With more and more people dipping their toes into the ocean of information out there about long range shooting, it makes sense to talk about some of the essential gear you’ll need if you want to start reaching out to extreme ranges with your rifle.
It takes more than just a rifle and a good scope to hit targets at 1000 yards (or more) consistently, and even the best shooters can be hampered by bad equipment.
Is all of this completely necessary gear? Technically, no. There are plenty of tales of people hitting 2000 yard shots with nothing but iron sights and a pile of dirt to rest the rifle on, but just because it can be done that way, doesn’t mean that’s the best way.
Here are what I would say are the essential pieces of long-range shooting gear and equipment to get the most out of your new hobby, and the most out of your time at the range.
Eye and Ear Protection
We’ve talked about this before, but it’s worth mentioning again. Always shoot with proper eye and ear protection unless you’re in an emergency self-defense situation. That goes doubly so for long range rifle shooters because our guns are often very, very loud.
After your rifle and your scope, your ammunition is going to be the biggest influence on your accuracy, outside of your personal skill level.
Long range precision shooting is all about one thing at the end of the day: consistency. As precision shooters, we try and do everything we can to minimize inconsistency in our techniques, our gear, and of course our ammo.
The best way to do this to handload. Handloading your own ammunition allows you to tailor your ammo to your specific rifle, as well as your specific purpose. Every rifle is different, even within the same make and model, so having a load tailored to your specific rifle can give you huge improvements in accuracy.
If you can’t or just don’t want to invest the time and money into handloading however, that’s fine too! Just make sure you stick to factory match ammo from reputable manufacturers for best results.
Military surplus and other cheap ammo might be appealing, but it’s never going to be as accurate or consistent as premium factory ammo from quality manufacturers like Hornady, Federal, Black Hills, Lapua, or another manufacturer of that quality level
A Way to Spot Your Misses
If you’re shooting targets at 100 yards, you can probably tell where your shots are going even if you miss, but what about 400 yards? 1000?
The further out you reach, the harder it becomes to spot your own misses. This is where a spotter comes in extremely handy. A spotter with a pair of good binoculars, or better yet a dedicate spotting scope, is going to be worth their weight in gold (or at least good brass) at longer ranges because they can tell you where your shots are going.
Spotting scopes in particular are designed to help a spotter see “trace” or the movement of the bullet through the air that becomes more obvious at extreme ranges, making a decent spotting scope a worthwhile investment for any long range shooter.
A Shooting Rest
This item is going to vary greatly based on the type of shooting you’re doing. Benchrest and F-Class shooters will have heavy front and rear rests that are designed to be stationary and placed on shooting benches.
Precision Rifle Series or Long Range Tactical shooters will be more likely to utilize bipods, or even specialized tripods designed for quick deployment.
Hunters might use a bipod, or simply shoot off a pack (a skill I highly recommend all aspiring tactical and precision shooters become familiar with) while using some kind of rear bag.
I personally either shoot off a bipod or pack, with a “squeeze bag” at the rear of my rifle that I can shift and squeeze to change the amount of support I give the stock of my rifle, while still supporting the stock with my non-firing hand.
Whatever type of shooting you’re doing, you’ll want to be as stable as you can, so go with whatever offers the most support and stability, while still letting you move as you need to. Hunters and PRS shooters will need to move more than bench shooters for example.
A Shooting Mat
Unless you’re going to be exclusively shooting from a bench or hunting blind/stand, you’ll probably be shooting from a prone position. If you’re going to do that, I don’t care how tough you think you are, you need a shooting mat.
The ground may look soft and even, but once you’re stretched out and trying to get trying to get comfortable behind your gun, you’ll find every rock, stick, ant nest, and hole in the world. A quality padded shooting mat eliminates these distractions and allows you to focus on making your shot.
Bonus: some of them look really cool, and can pull double duty as a poncho if you’re stuck trekking over five miles of rough terrain in inclement weather and you forgot your rain gear. Ask me how I know.
A Rifle Sling
This is another thing that may not be needed if you’re a bench shooter, but everyone else from hunters to tactical shooters needs a good rifle sling. Your ultralight sporter rifle might weigh under seven pounds, but it’s going to feel more like seventy after a few hours of hiking with it while chasing that perfect pronghorn or mule deer over rough country.For tactical shooters and competitors, a sling can help you stabilize your rifle when shooting off a barricade, and helps when moving between stages and repositioning your rifle. Also, I don’t care how tough you think you are, carrying a 15lb+ rifle around in your hands gets old fast, and keeps your hands from doing other things.
A Good Ballistics Calculator
A ballistics calculator, coupled with information about your rifle and ammunition (velocity, projectile size, ballistic coefficient, etc) can help you estimate windage and elevation holds or scope adjustments that make it possible to get on target much more quickly.
With a good ballistic calculator, especially some of the incredibly convenient smartphone apps, you can even get first shot hits as long as you and your rifle are up to the task.
For more practical shooting, I recommend making or memorizing a “dope card” that gives you your elevation adjustments for every 100 yards or so, and memorizing your windage holds for typical speeds and values.
Other Optional Gear and Final Thoughts
There’s a lot of other gear out there that can make long range shooting easier. I particularly like my portable weather meter that gives me atmospheric info and windage in real time, but the most important thing you can do is to select a quality rifle and optic, and buy lots of ammo to practice with.
Other than that, the equipment on this list will help you get into long range shooting comfortably and conveniently. None of this will make you a better shooter, but they will all make it easier to shoot at the best of your ability. Just don’t think any of this is a substitute for practice, practice, and more practice.