Shooting the Mile, part one

With two books written on the subject of long-range shooting to date and another in the pipeline of sorts, I believe I have a solid idea of what’s involved when it comes to sending bullets into the next zip code. However, when I moved from one-half mile shooting to 1 mile, it was a game-changer, even with clear and practiced background regarding the fine art of long-range shooting.

With better rifles and cartridge components available today than 10 years ago, the American, and other shooters around the world, have never had it so good when sending bullets vast distances downrange. The development of the 338 Lapua by Finland for example has been a game-changer, especially now that 1-mile shooting is a reality. Prior to that, the only rifle/cartridge that met the task was the old 50 BMG in an array of different rifles. Even though the 50 BMG is effective, it’s large, expensive to shoot regardless of the ammunition suppler and is expensive. I should add that there are a number of wildcat-developed rounds that are applied to 1-mile shooting, but like the big 50, the ammo is hard to get, the rifles are off the wall in price and they won’t do better than the 338 Lap in the long run.

The rifle
The subject of long-range rifles can go toward a price point that equals a new car or truck to something far more sensible that moves around $1,000 or less. I have several long-range setups, but in the 338 Lap, being the gun of choice, I’ve turned to the Savage 111 turn-bolt rifle ($1,000) because it’s effective in its accuracy and sells at a reasonable price. Savage designed this rifle with a 24-inch pipe and an added 3 inches of muzzle break to boot. The barrel looks like an anti-tank gun while not even counting the extra-long action that houses a four- round box magazine and the long throw-push-feed bolt design. It makes use of a Weaver-style rail that is not MOA adjusted in any way.

The Savage 111 Hunter in 338 Lapua (left) and CZ 550 Heavy Spider rifle in 338 Lapua.

The rifle will accept any configuration in rings and scope systems a shooter desires. The butt stock carries a fully adjustable re height comb that is elevated by opening a pair of hex head set screws. It’s easy and fast, but when cleaning from the rear the adjustable comb needs to be removed, or at least lowered to the stock angle itself. The 338 Lapua’s are chambered in a host of rifle brands, ranging from very custom outfits to more standard stocked rifles. In most cases the sniper stock-style or even the full-rail gun systems seem to be preferred by most shooters of late. Regardless of the rifle’s design, it needs to be very accurate and that means sub-MOA at 100 yards for starters. Anything less accurate, and your in the next county in terms of a miss at such massively long distances.

Optics
In terms of glass sights, here is an area that you can’t cut very much off the quality of the glass, optical guts or even tub size. The scope needs to be able to adjust from its turret about 3 times the elevation found in a standard deer riflescope. And, in terms of reticles, it will require Milrad or moa-regulated lines or dots. The short form here is that MOA dots cover 1 inch at 100 yards re adjustment, and Mils cover about 3 1/2 inches at 100 yards. I say “about” because for adjustments quickly made this number is easy to remember and the remainder of the adjustment is in very small increments. I shoot both systems, depending on use. Long-range prairie dog hunting tends to work well with moa settings, while going long, as in 1/2 to 1 full mile, works out better using the holdover Milrad system.

In the ground glass department, the best way I can explain it is that you can’t hit what you can’t see. Low- grade glass won’t get the job done. Buying a $300 and change scope may seem like a bargain, but you may as well throw it away before you start because you just threw your money away first. Long-range optics are going to kill the bank—you can count on it. However, there are some ways to save some money and still get workable quality. Vortex is an up-and-coming outfit that markets a whole lot through Scheeles and Cabela’s. Both, of which, offer some very workable glass at a bargain price. What is that price? In the area of a grand for starters, and that’s darn cheap by most standards in this area of shooting sports. One scope that fits this need and price is the Vortex Viper series. This glass that runs both moa and Milrad adjustments is killer as applied to my Ruger 6.5 Creedmoor in their new Precision model chassis rifle. I shot for test, re my second long-range book Gun Digest Book Of Long-Range Shooting, and a rifle and scope combination was priced out a $24,000 and change. The scope alone was over $5000, and that didn’t include the night sighting system. If I had ever thought of heading for Mexico and staying there with the new toy, this was the time. But as you can see I am still here. The rifle was the new Remington XM 2010 military sniper rifle, and the U.S. State Department was not at all interested in allowing me to hang onto the masterpiece of a rifle for very long at all.

Recently, I completed a story that covered the new just released Ithaca sniper rifle. And tacked onto that bang-stick was the new Night Force “Beast.” Here again, the price is off the wall, but the quality is superb to say the least. In most cases you can drop $4,000 fast when tacking a top-of-the-line optic to your long-range rifle. Night Force is however introducing a new option in optics for long-range shooting that is being priced at about a grand and change. Again, when pushing bullets to 1000 yards and out to 1 mile, you’re not going to find budge glass workable at all.

On terms of reticle or turret applications for long ranges, in-country snipers across the sandbox war zones that I communicate with tend to like holdover Milrad systems because they are accurate and fast when acquiring warm targets. Horus reticle systems are discussed often, and interestingly enough prior to knowing anything about that I had already turned in three different glass-etched Horus reticle system scopes on 6.5 Creedmoor, 300 Win Mag, and 338 Lapua. It is called a “Christmas Tree” by some of us and makes use of Milrad lines that run all the way to 30 Mils, which will take your bullet beyond 1 mile in the heavy sniper rifle systems. I am not saying you need this optic, but if you can afford the Horus system by all means think hard about buying it.

Range finding
If you don’t know the range of your target you can’t adjust your scope sights to hit anything at all. I learned this lesson the hard way when I came off a distance-known 1,300-yard steel target range and moved out onto the freelance, wide-open grasslands and mountains of western South Dakota. Ranging is everything here, and any small error in exact range or measurement will mean a missed shot, or much worse. As to the exact type of range finder, that’s your call. And, like scopes, the better the system the better the field results are going to be. My unit is a Bushnell “One Mile,” but in truth, it will do well to 1,200 yards and at times 1,400. I have hit a mile under letter-perfect conditions. The best of the best today are units like Leica and their new 2,000-yard unit that just arrived from the manufacturer as I was bringing this material together. The bottom line here is accurate ranging is required; it must always be deadly accurate.

Spotting scopes
If at all possible, have someone spot for you. This can be easy on a weekend at the range when everyone is hang around, but when I shoot, most days I am alone during the week, and, as such, many times even the best spotting scope is of little help. Shooting at Hornady’s test range, and with Smith & Wesson, and Castle Rock Utah’s rifle golf range, I have had some of the very best in spotters—believe me it takes a pile of the workload off a shooter’s back. Hearing the call as to exactly where that bullet prints (splash), and not taking your eye out of the scope, is priceless to a long-range shooter.

Some of the best systems in my estimation are Swarvoski, Vortex, Leupold, and of late, Meopta. However, if you’re a hunter as well as a target shooter, training by working with your own riflescope can be worth it. In the field you are going to be alone, and it all comes down to range estimation, accuracy and follow through with your correctly adjusted, positioned long-range cartridge and rifle.

For riflescopes, I have found that of late again that Vortex and their Viper Series HD 20-60X80 is a very good bet on spotting glass at under $1,000. Vortex seems to be breaking the glass ceiling in terms of optics pricing. It is a fact of life that paying $3,000 to $4,000 for a spotting scope is well beyond most of our budgets, mine included.