Of all the factors that come into play in achieving long range accuracy, ammunition is among the most controllable. This offers handloaders unparalleled opportunity.
We shooters have long been enamored with hitting distant targets.
The tales of military snipers, making impossible shots at equally impossible distances. Hunting stories in which the intended target was far enough away to measure the distance in city blocks. And the current trend in the hunting shows that game being taken at ranges in excess of 500 yards. All these can imply that it is simple to hit these distant targets.
Allow me to testify that it isn’t.
Long range accuracy requires precision equipment that is well tuned and proven, in addition to a skill set that takes quite a bit of time to acquire. Most certainly you must have a rifle capable of delivering the goods — it needs to be accurate — and optics that not only will give you the clarity and magnification necessary to connect, but that will stand up to the rigors of field conditions. But the ammunition, this is where the deal can be made or broken.
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Factory ammunition (especially the match grade stuff) is better than it has ever been, and I’ve seen rifles that will shoot factory ammunition much better than any handload. But, the majority of my experiences indicate that a long-range rifle will shoot best with a well-tuned handload.
That said, a certain amount of care must be taken to achieve the hair-splitting level of accuracy required to hit a bullseye or cleanly take a game animal at longer ranges.
Ethics are a personal thing, and I have my own individual limits regarding how far I will take a shot at unwounded game. Under good conditions, meaning little wind or mirage, I try to keep my hunting shots to within 400 yards. There is unseen wind, energy levels that can fall off rather quickly, and other factors that can affect the bullet’s flight.
Paper is a different story, as the worst outcome from an errant shot is my wounded pride, but it can be a fantastic educator. You can easily get a feel for the level of accuracy required when shooting paper at 300, 400 or 500 yards.
If you’d like to try your hand at the long distance game, think about the game in reverse. Just as tiny variations in trigger squeeze and follow through can send a shot awry, tiny variations in ammunition get magnified at long distances.
Bullet weights should be checked on a balance beam scale, and the projectile separated into lots, using those that weigh the same within 0.1 or 0.2 grains. Cases should be of the best quality, consistently resized — whether full-length or neck sized is your decision — and trimmed to a uniform length.
Quality components are a must for long range accuracy. Norma case, for instance, make for a good starting point.
Primers should also be the best you can get; I like the consistency of Federal Gold Medal Match primers in both Large Rifle and Large Rifle Magnum, but I would suggest some experimentation with different primers. I’ve seen a rifle or two, using identical components and powder charges, become a much better performer when a different primer was used. In the cases I recall a Remington primer was the answer, when a Winchester and CCI didn’t get the job done. Primers can be finicky creatures.
All of your powder charges should definitely be weighed. I know that there are many benchrest shooters that shoot tiny groups when loading by volume, but I feel the best accuracy comes from a powder charge of uniform weight.
Projectiles should have a good Ballistic Coefficient, so as to deliver the flattest trajectory and best defy the effects of wind drift. The long range game is the place where the compound radius ogive and severe boat tail will show their worth.
The chronograph will help you better predict the trajectory of your load. While the reloading manuals are a very valuable guide to predicting the long-range trajectory of your loads, a chrono will give you exact velocities.
I’d also recommend some really good reloading dies, like the Redding Competition Dies. These can give the most repeatable results when it comes to bullet seating, keeping the Cartridge Overall Length to a uniform dimension and minimizing bullet deformation. Measure all of your long range cartridges with a caliper, and set any that don’t quite measure up aside for practice, leaving only the best rounds for distant shooting.
I’ll warn you: the long range game can be addicting, and so can reloading for it!
There are many reasons to handload your own rifle ammunition. It’s fun, it’s economical, and you can attain maximum accuracy by carefully loading custom ammunition for your rifle. If you’re new to handloading rifle ammunition, here are some basic considerations for accuracy:
- Start with proven loads and load data
- Fire form your brass
- Optimize bullet seating depth
- Optimize bullet concentricity
A rifle like this Savage 116 is capable of fine accuracy – but only with the right ammunition – Image copyright 2012 NWGUN.com
Starting with proven loads
There’s a LOT of information out there for reloading almost any rifle cartridge. The first place to start when loading a new rifle cartridge is to read up on proven loads for the rifle you intend to load for. I typically read reloading manuals, powder manufacturer’s published load data, and also published load data from individuals online (such as the load data published on www.handloads.com – and I ALWAYS cross reference that data with published load data from the bullet or powder manufacturer). For example- if you are reloading .308 Winchester, you’ll find a lot of great loads featuring Varget powder and 168 grain Sierra Match King HPBT bullets. That would be a good combination to start with for most rifles chambered in .308 Winchester.
Fire form your brass
It’s simple but true: your handloads will typically be more accurate with brass that’s been fired at least once in the exact rifle you intend to load for. This is because after firing, the brass is expanded to the exact contour of the chamber in your rifle. For bolt-action rifles, you can use a neck-only sizer die after fire forming your brass to retain most of the fire formed profile. You’ll find this combination of fire forming and neck-only sizing to be a great accuracy combination.
Optimize bullet seating depth
Perhaps the easiest and most productive step in handloading precision rifle ammunition is carefully measuring your rifle’s chamber/lead dimensions and then optimizing your bullet seating depth when seating bullets. Using special tools (bullet comparator, COL (Cartridge Overall Length) gage, etc) you can calculate a bullet seating depth that will minimize the distance the bullet travels forward before engaging the rifling in the barrel. At a high level, you’re ensuring that the bullet doesn’t “free float” too much in freebore before locking into the rifling. The net effect is a bullet that is more concentric with the barrel with less “wobble” along its axis while rotating. The traditional starting point for this distance of bullet travel is .020″ which is a part of the math when using special tools to measure and calculate bullet seating depth.
Optimize bullet concentricity
In order for your bullet to run true down the barrel, it has to start out concentric to the case neck it is pressed into. There’s a couple ways to do this. The first and easiest way is to use a bullet seating die with a free floating bullet seating plug. Hornady rifle dies and Redding competition seating dies both employ this mechanism. By aligning the bullet before seating begins, this type of seating die will ensure minimal bullet runout (maximum concentricity). The second way to ensure concentricity is to use a bullet concentricity gage which allows you to both measure concentricity and correct concentricity. An example of such a tool is the Hornady bullet concentricity tool that I’ve blogged about HERE.
The Redding competition seating die (middle) shown here is a great tool that can ensure minimal bullet runout and maximum concentricity – Image copyright 2011 Ultimate Reloader
While starting with others’ published loads is a great starting point, reloading accurate rifle ammunition always requires some experimentation. You can experiment by using different bullet weights, different bullet profiles, different powders, different powder charges, different primers, different sizing dies, and changing bullet seating depth to name a few things! A good way to do this is to start with what you think an optimal load will be, to pick one variable to change, and to then load batches of 5-10 cartridges with that one variable changed.
Example: Calculated optimal COL = X (.020″ off lands)
- 5 cartridges, COL = X + .020″ (on lands)
- 5 cartridges, COL = X + .010″ (.010″ off lands)
- 5 cartridges, COL = X (.020″ off lands)
- 5 cartridges, COL = X – .010″ (.030″ off lands)
Following this loading session, take your rifle to the range, time your shots, take your time, and compare the accuracy of each group of 5 shots. This should steer you in the right direction. When you find the optimal seating depth for that bullet, you can then load some cartridges and use the powder charge as the variable to change. It may take a while, but by using this method, you will be able to create ammunition for your rifle that is likely to be *way* more accurate than any store bought ammunition.
First reloads for the Savage 116 resulted in group size reduction from
1.25″ to 0.560″ at 100 yards range
As you can see here, my first reloads for my Savage 116 30-06 rifle resulted in a drastic reduction in group size. On the next trip out (with fire formed brass) I saw a further reduction, down to 0.360″ for three shots at 100 yards, that was amazing!
While far from comprehensive, these 5 basic steps and considerations will get you started in the right direction for accurate loads at the bench, or out in the field. Building accurate rifle ammunition is a fun journey, and it can be a lifetime one at that!
Do you have tips to share? Please leave a comment!
- Cost: $100
- Date: Sunday April 29, 2018
- Time: 10:30 AM to 3:00 PM
- Location: Littleton, MA
Directions to the shop
This intermediate course is intended for shooters who have some experience reloading and wish to learn more about the process of loading bottlenecked rifle cartridges. This is not a beginner’s class. We recommend taking the NRA Basic Metallic Cartridge Reloading class and/or having a working knowledge of reloading metallic cartridges prior to signing up for this class.
Attendees will learn how to safely make rifle cartridges that are more accurate than factory ammo.
This is a 4-1/2 hour class.
- Component selection – Including the single most important step in making accurate ammo
- Proper brass sorting and case prep – The key to consistency
- Load selection – Learn why some loads are accurate and others are not
- Gages & Tools – Because you can’t fix what you can’t measure
- Crimping – When it’s needed and when it isn’t
- Sizing rimmed & belted cases – When following the directions isn’t always the best thing to do
- Loading for long range shooting
- Review of Pressure Signs – How to know when to back off
- Testing and Record keeping
Attendees should have some experience reloading metallic cartridges.
The class will feature discussion and demonstration only. There will be no hands-on reloading.
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Our classes are taught by NRA-certified Metallic Cartridge Reloading instructor Jim Finnerty.
Jim has been reloading for over 30 years, and loads 1000s of rounds per year in dozens of calibers. He is currently the reloading instructor for the Gun Owners Action League of Massachusetts.
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Few things make us more happy than to hear the success stories from the customers of our precision long range rifles.
We also understand that success in the field is more than just having a fine tuned rifle. Many people believe that with the right rifle its easy to dial it in and make long range shots. Unfortunately there is a lot more to it than that.
To help with this we are offering a very affordable long range shooting school once per month. This two day (weekend) course is designed to give you the confidence and ability to take long distance shots even in tough situations.
“If anyone else is considering taking this class I can tell you that you will receive quality instruction from a very proficient and professional staff.” – Mike Dirilo
This is a hands-on course given by our high qualified staff. We only allow ten students per class so that we can give everyone there the personalized attention they need.
Here are just some of the subjects covered in this course:
- Shooting mechanics
- Getting to know your equipment
- Understanding ballistics
- Proper zeroing and truing techniques
- How to read and adjust to atmospheric conditions
The price for this 2 day course is only $1,000.
Extensive shooting experience is not necessary. We do however expect each student to be familiar with and practice basic firearm handling skills. Gun safety is taken very seriously.
For more information or to sign up for our next shooting school, contact us below. Spots fill up fast, reserve your spot today.
Written by: Mike S. Self Defense 17 Comments Print This Article
Image source: Cadexdefence.com
Perhaps the most impressive display of marksmanship is true long-range shooting. Reaching out to a target at 1,000 yards or beyond requires skill, knowledge and lots of practice to do it right.
While some may deem it as impractical to hit a target at half a mile, the amount of research that goes into selection of the rifle, optics and ammunition — plus learning how to read wind, observe the effects of humidity, air pressure and elevation are all factors that will make you a better shooter in the long run.
Yes, it is true that long-range shots can be made with typical rifle calibers such as 308 Winchester, 30-06 Springfield and 7.62 X 54R, but these calibers were not designed with extreme ranges in mind.
Here are four long-range rifles you should consider:
1. 300 Winchester Magnum
Prized for its ability as a flat-shooting cartridge, the 300 Winchester Magnum is capable of 3,260 feet per second (fps) and 2,658 foot pounds of muzzle energy with a 150 grain bullet, and 3,000 fps and 4,223 foot pounds of muzzle energy with a 180 grain bullet. Unlike most rifle cartridges, the trajectory stays level out to about 300 yards.
Maximum effective range is out to 1,200 yards, and the round really comes into its own at 800 to 1,000. One of the advantages of the 300 Winchester Magnum is that it can be loaded in a long-rifle action rather than a more expensive Magnum receiver.
All of the big-name rifle companies manufacture a bolt-action, but two of our favorites are the Savage 110FP with Accutrigger and the Winchester Model 70 Extreme Weather SS. The Savage retails for under $900 and the Winchester can be had for closer to $1,100.
For working your way up into long-range shooting, we recommend the 300 Winchester Magnum as a good starting point, particularly if you want to step down to a 308 and really put those long-range skills to work in a smaller caliber.
2. 338 Lapua Magnum
In what was probably the first round designed from the ground up as a sniper cartridge, 338 Lapua is our personal favorite long-range round. Developed from the 416 Rigby case, the inventors of the round learned a critical factor in designing ammunition with regard to pressure: hardness of the brass was more important than its relative thickness.
The world record for the longest confirmed sniper shot at 2,707 yards (1.5 miles) was achieved with this round by a British Army sniper, Corporal Craig Harrison.
As for stats: you are launching a 200-grain bullet at 3,300 fps with a muzzle energy of 4,967 foot pounds.
If money is no problem, then check out the Sako TRG-42 at $4,000 — pricey, but one of the best in its class.
Personally, I have been running a Savage 110 BA Chasis rifle for the past 5 years with no complaints besides its weight. I bought mine secondhand for around $1,200. MSRP is a bit higher, but rifles such as these turn up used every now and then due to their specialized nature and ammunition costs, and sometimes people want to upgrade to a SAKO, Accuracy International or a Barrett.
3. 408 CheyTac
The 408 CheyTac was designed by John D. Taylor and William Wordman specifically for military long-range sniper use. 408 CheyTac was developed specifically for anti-personnel and anti-material roles out to 2,200 yards.
It is based on the 505 Gibbs (an old-time rimless African big-game cartridge developed in England in 1911) and necked down to 0.408 inches. The parent case’s web and sidewall were beefed up to accommodate high-chamber pressures. The 305 grain bullet travels at 3,500 fps, with 8,295 foot pounds of muzzle energy and the 419 grain bullet travels at 3,000 fps with 8,373 foot pounds of muzzle energy.
The Chey-Tac M200 Intervention is the bolt-action rifle built to handle this round, and shooters have been documented firing a group of 3 shots within 16 inches at 2,321 yards. That kind of long-range accuracy comes at a hefty price with this model starting at $11,700 from the manufacturer. They throw in 200 rounds ($1,400 worth), but you still need to provide your own optics.
4. 50 BMG
While the other three rounds in this category may have an advantage in economics (300 Winchester Magnum), accuracy (338 Lapua Magnum) or range (408 CheyTac), the 50 BMG is still the king of the domain of long-range shooting.
Developed by the great John Browning for use in his M2 machine gun, the round is a scaled up 30-06 cartridge that launches a 660 grain bullet.
A number of manufacturers support the 50 BMG, such as Barrett Firearms, Serbu Firearms and small builders throughout the western United States.
Some states and cities outlaw the 50 BMG, as do a number of rifle ranges. This may be a factor in selecting another caliber or something that goes into the decision-making process if researching your own.
Ammunition prices fluctuate greatly on the 50 BMG; to get the most accuracy out of your long-range rifle, you may want to look into hand loading your own. Of course, be advised that components, dies, etc., will be more costly than most of the others.
Beyond extending your range with a rifle in defense of your home, developing the skills of a long-range shooter will increase your skillset in other shooting disciplines, from marksmanship and breath control to reloading ammunition. It also will give you an insight into how your other firearms perform and help you realize first-hand the concepts of having a free-floated barrel or a match trigger.
Which long-range rifle do you prefer? What advice would you add? Share your thoughts in the section below: