The Long Shot
How Difficult Is It?
Getting ready to make a first-round hit at long range is not an easy task. It involves a lot of work on the range, ballistic software, a tuned load, using the right bullet, perfect components, a great spotter and a lot of luck. The fact is, the chance of making a first-round hit at long range is pretty slim, but the probability of a second-round hit goes up exponentially with a good spotter if you are fast enough on the gun.
Let’s take a hypothetical scenario. Suppose you have an upcoming hunt in Alaska. You are going to fly from Texas to a mountainous region with an altitude of 6,500 feet and temperatures around 30 degrees F or less. The guide says you will probably have to make a long shot. The hunt is 4 months away. You own a custom-built .340 Weatherby Magnum, weighing approximately 12 pounds with scope, ammo and sling. Your present altitude is 60 feet and the temperatures range from about 75 at dawn to 100 degrees F in the afternoon. Where do you start?
Success comes to those who have good spotters, a
great rifle and a capable rangefinder.
You order plenty of brass, powder, four varieties of bullets and primers. Let’s assume you select 300-grain Lapua Scenar, 300-grain Sierra MatchKings and 265- and 280-grain Barnes Tipped Triple Shock bullets. You want a ballistic coefficient close to or above 0.7. You run the brass through a body die and then turn the necks just enough to ensure they are the same size all around.
When that is complete, you weigh the brass and choose those within a grain or so of each other. Lastly, you run loaded ammo through a concentricitor. If they are out of round, you order another die or get back with the manufacture who made it. Do the same with fired ammo to determine if the chamber is off. You proceed to the range and zero them at 100 yards, all the while taking chronograph readings.
You fiddle with powder types and amounts and seating depth until you are sure you have the best type and amount of powder and seating depth for each. When you have the best load at 100 yards, you proceed to 600 yards and, after a bit more tuning, select the bullet shooting consistently under one minute of angle at that range. You do this on windless days, trying to ensure you know what the load will do without the wind confusing the grouping ability of the load. If you can get the rifle and one of the bullets to consistently shoot about 3 inches or less at 600-yard range, you are ecstatic.
But you want to understand what the variability of your load is with a cold barrel, first round shot. You hang a target at 600 yards and, over 3 or 4 weeks, put the first round on the target several times. That is, shoot one in the target, wait a couple of days and do it again, and so on. Does the first round hit where that next 2 or 3 do (using a different target)? Does that group of first-round shots measure 3 inches, or is it now closer to 6 inches or greater? Is the group in the center of the bull? How about shots 2 and 3 on the second target?
Since this is just hypothetical, let’s suppose those first-round hits are more like 5 inches, but the group is still in the bull. Your scope has both hashmarks every 2 MOA (maybe mils) and enough elevation range in the target turret to get you beyond 1,000 yards without difficulty. If not, you may need another scope, a shim under the rear portion of the mount, etc. You now proceed to try your hand shooting at 700, 800, 900, 1,000 yards or more. To do this you need to know the come-ups at those ranges, and you do so with the ballistic software. In fact, perhaps you’ve purchased three different programs developed by three different ballisticians. You find no matter how you enter the variables of environmental conditions, velocity, etc., they show slightly different results after all your work accomplished at 60 feet elevation and temperatures approaching 80 degrees.
The SuperChrono is small enough to take anywhere, requires nothing more than
what you see here and is very accurate when used per the directions.
An old iPAQ laying on the JOOS Portable Solar Charger called the Orange. It is charging as
the picture was taken. It is very reliable, tough and charges efficiently. A great companion
when traveling where no power is available. It will charge your cell phone or other devices
and it comes with a variety of connections to fit almost any electronic device.
Shooting those longer ranges, you tweak your favorite ballistic software to match your hits at those long ranges until they match up. It might be you have to enter a velocity in the ballistic software slightly different than your chronograph shows. Remember, if you have set the chrono up 10 feet from the muzzle, you have to back calculate what the velocity is at the muzzle.
First, look at the velocity the ballistic program gives you at 100 yards and at the chronograph, subtract the two and divide that number by 290 feet. Let us suppose the velocity at 100 yards is 2,617 fps and the velocity at the chrono shows 2,750. So 2,750 – 2,617 = a 133 fps loss between the muzzle and the chronograph. 133 fps ÷ 290 feet = 0.46 loss per foot. To get the muzzle velocity, add 10 more feet to the muzzle velocity by multiplying 10 x 0.46 = 4.6 feet. Now add that to the chronograph reading and it raises muzzle velocity to 2,755 fps. Maybe not enough to worry about, but a 25 fps spread can result in about 1 MOA change at 1,000 yards—a 10-inch difference.
You also have to worry about lift at that range, which means the bullet will rise about 3 inches at 1,000 yards in a right-to-left wind and fall about 3 inches in a left-to-right wind. You are now 3 inches low or high without any other variables entering the equation. For example, in a full 10 mph wind from right to left, the bullet will move 57.5 inches to the left and 3 inches high at 1,000 yards. But will it be a full 10 mph wind over the entire 1,000 yards? It might be 10 mph at the muzzle and 5 mph in the opposite direction at 600 yards. To make matters even worse, you have both spindrift and Coriolis force to worry about as the distance increases. And for the latter, it even matters what direction you aim or what hemisphere you are in.
Are you beginning to realize a first-round hit at 1,000 or more yards is very difficult, maybe impossible? Of course this depends on the size of the target. Not too difficult to hit a barn, but a 24-inch steel gong is troublesome. To further complicate the issue, you are faced with 60 feet elevation and 75 degrees F at your testing site, but more like 6,500 feet elevation and 30 degrees, or 4,000 feet and 0 degrees, or 11,000 feet and -20 degrees F at your hunting site.
You begin printing out charts of possible environmental conditions and soon realize you’ll have too many sheets to deal with. You need a handheld computer like an iPhone, iPOD, or iPAC or something. Again, we have to deal with making it match what we have tweaked at long range. Then it occurs to you there is no electrical power where you are going. The small plane will fly you to a lake where you will deposit your tent and other supplies.
The plane leaves you there, and you are on your own with only your supplies of sleeping bag, freeze-dried food and other gear. The handheld will allow you to enter in the new environmental conditions and give you the come-ups in seconds, but you need several things to make a successful shot: something to charge the handheld, an instrument like a Kestrel to monitor environment conditions to enter in your ballistic software, a chronograph to get the new velocity at your spot on the planet, an experienced spotter and a lot of luck. (By the way, Kestrel now offers a unit with ballistic software as well as telling you the environmental conditions and the wind where you are standing.) The Kestrel, along with mirage, grass, trees, etc., help establish an average wind and angle. Oh yes, and you will need an angle indicator to tell you the change in your come-ups from the horizontal you are used to, to the angle that might present itself. The angle indicator I use is from Sniper Tools.
There are countless chargers using batteries. The best and most reliable I have found does not use batteries. Joos, out of Campbell, California, is selling the Orange Portable Solar Charger. It advertises two hours of use time from 1 hour of time in the sun for use with thousands of electronic devices including GPS, MP3 players, iPACS, IPads, etc. And it is tough enough to endure most outdoor adventures. It operates at high altitude and from -4 to 140 degrees F and weighs only 24 ounces. Thus you have power available for most if not all of your devices in the middle of nowhere, when conventional power is not available.
Also written about previously (January 2012 issue) is the angle indicator from Sniper Tools.
The instrument is being adjusted in this photo. Very necessary for long shots taken at,
for example, a 20-degree angle to the target.
Wind instruments that include temperature and barometric pressure. The Kestrel will
show the most important data required: Temperature, wind, and barometric pressure on
the same screen. The 3000 (left) offers just that and a little more for $199. The
more expensive 4000 offers more weather and the 4500 version also includes ballistic software.
Now The Speed
For the next item, I like the SuperChrono from Norway. It is a very small, self-contained unit. I wrote an article about it for the October 2013 issue. You can mount it on a rock, a mound of dirt, or a small tripod for shooting prone. With it, you can determine the velocity in your new environment.
Next is an experienced spotter. It is difficult to see splash when shooting a 12-pound or less rifle and a 280-grain bullet leaving the muzzle at 2,755 fps. Now we get down to the reality of shooting these long ranges and expecting a first-round hit. An experienced spotter can tell you both the elevation and windage corrections to be made after seeing a first-round hit, and the percentage is very high your second round will hit its mark. But you have to be fast to get the second round out in the same wind condition, hoping the target does not move during the first or second shots.
Bottom line: It is unreasonable, if not inhumane, to make such shots without a lot of work on components, practice, experience and the right tools. A movement of the target in the 2 seconds it takes the bullet to arrive can result in a poor hit. The further away you are, the longer it will take you before you can start tracking. We’re talking about a living, breathing animal. Be that as it may, shooting longer ranges is becoming more doable by the day. Know your own personal limitations—which includes how much work you’ll put into practice and planning. And remember, stalking closer is always an option.
By Jacob Gottfredson