Grounding your fundamentals and improving your long-range shooting skills isn't an armchair game. Hands-on instruction and competition puts an edge on your marksmanship.
How To Improve As A Long-Range Shooter:
- Step out of your comfort zone and take a class from a well-established instructor
- Reinforce this instruction in some kind of competition
- Shoot the early competitions with a minimum of gear
- Pay attention to the more experienced shooters' techniques and movements
- Talk to the other shooters to find out how they practice and improve
SHOT Show has come and gone, and unveiled a bunch of new gear for long-range shooting: new scopes, new electronics, new rifles, and new chassis designs. We have seen this scene before — the chase for the latest and greatest in hopes that it makes a difference in results. But, is it the results that matter, or is it more about the journey?
One of the objectives in my precision rifle classes is to guide the shooter on their precision rifle journey. After all, this is an evolving journey because the sport is continually changing. New equipment changes the game monthly. Different teaching techniques and adaptation to the changing demographic landscape has forced us to move in a variety of directions. For this reason and others, I want to take a step back here at the beginning of 2019 and focus on you — the shooter.
The long-range shooting world is full of good and bad shooters. Guys who have learned to adapt their bad habits along with the right equipment and have found some limited success. In talking with other instructors, we see a lot of people looking to shortcut the system by learning the tips and tricks before the trade. Rather than purchasing success, I’d argue that it’s better to evolve and become a more well-rounded marksman.
Training for long-range shooting comes in many forms. There is education you get from a book. There is hands-on instruction, and there is also experience by way of competition. Anyone of these alone is better than nothing, but combining them is divine. A lot of shooters learn by mimicking what they see in images. While the context may be lost, the position looks well enough, so they run with it. Shooting is broken up into disciplines, and those disciplines can each have their context for success. We cross-pollinate a lot, however, and understanding the “why” is important.
More Long-Range Shooting Info:
- Buying the Perfect Precision Scope
- Ballistics Basics: Initial Bullet Speed
- The Effects Of Air Temperature On Bullet Flight
- Mils vs. MOA: Which Is The Best Long-Range Language?
The “why” is vital in the age of the internet. Videos can be edited for success and images can be staged — it all needs a critical eye to weed out the good from the bad. During the breaks in my class, I play a video that has me shooting my precision rifle. The technique has to be impeccable and the hits on target are impressive, but it’s a bit of a lie: It’s actually two videos stitched together, and I explain this in class.
The point here is that you can make anything look impressive if you have some editing skills. While the video seems seamless, it’s actually of two different ranges shot years apart. The color is corrected to match, and the cuts are done in a way that the casual observer has a hard time noticing missing clues. It’s easy to get fooled online. Seeing something done is one thing, but if you know why something is being done a certain way, nobody will get anything over on you.
So, step out of your comfort zone and take a class from a well-established facility or instructor — YouTube doesn’t count. Go hands-on and then, when you are finished, reinforce what you learned in competition. Local or national, it makes no difference, but get out and shoot against others where the rules are written by someone else. When we run our own shooting line, we never set ourselves up to fail — this fact limits our ability to learn on our own.
Finding A Start
Competition is a different animal from training. Training should be designed to establish your technique, and a competitive match will demonstrate to you how to apply those skills. The beauty of the competition circuit is that it will be different enough from most training that you will instantly see the need to attend more than one competition to nail down its unique set of skills. In a match, it’s all about getting into and out of position efficiently while maintaining your focus to get your hits on target. It’s more about your movement, which will then shine a light on the level of your training.
There is a ton of equipment to assist you in a match. Everything from the caliber you choose, to the stock on your rifle — to the bags you carry — will matter. Stay tight and stripped down in the beginning, and don’t default to these tools. Instead, focus on you and the techniques you employ. Your first three matches should involve employing the bare minimum equipment necessary. It might not be pretty, but get over it … and you’ll thank me later.
Local, 1-day matches are the breeding grounds for success. You can likely find one within a 2-hour drive and each comes with no strings attached. Find one and hit it with eyes wide open. Get involved and be curious when attending, paying attention to the techniques and movements more so than the gear employed.
In addition, step back and see how the successful shooters negotiate the obstacles vs. what scope is on their rifle. Too many people focus on the equipment and not the training that goes into success. Ask these guys what drills they shoot at home, not where they bought that tripod. Those will things will be evident by the 3rd match. After that third match you can spend all the money necessary.
Part of my personal focus is on the gear I employ only because I need to speak on it professionally. If I did not have to chase this aspect of the sport, I would be more worried about my training — because that’s most important. Even still, I focus a lot of my attention to my practice, and still it is not nearly enough. My other responsibilities reduce my time, so I know it cuts into yours. Have a plan, stick to that plan and put effort into you first — the equipment can come after. The more you experience, the easier your buying decisions become.
This article originally appeared in the December 2018 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.