Sunday, April 17, 2011

Know Where to Hold'Em

I had a customer come in the shop the other day with a great picture of a nice Mule deer that he shot in West Texas.  He told me that it was the longest shot he had ever made.  “Must have been about 550 yards, had to hold over 12 inches on his back and the old 30-06 dropped him in his tracks!”  I asked him what bullet he has shooting and how his rifle was sighted in. “150 grain Federal Premium and 1 ½ inches high at 100 yards,” was the reply I got from him.  I congratulated him on the great Buck and went back to work. The only way he could have killed that buck was by luck or the deer wasn’t 550 yards.

There are a few things wrong with what he told me.  First, if he were shooting at a buck at 550 Yards with that caliber, bullet, and hold over, his bullet would have hit low by about 40 inches between the bucks legs.  If there was any kind of wind, it would have pushed the bullet off by at least 24 inches and that’s with only a 10-mile per hour wind. Shooting long distance takes several things to be able to do it and do it well.  First, you need to sight in your rifle for the distance you are going to be shooting.  If you know that you will be shooting four to five hundred yards then sight your gun in accordingly.  A 200 yard zero is good for most shooting, but for long range 3 or even 4 inches high at 100 is better.  The contrary to this is if your are hunting in heavy timber or the thicket of East Texas, then you will want to sight in for short range and dead on at 100 is perfect!

Flat shooting cartridges are great, but how flat is flat?  Two of the flattest shooting cartridges on the market are the 300 Remington Ultra Mag and the 7mm STW.  If you compare these flat shooters to a good old 30-06 or a 270 Winchester, you will be surprised at just how non-flat they really are!  A 30-06 or 270 Winchester will drop about 44 inches at 500 yards and the 7mm STW or 300 Ultra will give you the same drop at 550 yards.  I find it incredible that a cartridge that is 400 feet/second faster will only give you an extra 50 yards in flat shooting.  Don’t feel to bad about taking your old 30-06 on a New Mexico Pronghorn hunt.

Point blank range is a term used to find the perfect path in which to sight in and max distance to shoot any given round.  Most game animals have a kill area of about 10 inches.  So you will want to sight in your rifle where it will not shoot more than 5 inches high at any give point or no more than 5 inches low at a given range.  A 7mm Remington Mag shooting 150-grain bullets has a max point blank range of 364 yards, and a max high point of 172 yards.  You will have to sight in the rifle 3.7 inches high at 100 yards.  Basically any range from 0 to 370 yards you hold the cross hairs dead on the chest cavity and pull the trigger, the bullet will hit in the kill area.  The point blank range will work well for most of our true hunting ranges.  Even for shooting varmints like Prairie Dogs or Coyotes the same 10-inch kill area will work for a prairie dog standing up.

Custom scopes that compensate for the range is another way to go when shooting long distances.  Swarovski, Premier Reticle and Leupold all have custom range compensating reticles.  Swarovski uses the TDS system, which has a cross-hair for 100 or 200 yard shooting and lines under the main cross hair that work for 300, 400, and 500 yards. Leupold has their new Boone & Crockett scopes, which look almost identical to the Swarovski TDS crosshairs.  My personal favorite is the custom cross-hairs made by Premier Reticles.  This company takes the Leupold scope and will put range-compensating dots below the main cross-hairs.  The dots can be used for 300, 400, 500, and 600 yards.  Premier can install dots all the way out to 1200 yards if the customer requests.  These dots are right on the money for the different distances, however you will have to give Premier the exact bullet information like brand of bullet, weight of bullet and the velocity.  I have used both the Premier Reticle scopes and the Swarovski TDS scopes and I can tell you it takes all the guesswork out of long range shooting.  If you know how far the animal is you can put the right dot or cross-hair on the chest and that is where the bullet will go.

Practice, practice, practice, there is nothing that will help you more than shooting your rifle at the longer ranges.  Take a day and go out to American Shooting Center and shoot on their long-range course.  Head up to the forest and set up a target or better yet red or yellow balloons and shoot long range.  I like balloons because it’s easy to tell when you hit one, the balloons also move with the wind, which is more like shooting at a moving animal.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Shooting Them IN

At times I think there must be something magic to sighting in a scoped rifle.  I have had customers who have been shooting and hunting for years bring me guns to sight in before they take off on a big hunt.  I have even had outfitters call me to ask how to adjust their scope to hit point of impact. 

Why should you sight in your rifle every year?  It should be simple to make sure it is still shooting in the right place.  Just because old Betsy was shooting one-inch groups last year doesn’t mean it will do the same this year.  Pre-season is the right time to check everything out.  Make sure your rings are still tight.  The worst problem found is with rings and bases.  The Redfield or Leupold STD bases have windage adjust screws that will come loose and you will find yourself with a rifle that won’t hit a 4 x 8” piece of plywood at 100 yards.  Check the base screws which hold the bases to the action, they will come loose over time.  Ammo will have a big difference from brand to brand.  Just because you sighted your rifle in with a 150grain Remington Core-Lokts, don’t expect the 150-grain Winchester Fail Safe to hit in the same place.  Don’t think you can have two different bullet weights hit the same point of impact.  I mean don’t have your first shot a 165-grain bullet and then have a 125-grain bullet loaded in the box magazine in case you see a hog.  Just shoot the same ammo all the time! Believe me if you hit the hog with the same bullet you are using for Deer you will kill the hog.  Some people try to get too specialized with their bullets.  I have seen as much as 8 inches of different point of impact between two different brands of ammo with the same bullet weight, not to mention changing to a different bullet weight.  

Shooting your rifle off sand bags is not a big deal as long as you follow a few simple suggestions.  First, put the front sand bags under the forend of the stock about where your front sling stud is.  Never place the barrel on the sand bags.  The bags will put too much pressure on the barrel and it won’t shoot the same place twice.  Place a sand bag in the rear grip area of the stock.  This will stabilize the stock and you won’t be moving all around trying to keep the cross-hairs on the bullseye.  Place your forward arm (left if your right handed) on the stock just behind the front sand bags or don’t touch the rifle at all with the forward hand.  Never lay your arm over the scope. This may look cool but it won’t help your shooting.  Watch your breathing, it is a good idea to hold your breath as you are getting ready to squeeze the trigger.  Stay loose, don’t bear down, relax and let the recoil push you.  By relaxing you will feel less recoil.  I know everyone understands not to jerk the trigger and to just squeeze, but at times with the heavy factory trigger settings, it is hard not to jerk.  One of the best things that will help your shooting will be to have a Gunsmith do a trigger job on your rifle.  Repetition is the key to good shooting, try to do the same thing every time.  Don’t hold your breath on one shot and not on the next.  Consistency is the key to shooting accurately. 

Scopes are not all built alike but they all work the same.  You have to adjust the cross- hairs in the direction the bullet needs to go.  If you shoot to the left of the bullseye then you have to adjust the scope to the right.  If you shoot high then you have to adjust your scope lower.  This may sound simple but most people do just the opposite.  I even catch myself moving the turrets the wrong way.  The new Europeon scopes like Kahles or Swarovski don’t use up or down for their marks they use an H, which stands for Height.  So if you have to bring the cross-hairs up then you should use the H to go up.  The new Zeiss Conquest scopes have the same turrets on both the elevation and windage sides and this can get real confusing when the top turret says both H for up and an R for right.  Last, 20 power and higher scopes are great for seeing animals at long distances but most of the time it is too much power for sighting in at 100 yards.  You tend to pick up every movement and heartbeat while trying to sight in this type of scope.  Try shooting a group at 6 power, a group at 9 power, and one at high or 20 power and you might be surprised what you get.

What distance is best to sight in depends on the type of shooting you will be doing. And the type of rifle you are using.  A 30-30 is a short range rifle and should be sighted in for short range.  If you are hunting in east Texas where the shots are seldom over 100 yards then sight in dead on at 100 yards.  But if you are headed to New Mexico for a Pronghorn hunt, then a 300 yard zero is more like it.  I usually will sight my rifles in about 1 ½” high at 100 yards which will give me a 200 yard zero and a 8 inch drop at 300 yards.  Most rifles will shoot like this whether it is a 270 Winchester, 30-06 Springfield, 7mm Remington Mag., or a 340 Weatherby, they will all shoot about 7 to 9 inches low at 300 yards with a 1 ½” high at 100 yards sight in.

No magic, just a little work.  I can usually sight a rifle in with 3 shots, but I have to do my pre-shooting work first.  Make sure the gun is clean.  Make sure you have the right ammo, know that the rings and bases are tight and how the scope works.  And believe me, if I can do it then you can too!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Can I Make That 1000 Yard Shot?

In the past year I have had more shooters talk to me about shooting long distances and building the perfect rifle for the task.  It seems the new fad is long range shooting.  The industry seems to be heading towards building long range rifles again.  There are several Hunting shows on cable TV that show long range shooting and even hunting game animals at long ranges.  Now I have done some long range shooting, I have shot in 1000 and 1500 yard long range competitions and I have even taken a few 500 yard shots at game, but to make a 1000 yard shot on deer or elk is just not ethical!  First, most hunters have no idea how far 1000 yards is and what it looks like.  We are talking 10 football fields!  Second, hunters have no idea how much drop their rifle has at 1000 yards.  Third, most rifle bullets don’t have enough energy left at 1000 yards to make a clean kill! Then you have to take into consideration the wind drift, having a good bench or brace to shoot from, scope problems, ammo problems and having a rifle capable of this type of accuracy.

One thing to remember about hunting and shooting shows on cable TV is that it’s TV and they are for entertainment not always education.  I’ve seen how they make those hunting shows and what you see is most likely NOT how it happened.  The History Channel recently did a show on military snipers.  They tried to duplicate a 1000 plus yard shot and could not duplicate the shot.  This proves there is a lot of training, skill and luck in making long range shots.  So how can these hunters make these long range shots on Elk and Deer every week?  They can’t!  I’ve asked several experienced hunters and shooters how much drop a 308 Winchester shooting a 180 grain bullet would have at 1000 yards.  The closest guess I got was 120 inches.  Now that guess is 10 feet of drop and figuring out how much 10 feet of drop really is would be pretty hard.  What would 10 feet of drop look like at 1000 yards?  Now for the reality, a 308 Winchester doesn’t drop 120 inches, it drops 307 inches!  That equates into 25 feet of drop and is quite a bid harder to see at 1000 yards.  Now if you sight the 308 in at 400 yards instead of 200 yards, the drop is better, only 277 inches.  Yes, there are custom scopes made with ballistic lines or turrets which will help shooters take the guess work out of the 25 feet of drop.  So the next question is how much wind drift will that 308 have at 100 yards?  A 180 grain bullet will be pushed off 68 inches with a 10 MPH wind.  That means 5 feet of drift with a 10 MPH wind.  What if it is 20 MPH or what if the wind changes direction in those 1000 yards?  The wind can actually change direction multiple times within that same 1000 yards.  How much energy is left at 1000 yards with that same 308 bullet?   It has 688 foot pounds of energy, which isn’t much and traveling 1300 feet per second, most bullets won’t open up because it can’t create the necessary shock.  Most 1000 yard shooters shoot off solid concrete benches, so there is no movement at all.  What are you going to use in the field?  A bipod or just shoot off your knee?  Is your rifle and ammo capable of the accuracy required for 1000 yard shooting?  The world record for benchrest shooters is just less than 4 inches, which means these guns will shoot less than ¼ of an inch at 100 yards.  How accurate is your rifle?  If it shoots 1 inch groups at 100 yards, what will it do at 1000 yards?  My guess is not very well.  Now a 308 may not be the best rifle for 1000 yard shooting.  What happens if you use a flat shooting rifle like a 300 Ultra or a 30-378 Weatherby?  Using the same 180 grain bullet, the long range calibers only drop 211 inches and wind drift pushes it off 56 inches.  The big calibers have more energy with 1122 foot pounds and the retained velocity is 1675 feet per second.  A good bullet will open up at this velocity and give some shock and 1122 foot pounds may be enough energy. 

Now, what you have read so far is about the bad and wrong things of long range hunting, but you think you still want to try it.  Well, this is what I would recommend if you want to build a long range rifle set up for 1000 yard hunting.  First, the caliber would be either a 300 Ultra Mag. or a 338 Ultra Mag.  Either of these calibers are capable of the accuracy needed for long range shooting.  They have enough energy at 800 or 1000 yards to make a clean kill and the drop is not too bad and can be dealt with.  I would build the rifle on a good bolt action with a 26 inch barrel in a light varmint weight and the whole rifle would weigh about 8 ½ pounds. The stock should be a little on the large side so it is easier to place on shooting rests or when using a bi-pod.  The trigger needs to be set light and crisp, about 2 pounds.  If the rifle doesn’t shoot under ½ moa, it won’t make it as a long range rifle!  I would use a Swarovski or Night Force scope with a power of about 5X25.  The scope would have a ballistic turret so you can dial in the clicks needed to compensate for long range.  I would use a quality bullet that has a high ballistic co-efficient, but it has to be able to expand at the lower velocity.  Either a Swift Scirocco or a Nosler Ballistic-Tip should work. Target bullets like Berger are very accurate, but I don’t like the way they don’t expand.  Last, I would practice as much as possible.  Just because you have a rifle that is capable of 1000 yards doesn’t mean you are capable of 1000 yards!  I would take some long range shooting classes where I can shoot on 600 or 1000 yard ranges.  I would know my limitations.  If I can’t keep groups less than 5 inches at 600 yards then I should not shoot over 500 yards.  Now, even this rifle would have long range limitations.  If you want to make shots further than 1000 yards, everything you do is more important with every 100 yards you add.  The drop is ridiculous and the energy drops off very fast.  For longer range shooting you might consider using a 30 pound 50 caliber BMG bolt action rifle.  The big 50 has enough energy and is capable of making the 1000 to 2000 yard shots.  But at 25 or 30 pounds, it is really hard to pack into the field.  Maybe you should re-think long range shooting and just use your stalking skills and get close enough to shoot the game with a pistol.  Now that is another story!