Long-range shooting is a different game than plinking or pistol shooting.
It tests all of your shooting skills as well as your equipment. You have to be in tune with your rifle, your ammo, and even the weather.
Many people are intimidated by shooting beyond 100 yards.
I’m convinced that’s due to the “magic” of round numbers. On hundred yards really isn’t that far. In fact, it’s within the point-blank range of most rifles!
Proper marksmanship takes a great amount of practice. It doesn’t take a $1,000 rifle. In fact, your basic, inexpensive modern rifle is capable of being accurate out to 500 yards or more.
You may not be an expert shooter after reading these long distance shooting tips, but you’ll be equipped with the knowledge you need to become one.
1. Know Your Ballistics
The first stage of learning the art of long-range shooting is to learn the capacities of your rifle.
All bullets arc because gravity starts acting on them the moment they leave your rifle’s bore. If you’re to succeed when shooting at far ranges, you need to know how far that bullet is going to drop.
Many common cartridges have ballistic charts, which you can find online. If you’re handloading or using a cartridge for which you can’t find a ballistic chart, then you can use a ballistics calculator.
Using these, you can enter your bullet’s weight, velocity as it leaves the bore, ballistic coefficient, and the local environmental conditions to determine how far your bullet will drop at a specific range. Some can help you calculate how far wind will push your bullet laterally, too.
Velocity is important to know. You can use a chronograph to measure your specific velocity. I prefer the MagnetoSpeed.
Failing this, you can estimate your velocity using the ammo manufacturer’s data. The rule of thumb is that you gain or lose 50 fps from every inch you add or cut from a barrel.
This isn’t true in every case (5.56 out of a 10.5-inch barrel might lose 100 fps by going to a 9.5-inch barrel!), but it’s a good enough estimate until you can get a chronograph.
Ballistic coefficients can be found from the bullet maker.
2. Setting Up the Rifle
Obviously, long-range marksmanship requires a rifle. Any centerfire rifle can shoot to 1,000 yards, but some are better than others.
Generally, you’ll want a caliber between 6 mm and 8 mm for long distance shooting. Think .243 Winchester to .308 Winchester.
The best cartridges tend to be between 6.5 mm and 7 mm, such as the 6.5 Creedmoor and .300 Winchester Magnum. My two favorites are the 6.5 Grendel, which works in an AR-15 and stays supersonic past 1,000 yards, and the .260 Remington Ackley Improved.
However, people have taken .45-70 Government to 1,000 yards and beyond, so you don’t have to buy a rifle in a fancy cartridge to shoot at longer distances.
The rifle itself should be a stable platform that fits you properly.
Even low-end rifles, such as the Savage Axis, are capable of under two MOA accuracy, which is more accurate than the average shooter. Don’t worry about spending thousands of dollars on a gun until you have experience shooting one at long ranges.
Bolt-action rifles are preferred. Semi-auto rifles can work, though you’ll want them to be direct impingement. DI rifles have less moving mass, so they are inherently more accurate than piston rifles.
The grip and stock should fit you. If they don’t, you won’t be able to get into a comfortable shooting position. Adjustable stocks are great, but if the rifle fits without one, don’t worry about the expense until later.
Bipods and rear monopods are also great additions which you don’t strictly need.
A scope is great. The US military recommends 1x of magnification for every 100 yards you’ll be shooting. However, iron sights also work. Peep sights are best, though I’ve hit ten out of ten shots at 350 yards with an AKM’s leaf sights!
While you can load any ol’ ammo into your gun and shoot, you’ll get better results with the right ammo.
Lighter bullets will fly faster, but don’t fall into this trap. They also bleed that velocity faster.
You’ll want a heavier, longer bullet. A bullet that’s heavy for the caliber will maintain momentum longer and will buck the wind, so it’ll drift less. You should know your ammo’s ballistics so a little extra drop in the beginning won’t cause problems further downrange.
You’ll have to experiment to see which ammo works best in your gun. Each rifle is different, and not all loadings will be accurate in all rifles.
3. Getting into Position
Your shooting position is two-thirds what makes you accurate or inaccurate!
Long-range shooting needs to be either on the bench or prone. But many of the details work for both of them.
First of all, your rifle should be supported in both the front and the rear. This is where bipods and rear monopods come into play.
However, you don’t need an expensive bipod. Sandbags up front work just as well. You can use a sock or small bag filled with sand under your rifle’s stock to support the rear. Squeeze or release it to move your rifle’s point of aim up and down.
Your fore and rear support should be such that if you let the rifle go completely, it’s aimed where you want to shoot. Unless you’re loading a bipod.
Loading the bipod is when you push forward into the rifle so recoil doesn’t cause your firearm to jump as much. I have more success doing this, but not everybody does.
The biggest trick to successful long-range shooting is being relaxed. Tension will pull the rifle one way or another. Support your limbs using bones as much as possible since muscles aren’t as stable. This is especially important if you’re supporting the rifle yourself.
After you’re in position, and you’re aimed at your target, close your eyes. Take a deep breath and let it out. Then, open your eyes again.
This helps you find your natural point of aim, which is where the rifle will want to go after each shot. If this is different from where you want to aim, then the rifle will jerk and spoil the shot when you shoot! You’ll need to adjust your position until it’s right.
Adopting such a relaxed posture will reduce fatigue, allowing you to shoot accurately longer.
When shooting off a bench, you want your feet flat on the ground.
Hunch your chest over, but put some of your weight onto your elbows, which should be on the bench. This plays into using your skeletal structure for support, as mentioned before.
When shooting prone, you should have as much of your body mass behind the rifle as possible. For most people, this means having the rifle parallel to your spine, but folks with large guts may have to be at an angle.
Splay your legs out for stability, but don’t dig in with your toes, as that introduces the type of tension we want to avoid.
Like in benchrest shooting, you want to use your elbows and humerus to support your upper body.
Learn more about various rifle shooting stances.
4. Sighting Your Target
Place your cheek on the buttstock or cheek rest and look through your sights.
They should be aimed at your target. Make sure you’re aimed at the right target! Shooting at the wrong target happens more often than you think.
Some people prefer to close their non-dominant eye when shooting. It’s generally better to keep both eyes open so you’re more relaxed. If keeping both eyes open is distracting you from being accurate, then try covering the other eye.
Since you know your rifle’s ballistics, you can adjust your aim to compensate for the distance. Certain reticles have marks so you can adjust the holdover accurately. Other scopes may require you to adjust the scope itself to adjust for the distance.
Either way, it’s less precise to aim at a point different from where you want to hit. Adjust the sighting system, if possible.
Watch the Wind
The further you shoot, the more of an effect wind will have on your target.
Wind reading is a skill you’ll have to practice, especially since it can change directions on particularly long shots. Heavier bullets will buck the wind better and cause light breezes to be less impactful.
Some ranges will have flags at certain distances next to the firing line so you can observe and estimate the wind.
5. Pulling the Trigger
The second most important part of marksmanship is your trigger pull.
Learn to dry fire, likely with snap caps. You should practice pulling the trigger constantly. The trigger needs to be pulled smoothly to the rear, in a direct line with the bore.
Sympathetic squeezing of your hand when you pull with your forefinger can move the gun to the side and spoil the shot. I’ve found that I’m most accurate when my thumb is held up and to the side, not wrapped around the grip. It also helps me to only touch the grip in the front and back, never on the sides.
Pulling the trigger does take several pounds of force, so some measure of force on the grip will counter how you might pull the entire rifle, not just the trigger, backward.
You want to minimize muscular engagement in the trigger pull, so put the trigger shoe between the joint crease and fingertip. For me, the sweet spot is just rear if the thickest part of my finger pad.
I also like putting my finger as low on the trigger as possible to get as much leverage as I can, but not everybody agrees.
Smoothly pull backward with just that part of your finger—don’t jerk. Once you trip the sear, continue pulling backward until you can’t pull anymore.
You should not flinch as the gun fires.
Avoid pulling to one side or the other.
A good test to see if you have proper trigger control is to place a dime on top of the barrel. It shouldn’t fall off when you pull the trigger. If you’re good, it shouldn’t even wobble!
6. After the Shot
Like in golf and archery, follow through is important.
Maintain your position, continue to look through the sights, and keep the trigger pulled rearward until the bullet impacts.
If you have a high-magnification scope, you might even be able to observe the impact! If not, then you need to get a spotting scope to see where you hit.
It does take time for the bullet to move through the barrel. Moving immediately after firing can affect your aim.
If you returned to your natural point of aim, good. Gently let go of the trigger and prepare for the next shot.
If your aim jumped to a different point then you need to adjust your position and try again.
Try to move the rifle as little as possible when preparing the next shot.
Accurate long-range marksmanship has seven components:
- Good equipment
- Proper body positioning and aim
- Trigger control
- Ballistic knowledge
Notice how consistency shows up three times?
That’s because you’ll never be accurate if you change up everything in between each shot!
The hardest part of marksmanship is learning how to put the bullets as close together as possible. Once you have that down, then you can move your aim to hit the bullseye.
Put in the practice, burn the ammo, and you too will be able to consistently hit targets at 300 yards, 500 yards, or even 1,000 yards!
Here is some equipment advice you need to get started with long-range shooting: