Long Range Shooting Techniques

Long Range Shooting Techniques

Long range shooting techniques usually address three factors, elevation, wind, and scope power. A fourth item, thermal distortion, also comes into play at times. We'll take a look at all four and see what can be done to best ensure a distant target can be hit under various conditions.

Elevation is the easiest of the long range shooting techniques to address, the main problem being that of being able to correctly judge distances. Most experienced hunters can reasonably accurately estimate distance in their head without hardly having to think about it. Practice in making adjustments on the shooting range with targets at different distances will give the shooter a pretty good idea of what adjustments may need to be made in the field. With a short distance, we don't worry about elevation. But when we're talking hundreds, or thousands of yards, it becomes a factor. No matter how fast a bullet travels from the muzzle towards the target, it has to obey the laws of gravity. It's going to fall towards the ground at 32 feet per second per second. That's a 16 foot drop the first second. A high powered bullet can go a long ways in a second, but you get the idea. It's going to travel in a slight arc and not a straight line.

Whereas elevation may be the easiest factor to come to terms with, dealing with the wind may be the hardest. The wind, even a fairly strong one, will usually deflect a bullet from its path to a lesser degree than gravity causes it to fall. But if you're trying to hit a small target, and at long range most targets are pretty small, the bullet doesn't have to be deflected much. In the field, the goal is to drop an animal more or less in its tracks, so you don't spend the rest of the day looking for it. The wind can make the difference between a dead and a wounded animal. Judging the wind is something that has to be learned from experience. Some hunters use a spotting scope to judge wind speed at about mid range. If branches are moving it could be a 10 mph wind, if leaves are gently falling, but at an angle, it may be a 5 mph wind. If trees are bending, you might as well go home.

A common mistake many hunters make is to assume the more powerful the scope, the more accurate the shot. A scope helps you see the target better, and once properly adjusted, the cross hairs tell you where the bullet should end up. If you spot a deer at 500 yards, and your scope makes it look as if it's 10 yards away, you probably won't be able to keep it in the field of vision. Too powerful a scope makes it almost impossible to keep a target or object steadily in view. Look at the moon or a star though a pair of high powered binoculars without steady support and you get the idea. The object jumps all over the place. It's hard enough holding a rifle steady, relaxing, and controlling your breathing, without having your pulse cause the scope image to jump every time your heart beats, simply because you have too powerful a scope. Practice on the rifle range isn't going to do a lot for long range shooting techniques it the wrong scope is being used. Find out what the successful hunter uses and don't try to get a scope that's "better".

If through experience you succeed in learning how to estimate elevation and wind factors, and have the proper scope, there is one more factor which can, when it exists, give you fits. It's called thermal distortion, what you see looking across an expanse of asphalt on a hot day, or what makes the mountains in the distance seem to move around when driving through the desert. Heat rising up from the ground has a lens-like effect on the air due to slight differences in air temperature from place to place. Observing this through a scope magnifies the effect, and if you still have your ultra-powerful scope it will magnify it even more. Whether thermal distortion will be a problem or not depends greatly on the weather, the temperature, and where you're hunting. It's less likely when one is out on a cool autumn day, but at a distance of 1,000 yards or so, it is almost always there, even if barely noticeable. Since the problem here is one purely of distortion there aren't really any adjustments that can be made, and the hunter may just have to hope that the view settles down momentarily so it becomes possible to get a shot off.

In spite of all that's just been said, acquiring good long range shooting techniques really boils down to two things, experience, and practice.