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Going the Distance (Page 2)

How to manage those ultra-long shots.

Dialing up is actually a preferred technique for a lot of snipers and competitors. But they use scopes designed for long range, which are not for hunting. Long-range scopes have external adjustment turrets and are designed with very positive movements. Most also have a feature by which it’s easy to return to your pre-set, original zero. They will work for hunting, but they are not perfect either. The large target turrets stick up so they are in the way and can be easily damaged. Also, unless they lock, the turrets can rub on your coat or in a gun case and turn so that your rifle will impact off in space rather than where you expect.

The best scopes are tough, as they are designed for battle and they have locks on the turrets, but they also are very expensive and usually quite heavy.

One variation on this technique that works well for hunters is the Swarovski Ballistic Custom Turret, which is custom made to your cartridge and load. In addition to your main zero, it has three pre-set distances you can dial up in an instant. So, for a long shot you simply click to the desired position and hold dead center.

Ballistic Reticles
The third long-range sighting option uses a ballistic reticle with hold-over aiming points. I think every major scope maker has one or more of these in its lineup. Some companies like Leupold even build a custom reticle specific to your rifle and cartridge. I know Swarovski, Nikon, Zeiss and others offer online ballistic programs where you can plug in your data on the Web then the program provides values for hold-over lines for your scope, rifle and ammo.

The way they work is simple. There is a series of extra horizontal lines along the descending vertical wire that provide multiple aiming points for holding over for long range. They are set with specific spacing. Some use milliradian spacing (mils) while others try to adjust for the external ballistics for the most popular cartridges. Because most American-style hunting scopes place the reticle in the second focal plane so that it does not change size as you zoom the power up or down, the data is only relevant at one magnification, usually the highest. However, that too can be adjusted. For example, Swarovski’s online calculator lets you select the magnification you want to use before it runs the calculations. By turning down the power, you can increase the distance the scope will allow you to shoot with the reticle aiming points. Of course, the first focal plane reticles popular in some European hunting scopes and on a lot of tactical scopes maintain the same perspective throughout the magnification range, so the hold-over distances do not vary.

The advantage of this type of reticle is that it is extremely fast to use in the field. You don’t need to do any math or move any dials. Yet it is very precise and there is little or no guesswork. Obviously, if the target is not exactly at one of the prescribed distances you will need to make some adjustments. But it’s a lot easier with multiple aiming points than with just one aiming point. For example: your settings are for 100-yard increments and the deer is at 450 yards. If you bracket with the 400- and 500-yard lines and favor just a bit high to allow for the acceleration of drop due to gravity, you will be fine—at least in theory. With any of these methods you must prove the data at the range.

Check Your Work
All this, whether you dial up or use a ballistic reticle, involves math. Now, the math will get you close when shooting, but there are simply too many variables to be exact. You must shoot your rifle at each distance to know for sure if the math is correct. It almost always is not. It will be close, but you need to fine-tune by shooting.

Your ballistic program may indicate you need to dial up 20 clicks to impact at 400 yards, but the reality will likely be something different. That’s because of many factors, not the least of which is how ballistic programs must make assumptions on things like ballistic coefficient; elevation; ambient weather conditions; barometric pressure; the angle of the shot; bullet velocity and more. Most of those change day to day and certainly from gun to gun and location to location. It’s the same with ballistic reticles. The program may indicate the third line down is for a 400-yard hold, but the reality will probably prove that to be incorrect. You won’t know until you shoot and shoot a lot. Make sure you practice at various distances on various days. After you turn a lot of cartridges into empty brass you will begin to understand that shooting at long range involves a lot of variables. Until you understand and can adjust for those variables, you should confine your shooting to targets, not animals.

On the other hand, shooting at long range is a lot of fun. If you don’t enjoy it enough to get out and practice on a regular basis, you probably should not call yourself a long-range shooter. Perhaps another term might apply, like “golfer.”


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1 Response to Going the Distance (Page 2)

Dean Dahl wrote:
February 22, 2013

The best tool ever to understand bullet behavior at long range was the old lever cock BB guns where you could see the BB in flight. After 10 or 20,000 shots(re-using the mostly round BB's to save Dad money) it is 2nd nature to hold over and understand wind drift. That type of first gun pays dividends decades later....but the poor starlings,sparrows, lizards and rodents pay a hefty price.