If you own a good bolt-action rifle of recent manufacture the odds are good that it is capable of grouping its shots within less than two inches at 100 yards. Many will print three shots into a spot covering only a square inch when teamed with the right bullet. Let us take the former first. If your rifle shoots inside two inches at 100 yards it will produce a four-inch group at 200 yards and a six-inch group at 300 yards, assuming that the shooter does his part.
It is true that you also have to deal with bullet drop, wind and other factors but for now just brand it into your brain that any rifle capable of two minute-of-angle (moa) accuracy is abundantly able to hit the vitals of a whitetail deer at that distance if the animal is offering a broadside target. For perspective, the average dinner plate is about 10 inches in diameter. How hard should it be for you or me to put a bullet from a scope-sighted rifle somewhere in the inner portion of that plate?
That is the very reason that when working with less experienced shooters on the range many coaches use paper plates as targets. A hit anywhere counts, and after a few sessions at known distances the white circles are placed on stakes at varying yardages. Having a single target rather than a scoring ring or set of grid marks is a confidence builder.
Every cartridge has what is known as a "maximum point blank range", a term used to designate the extreme distance at which a dead-on hold can be employed for hunting purposes. For a starting point how about the venerable .30-30 Winchester which a lot of shooters consider pretty bland stuff. Using the 150-grain round-nosed bullet it is possible to get a velocity of 2,300 feet per second the ballistic charts say that it has an MPBR of 240 yards. What? That old plow horse?
Yes indeed. Remember that we're talking about having the ability to keep the bullets within an eight-inch circle which a good rifle, lever action of whatever, is certainly capable of doing at that distance. A 200-yard zero is used which means that the bullet will hit one and one-half inches low at 50 yards, almost three inches high at 100, about five inches high at 150, on the button at 200, and just over seven inches low at 250 yards. Don't take this to mean that anybody advocates using the .30-30 at extreme distances because it loses energy pretty fast. At the same time don't discount stories told by old timers who claim to have bagged their buck at 150 yards with a .30-30. It is more than possible.
How about the same bullet weight in a sharp-pointed design and propelled by a .30-06 case at 2,900 fps? Maximum point blank range jumps to 310 yards because of the change in speed and shape. Sight in to be dead on at 260 yards to achieve this, or be more practical and set your scope that the bullets strike two inches high at 100 yards. From there out to 250 you are in good shape, and only about ten inches low at 300.
Without beating this tiring horse any more I will just add that the faster-stepping rounds have even longer MPBRs so the shooters who prefer more sound and fury and can use it to their benefit should feel free to do so. My favorite 7 mm magnum round with a 160-grain spitzer bullet has a max point blank range of 355 when used with a 300-yard zero. Consult the back of a good loading manual to find out how your pet compares.
Now we know that the rifle can handle lengthy distances in terms of accuracy and cartridges spit bullets fast enough to make long-range hits possible it is time to face the grim truth and admit that some shooters just are not cut out for such work. If everybody could do it then military and police forces would not have to be extremely selective when it comes to picking sniper candidates and the 1,000 Yard Club (prairie dog shooters) would have a lot more members.
Don't stop reading yet. A shooting buddy was firmly convinced that he could never possibly hit a small varmint at 500 yards with any rifle, especially with a whirling Wyoming wind making things more difficult. Now he plans an annual prairie dog shoot and has a couple of specially rigged rifles just for that sport. The trick was in getting him to believe in his own abilities.
Assuming that you have an accurate rifle and reasonably good optics in the form of a scope, a place to shoot, and some targets it is time to get started. First of all you want to build confidence so take advantage of a solid bench, and if you want to use a clamp-type rest then by all means do so. If not you can get by with something as simple as sandbags, but whatever you pick has to allow you to lock the rig down solidly and with absolutely no wibbles and wobbles.
On the bench you want absolutely nothing touching the barrel, and I do not even want my left hand on the forward portion of the stock. It gets tucked in snugly beside the right shoulder, the right hand is wrapped around the grip just firmly enough for control - no squeezing, please. Relax, don't tense up.
Put the crosshairs on a downrange target and take a few moderately deep, slow breaths. You will notice that even from a rested position your breathing movements will cause the crosshairs to move. When ready to fire with a cartridge in place and safety off, let a breath out about one-third and squeeze in one slow yet deliberate movement. If the report and recoil startle you it is to be expected at first. Rewind your mind and try to remember exactly where your crosshairs were when the sear dropped the hammer and things went "Bang!" Do it every time and at every distance. With a little practice you will be calling your shots with the best of them. Do the same thing from standing, sitting, kneeling and prone positions and burn plenty of ammunition until you know that shooting iron and what it can do.
A quick sidebar: if your rifle has one of the annoyingly heavy trigger pulls some makers use in an effort to avoid product liability lawsuits take it to a competent gunsmith and have him rework or replace it. Having a scoped rig that has already set you back a bundle and skimping on another fifty to a hundred bucks is silly. Most hunters can get by nicely with a trigger pull of three to four pounds. As long as they are crisp and smooth I have trouble telling the difference.
While there won't be a bench rest waiting for you when a trophy strolls into view there is usually time to find something to help support your rifle. Anything beats nothing, but if you have take a long distance shot you will at least be able to take advantage of your steadiest shooting position possible. The real trick to being a long-range rifleman is between the shooter's ears: if you are confident that you and your rifle can do it, you can do.