February 10, 2021
Long, much like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. As students of the Outdoor Solutions Long Range Shooting School shuffled about under a pavilion high atop a hill in northeastern Utah, the instructors pulled us in close.
To break the ice, they asked each shooter about his longest hunting shot. One by one, students related their shots while I shrunk a little inside.
There were more than a few who had successfully (and cleanly) taken game with shots in excess of 300 yards. When my turn came, I considered the targets incrementally stretching up the hill to 1,000 yards and timidly explained that after hunting for nearly a half-century, my longest rifle shot had been precisely 21 yards. That was the distance at which I had taken a dandy Illinois whitetail with a muzzleloader 15 years earlier.
"Bowhunter" is a moniker I've worn proudly for decades. I relish the difficulty when using a bow and arrow. The thrill of creeping in close to arrow an animal is soul food. For me, a long shot — with either a compound or a crossbow — has always been around 40 yards. Back in my early recurve and longbow days, I limited my shots to 15 steps.
And yet there in the mountains of Utah I was about to be handed a rifle-and-optics combo capable of reaching well beyond 1,000 yards with what seemed like unimaginable accuracy. I was a gun greenhorn, certainly not a rifleman or even a moderately experienced rifle shooter, and the notion of shooting out to 1,000 yards was novel.
However, the instructors at Outdoor Solutions opened my eyes to the capabilities of today's precision rifles and optics. Most of all, I experienced the benefits of receiving outstanding tutelage.
The Long of It
As a dyed-in-the-wool bowhunter, I knew I had much to learn about the intricacies of ringing steel at distances that strained my eyes. My assumption was my classmates were so far ahead of me in terms of skill and experience that I might very well be a detriment to the class. What I learned was just the opposite: everyone entered the class with his own baseline of knowledge, and it is professional instruction and the opportunity to test the limits of rifle, optics, ammo and ability that allow shooters to develop long-range proficiency.
Our first evening at the palatial lodge, which served as our base of operations during the school, was spent in the classroom. We hunkered down in intense book work. Instructors introduced me to oddities like air densities, thermals, mirages, traces, ballistics and something mystical called parallax.
It was there where I realized the many misconceptions I had about rifle shooting in general, and about shooting at extended ranges in particular. I also learned about factors I had never considered as a bowhunter, all of which I would deal with on the range during the next couple of days.
We weren't talking about taking unethical potshots at big game. This was training shooters to understand and control the variables required to get on and stay on steel targets at ranges up to 1,000 yards. If a hunter can master steel at more than a half mile, then perhaps the unavoidable 400-yard shots sometimes needed to anchor uncooperative big-game animals will be more like layups than half-court heaves.
We rolled up to the range bright and early the next morning to find a row of Remington Model 700 rifles matched with Zeiss scopes. Each shooting station under the pavilion included a bench with a shooting sled, and a Zeiss spotting scope stood on a tripod behind each position. And there was ammo, plenty of ammo. Our expert instructors were there, too, anxious to get the day under way.
As I walked up, I gazed at the sprawling hillside in front of the shooting pavilion. Marked targets progressed up the hillside in 100-yard increments. There were 100-, 200-, 300- and 400-yard (yikes) targets. The 500-, 600- and 700-yard targets were difficult enough to see, but then came the you've-got-to-be-kidding-me targets: two infinitesimally small dots at 800 and 900 yards. Another 100 yards beyond was the 1,000-yard steel, a target that seemed like a punchline to a bad joke.
My mind raced as I realized just how far out of my element I was, thinking there's no way I can hit what I can barely see. At that moment I felt this lifelong bowhunter had no business being there — I'd outkicked my coverage.
We paired off in two-student teams and settled in for a range-safety briefing. My teammate was Iain Harrison of "Top Shot" fame, the winner of the show's first season. Oddly enough, Harrison, one of the world's best marksmen, had traveled to Utah to tighten his long-range game.
Students spent the first morning zeroing rifles and getting comfortable with new equipment under the watchful eyes of our three instructors. Once the rifles were dialed in, we began working our way up the hillside, moving from one target to the next, progressively going longer.
The instructors were right behind and beside each student, giving individual instruction on how to improve. As I slowly increased my target distances, my confidence also grew incrementally. After a few hours of moving up the hill, I found myself ringing the 1,000-yard steel with remarkable consistency, something I considered unachievable just that morning.
On the second day, the knowledge I learned from previous instruction was put to the test in real-world shooting scenarios. Students loaded into four-wheel-drive vehicles and motored high into the backcountry, where we took turns making long-range shots on targets placed at odd (and very long) distances.
We shot from various positions, such as prone or seated, while using shooting sticks or bipods. For other shots, we had to improvise by using rocks, logs, bushes or backpacks to support our rifles. The shots challenged our skills learned on the range, as thermals, crosswinds and steep angles required additional calculations and compensation. The instructors were there, of course, to help with each shot and offer suggestions.
By day's end, I had been exposed to a wide range of situations that hunters typically encounter in the field, and I was able to engage demanding targets with success. It's one reason I wholeheartedly recommend the course to anyone interested in improving their shooting skills, no matter the shooter's skill level. I left the Outdoor Solutions Long Range Shooting School with newfound confidence, one neatly summarized by the following back-and-forth I had with an instructor during my time there.
"Shooter on 1,000-yard steel."
"Spotter on 1,000. Push it six-and-a-half MOA left at 1,000."
"Pushing six-and-a-half left at 1,000. Shooter on; shooter ready."
"Spotter ready; shooter send it when ready. … Impact!"
Gear for Going Long
At the Outdoor Solutions Long Range Shooting School, students shot Remington Model 700 Magpul Enhanced rifles chambered for 6mm Creedmoor (remington.com). The rifles were equipped with Advanced Armament Corporation Jaeger 30 suppressors (advanced-armament.com), and we shot Barnes Precision Match ammunition featuring 112-grain open-tip match bullets (barnesbullets.com).
Our setups included Zeiss Conquest V4 6-24x50mm scopes that were matched to the Zeiss Hunting app on our cell phones (zeiss.com). We used the Zeiss app to calculate the ballistics for each shot. We found and ranged targets with Zeiss Victory RF rangefinding binoculars, which provided holdovers in MOA.
Outdoor Solutions offers two-day, three-night Long Range Schools in three locations: Texas, Utah and Michigan. Overnight accommodations and meals are included, as well as rifles, ammo, optics and expert instruction in both shooting fundamentals and advanced skills. Shooters may use the equipment provided or bring their own setups. The course cost is $2,500. Visit outdoorsolutionscorp.com for details, or contact Outdoor Solutions founder Greg Ray at 918-258-7817.