Richard Douglas is a firearms expert and educator. Richard's work has been featured in large gun publications such as The National Interest, Daily Caller, American Shooting Journal, SOFREP and more. In his free time, Richard enjoys reviewing various optics and guns on his Scopes Field blog.
Whether you just got your first rifle, grew tired of handguns at the range, or want to be a serious marksman, being able to shoot down-range takes a different skill set. Luckily, there are a few pointers that may help you take on the challenge of long-distance shooting.
Choose Your Rifle Optic Carefully
After the rifle, your biggest decision to make when it comes to long-range shooting is which optic to use. Some factors to consider are magnification, lens clarity, and parallax adjustment,
Whatever your decision, make sure to choose the best long-range optic for you. When you mount it on your scope, be sure to give yourself enough eye relief for the recoil.
Divide By Zero
Once you’ve picked your optic and mounted it properly, it’s important to zero your scope for the distance you’ll be shooting at. Hitting a long-distance target comes down to inches, so accuracy is key.
Zeroing your optic will give you that accuracy and allow you to hit what you aim at consistently. A good range to zero for is 300 yards in the beginning, because it gives a better ground for long-distance situations without being affected by the drop and weather that 500 yards causes.
Check Your Posture and Breathe Easy
Your shooting stance can impact your shooting ability significantly, whether you fire prone or kneeling. One effective position was used by American snipers in Vietnam, in which you sit on the ground with one knee up and the other leg tucked underneath.
Every shooter has a stance that works for them, so find one that you’re most comfortable with. Remember to keep the stock of your rifle tucked tightly into the meat of your shoulder.
Also keep in mind that there’s a main vein where your stock is, so controlled breathing is essential. For long shots, exhale, wait for your heart rate to slow, and remain still before squeezing the trigger.
One of the biggest separations between shooters is commitment to a routine. Especially in the beginning, the transition to long-range shooting is hard work.
Mental toughness means practicing often and shooting in tight groups frequently. Muscle memory can help with breathing habits, trigger tension, and reloading.
Study and Learn
The longer the shot, the more factors will affect the bullet. Over a distance of 300-500 yards, you’ll experience bullet drop and wind.
If the target is moving, you might have to calculate your bullet’s time to target and adjust. The average shooter won’t deal as much with this, but hunters and snipers will.
As you continue to shoot longer distances, you’ll pick up tips that you take with you, like what grain of bullet has the best velocity for your needs.
When you take a long shot, your body needs to be still. For snipers and some hunters, the ability to be quiet and unmoving is one of the biggest assets.
Even for the average long-distance shooter, though, patience is important. Expert marksmanship takes time and practice, so don’t expect to master it overnight.
Experienced riflemen can take years to reach their level of shooting. Zero your optic, work on your routine, and continue to practice.
Keep Your Rifle “Safe”
One important aspect for long-distance shooting is your routine afterward. After you clean your weapon, what do you do?
You might need to wipe off the lenses of your scope and place the lens caps, but taking care of your rifle makes a difference. Dust or dirt can affect accuracy and rifling, so you should invest in a gun safe to keep your weapon clean and protected between shoots.
So, whether you are a novice or an expert marksman at long distances, these 6 tips should help you hone your craft at long-range shooting. Let’s review one more time:
Choose the right long range optic
Zero your rifle
Practice proper posture and breathing
Consistently practice your shooting routine
Keep studying and learning
Keep rifle clean and protected between shoots
Richard Douglas is a long time shooter, outdoor enthusiast and technologist. He is the founder and editor of Scopes Field, and a columnist at the National Interest, Cheaper Than Dirt, Daily Caller and other publications.
But before you buy a riflescope, learn why you should even buy a riflescope in the first place.
Some are built for tactical purposes while other sniper/hunting scopes specialize in longer-range targets.
You may be shooting a .22 all the way up to a high-powered rifle, so it’s important that you have the right scope for the job. Be sure to read reviews on the scope you have in mind before purchasing. Reviews (like this Scope for Ruger 10-22 Reviews) can be very helpful in helping you decide how to spend your hard-earned dollars.
A quick pro-tip here is that it’s generally better to have too much scope than not enough. So, if you must err on the side of caution, err in favor of the scope.
I Have A Riflescope… Now What?
Okay, so you’re happy with the scope you’ve purchased, and now you want to get out and shoot, right?
Only after you have properly mounted your riflescope can you sight it. This component is just as important as anything else because it is how you customize the rifle to your own anatomy and mechanics.
Your arm length, eye spacing, and the unique way you hold the rifle are slightly different from everybody else, and these subtle differences can make a big difference downrange.
You might find it is easiest to sight your rifle at a local shooting range. However, if you live far from one but have a lot of land nearby, just make sure you’re shooting in a safe direction where there is no chance of passing hikers, campers, etc.
The first thing you need to do is make sure your reticle is in focus.
The reticle is the shape (crosshairs, a singular dot or circle, a triangle, etc.) you see when you look through the scope, and its function is to indicate scale or location of an object.
Look through the scope to ensure the whole picture is sharp. If it’s blurry, twist the diopter adjustment on the scope, which is typically going to be the end of the scope closest to your eye.
Something to keep in mind is that when shooting is that you will be focusing your naked eyes way downrange, scanning for targets or game, and then you’ll quickly switch to the scope right in your face.
Your eyes take a little time to adjust, so the view through the scope can be a little blurry for a few seconds.
To eliminate this lag, look away from the scope and let your eyes focus on something else at a distance. Stare at it for a few moments, then quickly look through the scope and in the brief moments before your eyes adjust, determine if the picture appears blurry. Keep doing this until the image is sharp and in focus immediately upon looking through the scope.
Step 2: Boresighting
Boresighting your rifle first will save a lot of time and ammo.
This will take just a few minutes and will ready your weapon for the fine-tuning we are about to do.
First, securely mount the rifle to aim downrange at a highly visible target 25 yards away. Then, remove the bolt so you can see straight down the barrel at the target.
Look through and aim the barrel center mass. Next, look through the scope to ensure the reticle also lands center mass. You will likely need to adjust the scope’s turrets to achieve this. The turret on top adjusts the scope’s elevation (up and down) and the one on the side adjusts its windage (to the left and right).
Once your reticle is adjusted center mass, replace the bolt and get ready to start shooting.
Pro-tip: There are even specialized zero targets you can use that are gridded to help precisely determine the adjustments you need to make. You’ll see why that might be useful later.
Sighting requires great precision, so make sure the rifle is either mounted or thoroughly supported for this step.
Replace the bolt, insert your high-quality ear protection, and fire three rounds directly at the bullseye of your target at 25 yards. You will probably not hit the bullseye, so focus more at the consistency of the shot group.
If your three shots are really close to each other, but the whole group is about 1 inch south and 2 inches west of the bullseye, you need to adjust the elevation for 1 inch and the windage for 2. It looks complicated, but it’s really simple. The turrets we were playing with earlier in the article are what we will now use to fine-tune your scope.
But before I go in-depth, here’s a quick primer on elevation and windage adjustments:
Usually one click changes the location of the bullet’s impact by ¼ inch at a target 100 yards away. The way we represent that is “1/4 MOA,” where MOA stands for Minute Of Angle. Four clicks will move the bullethole one inch in the direction indicated.
But, if the target is only 25 yards away, we need to move the dial 4x as many clicks to move the bullethole the same 1 inch. If the target is 200 yards away, conversely, 2 clicks move it 1 inch. Four hundred yards away, 1 click for 1 inch.
So for the example above, we need to rotate the turret 16 times to elevate 1 inch and another 32 clicks to the right. The turret itself will indicate which direction to turn and the MOA (although most are ¼).
Once your scope is sighted for the target at 25 yards, it is time to extend the range to 100.
Fire another three rounds for your shot group, then determine how far off the bullseye the group is located.
Measure the deviation and adjust your elevation and windage in the same way we just did, bearing in mind that 4 clicks at this distance will equal 1 inch.
Fire another shot group at your 100-yard target, and if they hit where you wanted them to, you have successfully sighted your scope.