Very Long Range Shooting- What is involved?​

The Trans-Continental Rifle Association is a small club, which, amongst other things, shoot out to stupidly long distances.  Recently the association visited the excellent range operated by Gardner’s Guns and shot accurately out to 2000metres. (2200 yards).  Since then people have asked how to shoot “Very Long Range (VLR)”.  Raf Jah tries to explain some of the basics of VLR shooting. 

The definition of ultra-long range

The first question that comes up when discussing long range shooting, is “what do you call very long-range shooting”. For example, any of our American friends call anything over 300 yards long range, with 500 or 600 yards being the limit.  At the NRA most target shooters define 600 as being mid-range and 1000 yards as being long range.  Therefore, if we pay homage to the abilities of the Target Rifle community, we should carry on from where they leave the baton. Therefore, for lack of a better alternative, we think of anything beyond 1200 yards as being long range shooting. The reason for this is perhaps a degree of consistency can achieved with .308 out to 1000 yards, but at 1200yards a hit on a 30cm metal disk becomes much more problematic.  

Calculating Elevation

The next question that we get asked about VLR shooting is “how do I do it?” To understand the basis of VLR shooting I would again look to the achievements of the Target Rifle community. The “TR mob”, as I fondly call them really know their stuff. They lie down in all conditions and shoot out to 1000 yards without bipods or scopes. They know exactly how many MOA they need to hit the target at 800/900/1000 yards. They understand the effect that gravity has on the bullet once fired from the barrel.  I have never come across a TR shooter, no matter how new, who does not have the principles of marksmanship off pat. These principles are fundamental and knowledge of their rifle and bullet properties are essential. There can be an element of friendly banter between disciplines in the NRA and some of it is less than positive. But we in the TCRA respect absolutely the skills of TR shooters. Their shooting and published knowledge lays the groundwork for the VLR shooter to build on.

Where very-long range differs is in the need for first shot first hit, knowing cold bore zeroes and then being able to adjust for the hot bore. There are no sighters in VLR, the first person to hit scores the highest. 

The factors that really affect VLR shooting then come into play. The first is the bullet type and speed. The Most VLR shooters load their own ammunition. (I am a notable exemption). The bullet chosen must then have its ballistic properties analysed against gravity and the correct coefficient established.  Many bullet suppliers will publish G1 and G7 BCs for their products and this information is generally contained in many of the online ballistic apps  Of  the many ballistic apps available the majority of TCRA use Streklok Pro. Latitude, direction of fire, Coriolis effect, aerodynamic jump and the cosine of the shot (slope angle) will all affect the required elevation of the rifle.  These, and other parameters, must be entered correctly into Strelok. What then catches most shooters out is powder temperature.  On a hot day, ammunition left out in the sun will behave very differently to ammunition kept in a cool box or cool place. The final control is muzzle velocity. Each different type of bullet that you use must be chronographed, so that the speed and SD (or ES) can be measured. Only with the speed of the bullet can effective tables be created. But now we have a dope table that deals with gravity in the area you are in, at the temperature that you are in.

In order to verify that your dope table is correct you need to shoot every distance accurately and true the app. This can be done by changing the zero on the app. But this is a complex procedure that is best explained by an expert. (One such expert is Richard Utting of Sharp shooting UK).  There are so many variables that any slight error in data input can lead to a shot that lands 18 metres short at 2 kilometres. Not bad you may think, but we aim to be on target within a couple of rounds at that distance.

Wind – the devils work

The problem now is that you have a series of dope tables (hot bore, cold bore, high powder temperature, low powder temperature etc) but you need to calculate the wind. On Stickledown you often see Target Rifle shooters with their spotter. The spotter makes the adjustments on the sight of the shooter, constantly reading the wind. This is an absolutely essential skill in VLR shooting. The problem though is that most of our shooting is done across valleys with no flags, trees or grass to give us an indication of wind. Mirage can give clues, but it is hard to see at extreme ranges.

In our experience, when we cannot hit the target, it is always the wind that defeated us. “elevation is science, wind is voodoo” mutters Andy Welch, the club’s most accomplished VLR shooter.  Wind in a valley can only be worked out with estimation, shooting and observation. Watching the swirl of the round is essential, no matter how difficult it may be. If the shooter is using a .30 calibre round (or .50) then a tracer often helps to determine what the wind is actually doing. A swing to the right and then a dramatic swing to the left before finally coming right enough to be on the target is not unknown in a Scottish valley.

Spotting and correction

Half the struggle in VLR shooting is spotting. The shooter needs a good spotter with a fixed power 30x scope standing behind him. This is where good glass makes a difference and the spotter is able to call the shot as soon as it lands, the shooter then rapidly reloads, corrects and shoots before (hopefully) the wind conditions change. This is the only way to accurately hope to correct and hit. Shooters and spotters must work as a team. After a mile or so, the shooter is nothing without his spotter. It is not unheard of for one of our spotters to spot all morning, enjoying the success of his shooter as much as the person pulling the trigger.

What Do you need to shoot VLR

This is the question that no one asks, and yet should ask. Everyone we meet who wants to shoot VLR thinks they need to buy at least a .338 Lapua and then they will instantly be able to shoot 2000 yards. Apart from the cost this is not an overly clever idea.

The most important thing a VLR shooter needs is skill. After Skill, the VLR shooter needs a phenomenal spotter. Only when he or she has these two assets lined up can the VLR shooter look at ammunition. Ammunition must be extremely consistent and have the power to get out to the range required. For example, I use a 23-inch barrel Tikka 30-06 with 175 grain Sierra TMKs. The ammunition has an SD of 5 and is hand loaded in 500 round batches by Colin Shorthouse of Fultons Bisley. He has tailored the round to my barrel, my chamber and the length and twist of the barrel. This means that I am happily able to hit a large target at 1370 yards. I use a 30-06 because it is what I have.

Many VLR shooters use a 6.5 derivative to reach out to about 1400 yards and only then switch to something bigger like an HME calibre rifle.  One of our other members, Mike Shiew, was happily hitting the mile gong at Gardners with his 6.5 Creedmoor with carbon fibre barrel.  Many club members have a .338 Lapua, but some have .375 Cheytac. This is close to the ultimate VLR rifle (but other calibres are as good and readily available) which can get on target at 2000metres within a couple of shots. It then stays on target all day long. But at 2600 yards, the spotting becomes so difficult that this is the greatest impediment to accuracy, not necessarily the rifle/bullet combination.

Good optics/glass is essential and the adjustment range with the scope, mount and rail arrangement must allow for sufficient elevation changes to be able to engage targets at your maximum range.  When aiming at the 2650 yard target Andy needed to have about 38 mils (about 130 moa) of elevation.  He was actually holding over 2.5 mils on his scope.  To reach 3600 yards, the furthest placed target at Gardners, he would need just under 80 mils (270 moa) elevation. Simply not achievable with enough consistent precision with his current set up.

Where can you shoot VLR

Now that you have mastered the art of Very Long Range shooting, where can you do it? Using and zeroing the smaller calibres such as a 6.5 Creedmoor or 30-06 is easy.  Stickledown often plays host to shooters with these calibres. But for anything larger the only places are the MOD field fire ranges and a series of private range facilities such as Orion Firearms Training and Gardeners Guns. All of the TCRA VLR shooters are also members of the FCSA (fifty calibre shooters association) so that they can access multiple ranges at minimum cost. How to maximise the use of the Strelok App is best learned at Sharpshooting UK

So if VLR shooting is something you want to do, you should contact one of the long range clubs about visiting and seeing what they do. Then you need to become proficient on smaller targets at shorter distances before thinking of buying a high muzzle energy rifle.