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Gun Sports - Long-Range Shooting

Cabela's Gun Sports: For Shooter by Shooters

Long-Range Shooting

Going the Distance: The basics of long-range shooting

Over the past few years excitement and enthusiasm for long-range shooting has increased dramatically — and for good reason. It's fun, challenging and a good way to hone your hunting skills.

As with anything, the more you practice, the better you'll become. Once the basics are understood, the fun of honing your skills is certain to make you a better, more confident marksman.

But what is long range? To the lever-action .30-30 hunter it is one answer, while a .300 Win. Mag. shooter will see long range as a different distance. Shooting beyond a couple hundred yards involves more than just aligning the sights and pulling the trigger. Pure marksmanship skills have to be refined. The following articles in this section contain easy tips to help you zero in on a better day at the range.

When broken down, the basic fundamentals and equipment needed to successfully hit targets at long ranges are surprisingly simple.

A special thank you to our partners Vortex®, Leupold® and Nightforce for their contributions.

Tools of the Trade

Rifle — A proven rifle capable of MOA (approximately 1" at 100 yds.) or sub-MOA groups is ideal. However, what may seem acceptable at 100 yds. may not be at 400 yds. and beyond. It's highly advantageous to have as accurate a rifle as possible.

Ammunition — Equally important for pinpoint precision is what goes in the chamber. For the best accuracy at long range, it's important to consistently use a bullet with a high ballistic coefficient (BC). The ballistic coefficient is the number assigned to the bullet that signifies how efficiently it passes through the air. A bullet's BC impacts its susceptibility to wind drift and overall performance. Heavier, longer bullets will often have higher ballistic coefficients. Weight is also a cricital factor when choosing ammunition. A bullet's weight has a direct effect on its velocity. Any solid long-range bullet should offer a good marriage of both BC and velocity.

Riflescopes — You can have the most accurate rifle in the world, but without a scope built specifically for long-range shooting, consistent accuracy will be next to impossible. A riflescope featuring turrets that track true and consistent is vital. In addition, you're going to want a variant of HD (high-density, extra-low-dispersion) glass fully multicoated with high-quality anti-reflective coatings for optimal light transmission in low-light conditions. The sight picture needs to be clear and crisp from edge to edge with excellent resolution and color fidelity.

Reticles — Many long-range riflescopes feature hasmark-based minute-of-angle (MOA) or milliradian (mrad) reticles designed for holding elevation and windage corrections. Ideally, your turret adjustments should correspond with the subtension reference in the reticle. Scopes can be purchased in Y4 or Y8 MOA or milliradian adjustments. If you have MOA-based turrets, your reticle should be MOA-based as well. Same goes for mrad-based turrets and reticles. Some shooters will solely use their reticle for holds when faced with scenarios requiring rapid engagement of multiple targets at distances requiring drop compensation.

Turrets — Custom yardage-marked elevation turrets: Information used to build a drop chart for your rifle and specific ammunition can be used to order a custom yardage-marked turret based directly for your caliber and load of ammunition. Yardage-marked turrets are fast and easy to use, removing the hassle of referencing a drop chart when dialing elevation. These turrets are ideal for shooters firing under consistent environmental conditions.

Rangefinder — If you can't get the accurate distance to your target, the long-range component of your precision-shooting plans will never see their full potential. A quality rangefinder is a must for any serious distance shooter. Any rangefinder reaching your required distance will work, however, there are models that allow you to choose your ballistics, thus making the distance more relevant to you.

Spotting Scope — Generally, longer shots are made easier with greater magnification. 12X, 16X, 18X, 20X, 24X and 32X are common top-end magnifications found on riflescopes built for long-range performance. It's a good idea to get a spotting scope to view those longer shots.

Long-Range Shooting


As with most skills, consistency is key. Consistent mounting of the rifle, consistent ammunition and consistent trigger pull are all crucial to ensuring accuracy. Without consistency, you're just slinging bullets downrange and hoping to get lucky.

Parallax Adjustment — An often overlooked and misunderstood aspect of precision shooting is the need to eliminate parallax. For riflescopes equipped with a parallax adjustment, it will either be in the form of an adjustable objective lens or a side-parallax/focus knob. Parallax does not always appear the same, even if the distance is the same, as atmospheric conditions can affect the image. Also, bringing an image into focus doesn't necessarily eliminate parallax. Parallax in a riflescope is the displacement of the reticle compared to the target from different eye positions, which can cause the shooter to believe the reticle is on target, while in fact it is not. To verify if your image is parallax free, while keeping your rifle and optic still, move your head up and down and left to right. If your reticle appears to be moving around the target while the rifle is stationary, you have parallax and will need to correct. Adjust your objective or parallax adjustment and keep rechecking by moving your head slightly until the reticle stays in position.

Atmospherics — Compensating for the conditions Mother Nature has planned for the day is critical. Various conditions such as temperature, wind and mirage can affect both viewing of the target as well as the path of the bullet. Temperature, altitude and humidity will affect the density of the air, causing a bullet to react differently. Modern ballistic apps are incredibly smart in their ability to help overcome some of these factors and save money on ammunition.

Shooting Positions — One tip to consider is that shooting from various positions has a direct effect on your rifle's zero and point of impact (POI). When a rifle is zeroed from a bench, the body's position around the rifle is different than a field or prone position. During your sight-in session it is a good idea to shoot your rifle from different positions and record any changes in zero and POI. Ideally, sight in from the position the rifle will primarily be shot from, and know the variance other positions may have on point of impact.

Leveled and Calibrated Scope — With long-range shooting, compensating for bullet drop, atmospherics and other factors is necessary to place relatively small objects onto relatively small targets at long distances. Because of the precise adjustments needed, it is extremely important that your scope is delivering exact adjustments. You can ensure exact adjustments with consistent practice and knowing your scope clicks for each subend inch. (For complex listing of terms and their process, please visit the Glossary.) In addition, it is very important that the riflescope adjustments track perfectly and are repeatable for elevation and windage adjustments. This is accomplished during both construction of the riflescope when mounting to the rifle. Without exact adjustments and perfect tracking up and down and left to right, shooting at a distance becomes a guessing game and the main argument for using a spotter.

Wind Meter — It can be argued that no other aspect of long-range shooting is more difficult to master and compensate for than wind. Unlike gravity, which drops your bullet and can be adjusted for mathematically, wind is always changing. The gentle breeze at your shooting position can be drastically different 1,000 yds. away. An accurate wind meter can make a huge difference between a hit and a miss.

Ballistic Calculator — Before you can dial elevation adjustments to make that long shot, you're going to need to know what your bullet is doing after it exits the barrel. There are many fantastic ballistic calculators now available for modern smartphones. Variables you will need to account for are:

  • Bullet weight
  • Ballistic coefficient
  • Velocity
  • Altitude
  • Temperature
  • Atmospheric pressure
  • Humidity

After generating your drop chart, you'll want to go to the range to test your data — preferably at a distance of at least 500 yds. or greater. Any discrepancy in what your chart tells you to dial can be accounted for by adjusting the velocity variable up or down until your chart matches how you're shooting at the range.

Properties to Consider

Lenses and Build Quality — Besides optical quality, how the glass lenses are affixed to the mechanical portion of the riflescope determines the long-term reliability and usefulness of a riflescope. The simplest construction is to secure the glass with a lock-ring; however, this compromises reliability and usefulness on heavy recoiling calibers due to energy transferring to the glass, which causes movement or, worse yet, chipping or cracking. The ultimate solution is to "bed" the lenses by using a semi-resilient (not rock-hard, but not soft) compound that isolates the glass from metal. With the glass "bedded", O-rings and lock rings secure the glass in place without glass-to-metal contact. This isolates the glass from recoil energy and creates resistance to impact and abuse, but keeps the glass firmly in place.

Riflescope Tube/Body — In order to protect the delicate optics of a riflescope, the tube or body acts as a shield from the outside world. Having a thicker tube allows for more absorption of abuse and provides greater thermal and mechanical stability in a wide range of conditions. This equals more consistency and ultimately accuracy when you might need it most. Generally, the thicker the tube the more windage and elevation adjustments.

Spring Type and Material — All riflescopes use a spring to provide pressure on your adjustments. Typically, many riflescopes use a coil-type spring. However, a leaf spring is typically more forgiving and less likely to wear out. Materials such as titanium instead of steel also enhance reliability and longevity for your adjustments.

Adjustments — Depending on your shooting, elevation, windage and parallax adjustments can do much more than just helping you sight in your rifle. Whether hunting or target shooting, shooting at any distance outside of a couple of hundred yards requires more than a little hold off. The adjustments allow you to compensate for sending a projectile traveling many thousands of feet per second through whatever concoction Mother Nature has whipped up in the atmosphere, while also compensating for the gravity that is pulling said projectile toward earth.

Things to Know when Purchasing a Riflescope

There can be more than one correct answer to the question of which scope to buy. A riflescope needs to act and peform just as any other integral part of a rifle. The optics themselves are not the only criteria that should be used to judge a riflescope. The best glass in the world won't make a bit of difference if the scope can't help you hit the target.

A reliable riflescope is a consistent riflescope. Consistency from shot to shot is critical for any kind of accuracy. Do you find yourself needing to rezero your rifle every time it comes out of the safe or gun case? Is the only accuracy that your rifle seems capable of attaining kept within the confines of a paper target at 50 yds.? All of these things stem back to consistency, or the lack thereof.

Sighting in your rifle doesn't have to be confusing or frustating. After boresighting your rifle, use this simple two-shot method and remove the mystery.

STEP 1: Make sure your rifle is fully secured with the crosshairs on the bull's-eye.

STEP 2: Fire a round from your desired distance, i.e. 100 yds.

STEP 3: Make sure your rifle is fully secured with the crosshairs on the bull's-eye.

STEP 4: Now adjust your scope so the center of the crosshairs are directly over the bullet hole you just made.

STEP 5: Make sure your rifle is fully secured with the crosshairs on the bull's-eye.

STEP 6: Fire a second round and drill that bull's-eye.

This concept works with rifles, pistols, iron sights, red dots, holographic sights and scopes.

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