Long Yardage

Reach Out and Touch Something — Cheap!

Tank’s Ruger Hawkeye mounted with Bushnell Engage 2.5-10x44 scope (top).
The Ruger American (bottom) is a less expensive option.

“You can’t shoot that far, especially with a rifle like that …!”

“Just watch …”

Long-range shooting is one of the fastest growing shooting styles sweeping the nation. Thousand-yard ranges are popping up around the country, accommodating shooters who enjoy hitting distant targets. While hunting numbers continue to drop, gun ownership and long-range shooting are growing. Many enjoy the challenge of calculating environmental inputs — wind, mirage and temperature — to hit a target way out yonder.

The shooting industry has taken notice with a slew of high-end equipment to answer the call — scopes, rifles, ballistics programs, ammunition, specialized reloading tools, even high-tech tripods.

Utility Upgrade

What about the guy who maybe wants to dabble in long-range shooting but doesn’t want to sell the family car to get started? Being a cheapskate, I thought “Why not try a regular deer rifle, give it better optics and try my hand?”

Already having my “utility rifle,” a box-stock Ruger Hawkeye All-Weather stainless synthetic in .308 Winchester, I was halfway there. All I needed to do was put better glass on it and give it a chance to reach out a bit. A plan was beginning to formulate in my warped, budget-minded brain.

Since I already had a Ruger Hawkeye, I felt like I was cheating and ordered a Ruger American in .308 to do a side-by-side shoot-off of sorts. Ruger Americans run about $350 and are known for their accuracy. My plan was coming along nicely.

Shooting took place at my friend Bill’s farm. A retired state trooper, Bill converted his 67-acre spread into a shooter’s playground. Steel is set up at ranges from 100 to 400 yards, as well as separate pistol ranges and another rifle range for zeroing in at 100 and 250 yards.

For someone who lives 22 miles from our Nation’s capitol, Bill and his farm are a Godsend and it gives me an excuse to visit the joke-cracking codger. Black Hills Ammunition sent me some 168-gr. ELD-M ammo and we were ready to shoot.

There’s no need to panhandle to get into the long-range shooting game.

Poor Man’s Precision

My Ruger Hawkeye is set-up for what I call a “utilitarian rifle.” Normally, it sports a slim and trim Weaver 2-7X variable. Perfect for deer hunting, riding in the Suburban, plinking or defending the home front, it can manage a hodgepodge of duties and shine while doing it.

Bushnell recently released a new line of optics in the “Engage” line, meaning those who are frugal at heart can obtain a target scope with turrets for $300. Power range was 2.5-10X, perfect for my paltry long-range system.

Dialing in the scope is easy with the Tooless Zero Reset Locking Turret. Once you’re dialed-in, simply unscrew the turret knob top and reset your reference zero. Clarity and glass are exceptional for a scope in this class of affordable optics.

Mounting the Bushnell Engage couldn’t have been easier with the Ruger rings. Since the scope has a 30mm tube, I did have to order 30mm rings for it. Once mounted, sighting in was a breeze. Starting at 25 yards, I removed the bolt and bore-sighted the gun. I know “dead-on” at 25 yards usually puts you within a few inches of zero at 100. It took two shots, with adjustments, to get where I wanted to be and move on to Bill’s 100-yard range.

I was in the bull the second shot and started to build a nice 5-shot group. It measured .920, impressing me and further instilling confidence in my faithful “utilitarian rifle.”

Hammered steel! Five shots in 3.75" at 400 yards from the Ruger American was par for the course.

Tank used Black Hills ELD-M 168-gr. 308 ammo for all shooting.

Ruger Americans

I ordered some Weaver 30mm tactical rings from Amazon for $30. Mounting was simple with the American’s scope rail. Again, a few shots at 25 yards and we were ready to move to the 100-yard range. My first group of five at 100 yards was a measly .835. Although 1.5″ high, six clicks down and I was in the bullseye. These guns are shooters!

This budget-minded rifle is probably one of the best-kept secrets in the shooting world, but word has leaked out — for good reason! Somehow, the engineers at Ruger have managed to put together an affordable gun that shoots as good, if not better, than rifles costing 3 or 4 times as much.

I don’t know about you, but I feel kind of smug after outshooting buddies with expensive rifles and glass. Using bare-bone basics to get the job done has always impressed me more than the price tag.

The Ruger American weighs 6.1 lbs. and has a 22″ cold hammer-forged barrel made of alloy steel. Its black synthetic stock is lightweight and feels good when shouldered. Its patented-pending “Power Bedding” bedding-block positively locates the receiver and free floats the barrel for exceptional accuracy. It has a tang safety reminiscent of the original Model 77. The short action has an integral Picatinny rail and the bolt has three lugs with a 70-degree throw, giving you ample scope clearance while cycling the action. The Ruger Marksman Adjustable trigger is easily set between 3 to 5 lbs.

By no means am I saying the Ruger American will shoot as well as a custom $5,000 rifle topped with a $2,000 scope — that’s crazy! What I am saying is you can participate, learn and have fun along your journey to long-range shooting using this kind of outfit until you’re certain you want to invest more money into it.

In my mind, the Ruger American is one of the best bargains in firearms history. When you get down to it, accuracy is the name of the game and the American delivers without breaking the bank.

The Ruger Hawkeye (left) and American (right) are quite seviceable long-range shooters
for the budget-minded.

Old Reliable

My Ruger Hawkeye stainless synthetic has earned the nickname Old Reliable. The name speaks for itself. It’s followed me over hill and dale and performed admirably, taking deer, groundhogs and other critters while riding with me in the Suburban.

Adding the Bushnell Engage scope turned her into a long-range shooter. She impressed me by keeping 5 shots under MOA for several strings at 400 yards.

Both rifles easily hit and were able to keep sub-MOA accuracy for 5 shots at 400 yards. Sub-4" groups were the norm, usually running 3.5 to 3.75" for both rifles. Yes, I know this is just sneezing distance for many shooters, but it’s just enough of a teaser to see if you’re the type who will enjoy shooting at long ranges.

Even if you don’t compete, long-range shooting is fun. Just plop down to the Back 40, set up some steel and start shooting. You’ll learn a lot about ballistics, trajectory and having fun. There are bullet-specific smart phone apps and these are invaluable for dialing in your scope for distant targets. How simple can it be?

I’ve got to admit, this long-range shooting is fun, and at the end of the day, that’s all we’re after.

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