Of all the factors that come into play in achieving long range accuracy, ammunition is among the most controllable. This offers handloaders unparalleled opportunity.
We shooters have long been enamored with hitting distant targets.
The tales of military snipers, making impossible shots at equally impossible distances. Hunting stories in which the intended target was far enough away to measure the distance in city blocks. And the current trend in the hunting shows that game being taken at ranges in excess of 500 yards. All these can imply that it is simple to hit these distant targets.
Allow me to testify that it isn’t.
Long range accuracy requires precision equipment that is well tuned and proven, in addition to a skill set that takes quite a bit of time to acquire. Most certainly you must have a rifle capable of delivering the goods — it needs to be accurate — and optics that not only will give you the clarity and magnification necessary to connect, but that will stand up to the rigors of field conditions. But the ammunition, this is where the deal can be made or broken.
Factory ammunition (especially the match grade stuff) is better than it has ever been, and I’ve seen rifles that will shoot factory ammunition much better than any handload. But, the majority of my experiences indicate that a long-range rifle will shoot best with a well-tuned handload.
That said, a certain amount of care must be taken to achieve the hair-splitting level of accuracy required to hit a bullseye or cleanly take a game animal at longer ranges.
Ethics are a personal thing, and I have my own individual limits regarding how far I will take a shot at unwounded game. Under good conditions, meaning little wind or mirage, I try to keep my hunting shots to within 400 yards. There is unseen wind, energy levels that can fall off rather quickly, and other factors that can affect the bullet’s flight.
Paper is a different story, as the worst outcome from an errant shot is my wounded pride, but it can be a fantastic educator. You can easily get a feel for the level of accuracy required when shooting paper at 300, 400 or 500 yards.
If you’d like to try your hand at the long distance game, think about the game in reverse. Just as tiny variations in trigger squeeze and follow through can send a shot awry, tiny variations in ammunition get magnified at long distances.
Bullet weights should be checked on a balance beam scale, and the projectile separated into lots, using those that weigh the same within 0.1 or 0.2 grains. Cases should be of the best quality, consistently resized — whether full-length or neck sized is your decision — and trimmed to a uniform length.
Primers should also be the best you can get; I like the consistency of Federal Gold Medal Match primers in both Large Rifle and Large Rifle Magnum, but I would suggest some experimentation with different primers. I’ve seen a rifle or two, using identical components and powder charges, become a much better performer when a different primer was used. In the cases I recall a Remington primer was the answer, when a Winchester and CCI didn’t get the job done. Primers can be finicky creatures.
All of your powder charges should definitely be weighed. I know that there are many benchrest shooters that shoot tiny groups when loading by volume, but I feel the best accuracy comes from a powder charge of uniform weight.
Projectiles should have a good Ballistic Coefficient, so as to deliver the flattest trajectory and best defy the effects of wind drift. The long range game is the place where the compound radius ogive and severe boat tail will show their worth.
The chronograph will help you better predict the trajectory of your load. While the reloading manuals are a very valuable guide to predicting the long-range trajectory of your loads, a chrono will give you exact velocities.
I’d also recommend some really good reloading dies, like the Redding Competition Dies. These can give the most repeatable results when it comes to bullet seating, keeping the Cartridge Overall Length to a uniform dimension and minimizing bullet deformation. Measure all of your long range cartridges with a caliper, and set any that don’t quite measure up aside for practice, leaving only the best rounds for distant shooting.
I’ll warn you: the long range game can be addicting, and so can reloading for it!