Competitive Shooting

Long-Range Shooting: Where to Start

Long-Range Shooting

With the popularity of bolt-action “chassis rifles” like the Ruger RPR, there are a lot of folks now wanting to find out just how good their new gun is and just how good they are by trying some long-range shooting.

After firing some impressive 100-yard groups, the next step is stretching out the distance, covering more real estate, shooting long-range.

For this article, I’m defining “long-range” as “longer” range—anything that’s beyond the routine firing distance. That might be 300, 400, 500; a distance beyond someone’s experience and, just now, comfort level.

About the first question is where to adjust the sight—how, and how much, to get the extra elevation to get on target.

Get OK with MOA

Lomg-Range Rifle with Scope
A truly good scope is crucial to success in long-range shooting, and “truly good” isn’t just how much magnification it has. It’s in the precision of the sight movements. My scopes pretty much all have gold rings…

Over a few years, I’ve gotten the content of this letter a few times, and I’ll merge the gist of those questions into this: I’ve been shooting 100 yards and I wanted to try 500 yards.

I looked up the (whichever-source) drift and drop charts for my load and bullet and saw that there was a several-inch drop from 100 to 500. I adjusted for that and I am way over the top of the target. What am I doing wrong?

For long-range shooting, get in synch with the sight! Think MOA (Minutes Of Angle), not inches. A Minute of Angle (MOA) is an angular measurement. It’s 1/60th of one degree (360 degrees in a circle).

One MOA spreads about one inch per 100 yards (precisely it’s 1.047 inches). One MOA is a different size at different distances because, again, it’s an angular measurement, not an empirical measurement.

Multiply or divide to get the right answer for your distance. One MOA at 100 yards is one inch, so at 400 yards one MOA is worth four inches.

What matters is getting the come-ups (elevation adjustment from one distance to another) in MOA. Or, if the chart gives inches, then divide by the distance multiple and apply that to the sight.

If there is a 20-inch drop from 100 to 400 yards, the 400-yard distance multiple is four, so divide the 20 inches by four, get five, and that’s how many minutes of adjustment to put on the sight — and then put on the elevation in MOA.

If it’s a “quarter minute” sight (four clicks per one MOA movement) then it’s 20 clicks. Easy.

That also means, using the same 400-yard point, that one click on the sight “back here” at the firing line results in 1 inch of movement “down there” on target.

So divide or multiply by the distance multiple depending on what you need to know. Follow?

Setting Up for Long-Range Shooting

Long-Range Rifle with Bipod
To get away from the benchtop, a sturdy bipod is a must-have. I’m partial to the VersaPod brand for a good value.

You’ll likely be firing from a benchrest position with the rifle supported by sandbags.

There are options for a rifle rest apparatus beyond simple sandbags, but just make sure there’s adequate support for the rifle such that its elevation can be easily adjusted, both for centering the sight and for letting you get in a good position next to it.

If you want to get horizontal (my recommendation) don’t scrimp on a bipod, get one claimed to be “heavy-duty.” A shooting mat is a big help, as is a good spotting scope and stand.

That’s not so much for checking after targets, but for reading wind ( focus halfway to the target and watch mirage flow), and that’s another article.

Optic Choice

Long-Range Shooting Rail
This is a specialty rail that serves two (main) purposes. One is that it gives enough room to mount the scope forward for prone shooting, and two, is it can include a head-start on the extra elevation needed for longer ranges.

“How much” scope is a good question and for good reason.

Any sight is first and foremost an aiming reference. When what you’re aiming at is more distant, it helps to see it more clearly and better defined, so it’s a given that we need an optical sight with some capacity for magnification.

If you don’t have one, I’d suggest something with at least 16X as max power, and will also tell you that 12X won’t be a cause for a miss at 500 yards.

Yes, 25X is better. Bigger magnification, though, amplifies mirage and “jiggles” — but those are distractions, not detractions.

How to handle mirage? It’s an optical illusion (the target is not really moving). Shoot through it. Fire to what looks like the center of the target and that’s where you’ll hit.

Front focal plane is best, and that’s because the reticle is magnified when scope magnification is increased. I also like to have a side-focus knob.

It takes more than big magnification to make a good long-range scope. A good scope is not just about being able to see the target.

The difference in a really good scope and, well, anything else, is not only in its target view. It’s in precision and consistency of sight “click” adjustment.

After we’re on the target, keeping the shots on-center means paying attention to wind, and in paying attention to wind you’ll see small buildups and let-offs shot to shot.

These take one, two, three clicks to adjust for. So we’re shooting along and put one on, then take two off, one on, two on, one-off, and so on — onesies and twosies.

What matters is that those clicks are all applied to the reticle! A good scope won’t give a false click. A “dead” click skips and jumps. I am partial to L-brand.

Nightforce is also good, as are any of the high-Duetchmark Euro-brands.

Mount the scope so it’s high enough for your own comfort, and likewise, far enough forward! The best scope positioning for benchrest shooting will be farther back, as opposed to the best position for prone shooting.

The point is to adjust the scope position for your shooting position. It’s especially important to keep the neck relaxed, no strain when you’re looking through the center of the scope. An adjustable cheekpiece is mandatory on a serious gun.

Incorporate a bubble level into the system. It does make a difference and, best thing, it’s “free!” This means it’s how to beat an otherwise unknown enemy without even trying: just check the level.

Elevation Range

MOA Information
A good scope will have about 90 minutes of total elevation adjustment range, 45 minutes above and below the reticle centered position.

That’s plenty for any reasonable target distance with most cartridges. However! It’s better to keep the movement adjustment range closer to the center of the scope.

To that end, there are ring bases and also scope mounting rails that add extra elevation to start. Most I’ve seen are +20 MOA.

I don’t think any such is necessary unless you’re planning on routinely shooting beyond 500 yards. If you want to fire between that distance and 1000+ then, by all means, add the 20 MOA to the scope mount.

Making the Shot

Long-Range Shooting Level
Put a level on the gun! At long range, cant-induced shot dispersion is a very real thing. I check the level last thing before firing a shot, so get one that you can see from shooting position.

Whoa. There’s a whopping lot to be said about this one. First, there’s nothing to be scared of. Mostly, don’t be afraid to live and learn: shoot and adjust.

If you’re shooting on steel plates, which is likely, it really helps to have someone spotting for you, and that’s a great use of the spotting scope. Keep good notes.

Pressures matter! Just because the rifle is stable and the sight is centered perfectly on the target, doesn’t mean all you have to do is knock the trigger back to hit the target.

Pay very close attention to making all the pressures you have against the rifle dead-on the same for each shot. This matters more than I can tell you.

Last Word

Long-Range AR-15
This here is my current “field” long-range shooting gun. It’s a fairly tricked out AR-15 in 22 Nosler, set up for bipod use. It has an older blueprinted (and trusted) Leupold 8-25X and that magnification range is entirely suitable for any distance, including 1000 yards.

There are 100 details, at least. The gun itself can be variable, and part of the point to this is finding out what you’ve got.

All the details of long-range shooting involve a long list of technical specs, and then there’s learning to cope with atmospheric conditions ( which go beyond wind speed and direction), and then there’s handloading.

There’s also a gadget list, and, yes, virtually all the gadgets are useful. It’s a rabbit hole. That little resonant “ding” from a little steel target at the far end of the range, though, makes it a journey worth taking.

Do you enjoy long-range shooting? What other recommendations do you have for new shooters entering the field? Let us know in the comments below!

About the Author:

Glen Zediker

Glen Zediker is the owner of Zediker Publishing, which specializes in books and other publications focused primarily on AR-15s, handloading, and shooting skills. Since 1989, he has authored or co-authored 20 books.

He started shooting at age 5 and competing in NRA Smallbore rifle at age 8. He got his first AR-15 at age 15 and has now had 45 years of experience with that firearms platform. He’s worked professionally with some of the greatest shooters on the planet and leading industry professionals. And he does pretty well on his own! Glen holds a High Master classification in NRA High Power Rifle and first earned that using an AR-15 Service Rifle. He’s also competed in many other forms of competition, including USPSA, Steel Challenge, Silhouette Rifle and Pistol, Bullseye Pistol, ISSF Air Rifle, Practical Rifle and shotgun sports.

Since 1986 Glen has been a frequent and regular contributor to many publications, having had over 500 assigned articles published. See more at
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