Looking to stretch out your effective shooting range? Here’s how.
- By Hilary Dyer
- September 01, 2020
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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.
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.
“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.
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.