Precision rifle shooting is one of those things that’s easy to get started with, but almost impossible to master, like painting, or being married.
For some, this might be bad news, but for me, I think that’s great. It means there’s always room to improve, to grow, and to learn. While I can’t help you with advanced painting tips, and I certainly don’t have any marriage advice for you, I can definitely help you shoot better at long ranges.
Rifle shooting, particularly long-range precision rifle shooting, has been my passion for years, and during that time I’ve been fortunate enough to learn from some of the best shooters in the world.
Now, I want to pay it forward a little bit and pass on some of what I’ve learned to help you get better too.
These are the things I work on every time I’m at the range with my rifle, and it’s the same things the pros work on too. I’m going to assume you know the basic fundamentals of rifle marksmanship, and you’re looking to build on that to advance to targets that are further away or work toward more consistent groupings.
Let’s get into it.
Mount Your Scope Properly
The most common issue I see with newer long-range shooters, other than technique issues, is an improperly-mounted scope. If your scope is either in a low-quality mount or just isn’t mounted properly, your zero is going to move far too much, your point of impact is going to shift inconsistently, and your shots are going to land all over the place.
Properly mounting your scope in a high-quality mount is one of the key aspects of long-range shooting, and if you aren’t comfortable doing it yourself, you should find an experienced gunsmith to handle it for you, and have them lap your scope rings while you’re at it (they’ll know what that means).
If you’re doing it yourself, be sure to follow the instructions from both the scope manufacturer and the mount manufacturer. For the love of your sanity, make sure you use a proper torque wrench and torque to the right specs or you run the risk of over-tightening and damaging your scope, or leaving it too loose and letting the scope shift around.
Get Comfortable With Your Gun
I don’t just mean learning the ins and outs of how your rife works. You should do that with any gun. What I mean here is that you should get comfortable shooting your gun, particularly from a seated bench rest position and from the prone position.
In both cases, you want to be as comfortable as possible. For bench shooting, you should be seated in a comfortable position, not hunched over and tensed. You should lean forward into the rifle almost like you’re putting your head down on a desk to take a nap at work. Your neck should be loose, and you should be resting your head on the comb of the rifle stock, with a solid cheek weld.
Your head should be in a position where you don’t have to hold it in place, but rather it is being supported by the rifle, and will thus stay in position under recoil, leading to faster follow-up shots and better follow through after the shot.
You should take a similar approach when you shoot from a prone position. Get laid out facedown like you’re going to take a nap. Get comfortable, and into a position where once again you can rest the weight of your head on the comb of the rifle stock. From there, you should be able to get a comfortable grip and reach the trigger without any adjustment.
Practice Proper Trigger Squeeze
Once you’re comfortable with the gun, it’s time to work on proper trigger squeeze. You should be pulling the trigger with very even, gradual pressure, and you should be pulling straight back. Try to practice until you can move just your trigger finger, without any sympathetic muscle movement in your other fingers.
You should have the trigger as close to the middle of the pad of your finger as possible. Too far towards the joint of the first knuckle or too far towards the tip of your finger can very easily push the shot left or right, and can easily cause a miss at longer ranges.
Finally, you should practice with your trigger enough that you know exactly when it’s going to break so you control when the shot goes off. You have to be able to break the shot exactly when you want to.
Use the Best Ammo and Understand Your Ballistics
If you’re a handloader, you already know this part, and you know the best ammo is going to be the stuff you make yourself and tune to your particular rifle. If you’re still buying factory ammo, listen up. You need good, quality match ammo from a reputable brand and you should be shooting one particular load, always and forever.
Switching loads, even within the same manufacturer and same bullet weight can drastically shift your point of impact and will leave you chasing ever-widening groups as your zero won’t be consistent from one range trip to the next.
If you want to really step up your game, you should learn how to handload your own ammo, which gives you much finer control over what you shoot. This lets you tune a load to your specific rifle, which is going to be much more consistent than even the best factory ammo.
I promise, it’s not as hard as it sounds, and for some of the more expensive calibers out there, you can recoup your initial investment in ammo savings in a few years if you are a high-volume shooter.
Once you start moving past the fundamentals of marksmanship, its time to start working on your consistency and overall familiarity and comfort with your gun. This is what will tighten those groups up, and cause your match scores to rise.
Of course, this all applies to hunters, too, so if you’re going after that trophy buck (or whatever you’re after) working on these things will help you shoot more accurately, and at longer ranges.
Whatever type of shooting you’re doing, consistency is key, and these tips will help you get that nailed down quickly. As always, as long as you’re safe, do what works best for you.