the easiest way to become a better shot is to have a good shot become your mentor.
not so long ago i met a fellow named dan at the local shooting range, and he was shooting very well indeed, and i had enough sense to listen to him explain what he was doing, and why he was doing it that way. and, since that day, he has mentored me, and i have become a better shot.
he has a background in electronics, is not no stranger to electrical engineering and computers, and is adept at mathematics and writing programs. just say that he is very technically oriented.
and, he is a shooter.
through him i have become familiar with the principles of ballistic computation as espoused by a man by the name of arthur pejsa. http://www3.uwsp.edu/cols/pages/alumni/apejsa.aspx . and, dan has also introduced me to tiborasauras rex, who has a series of videos he has placed on youtube which discuss and teach the principles of long range shooting. tiborasaurus rex, here, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pwG-D0HjCBQ , for the first article in his series.
you wanna learn from the best, go to those links, and follow your nose.
my remarks here are going to be a bit more fundamental. but, i think you can learn a bit from my experience, and some of the truths i have learned about long range shooting.--
1.) you must have good & appropriate equipment.
rifle. it need not be elaborate, or fancy, or even extra expensive. but, it must be sound and adequate for the task at hand. a lot of people by very expensive rifles, and then refit them with very expensive barrels, and buy all sorts of elaborate after market gizmo's to them.
no expense is spared, and indeed, some people rather luxuriate and bask in the glory of spending money. well, i don't have any, and so i have taken a simpler route, but, i still have a serviceable weapon as it has developed.
i bought a weatherby vanguard for $309.94 at the local bi-mart, where it was on sale. i took it home, and replaced the stock w/ a $94.00 laminate from boyd's. the only thing i have done to the stock was to relieve the barrel channel to make the barrel "free floating," from the front of the receiver to the tip of the fore end. i did that with a scraper made from an old hacksaw blade, and with three sheets of 150 grit sandpaper.
i lubricate the contact surfaces of the bolt lugs w/ a lubricate for triggers.
scope. my friend and mentor dan favors a brand called the super sniper. it is a fixed ten power scope, and it is not expensive at all. it has adequate glass. but, what it has that seems to set it apart is very well thought out and extremely accurate mechanics for precise control of the cross hairs.
the turrets are dead nuts precise, and highly repeatable, and simple. and, as it turns out, 10x is enough power. dan tells me that tiborasaurus rex apparently shares dan's view of this brand of scope, and dan tells me that he recommends it in his essays posted at youtube.
my rifle is mounted w/ a leupold 3.5-10x40mm variable scope. it functions a bit differently than dan's super sniper, and for me, at my stage in shooting skills, it is very adequate for the purpose. it is equipped with what is called a ballistic dial, and is instantly adjustable to a known range by simply turning that dial. leupold accomplishes this for you, by making the dial fit the specifications of the bullet's velocity at the muzzle and the bullet's ballistic coefficient, tracking the bullet's trajectory for you without further computation. dan's super sniper, by contrast, has a dial which raises or lowers elevation in terms of the minutes or mils from either the scopes "zero" value, or from a ballistic solution previously dialed into the scope. this value is derived separately by the shooter, either from tables, known ballistic solutions for the load from "dope" confirmed by shooting, or by the use of a solution offered by a hand held computer when all the pertinent data about range, bullet velocity and bullet ballistic coefficient are fed into it.
i don't have the things necessary to derive the "solution" for the "dial ups," so i get by with the leupold ballistics dial, or bds, as they describe it.
i think that i am gonna be pretty serviceable to about 700 yards with my stuff, so long as i can derive the range to target w/ my load. dan, i think, is pretty serviceable to about 1000 yards right now, and is striving for more.
bipod. a great shooting aid. with a good bipod, and a solid place to shoot from, a bipod to support the front of the rifle, and a squeeze bag to control the toe of the stock, a good cheep weld and a good trigger squeeze, you can shoot accurately to great distance. these things are quick, simple, and i think much more reliable than mechanical rests and the like. they also force you to have good shooting technique, which is invaluable.
the 20-minute scope mount. the scope is not mounted parallel to the rifle's bore, in terms of "elevation." as a physical matter, the angle of the bore is pitched up in relation to the line of sight through the optic. thus, the line of the bullet's "flight" (i hate the term, because bullets do not fly, they drop from the line of the bore as soon as they leave the muzzle, but the term persists as a useful metaphor) rises through the line of sight around 25 to 30 yards from the end of the barrel, and then "drops" through the line of sight again at the range to which the rifle is "zero'ed."
i soon discovered when i mounted my leupold, that on normal sight bases, it simply did not have enough elevation adjustment internally to be useful at long ranges.
so, i acquired a "20-minute" base which is pitched in such a manner as to further raise the rifle's bore line in relation to the scopes line of sight, the net effect of which is to allow the scope's horizontal stadia to be lowered internally, to given the scope the ability to draw the line of the bore higher when the scope is adjusted vertically, e.g., it simply gives the scope more room internally to raise the cross hairs.
so, the shooter gets to shoot to longer ranges.
the "20-minute" base, acquired from warne, has accomplished its purpose, and i now have the room to make vertical trajectory corrections to greater distance. but, this points out a limitation of my leupold as opposed to the super sniper scopes like dans, and other scopes more commonly used in long distance shooting.
my leupold scope is 1" in diameter. other scopes have greater diameters. oddly enough, this does not limit the ability of the leupold to make adjusted in elevation, but limits its ability to make windage adjustments, which can be considerable. as the leupolds cross hairs are raises raised toward the top of the scope tube, the distance the cross hairs can be move from side to side becomes greatly restricted by the curvature of the tube.
on a calm day, not a problem. on a day with a 10 mile an hour cross breeze, and it will become a problem.
2.) you must know the velocity of the load you are shooting, as the bullet leaves the muzzle of the rifle.
ballistic computation/ballistics dial. these things don't work, if you don't have the correct bullet velocity. period. end of discussion on this point.
chronographs/measuring bullet speed. you must have a serviceable chronograph to measure in the real world what velocity your load in your rifle is attaining upon being fired. it is that simple. i have a chrony chronograph (catchy, eh?), the basic model, available for about $100 plus in most places.
reloading your own ammunition. i am a firm believer in your ability to make your own ammunition that shoots better than what you can buy from the factories at retail. and, i believe that with a disciplined approach, you can tailor your loads to shoot better in your rifle than any factory concoction.
first off, you must be attentive and meticulous, and very precise in your reloading technique. and, you must be attentive to the effect on your rifle's shooting that your reloading practices have.
and, you must be very patient, and doggedly determined doesn't hurt, in order to attain your goal.
you cannot be sloppy and/or slipshod in your reloading. (in fact, if you are careless, shoddy and slip shod and without discipline and the ability to objectively gauge your own shooting, you will also never be a long range shooter. it is that simple.)
i will give you an example of my reloading technique.
first, i size the cartridge case to precisely fit the chamber of my rifle. i do this by first removing the firing mechanism/firing pin from the bolt of my rifle? why? because i do not want the bolt under spring tension, so that i may feel the contact between brass cartridge case and the chamber walls in the barrel, as the bolt is moving into battery.
second, i set the sizing die so that it does not quite size the case enough to permit the bolt to be put fully into battery, e.g., so that the case will not go into the chamber. then, i progressively move the sizing die so that it reduces the size of the case, until the cartridge case as sized will go into the chamber, snugly, but without great resistance. you cannot shoot a gun with a round you cannot chamber, and you have a worthless rifle if all your cases are incapable of being chambered.
i want the sized case to go in the chamber, but, i want no slack or movement in the bolt as i tug and push on the bolt handle to make sure the empty cartridge case is not moving back and forth in the chamber.
third, i trim all the cases to a uniform length, as recommended in the loading manuals, so that the front of the case does not make contact with that portion of the chamber which contains the cartridge neck. this does not allow movement, as the fit in the chamber is determined by a point on the chamber's shoulder, called the "datum line," and not by the neck of the chamber.
fourth, to achieve uniform and predictable velocities upon firing your cartridges, you must be an absolute fanatic on having uniform charges of powder in the case for each and every cartridge. and, to make sure that such charges produce the same pressures upon each discharge, you must have the same chamber volume for each shot, and the only practicable way of doing this is to use the same cases in each batch of cartridges you make.
right now, i am doing loads using federal cases, head stamped "fc." the cases are trimmed to 2.010", or as close as i can get to that. i am attaining 2620 fps, more or less, with the use of a 168 grain sierra boat tail hollow point (matchking) bullet, with 41.8 grains of imr 4064 powder. (this load, btw, matches the information of the scope bds dial, ... , very important for the dial to work correctly.)
fifth, i think it absolutely imperative to follow the same procedure every time in charging the case with powder. i set my powder measure to dispense just a little less than the desired weight of 41.8 grains of powder each time i "throw the handle" and dispense power. i have an old measure, so this is a tedious trial and error procedure. but, i get as close as i can.
then i weigh each dispensed tray of powder on a balance beam measure, a very simple and inexpensive one i inherited from my brother. if the charge weighs too much, it goes back into the hopper. if it is too far under the desired amount, back into the hamper. if it is just a little under, as i want, then i make up the difference by the use of a powder trickler, which can put as little as one kernel of powder into the tray, until the balance beam swings to the "zero" mark.
i then dispense the charge by the use of the tray and a small hand held funnel into the cartridge case.
sixth, prior to seating the bullets i use a low powered flashlight to check the level of the powder charges in the cartridge brass. this load comes almost to the neck of the cartridge case, and i look to each load to make sure it does not come higher in the case than expected, indicating an overload.
only if each one looks o.k. do i proceed with completing the load by inserting the bullet into the cartridge, by the use of the seating die. as i do this with the individual rounds, i pick them out at random, and make sure that the bullets are fully seated, by measurement, and also check them for the proper overall length.
seventh, involves the process of "tweaking." my mentor dan also has available to him a computer program called "quickload," (also greatly favored by drew458 at barking moonbat, as well, he being the fellow who helped and consulted as i developed "jj's brit.) he provides me with information having to do with "node analysis" (which i am not going to get into here), plus information having to do with load weights and the like.
early on, he gave me some suggested loads. they are very good, and quite serviceable.
but, the real world is the real world, and not a computer program. sometimes things are not 100% exactly capable of prediction or determination. and, you have to check things out.
i wasn't quite getting the velocity i wanted with the load as initially experimented with, so i increased a load one-tenth of a grain at a time, until i arrived at the 41.8 grains of charge weight. one grain weighs 440 grains, so one tenth of a grain weighs 4400 ten grains. in short, one tenth of a grain weighs 1/4400 of an ounce, ... , somewhere in the neighborhood of 3 to 5 kernels of powder. that isn't much.
but, that 1/10th grain of powder increased my muzzle velocity with the 168 grain bullet from about 2575 to 2585 fps at the muzzle to around 2620 to 2630 fps at the muzzle. 3 or 4 or 5 kernels of powder increased the internal pressure of the load enough to increase the muzzle velocity 40 to 50 feet per second.
it's the marginal unit that defines value in economics, and it is the marginal unit that determines the internal pressure of a cartridge.
3.) you gotta practice.
you have to shoot. to refine and define your shooting skills.
there is not substitute for his.
cheek weld. you have to hold the rifle the same. the reason is quite simple, and that is, you are in fact part of the rifle. how you hold the rifle determines how the rifle reacts to the shot, and it will react differently every time if you are part of the rifle in a different way, every time.
you must be consistent with how your cheek contacts the stock, how you hold the rifle at the pistol grip, and how you squeeze the trigger. you must "follow through" the same, in other words, you cannot react to or anticipate the round going off in a different manner, or the rifle reacts differently.
every time you do something at variance with your technique, the shot is errant. every time.
so, you must be extremely objective in your self criticism and self evaluation, and strive to do things consistently.
the trigger pull. ditto.
as joe namath once remarked about his alleged prowess as a lover, .... , practice, practice, practice, practice.
4.) side to side velocity. this is the art of reading the wind.
a bullet goes downrange at a velocity of, ... , well, in this case, at an intended velocity fo 2600 feet per second.
contrast it with wind speed. a wind blowing across the intended path of your bullet at a speed of 10 miles at hour, moves at about 15 feet per second.
2600 feet per second versus 15 feet per second.
master the bullet's velocity, and you've master the vertical component of aiming. master the wind, and you've mastered the ability to make hits at distance.
it doesn't take such a bullet very long to travel 6 or 700 yards, the latter distance being 2100 feet. yet, at that distance, a ten mile an hour wind blowing directly across the bullets path can displace the bullets initial path to the target by as much as 25 inches, or more. (i forget exactly what dan's ballistic compensator/computer told us the exact value would be, assuming a constant wind velocity and direction, .... , i think it a bit more than what i have said. my apologies.)
to compensate for such a wind, you have either to hold off the target into the wind by the use of mil dots or minutes of angle, or to dial in a shooting solution with the scope turret, depending on your scope's design, and/or the way you use it.
figuring this out is an art. it is an art that dan is way more accomplished at than i am, and which he is striving to teach me. you have to understand, that wind over varying terrain varies between the origin of the shot and the target, both as to intensity, e.g., velocity, and also as to direction.
being able to compensate for the wind is the difference between a hit or a miss. do everything else right, but misread the wind, and you miss. do the wind correctly, and you can do a lot of things less than perfectly, and still have a hit, even though with not the same precision intended. but, a hit is a hit, and a miss is a miss.
5.) my skill levels at this point, and the accuracy of the little .308 rifle. i went out to the range the other day with dan. he had been shooting a while, measuring the impact ammunition temperature has on velocity at the muzzle, and on overall trajectory.
i got there a little late, so i helped dan as a spotter for some shooting at 6 and 700 yards.
dan was shooting a remington model 700 in .308 winchester, the rifle equipped with a simple harris bipod. the only other shooting aid from the bench was a simple squeeze bag under the toe of the stock.
he was shooting into a "full value" wind, from right to left, at 10 miles an hour. this will make a medium sized flag "stand straight off" the flag poll, and is enough to move the shooter physically at the bench if his position is not solid.
dan was having some difficulty, mainly because the wind was also very errant, dropping from 10 miles an hour to something less than 6, and often times before he could get a shooting solution out of his calculator. (an app on an apple phone, of some sort or another.)
finally, after several shots, i noticed a puff of dust not far off the target. from that, we discussed the values involved, took a very close look at the mirage to see if it was in fact doing what we had thought it was (what i know about mirage dan has taught me by making me try to analyze it watching through the spotting scope, and then making me call the wind value in front of and behind the target, and then making me live with the responsibility for the shot after that call), and then shooting to confirm our analysis.
in about 2 or 3 shots he was firmly on the target at 600 yards, and moved out to 700 yards, where again he was on target. he shot any number of times until we were absolutely dead on as a team, and to where his windage calculations were comporting with our analysis, and the shooting solutions he was getting from the hand held. and, the shooting solutions he was getting with his "dope" into the windage dial, and the use of his mil dots on the horizontal stadia, to make his hold off on the target.
then, it was my turn.
i missed the first shot on the 600 yard target, but, fortunately dan spotted the dust kicked up by the errant bullet. i had not held enough into the wind, simply not believing what i knew to be the distance the wind was "moving" the bullet in its direction.
i made the requisite addition in the hold off, and dan called the next two shots as hits.
i moved out to 700, and again we tried to evaluate mirage to see if our evaluation of wind speed at distance was the same as we were getting on the kestrel weather station at the bench. i fired two shots, and each time dan called a hit. we drove out to the 700 yard target, and i was amazed to see two holes in the cardboard silhouette, one pretty much a center punch, and the other on the right edge of the target. both were dead on in terms of elevation, as were the hits at 600 yards (when we checked that target), .... , confirming the accuracy & utility of the leupold bds dial given the velocity and bullet ballistic coefficient i had given them. i had simply dialed "6" and "7" to shoot at 6 and 700 yards.
now, am i at the point where i could have made those hits on my own? or, at ranges not known, over strange terrain?
nope, i am not. could i have made them without dan's coaching? nope, i am could not. to be able to do so is the goal. it's just gonna take some ammunition down range, and paying attention, thinking and learning.
i can make the necessary mechanical adjustments to shoot the range, if i know the range adequately.
that is a simple matter of twisting a dial, and shooting a handload of the requisite muzzle velocity. those skills i can manage.
i do not, however, have the skills to read the wind. for that, i am going to have to somehow acquire a kestrel wind station, probably by selling off some none essential item of property from a former economic existence ... and, those items are getting very skimpy.
so, the 2600 fps i have managed to learn how to deal with.
it is the 15 feet per second that i have to get competent at now. as noted, it is the difference between hits and misses at distance.
my little rifle is up to it. now, it is to find out if i can master the wind on my own analysis, and not simply doing as my friend and mentor dan coaches me to. i am getting the math down, and i move back and forth between mills and minutes pretty well now, understanding the language as it is given to me by dan's calculations.
i gotta figure out how to do the figuring. i gotta be able to measure the distance. and, estimate the wind. simple as that. complicated as that.
john jay @ 08.28.2013
p.s. i think that i am gonna be o.k. with the .308 out to 750, maybe 800 yards. my equipment is good to go that far. and, i can hold the rifle well enough to get a pretty high frequency of hits. it just comes down to whether i will be able to master the wind.