Gone are the days of serious target shooters putting a finger to the wind and relying on the trajectories printed on ammunition boxes before squeezing off rounds at distant targets.
Today’s long-range precision-rifle shooters sound like MIT grads as they talk about velocity, co-efficient and formulas for directing a 105-grain bullet reliably to “clink” on a steel silhouette target 1,200 yards away.
Doug Glorfield, a Whitman County farmer, knows a few things about these numbers and more, including the unpredictable nature of grain prices.
“I built the range as a business to give our family a little diversity from the highs and lows of running a farm,” he said.
The competition range stretches across nearly 900 acres of farmland and cattle grazing; another range encompasses 300 acres.
“The farm has a lot of land available so we offer a lot,” Glorfield said. But even in farm country, the impact of noise on distant neighbors is a factor. “The new range is back in a bowl that naturally contains the noise,” he said.
Approximately five years ago, the Precision Rifle Series (PRS) competition originated from a group of buddies who gathered occasionally to compare the performance of their fancy rifles. “The friendly competition grew into a sport,” he said.
The growth of interest caught the attention of firearms manufacturers.
“Last year at the SHOT Show, almost every gun company had come out with a precision-type tactical rifle at more affordable prices,” he said. “Most of the custom-built rifles competitors are using are out of the price range of most shooters.”
The market is quickly becoming more sophisticated. Glorfield says the rifle he customized around a Remington Model 700 action a few years ago is virtually obsolete compared with his new competition gun. “I got all the components I wanted and took them to my gunsmith to put together,” he said. “The bottom line is around $7,000.”
A Vortex Razor HD Gen II 4.5 to 27 power rifle scope alone will set a shooter back about $2,500.
“Here’s the cool thing, and why it’s worth the money,” Glorfield said. “My gun will shoot one-hole groups with home loads. It’s amazing.
“Competition shooters are better equipped overall than military marksmen,” he said.
“American Sniper” may have lured some gun enthusiasts to long-range shooting, he said, but the bigger influence seems to be hunters.
“More and more hunters with this equipment wanted to learn how to make a quick assessment shot on an animal at great distance,” he said. “You don’t always get the perfect wind or the perfect rest in a hunting situation.”
Shooters are constantly testing and dialing in the best combinations of rifles, bullets and powder. Contrary to what some shooters and hunters think, magnums aren’t the ticket for accurate long-range target shooting. The key is to find flat-shooting calibers that buck the wind, and the least possible recoil.
“The 6.5mm Creedmoor bullet was very popular a few years ago,” Glorfield said. “The newest thing is 6 mm. Everybody is shooting 6mm – 6 Creedmoor, 6 Super LR, whatever.”
Generally these loads don’t have the knock-down power to be the most effective for hunting big game at long ranges, he said, but they’re almost laser flat and accurate. “In some cases, these guns might be good choices for hunting because a ton of shock power doesn’t compensate for poor shot placement.”
In competition, the shooters on 1,000-yard-plus ranges must hit a metal target that’s approximately 18 inches wide and 30 inches tall. It looks like a speck in the distance with the naked eye. After the report of the rifle, spectators must wait several seconds for the bullet traveling at more than 3,000 feet per second to signify a hit with an faint audible “clink.”
The 105-grain Berger hybrid bullets have been the leader in accuracy. “No one has been able to come close to the ballistic coefficient of that bullet until this year,” Glorfield said. “Nosler is coming out with a good 105 that beats Berger at less price.”
An information industry has evolved around keeping shooters updated on the technology and numbers. “I regularly watch the blogs,” Glorfield said.
But once a shooter decides on an action, barrel, bipod, muzzle break, scope, ammunition and other components, the best course to consistent accuracy is learning that system thoroughly rather than always chasing the latest rage.
“Get one caliber, learn your data, and don’t chase the new shiny,” Tyler Payne told the PrecisionRifleBlog. Payne, a U.S. Army marksman, is an overall open division winner in the PRS.
Being familiar with his rifle paid off for Glorfield recently at the Karstetter Memorial Match near Wilbur, Washington. The match, incidentally, was the fourth annual fundraiser for the children of long-range shooter Matt Karstetter, founded after his untimely death.
“We had hard-to-read mega winds,” Glorfield said. “I placed first in the open division and a big factor was knowing my rifle and getting first-round hits, which give you more points.”
He used his Kestrel wind meter and shooting computer, which includes a mini weather station in a hand-held unit, to analyze his shot placement. “I dial (the scope) for elevation a hold for windage,” he said.
“It’s very technical to make a first-round impact at 1,000 yards. It’s not as easy as entering your caliber, velocity and bullet weight. You have to go out and practice shooting at a target and see how everything lines up. Ballistic coefficiency changes as your bullet loses speed. That’s critical beyond 700 yards.”
Despite the math and technology involved, shooter instincts and experience still play a role. “On warm days,” he said, “I use the mirage affect through the scope as my wind meter. I can look at the heat waves and tell which way the wind is blowing downrange.”
Beyond the equipment, a shooter must make another leap to be competent at long distances, he said.
“It’s most important to gather the true velocity of the bullet straight out of the barrel. Never mind what ‘the book’ or ‘the ammo box’ told you. Every gun is different. Take 10 guns of the exact same model and they will all have a different velocity. There again, that matters at long distances.
“If you don’t know the exact speed of the bullet, you’re shooting in the dark. You’ll be close, but not dead on.”