An introduction to Long Range Precision shooting

James Cheung

Sports shooting is continually evolving and in recent decades many SSAA shooters have turned their focus to the long range discipline. Naturally, we weren’t satisfied with simply shooting out to a further distance than what might seem easily achievable, but soon we were demanding greater and greater accuracy at such expanses.

Today, long range shooting is one of the most popular reasons for new shooters taking up the sport. A good majority of new or prospective shooters I meet ask: “How do I get into long range shooting?” Thankfully, the SSAA has the answer: Long Range Precision.

The discipline is somewhat limiting in terms of what you can bring to the table and use in competition, but it’s a good place for new shooters to start or for shooters who don’t have a lot of equipment specifically geared towards long range shooting but want to try it for size.

At its core, Long Range Precision shooting is about developing and encouraging long range competition shooting to achieve extreme accuracy in firearms, ammunition, equipment and methodology, in order to make your shots connect at a distance most would consider the maximum they’d comfortably take a shot at both game and static targets.

Rifles are separated into different categories, the minimum distance being 400m and for some classes the maximum can be up to 2500m. Although there are few facilities that offer such extended ranges, generally shooting will be done out to 900m or 1000 yards (the 2017 National Championships in South Australia included courses of fire out to 900 yards).

The core matches for Long Range Precision require shooters to use a factory rifle with limited modifications and deliver five precise shots from a cold barrel, just as they would in a normal in-the-field situation. For long range hunters this is a great simulation of how the rifle and shooter would behave for a cold bore shot on possibly the hunt of their life.

To increase the potential for cross-overs into real life field shooting, competitions are shot in the prone position with no benches (other than in certain categories) and no wind flags. To be successful competitors must learn to read the wind and other conditions without the aid of embedded wind flags, and possibly other electronic means, and to understand their firearm and its ballistic performance on an intimate level.

What do you need?

Equipment used in Long Range Precision shooting is largely based around factory spec rifles with minimal modifications. This seems to contradict the mission statement of the discipline, being that it’s to promote long range competition shooting and to achieve extreme accuracy in firearms, ammunition, equipment and methodology, but there is some merit to these restrictions.

The use of high-end custom rifles removes some of the shooter’s shortcomings from the equation and can mask inadequacies in fundamentals and technique. There are only a handful of factory rifles that are great Long Range Precision items out of the box, therefore shooters compete on a relatively level playing field.

This discipline seeks to strike a balance between being equipment driven and performance driven. Factory rifles aside, to successfully shoot out to 1000m and beyond shooters may use sophisticated equipment to measure atmospherics, wind speed and direction, ballistic calculators to predict the bullet’s trajectory and perhaps other equipment to suit their shooting style.

Kestrel weather meters are perhaps the most popular devices used to measure atmospherics and wind, while ballistic calculators can range from free software such as JBM Ballistics to premium products like Applied Ballistics. Of course, all this technology is then married to the shooter’s innate abilities in order to shoot out to extreme distances. 

What goes into Long Range Precision?

There are numerous factors to consider when shooting to such distances and one of my favourite acronyms to use on the firing line is ‘WTF’, courtesy of Frank Galli from Sniper’s Hide. WTF stands for Wind, Trajectory and Fundamentals of shooting. Basically this is a checklist for shooters to mentally tick off when engaging long range targets. Do you know what the wind is doing? Do you know your bullet’s trajectory? Are your fundamentals good to go? Once you’ve ticked off all these boxes, Long Range Precision shooting becomes less of an art and more of a science.

The wind is the most important variable in Long Range Precision and affects the bullet’s trajectory the most. It’s also a non-determinable variable, meaning you can never know exactly what it’s doing at every point along the bullet’s flight path. One of the first things a long range shooter will do when they go on a firing line is try to figure out what the wind is doing, by observing the surrounding terrain features and looking for signs of the wind affecting objects in vicinity.

Swaying grass, trees, rising dust clouds and how the wind feels on your body are all taken into consideration. Shooters with access to Kestrel weather meters or similar equipment can use them to measure wind speed. As the wind changes so does the shooter’s hold over or wind adjustments. To succeed at long range shooting you must be able to read or measure the wind accurately and have the confidence and flexibility to change your wind hold on the fly, as you feel the wind shift or see wind indicators (not wind flags) alter downrange.

The next most important variable in Long Range Precision is the bullet’s trajectory as this will determine what elevation adjustment you need to make on your scope in order to achieve a hit. There are a few critical variables in determining the trajectory of a bullet: range to the target, the bullet’s ballistic coefficient, muzzle velocity and whether or not our ballistic calculator is trued.

Once all of these variables are locked down and verified, the trajectory is a given. Most ranges in Australia are known distance venues, meaning the gap to the target is always known to the shooter. Nevertheless, it won’t hurt to confirm for yourself the expanse to the target using a laser range finder. As with all optics (especially electro-optics) you get what you pay for.

Measuring muzzle velocity accurately and precisely is not always easy and there are only two commercially available and affordable products which measure muzzle velocity to a high degree of certainty: the Magnetospeed and Labradar chronographs. The Magnetospeed uses magnetic interferometry to measure muzzle velocity, while the Labradar is a personal, portable Doppler radar.

Precisely measuring your muzzle velocity means you can use a manufacturer’s quoted ballistic coefficient (a measurement of how much drag a bullet experiences) to calculate a firing solution. Testing the firing solution at long range will reveal whether or not the quoted ballistic coefficient (BC) of a bullet is correct and, if not, you can then true the data by changing variables to bring the predicted firing solution in line to match the real firing solution.

Finally, we have the fundamentals of marksmanship. It may seem counter intuitive to some readers but the fundamentals are not the most important aspect of Long Range Precision shooting. They matter to a great degree but the best fundamentals in the world won’t mean anything if you don’t know how to read the wind and don’t know your bullet’s trajectory.

Putting it all together

So you want to get into long range shooting? It’s a wonderful, challenging and ever-evolving world. Some clubs offer Long Range Precision shooting as a discipline but even for those that don’t you can still try shooting prone, with your factory rifle, with a suitable scope and ammo, and practise your wind reading, memorising your trajectory and working on your fundamentals.

Long Range Precision shooting is a growing aspect of our sport and the skills learned in this discipline feed nicely into others such as Practical Shooting, which is gaining a strong interest and following among Precision shooters across the country. Hopefully this article has given curious and prospective shooters a glimpse into the long range world, what’s involved and how to get started. Keep your powder dry - get out there and shoot!

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