“Everybody’s got a gun picture.”
My uncle pointed to a glossy 4x6 of himself, decked out in cammies, his arm cradling a wicked-looking AR-10.
With six years in the Marines and an array of awards, he made an impressive picture. Although he was successful in the military, my uncle admitted that he, and many of his fellow Marines, struggled with shooting. One man alone, in his entire unit, went on to become a highly decorated sniper.
My uncle raised the question, What set the sniper apart?
Nothing in life’s pure talent and long range shooting is no exception. Good news is, there are tips, tricks, and methods you can implement to improve long range shooting. So whether you want to shoot long range for hunting, a hobby, or to impress your girlfriend, read on to find out how to hit the bullseye every time.
Tip #1: Scope
I’m going to give it to you straight:
Cheap out on a crappy scope and you’ll have a MUCH harder time nailing long-range distance shots. I remember earlier in my shooting days, I thought higher-quality optics were unnecessary. I learned real soon that I was wrong when I mounted a cheap scope (less than $100) to my AR-10 and took it out for target shooting.
After seeing the results, I decided to never cheap out on an optic ever again. I eventually saved up enough money and invested in a quality AR-10 scope for my rifle. And let me tell you: the investment paid itself off tenfold.
The bottom line? If you want to consistently nail targets at 1,000 yards plus, or if you just want more accurate shots, invest in a quality scope.
Tip #2: Body Position
My chiropractor used to get on me all the time for being tense. Well, tenseness when shooting doesn’t help either. While shooting, focus on being relaxed and calm.
Zero in on these four areas of body position:
Loosen up - Make sure you’re breathing evenly. (And don’t forget to breathe!) If you feel yourself tense up, make a conscious effort to relax.
Get behind your scope - You want to be directly behind your scope. When your rifle kicks back, it will jerk into your shoulder and absorb the impact. Also, you’ll be in the perfect spot to check out your shot or make a second.
Spread legs - Long range is almost always completed while lying on the ground. Spread your legs apart while you shoot. It will dramatically increase your balance and stability (and ground you when your gun kicks back.)
Secured but not strangled - Hold your gun firmly, but don’t strangle it. In a snug grip, you’ll be able to deal with recoil better. Make sure that your cheek fits nicely against the stock.
Tip #3: Timing
Any movement while squeezing the trigger will affect your shot’s accuracy (yeah, it’s kinda obvious.) Breathing, heartbeats, etc. Always wait until that pause at the end of an exhale to make your shot. You’ll be in the most stable, relaxed position.
Tip #4: Check Your Rifle
Two things: don’t shoot with a dirty gun and don’t shoot if you have screws loose (yeah...pun intended).
Dirty guns are less accurate. Powder residue and copper in your barrel are going to mess up a shot, so make sure you clean your gun regularly. Also, check for any wobbly screws and tighten them up.
Tip #5: Wind
Just when you thought you had long range shooting figured out, along comes a factor like wind to really throw a monkey wrench in the works.
Wind changes constantly, and both the direction and speed will affect the trajectory of your bullet. Truth is, the best way to really predict how wind will affect your bullet is experience. Through practice, you can develop a sense for the speed and direction of the wind.
There are also gadgets you can buy to help estimate wind direction and velocity like a Kestrel. However, many experts prefer more “old fashioned” methods such as judging a wind’s speed and direction by the movement of leaves and grass. There are even ways to estimate wind by studying the waves of mirage with a spotting scope.
Shooters who are dead serious about long range accuracy should consider studying ballistics, a topic beyond the scope of this post but very helpful if you are serious about improving your long-range accuracy.
Tip #6: Rests
This ties back to tip number one: your body position.
A rest is crucial to keep your gun stable. Rests don’t have to be expensive - heck, they don’t even have to be yours. Any convenient rock, stump, fallen tree, can be a place to stabilize your rifle.
And while we’re talking about rests, consider purchasing (or digging it out of your basement if you already own one) a cheek rest. Cheek rests make sure that your eye is in the right spot behind your scope. And they’re adjustable so make sure you fiddle with your rest until it fits your face perfectly (that’s called cheek weld).
Tip #7: Fouling Shots
Fouling shots are the first few shots out of your barrel to clean out any residue, oil, or solvents that is left from cleaning the gun. It also smooths out and fills in any slight imperfections in the barrel of your gun. Fouling shots will increase your accuracy and make your shots more consistent. So any time you’re in the field with a clean gun, fire off about 1-5 fouling shots to warm up and smooth out your barrel. Depending on your rifle, one shot might be enough.
Fouling shots are a controversial subject. Many shooters are confused as to why fouling works, but they do it anyway because it just does.
Tip #8: Work Up to Long Distance
Don’t jump from short range to long range. Once you master short range shooting, gradually increase your distance. Work on and improve one area of your shooting at a time. Certain factors (like wind and altitude) affect the velocity and direction of your bullet. It takes practice to develop a knowledge for how factors will affect your shots.
As you can see, a lot goes into making the absolutely perfect shot. (And we haven’t even mentioned bullets!)
With shooting long range, everything boils down to precision. You want every detail, every nuance, to be perfection: bullet type, barrel, scope, body position, wind estimation, breathing, etc. Good news is, with these pro tips, anyone can be a knock-it-outta-the-park long range shooter.
Richard Douglas is a 2nd Amendment supporter and educator on firearms. He’s the founder of Scopes Field, a blog that reviews various firearms and optics. Richard’s work has been featured on large gun publications and magazines like The Daily Caller, ODU Magazine, American Shooting Journal, Burris Optics, SOFREP, and so much more.