December 03, 2021
Over the past few years, long-range shooting, and in turn long-range hunting, has become all the rage. However, it’s one thing to attempt to bang steel plates at 1,000 yards and quite another to take long shots at live animals.
At a recent long-range training school hosted by Trijicon’s Tom Maciak—a highly accomplished long-range competition shooter and hunter—he shared his expert tips on becoming a proficient long-range shooter with myself and a handful of ex-special forces and S.E.A.L. team combat professionals. Here’s his 10-step program for success.
1. GET A RIFLE THAT FITS
"You have to know your rifle. Shouldering it should feel like hugging your teddy bear," Maciak says. "It has to fit you like a glove."
That means you need to customize the cheekpiece and length of pull and adjust the scope’s position so your sight picture is perfect every time. There are some factory rifles that allow this, as well as after-market stocks and accessories to make it possible. Also, make sure the scope has been mounted perfectly level.
2. MAKE A DOPE CARD
Before you head afield, make a dope card for your rifle and load.
"First, you must chronograph your load—do not count on the velocity on the ammo box, because it is rarely precise—then use a ballistic calculator. I use JBMballistics.com, but there are others. Plug in anticipated environmental conditions, get an average of five shots, then run the calculations. Without this, your turret adjustment system will not work for you."
Additionally, Maciak says that if you want to be a long-range shooter you should have a scope with an accurate, reliable adjustment turret built with your specific load’s parameters. These scopes are spendy, but when set up properly they take the guesswork out of holdover.
"If you use a scope with a BDC [bullet drop compensator] reticle in lieu of an adjustable turret, you have to know what that particular reticle was designed for, or it will not work for you. Then you have to practice and make adjustments."
3. ADJUST THE DIOPTER
"It is critical you ensure the scope’s reticle is in focus for your own eyesight," Maciak says. "This has nothing to do with the target being in focus, so do it against a blank background, like a wall."
Do not stare at the reticle while adjusting because your eye will accommodate those adjustments. Move it a quarter or half turn while looking away, then look through the scope. If the reticle still isn’t crisp, continue adjusting until it is.
4. RANGE THE TARGET
"To make the shot, you must first use an accurate laser rangefinder to get the exact distance. At extended distances, misreading the range by 25 yards means you’ll miss," says Maciak. "Then, use your cheat sheet to know how to adjust the turret, dial it in and make the shot."
5. ADJUST THE PARALLAX
Quality scopes with a power of 10X or more will have a parallax adjustment knob. No matter the distance you are shooting, adjust this knob until everything is blurry, then bring it back until it is in focus. Also, remember that parallax adjustment is not a focus knob, so move your head in a swaying motion while looking through the eyepiece and make sure the reticle is not moving. If it isn’t, the parallax is correct for that distance.
"If your parallax is not correct, and your cheek placement on the stock or your eye’s distance from the scope is not consistent, it may seem like your point of aim is proper, but the point of impact might be off downrange. This may not be noticeable at short range, but everything intensifies at longer ranges," says Maciak.
6. POSITION YOURSELF
"It is very important that your body be in line with the rifle," Maciak says. "If your shoulder is canted to the side, the recoil can ‘roll’ you to the side, which can take you off target for a follow-up shot or make it impossible to see your hit through the scope."
As far as accurate shooting positions go, Maciak says there are only two to use. "Prone is by far the most stable and accurate, followed by sitting in conjunction with tripod shooting sticks."
7. KEEP THE RETICLE STRAIGHT
"You have to keep the scope’s reticle horizontal to the imaginary horizon, even if you are set up on a hill,” Maciak says. “If not, your shots will be hitting left or right depending on how the rifle is canted."
8. DOPE THE WIND
There’s a lot to reading the wind and understanding how it will affect your bullet downrange—more than we have room for here. But Maciak offers one bit of advice.
"Understand that all bullets drift horizontally in the wind," he says. "And it doesn’t take a lot of wind to move them at extended ranges."
9. SHOOT on THE EXHALE
“When you are behind the rifle, your breathing and heartbeat create a rise and fall,” Maciak says. “At the bottom of the exhale, your body tends to be at its most relaxed state. Here you have about three seconds to make the shot before your body becomes oxygen deprived, so there is plenty of time.”
If you are not ready by then, simply take another breath and start over.
10. FOLLOW THROUGH
"You have to follow through, which means don’t slap the trigger. Squeeze and hold it through the shot as you attempt to watch the bullet hit the target through the scope," Maciak says.
A half-dozen factory loads finely tuned for precision
A lot of today’s specialty factory ammunition provides the precision required for long-range field shooting. One bit of advice: If you find a specific load your rifle likes, buy lots of it so you’ll never run out. Here are six top choices.
- Federal Berger Hybrid Hunter: Available in 10 calibers, it’s built around a low-drag match bullet with a traditional, expanding hunting projectile.
- Federal Terminal Ascent: Combines both hunting and match bullet features to create an excellent all-range, all-velocity big game load. Available in 11 different cartridges.
- Hornady Precision Hunter: These match-accurate hunting loads feature the ELD-X bullet, which performs extremely well at all ranges.
- Nosler Trophy Grade: This line features the AccuBond, Partition and Ballistic Tip bullets and is available in a huge array of calibers.
- Swift High Grade: Hand-crafted and hand-inspected, it’s designed around the excellent Swift Scirocco II bullet. Available in 11 calibers.
- Winchester Expedition: Featuring the Nosler AccuBond Long Range bullet, it’s loaded in 9 different calibers from .308 Win. to .300 Win. Mag.