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Frank Galli

Lighter Bullets, Longer Ranges

Lighter bullets result in higher velocities, and here’s how speed can improve your long-range shooting game.

Growing up, they always told me things would get smaller and lighter as we—as in society and technology—moved forward. Today, “we” see it in a variety of industries, but the shooting community has been slow to respond. There lacks a balance, and the shooting world is subject to wild swings of the pendulum in an effort to find and incorporate those modern advancements in technology.

One of the first areas we ventured into was barrels. We started wrapping steel in carbon fiber to save weight. Then, we questioned the technology to the point where people invented reasons not to use carbon-fiber barrels.

The modern carbon-fiber barrel is outstanding in every way. Yes, if you overheat it, the mirage directly in front of your magnified optic will shift the point-of-impact, but we knew this. Mirage shields aren’t new; we used mirage bands on stainless steel barrels, so when target shooting with a carbon-fiber one, it only makes sense to include it.

Packs are another area where we’re slow to follow. We like big, heavy, military-style packs; the most popular include a gun bearer feature to haul the rifle together with your gear. The problem is, they’re copying military gear from the ’80s. Modern packs weigh in the ounces versus the most popular shooting packs, which come in around 8 pounds empty. It’s that heavy Cordura we covet that adds pounds to our equipment. If you shaved 4 pounds from the pack and added 2 pounds to the rifle, the improvements made are highly noticeable. You gain performance across the board.

See what I mean? As a shooting community, we evolve … but we’re also very set in our ways.

Lighter-Bullets-feature-long-range-shooting

Unbalanced Bullets

All this brings to me to bullets and rifles: I believe we’re missing a balance in our choices. I see a lot of people who run immediately to too big and heavy. They want to shoot a .338 Lapua Magnum with 300-grain bullets, when the 250-grainers work so much better … and 6.5 Creedmoor will do the same job.

Now, we know rifle weight is stability, and bullet weight helps carry the round farther. That said, I still feel speed wins, and when you look at the balance between the two, regaining speed is the smarter side of the equation.

Recently, I had a real eye-opener when two cartridges for the AR platform were introduced. See, I’m a bolt-action, precision rifle guy. I do shoot a lot of large-frame ARs, which drive very differently from the smaller-frame AR-15s. Each one must be addressed from a slightly different place if you want to be successful downrange. This fact created an accuracy problem; people were doing great with an AR-15 and shooting poorly in an AR-10. It happens. I see it all the time. It’s a training issue, but training takes time to correct.

So, we want to address 600- to 800-yard targets without carrying a bigger gun or having to build a better marksman. How about a cartridge to bridge the gap?

Lighter-Bullets-spread-long-range-shooting
Don’t’ be afraid to try the smaller offerings out there. You might find the ballistics to be very close with a lot less recoil.

Enter the Valkyrie … or now, the 6mm ARC. I could focus on the 6.5 Creedmoor, but I want to focus on these two offerings, because we see 6mm in precision rifle competition and the Valkyrie because of the “misfire” in the release.

The 6mm Craze

The 6mm Creed is a great round; it’s fast, light, accurate and has it all but barrel life. It’s Grandpa’s .243 Winchester, only with a long-range twist-rate and huge bullet library. Guys went from the .308 Win. in precision rifle competition to the 6.5 Creedmoor, and once they fell into the 6mm world, they never looked back.

What’s its greatest advantage? Speed. Because precision rifle competitions have a speed limit of 3,200 fps, the 6mm Creedmoor—at 3,175 fps—was perfect. Except it killed barrels, had recoil and didn’t really do anything over the 6.5 Creedmoor. Enter the 6mm Dasher with less recoil; it dropped the speed from 3,175 fps to 2,850 fps. It has all the performance, less recoil and a bit more barrel life. The Dasher led to host of other 6mm cartridges, finally settling with the 6 GT.

Today, many 6mm rounds hover between 2,850 and 2,950 fps in muzzle velocity. It’s a nice balance of weight and speed. The competition crowd usually stays over 100 grains in bullet weight, topping out around 115 grains. When you combine these values, the drop and drift are outstanding. My personal load, with a 108-grain factory ammo, is 6.8 mils to 1,000 yards, which is great.

long-range-shooting-rifle-setup
A precision rifle student using the lightweight Valkyrie bolt-action rifle to engage targets to 1,200 yards with much success.

Lighter bullets offer up less recoil, and less recoil translates into better accuracy for the shooter. The marksmanship advantages come into play through recoil management. Recoil management tells the bullet where the barrel is upon release. All 6mm bullets, being light and fast, will exit the barrel quickly and with less disruption to the shooter. By adding this bullet to a small-frame AR-15, the weight and speed equations balance very nicely.

What am I really working toward by going lighter and what system is being affected by the increase in speed from reducing the bullet’s weight?

Time

The time it takes for the bullet to leave the barrel is less, so shooter actions behind the bolt are minimized. The time it takes for the bullet to reach the target is reduced, which means less drop.  It also means less wind interruption. Time of flight is a major factor.

Sure, I can take a big, heavy bullet and float it like a softball in the air and absolutely hit the target repeatedly. But I’m increasing my chances of a miss from an errant wind gust—not to mention the higher the bullet goes, the more the wind increases and becomes less predictable.

The .22-Caliber Option

I have a confession to make: I love the .224 Valkyrie, but I strongly believe it “misfired” upon release. I feel like my grandchildren might never know the Valkyrie, because it might not survive. If it does, it’ll be due to sheer willpower. The bright side? The .224 Valk has reintroduced .22-caliber centerfires as a viable, long-range cartridge.

long-range-shooting-224-Valk
The JP SR chambered in . 224 Valk is a proven winner. This was the initial thinking with these smaller long-range cartridges to use the semi-auto platform.

When the Valkyrie first hit the market, I got a JP SR15. Exactly one week after Hornady released 88-grain ammo for it, I shot a Guardian match and landed in the Top 15. I loved it; in my mind, it performed as advertised. Sure, spotting impacts beyond 800 yards was tough, but overall, I thought it was perfect for an entry-level precision-rifle cartridge.

These small-frame ARs with long-range cartridges had revolutionized the game. I want to own 600 to 800 yards, and if I can do it in a smaller caliber, I’m all for it. But, at those distances, consistency can be a struggle with the light factory loads. The 90-grain stuff is hit or miss in most semi-auto rifles and, while the 88-grain Hornady Ammo is working, that can be hard to find. At 400 yards, the .224 Valkyrie is a laser beam. Consistent performance to 600 yards is expected but, at 800, things can start to fall apart. The balance of weight and speed was just slightly off.

How do I balance this equation and figure out the sweet spot? A .224 Valkyrie bolt gun.

I went with a Zermatt Bighorn Origin action, one of the least expensive custom actions on the market. The Bighorn Origin has a replaceable bolt head, so it’s easy to pair it with the 6.8 bolt face.

Next is my secret weapon: a left-hand gain-twist Bartlein Barrel. Gain-twist barrels don’t care about bullet weight, the recoil pulse is better, and the speeds and pressures are exactly where they need to be. And to clarify a myth—the bullets aren’t running over the lands and grooves multiple times. It’s not putting any extra scoring the bullet.

The Bartlein gain-twist barrel let me shoot the 90-grain load from Federal at speed and to distance more accurately and effectively than through a gas gun. A box of 90-grain Federal was running 2,750 fps with single-digit SD numbers.

Bartlein-gain-twist-barrel
Here’s the end of a Bartlein gain twist barrel. This 6mm barrel goes from 7.75 to 7.0.

This isn’t the case of the gas gun being less effective due to movement; it seemed that the Valkyrie liked the extra speed. We know it wasn’t the 1:7 twist rate of the semi-autos that caused many of the issues: It’s the speed needed to get the performance. This same principle applies the 6mm ARC. The 6mm is a bit easier to load, but it still wants speed. If a setup is running 200- to 400-fps slower than performance would like, you can’t expect the same results.

The bolt-action rifles in. 224 Valkyrie were performing. In fact, the instructors at CR2 Shooting Solutions followed my lead and used a bolt-action version as a student rifle. With this setup, I’ve seen second-round hits in 12-mph winds at 1,200 yards, and impacts out to 1 mile.

All this points to how effective the right .22-caliber can be at long distances: There’s now a .22 Creedmoor and a .22 GT, which is very similar to a 6.5×47 necked-down .22 caliber, but with a slightly different case. And remember, the smaller bullets like speed.

Lighter-Bullets-Longer-Ranges-firing
Shooting the Valkyrie at Cameo in Colorado, this rifle is light and effective. Weighs less than 12 pounds and, up at elevation, is capable of hits beyond 1,000 yards.

Weigh Your Options

Don’t overlook the smaller calibers and smaller bullets when trying to shoot long distance. And, when paired with ballistic software, shooters can read results quickly and move to a more effective load to increase performance.

Balancing bullet weight and speed might mean going lighter. Don’t be afraid to try it.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the June 2022 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.


More On Long-Range Shooting

Hot Trends In Precision Rifle Shooting

In my precision rifle classes, I talk about my own precision rifle journey. That journey started a very long time ago when I joined the Marines. Today, my journey continues as precision rifle shooting grows in several different directions. You can find trends, follow trends or work to create a new trend, and that’s precisely what’s happening today.

Barricade Benchrest Battles

If you live on the East Coast, the trend continues to follow the Barricade Benchrest format. They use very heavy custom rifles, usually a 6mm of some variation, shot off heavy bags or tripods. The use of bags and tripods has stabilized; we know what works…and why. The heavier the bag the better, but you must balance how much weight to pack. The goal post has moved back toward a single bag solution, with a secondary pillow to support the firing elbow. So, the question becomes one of weight. Weight equals stability, and balancing the two is the trick.

Long-Range-Trends-feature-1
The author’s Really Right Stuff Tripod is his go-to alternate position tool. Given the choice, he’ll choose a tripod over a bipod.

Tripods have become an indispensable tool. There’s no precision rifle problem that can’t be solved with a tripod. In fact, if you ask me, tripod or bipod—pick one—the answer would be a tripod every day and twice on Sunday. Once we replaced the lighter camera tripods with the dedicated Really Right Stuff models, our world changed. To me, nothing replaces my Really Right Stuff SOAR Tripods.

Many companies are now offering models to compete directly with Really Right Stuff, but although the leg systems tend to work well, the ball heads being used cannot compare to a Really Right Stuff Anvil 30 when it comes to shooting. If you want to save a little money, order the legs but skip the ball heads. The leveling bases and RRS Anvil are the best way to buy once with the least amount of crying. You save nothing getting a knock-off ball head, but the bigger legs can be a suitable compromise.

If I had to predict a change for the East Coast matches, I’d say be on the lookout for .22-caliber variants to start winning more events. I saw a .22 Grendel that was just amazing. The .22 Creedmoor is looking to catch fire, and while limited, the .25 Creedmoor is begging for more bullets.

That seems to be the limiting factor—bullet choices in these lighter calibers. Guys are looking for the highest BC possible with a bit more weight so the range officers can spot the impacts at distance. Spotting a .22-caliber bullet at 800 yards or beyond is tough.

Out West is where the precision rifle world is changing dramatically.

NRL Hunter Matches

Hunter Matches are the new hotness. They’re set up much different from the East Coast matches, and people can’t get enough of them. The weight limits are more in line with hunting-style rifles, and the limits placed on gear are much more realistic.

Scott Satterlee, the brains behind the Hunter Series, is doing a great job of setting up the matches to be as realistic as possible. Animal-style targets, blind stages and, with most of these out West, great venues.

Precision-Rifle-Trends
The ATX and Game Changer bag being used at the Sniper’s Hide Cup (SHC). The SHC is a field event, which means building a position is done on the fly. The ATX is a short-action system that can go from 13 to 26 pounds, depending on the weight system

Advancing ELR Matches

Since we’re talking Western-style shooting, another area of growth is ELR shooting. Many people look at the King of 2 Mile-style of event, but Satterlee also hosts the Nightforce ELR Challenge. Set up more like the current tactical precision rifle matches, his format is catching fire. Recently, he hosted over 200 shooters in a single match. The average range is roughly 1,150 yards with the furthest shot being over 2,200 yards. How about a 1,000-yard moving target? He’s doing it.

The caliber choices might surprise you: Most are using heavy .30-caliber or smaller versus the larger. 33- or .37-caliber cartridges. In fact, I think the best caliber you can use to get into these types of matches is the 6.5 PRC. Heck, you can do either the 6.5 PRC or .300 PRC; both cartridges work great. Winners of past events have used the .300 Norma Magnum, including this more recent competition.

Precision-Rifle-long-range-trends-2
Here’s the ATX in 6.5 PRC. In the ELR configuration, Scott Siegmund from Accuracy International has attached the weight system. Weight equals stability; you can add or remove these weights depending on the use of the rifle.

Here’s the ATX in 6.5 PRC. In the ELR configuration, Scott Siegmund from Accuracy International has attached the weight system. Weight equals stability; you can add or remove these weights depending on the use of the rifle.

A shooter who lives out West and wants to experience either can do so with a well-developed 6.5 PRC. I spent my spring working with Accuracy International, who just released their AT-X rifle, at both the Gunsite XLR Course and the Nightforce ELR event with their ATX in 6.5 PRC. At Gunsite, we shot to beyond 2,400 meters.

I recently assembled a .300 PRC and, even though I was out of town, my rifle made it to the ELR Match. The Applied Ballistics Team was there with their mobile laboratory, and they provided a printout of my rifle and ammo combination. With factory Hornady 225-grain .300 PRC ammunition, I was pushing those bullets at 2,912 fps with a BC variation of 1 and a standard deviation of 14. Sure, you want a single-digit SD to be competitive, but with factory ammunition…this was excellent.

The best part about these matches is the attendance. It’s growing all the time. At one of the most recent NRL Hunter Matches, a gentleman showed up with a Mauser using iron sights and hit targets at distance. Run what you have and don’t look back. These events are the best training you can get for pennies on the dollar. Want to up your precision rifle game, look at these types of events—you won’t be disappointed.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the September 2021 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

More Precision Rifle Skills:

Practical Precision: A Return To The Fighting Rifleman

It’s important to train practical precision in field conditions, something that you can’t get while benchrest shooting at the range.


 
There’s a movement afoot in the precision rifle world—a return to “the fighting rifleman,” for lack of a better term. The feeling around the water cooler is we’ve taken a turn away from the practical and more toward the engineering side. If this sounds familiar, it should; it’s called “benchrest shooting.”

When I arrived at Rifles Only in South Texas in 2002, it was the top spot for precision rifle training and competition. The focus mimicked the military in many ways and promoted finding your targets, determining the range and then engaging that target with a limited number of shots. Jacob Bynum, considered prone the rare shot, so the idea was to train people to adapt to the situation; the term alternate positions was born.

Rifles Only were full-time training military units during the high points of war years; from 2003 to 2011, I was three weeks on and one week off the entire time. Running and gunning was a way of life. We used what we learned from those classes to design stages for competitions, such as my Sniper’s Hide Cup and, back then, The Shooter’s Brawl. As tactical rifle competition got more popular, the needs changed. Now, we need to test a shooter’s skill but, at the same time, accommodate more shooters into the mix. That meant watering down the stages.

Practical Precision Feature
The flat bottom and weight system help balance the Accuracy International AT-X on the sandbag.

Since those early days, we’ve seen the growth of Series and Leagues. They’re very popular and have taken the idea from four or five matches a year—to over 50. Just about every weekend there’s an event somewhere in the country. That’s a great thing; competition is the cheapest form of organized training anyone can participate in.

With popularity, however, comes more watering down of the stages, to the point where competitors no longer “run and gun,” but instead take three steps to a prop and lay a rifle down on a sandbag, which we describe as barricade benchrest, using 20-plus-pound 6mm rifles that use extremely light triggers and flat-bottom stocks.

They’re incredibly accurate, and shooting this method can be a ton of fun for many people. But the goal of these setups is to remove as much of the shooter from the equation as possible.

Weight equals stability, and stability is accuracy. Balancing these truths isn’t always as easy as it sounds. So, instead, we get rifles designed to balance on the bags without influence.

Before someone goes, here it is: Please don’t get me wrong, the innovations around the current level of competition have done a ton of good for the sport. The bag’s design, new tripods, mounting options and accessories are all positives. My question is one of balance. How do we balance the practical with the engineering side of things?

Practical-Precision
Rifle training should have an element of practical precision to it.

Shifting Tides


Well, that’s happening; there’s a growing movement to return to field-style events. We recognize the community is asking for more, so a core group of new competitors is engaging with whom they consider the old guard. They want to return to the roots: a practical application tied to the competitive nature of man.

I like to keep things simple: Find it, range it, engage it, WTF, wind, target, fundamentals. Stuff like this is easy to remember.

Match booklets identify the ranges; the targets are marked and painted, and—usually—the competition has mapped out their path before even seeing the stage. We removed target detection to move the shooters through the stages more efficiently.

Frank Galli Precision Shooting Journey
The author shooting an Accuracy International ASR Rifle at Gunsite in 2021.

Today, if you ask me, they’re studying for a specific test rather than the situation. If you change any one question on the test, you’re met with protests. The return to practical has to include a return to the essential elements of our shooting life: hunting.

With this return to the fighting riflemen, Hunter Series are cropping up, limiting the events to hunting-style rifles with reduced weights. Being able to find the targets is pretty crucial in a hunting type of situation. Then, you have to build that position based on the terrain. This is where the adaption elements of competition work to your advantage. Even the experimentation with bag fills helped in this context; rather than carry a 6-pound Game Changer bag, you can use the Go Lite fill and reduce the weight by a significant amount. The sheep guys will carry it.

Where Does It All Land?


We recognize two things can exist simultaneously: series style of events and field events. Nobody is suggesting we change entirely every aspect of the current styles. Many want a balance of the two, a combination of skills to be tested.

Accuracy International Rifles
You can see the sniper rifle version of the Accuracy International AT-X (left) versus the competition model. The center of gravity is much lower in the new sniper rifle model.

An example of this is Accuracy International rifles. Despite being known for their sniper rifles, used by more than 160 countries, they started a competition team. Those team members used the existing barreled action to design a rifle better suited to the tools employed today by a novel means.

They lowered the rifle’s center of gravity in the stock by close to a ½-inch over a typical competition rifle. It can still take advantage of all the weight systems used and accessories we see today, but in a 12-pound base system. They created a balance between the military world and competition.

Balance Is The Key To All


The mindset moving forward? I see the 3-Gun style of AR competition as the Assaulter in the military. To me, the precision rifle should mimic my sniper experience in the Marines—methodical and deliberate … all those words we recognize around the skillset.

It’s a journey, not a road trip.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the June 2021 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.


More On Improving Practical Precision:

The Paper Target Advantage

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Ringing steel is great, but the humble paper target still has a lot to offer when it comes to improving your shooting skills.

How do you practice shooting targets at long range? Common sense would say, by shooting targets at long range. But not everyone has access to long-distance ranges. So, how can we train ourselves to succeed when the range is less than 200 yards?

Paper Target scope

Maximize Paper


I love to shoot on paper. Paper targets don't lie to you—there’s no place to hide with it. However, we’re seeing increased pushback toward shooting paper. For many long-range shooters, steel is a much easier target to manage. But paper tells a story, and it’s one worth listening to.

Putting up a paper target at 100 yards is very easy. The average range in the United States is 200 yards. There’s a lot of very productive work you can accomplish inside these distances. I’d highly recommend you stop shooting prone or bench-style groups at 100 yards unless you zero the scope.

You may be surprised by a new shooter’s difference in group size when comparing 100-yard versus 200-yard results. While the mindset everyone uses is 1 inch at 100 becomes 2 inches at 200, this rarely plays out in real life when it relates to group size. Instead, we see a student with a .65-inch group at 100 shoots 2 inches at 200 yards. Two hundred is a much more difficult distance for groups. This very reason is why we recommend groups at 200 instead of 100.

What we see in terms of practice success at 100 yards is positional shooting.

Build and Break Drills


Building and breaking drills means you step back from your position and rebuild that position for every new shot or series. It’s creating positive repetitions, so you’ll revert to muscle memory when faced with a similar scenario under less-than-ideal conditions.

Kraft Data Paper Target
Here’s the original Kraft Data target. Some shooters found the center difficult to see, so the contrast was increased in the other versions.

Local competitor Chris Way has introduced the Kraft Data Challenge that many of us are using today. This target gives the shooter an instant visual to diagnose shooting problems. Using his uniquely styled target, the shooter takes three shots from sitting, kneeling, standing and prone to identify accuracy and precision. Accuracy tells us how close to the center of our aiming point we’re impacting, while precision identifies the group size.

Snipers Hide Paper Target
Here’s the Sniper’s Hide updated version of the Kraft Target. The rings are used to score the drill.

Dot Drills


For some of us, shooting groups is a lesson in frustration. Not every shooting discipline uses groups as a metric for success. The tactical shooter and hunter are “one hit, one kill” types. Hunting rifles aren’t designed to shoot groups; the barrels are too thin, heat too fast and can walk. That brings us to the Sniper’s Hide Dot Drill.

Snipers Hide Dot Drill
Here’s the original 21 Dot Drill target from Sniper’s Hide. Your only limitation is your imagination when it comes to shooting paper.

When I worked in Texas at Rifles Only, I designed the Dot Drill. The majority of our classes were military and law enforcement—the single-shot crowd. On top of that, these shooters are dynamic; their training requires them to get on target as quickly as possible. Speed wins in this case.

The Dot Drill was designed to put one round on each target. The original sheet was all 1-inch dots. It has since been modified and adapted by numerous groups of shooters. Each row of five targets was designed as a single drill. The first row would slow fire, giving 1 minute. The second row might be the support side—right-handed shooters use their left. The next row was the up-and-down drill.

The up-and-down drill starts with the shooter standing behind the rifle, magazine in and bolt back. On the Gun Command, the shooter drops down and fires one round in 15 seconds. The drill is then reset, and the next gun command gives 12 seconds for the next target. After each reset, you reduce the time: 10 seconds, 8 seconds … and finally, 6 seconds. Try it—it’s a great drill for working at 100 yards and will make you much faster on the rifle.

Snipers Hide Progressive Dot Drill
The Progressive Dot Drill is designed to increase the difficulty. The ¼-inch targets are extremely hard to hit even under the best conditions.

Mix And Match


Mix up your training; a combination of both steel and paper targets is a great way to improve. Paper is cinematic storytelling, while steel is the equivalent of a wolf whistle. The report back of an impact can be satisfying, but all you know about the shot is that it worked.

Paper explains the process. Are you strung vertically or more so horizontally? Do you have multiple groups, two touching here with the other three scattered? Each pattern is an explanation of what the shooter is doing behind the rifle. Please don’t ignore this valuable information when it’s available.

Training is essential—the best way to improve is through practice. How you practice has a bearing on the results and your long-term success.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the April 2021 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.


More Firearms Training And Drills:

Mastering Magnum Cartridges

Why it's important to master the “littles” before moving up to big rifles and magnum cartridges.


 
It’s interesting how many new shooters jump to larger-caliber rifles first before understanding the necessity of the tool they’re about to purchase. I often get queried about a rifle purchase before a class by students, and I’m amazed by how many are considering a magnum cartridge rifle for their first time out.

It seems the .338 Lapua class of rifles is the go-to for many new shooters. After all, bigger is better …correct?

Magnum Cartridges Feature
It’s about the process, collecting and evaluating data while engaged in real-world live-fire activities.

A Class Of Their Own


For starters, big guns command a lot of respect. I was one of the first units in the Marine Corps to be issued a .50-caliber SASR. The Iver Johnson .50-cal. was a single-shot bolt-action rifle designed by Daisy. Yes, the air rifle people designed the .50-caliber sniper rifle I was issued—and it was a tank.

The rifle weighed more than 30 pounds. It had a short bolt with a claw on it where the user inserted the round. Then, the bolt and bullet were locked into place together. The rifle beat up shooters, broke scopes … and nobody wanted to carry it. It was fun shooting far and seeing the damage it’d cause; however, we never considered it anything other than a specialized tool to break large objects.

Like cars, many feel the need for horsepower. Early on in my Alaska classes, everyone showed up to class with a .300 Win. Mag. or larger because they hunt dinosaurs up there. Large-caliber magnum cartridges are flinching factories for the uninitiated. You want to hone your skills on the lighter-recoiling rifles before moving to the big guns.

Magnum-Cartridges-Tubb
David Tubb is the ultimate example of collecting and analyzing data, then putting it into practice on the range. He gathers more information than most others, and it shows.

If you consider the benefit of dry-fire, understand that by working your fundamentals with a smaller caliber, you remove the negative parts of the shooting magnum cartridges.

Today, the big guns are the makers of myths. You have competitions designed around them in hopes of pushing the envelope. They’re engineering laboratories used by the shooters to break boundaries and improve accuracy down the line.

When I first attended the early King of 2 Mile competitions, the shooters were lucky to hit the 1-mile target on command. That was the bucket list item to check off. Can we be successful at 1 mile? Absolutely. One mile is no longer a mystery.

Today, that bucket list location is closer to 2,500 yards. This is the distance they’re starting to hit on command. You need the experience to engage these targets, understanding the trajectory and wind for the bullet you’re shooting. You don’t get that without committing the shot to diagnose the variables.

Once they crack the code, they begin to manage those conditions better and better. Each new range is a new set of variables and a new code to be broken. This is helping to change bullet technology and the way we use radar, all born of the want to push the bullet further than the guy before you.

Magnum Cartridges Winners
The Top King of 2 Mile Shooters are consummate competitors. Their strategy has changed to shoot more real-world distances versus modeling it.

Less Can Be More


Learn the fundamentals and hone your skills inside 1,000 yards with smaller calibers first.

Today, many are shooting the 6mm and 6.5 Creedmoor like our grandfathers shot their .30-06s and .300 Win. Mags. The need for a .338 Lapua is specific; it’s designed for extreme long-range shooting … not inside 500 yards to harvest deer and elk. You don’t need a caliber that large, which is exactly why you see a caliber like the 6.5 PRC today. When you move to magnum cartridges, have a purpose.

But big guns get the views, right. Videos of shots beyond 3,000 yards are all the rage, but most hide the fact they’ve been at it all day. One of the more popular videos took 194 rounds to get the hit they highlighted. That’s not accurate, nor is it precise; throw enough lead downrange and eventually everything downrange will get hit.

DTAmmo Magnum Cartridges
The heart of a big gun is the ammo. Custom or factory rifle, the ammunition is the key to success at extended long ranges.

When I teach ELR classes, I focus on the conditions, the preparation and the execution of the firing task. I want my students to get either a first- or second-round hit, because after five shots, their time at that target is finished. Rarely do they need more than three, but five I consider the limit.

Big Guns Are Slow And Methodical


All that said, make no mistake: Big-bores have their place in the long-range arena. And, I love the process of sending a big bullet a long way. Everything must be monitored because the time of flight is so long. I watch the wind for several minutes so I can start to understand the timing of the changes. Can I slide a round between them? Think about the process more than the bang.

Tubb-Magnum-Cartridges
Big guns are a crew-served weapons system. They are not meant for one person.

Understand that shooting a big gun is like learning to drive a tractor-trailer; they have specialized requirements and specialized instructional schools. Many people can move forward in a truck, but how many can do the job?

Like all gun skills, proper training and adequate trigger time are keys to mastering the big bores.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the May 2021 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.


More On Precision Rifles:

Your Precision Rifle Journey

Marine sniper Frank Galli's advice on how to be the best ‘rock chucker’ you can be.


 
I start every precision rifle class with my objectives. One of my bullet points reads: “To guide the student on their precision rifle journey.” Every sport or hobby is a journey; we start out as a curious party and, once we’re hooked, it becomes a divine quest for the Holy Grail of information and experience.

I laugh when newer shooters call me an “OG” in this field. They’re right; I’m part of the original gangster squad who helped cultivate the sport as we see it today. Despite creating a bunch of forks in this precision rifle road, the journey has stayed relatively consistent. The common theme over the years—change—is our one constant in life.

PFC Frank Galli
Young PFC Galli during Marine Corps Training in 1986. There was a lot less equipment to manage back in the day.

Humble Beginnings


My personal journey began years ago in Connecticut, shooting a Crossman 760 air rifle. From there, I progressed to a Crossman 766, ending with an RWS single-break-style air rifle. With no education and just mimicking what I saw, I was Daniel Boone conquering the wilderness. When I got older, I enlisted in the Marine Corps hoping to be a Scout Sniper. If my backyard landscape was any indication of my potential military service, I was guaranteed a slot in Sniper School.

Frank Galli Precision Shooting Journey
Author Frank Galli shooting the Accuracy International ASR Rifle at Gunsite in 2021.

Life doesn’t work that way, but I did manage to land a slot at Sniper School early in my Marine Corps journey. Attending Sniper School as a PFC was pretty rare. I was the lowest-ranking student in class, and some of the tips and tricks just weren’t there in the beginning. When you don’t yet know the trade, the tips and tricks can be a total mystery.

I see more problems with students who try to jump to the tips and tricks before learning the trade.

The fix is to learn the trade. You have to focus on the basics … the fundamentals of any sport. Even beyond my military service, as I attended classes later in life, I’d still join basic classes with other instructors. I think the fundamentals—the basics—are the lifeblood to learning any sport or hobby correctly. Sure, we can adapt bad habits to work, but it never translates well to other systems.

I had to pay a little extra attention in class, because I didn’t know everything that was being discussed. Sniper School isn’t really a shooting school; it’s a Sniper School, and shooting is just a small part of the equation. The instructors believe the shooting part should’ve been covered in both boot camp and after as part of your yearly qualifications. They expect the students’ unit to focus on the small details.

Coming off of Sniper School, you feel a bit invincible when it comes to your shooting skills. And after school, my basic qualifications improved each year. Experience and education, combined with a healthy dose of confidence, are powerful motivators. Never underestimate the mental side of any sport.

Non-Military Options


Fast-forward to 2002, one year into creating the Sniper’s Hide website: I got a visit from Jacob Bynum of Rifles Only in South Texas. Rifles Only is a training facility, and with 9/11 in the rearview mirror, the military was beginning to use more civilian schools. After that meeting in Connecticut, I traveled to Texas to see what Rifles Only had to offer. I was shocked at the way they shot. Picking my jaw up off the floor, I could only think, “these guys are amazing”. Why was I never exposed to this type of precision rifle shooting in the military?

The speed and accuracy in which they were shooting was beyond reason. Sniper School pressed the mantra: slow and deliberate. Everything we did was slow and deliberate, from our movement to our shooting. These Texans took that mindset and threw it out the window. They were scrambling as fast as physically possible and hitting targets in a dynamic fashion.

For seven years, I soaked up the lessons learned at Rifles Only. We refined recoil management; the term “loading the bipod” was born there. That thumb being floated to the side of the rifle, I was there the day it started. Jacob excelled at using our body mechanics to adjust the flow of the rifle’s recoil. It’s also the home of precision rifle competition like we see today. Going back to the 1990s, Rifles Only was hosting tactical precision rifle matches for a very long time.

Frank Galli Rifle
Current Precision Rifle training has a lot more equipment to manage while making information easier to access.

Refined Thinking


In 2011, another change happened when I left Rifles Only. My time in service and my experience had reached a point where I was looking at refining some of the topics and techniques from previous years. Original thought enters the arena. I’m no longer relying on my lessons from the past, I was now able to refine my thinking to suit my personal style. This is where the tips and tricks enter the conversation.

The fundamentals are just that—the basics—universal truths we use to execute the shot process. Being universal, they’re designed to work regardless of the individual. But we’re just that: unique individuals; one size doesn’t fit all. Tips and tricks allow you to work independently of others. My smaller size means I have to adapt to certain situations a taller shooter might not, so I need to understand my body mechanics to be successful.

The journey has now progressed to the experimental phase of my life. I can be a bit more cavalier with my shooting because my experience tells me what to expect. I can refine the pros and cons of my adjustments based on the results, because my process is established. When something odd happens downrange I understand the cause and effects based on years of shooting. I can start creating shortcuts to our processes or, when instructing, adjust how a process is discussed to help a student absorb it quicker.

Rifle Plus Modern Equipment
Modern equipment requires education; you don’t just pick up these tools.

Shooting is a perishable skill; it’s a sport and an extension of my person. If you think about it, it’s advanced rock throwing. Our ancestors picked up a rock and threw it at something. They refined rock-throwing by attaching the rock to a stick, creating a spear and progressing to an arrow. Today, we boil rocks down to create bullets, hoping to push accuracy and speed to the next level. Tomorrow, it’ll be particle weapons that instantly extend our reach without external influence.

Until we reach that point, I’ll educate and train my body to be the best rock chucker I can be.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the July 2021 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.


More Long-Range Shooting Info From Frank Galli:

Long-Range Gear Made In The USA

Some of the best long-range shooting gear, made right here in the USA by companies like TBAC and RRS.

Adaptive Tuning System


The Adaptive Tuning System (ATS) is getting a lot of attention in the precision rifle world. It also has a bit of controversy as to the merits of a harmonic tuning system for your rifle.

We understand barrels have a harmonic property to them, and those harmonics can be tuned to move the accuracy node to the cartridge you’re shooting. Do you have a lot of ammunition that’s not grouping as well as expected? Adjusting the tuning can bring it from 2 MOA to ¼ MOA … during a casual afternoon at the range.

Adaptive-Tuning-System

The devices are simple: a weight system tied to a rotating adjustment that threads on the end of your barrel. It uses the existing threads, provided your barrel is threaded. They’re graduated so the user can rotate the adjustment and then lock it in place once the accuracy node is achieved.

The products born out of competition tend to work really well. These shooters are investing a lot of time and money when competing. Today’s competitions are won by a single point or single stage, so anything you can do to gain an advantage is necessary. The ATS isn’t the only tuner of this type available, but his doesn’t require additional gunsmithing … and it’s very good.

ThunderBeast Arms (TBAC)


Aside from being personal friends, I really like the ThunderBeast (TBAC) products. It’s a suppressor company, but they also create a top-notch bipod, which was born out of Army contracts for a new sniper system.

People mistakenly believe anything holding up the front of a rifle is enough; however, tests have proven that accuracy can vary based on design.

TBAC Bipod

First, the Army wanted the bridge to hold the legs slightly wider apart. Balancing the barrel over an apex is inferior to hanging it inside a triangle shape. That creates stability.

The Army also wanted to move the leg locks to the side. Why? Because shooters often accidently employ the locks when pushing or pulling the bipod against an obstacle.

Machined to perfection, the TBAC Bipod isn’t cheap, but it’s so worth it. They also removed any panning feature from the design. We’re not machine gunners, so we don’t want to pan anyway. This requested change led to Atlas adding the CAL to their lineup. The CAL and TBAC appear very similar for all these reasons.

The final step was providing a tight lockup, so the rifle isn’t canted during the shot. You don’t fix cant with a level, you simply identify it … and you fix can't with the bipod by locking it in place or providing enough tension that the shooter won’t roll it over accidently.

It’s hard to put into words, but you really have a different experience behind the rifle with a good bipod.

TBAC Dominus Suppressor

In addition, TBAC cans are some of the best precision rifle suppressors on the market. With precision rifle shooters, sound suppression is always meaningless without accuracy. If, without a suppressor, my rifle groups 3/8 MOA, I don’t want that group to be 5/8 MOA when I add the suppressor. Sound suppression often comes at the cost of accuracy, because the idea is to create a bunch of turbulence inside the can. I won’t tell you how many suppressors I currently own, but if you guessed less than 30, you’d be way wrong. Many sit collecting dust because they opened up my groups.

Precision Underground


Rarely talked about are nylon products, such as rear support bags. I’m the ultimate rear bag snob and don’t believe in shortcutting this part of the equation.

Rear bags can matter, and today, we see a lot of guys looking for that “one bag” solution. Thanks to precision rifle competition, the use of nylon bags has grown exponentially.

Precision Underground Rear Bag

Because of the need to manage bags during competition, many have neglected the elements of a proper rear bag. More goes into a rear bag today than just filling a sock with sand. Sure, that worked for me in the Marines in 1986, but in 2021, I want more out of my rear bag.

The height, width and depth all matter when trying to balance the rifle between the bipod and bag. I recently sampled 12 different Precision Underground Bags to help nail the fill amount alone.

We can compromise, and for one or two shots, anything works. But when you want a real five-shot group—not one shot fired five times—how the bag supports the back of the rifle matters.

Really Right Stuff


Really Right Stuff leads the pack when it comes to shooting tripods. Given the choice between carrying a rifle with just a bipod or a rifle with just a tripod, I want the tripod. There’s no precision rifle shooting problem I cannot solve with a tripod.

RRS Ascend Tripods

Different-sized tripods handle different tasks in the field. Many use the 33 Series for precision rifle competition. For the hunter, there’s the Ascent series. They took the smaller 14 Series legs and modified it to use an Anvil 30 shooting head. It still features a removable center column, one with a micro ball or a short version for the Anvil. These are perfect to hunt with due to their size and weight.

We’re living in the golden age of precision rifle. Everyday something new drops, thanks to all the great innovators around the country making these products. Everything mentioned here is currently in my toolbox ready for deployment.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the October 2021 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.


More Long-Range Shooting Info:

Top Long-Range Shooting Equipment (2021)

Find out what new long-range shooting equipment former Marine sniper Frank Galli thinks is worth investing your hard-earned money.

What's The New Long-Range Shooting Equipment:

  • X7 Riton Optics Conqueror
  • Arken Optics 4-16x50mm FFP
  • Hoplite Arms Rifles
  • Genesis Ballistics Calculator
  • Vectronix Terrapin X Rangefinder
  • Really Right Stuff Ascend Tripod

In a normal year, our look at the future begins with SHOT Show. Typically held in January, we get to see what companies are preparing to release that year. Secret projects are revealed, and there’s always some interesting surprises when a company succeeds in preventing leaks.

SHOT Show 2021 was canceled. To make matters worse, many of the products from 2020 never made it to the market. We were teased last SHOT Show, then the lockdowns happened and everything evaporated. In fact, I ordered several new products last year, and they were never delivered. The supply chain is the biggest issue: You cannot build a new product if you can’t get the materials or the government has ordered your business closed until further notice.

With the model for new product releases changing, we’re seeing more incremental upgrades, at least at the moment. The shutdowns have allowed some companies to move forward in design and testing, and other companies are just trying to deliver. With the current political climate, demand has also increased, creating a double-sided problem.

It’s not all bad; demand is up, supply is down—but innovation moves forward. Let’s look at what we did see in 2021.

OEM Scopes

I’m starting with optics because this sector has had the most movement. An OEM scope is one build for a specific company. It’s not designed from a scope manufacturer, instead, a specification on features is chosen from a list, and the builder then brands that optic to the company.

When testing the new group of OEM scopes, we track test them using a 30LBS fixture for stability and accuracy. The Arken scope scored 100 percent despite its low cost.
When testing the new group of OEM scopes, we track test them using a 30LBS fixture for stability and accuracy. The Arken scope scored 100 percent despite its low cost and proves a great value in the usually expensive realm of long-range shooting equipment.

It’s a great way to get into the industry, and often these scopes are less expensive than the original that inspired them. When a large manufacturer requisitions a design by an overseas builder, those designs can then be resold to others.

The most popular in this category is probably Athlon, who makes a solid product with a proven track record. Their entry into the industry has prompted several others to follow, and those companies are releasing new products and design adjustment upgrades to their existing lines.

X7 Riton Optics Conqueror
The X7 Riton Optics Conqueror is a 3-24x56mm Front Focal Plane scope, retailing for $2,250. There are several new models in the Riton lineup, the X7 being the top-of-the-line models. This scope features improved internals, 120-MOA adjustment and holdover-style reticle. With a 34mm main tube with illumination and choices in both MRAD and MOA, it checks all the boxes.

It’s a solid entry into the market—the right size, weight and specifications to satisfy most precision rifle shooters. There are plenty of magnification options to choose from, including 4-32x and 3-18x versions.


Get On Target With Frank Galli:


Arken Optics
Another company to look at in this market is Arken Optics. They’re different from most brands as they’re using lower-cost Chinese-built scopes. The difference is the reliability they’ve specified for their products. If you think of it as an à la carte menu, you can easily put your money in glass, internals or other features. Focusing on the internals is where Arken invested, and it shows.

I have the Arken Optics 4-16x50mm Front Focal Plane scope. This scope retails for the low cost of $399, and it’s a very good entry-level scope. I’d highly recommend it for those with budgets that fall into this bucket.

Arken Optics fills a very specific need, since not everyone has to spend $2,000 on a scope. In the past, the choices for sub $500 scopes were terrible. The reliability at this price range suffered. Putting the Arken to the test using our Sniper’s Hide Scope tool, we found it to track with 100 percent reliability. With the pandemic limiting supply, it afforded the company to change the reticle. They took end-user feedback and modified the reticle to something more popular, so moving forward you’ll have access to that upgrade.

There are several other scopes in this category. You have companies like Tract, Maven and Athlon (as noted earlier) all offering very good optics at a variety of price points. My advice for you is to look at the specs in the following ways:

  1. Budget: Determine your budget.
  2. Reticle: The reticle is a main area of focus; we interact with the reticle, so make sure it speaks to you.
  3. MRAD or MOA: Most modern optics offer both. Be sure to check point two as MOA reticle choices are often limited versus their mil-based counterparts.
  4. Features: The features are often very similar, as many OEM scopes are based off a specific model to begin with; look at the tube size, turret design and ocular adjustments.
  5. Glass: Glass is the last thing I consider; current specifications have improved over the years. HD glass is quite common.

Long-Range Rifles

Rifles are a tough call for 2021. Gun sales surged in 2020; the previous record was 2016. More than 15 million background checks were completed in that year; 2020 exceeded 17 million background checks.

Hoplite Arms has designed several new rifle systems from the ground up. The action, chassis and design are all tested prior to release.
On-target long-range shooting equipment: Hoplite Arms has designed several new rifle systems from the ground up. The action, chassis and design are all tested prior to release.

Supply is difficult, so companies are focusing on that with research and development taking a backseat. It seems that the only long-range rifles being released are ones that were in the pipeline prior to 2020.

Hoplite Arms
I spoke to Hoplite Arms about their new rifle systems to be released in 2021 that were poised for SHOT Show: “Initially, Hoplite Arms will offer complete weapon systems and will not be offering actions alone,” said a member of the Hoplite R&D team. “By offering a complete weapon system from the onset, we can ensure that our design is not left vulnerable to issues that have plagued certain sectors of our industry. Hoplite Arms criteria and performance targets for these new projects (Kopis, Aspis and Phalanx weapon systems) has been aimed at not only adding value and increasing reliability, but also to enlarge and exceed the current performance envelope. We are achieving unheard of action strength via the alloy choices of critical components, such as the bolt and the breech cylinder. Both of those alloys are Aermet 100, which has great strength—without brittleness.”

Ballistic Calculators

Genesis Ballistics

Hoplite Arms is also releasing a new version of Patagonia Ballistics ColdBore 2.0 via smartphones. Patagonia Ballistics is one of the oldest ballistic solvers on the market. In fact, they were right there with CheyTac’s ABC system and Gerald Perry’s ExBal. The issue with it was that it used a Windows mobile-based system. Many of us consider ColdBore the best ballistic software on the market, if we only didn’t have to deal with Windows. We use it with Trimble units, but they’re big and heavy devices. Porting the software for iPhones and Androids is a welcome upgrade.

Enter Genesis Ballistics, a full-featured ballistic app that’ll run on your smartphone. Genesis builds off the Patagonia software; it has tools and features not found in other solvers, like the Scope Tracking Utility.

Rangefinders

We see a lot of companies offering small incremental updates to products, especially around ballistic software. One area where a company can grab attention is connectivity … linking one product to another.

Vectronix Terrapin X Rangefinder
Vectronix is very good at this, especially with the Terrapin X rangefinder, a consumer-based unit that doesn’t include propriety software, but rather focuses on feeding the different programs data. Recently, they added connectivity to a host of new products, including the Garmin Applied Ballistic smartwatch.

Setting the watch to your Applied Ballistic profile, you can easily range a target, flip your wrist and the solution is presented to you. Connectivity across multiple devices means you’re future-proof versus investing in proprietary solutions.
The Garmin Tactix Delta with Applied Ballistics is a fully featured ballistic solver; it’s not a lite version as found in devices of the past. I’m huge fan of the Garmin smartwatches. The Tactix Delta is very similar to the Fenix 6; it includes the solar glass for charging and with that option, the watch will stay charged for more than 25 days.

Tripods And Bipods

Really Right Stuff Ascend
Really Right Stuff has several new products dropping this year. Sticking with what works—tripods—they’re releasing a small, compact hunting tripod called the Ascend. It’s the pinnacle of a modern shooting tripod in a lightweight and compact design.

The Really Right Stuff Ascend Tripod with Cinch is the perfect hunting tripod.
The Really Right Stuff Ascend Tripod with Cinch is and essential piece of long-range shooting equipment and the perfect hunting tripod.

Along with the Ascend, Really Right Stuff has two options for mounting binoculars to include laser rangefinder ones that have those odd-shaped housings. The Cinch Elite is the aluminum version, and the LR is the polymer model. The polymer model has been priced for the everyman. Many people lament the cost of Really Right Stuff products, but we pay them because they work.
Really Right Stuff has a host of new products and accessories designed to bridge the interface between shooter and tripod.

Long-Range Shooting Equipment Doldrums

The pandemic really threw a curve in our supply chain. Combine this with an election that’ll hold big consequences for the gun industry, and it’s just a recipe for disaster in terms of new product releases.

However, it’s not all bad news: The change in strategy we’re seeing, with companies not focusing on a specific release point but instead bringing the products to market when complete, is going to work out well in the long run. Staggering releases may mean more opportunity.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the February 2021 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

Precision Rifle Upgrade: From Stock To Sniper Superstar

No need to go top shelf out of the gates. Invest in the right precision rifle upgrades you can take a base model and go the distance.

What Are The Main Precision Rifle Upgrades You Should Focus On:

I look at my rifles like a 350 Chevy—tons of aftermarket parts and the ability to modify it to my heart’s content. I have no problem replacing, modifying and adjusting the weapon system to meet my personal needs. After all, everyone is different; our needs change, so adjusting the rifle to fit the mission is essential in my mind.

Precision Rifle Upgrade 4

I have a lot of videos on YouTube that demonstrate this very fact. If you look at the comment section, you’d think nobody ever burned out a barrel or decided to change a factory stock. Sure, I tend to modify the rifles all at once versus over time. But I have the luxury of access (getting precision rifle upgrades for me is very easy). I’m not saying you have to change everything all at once— heavens, no. You can make any amount of changes over time, so let’s look at the top-line elements that don’t require a gunsmith.

Trigger

Factory triggers can be an obstacle. They often have limited adjustment and are set very heavy for liability reasons. Getting an aftermarket trigger is a quick and straightforward way to improve your rifle accuracy. Trigger control is a fundamental of marksmanship. Having a crisp, no-influence break is vital to proper shot execution. Better triggers give you more adjustability; more adjustments mean it suits the shooter better.

I look at rifle set up the same way I look at my car. I see the stocks as the car seats and the scope as my mirrors. The more adjustability in those I have, the more comfort on those trips.

Stocks

We save money by purchasing factory rifles. Those factory rifles often ship with very basic stocks. The stock design favored by companies focuses more on hunting and shooting standing. Very few of us want to shoot unsupported standing anymore. We want to maximize accuracy, so we need to support the rifle. For many, that means a bench; others tend to go prone. The standing stock is a compromise in these positions.

More adjustability means more comfort. I want to fit the stock to the shooter’s body. I want to look at my mission to maximize those adjustments. Will I be shooting positional? I might want to shorten my length of pull. Is this designed for F Class? Maybe I need a flat bottom.

I set the stock up before mounting my scope with me in position. I choose stocks with tool-free adjustments so I can manage them on the fly.

Aftermarket triggers are an easy way to change the feel of the rifle with minimal cost and relative ease.
Aftermarket triggers are an easy way to change the feel of the rifle with minimal cost and relative ease.

Bedding is no longer a top-line consideration, thanks to internal chassis systems and computer fitting. You can buy a well-made barreled action from a famous gunsmith and drop it in a stock at home. This saves a ton of time and money.
Do your homework; study the features and understand how those features add or subtract from your mission.

Bipods

I know it’ll sound like a broken record here, but bipods matter. Don’t look at them as an afterthought. They control a lot; bipods adjust the system for the shooter. If you have a pain in your neck, odds are your bipod is too low. If you’re canting the rifle, a proper locking bipod will stop that action from taking place. We have different levels of cost and features, because it matters.

Choose the bipod based on the intended use. If you’re hunting in the thick brush, a bipod is a secondary consideration. The prone shot is the rare shot, so have something light just in case it will work.

But consider accuracy. We want a bipod large enough to support the rifle system, broad enough in its stance to give us lateral stability, and finally, a locking feature to prevent the rifle from canting.

The better the bipod, the easier it is to be stable and dependable behind the rifle. It focuses our effort on trigger control and sight picture because the negative consequences of a loose, poorly adjusted bipod are gone.

When it comes to shot-to-shot accuracy, the follow-up shot is critical. If the bipod doesn’t support the recoil pulse in a straight line, you cannot have consistency behind the rifle.

Barrels

This precision rifle upgrade can require a gunsmith to change. That said, we’re in the 2020s, and much of that has changed. You can buy pre-fit barrels, letting you swap both barrels and calibers at home.

Adjust the rifle to support the firing task. Choose upgrades and additions that support the shooter.
Adjust the rifle to support the firing task. Choose upgrades and additions that support the shooter.

I admit it; my go-to rifles are switch barrel capable. I favor rifle systems that let me change barrels on the line in seconds. I don’t need a vice or a torque wrench; I can do it all with a 4mm Allen wrench.

Many modern rifles are moving to user-swappable systems. I see barrels the same way I look at the tires on my car. Tires are expendable and so are barrels.

A lot of new shooters want one caliber to last a lifetime. That was the mindset behind the 308. The odds of average Joe shooting 10,000 rounds are pretty rare. Today, with our 6.5s, burning a barrel out is going to happen closer to 3,000 rounds. You’ll change barrels at some point.

In terms of an upgrade path, I recommend new shooters fire 2,500 rounds from your 6.5 Creedmoor and then upgrade that factory barrel. That’s plenty of rounds to learn the caliber and few enough to know you’ll have to upgrade.

I’ve changed tires at 7,000 miles, because I didn’t like the ride. They weren’t cheap and I hated doing it, but new tires gave me a more comfortable ride and improved my mileage. Barrels are the heart of the system. They control accuracy beyond anything an action can do. The action is just a delivery device; the barrel controls the results.

More adjustability means more comfort. Aftermarket stocks fix the limitations of factory ones.
More adjustability means more comfort. Aftermarket stocks fix the limitations of factory ones.

Aftermarket barrels are everywhere; a decent gunsmith using modern equipment, who isn’t months in demand, should be able to spin you up and mount a new one in less than 30 days. It’s a simple process. The days of waiting months or even years are over.

Time is Your Friend

Nobody is saying to follow my YouTube lead and swap out every part imaginable. You can change small things over time as money becomes available. I have a higher degree of access so that I can swap the kitchen sink without any penalty. I recommend you pick and choose your battles, but never fear replacing something that’s falling short.

Base factory rifles are just that: a base. You can build off that base at any point. Different models have different availability to aftermarket parts, so keep that in mind when choosing a brand. Fast, flat calibers put more stress on the base system. Aftermarket parts fix the shortcomings and give the end-user greater flexibility.

In this off-season, explore the precision rifle upgrade options available to you.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the January 2021 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.


Zero In On Precision Rifles:

Bipod: Choosing An Accuracy-Enhancing Support

Under appreciated, barely a second thought is given to the bipod. A mistake, given attaching the right one to your rifle's fore-end tightens groups and extends your range.

What Are Important Factors In Choosing A Bipod:

  • Style of shooting: hunting, target shooting, competition.
  • Responsiveness to recoil management techniques.
  • Weight of rifle.
  • Fit to your body type.

Most people view bipods as an accessory where less is more; they don’t see the benefit or understand its true importance. 

The majority of rifle systems I see average about $5,000 with scopes and bipods included. It’s $2,000 for the rifle, $2,400 for the scope, and $100 for the bipod. Looking at this trend, I tend to hurt a few feelings—mainly because they’re doing it wrong. The bipod matters, and putting the right bipod into context should be a top priority. 

Why A Shooting Bipod Matters

Bipods have to support the rifle in a way that supports precision—not subtracting from it. Yes, a bipod does have a bearing on precision at long range. It’s physics; we want to balance inside the triangle of stability and not teeter on top of the pyramid. 

Bipod 4

The bipod should be as far forward on the stock as possible to minimize the shooter’s influence at the rear. If you follow the legs in a straight line toward the barrel, the triangle should be over the bore … not under it. We want to hang the barrel, not balance it on top.

Many new shooters default to a Harris bipod style because it’s cheapest and most common, and people feel it works. Sure, it does—if you don’t mind working harder instead of smarter. Harris bipods have been around a long time and have barely changed since the beginning.

And that should be your first clue: Because they’re stamped metal, they’re often out of square just enough to throw the recoil pulse off; plus, they don’t give under recoil. There’s a lot of movement unless it’s adequately managed.

Recoil management is quickly becoming fundamental to accuracy and consistency—so much so that the Army includes it as a fundamental in their sniper training. Having a bipod that responds to the shooter’s recoil management technique makes the job easier and more consistent. You find you’re resetting your position less often, and shot placement is more consistent.

Finding Your Style Of Bipod

The first problem is people tend to set up too low. When you hear the overplayed mantra, “Get as low as possible,” it’s related to the other positions, not just the prone. Kneeling is lower and more stable than standing, sitting is lower and more stable than kneeling, and prone is lower and more stable than sitting.

The ThunderBeast bipod is another top-tier product that has a lot of stability with the added benefit of versatility.
The ThunderBeast bipod is another top-tier product that has a lot of stability with the added benefit of versatility.

Once you’re prone, set the bipod to your body type and not some arbitrary idea that you have to be as low as possible. Super-low prone isn’t a thing. If we wanted to get super low, we’d use the Hawkins position, which balances the front of the rifle on our fist and has the shooter laying on top of the stock. It was meant for shooting over a slope, which keeps the sniper’s head from being too high on the skyline.

Set the bipod to your body type. Many shooters feel Harris-style bipods will bounce. That’s due to the unforgiving nature of the legs. They don’t flex with recoil, allowing it to be managed correctly. Not to mention, there are springs in the feet; you need to be a notch up.  

The Harris is the lowest common denominator, and most people who enjoy using them have a lot of rifle on top. You’re working much too hard for positive results. In more than one of my classes, I’ve taken fundamentally good shooters, where we see the groups don’t match the action, replaced their bipod and immediately noticed a decrease in group size. It’s a neon sign. 


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Today’s Options

Compare a top-tier options like the Elite Iron Revolution Bipods: This is the pinnacle of excellence in bipod design. In my world, the hierarchy of bipods starts with Harris and ends at the Elite Iron. In between, I default to the Atlas Bipods or the ThunderBeast Arms. 

Top-tier bipods, all in a row. It makes a big difference in the amount of effort needed, and it’s a piece that will either shrink or expand your downrange groups.
Top-tier bipods, all in a row. It makes a big difference in the amount of effort needed, and it’s a piece that will either shrink or expand your downrange groups.

The Atlas CAL is currently one of my favorite bipods, along with the TBAC, due to the size and stability factors. They manage recoil much better than most other bipods of that size and style. It’s the small amount of flex in the legs and the increased bridge size to move the stance wider that makes the difference. After all, a little goes a long way.

Choose a bipod based on your intended use:

  • Hunting
  • Target Shooting
  • PRS/NRL-Type Competition

Considering the above situations, each discipline has a specific set of needs.

Hunting rifles have to be maneuverable. Smaller, lighter bipods are the preferred choice. If you’re hunting and have the opportunity to take a prone shot, it was a gift. Take it and use what’s on hand. This a discipline where bipods have the least bearing when playing the odds.

For target shooting, we want the best bipod money can buy. You want the utmost degree of accuracy. There’s a reason F Class bipods are very wide; it increases stability and matches their rear rests. Here’s where I’d recommend the Elite Iron Revolution.

In competition, the PRS/NRL have their own set of specialty bipods, like the MDT Cyke Pod. This design is meant to bridge the obstacles the shooters will encounter. Many times, the shooters will remove the bipod to use the bags so quick-releases are preferred. Smaller and lighter, many matches offer limited prone shots.

Pairing the correct bipod with the correct weapons platform is crucial for downrange precision. Here, the Tikka Tac A1 wears an TBAC bipod.
Pairing the correct bipod with the correct weapons platform is crucial for downrange precision. Here, the Tikka Tac A1 wears an TBAC bipod.

Tactical shooters: The Atlas, with the first models being the lowest consideration, and the Atlas CAL being the current leader of the pack. TBAC made a huge splash with their entry, and it has a lot of design features that were hand-chosen to solve problems encountered by the Harris. It’s the Harris-style we were waiting for, and it’s a game changer.

The Bottom Line

Bipods should not be an afterthought. They’re an important piece of the puzzle. Recently, we had a discussion on Sniper’s Hide about essential accessories, and the bipod is even more important than a level. A level just points out a problem; the bipod is the tool that fixes it. If you’re finding yourself canting your rifle, the answer is: Get a bipod you can tighten down in order to prevent yourself from pulling or pushing the rifle over. The Elite Iron, Atlas CAL, and TBAC all have superior locking features. It’s nearly impossible to cant if you set it up correctly.

Although it seems like a small piece, don’t skimp on your bipods. They’re an important part of the shooting puzzle. The money invested today will pay dividends tomorrow.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the October 2021 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

9 Long-Range Shooting Fundamentals You Must Master

Aiming to become a proper precision shooter? Here are the long-range shooting fundamentals you must master.

What Are The Long-Range Shooting Fundamentals You Need To Master:

Detailed fundamentals are the building blocks of all great shooting. There are plenty of “good-bad shooters,” as I like to call them, out there—shooters who have learned to adapt their bad habits into successful shots. Most people focus on results, but the results don’t always tell the entire tale.

Properly executed, the fundamentals make the difference between a hit and a miss when it comes to precision long-range shooting. There is no “voodoo” when it comes to engaging targets at long distances. But it does require that you know and focus on the fundamentals of marksmanship down to the millisecond. All shooting is a game of milliseconds and how you control the time between each one matters.

Setting up the Rifle to the Shooter

Many shooters are limited by the equipment they can afford. The closer to a bare-bones rifle you get, the fewer adjustments you will find. This is OK. But understanding the ways to properly fit the rifle to your body will help you progress in your journey. There’s nothing wrong with adding a bit of padding and duct tape to your stock to help with the fit. Modified is a good thing. Don’t shy away from it.

Length of pull is used to place the trigger finger in the correct position. There is a science to it.
Length of pull is used to place the trigger finger in the correct position, a key in long-range shooting. There is a science to it.

The Proper Length of Pull
Everybody hears a different answer on the proper length of pull; and, for different disciplines, there might be more than one acceptable answer. If you are strictly a prone shooter, the length of pull can be a bit longer.

In the past, the “mantra” was to place the buttstock of the rifle in the crook of the elbow. Then, with our “ninja” knife hand extended, we measure to the tip of the trigger finger. Today, I recommend a slightly different approach:

Use this same method, but adjust the trigger to a 90-degree angle and measure to the trigger shoe of the rifle. This confirms you can properly manipulate the trigger without disturbing the lay of the sights.

Setting up the Cheek Weld
Before we set up the cheek weld, we have to mount the scope. The scope should be mounted in the rings ahead of time and can be attached to the rifle, but it should not be tightened.

We will assume the rifle has some form of Picatinny rail on the action. These Picatinny rails will help you set the eye relief, which will determine how we set up the stock. When setting the scope in the rail, it is best not to put it in the last slot at the back. Give room, both in front and behind the rings, so you can move the scope either forward or backward. It should also be noted that you bring the system to you. Don’t try to wrap yourself around the rifle.

Choosing a stock with an adjustable cheekpiece will further assist the shooter in setting up the rifle. Additionally, it will help you get a consistent cheek weld from shot to shot.

We do this by addressing the rifle in the prone position. The shooter should be straight behind it, not at an angle to the stock, with spine in line with the bore. Rest the head naturally on the stock, obtaining a good, solid cheek weld. Looking through the scope, there should be instant edge-to-edge clarity. Shadowing will tell you which direction to move the scope or cheekpiece on the stock.


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Straight Back Behind the Rifle

Being straight behind the rifle is going to pay off down the road. It is going to allow the recoil to move down your body and exit your legs equally. If you are properly squared up (your shoulders straight across, regardless of being in the standing or prone position), the rifle will recoil and return to target. The movement will be minimal, allowing the shooter to maintain sight picture throughout the firing process.

Demonstrating the different variations is important, because not every shooter is built the same. Set up the rifle to the individual, not some arbitrary idea of why—simply because someone else did it that way.
Demonstrating the different variations is important, because not every shooter is built the same. Set up the rifle to the individual, not some arbitrary idea of why—simply because someone else did it that way.

Get into position before mounting your scope. Get a good, natural feel for the rifle in your shoulder pocket, making sure your bipod is correctly adjusted for your body. After your cheek weld is established, put the scope on the Pic rail and bring the sight picture to you. By mounting the scope this way, you get a good, natural position with a comfortable sight picture. Remember, we don’t want to have to work for edge-to-edge clarity.

Natural Point of Aim

In order to establish a good firing position, we want our muscles to be relaxed. When the body mentally perceives recoil, it will subconsciously relax for a microsecond, which can move the rifle to the point where it is naturally aligned. So, if the shooter is forcing the position, even a little, the body will subconsciously steer the rifle off target during firing.

The way to check for our natural point of aim is to align the sights on the target. While in position, go through a couple of breathing cycles with your eyes closed. Upon opening your eyes, see if the sights moved off the target. If the sights have moved, realign the rifle and your body as one unit on the target. Small movements will go a long way here. The movement should come from the shooter’s core and not the shoulders and/or arms.

Taking a couple of deep breaths relaxes the body just enough for the brain to change our position, should it find that position uncomfortable. When we opened our eyes, if the sights are off target, we have to fix this alignment. We call this the “gross adjustment for natural point of aim.”

By practicing getting into position straight behind the rifle repeatedly, one can help shortcut this process by being square, not only to the target, but behind the rifle. Indexing with the legs and the knees, the shooter wants to point his or her body to the rifle, which is pointed at the target. This will help align the shooter quickly and effectively in the field.

Setting up the rifle is the first step in building a solid foundation. When we buy a new car, we adjust the seats and mirrors prior to driving. The rifle needs to be addressed the same way.
Setting up the rifle is the first step in building a solid foundation for long-range shooting. When we buy a new car, we adjust the seats and mirrors prior to driving. The rifle needs to be addressed the same way.

The fine-tune adjustment for natural point of aim is the dry-fire. This will show the shooter if his position is perfect. Given time and opportunity, always dry-fire before going live. If the reticle moves, that is a clue to adjust your position ever so slightly.

How Do We Check for Parallax?

To check for parallax, line up the reticle on a target and move your head ever so slightly, side to side or up and down. Don’t move your head enough to cause shadowing to appear around the edges. Use very small motions to see if the reticle appears to “float” on the target. Just remember, in some optics, focus is not parallax, and being parallax free might put you out of perfect focus.

The scope should be set up in position, placed on maximum power and then fine-tuned in place. At this point, lowering the magnification for different positions will open up the eye relief, thus creating a more forgiving eye box. This minor compromise is necessary because different positions will move the head ever so slightly behind the scope.

Breathing

Holding your breath is the last thing you want to do in long-range shooting. When we are hammering a nail or driving our cars, we don’t think about our breathing. Correct? The same thing applies when shooting a rifle. What we need to know about breathing while shooting is where to break the shot, which is at the bottom of our natural respiratory pause.

Edge-to-edge clarity, with no shading, is key. Be sure you are not hunting for a clear sight picture as you settle behind the rifle.
Edge-to-edge clarity, with no shading, is key in a long-range shooting optic. Be sure you are not hunting for a clear sight picture as you settle behind the rifle.

We all have a natural respiratory pause, even if we’re running with 80 pounds on our backs; there is a bottom of the breathing cycle. That is where we break the shot. If your shot is not lined up right immediately, continue to breathe until it is.

We do not have to tell our body to breathe heavily when exerting ourselves. It just does it naturally. In order to clear out of this condition, we need to breathe more and not less. So, holding your breath in the case of long-range shooting is a very bad thing and does not make the shooter steady.

Trigger Control

Trigger control is defined as “the manipulation of the trigger without disturbing the rifle or the lay of the sights on the target.” Most errors in long-range shooting can be attributed to improper manipulation of the trigger.

The purpose of the firing hand is to manipulate the trigger and hold the rifle into the shoulder pocket. We aren’t gripping it like a handgun; rather, we are holding it straight back to the rear. This requires very little pressure. The shooter should establish a firing position on the stock that starts from the trigger back and not from the stock forward. This is more a mental process than a literal one, because we don’t want people putting their fingers on a live-weapon trigger first. The initial practice should have the shooter visualize the trigger finger before the grip. You can do this during dry practice, which is highly recommended.

We want to place the trigger shoe squarely on the pad of the finger, creating a 90-degree angle with the finger and second joint. This will vary slightly from shooter to shooter, but the goal should be to get the fingernail to point to 9 o’clock for a right-handed shooter and 3 o’clock for a left-handed shooter. This right-angle position should be there before the trigger is pressed and remain there afterward.

Fundamentals translate—regardless of the position. What changes is the amount of practice we put into the task.
Fundamentals translate—regardless of the position. What changes is the amount of practice we put into the task.

When addressing the stock, regardless of the type, we want to make sure the movement of the trigger finger is not touching the stock. The trigger finger should be moving like a hinge—straight to the rear, using our body mechanics to our advantage. If the fingernail starts at 9 o’clock and ends at 9 o’clock, you can rest assured you are manipulating the trigger straight back to the rear.

The three fingers below the trigger finger should be pressing the stock straight back into the shoulder pocket. We want to develop a front-to-back management of the stock. It’s not necessary to engage the thumb. Depending on the stock type, many will lay the thumb on the strong side or use it as a reference point on the stock, putting it in an out-of-the-way place. We call this “floating” the thumb, and it is a perfectly acceptable position, because we don’t need our thumb for the task of long-range shooting.

Follow-Through

“Follow-through” is simply holding the trigger to the rear until the recoil pulse has ended. We don’t want to be in such a hurry that we are rushing for the bolt to reload before the bullet has left the bore. It is possible to disturb the system and cause the round to deviate off target.

Lastly, we want to continue to watch the reticle on the target. Before breaking the shot, a shooter can lose focus thinking about all the fundamentals—one, then another, then another. The last thing we want to mentally think about, and focus on, is the reticle on the target. We need to watch this throughout the entire firing process. Here is where you want to put the bullet. So, it is here you need to focus.

I like to mentally follow the bullet to the target before moving at all. That means a delay in running the bolt. If I’m trying to spot my impact on target, if I start moving, the sight picture will be compromised, and I might miss the result. If I hit the target, I want to know without the aid of a spotter; and if I miss, I really need to know where so I can correct it. Most of the time of flight that we are dealing with is relatively short, so don’t sweat the few seconds we are asking to freeze in place.

Recognizing Time

With trigger control and follow-through working together, we have to recognize time. Every rifle system has a lock time. That is usually applied to the firing pin movement: the time from the trigger break to the primer being hit. However, our lock time does not just apply to the firing pin movement. We have to consider the time it takes for the brain to relay the will to press the trigger to the hand. Different shooters have different reaction times. That can mean a shooter with a slower reaction time using a bigger lead on a moving target. Then, we have to look at the time it takes for bullets to leave the barrel.

Long Range Shooting Fundamentals 7

Your precision rifle is a machine; we are turning on the machine in order to send the bullet downrange to the target. I would submit to you that the shot is not over until the bullet has hit the target or we have confirmed a miss. Stay engaged with the rifle and sights until we’re sure we need a follow-up shot or we are sure the target has been successfully engaged.

Calling Your Shot

All this information is great as a theoretical exercise. But how do we know we are doing it right in our practical application? The best way is with a competent instructor to watch you shoot and correct any errors in your form. The next-best way to know you are doing it right is “calling your shot.”

The tactical shooter needs to ask, “Where are the sights when the shot broke?” It will force the shooter to focus on the sight picture during the critical moment when the shot is fired. Shooting is a game of milliseconds, and if you divert your attention from the target, you risk drifting off target.

In so many cases, shooters will not even notice this. They will establish their sight picture, consider the crosshairs on target and then begin to think about something else. It is during these moments that we miss the movement caused by a poor trigger press or a subconscious shift in our body. We need to carefully watch the reticle so we can answer the question, “Where are our sights during the firing sequence?”

If we have practiced and trained our body to execute the fundamentals correctly, during live fire, the benefits will be immediately apparent. This also extends to positional shooting—from any position. Making this a part of the firing sequence will train you to be more effective.

Editor's Note: This article is an excerpt from Frank Galli's book Precision Rifle Marksmanship: The Fundamentals – A Marine Sniper’s Guide to Long Range Shooting, available at GunDigestStore.com.

Legacy Skills: Becoming A Well-Rounded Long-Range Marksman

What's a legacy skill? Simply the foundational methods of precision shooting. Master them and you'll have a leg up in the long-range game.

In terms of training, we talk about “legacy skills” all the time. To me, legacy skills are the tools that enhance the shooter’s overall proficiency while not being dependent on gear. In other words: You’re solving your precision rifle problem without having to dip into your wallet.

It boils down to training and mindset. Do you invest in a ballistic calculator for your latest smartphone, or will a data book work?

Reticle Ranging

One example from a sniper’s standpoint is reticle ranging. Reticle ranging is a legacy skill because it’s:

  • Slow in a game where speed wins
  • Limited in its maximum effective range
  • Subjective in execution
  • Results will vary with conditions
  • It’s a perishable skill set

Legacy Skill 3

Today, the military uses tools to help when reticle ranging is necessary. Its members practice “rapid target engagements” with their system that translate directly to their reticle. It’s different from my days in the Marine Corps, but it accomplishes the same thing; it just cuts out a few steps.

Reticle ranging is subject to light, angle, target size and color. There’s a host of variables that can skew the results, so we have to practice. It’s a perishable skill that requires sustainment training. When you need it, you want it to be there, so practice is the only choice. The formulas are all over the Internet, but honestly, you use them to create a “cheat sheet.” They’re not for in the field, because they’re too slow. The idea that you can break out a calculator under stress or time is a non-starter. We adapt and practice to speed up the process.

Slings

Slings are another area we consider a legacy skill. It’s one thing to sling up a 7-pound rifle with a 3-9x scope. It’s an entirely different process to shoot an 18-pound Accuracy International with a sling under time with any kind of success. The amount of training necessary would be self-defeating: Our precision rifles have to be supported. Can it be done? Absolutely. But it’s wildly inconsistent without training.

Ask yourself this: Do I want to stand up in the middle of a field and set up a sling? For me? No. I look at things such as cover and concealment, so my first consideration is rifle support.

While re-reading an older article I wrote, I spoke passionately about carrying a tripod. Legacy skills mean I have a tool in my toolbox when all else fails; I have a plan, along with the ability to execute. My skills are up the task without outside influence. It’s not a dollar issue; it’s one of time and training.

Precision shooters need to manage a lot of information. Consider your data book your shooter’s “bible.”
Precision shooters need to manage a lot of information. Consider your data book your shooter’s “bible.”

Sling shooting is beneficial when practiced. But understand the time it takes to build the position and adjust the natural point of aim. I know for a fact that I can deploy a bag or tripod faster. The question becomes, What happens when I don’t have my backpack or tripod?

We shot off of packs in the Marines, because we didn’t have bipods. Slings were necessary for both general qualifying and sniping. A sling can do more than just hold the rifle on your shoulder—but, you have to train.


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Data Books

Ballistic apps/solvers are all the rage. We see new owners buying apps before they even hit the range or own a rifle. Because these apps reside on our phone, many look at them as if they were games—as opposed to the military-grade tools they actually are.

We’ve lost an essential connection to our data by depending on apps. We remember more when we write things down instead of inputting it into the phone. Defaulting to a smartphone to manage all your ballistic calculations creates a “dope disconnect.”

Back in the day, we all had to memorize phone numbers; this was pretty easy, because we manually inputted them every time. Today, we tap the icon or pick a name out of a list, and the phone does the rest.

Our data books are a shooter’s “bible.” We used to have one for every rifle we owned. We were meticulous about monitoring everything— from round count to range details. In fact, I have a retired data book with more information from places such as Gunsite that are still valid today. None of them can be found in any of my apps. It’s more than dope: The targets are plotted out and have yet to be moved.

Data books are crucial for analysis, damage control and barrel conditioning. It’s beyond just serving as a dope book. Fill your data book with any number of true statements, and there’s nothing you can’t accomplish. I love the variety of pages we have (thanks to people such as Tony at Impact Data Books!). To this day, I still use a data book—despite owning every, single ballistic app on the market. In fact, I’d break out a data book before I’d open my phone on the firing line.

Positional Shooting

There’s a long list of legacy skills out there; some of them are discipline-specific.

Modern conveniences and old-school methodology can work hand-in-hand. The author uses a Kestrel on the firing line, but he’s also manually recording the data.
Modern conveniences and old-school methodology can work hand-in-hand. The author uses a Kestrel on the firing line, but he’s also manually recording the data.

One area that’s easy and combines multiple legacy skills is positional shooting. Today, we try to support the rifle off props. Practicing positions with a sling accomplish two things: You learn to manage the fundamentals from alternate positions, and you can work slings and body positions to stabilize the shots.

Working positions is only limited by time. You don’t need a barricade or a tank trap. You can do it in an empty field. Follow the crawl. Walk and then run the model, making sure your execution is perfect. Take the time to analyze and fine-tune each step of the process. It’s not so much when you’re sitting slung up; it’s more about getting into and out of the position quickly and effectively.

For instance, in a NASCAR race, the problem isn’t the straightaway—it’s the turns (where do you enter each turn, and where do you get back on the gas?).

It’s about being a well-rounded marksman. We have plenty of shortcuts in our lives. Look at your shooting as if it were a martial art and master the craft before turning to the tips and tricks. Those will come later.

I want to “own” everything in front of me out to 600 meters, 800 meters, 1,000 yards! Whatever the case, practice makes perfect.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the July 2020 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

.50-Caliber: The Art Of Extreme Long-Range Shooting

A KO2M shooter with his Steyr .50-caliber rifle. The brake is really the difference-maker here so the caliber is manageable over a string of fire.
A KO2M shooter with his Steyr .50-caliber rifle. The brake is really the difference-maker here so the caliber is manageable over a string of fire.

Aiming to shoot 2 miles or further? You need to break out a .50-caliber or other big guns.

Extreme long-range shooting is becoming a popular spectator sport with a host of King of 2 Mile (KO2M) competitions popping up. In the ELR community, the standard is moving to impact a target three consecutive times from a cold bore shot. In other words, you can’t walk into the target; you have to impact it purposefully.

These competitions often start at ranges of about 1,500 yards and then progress out to distances, as the name implies, to two miles. Now, not everyone gets to make the two-mile attempts: This is an elimination race. If you don’t score early and make it into the top 10, you won’t get to attempt the two-mile shots.

I’ve been to several of the King of 2 Mile competitions as a reporter and spoke with many of the competitors about the choices in calibers and equipment they use. This competition grew out of the .50 Caliber competition that’s hosted at the Whittington Center. So, early on, you saw a lot more .50-caliber rifles. Today, the trend has moved to other sporty calibers such as the .375 CheyTac or the .416 from Barrett.

Marine Corps .50-Caliber

Back in the mid-1980s, I was in one of the first Marine Corps units to field the .50-caliber sniper, or SASR. It was a beast of a rifle that was designed by Daisy (yes, the air gun manufacturer), and our rifles were built by Iver Johnson. I remember that name, because my dad had an Iver Johnson .30-caliber carbine from World War II. This .50-caliber rifle felt as if it were going back to that era.

Load development is very important, because it’s the biggest variable you can manage—next to your personal marksmanship skills, that is.
Load development is very important, because it’s the biggest variable you can manage—next to your personal marksmanship skills, that is.

The Marine Corps .50-caliber was big, heavy and had a very short bolt that could be removed from the receiver. Then, you placed a cartridge under the claws of the bolt face to hold it and replaced the entire bolt with an attached cartridge into the rifle to fire. Within the first week, we broke half the scopes on those guns.

Large magnums are not a casual shooter’s rifle. They require a lot of time and energy to master. That said, today, we see shooters doing more with less by reducing the caliber a bit and improving the bullet being shot.

Desert Tech HTI Rifle

I recently worked with a Desert Tech (DT) multi-caliber HTI rifle. “HTI” stands for “hard target interdiction” and is the term used by the military for these big magnums. The DT HTI allowed me to alternate between .50-caliber and .375 CT. In my opinion, the DT platform shines in the HTI calibers. It’s a bullpup-style rifle, so you want the ability to reduce the size of the overall package while keeping all the same barrel lengths.

The Desert Tech rifle allowed me to shoot both calibers on the same day at the same targets. It’s easy to see and harder to put into words the joy of stepping a few dress sizes when launching large projectiles at distant targets. However, I’ll do my best to paint the picture.

‘Smaller’ Calibers

The .50-cal. is an excellent caliber and has been long-serving. However, the punishment inflicted on the shooter is real. The military has guidelines that limit the number of shots it wants a soldier to fire from a .50-caliber rifle. I believe the Air Force limited the number of shots to something like only 10 rounds per day. It was an incredibly small number.

Comparing the Cadex .375CT to any other rifle: This is more in line with a field rifle, as opposed to a big, heavy benchrest style.
Comparing the Cadex .375CT to any other rifle: This is more in line with a field rifle, as opposed to a big, heavy benchrest style.

Because of the price point, people will often jump into a .50-caliber rifle before mastering the smaller ones. Ammunition availability is there; you can find surplus rounds almost anywhere. On top of that, the Hornady 750-grain A-Max is a terrific match round for guys who want to push the distance beyond one mile.


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My point is that you can do it more effectively—and, most importantly—more accurately with a smaller caliber. The .375 CT is an outstanding caliber to push the limits of ELR shooting for a lot less recoil. That matters when you’re trying to squeeze every bit of accuracy out of the system. The time of flight in these shots is very long, so the way to manage it is to speed up the bullet. And the best way to do that is by dropping a little bullet weight.

Turned, solid bullets are the name of the game, so that also means you’re going to spend more money. Solids are the best way to carry the weight and keep the speed up. During a few of the early KO2M competitions, the shooters noticed their bullets were impacting on the cliff face around the targets. But solids don’t shatter like jacketed bullets and, if they went into the crags, you couldn’t see impact. The solution was to jump up to the .416 Barrett.

The incremental gains on the cartridge were enough to manage the recoil and still jump in weight to see the splash at 2,000 yards. You still have to participate in the event: As a result, managing the shooter is every bit as important as managing the rifle system.

The best part of the Desert Tech platform is the turnkey nature of the system. Laid out are the .50-caliber option and the .375CT components. Switching calibers helps prevent costly mistakes from a dedicated platform.
The best part of the Desert Tech platform is the turnkey nature of the system. Laid out are the .50-caliber option and the .375CT components. Switching calibers helps prevent costly mistakes from a dedicated platform.

Does that mean the .50-caliber isn’t competitive? Heck, no! It has all the potential in the world … that is, if the shooter is smart about it. In the case of the .50-caliber, you want to finesse your load: Drop the weight, increase the speed, and get a really effective brake.

Lastly, be aware that many ranges will limit .50-caliber use. You can still shoot your .375 CT beyond the five-second time-of-flight range, given the space. The range personnel won’t say anything when you use it and, compared to the granddaddy of them all, you’ll be treated like a prince.

It’s a great sport. And, because the pace is slower, ELR shooting can be very relaxing.

However, don’t forget to double up your ear protection and put yourself straight behind the rifle to manage recoil. If this is a direction you want to go in, be sure to do your homework, because it’s not cheap: The best loads for this type of competition hover around $9 a shot.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the May 2020 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

Long-Range Hunting: Times And Tactics Have Changed

Use the tripod as a rear support when you have a front rest. The spotter or binoculars can still be in position on the tripod if necessary.
Use the tripod as a rear support when you have a front rest. The spotter or binoculars can still be in position on the tripod if necessary.

It's not 1978 any longer. Long-range hunting is a viable and ethical tactic if you're schooled in the fundamentals of precision shooting.

I lament that in each class I teach, I point out that from the turn of the last century to just before 9-11, precision rifle technology and techniques moved at a snail’s pace. What our grandfathers passed on to our fathers was passed on to us; and, from there, we passed the same thoughts down to our children.

After 9-11, everything changed; it became the new “space race.” Each week, we read about a new way of addressing old problems. As a result, it can be hard to keep up.

I’ve found that there are three types of students that attend long-range shooting school:

  • Those looking to compete in NRL- and/or PRS-type competitions
  • Those looking to be well-rounded marksmen for personal reasons
  • Those who want to be a better, more effective hunter

Addressing the hunters out there: It’s still 1978 for most people. The .30-06 hunting rifle with a low-power scope still works well enough to put meat on the table—so, why change? It’s great to stalk game at close range and feel the rush when you’re surprised by the appearance of a worthy target. The cycle repeats over and over every hunting season.

But, as with the changes to the military sniping program, hunters can learn a thing or two from the current competition and military shooters. We’ve improved our equipment and combined this with a better understanding of what it takes to hit a target from alternative positions. We’ve become increasingly effective engaging targets at extended hunting ranges. No more do you have to rush taking that 70-yard shot; you can sit back and relax while ethically engaging in a 300-, 400- and even a 700-yard shot on living targets. Long-range hunting is a reality.

New Calibers

The new PRC calibers are well-suited for the level of precision and accuracy for long-range hunting. The 6.5 PRC is great for North American game; and, if you want to venture farther north to places such as Alaska, with bigger animals, the 300 PRC can also provide the energy on target to get the job done.

A great way to use a vehicle as a shooting rest is by working with a shooter off the 4-wheeler, taking a Game Changer-style bag and dropping it between the handlebars. It can become a long-range hunting necessity.
A great way to use a vehicle as a shooting rest is by working with a shooter off the 4-wheeler, taking a Game Changer-style bag and dropping it between the handlebars. It can become a long-range hunting necessity.

When you combine these calibers with carbon-fiber barrel technology, you keep the weight low. It allows you to shoot more when practicing, as opposed to traditional, pencil-thin barrels.

Alternative Positions

Alternative positions are the keys to success. No more do we want to take an offhand shot at something. Instead, we can build better positions that take advantage of the terrain in a given area.

Using bags such as the Game Changer on 4-wheelers, logs, branches and rocks can be a lesson in rock-steady shooting. These bags come in a variety of fill weights—starting at 7 pounds (if you’re traveling by horse or 4-wheeler), or, if you’re walking it in, in ounces, because they contain ultralight fills.

We practice these techniques with our students, and the results speak for themselves.

Doping and Prep

Many a hunter returns the following year with tales from afar. Instead of missing that elk at 175 yards, they’re taking them with one shot at 525 yards. I receive e-mail after e-mail relating these success stories.

The fact that a student can, and will, actually dope the rifle to distance (versus using a random hold-off over the target) is one area of focus. Regardless of the setup, you can establish a good, solid, 100-yard zero. Then, after actually doping the rifle, you apply the proper elevation to the shot, thereby guaranteeing a successful long-range hunting engagement.

It sounds simple. Even so, a lot of traditional hunters skip these steps. They’d rather wing it by guessing the inches of drop over the back of the animal.

Bench Shooting

Don’t let physical limitations get in your way either. I don’t force older students or students with physical disabilities in the prone. Rather, I instruct them on better bench shooting and how to properly replicate the other positions using a bench.

Using bags to bridge obstacles: Instead of hard-to-hard surface contact, you can use the bags for hard-to-soft surfaces. The rifles will settle in nicely.
Using bags to bridge obstacles: Instead of hard-to-hard surface contact, you can use the bags for hard-to-soft surfaces. The rifles will settle in nicely.

It’s really easy to square up behind the bench if you treat it as a better-supported position. I don’t follow the “bladed” approach to bench shooting. It keeps your body squared to the support, your head and eyes in line with the target, and works within the fundamentals of marksmanship by using your natural point of aim to your advantage.

Tripods

Lastly, never overlook the versatility of the tripod. If I only had one choice—bipod or tripod—I’d always choose a tripod. Correctly employed, along with a system designed to shoot a rifle, a tripod is your single greatest tool when it comes to long-range hunting and field shooting. You can shoot in a standing position with little to no effort.


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You can set up a tripod over and around obstacles in your path without having to hold the rifle up yourself. A tripod can serve as an observation platform, hosting your binoculars or spotting scope, and then quickly transition to a firing platform. The more we race down the “rabbit hole” of tripods, the more impressive they become.

Bottom line? To be effective, it takes practice—not only shooting—but actual practice. Doing the same thing over and over again, hoping for a better outcome, only happens when you try new things and work to improve yourself. For instance, I can swing a golf club the wrong way a whole lot and, through repetition, I get closer to the hole each time. However, taking a class from a professional instructor would increase my skill level much faster.

Once we educate ourselves on the possibilities, our skill sets will grow through practice and proper execution of the techniques. In other words, we can work smarter, not harder.

Back in the day, the answer was always, “Take a case of ammo and go shoot.” Today, we understand that this is always sound advice—if you have the foundation to work from right from the start. Build a solid foundation with the fundamentals. You can build up your skills from there.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the 2020 Long-Range Shooting issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

How To Buy Or Build A Custom Precision Rifle

The M700 Rifle from Ashbury Precision Ordnance starts out as a barreled action. Then, because they can be adjusted to particular specs, the chassis and other features were added by the author. The color was the main choice here.
The M700 Rifle from Ashbury Precision Ordnance starts out as a barreled action. Then, because they can be adjusted to particular specs, the chassis and other features were added by the author. The color was the main choice here.

If you're going to spend serious money on a custom precision rifle, make certain you get what you pay for.

What Features Do You Need To Consider On A Custom Precision Rifle:

Production, semi-production, custom shop. We have several choices when it comes to purchasing a firearm. Most of the time, I speak about production- or semi-production-class rifles—products you’ll find on the shelf locally. Shooters like to be hands on, so buying rifles sight unseen can be a daunting task.

I’ve been very fortunate in my shooting career to work with some of the very best custom gunsmiths. The custom rifles in my collection have a lot of personality and some deep connections behind them.

Gain-Twist Barrels

Today, I still start with a barreled action—it’s the heart of every rifle. My first step is to decide what caliber I want. Then, I look to Bartlein barrels to customize the twist rate. Today, I’m entirely sold on this company’s gain-twist barrels.

Bartlein, because of its computer-controlled rifling machines, can do gain-twist barrels correctly—which is about a three-quarters transition. This means that for my 6.5-caliber barrels, I use an 8.25 twist at the chamber and finish at 7.5 as my exit twist rate. This small transition puts less pressure on the bullet while enabling on overspin of the twist rate.

Going custom with a full build, a Mausingfield action was put together with an AICS chassis—and an amazing paint job. The Mausingfield is a high-end action, so you’ll end up spending more, depending on its specs.
Going custom with a full build, a Mausingfield action was put together with an AICS chassis—and an amazing paint job. The Mausingfield is a high-end action, so you’ll end up spending more, depending on its specs.

Why a gain-twist? Bullets are the weak link: They’re mass-produced from two dissimilar metals. As a result, the lead can slip under the jacket, thereby deforming it. In most cases, you take this shot to be a flier; in the worst-case scenario, the bullet will come apart midflight. Gain-twist barrels fix this problem.

The other benefit I’ve found is that when it comes to changes in bullet weight, they’re more forgiving. We want to balance the twist rate with the bullet weight. This is where the heavy-versus-light-bullet debate comes into play. I’ve found that the gain-twist barrels end this debate.

For instance, I can shoot 130-grain Prime ammo or use my 136-grain Scenar handload with my 260 gain-twist barrel for my Accuracy International AX. They’re two completely different loads that just happen to zero in the exact same place. And the accuracy? Sub-½ MOA. They only start to deviate from each other after 400 yards, when the weight and BC kick into gear.

This is the benefit of a custom barrel. I can decide every factor—from twist rate to profile or contour all the way to length. In most cases, I feel that 22 inches is optimal for me; in other cases, I might choose 25 inches.


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Action

The caliber and barrel are my first considerations in a custom precision rifle. I then pick an action. I can go super-expensive custom or a little-less-expensive custom. Today, my main go-to custom action is Zermatt Arms’ Origin. The Bighorn action started locally here, in Colorado. It features a floating bolt head that’s also interchangeable. That feature, alone, is worth the $850 price of admission.

The MCM A10 stock is designed for smaller-statured shooters to reach the trigger better; and it fits the rifle to the shooter. Customizing a stock helps with fit. Fit lends to comfort ... and comfort to success.
The MCM A10 stock is designed for smaller-statured shooters to reach the trigger better; and it fits the rifle to the shooter. Customizing a stock helps with fit. Fit lends to comfort … and comfort to success.

I see actions as a delivery device and not something I get overly obsessed with. The best case for me? A three-lug action, because those tend to be beefy (and yes, they also cost more). I also like shorter bolt throws when I can get them.

Trigger

Triggers are the main point of human contact with the rifle, so make sure to spend some time understanding the different options and features of the triggers out there.

Two-stage triggers are my preferred style; I like to marry-up to my trigger shoe so I can’t have it fire with just a look: I want to feel it take up the slack of the first stage, balance against the wall of the second and break on my command. I’m a tactical shooter who’s out in the field a lot. I need a trigger that can handle a certain amount of dirt and debris. Today, I run Trigger Tech or even Elfmann triggers.

There are a lot of choices in triggers, so explore them all and decide which one meets your needs. I’d rather use a 3-pound, two-stage Accuracy International trigger as opposed to an 8-ounce Jewell, but that’s me; it’s what I want.

Stocks

Think of a stock as being the same as your car’s seats, steering wheel and mirrors. How comfortable would you be driving eight hours in a vehicle in which the seat was stuck out of position? Imagine not being able to adjust your mirrors to your needs. Picking the wrong stock for a custom precision rifle is the same thing.

The semi-custom Sniper’s Hide Edition APO M700 comes with a test target to show you what you paid for. At an MSRP of $1,950, this rifle is a winner and has customized features pre-spec’d out.
The semi-custom Sniper’s Hide Edition APO M700 comes with a test target to show you what you paid for. At an MSRP of $1,950, this rifle is a winner and has customized features pre-spec’d out.

Chassis offer off-the-shelf adjustability, whereas fiberglass stocks have to be made to order. Yes, this process takes a lot longer. It’s one of the reasons I think we’ve seen a decline in custom orders from companies that focus on semi-production rifles. This semi-production model is designed to be in the buyer’s hand quickly. Why wait four weeks or longer for a part when the entire rifle can be in your hands in half the time?

The reason is that custom-fit products are comfortable and have a value that transcends money. For instance, the McMillan A10 stock has been designed with smaller-statured shooters in mind; it’s meant to fit me better. I can choose the style and colors. I can add options and accessories that fit my needs.

Make it All Your Own

The point is that you don’t have to take what manufacturers offer. Instead, you can make your rifle all your own.

Custom precision rifles give us a mission and a goal. We research, we compare, and we’re forced to provide an objective to our decisions—what we’re looking to accomplish and how much we’re willing to pay to get it. And, when your custom-designed rifle is done, the sense of pride never goes away.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the April 2020 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

Building A Precision Rimfire Regimen

Perfecting your fundamentlas with a rimfire is the ideal­—and inevpensive—way to train for the big guns.
Perfecting your fundamentlas with a rimfire is the ideal­—and inevpensive—way to train for the big guns.

Take your precision rifle training to a new level scaling down to a precision rimfire.

Rimfire trainers are all the rage right now. A lot of people are buzzing about the growth of precision rifle shooting, not only in the United States, but also overseas. We see a lot of precision rifle-based series expand around the globe. However, none has the impact of the National Rifle League NRL22.

Not too long ago, elements within the Precision Rifle Series broke off and created the National Rifle League (NRL). This division was seen as a West Coast series. One of the first things the series did to separate itself was to add a .22 league—the NRL22. This series flourished immediately and spread across the country.

Shortly after, Vudu .22 rifles started to hit the market. These rimfire rifles mimic our centerfire counterparts. A Vudu .22 will fit into a Remington 700 footprint chassis system or stock and will accept Accuracy International AICS-style magazines, which were adapted to hold .22s. It was groundbreaking for the precision rifle community: We could practice and scale our .22 trainers to operate the same way as our full-sized guns.

NRL22 Events

As far as competition goes, you only need a single 100-yard bay to host an NRL22 event. Most precision rifle events take up a lot of space. This is not an NRA range with paper targets; rather, it’s a more practical type of competition shot across a vast landscape. With a rimfire, whole families can enjoy the sport of precision rifle shooting without going out of their way.

Mentor kids, get them on the range with a rimfire, and you’ll have a future precision rifle shooter in the making.
Mentor kids, get them on the range with a precision rimfire, and you’ll have a future precision rifle shooter in the making.

Today, one-day matches can be found in just about every state. They’re inexpensive to shoot. The course of fire is announced ahead of time, and the NRL supports these matches across the United States. We even see .22 ELR (extended long-range) events, during which shots are taken to 400 yards with a subsonic .22 round.

Shorter-Range Options

To highlight the benefits, the community has created scale factors to replicate long-range shooting with a shorter range. My 6.5 Creedmoor uses 7.2 Mils here, in Colorado, to hit a 1,000-yard target. My Vudu .22 takes 7.2 Mils to impact a 200-yard target, and the wind drift is very similar. It’s an excellent way to practice without spending over a $1 for a single bullet.

For me, the most significant benefit is the ability to invite children into the sport. Shooting sports without a defined path for growth will not survive. Children are the future, so it makes perfect sense to include rifles such as the Ruger 10/22 in the equation. Throw on a Victor Company 10/22 Stock upgrade, and you have a similar feel to a modern tactical stock. There are also some accuracy benefits because of the ability to adjust the action within the Victor Company stock (a fine-tuning adjustment in the rear tang area).


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We know there’s a lot of cheap—or, should I say, inexpensive—rimfire ammunition on the market. For the higher-level competitions, I suggest sticking with quality subsonic variants. Lapua, SK and Prime are the kings of the sport. Subsonic ammunition works wonderfully out to distance.

It’s all about growing the sport: bringing up kids to appreciate and respect firearms.
It’s all about growing the sport: bringing up kids to appreciate and respect firearms.

The design of the .22 bullet doesn’t allow for a good transition from supersonic to subsonic. Because of this, you need to keep them moving at subsonic speeds. A subsonic .22 is accurate beyond 200 yards.

Don’t Skimp on the Scope

We use our expensive scopes for these rifles. I’ve mounted an EOTech Vudu 5-25x optic on my Vudu .22.

Why so much optic? Well, we need the elevation. Because we’re scaled-down inside 100 yards, you need a scope that acts as if it’s shooting at 1,000 yards. Shooters are investing as much with their rimfires as they are with their full-sized precision rifle rigs … but don’t let that fool you either. You want magnification, because a lot of the targets are small. We also need to focus in close with scopes that can manage 10 yards. With higher-magnification scopes, you can power down and focus in on the target. A fine reticle is a big plus too.

A Plethora of Match Positions

You don’t shoot prone for many of these matches; you shoot a variety of off-hand positions that mimic an actual PRS/NRL event stage.

Practice is key to understanding the positions employed: You might shoot off a ladder for one stage and a plastic barrel for another (it’s a carnival-like atmosphere and a ton of fun!). My “Everyday Sniper” podcast co-host, Mike, recently shot a local 250-yard .22 match not very far from downtown Denver. He claimed it was one of the most fun events he has shot in a long time.

The Vudu .22 rifle is the perfect .22 trainer. It offers great accuracy and features that mimic a full-sized centerfire rifle.
The Vudu .22 rifle is the perfect .22 trainer. It offers great accuracy and features that mimic a full-sized centerfire rifle.

Having a creative match director helps: One of the props used was a target on a spring. Once hit, it bounced around like crazy and had to be hit multiple times. It’s a .22 a bunch of fun; there’s no downside.

If you’ve watched the videos, read the articles and thought, Wow, these precision rifle guys have a ton of fun but spend way too much money! I won’t fault you in that observation. We do, indeed, spend a lot of money.

But the growth and expansion of the rimfire industry have changed all that. So, if you want to bond with your children and still enjoy the sport of shooting, get a rimfire. Several companies are now following Vudu’s lead in offering a semi-custom version that uses the same stocks as any other rifle.

And there goes every excuse, right out the window. Get out and shoot!

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the November 2019 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

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