How to Choose the Best Hunting Scope

How to Choose the Best Hunting Scope

In a recent piece, we discussed choosing your first hunting rifle, gave a few examples, and discussed the important qualities of each. That’s only half the equation, however. You’re going to need to top that new gun with some sort of optic, so what should you look for when it comes to glass? Read on for some important features, factors, and a few models to take into consideration on your quest for clarity. 

Magnification

Your first consideration when choosing a hunting scope, generally, is magnification. Primarily hunting back east, and rarely see a shot past 200 yards (if that)? A standard 3X9 is probably enough to fill your needs. Looking to push the envelope? You’ll likely want to go up to 15 or 20X on the magnification. Don’t let your bottom magnification get much higher than 4X, however. There is always the possibility of a close shot, and you don’t want your lower magnification so high you have trouble finding your target quickly in your scope. This is one reason why you should not simply get the highest power scope you can find: the higher magnification the scope, generally the higher the bottom end. The higher the magnification range, the more expensive the scope.

Additionally, from a performance perspective, you actually do not want that high a magnification of scope. For an ethical hunter, your longest shot should be nowhere near as long as a competitive shooter is generally firing onto paper. As such, the additional magnification at hunting ranges will do little more than make your sight picture needlessly wobbly.

Adjustability

Do you need an adjustable scope? That depends on how far you care to go in your hunting career. For the average, backyard hunter, a lack of ballistic turrets is no real problem. If you intend on pursuing longer, more precise shots however, an ability to dial in your adjustments is a must. At even longer hunting distances, you can get away with holding for wind, provided you have a reticle marked with wind holds (another thing I would highly recommend); the ability to dial is most critical on elevation. It takes a very skilled marksman, or a real Christmas tree of a reticle, to successfully hold for windage and elevation at the same time. Translation? Get a scope with a turret/turrets. 

Next, you need to determine whether you’ll be using MOA or MRAD for your calculations. While the differences between the two are worthy of their own article, in general, there is little advantage to one over the other for hunting purposes. MRAD has long been the military standard, while MOA has traditionally been used more by hunters. The important thing to keep in mind is that once you’ve decided on a system, it will be far easier to stick with it. Switching is, of course, possible, but you will have to relearn all your calculations and distances to do so.

Focal Plane

First Focal Plane (FFP), or Second Focal Plane (SFP)? The debate over which is preferable when choosing the best hunting scope is almost as bad as the caliber wars. In a nutshell, FFP magnifies from behind your reticle, which means that your crosshairs and other markings enlarge proportionally to your target, and thus your windage- and elevation-holds (subtensions) retain their accuracy. With SFP, the magnification mechanism is on the far side of your reticle, so your subtensions are only technically accurate at a certain magnification (generally the highest one). From the sound of that, you’re probably thinking: “why would anyone ever choose SFP?” As it turns out, the choice is not quite as simple as it sounds.

For starters, FFP optics tend to be more expensive than their SFP counterparts. If you’re not planning on doing extremely complicated holds and calculations (as are common in PRS matches, where FFP is now a sine qua non), the extra cost can sometimes not be worth it. Second, for an FFP reticle to work when at full magnification, it has to be incredibly tiny at its lowest power. If your hunting area has ranges that are not all that far, and you expect to do some snap shooting, this is not always an optimal state of affairs. For hunting at extreme ranges, of course, FFP is irrelevant, as you’ll be at maximum magnification anyway, and your subtensions will be accurate. In my opinion, both have their place, so do your research and determine which is best suited to your particular needs. You can learn more about their differences here.

Objective Lens

This is a simple one. The objective lens is that final number you see on a scope model (for instance, on a 3-9X40mm, 40mm is your objective lens size). The larger the objective lens, the more light is let into the scope, the better it will perform in a low-light environment, be that twilight or thick, dark woods. The smaller your lens, the less light will be let in. Additionally, the higher magnification you’re running, the more light your scope will need, which is why you tend to see objective lens size increase with higher magnification models. The downside? Larger objective lenses can be heavier and more cumbersome. For hunting optics, common objective lenses tend to be in the 30-45mm range. Take stock of your needs and find a good balance.

Models

Above are the main considerations you’ll need to take into account. Want some models to consider? Check out the list below for a couple of our favorites.

Zeiss Conquest V4

Much as with my article on hunting rifles, I am starting here with a bit of a Cadillac, but if you’re serious about hunting and long-range shooting, “buy once cry once” should be your mantra. While this is a bit of dough to drop right off the bat, it is still less than dropping a paltry amount this year, and then spending the exact same amount next year when you’ve decided you need a higher-quality optic to achieve your goals. The Zeiss Conquest V4 line is based off a 4X zoom ratio, and boasts 3-12, 4-16 and 6-24 models. Reticles are all SFP, with both illuminated and non-illuminated options available. If you’re going straight to the Conquest V4 line, I would avoid the Reticle 60 option, as it is the only reticle offered without any subtensions. Models can generally be found for between $699 and $1,299, depending on magnification and other options (adjustability, etc.).

Leupold Mark 5HD

I gave you an SFP Caddy, so I feel obligated to present a similar offering from the FFP side of the market. The Leupold Mark 5HD provides a 5X zoom ratio and FFP performance. It is available with a variety of reticles in 3.5-18X44mm, 5-25X56mm, and 7-35X56mm (I would recommend the lowest magnification model for most hunters). Turrets are all adjustable with ZeroLock technology, to ensure your dials don’t do any self-adjustment, and models can generally be found for between $1,499.99 and $3,199.99 depending on magnification level and features. If those prices seems way out of your range, Leupold also makes a Mark 3HD, with a 3X zoom ratio, while its VX line of SFP models move even further in the affordable direction. 

Vortex Diamondback Tactical FFP Riflescope

For more budget performance without diving too far into the $5 bin, check out the Vortex Diamondback Riflescope. Simple, rugged and affordable, these FFP scopes come with a lifetime warranty with adjustable turrets, and have one choice each of well-marked reticles in either MOA or MRAD. Models consist of 4-16X44mm and 6-24X50mm, and can be found for between $350 and $450.

There are plenty more worthy brands and models, but these three would be an excellent place to start when choosing the best hunting scope for your needs

Best Hunting Rifles for Beginners

Best Hunting Rifles for Beginners

Your first time afield can be a daunting prospect. From how to conduct yourself and dress, to which gear to bring and which to leave at home, the experience can be as humbling as it is rewarding, revealing just how little you yet know about how to thrive in the great outdoors. Potentially the most daunting part, is deciding on a rifle. While the process can be eased by using a mentor’s firearm, you will eventually need to pull the trigger on a purchase of your own. This is a big decision, as it can represent a substantial outlay of cash, and a potential commitment to a platform and caliber. Read on for a few great options to get you started on your search for the best hunting rifles.

Benelli Lupo

I won’t lie to you, if we were to liken this process to your first car, the Benelli Lupo would be a Corvette, but hear me out. Unlike flipping your 15-year-old self the keys to a 400-horsepower monster, there are some significant benefits to starting near the top of the proverbial heap. For starters, if (like me) you prefer to minimize your overall expenditures, this is not a rifle you will ever need to graduate from. With nine different caliber options, sub-MOA accuracy, a threaded barrel, and a weight tipping the scales right around seven pounds (caliber dependant), this rifle can take you from the treestand to intense backcountry excursions, and will likely outshoot your own capabilities at any distance. Additionally, for beginner shooters, the Lupo tames recoil with a Progressive Comfort system and Combtech cheek pad, though I would recommend a smaller hunting caliber for a first rifle anyway (unless you’re jumping straight to elk). The controls are also intuitive, with an ambidextrous, tang-mounted safety, a detachable-box magazine, and an adjustable trigger. The gun also comes pre-mounted with a two-piece Picatinny rail, to make mounting your first optic easy. MSRP: $1,699; www.benelliusa.com

Savage Model 110 Hunter

I should disclose upfront a small bias toward Savage Arms, as my first and most trusted hunting rifle is an old Model 111 I got a deal on at the local auction house. I say small, however, as my large predilection for the company’s firearms is due in larger part to the incredible accuracy and dependability I have seen out of their guns over the years. The company’s Model 110 line is about as storied as a hunting rifle can get, and encompasses guns from basic utilitarian models, all the way up to ultralight backcountry bruisers. The Model 110 Hunter is a great place to start. With the company’s adjustable AccuFit system, tunable AccuTrigger, and an AccuStock rail that secures the action along its entire length, the gun is a solid performer that can grow with you as your skills improve. Additionally, the tang-mounted safety and detachable box magazine will get you used to the ergonomics of other Model 110s when you’re ready to step up your game to a more lightweight or game-specific variant. MSRP: $849; www.savagearms.com

Ruger American Standard Rifle

Ruger’s primary offering to hunters, the American rifle, also comes in a variety of different trims, each with its own specific features. For a beginner’s hunting rifle, however? The American Standard will serve your purposes just fine in your quest for the best hunting rifles. Available in seven common calibers, the Ruger American Standard weighs in between six and six-and-a-half pounds, with a 22-inch barrel for good accuracy results. An alloy-steel receiver and a black-synthetic stock mean this gun can take all the abuse a beginner can give it, and keep on ticking. The Marksman trigger is adjustable between 3 and 5 pounds, the magazine is detachable, and a soft rubber buttpad is included for recoil reduction. To make the gun safe, an ergonomic tang safety provides easy access at a moment’s notice. MSRP: $579; www.ruger.com

Henry Long Ranger

While I don’t think any roundup of the best hunting rifles for beginners is complete without the inclusion of a lever gun, I must make one caveat. If you ever intend on getting into longer-range precision shooting, or longer-distance hunting, your first gun should be a bolt-action. While I appreciate the appeal of a good old lever-gun as much as the next red-blooded American, the fact of the matter is that with modern loadings and cartridges, a bolt-action is almost always going to be the best bang for your buck, and you should get familiar with how to run one right off the bat. Please note, however, that I said “almost.” 


If you have a true need to go the lever-action route, and you don’t plan on pushing the distances all that far, Henry’s Long Ranger has found a way to allow the classic design to run with modern calibers, making for an excellent and well-rounded hunting gun. Coming chambered in .223 Remington, .243 Winchester, .308 Winchester or 6.5 Creedmoor, this lever action comes with a detachable-box magazine instead of the ubiquitous tube, which allows it to run the aforementioned cartridges. Weighing in at seven-pounds empty, this gun is right around the weights of the other rifles on this list, despite some truly beautiful American Walnut furniture. A round, blued-steel barrel meshes nicely with a hard-anodized black receiver, which is drilled and tapped for scope mounts. While I’d consider mounting a scope essential for any hunter, it does come with a standard set of irons. Using a high set of rings, you could even cowitness your irons underneath the scope–this is a favorite setup of Eastern hardwoods deer hunters. MSRP: $1,195; www.henryusa.com


Bolt-Action Anatomy

Bolt-Action Anatomy

If there is a single type of rifle that has permanently endeared itself to American hunters, it is the bolt-action. While this may sound like elementary knowledge nowadays, it once was far from a foregone conclusion. In Europe, the lightning-quick straight-pull bolt-action is king, thanks to the popularity of driven hunts–particularly for boar. In 19th-century and early 20th-century America, the lever-action reigned supreme, thanks to its balance of speed and capacity, not to mention its efficiency with the commonly used powders and projectiles of the day. For the current century, however, bolt-actions provide the most effective combination of strength of action, speed of follow up, and capacity easily brought into line with modern hunting regulations. To see why, let’s take a closer look at bolt-action rifle anatomy.

Platforms

While the modern hunter will most commonly encounter bolt-actions mounted on a traditional wood or synthetic stock, bolt-actions are versatile enough to be found on a wide variety of shooting platforms. More precision- and competition-minded folks tend to run bolt-actions mounted to highly adjustable chassis–with adjustments for everything from length of pull to drop at comb. On the other end of the spectrum, those concerned with a diminutive package and looking to shave some pounds will utilize bolt-action pistols, like the new Savage 110 PCS. How it’s mounted has little to do with the action itself, of course. I merely mention it to show how well the design has proliferated through the gamut of firearm platforms.

Receiver

Dating from 1824, bolt-action anatomy remains incredibly true to its initial design, improvements mostly reflecting adaptations to changing cartridge technology, or machining processes. The first piece of note is the receiver. Generally constructed from some sort of aluminum, steel, or stainless steel, this is the overarching metal “bucket” where all the functions occur–cartridges are fed in from the magazine, peeled off the top by the bolt and slammed home into the chamber.

Bolt

The action itself, then, is manipulated primarily by the bolt. For the purpose of this article, we will be focusing on rotating-bolt designs, as opposed to the straight-pull mentioned in our introductory paragraph. The bolt consists of a metal tube, which houses both a firing mechanism and a locking system. The firing mechanism consists of a spring-loaded firing pin (which touches off the primer of a cartridge), while the locking mechanism is made up of a varying amount of lugs, which lock into slots in the receiver for a firm hold. Though it sounds simple, note should be made that this locking system is exactly what has given the bolt-action such an advantage with modern hunters and shooters. When the bolt is turned, locking the lugs into place, the lockup is significantly stronger than on–for example–a lever action, allowing it to handle heavier chamber pressures, and thus stronger loads. The bolt is actuated by a bolt handle, which protrudes to the side. It is lifted to unlock the lugs and pulled rearward to clear the action, then moved forward to chamber a round and pushed down to re-lock the lugs.

Feeding Styles

As the bolt locks the cartridge in place in the chamber, it is also responsible for the other processes of the action–loading, extraction, and ejection. Here we begin to see some differences between designs. The vast majority of rifles on the market are termed “push-feed.” Cheaper to produce than their counterparts, and boasting a higher accuracy potential, push-feed actions catch the next cartridge as the bolt moves forward, and push it into place in the chamber. This helps accuracy, as it allows the cartridge to center itself *slightly* better, lessening the effect of the minute disparities between cases. Where it’s less efficient, though, is in reliability. Since the cartridges are sliding into place relatively unassisted, failures to feed (FTF) and double feeds are marginally more common.

For the most reliable feeding, with a small hit to accuracy, shooters tend toward “controlled-round-feed.” These sorts of rifles are particularly prized by dangerous-game hunters. Instead of simply pushing the next round into place, controlled round feed latches onto the base of the cartridge with the extractor claw before stripping it from the magazine. This (in theory, anyway) eliminates the possibility of a double feed, and most common FTF issues.

These two types of action necessarily extract and eject differently as well. While most push feeds utilize a spring-loaded plunger on the breech (bolt) face, to spring the spent casing free as soon as it clears the ejection port, controlled round feeds use a fixed mechanical ejector attached to the receiver, to sling the spent casing free at a fixed point. This is due to the ejector gripping the round as soon as it is stripped from the magazine, rather than only when it is driven into the chamber. While there are many more intricacies between the two, this should suffice for a fundamental explanation.

Cocking and Firing

The other responsibilities of a bolt are cocking the action, and releasing the firing pin. Cocking is accomplished either upon opening or closing the bolt, when a lug actuated by the rotation of the bolt compresses the firing pin spring. Once compressed, the pin is held in place by a sear. Releasing the spring tension is accomplished by the pulling of the trigger, which actuates the sear away from the pin, allowing the firing pin to translate its potential energy into kinetic. Again, this is a bit of an oversimplification, and different varieties of the above process abound, but for basic bolt-action anatomy, it will suffice.

Outside of this, the bolt-action looks incredibly similar to other rifle designs. The magazine (most commonly a detachable-box or hinged-floorplate unit) feeds rounds into the action, which moves them to the chamber. From the chamber, bullets are propelled down the barrel, and are spun to stability by the rifling within it. The action can be made safe by an either two- or three-position safety, which can do everything from disengaging the trigger, to blocking the sear, to blocking the firing pin, to locking the entire bolt, depending on model.

Bolt-action anatomy, while representing only a small fraction of firearm design, is nonetheless a broad topic in and of itself. With the information above, you will hopefully have a firmer understanding of what’s going on inside your rifle, next time you rack that bolt and pull the trigger.


Making The Shot: Outdoor Solutions’ Long Range School

Making The Shot: Outdoor Solutions’ Long Range School

If you are considering hunting, one of the most important, if not THE most important thing to learn is proficiency with a firearm. The last thing you want, is to to put in all the hard work, locate the animal you are hunting, only to miss your shot, or worse yet, wound an animal without recovering it.

Our team recently had the opportunity to host a long range school event for our friends at Benelli, along with a handful of industry writers from some of the most popular publications. This event was to put the new Benelli Lupo to the test.

Below is an article from Andy Massimilian with American Hunter Magazine. We hope you enjoy it!

Making The Shot: Outdoor Solutions’ Long Range School

By Andy Massimilian (American Rifleman Magazine)

Making The Shot: Outdoor Solutions’ Long Range School | An Official Journal Of The NRA (americanrifleman.org)


“They will get you hitting at 1,000 yards before lunch on day 1”, explained Greg Duncan from Blue Heron when pitching a story to me on Outdoor Solutions Corp’s Long Range Shooting School.  Greg is a straight-up guy who’s not prone to exaggerate, but I was incredulous that success at 1,000 yards was as achievable, seemingly easily achievable, as he described.  As it turned out, he was correct, but on a 3:00 p.m. timetable rather than noon.  

The Long Range School is produced by Texas-based Outdoor Solutions Corp, which also arranges big-game hunting and fishing expeditions. I took the Level 1 course designed to help prepare big-game hunters for success on what is typically an expensive and possibly once-in-a-lifetime hunt where a longer-distance shot may be the only shot available. Taking a 1,000-yard shot on an animal is not encouraged, but learning how to connect with targets at that range and at distances beyond your comfort zone coming into the class helps with the more realistic, ethical shots you’ll potentially take on a hunt. 

A group of students gathers around trucks in the wilderness at the Outdoor Solutions Long Range School.The LRS is a 2+ day experience set in Texas, Utah or Michigan using field conditions for most of the shooting exercises, not a square range. You can bring your own rifle, but the class is conducted using a factory-spec Benelli Lupo rifle chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor and equipped with an Advanced Armament Corp Jaeger suppressor and a Zeiss Conquest V4 6-24X 50 mm scope. The ammo supplied is the Barnes BT Match Burner BT Match 140-grain load. Each of up to 13 participants is assigned their own rifle for the duration. There are three instructors plus support staff. My total round count was about 130.

Your Issue Rifle: the Benelli Lupo

The Lupo is Benelli’s first bolt-action rifle, and it debuted in 2020. Available in six calibers suitable for taking any North American big-game animal, this rifle is built to deliver greater accuracy than most competitive rifles of similar weight and price point, and Benelli backs up that promise with a three-shot sub-m.o.a. accuracy guarantee. In 6.5 Creedmoor, the 6.9-lb. Lupo holds 5+1 rounds in a detachable magazine and sports a medium weight barrel that is 24” long to wring out most of this cartridge’s potential velocity. 

Benelli Lupo rifle right side shown on white.The action is slick, relatively quiet, and has a 60-degree bolt throw for more rapid cycling. I found the stock contours make the rifle comfortable to shoulder and carry afield, but they’re not ideal by any means for the benchrest shooting that we did at the onset and conclusion of the course; Not surprising, given its intended use. Like most Benelli shotgun barrels, the Lupo’s barrel is cryogenically treated, which can improve accuracy and is free-floated. The trigger can be set between 2.2 to 4.4 lbs., and mine broke cleanly and consistently at a weight that seemed just under 4 lbs.

It Starts In The Classroom

A threshold requirement to long-range shooting is speaking and conceptualizing the language of milliradian (MILS) or minute of angle (m.o.a.). The LRS uses the latter system, and lead instructor Erik Lund took care to explain more the night we arrived at the lodge. Lund explained what m.o.a. meant and how to work the Zeiss Conquest 6-24X scope, which is calibrated in m.o.a. on its turrets and its ZBi reticle. 

A Benelli Lupo rifle sitting on a shooting bench next to Barnes Precision ammunition.Working the ballistic app and other foundational material is also covered and the worthwhile presentation is emailed to each student for future reference. We would soon learn the practical application of m.o.a. because wind holds, scope adjustments and target size are all communicated in that language. 

Live Fire

The next morning, it’s off to the range for a day of known distance (KD) bench rest shooting at 100-yard paper, then square 3-m.o.a. wide steel targets set at successive 100-yard increments up the mountainside all the way out to 1,000 yards. The steel targets are painted with a specific design that helps the spotter call the correct adjustment in m.o.a. by seeing where a round impacts the steel.  

A group of shooters aim their rifles downrange from the bench on a known-distance target range.Benchrest shooting techniques are explained, but the most important takeaway for me was learning to use the trigger where your firing hand thumb does not wrap around the stock. This method is unnatural and doesn’t fit the ergonomics of the Lupo’s hunting intended grip, but it’s worth some experimentation. For others, this was the first time behind a suppressed rifle, an experience Lund correctly said would make them never want to go back after seeing how much this accessory makes shooting more pleasant by taming recoil and lessening the harshness of a rifle’s report on the ears.

Day 2 is field work starting with convoying in 4x4s up steep hills into the mountains on narrow paths to an elevation 2,500’+ higher than the KD range. At the summit, you’ll shoot from 12 stations across four locations. Target presentations at each station vary with shots taken on the level, uphill, downhill, and across ravines and draws. Targets are placed in the open from 149 to 700 yards with most at 400 to 500 yards.

A rifle barrel and scope are seen in the foreground, while targets dot a hillside in the background.Ranging is done with a Zeiss Victory RF binocular. At some stations, the shooter chooses the firing position with a Sand Sock bag rest and your backpack, while at others, you are instructed to get familiar with using a BOG tripod or shooting sticks to help build a stable firing position. One of the more helpful tutorials in this respect was instructor Eric Suarez’s imaginative use of both the shooting sticks and a bag rest to achieve a rock-solid sitting position on uneven ground.

Building stable positions is a skill easily mastered, but accurately reading the wind only comes with lots of field experience and luck because wind conditions can be very deceptive. Case in point was a 470-yard shot from one ridge to another where a near full value cross wind hit the shooter hard. What was the wind correction we needed to make? As it turned out, nothing. The wind was only blowing where the shooter stood and about 25 yards forward and had no noticeable impact on trajectory. I would have never thought that to be true, and there were no visual wind indicators except at the shooter and the target.

A shooter mounts his Benelli Lupo rifle in the field while shooting off a bag rest.Coming down from the mountains, a final hour on the KD range allowed us to validate our skills on easier targets to conclude the class. This session also gave us a chance to work with the instructors on how to call wind corrections.  

A Practical, Field Based Focus

The LRS is not intended for the F-Class shooter or the ballistic nerd; don’t expect to hear esoterica like the Coriolis effect, spin drift, effects of cant, or the reason uphill/downhill shooting is different than firing over level ground. Those matters and much more ballistic knowledge in an interesting read can be learned on your own with Brian Litz’s seminal book, Applied Ballistics for Long Range Shooting.

A shooter aims his rifle across mountain ridges while a spotter mounts his spotting scope in the foreground.Taught instead are the necessities needed for reliably hitting steel over two days of live fire. A large part of that knowledge is how to use the GEO Ballistics ARC calculator, which accounts for several environmental factors that impact a bullet’s flight like humidity, temperature, air density and wind. The ARC calculator is key to making it all much simpler than in the past because it tells you the precise minute-of-angle (m.o.a.) adjustments in elevation, and if you use the wind function, windage. Though the steel targets were 3-m.o.a. wide, what was learned certainly applies to smaller targets.

Reading The Wind

For distant shots, wind reading is by far the most challenging aspect of putting a bullet where you want it. You can do everything correctly–perfect shooting position, trigger control and accurate ballistic calculator inputs—and still be robbed of a hit on target because of the wind. The LRS covers several aspects of wind detection but without using a Kestrel meter or similar device.  

Two men stand next to a steel target showing impact marks. One man is holding a Benelli Lupo rifle with a mounted suppressor.Instead, shooters are instructed to sharpen their powers of observation to detect direction of mirage, vegetation movement, bullet strike dust and spotting trace. In what I thought was the most impressive demonstration of wind calling of the class, instructor Ryan Pettis read mirage at two places downrange to give me a dead on accurate 1.5-m.o.a. correction on an 800-yard target. Looking through the spotting scope after two near perfect shots, I can only say that his well-trained Marine Scout Sniper eyes discerned subtle mirage where I couldn’t see any.

For more info on the Long Range School, visit the Outdoor Solutions Corp website.


Gun Review: The Benelli Lupo in 6.5 Creedmoor

Gun Review: The Benelli Lupo in 6.5 Creedmoor

How does this Italian bolt-action stack up as a long-range hunting rifle?

BY BRIAN MCCOMBIE | UPDATED SEP 22, 2021 12:42 PM

https://www.fieldandstream.com/guns/benelli-lupo-6-5-creedmoor-review/
Benelli Lupo on bench

Students at Outdoor Solutions’ long-range shooting class use Benelli Lupos in 6.5 Creedmoor topped with Zeiss glass. Brian McCombie

During the two-plus days I spent at the class, a fair amount of my attention was focused on answering the question: How effective would the Lupo be for taking deer and other big-game animals out to 400 yards?

Field shooting long range
During the second day of the shooting course, the students used the Benelli Lupo in practical field scenarios. Brian McCombie

Benelli Lupo to 400 Yards

The bolt-action, magazine-fed Lupo, I concluded, was quite capable of making first-shot, one-shot kills to 400-plus yards on big game. It was very accurate, the bolt-action locked up solidly, and the five-round magazine tucked up into the receiver nicely and out of the way. The Lupo is also threaded for a suppressor, and Benelli’s Progressive Comfort System built into the stock effectively reduces recoil. 

One caveat, though: Benelli placed the Lupo’s trigger system in the stock’s wrist at a strange angle. In some shooting positions, that angle required me to twist my hand and wrist in a way that made it difficult to shoot, especially when firing from a level platform like a shooting bench. Not that much hunting is done off a bench. Still, it will take a hunter some practice and adjustment to get used to that different trigger angle and trigger-guard placement. 

Lupo of shooting sticks
One of the students in the class puts the Benelli Lupo to work on a downhill shot off sticks. Brian McCombie

Taking the Benelli Lupo to 1,000 Yards

The class was held near Coalville, Utah, this past June, and was attended by 15 people, including myself. Three instructors, all with impressive military and civilian shooting credentials, took us through two days of intensive shooting, starting with 3 MOA steel targets ranging out to 1,000 yards. https://8daa68bf4c1bf6391da2e109e3f52182.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

Then, on the second day, we traveled up into the nearby mountains and shot from positions we might encounter while hunting, like off large rocks and tree stumps, from shooting sticks, and lying prone on rocky hill tops.

Obviously, the course was designed to make us better long-range shooters. But the purpose of that was for us to find out just how far we could ethically take a shot at a big game animal. Most of the participants I talked with hadn’t shot a game animal at much over 125 yards, and they wanted to gain the skill and knowledge to know how and when to take a shot at 300 yards or more. 

Benelli Lupo Rigged Up

Each shooter was provided with a Benelli Lupo chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor and topped with a Zeiss Conquest V4 6-24×50 rifle scope. We shot suppressed, the rifles tipped with AAC Jaeger 30s. Barnes Precision Match in 6.5 Creedmoor ammunition firing a 140-grain boat tail bullet rounded out or rigs.https://8daa68bf4c1bf6391da2e109e3f52182.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

We zeroed our rifles on paper at 100 yards, then shot more paper at 200 yards, taking turns shooting and spotting with a partner. Then we stretched to 3 MOA steel targets at 300 yards, and more steel at every 100-yard interval out to 1,000 yards.

Our day-two shooting was really a much better test of the Lupo as a longer-range hunter and the rifle did really well. My first shot hits included:

  • Within six inches of the target’s middle, at 650 yards shooting off a log with my backpack under my chest, and a wind of 10 mph wind moving right to left
  • Dead center twice in a row, prone at 480 yards, pack under my chest and small range bag under my shooting elbow, with the target posted upslope from me
  • Two out of three shots easily within an area equal to an elk’s vital area at 610 yards, rifle resting on top of a short, scrubby tree, with me holding off 2.5 MOA to the right to compensate for wind
  • And, 710 yards, my butt on the ground and rifle on short shooting sticks, two shots in a row, and my spotter put them a half foot apart and straddling the center bullseye.

A longer-range hunter? With that kind of accuracy, the answer should be, “Hell, yes!” And yet…

Benelli Lupo grip
The author found the positioning of the Benelli Lupo’s trigger awkward, especially when shooting off the bench. Brian McCombie

Ergonomic Issue

Those dead-on shots from positions much less stable than day one’s shooting table got me asking myself: How come I’m drilling damn near everything when shooting off logs and brush, first shot in all but one case, yet I had so much trouble the day before hitting a bullseye at a measly 100 yards?

Which is when I began paying attention to my trigger hand’s placement on these day-two shots and realized all my shooting was being done uphill or downhill. And with the rifle tilted at these angles, my hand and wrist were fairly comfortable. 

I also remembered that during day one my accuracy improved as the shooting stretched out to 500 to 1,000 yards. At the time, I assumed I was getting used to the rifle as the day wore on and so my accuracy improved. But it occurred to me that maybe the improved shooting was because those targets were placed up slope from my shooting table and I had to place the Lupo at a definite angle to make those shots.https://8daa68bf4c1bf6391da2e109e3f52182.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

The 100- and 200-yard targets I had so much trouble with were essentially straight ahead and level with me and the shooting bench. At that position, my hand was forced back and this twisted my wrist at an awkward angle relative to my forearm and shoulder; getting stable with my hand and wrist in this position was very hard.

The Lupo’s trigger system looks a lot like that found on Benelli’s Super Vinci, but the Lupo’s is pushed up and back into the stock’s wrist or grip at an even more extreme angle. 

Flawless Functioning

The trigger itself snapped off a very crisp 2 pounds 4 ounces according to my Lyman Digital Trigger Pull Gauge. The bolt worked easily and smoothly, even with the dust and dirt blown into the action during two windy days in a very dry Utah landscape. Recoil in this caliber was minimal.

But the design of the trigger placement, in my shooter’s opinion, is off. I hope Benelli can adjust that in future models, maybe a Lupo II?  That’s a rifle I’d gladly take on a hunt where I could expect a shot on a deer or elk of 400-plus yards.


 

Long Range Hunting: How and Why

Long Range Hunting: How and Why

Looking to stretch out your effective shooting range? Here’s how.

  •  By Hilary Dyer
  •  September 01, 2020

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Long-Range Hunting: How and Why
If you’d like to extend your shooting range even a little, learning to shoot 1,000 yards at the shooting range is a great idea. (Photo: Hilary Dyer)

Don’t worry — this isn’t going to be an article that preaches to you about how long range hunting game is unethical. It also isn’t going to be an article that encourages you to take shots beyond either your capabilities or the bounds of ethics.

The bottom line of hunting at any range is that each hunter needs to do some self-reflection and be honest with themselves about their equipment, their skill and their environment, and determine the distances at which they can deliver a clean, precise shot. If you’ve determined your maximum distance already and you’re comfortable with it — great. But if you’d like to be able to stretch out a little farther, it’s time to start flexing those long-range muscles at the shooting range first.

First, what is “long-range hunting” exactly? Most of the coyotes hunted in North America are shot inside of 120 yards. In places like the North Woods and the thick hardwood forests of the Northeast, even seeing 100 yards through the trees might be an impossibility, and most predators are shot at much closer distances, often as spur-of-the-moment shots while the hunter is pursuing something else (usually deer). But in the green fields of the South, the vast openness of the prairie or the wide-open spaces of the West, it’s not at all uncommon to be able to spot coyotes 300, 500 or 1,000 yards out.

Now, I’m certainly not going to tell you to shoot any game animal at 1,000 yards, for reasons I’m about to highlight. But if you’d like to extend your shooting range even a little, learning to shoot 1,000 yards at the shooting range is a great idea.

“If you can successfully shoot targets at 1,000 yards, the confidence to make a 400-yard shot on an animal is there,” says Erik Lund, lead instructor at Outdoor Solutions Long-Range School. “The skill and the technique and the knowledge we try to communicate, that breeds confidence in your abilities and hopefully allows you to expand your range where you comfortably feel safe or ethical engaging the target.”Related: Summer Predator Gear You Can’t Miss

So how do you get to 1,000 yards at the range? Quality optics, from binocular to riflescope and rangefinder, makes a difference with long-distance shooting.

The Math and Equipment

First, long range hunting is all about math. Fortunately for those of us who have forgotten every bit of high school trigonometry, a variety of ballistics apps are available on your smartphone that will do all the math for you. Ballistic math is calculated in either milliradians (mils) or minutes of angle (MOA). Because MOA tends to work with the American measurement system a little better, we’ll use MOA in this article. Your rifle probably came with a “1 MOA guarantee” or something similar. What does that mean? One MOA is equal to 1.047 inches at 100 yards. A rifle with a 1 MOA guarantee should be able to put every shot within a 1-inch circle at 100 yards — assuming accurate ammo and a shooter who does their part correctly. One MOA at 200 yards is 2.094 inches; one MOA at 300 yards is 3.141 inches, and so on.

If you’re going to shoot at 1,000 yards and your rifle is capable of 1 MOA accuracy, it should put every shot within a 10.47-inch circle. Incidentally, that’s a good bit larger bigger than the kill zone on a coyote, not to mention a fox or a bobcat. For this reason alone, you’re wise to seek a gun that shoots better than 1 MOA for long-range use. A gun that’s capable of ½-MOA accuracy should put its rounds inside a 5-inch circle at 1,000 yards, again, assuming ideal conditions.

Once you have a rifle that can shoot at least 1 MOA, you need a scope intended for long-range shooting. That means its elevation turret will have fine adjustments (.25-MOA adjustments are typical), and its reticle will have horizontal hash marks (some shooters prefer vertical as well) that you can use to measure MOAs. Your scope also needs the ability to set zero stop, so you can sight the gun in, set the stop at zero and always be able to return to zero for accurate dialing from there.Related: Shining New Light on the Blackout

When you’ve got your rifle and your scope and some accurate ammo in an appropriate caliber, you’ll need a ballistics app to do the calculations for you. I use the Zeiss Hunting app, which is simple to use and can set up multiple profiles for different guns and/or loads. It also syncs to the Zeiss Victory RF rangefinding binoculars, so the binos will give you your holdover without having to look at your phone. It’s not an inexpensive system, but it’s a helpful one.

The Skills

Your rifle, ammo, scope and app are ready to go. Now it’s time to do your part.

First, long-range shooting requires a rock-steady rest, both on the forend of the gun and under the buttstock. At the range, this is done on a bench or from a prone position. In the field, you’ll have to create a steady rest using shooting sticks, a bipod, your backpack, the ground, a wadded-up jacket or a combination of other factors.

Second, long-range shooting requires that the shooter put as little movement into the gun as possible. On the bench, this means keeping your non-shooting hand off the gun and keeping your shooting-hand thumb pointing forward rather than wrapped over the top of the gun; this keeps you from squeezing and torqueing the rifle. You should execute the shot itself at your natural respiratory break — in between breaths. Every movement of your body affects the shot at 1,000 yards. 

The Wind

“Being able to read wind is what separates good shooters from great shooters,” says Lund. Wind that might not be a factor at 100 yards will throw your shot wildly off target at 1,000 yards. Reading the wind — at the muzzle, at the target and at various points in between the two, which is the really tricky part — is an entire article unto itself, but it’s something that comes with practice.

Range time is the only way to really get good at this. In long-range shooting, we generally dial for elevation (using the holdover your app told you to use) and hold for windage, because windage changes frequently. You will use your reticle’s hash marks to hold left or right based on what the wind is doing. It’s important to remember how many MOA each hashmark represents, especially if you are working with a spotter on the bench who is calling the wind for you.

How Far is too Far?

Once you’ve honed your skills at the 1,000-yard range, you’ll be better prepared to take longer shots at predators than you have in the past. If you’re looking for me to put a number on it, you’re going to be disappointed — but what I will do is give you some considerations to think about when you’re determining how far you can or should ethically shoot at game.

First, remember that 1 MOA is 10.47 inches at 1,000 yards, and that’s larger than the size of the kill zone on a coyote. With a gun that’s capable of 1/2 MOA accuracy, if the shooter is perfect and the ammo is perfect and the conditions and wind are perfect, you should be able to hit the kill zone reliably. But when are all of those things ever going to be perfect, much less at the same time? One tiny misjudgment in wind or a minuscule tweak of the trigger finger can send the bullet off course.

Second, even if you could ensure that the conditions were perfect (no wind) and your shot would be perfect, the other factor you have no control over is the animal’s behavior. Depending on the caliber and projectile you’re using, it can take between 1 and 2 seconds for the projectile to travel to the target — and a lot can happen in a single second. If that animal takes a step, shifts its weight or rotates its body as you’re pulling the trigger, the shot isn’t going where you thought it would. Speaking of projectiles, they lose a considerable amount of velocity at distance, so it’s important to shoot ammo that’s specifically designed for long-range hunting to ensure proper performance once the bullet finally gets to the animal.

I’m not going to tell you not to shoot at game at 1,000 yards, but the above are all reasons to consider limiting yourself to a distance where the risk of wounding or not recovering an animal are lower. The old advice “if you can get closer, you should” is still sound.

The difference between 1,000 yards and, say, 500 yards is massive. Wind becomes less of a factor. The Coriolis effect (the curvature and rotation of the earth) becomes much less of a factor, and the math gets simpler. The bullet gets to the target faster and therefore leaves less time for the animal to do something unpredictable. And 1 MOA at 500 yards is 5 inches, so there’s more margin for error in the shot itself.

Wayne Gretzky famously said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” That might be great advice in hockey, but it doesn’t apply to hunting. Hone your shooting skills on the bench and take what you’ve learned into the field to stretch your shots out farther than you have before — but temper your newfound confidence with plenty of sound judgment and respect for the animal.

Remington’s legendary 700 action gets a number of long-range-specific upgrades in the Magpul Enhanced model, including a 20-inch, carbon steel, heavy barrel, an M-Lok bipod mount with folding bipod (helpful for getting a steady rest), and a crisp X-Mark Pro trigger.

Guns and Optics

Most of today’s off-the-shelf hunting rifles are capable of 1 MOA accuracy or better. If you’re going to get into serious long-range shooting as a hobby, you might consider investing in a purpose-built long-range gun.

For my recent long-range shooting course with Outdoor Solutions, I used a Remington 700 Magpul Enhanced chambered in 6mm Creedmoor, topped with a Zeiss Conquest V4 6-24×50 and firing Barnes Precision Match ammo. These loads are specifically engineered for extreme precision at extreme distances, which is vital if you’re going to stretch shots way out there.

Remington’s legendary 700 action gets a number of long-range-specific upgrades in the Magpul Enhanced model, including a 20-inch, carbon steel, heavy barrel, an M-Lok bipod mount with folding bipod (helpful for getting a steady rest), and a crisp X-Mark Pro trigger. It feeds from a Magpul magazine (10-round mag included) and comes with a suppressor-ready threaded muzzle. Cheek risers and buttstock spacers are included so the shooter can adjust the stock to his or her preferences. MSRP on the Magpul Enhanced starts at $1,249

Optics are arguably more important than the gun in long-range shooting, and now is not the time to cheap out. You need quality glass with specific long-range features, but some of the price points in this category are jaw-dropping. With a street price of around $1,100, the Zeiss Conquest V4 6-24×50 offers considerable value for a surprisingly affordable price in the long-range market.

They are second focal plane scopes, and the ZBR-1 reticle offers plenty of options for holding for windage and elevation if the situation calls for it. With 24X magnification and adjustable parallax, as well as a substantial elevation and windage adjustment range and a multi-turn elevation turret with Ballistic Stop, this scope has everything you’ll need to get into the long-range game. Two reticles are available — The ZMOA-1 is less cluttered and thus probably faster to use, while the ZBR-1 gives you more options with many more hash marks on the vertical axis. Both reticles are available in illuminated or non-illuminated.

A ballistics app is a must. None of the available apps are exactly “simple,” because this is complicated math with a lot of variables, but I found the Zeiss Hunting app easy for a newbie to navigate and set up. Once you input the characteristics and data of your ammo (choose a factory load already in the app, or add data on your handloads), the app will use your phone’s location to update atmospheric conditions and spit out precise tables that give you the elevation you need to dial your scope to at any range, along with all sorts of useful data on velocity and energy at various distances.

Outdoor Solutions Long Range Shooting School

I’ve barely glossed over the basics in this article, but there’s no better way to build long-range skills than by attending an intensive shooting class for a few days. Outdoor Solutions offers a great option, and I took a long-range class at their Utah school in June 2019. Greg Ray founded Outdoor Solutions in 2004 as a booking service for hunting trips and has expanded it over the years to include long-range shooting schools held at some of the same lodges where he books hunting clients.

“Our mission is to show people that they can use good quality factory gear, factory ammunition, and still be successful,” Greg says. “We want to hit the mainstream, not just the people who can afford a $9,000 custom setup. We wanted to be able to hit the average everyday hunter and use good quality equipment that doesn’t break the bank.”

A class at Outdoor Solutions includes lodging and meals, two days of range time, small class size, high instructor-to-student ratio, and all the training and one-on-one instructing you’ll need. You’ll spend the first day on the range working your way out to 1,000 yards, and you’ll be learning spotter skills as well as shooting skills. You’ll also be figuring your ballistic data via an app — which is an incredibly helpful step toward shooting independence.

On the final day of class, you’ll be in the field all day, shooting in realistic hunting scenarios from field positions, utilizing shooting sticks, backpacks, or other improvised situations to get a solid rest. This field day is one of the major things that sets Outdoor Solutions apart from other long-range schools, and it allows you to discover all the little things that change from the bench to the field — the kinds of things you don’t want to encounter for the first time when you’re hunting.

Outdoor Solutions holds classes in Texas, Utah and Michigan. They’ll provide the gun, optics, and ammo, or you can bring your own if you prefer, as long as it meets specific course standards. No experience is necessary — our class included a bowhunter who hadn’t fired more than a dozen shots from a rifle in his life, and he was ringing steel at 1,000 yards in a matter of hours.

With some of the top instructors in the country and a genuine focus on helping you learn to hunt — not just shoot — at long range, an Outdoor Solutions course is an excellent option if you’re looking to expand your skills.

For more information and to see their full schedule, visit www.outdoorsolutionscorp.com.


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