Going the distance…with a bullet

First of all, Merry Christmas to all of you from us at SHTFblog.com. Even if you’re amongst the cadre who doesn’t celebrate, be sure to take the day off and enjoy yourself, with family, friends, pets, or someone meaningful if you can. Have some eggnog too. It’s good for the soul. ;)

 

Onto the post!

 

I was in my favorite gun shop recently, and was hanging out chewing the fat with the counter guys and instructors. A man came in and announced that he wanted an AR-10 built for long-distance shooting. Sure, they’ll build one to order…what was he looking to do? “Oh, I’m looking to engage targets out to 800 yards with it.”

 

800 frickin’ yards? 2400 feet? As in just under a half mile?

 

That, my friends, is a long, LONG way to be sending bullets at targets. Add to the fact that chances are excellent (I know I was judging a book by its cover, but I’m betting you’d come to the same conclusion if you were there and hearing the guy) that this guy had never shot anywhere close to that distance before, and it all adds up to a bunch of ridiculousness, in my book. Of course, there are men and their weapons that can accurately place bullets at that distance, but they have spent a LOT of time behind a trigger, and I’m betting they have also invested substantial time researching ballistics, developing loads, and comparing notes with other long-distance shooters. That’s the kind of homework that’s necessary to be able to place 168 grains of lead and copper jacket in a bullseye 800 yards distant.

 

But, of course, everyone starts somewhere, right? And that fellow at the gun shop may just have been starting right off the bat with good gear to start learning, start training. So say you’ve gotten yourself to that point: you have a good rifle that’s capable of shooting 1 MOA (Minute Of Angle, which equals a 1-inch group at 100 yards, 2-inch group at 200 yards, 3-inch at 300, etc.), you have a good scope on quality, solid mounts, and a cartridge load that shoots consistently with a bullet that has excellent aerodynamics. What now?

 

How far is too far?

Being able to estimate range is crucial. If you can’t accurately tell how far away your target it, you’re going to have an awfully hard time placing a bullet with any kind of precision past 200-300 yards. Obviously, new laser rangefinders are purpose-made for the task, but training yourself with (somewhat) everyday commonly seen distances will help immeasurably. Common ones I use are:

 

-Telephone poles are spaced 75-100 feet apart, depending on terrain. I find a nice patch of flat road where they will be spaced further apart (100 feet between poles) so I can freshen up range estimating. 3 pole distances = 100 yards.

-Go to your local high school football field: The field is roughly 50 yards wide by 100 yards long (120 yards with the endzones)

-I’m a huge car nut, and spend a healthy amount of time at drag strips. A 1/4 mile track is 1320 feet, or 440 yards. A 1/8 mile track is 220 yards. Most rural drag strips will let you stand on the starting line before cars start running (tell them you need to check track conditions)…you’ll see that 1/4 mile is a HELL of a long way. Long enough so that you really should know what you’re doing before you start shooting at game that far away; it’s the responsible thing to do.

-Head to a local gun range, preferably one with a nice long rifle range. They will have range markers set out to make estimation much easier, and to set your rifle’s zero at known distances.

 

Ballistics matter

 

To start shooting at any distance past a couple hundred yards, you’re going to have to start looking into at least rudimentary ballistics. I wrote a post on ballistics you can freshen up with here. But the very basic things you will need to know about are the trajectory, velocity, wind drift, and energy of your particular load that you are shooting out of your rifle. If you are shooting factory-loaded ammunition, these specifications can be found via the manufacturer’s website. If you handload, there are many ballistics charts and calculators available online to compute these factors.

 

I’m going to use an example: I shoot Federal 180-grain Hi-Shok ammunition out of my Winchester M54 .30-06. Federal lists this load as 3006B. Their website lists this particular load here. The details are:

 

DISTANCE    Velocity       Energy           Wind drift(10mph wind)      Trajectory (drop)

Muzzle              2700fps         2913 ft-lbs                        0″                                                  0″

100 yds             2470fps         2439 ft-lbs                        0.9″                                           +2.1″

200 yds            2252fps          2026 ft-lbs                       3.7″                                               0″ (200-yard zero)

300 yds            2045fps         1671 ft-lbs                         8.8″                                           -9.0″

400 yds            1848fps          1365 ft-lbs                        16.2″                                         -26.2″

500 yds            1667 fps         1111 ft-lbs                         27″                                            -54.2″

 

Why this info is important:

Velocity - As velocity decreases, trajectory drops, and the bullet offers less resistance to wind. Also, energy is cut dramatically, and the further away you are, the lower the speed of the bullet, the less likely the bullet is to expand and penetrate to vital organs of game. If you can hit the target, that’s great! But if the bullet can’t do its job when it gets there, you have a problem, namely wounded game.

Energy: I’ve always been told that a good indicator a cartridge will be a good, reliable white-tailed deer load is if it makes 1000+ foot-lbs of energy at a given distance. As seen above, the chosen .30-06 load will be an adequate performer out to 500 yards as it meets that energy guideline, but the bullet is moving so slowly that it’s doubtful it will expand much to do tissue damage. Energy and velocity go hand-in-hand for the bullet once it hits your target, even at long range.

Wind Drift: Wind, even gentle breezes, affects bullet placement in a huge way. In the chart above, you can see that even a gentle 10-mph breeze will move a 180-grain 30-caliber bullet almost 9 inches laterally at 300 yards. And a 180-grain bullet, being heavy and retaining inertia well, resists wind drift quite well. A standard .223/5.56mm 55-grain bullet, for example, will drift around 11 inches at the same distance, due to its lighter weight. This is why snipers and long-distance shooters gravitate towards long, heavy bullets out of heavier calibers. They retain energy for a further distance, and drift and drop less. Serious long-range shooters watch anythingaround the target for indications of wind movement: leaves, blades of grass, the breath of an animal on a cold day. These will all give indications of wind speed at long range. However, a sudden gust BETWEEN you and the target, which can easily happen if you’re shooting across a valley, say, will screw you up with no way to tell what the hell is going on.

Trajectory: As the bullet sheds velocity due to drag, it drops as gravity pulls downward on it. The slower the bullet goes, the more pronounced the drop is. With the chosen .30-06 load above, we can see that with a 200-yard zero, I should be able to reliably hit a deer-sized animal in the vitals (roughly an 8″ diameter area) out to 275 yards or so, providing little wind, with no hold-over or serious adjustment to the sight picture. Beyond 300 yards, though, I will have to start adjusting where I hold my crosshairs  with an appropriate mount of hold-over so that the bullet will drop into the desired impact point. This is why being able to gauge distance accurately makes all the difference. If you think it’s 400 yards when it’s actually 500, your bullet will impact below your target, and there goes your meal.

 

A word on caution and responsibility: If you are shooting at game this far away (defense against 2-legged critters or punching holes in paper is another thing altogether), you owe it to your quarry to say “no” to pulling the trigger if you can’t make a clean kill. If an animal is 500 yards away in a steady wind, stalk closer for a sure kill or let it go for another day. In those conditions, the bullet placement is less than predictable, and an animal deserves a quick, humane kill….not an ineffectual bullet in a place that will make the animal suffer if it can’t be recovered. As a bonus, a cleanly-shot animal will be easier to find and brought home to feed your family.

 

Realities of long-distance shooting

 

Marines in the era of WW1 were expected to be able to hit man-sized targets at 500 yards and beyond – reliably – with their 1903 Springfield rifles. And they could, with loads of proper training with a known load and experienced instructors, plus extravagant amounts of range time. (if you’ve ever held a 1903 of any vintage and looked down the sights, you will find this pretty damned remarkable!) Just because we live in the modern era of high-powered scopes with bullet drop compensaters, laser rangefinders, and GPS markers with VLD (very low drag) bullets and high-speed cartridges, it doesn’t mean and oaf can buy all the right stuff and instantly become an 800-yard sniper. As with the Marines of yore, it takes hours and hours and hours of range time with experienced people guiding you on how to utilize your chosen rifle and load before you can even think about “engaging targets at 800 yards”. I’ll admit, I’ve never shot at anything that far away, and have no reason to other than for the sheer hell of it. However, I have taken a West Virginia whitetailed deer off his hooves with a clean spine shot from a .300 H&H at over 600 yards, with a proper rest, a well-known rifle with a proven, calculated load, a 12-power scope, and no wind. It’s not terribly hard once you get there, but it takes lots of practice. And when you CAN pull off shots like that, well, you get some pretty killer bragging rights. Especially when you have witnesses. :)

 

Just remember, practice, practice, practice. Baby steps, too…get good at 100 yards, then step it to 200. Then 300. If you start at 500 yards, you’re going to be a discouraged mess. Start close, get lots of trigger time, do research, practice findamentals of breathing and trigger control, don’t rush. Your confidence levels will soar and you’ll be confidently making long-range shots before you know it.

 

Long-range shooting in WV. The deer I shot was just under the high-tension tower in the extreme background. For reference, the tower is over 100 feet high, and 700+ yards away.

Long-range shooting in WV. The deer I shot was just under the high-tension tower in the extreme background. For reference, the tower is over 100 feet high, and 700+ yards away.

What’s the longest shot you’ve made? Do you practice at longer ranges?

 

Stay safe, and merry Christmas!

-TRW

  • Ray December 25, 2013, 4:07 pm

    Man you hit this one right on the money! Before WW-1 the USMC spent weeks teaching Recruits how to hold the rifle. It spent more weeks just “snapping in” to learn trigger squeeze. “Boots” started shooting at 200 yard ranges and worked up from there.(200-400-600-800 to “Quall”) Marksmanship was THE Religion for “The Old Breed”. They trained constantly. I own several ’03s , a NM Garand an M-40a1 clone and it takes YEARS of effort and thousands of spent rounds to shoot well at 800+ yards with any rifle. Tech. doesn’t make the marksman . Training dose.

    Reply
    • Hildegard December 30, 2013, 5:21 am

      few of us will ever get the opportunity to engage targets at 800 yds. In the case of defensive shooting, in anything less than TEOTWAWKI, good luck with the self-defense argument when you shoot somebody at 800 yds. Most likely, you will have to answer for your actions during any emergency

      Reply
      • Ray December 30, 2013, 11:01 am

        Who said anything about shooting people? Do you work for the SPLC? or are you illiterate?

        Reply
  • Roseman December 25, 2013, 4:38 pm

    Great post.

    Reply
  • Michael December 26, 2013, 12:01 am

    great post. the military taught me to shoot way out….now, 15 years later…..I limit my shots to 500 yards IF I practice regularly.

    Reply
  • Ray December 26, 2013, 8:00 am

    I would add that I hand load every round I use for ranges above 500 yards.– R.W. Most guys never EVER shoot out past 150 yards. They buy “army guns” for the bragging rights. 90% of them have no clue what the weapon can do, or how to make it do it. I love having them tell me how “deadly” their “weapon” is , followed almost at once by telling me that “Its almost new! I’v only put a half a box a shells threw it!” Hunters are often worse, buying “super magnums” for hunting that they have never fired more than three times( I see this one A LOT , Its common down here to find rifles after hunting season for sale with the original first “box’O shells” minus three rounds) I think that there are Damn Few of us who really shoot Long Range anymore with anything smaller than a .338 or .50 BMG ( I used to shoot Palma , so I still love me my .30cal)

    Reply
    • Road Warrior December 26, 2013, 1:11 pm

      I used to work in a backwoods gun shop in southern Maine years ago, right when then current boom of Winchester Short Mag cartridges were coming out. People would see them in gun magazines, order them up, pay me to mount the scope and dial it in with $60.00 boxes of ammo (beating the snot out of myself in the process), then when it came time to shoot it, they’d be afraid of the recoil, flinch like crazy, and say, “this gun doesn’t shoot!” then trade it in for a 336 Marlin. Had to have happened 15 times. Those were guns capable of 500+ yard shots all day long, but it sure wasn’t going to happen with those yahoos behind the trigger.

      Reply
  • Leon December 26, 2013, 10:34 am

    There are many rifles capable of long range accuracy, but not so many shooters. IMHO, most hunters are afraid of their rifles, and don’t shoot them much because of that.
    My longest shot on whitetail deer was 190 paces at dusk. I was in sitting position, shooting a 700 Remington in 7mm Remington Magnum.
    I’m prouder of the 20 yard shot – in the rain- on a whitetail buck with my .50 caliber Lyman Great Plains blackpowder rifle. That shot required more hunting and stalking skill than the other.
    I think people need to consider what they will be using their firearms for on a regular basis before they invest in a long-range rifle they can’t shoot. http://www.survivalcommonsense.com/the-top-three-firearms-choices-for-beginner-outdoorspeoplefeed/

    Leon

    Reply
    • Road Warrior December 26, 2013, 1:03 pm

      Agreed. I see a lot of people loading up on guns, guns, guns for when SHTF, but then you have to realize that if you head out the door, you can only carry, what? Two? Maybe three? Spend your money on what you will use, what you will have with you, and then invest is training courses and ammo for them. $10,000 worth of guns ain’t worth crap if they’re not with you or readily available.

      A blackpowder shot in the rain at any distance is impressive; my hat off to you! I am in the process of researching a good “front-stuffer” so I can go out and test my stalking mettle with older gear.

      Reply
  • Steve December 26, 2013, 10:52 am

    As retired Army infantryman we started at 25 meter to battle sight zero. Longest we shot was 300 meters. Last year got my white tail at 40 yards, Model 70 30.06, Weaver scope, from front porch, wearing shoes. This year, 42 yards, Ruger 77/44, Nikon scope, back porch, slippers. 13 year old daughter, 40 yards, Rossi lever action 45 Long Colt, open sights, same back porch. Life is rough.

    PS. British we taught and expected to fire 15 aimed rounds a minute, 800 meters, with .303 Enfields, and did it. Ask the Germans at Mons, 1914.

    Reply
  • smokechecktim December 26, 2013, 12:53 pm

    If you take unusual hunting situations out of the equation I think that 200 to 300 yards is probably the max range that most people in a SHTF scenario will see. How many of us will be hunkered down on an open plain? My place is in the trees, you cant see more then 20 to 50 yards so spending lots of time worrying about 2000 yards shots is a waste. How many of us have the time and money needed to really get good at those extreme ranges? I’m old school…..308 with a decent piece of glass on top and I’m good.

    Reply
    • Road Warrior December 26, 2013, 1:07 pm

      Agreed; other than that one deer I shot at extreme long range, every deer I’ve ever shot has been under 150 yards, Most of them under 50.

      I would figure that a fella laying out $3000 for a custom AR-10 and high-quality mounts and optics, plus a bunch of match ammo, would at least have the ambition to get out there, get training, and practice. But, it’s also entirely possible that he’ll just go, “I have a rifle I can shoot at targets 800 yards away with!”, brag about it to friends, then put it in the safe for later. I see that a lot.

      Reply
  • Jarhead Survivor December 26, 2013, 2:06 pm

    My training on the KD course was for 200, 300, and 500 yards. This incorporated offhand, kneeling, sitting, and prone positions with shooting at 500 yards being all prone. At 500 yards we had 10 minutes to shoot 10 rounds at a man-sized target, which was a silhouette of a man from the waist up to the top of the head.

    Using the standard iron sites that comes with an M-16 that man-sized target looked reeeeeal small when we first sited in on it!!

    Over the years we shot thousands of rounds, but before we even pulled the trigger with a live round in the chamber we practiced a week of breath control, squeezing the trigger, and proper site alignment. And those were 8 hour days of just staring down the site and sqeeeeezing the trigger trying to get the proper site picture.

    After awhile I could hit nearly every time at 500 yards, but if it was windy it could really throw your game off.

    Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.

    Reply
  • Quigley Down December 26, 2013, 9:36 pm

    Sorry guys but I don’t see this the same way. This is all about getting rid of the variables. Then, it really is easy

    Reply
  • Lobber December 26, 2013, 10:15 pm

    Yup, when the first shot HAS to hit this all really matters. Lots of rounds and a good solid dope book. Otherwise, it’s not that damn hard. My wife and I both regularly play with tack driving 22 LR’s and hit 40 inch iron maidens at 400 meters all day. Yes, we use holdover after the first shot or two, then were on. Funny to watch as I can get four rounds off before the first hits. Tune and tweak to get a good platform (rifle) with crisp trigger, match barrel and rock solid rest then make sure your fundamentals are ALL in place and this is easy. And yes, we regularly push AR-10s to 1100 meters using the same techniques. Know the range (cheat w/ range finder), know the wind and it works.

    Reply
  • j.r. guerra in s. tx. December 27, 2013, 9:07 am

    If you are just beginning learning shooting at range, air rifle shooting crosswind and quartering teaches you quite a bit of the basics. I’d recommend rim fire at 200 yards as well, but it’s extremely expensive at present time.

    Fence lines are great places to learn estimating ranges. Taking a tape measure and measuring the distance between a pair will give practice on estimating how far it really is over there. And practice takes time, especially shooting over hilly terrain.

    A pointer – learn to estimate distance using your thumbnail held out at arms end. As in ‘my thumbnail measures 5′-0″ at 100 yards (or whatever) – test it out and determine that. Its handy knowledge.

    Reply
  • North86 December 27, 2013, 11:07 am

    In a SHTF scenario, in an urban setting, I think that 150′ is about the most you’d need. Too many structures, and too much risk of incidental damage to be thinking about targets much further out than that. Plus, it’s almost impossible to go more than 150′ unobstructed.

    While the AR-10 could certainly be used for hunting, a bolt action rifle would provide the accuracy needed at the long distances mentioned in the story.

    Reply
  • Steve Suffering In NJ December 27, 2013, 12:42 pm

    I’m Steve and I can’t hit crap. There, it’s out in the open. I’m not a great shot and I know that. I can shoot open sights to about 125 yards and get kill shots. That’s where it stops. Range I shoot at have plenty of guys with big $$ invested in there weapons. They lock them into weighted rigs “lacking a better description” and fire away. Ok, maybe there adjusting there scopes? I don’t know, but they sure love to bolt there rifles into these big ass contraptions and shoot from a bench.
    I don’t see the real world application there. Maybe they should practice leaning against a tree instead. But, that’s just me…
    As far as SHTF goes, my terrain doesn’t provide more than 75 yards with out trees, rocks, hills etc. my skill level which is on the lower end my Remington 1100 is my go to. I know allot of people who have delusions of there personal abilities. I know my own strengths and weaknesses. Stalking strength, long range shooting weakness. Better to be honest with yourself and equip yourself accordingly. Or start practicing.

    Reply
    • Ray December 27, 2013, 8:00 pm

      A lot is how you grow up, I have been shooting since I was five. I started competing at 8 . I have had unlimited firearms and ammo available to me all my life. That and at my age(55) even NJ and New York were gun friendly when I was a child, so firing 800 to 1200 rounds every weekend didn’t ruffle anyone’s feathers. I did this every week(500 round minimum) till I got cancer five years ago. It really is all about practice.

      Reply
  • vleatherman December 27, 2013, 5:06 pm

    Just for info check out Long range hunting .com it is a good place.

    Reply
  • Steve December 27, 2013, 7:33 pm

    Quite a few raw recruits in USMC basic training are hitting at 500 yards with beat up M16A2′s and 62 grain green tip. It takes coaching , on fundamentals and time behind the rifle.

    The man over the machine , a good machine will help a good man. Your points are well taken , most people when they speak of such distances they dont even really know how far it is.

    Reply
  • irishdutchuncle December 28, 2013, 4:31 am

    it all sounds more than a little fishy to me.
    (and not very cost effective for the gunsmith) did the shop take the job, or turn him down? why specifically the AR-10 platform, I wonder? is this guy previously known to the “regulars”, or did he come in out of the blue? how does he know this shop can make him what he wants?

    Reply
    • Road Warrior December 28, 2013, 10:32 am

      I don’t know, I wasn’t there when he agreed or disagreed. They put together a package and send out a quote. It’s a tactical/training shop, I know they have many AR tire-kickers walk in the door.

      Why the AR-10? The 7.62 cartridge is far superior to the 5.56 for long range shooting…and if you gotta have the AR platform, it’s the only way to go. I’d personally go for a good bolt-action if I was shooting distance…much more bang for the buck, and usually better shooting guns.

      Reply
      • Tolik December 28, 2013, 4:50 pm

        Agreed , there is a reason most snipers use a bolt action . I dont like the AR platform , and much prefer the venerable , less temperamental FN-FAL . if your looking for a 308 battle rifle .

        Reply
  • Tolik December 28, 2013, 4:45 pm

    Problem is , it takes A LOT of practice and patience to shoot long distance . Then there are the variables ( wind , bullet drop , etc . ) sometimes more than one wind direction compensations for the same shot . This is not easy . Then the factor that if you miss , whatever your shooting at is now alerted , which leads to another question : Do you really NEED to be engaging a target that far away ? there is a very good chance they are not aware of you to begin with , is it needed or justified ? most of the time the answer is no . In the case of hunting , do you really want to hump dead weight that far away from your location , and hump it even that much farther away to your base camp ? then the factor of the animal not dropping dead quickly and moving away ……by the time you get down to where it was , you may not be able to locate it , this equals wasted meat and animal cruelty . As far as humans go , …..you may end up being the pray if you use poor judgment by attacking at all . There is a 15 second rule of engagement developed by british guerillas against the japanese in WW2 , it was figured that the maximum amount of time you should engage the enemy is no longer than 15 seconds before you are starting to withdraw and disappear , it gave the attacker more than enough time to hit a few targets and not enough time for the attacked to organize and wipe you out . Food for thought if you think for whatever reason you think you are going to be in a Teotwawki .

    Reply
    • Ray December 30, 2013, 11:09 am

      Yes Tolik BUT; that British 15 second “rule of thumb” was developed by an army engaging at 25-200 yard MAX ranges. I myself enjoy long range target shooting. I almost never hunt at ranges above 200 yards. (In fact my “new” deer rifle is a .243 Win.)

      Reply
      • Tolik January 2, 2014, 3:12 pm

        I hear ya , I dont have the patience for long range . Its not enjoyable shooting for me in any situation . I grew up in rural Arizona , with the nearest neighbor about a mile away , so I shoot the cowboy way , Just aim and shoot , few rules other than dont shoot your buddy ;) . If I cant see it with my naked eye , I dont need to be shooting at it at all , or if I cant hit it with iron sights Its probably too far away . Most of my hunting was birding and small game , again the cowboy way , flush it out and shoot it , all pretty close in . I could never go duck hunting and sit on my ass for hours on end ……would drive me crazy , need to be moving , stopped going deer hunting because it bored the crap out of me lol . If it ever came down to people ………thats a whole different ballgame , one I would rather not have to play as its too easy to get killed yourself .

        Reply
  • javelin December 29, 2013, 7:48 am

    I work part time at a small gun store and we see the “couch commandos” all the time. Yes if someone wants to drop a bunch on a rifle capable of going WAAAY down range we’ll be happy to set them up. most of them get real tired of paying the price to go that far pretty quick.

    Reply
    • irishdutchuncle December 29, 2013, 10:21 pm

      I limit myself to not much more than one gun store visit a month. ( why torture myself? )

      Reply