DISCLOSURE: THIS POST MAY CONTAIN AFFILIATE LINKS WHERE WE GET A COMMISSION IF YOU DECIDE TO MAKE A PURCHASE THROUGH THESE LINKS, AT NO ADDITIONAL COST TO YOU.
This article discusses why a non-professional shooter should consider long-range rifle training and explores how to affordably practice the discipline using the equipment he already owns along with some low-cost accessories and weather instruments – such as portable wind meters.
Reading Time: 15 min
“One Shot, One Kill”
This somewhat bloodthirsty epithet has become the ultimate expression of the rifleman’s art. The expression is most closely associated with the battlefield sniper and long-range marksmanship, but it is not hard to appreciate that a mentality of One Shot, One Kill can and should apply throughout the shooting sports.
Every time you pull the trigger, a ballistic event is initiated which can be predicted, described and measured. Ultimately, the most important measurement is “did the round hit the target and were the results what the shooter intended?” Ballistics is the science which measures and observes the factors that influence that result. The cold science of ballistics does not care if the weapon is a high-tech sniper rifle which costs as much as your car or the deer rifle in your closet. For that matter, ballistics apply to shotguns, rifles, handguns, slingshots, compound and traditional bows, medieval trebuchets, catapults, even baseball pitchers and football quarterbacks.
Do you need to have an intimate knowledge of ballistics to become a good shooter? No, you do not. All that is really required to consistently hit your target is a firm grounding in basic marksmanship, which emphasizes safety, sight picture, shooter’s position and trigger control. By learning and consistently practicing these elements, you and your rifle (or pistol, shotgun, bow, slingshot or trebuchet) should be able to hit the target almost every time. Understanding the science of ballistics will make that practice more meaningful and profitable.
Focus on safety, sight picture, shooting stance and trigger control.
There is no replacement for practice. The “professional shooter”, whether he is military, law enforcement, a hunting guide or a competitive target shooter, will get plenty of practice while training for their job, even if they are never called upon to fire their weapon in an actual tactical situation (“shots fired in anger”). This guide is written for the “non-professional shooter”. This would describe the hunter who keeps his rifle in the closet most of the year and only takes it out to fire a few sight-in rounds every fall.
It will also applies to a homeowner who keeps an assault rifle for home defense, the armed citizen who carries a handgun for personal security, even the Dad who is introducing his kids to firearms. Studying ballistics will make you a better shooter and there is no better way to study ballistics than by practicing long range shooting.
Some will argue that there is no carry-over between taking the time and discipline to set-up and fire at a target hundreds of yards away and shooting at a whitetail deer who steps out into a clearing 40 feet away, let alone a mugger threatening your life or loved ones ten feet away. While “realistic” practice of the shots you may take in “real life” are important, long range precision shooting enforces the basics of marksmanship because every tiny, seemingly insignificant mistake is magnified by extreme range.
How to Get Into Long Range Shooting
The sniper, with his ability to engage and eliminate targets from a half mile away and further, has been called the “King of the Battlefield”. Although military leaders once considered snipers as undesirable and even dishonorable, the modern sniper is often the elite amongst the elite. Before being selected for sniper training, a soldier is required to demonstrate superior discipline, leadership and marksmanship.
A military or police sniper will have access to the most advanced tools and technologies to do their job. Technology alone, however, will not make a shooter into Carlos Hathcock. A state of the art sniper rifle can cost thousands of dollars, and the rifle itself will not make you a better shooter. An accurate shot of a quarter-mile is well within the capability of most off-the-shelf bolt action hunting rifles, including the one in your closet right now, with little or no modification. Of course, building a dedicated long-range rifle can be a lot of fun, and much less expensive than a full on a customized tactical sniper rifle.
As a beginner, you won’t be a much better shooter only by owning a state-of-the-art rifle.
Long range rifle accuracy is more dependent upon understanding the local conditions than the rifle used to take the shot. How these conditions affect the shot will be covered in greater detail as we discuss external ballistics, for now we need to recognize that the wind and the atmosphere will have a huge upon how the projectile flies toward the target.
The basic equipment to get started practicing long-range marksmanship are as follows:
Obviously, a precision shot will require a precision rifle, but as mentioned previously, most rifles on the market (or in your closet) are much more precise than the shooter who uses them. Theoretically, a customized sniper rifle will shoot more accurately than the 30.06 passed down from your granddad, but unless you are already a superior marksman, there is little to be gained by spending the extra money.
A precision long range rifle requires a precision sighting system. It is theoretically possible to hit a long range target with iron sights, but most shooters will be better served with a telescopic sight. This is simply to make a distant target visible to the shooter. The scope for long distance is usually more powerful than a hunter’s scope, but this is less of a problem because the shot will be taken from a rest.
One of the distinguishing characteristics of a sniper rifle is the installed bipod. While the bipod makes a readily available rest in a tactical situation, it will add weight and complication to the rifle. Cross-sticks, a shooter’s staff or even sandbags make very stable and effective rests, and since they are not attached to the rifle, the piece can still be carried for hunting.
“Hand-loaded” and “match-grade” are ammunition terms which are thrown about in the long range shooting community. All they really mean is ammo which will perform consistently from round to round to ensure consistent results. Usually, a hand load “recipe” will be developed to get optimal results from each rifle/ammunition combination.
Again, the beginning shooter will be faced with a question of how good is good enough? A hunting rifle with factory ammo should be able to print a group on less than half an inch at 100 yards. The custom rifle/match ammo combo may have a theoretical performance of a quarter inch at the same range. If the shooter himself is only able to shoot a three-inch group on his best day, how much potential is wasted?
A Place to Shoot
A quick search of the Internet can put you in touch with long-range precision shooters in your area, and they will be able to help you find a place to shoot. They are probably more than willing to provide coaching and instruction to help you get started in this fascinating pastime. However, shooting with a club or organization often means adopting the style of shooting they are interested in. A club who engages in a long-range competitive shooting will provide a solid foundation of basic skills, but the competitive environment may encourage more dependence on gadgetry than actual skill building. A group who focuses on tactical and sniping skills may be on the fringe of a group which is “politically questionable”.
The minimum requirements for a place to practice long range shooting are
- A place where it is legal to operate a firearm
- A safe area behind the target for bullet impact
- A clear range between the shooter and the target
Naturally, these places will rarely be found in suburban or even rural areas, but they can usually be accessed without the need for extended wilderness travel.
When a shooter takes a long-range shot, the more information he has, the more likely he is to actually hit the target. Many of these aids will be part of the tactical rifle system, but a casual or competitive shooter may be better served with dedicated instruments. This is an advantage of learning from a more experienced shooter or club, they will have the equipment already. However, the novice is more likely to absorb their preferences rather than make his own decisions about which purchase best meets his needs.
- Spotting scope and spotter. Using the sighting scope for spotting is generally an unsafe practice. The spotting scope will be even more powerful and tripod mounted, allowing the spotter to call the shot and suggest corrections.
- Rangefinder. These may not be completely necessary if you are shooting on a formal, marked range, but range finder technology is becoming cheaper and more accessible as more hunters discover its value. A range finder is indispensable if you are practicing on an informal or non-regulated range.
- Wind/Weather Gauge. The air that a bullet flies through has an incredible influence on its performance. Most of this will be covered in the external ballistics discussion. For now, keep in mind that weather gauges are another example of getting what you pay for. However, what is best for one shooter is not always what is best for another. The shooting community has embraced Kestrel handheld wind gauges which feature preloaded ballistics software. However, many shooters prefer a simpler but just as informative interface such as found on the WeatherHawk line of handheld wind gauges. The most common parameters you need to measure using your Wind/Weather Gauge are temperature, wind speed & direction, humidity and altitude.
One interesting habit of long-range precision riflemen is their use of dope, or D.O.P.E., “Data on Previous Engagements”. In its simplest form, doping entails 1) “calling” the shot, or predicting where on the target a practice or sighting round will impact, 2) evaluating where the sighting round actually hits, and 3) applying corrections to the rifle sighting system before firing for effect.
This will work on the range, but in the field or in a tactical situation, the shooter will not have an opportunity to safely take a practice shot for doping. That trophy bull standing on the ridgeline is not going to let you take a shot in his direction, wait for you to adjust your sights, then let you take another shot! In the real world, the first shot is likely the only shot.
D.O.P.E. = Data on Previous Engagements.
With this in mind, precision riflemen usually carry a D.O.P.E. or shot data book in their kit to record as many environmental, equipment and physical factors of each shot (or “engagement”) as possible. By studying the collected data, they will eventually be able to apply proper dope for each shot without the need for a practice or sighting round.
The ability to put that first round on target entails the ability to observe those factors and understanding the ballistic variables which affect the shot.
Before Moving On…
At this point in our discussion, the weekend rifleman should have a good idea whether or not the discipline of long-range precision marksmanship is worth exploring. If it is, he will also know what he needs to begin his “study”. Briefly, these will include:
- A reasonably accurate rifle. Although a purpose-built long-range rifle is nice, almost any modern bolt-action rifle can be pressed into service as a precision firearm.
- Ammunition. The advantage here goes to the experienced hand loader with the time and resources to work up the load which works best in an individual rifle, but branded factory ammunition will work for most shooters. Save the expense of “match-grade” ammo for actual match shooting.
- A Place to Shoot. A formal rifle range may have some helpful coaching available, but if a “place in the woods” is more convenient and is a safe place to shoot, you are likely to get in more practice.
- Shooting Aids. In addition to a bench or pad for prone shooting, and a steady rest for the rifle, shooting aids include the instruments needed to evaluate the shot and the environmental conditions.
- Spotting Scope. To allow the target to be accurately observed from the firing line to evaluate shot placement and conditions
- Spotter. Hopefully someone who is experienced with precision shooting to help establish DOPE for each shot
- Range Finder. Determines precisely how far the bullet must travel between the shooter and the target
- Wind Gauge/Weather Meter. To evaluate the wind conditions at the firing line. As we will discuss in an upcoming section, wind and air resistance have the greatest influence on whether the shot hits the point of aim after basic marksmanship principles.
With these basics in hand, you are ready to go out and begin practicing long-range precision shooting. As long as you have the tools, an understanding of the science behind them is not strictly necessary. However, if you do take the time to learn and understand the science, you will have a better understanding of the tools and will be able to use them more efficiently.
The Hard Science of Ballistics
Great shooters understand that long-range precision marksmanship is a combination of art and science. Up to this point, we have mostly been discussing the artistic part of the shot. Every great artist begins by understanding his tools and how to use them.
These tools include the rifle, the ammunition, a place to shoot, and shooting aids including environmental sensors like wind and weather gauges. Like any other artist, the long-range rifleman needs to practice to become proficient with his tools. A chef needs to sharpen his knives and cook, a musician needs to tune his instrument and play, the rifleman needs to get on the range and use his equipment to put rounds on target.
Taking some time to understand the ballistics basics will definitely improve your shooting skills.
Science is observing and understanding the factors which contribute or detract from success. The chef learns that the best ingredients are spoiled if the pan is too hot or too cold. The musician knows how to strum the strings of his instrument, but if his fingering is not correct the notes may be sour. A shooter needs to understand the science of what happens between the time he pulls the trigger and the round impacts the target. The science of shooting is called ballistics.
Ballistics is a science of mechanics which deals with the launching, flight, behavior and effects of projectiles through space. These mechanics are based on measurable and predictable Newtonian physics and will apply whether the projectile is a bullet, a bomb dropped from an aircraft, a stone launched by a kid’s slingshot, an intercontinental ballistic missile or a baseball thrown by a major league pitcher. The mechanics and the physical laws are the same for all of them.
Scientists further break ballistic into three or four distinct categories, Internal Ballistics, Transitional Ballistics, External Ballistics and Terminal Ballistics. Internal ballistics deal with everything that has to do with launching the projectile, another definition is everything that happens inside the gun itself.
Transitional and external ballistics are often discussed together and include everything which occurs from the time the projectile leaves the gun until it impacts the target. Terminal ballistics study what happens at the end of the bullet’s flight, how the projectile’s energy is transferred to the target. Terminal ballistics seem somewhat academic to the pure target shooter on the range whose goal is to simply hit the target precisely, but it is of terrific importance to the tactical shooter or the hunter; what the bullet does to what it hits is the whole reason for the shot.
Some observers consider interior ballistics as everything that happens from the time the trigger is pulled until the bullet leaves the muzzle. Actually, it begins with the primary design of the firearm. Every firearm which uses cartridge ammunition goes through an eight-step cycle of operation. They are
1) Feeding – stripping a round from a magazine or manually placing it before the breech or bolt face,
2) Chambering – pushing the round into the firing chamber,
3) Locking – the firing chamber is locked closed and the mechanism of the firearm is aligned to fire the round,
4) Firing – the trigger is pulled and the firing pin impacts the primer, causing the propellant (gunpowder) to ignite, the expanding gasses of the burning propellant push the bullet through the bore where it engages the rifling, imparting spin to the projectile,
5) Unlocking – occurs with the backward motion of the bolt or slide in an automatic or semi-auto weapon, manually in a bolt, pump or lever action,
6) Extraction – the spent cartridge is pulled from the firing chamber,
7) Ejection – the spent cartridge is thrown out of the firearm, and
8) Cocking – the firing mechanism is readied to fire the next round.
These eight steps are most readily observed in the cycling of automatic and semi-auto firearms, but can be applied to muzzle loaders as well as launching arrows from a bow, perhaps even a pitcher throwing a baseball. The steps are the most simple and controllable in bolt action rifles, which is why they are the preferred tool of the long-range marksman. Although there are differences between different models of rifle, the basic steps can be seen in the video below of a bolt action mechanism. Although they do not apply to the discussion of precision rifle shooting, observing the cycles of a Glock pistol, a Colt 1911 pistol and the M16 semi-automatic rifle can aid in understanding internal ballistics.
The cycle of firing the rifle is only the beginning of internal ballistics influence on accurately placing the round on target. The construction of the piece will govern how precisely it shoots. A mass produced surplus infantry weapon or sporting gun is generally thought to be less precise than a tightly fitted custom made firearm. This is due to the slacker tolerances necessary for mass production versus the tighter control of one-off construction. Modern manufacturing techniques allow tightened production tolerances, which is one reason modern hunting rifles make acceptable tools for long-range precision shooting.
Barrel length is another important internal ballistics factor. A longer barrel is thought to be inherently more precise and accurate than a shorter barrel. As the bullet travels down the longer barrel, the expanding gases of the propellant have more time to build pressure and transfer more energy and velocity to the projectile.
Understand Precision vs. Accuracy
Ammunition selection is generally considered as part of internal ballistics. The powder charge must be sufficient to propel the projectile, but an excessive charge can damage the firearm, even to the point of injuring the shooter. Every rifle, even rifles from the same production run, will have an optimum combination of powder charge and projectile which will give it the greatest accuracy, which is an advantage of hand loading over factory ammunition. However, higher grade factory ammo may be more precise than hand loads, and this consistency may have a greater effect on overall accuracy.
This is a good place to discuss the difference between precision and accuracy. The long-range shooter needs both, of course. Precision is related to how small of a group you can shoot with your rifle and ammo. Generally, precision is thought to be the mechanical qualities of the rifle and ammunition combo.
A precise rifle will place the shots in a tight grouping every time. Accuracy is a function of the shooter himself, and depends on his ability to achieve a proper sight picture, maintain breath control while pressing the trigger, and understanding and compensating for the influences of external ballistics as the projectile flies toward the target.
Most people assume that when a rifle is fired, the bullet travels in a straight line to the target. More astute observers will see that due to the effects of gravity, the projectile needs to follow an arced path toward the target, flying slightly upwards for the first portion of its flight until gravity forces it to begin falling towards the earth, impacting the target on its downward path.
An advanced shooter, especially when engaged in precision shooting, realizes that there are many other factors which affect external ballistics, including: air resistance, humidity, wind speed, even the rotation of the earth (the coriolis effect) . Since a bullet flying 300 yards or further spends more time in flight than a pistol round at a range of 15 feet or so, external ballistics are of great import to the long range shooter.
External Ballistics Begins in Transition
The baseline physics of every shot fired is essentially the same, no matter the weapon or the range. One of the things that is not very obvious to the shooter is that the spinning projectile which we expect to fly true all the way to the target actually wobbles a great deal during the first part of the ballistic arc.
We can see the same effect in slow motion replays of a long distance football pass; even though the quarterback’s finger impart spin to the ball just like the rifling in the barrel, the ball will wobble in flight to a certain extent. However, the further the ball flies, the steadier it becomes.
This wobbling is less noticeable in pistol rounds, since the projectiles are usually shorter in comparison to their length, and therefore stabilize much faster (not to mention the shorter ranges of a pistol shot). A longer rifle bullet may fly as far as 50 feet before it stabilizes on its axis of rotation. This wobbling can be minimized by matching the load to the rifle, but never completely eliminated. This is why increasing the powder charge to a round may increase its velocity but can destroy its accuracy. “Wobbling” is a simplified term to describe the rotational effects that affect the bullet on its flying axis.
These rotational effects are identified as 1) Yaw 2) Precession and 3) Nutation.
We have only “scratched the surface” of ballistic science here. If you are looking to study the subject in depth we recommend you to start with “Applied Ballistics for Long Range Shooting 3rd Edition” by Brian Litz.
If you’re only interested in knowledge regarding the specific subject of Long Range Shooting, then you can check the “Long Range Shooting Handbook” by Ryan M. Cleckner. This #1 Best Seller on Amazon is a spot on manual that will guide you through all aspects of long range shooting; from calibrating your rifle to using your wind speed instruments and calculators.
Flies Through The Air with the Greatest of Ease
We can quote the old saw that “What Goes Up Must Come Down” and claim that we understand bullet trajectory, but there is a lot more going on that influences a projectile’s flight than gravity.
Granted, gravity is a pretty big deal any time a shot is fired. The moment the projectile leaves the muzzle, gravity begins pulling it toward the center of the earth. Most shooters understand that the bore of the rifle is aligned so that the bullet will fly slightly above the line of sight.In this way, the bullet will arc back down to impact at the point of aim. What is harder to see is that the downhill side of the arc is slightly steeper than its climb.
Not only is gravity pulling the bullet down, air resistance is slowing it down so that it has time to fall further. This means that the high point of the bullet’s arc is not at the midpoint of its flight, it will be closer to the target. This seems like a small point, but it is one that is magnified at longer ranges.
When we begin considering how air resistance affects the shot, we also begin to see the influences of weather. Air resistance is greater when the shot is fired at a lower altitude, since barometric pressure, or the amount of air that is stacked on top of you, is greater at sea-level than it is in the mountains. Air resistance will decrease as the temperature rises, as humidity rises, or as the barometer falls. These conditions combine to generate a figure called “density altitude”. An illustration of density altitude is the fact that a shooter on a sunny 90 degree day in Dallas will face about the same air resistance as a shooter in Denver on a cool 20 degree day.
As stated by NOAA, density altitude is “the pressure altitude adjusted for non-standard temperature.” Simply put, increasing temperature at a given atmospheric pressure will cause the air density at that pressure to appear as though it resides at a higher physical altitude.
Density altitude increases as barometric pressure decreases, decreasing air resistance, but a falling barometer may also indicate approaching storms which means increased wind, which will have their own effects on a long range shot. It is commonly understood that a five mile per hour cross wind (blowing directly perpendicular to the shot) can deflect the path of a .308 round as much as 3 inches in 300 yards. In fact, wind is probably the most common excuse for missed long range shots.
Judging the effects of wind for a long range shot is fraught with variables. The first is determining just how much wind there is. An old standard of wind speed is the Beaufort Scale, which provides a series of observations (how much leaves move, whether the sea is calm or rippled) to help estimate wind speed, but this can be notoriously inaccurate unless the shooter has a good deal of practice with the observations and an accurate scale to go by.
The simplest to use accurate scale would be the anemometer of a weather station at the range, but few firing ranges will not have one installed. A handheld wind gauge is an important piece of a long range shooter’s kit. Even though it will probably not be available to use in a tactical or a hunting situation, using the gauge on the practice range will contribute to eventual success in the field.
A common complaint about hand held wind gauges is that they will only give you wind data at the firing line, and not at the target or in the space between. This is true, there is no way to accurately judge the wind velocity at the target. However, if you have accurate data at the firing line, you will be better able to make an accurate estimation of wind velocity down-range. Some ranges will have flags to indicate wind speed and direction between the shooter and the target, other times the shooter will simply have to base his estimate on how the vegetation is reacting to the wind at the target, but in both cases accurate data at the firing line is the best data to have.
Check these quick tips to approximate the wind speed at the point of target:
- Use the to measure the crosswind speed while you analyze your target. Now you have the wind speed at your current standing position.
- Analyze with your high magnification rifle scope the heat waves or “mirage” caused by the atmospheric distortions. It the crosswind wind speed is zero the “mirage” is perpendicular on the ground. If the mirage waves tip at 45 degrees from left to right this indicates a wind direction from left to right at an approximate 5mph. If the mirage waves are horizontal, this indicates that wind speed it’s at least 10mph. Be aware that higher wind speeds will still indicate a horizontal “mirage”.
- Keep in mind your wind meter value and the “mirage” patterns while analyzing the environment such as grass, leaves, trees sways, floating seeds or even spider webs.
This method combined with the right ammo choice should help you in approximating the wind speed and direction.
Improving Accuracy using Portable Wind Meters
Another reason for the importance of accurate data at the firing line is that the wind will have its greatest influence on the flight of the projectile early in its flight. Remember our discussion of transitional ballistics? During the phase immediately after the bullet leaves the muzzle, while it is still wobbling in flight before gyroscopic stability sets in to help the bullet fly true, it is at its most vulnerable to be blown off course.
What are the characteristics to look for in a shooter’s portable wind meter? The most obvious attribute is accuracy and consistency. As with everything in long-range precision shooting, small inaccuracies add up, so ensure that your data is correct before you begin to make corrections.
What do you need to read with your handheld wind meter before pulling the trigger? Crosswind, Wind Speed & Direction, Air Pressure, Density Altitude, Temperature and Relative Humidity.
The next thing to consider is ease of use and ruggedness, the shooter needs to be able to gather the data he needs easily so that he does not have to spread his concentration to things that do not have to do with making the shot. This is where ruggedness comes in, ideally the portable wind meter can be turned on, provide the data needed, and then set aside with no further thought. A unit that can be closed to protect its impeller and then simply placed on the shooting bench or even placed on the ground will be more useful than one which is so fragile that it needs to be carefully placed in its case after every reading.
While it is true that you get what you pay for, long range shooting is an expensive pastime if you are not being paid to do it. A top of the line portable wind meter may be a worthwhile investment for a tactical operator where lives are on the line, but the extra expense is questionable if the purpose of the shot is simply to put holes in a paper target.
One of the reasons the price of the wind meter goes up is its list of features. The casual shooter probably only needs a simple gauge which will show little more than wind velocity. As the portable wind meters move up in sophistication, they will add features like a compass to show the direction of the wind, temperature and humidity gauges, usually used for wind-chill and heat-index readings, and a barometer for weather prediction. However, as we discussed above, temperature, humidity and barometric pressure can be combined to calculate density altitude. Some wind meters such as WeatherHawk Windmate WM-350 will have the calculation as part of the installed software, but density altitude can also be read from a chart printed from the Internet or with the help of a mobile app. Some of the latest wind meters models are provided with special software for ballistics. Check our latest review for the best shooting wind meters.
There are portable wind meters which are designed specifically for shooters such as the Kestrel Elite with applied Ballistics. Often, these units will carry ballistics software that will calculate the dope the shooter needs to apply for a particular shot. Again, these are features which may have value when lives are on the line, but there comes a point when extra features interfere with simply reading and applying the data and taking the shot.
WeatherHawk Wind Mate WM-350
It’s an All-in-One Personal Weather Meter
Kestrel Elite with Applied Ballistics
It’s the complete solution especially designed for Long Range Shooting
Putting It All Together
Admittedly, by itself ballistics is pretty dry science. For the average person, the only thing that makes ballistics exciting is actually pulling a trigger and seeing the mechanics of ballistics in action. Then the dry science becomes very exciting!
Which is the best reason to study the discipline of precision marksmanship, trigger time with value. The “spray and pray” type of shooting we see from Hollywood can be a lot of fun, but it is expensive and not all that productive. Instead of burning your way through several boxes of expensive ammo, you may only shoot a few rounds during a precision shooting session, but every one of those shots will teach you something.
Put your kit together and get on the range this weekend.
Getting behind the rifle, taking conditions into account, applying the D.O.P.E. to your sights, and finally taking the shot is a rather long process, one that you may not have the luxury of in a “real world” shot. However, there will be a surprising number of crossovers between a precision shot and one in the field or during a tactical engagement.
- The Rest. The precision shooter fires his shot from a rock-solid prone position, or occasionally from a solid bench, the rifle supported at its fore end by a bipod or sandbags. This factor alone accounts for an increase in accuracy in comparison to a weekend shooter firing from a standing, off-hand position. After you get used to firing from a rest and/or a prone position, you are more likely to take the time to find one in a hunting situation.
- The D.O.P.E. A precision shooter usually zeroes his sights to conform to the D.O.P.E. he observes before the shot, while a sportsman can “get away” with using the 100 yard “zero” he found while doing his preseason sight-in. This is because with most modern hunting rigs, whether the range is 20 yards, 50, or 150, the actual point of impact will be within a couple inches of the 100 yard zero. This is acceptable accuracy at hunting ranges when the vital organ target area (“kill zone”) of a big game animal is around 10 inches. However, just like precision shooting, ‘little things’ which can spoil the shot add up. The discipline of precision shooting should carry over to keep the sportsman from taking an unethical shot as well as increasing the ethical range of a shot.
- The Conditions. The precision shooter develops an intimate sense of range and environmental conditions, as well as an awareness of how these conditions will affect his shot. Although he verifies them with his instruments, his range finder and wind gauge, using the instruments teaches him to make these observations and corrections in “his head. He will not only have a feel for how to compensate for a gusting 7 knot crosswind, but he will also develop an awareness of the wind to the point that he makes the corrections instinctively. The wind gauge may not be important in the field, but using it on the range will make your “real life” shots more accurate.
- The Shot. The “spray and pray” shooter in a tactical situation or the once a year hunter with “buck fever” will waste ammunition and ultimately put lives in danger, sometimes even those he is trying to protect. In the rush to get a round (or several rounds) down range, accuracy suffers to the point where actually hitting and killing the target is more luck than skill. Even when the situation does not allow for all the time he would normally take for a shot, he will still be methodical enough to be accurate. One shot, delivered accurately on target, is infinitely more effective than two, three or even a dozen shots that miss.
“One Shot, One Kill.” It is a high standard to strive for, but with dedicated, disciplined, and best of all fun practice, it is a very attainable standard.