at ranges beyond that 300-yard mark.

But the fact is, that unless you avail yourself of that equipment, and work your ass off learning to use it, 300 yards is still pretty much the point at which the world ends. In 50 years of big-game hunting, I’ve made three long-range shots and hit (460, 498, and probably 550 yards) and missed two (both over 600). In no case did I have the faintest idea what the hell I was doing. I flung lead and got lucky three times.

Only once have I seen a shooter drop a far-off beast (antelope, 600 yards) and know what he was about. He turned out to be a member of the Ohio State National Guard rifle team, and considered 600 yards a mid-range shot.

It’s not enough to buy a rangefinder and hang a mil-dot scope on your big-game rifle, and I wondered if it would be possible to assemble a specialized hunting rig that could shoot accurately out to 600 yards and still cost less than a Lamborghini. Could I then take this weapon of long-range destruction and, under more or less field conditions, shoot a statistically meaningful number of shots at a life-sized deer target at 300, 500, and 600 yards with encouraging results?

The target is important here. It’s one thing to throw down on a sharply defined black bull’s-eye whose dimensions you know, and quite another to put the crosshairs on National Target Company’s life-sized NRA-Deer target, which is printed in whitetail colors and whose amoeba-like vital zone has to be guessed at from farther than 100 yards because you can’t see the line that defines it from farther away.

As for the rifle, I took my cue from the target shooters who give me regular lessons in humility. What we’re talking about here is not field marksmanship but precision shooting, and if you want to shoot precisely, attention must be paid to the people who are good at it.

Their collective wisdom follows in the next post.