GOING THE DISTANCE
Recoil|September - October 2021
Demystifying Long-Range Rifle Work
Rob Curtis

Shooting long distances seems intimidating at first blush. There’s a lot to consider when shooting a rifle at the limit of its performance envelope. Long-range precision shooting trades the frenetic athletics of the carbine for the more refined and calculated challenges that demand the shooter look beyond up-drills and speedy reloads to understand the basics of ballistic science and marksmanship. It’s a zen-ish pursuit that rewards patience and meticulousness.

While the array of gear and math used by long-range shooters appears daunting, you’ll be surprised at just how accessible the pursuit has become. There might be a few things to buy or borrow, but the bulk of the investment comes down to learning the application of marksmanship fundamentals, understanding the basic principles of ballistics, and taking the time to properly configure the gear you already have.

“Long-range” is a subjective term largely based on the gun and cartridge at hand. Shooting a rimfire at long-range might mean 300 yards, while shooting a magnum centerfire cartridge at long-range means reaching out well beyond 1,200 yards. The distinction “long-range” applies when running the system to hit small targets at the further reaches of its intended range. Despite the difference in distance, the underlying mechanics of precision and accuracy are the same.

We’ll also throw the terms “precision” and “accuracy” around, and we should let you know they’re different. Accuracy means hitting what you’re aiming at, and precision means putting a group of holes close together. Ideally, you want to be accurate and precise. But, without precision, achieving accuracy is tough.

The first thing people wonder about when contemplating shooting long-range is why bolt guns are considered more accurate than gas guns.

WHY BOLT GUNS

Consistency is the basis of precision, and precision is the basis of accuracy. Speaking theoretically, manually operated bolt guns are the most consistent firearm operating systems because they don’t divert any of the pressure from the cartridge to cycle the bolt, as happens in a gas-driven repeater. Tiny variations in the amount of gas that’s siphoned off to run the bolt in a semi-auto result in small variations in the driving force behind a bullet in the barrel. This inconsistency, as small as it might be, leads to a variation in impact elevation … and that deviation is magnified over distance.

That’s not to say there aren’t some terrifically accurate gas guns, but all things being equal, they’ll be relatively expensive and finicky … and they’ll always leave a tiny bit of accuracy on the table compared to a bolt gun. Basically, a cheap bolt gun is more precise than a cheap gas gun. Run what you brung, but just know that if we were choosing between a bolty and an AR in the closet, we’d go with the bolt gun.

SETTING UP THE GUN

Ideally, you have a sturdy bipod on the front of the gun or a stiff shooting bag that’s supporting the forend without touching the barrel. Any pressure on the barrel will alter the point of impact from shot to shot. Out back, you should have a shooting bag under the stock that’s dense enough to solidly support the gun but pliable enough that you can squeeze it to adjust the gun’s elevation from the rear.

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