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!

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