Berger Bulletin

September 23, 2009

Hitting Targets at Long Range

Filed under: Making it Shoot — Michelle Gallagher @ 9:48 am

A look at accuracy and precision

If you’re a long range hunter (varmints to big game) or tactical shooter, or just anyone interested in hitting small targets at long range with one or few rifle shots, this message is for you. If you’re a long range prone, F-class, or Benchrest shooter, this may still be interesting for you but not as relevant given that these disciplines allow sighter shots before a record string is fired.

Far too often I hear of shooters agonizing over improving the precision of their hunting rifle from 1.0 MOA groups to .5 MOA groups, or from .5 MOA groups to .25 MOA groups. While a precise rifle/ammo combination that’s capable of shooting small groups is an asset to the long range shooter, the challenge of hitting targets at long range involves more than just shooting small groups.

Group size is a measure of precision. Regardless of where the group is on the target, a small group means good precision. However, to hit targets at long range, you also need accuracy. Accuracy is the measure of how close your shots hit in relation to your point of aim. The importance of accuracy is often overlooked because many shooters think that: “Precision is the hard part, and once I get my group size down, all I have to do is adjust my scope to hit in the center of the target and I’m good-to-go”. If you’re only interested in hitting targets at short range, this logic is sound. However, if you’re trying to hit distant targets where range, wind, and other variables have a great effect on your bullets’ trajectory, then accuracy is not necessarily so easy to achieve. You have to understand the effects of bullet drop, wind deflection, rifle cant, shooting at uphill/downhill angles, etc. If you don’t know how to measure and account for these variables, you won’t hit your target regardless of how much precision your rifle is capable of.

The point of this article is not to teach the reader about all of the details and variables involved in long range shooting. The point is just to provoke some thought about the relative importance of accuracy and precision in certain shooting objectives. As with many challenges, the greatest success is often realized when a balanced approach is taken as opposed to focusing completely on one aspect of the task while ignoring others. A dragster with the most powerful engine doesn’t win if the tires don’t get good traction.

Precision is very important, but for those hunters who spend all their time at the loading bench trying to make a 1 MOA rifle shoot ½ MOA groups, my advice is to consider a more balanced approach and do things to improve your accuracy as well as your precision. Get out and practice shooting the rifle at long range. Learn how your rifles’ point of impact is affected by shooting from various positions, not just a solid bench rest. Learn about the variables that affect your trajectory and how to correct your sights so the bullet hits your point of aim. Applying effort in these areas will improve your accuracy, and your success at hitting targets at long range.

Bryan Litz
Ballistician

2 Comments »

  1. Bryan If you can not get your group down to sub minute of angle from a powder and bullet and barrel with the sites you are using. You still will not be accurate with your shots. you must have both. This is not an either or situation it is a case of getting your shoots down to less than one inch at 400 yards then move the group on to a center of mass shot. YOu must do both. This is why it was so important to the old school barrel makers. they would take five different boxes of ammo from five different Manf. They would simply tell you that the barrel you have was able to shoot. a ,25 MOA with two of the five ammos.

    At that point you took a chance and built up five different loads for that barrel then which ever one was the best you moved it over to the center of your target and tried to cut down all the small things that made your shot not what it could be. If you have very little heat say an over cast day. and the air is dead calm. Your range finder if mechanical or biological was really good. then you should be able to jump up and hit that Ram every time. If not you could not even hit the pig.

    Sorry I know one does not make up for the other but still it does take both groups and moving them where they need to be.

    73
    dray

    Comment by drayegon — October 20, 2009 @ 12:30 am

  2. I agree totally Bryan! Over the last couple of years, my brother’s and I have become long range hunting nuts. At first, it was all about our groups and how small we could shrink them down to. But after a couple of seasons of missed long shots….as in nowhere near touching hide nor hair on most of our targets, unless of course we got lucky (like I did on Mar 1, 2009 when I smoked a coyote atop a bale at 500 yards), we decided that it was time to nip our innaccuracy in the bud.

    First we built some steel plate swininging targets and got out in the field and started blasting. It took some shooting to get things figured out, especially on those windy days up here on the Canadian prairie (particularly while shooting .20 and .22 cal rifles), but after the first three or four sessions of taking shots at 3, 4, and 500 yards, it was relatively easy to establish where our shots would hit compared to our ballistic plex reticles and how the wind affects our bullets.

    Just last weekend I managed a 1/2″ group on a 4″ diameter steel plate at 300 yards with my 22-250 using 50 gr berger match bullets. At that distance, the wind was pushing my bullet about 6″ to the right, but because of all the practice, the 1/2″ group was easy!

    It doesn’t matter if you can shoot a ragged hole 5 shot group all day long, what matters for long range hunting is how accurate that first shot is EVERY TIME! And until we realised that, we were destined to miss.

    Brad Duncan

    Comment by coyotekiller82 — November 10, 2009 @ 7:10 am

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