Developing Shooting Habits for Success

By Mark V. Lonsdale, STTU

The premise for this paper is that no matter how much you shoot or how many competitions you win, the basic fundamentals of marksmanship remain the same. You never graduate from reinforcing the fundamentals, or as we say, “Being brilliant at the basics.” The only difference between a rookie who has been correctly taught the fundamentals and the championship shooter, is that the fundamentals have become second nature for the pros, ingrained by thousands of repetitions.

So let’s take a look at some useful tips:

  1. Invest in quality equipment – Remember, “Accuracy is the product of uniformity,” or what some shooters call consistency; so if you don’t have an accurate rifle and good ammunition, you can never achieve an acceptable level of success. Think of the rifle as a system made up of the rifle, the scope, the bipod, the ammunition. Then, within the rifle itself, it is a system made up of primarily of the action, barrel, stock, feed system (magazine) and trigger. All of these components affect accuracy and consistency, so the trick is to assemble a system that is a reliable tack driver. For the most part, custom built rifles with match-grade barrels will out shoot off the shelf factory rifles. But there are factory rifles that are sufficiently accurate to get started in most forms of competition or hunting. That said, it is critical that you have a rifle that shoots better than you so that you cannot blame misses or large groups on the rifle. The same is true for ammunition. While there are excellent factory match-grade ammunitions from Federal, Berger, Hornady and Black Hills, hand loads tailored to the rifle will invariably out shoot factory ammo.

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.300 WinMag with a Bartlein Heavy Palma barrel in a McMillan A6 stock, topped with a Leupold Mark 8 scope. Test ammo is Berger factory 185 grain Juggernauts and 215 grain Hybrids 

2. Focus on the fundamentals – These are body position behind the rifle, grip pressure, sight alignment, breathing, trigger control, and follow through (staying in the scope). For the most part, the ideal prone position is a relaxed natural position where the shooter is carrying minimal tension in his or her muscles. This may require seeking out professional coaching, since it is easier for a trained observer to spot flaws in your technique than for you to self-evaluate. However, once you have mastered the fundamentals of a natural shooting position and trigger control, your accuracy, grouping and targets will tell you when you have an issue with your shooting position or technique. One additional point, get away from shooting from the bench except for load development. First master the prone position, then a variety of field expedient supported positions.

Mark Lonsdale Guardian

PRS shooting requires a variety of hasty supported positions, in addition to prone stages

3. Be prepared to shoot a lot – This goes back to the old adage of, “You don’t need a $2,000 handgun – you need an $800 gun and $1,200 in ammunition for training.” When you budget for a rifle, you should also budget for match-grade ammunition or invest in a reloading setup. If you are not shooting hundreds of rounds a month to begin with, you are not developing the muscle memory needed to become a good shooter. Similarly, if you can’t afford to feed a .338 Lapua Magnum or .375 CheyTac, you may want to start with a more economical caliber. For the ELR shooters who do not want to burn out the barrels on their $6,000 rifles, or find the cost per round prohibitive ($6-$10 per round), then use a more economical match rifle for practice. 308 Win, 6.5 CM, and 300 Win Mag are all good training rifles. Many of the PRS shooters will also set up a rifle in .223 Rem to save burning up their 6mm and 6.5mm match rifles. But once you have mastered the fundamentals, then you do not need to shoot as much just to maintain skills. A final note on reloading – while hand loading ammunition is more economical than buying factory ammo, most top shooters reload for improved accuracy and precision and less for cost saving.

4. Frequency is more important than quantity – Understand that frequency and quality of shooting is more important than quantity. In other words, shooting 20 to 50 rounds every week in a discipline training program is more beneficial than shooting 200 rounds once every two or three months. The reason for this is that you are developing and reinforcing neuro-muscle memory and good shooting habits through repetition. You also need to ensure that you are not shooting so much that you become lax and develop bad habits. On the same note, there is not substitute for shooting in matches. A new shooter will learn more in one match than in ten informal range sessions. He or she will also find the other competitors in their squad friendly and helpful.

5. Dry fire – The value of dry firing practice is an inexpensive way to work on shooting positions that also allow the shooter to observe trigger release through the scope. This is similar to the “ball and dummy” drill used in pistol training. When looking through the scope, and holding the crosshairs on target, any movement off the X during trigger release is indicative of problems with trigger control. In addition, when working on different supported shooting positions, the crosshair dancing around on the target gives immediate feedback on how stable the shooter is in that position. (Safety Note: Always ensure the rifle is unloaded before dry firing – check and double check)

6. Be confident in your shooting ability – This is not the over-confidence of a chest beating big ego, but the knowledge that you can produce the required precision and accuracy on demand. If you are laying behind the rifle and “hoping” that you hit the target or shoot a good group, then you lack the confidence that comes with experience. If you have done the required amount of practice, and have the rifle and ammo squared away, then you should “know” what you can do before you even pull the trigger. When you allow doubt to creep into your thought process, then your mental game is shot (pun intended).

7. Be honest with yourself – If you throw a flier or shoot a group that is over 1 MOA, then log it accurately in your data book. Don’t make the mistake of focusing on your best shot or best group of the day. To many shooters crow about the half-MOA group they shot, when all the other groups were more like 2 MOA. Rather, spend time studying the worst groups and worst shots to identify the problem and see how you can improve in the future. Remember, the goal is not to just hit the X ring, but to figure out why you threw an 8 or worse. The same is true for cold bore shots. Many shooters may find that their first shot of the day is a miss or outside the expected group, but this may not be the rifle. It may be that the shooter is cold and not in a perfect position. Your data log book is a valuable tool, but only if it accurately reflects the performance of your rifle, ammunition, and your personal ability.

122618 Berger 185-215

Every group tells a story when testing different ammunition loads. All should be recorded and logged for future reference. 

8. Never stop learning – Part of being a serious shooter, and not just a plinker, is a ceaseless quest for improvement and innovation. A good example is the evolution in shooter friendly ballistic solvers and supporting peripherals in the last 10 years. Probably the three biggest advancements in these shooting tools are Applied Ballistics analytics, the Kestrel 5700 Elite with AB, and a selection of compact, reliable laser rangefinders. The Garmin Foretrex 701 GPS loaded with AB ballistics is another useful tool in the field, especially for the hunter or warfighter.

Mark Lonsdale Shooter 20190628

Tools of the trade for long range shooting – an accurate rifle, hand loaded ammunition, a reliable chronograph (Labradar), and a ballistics solver that tracks changes in the environment (Kestrel 5700 with AB solutions) 

9. Keep an open mind – With the recent developments in rifles, calibers, cartridges, and bullets, be open to superior systems and calibers. While the 308 Win., 300 Win Mag., and 338 Lapua Magnum are still relevant, it is worth investigating 6.5 Creedmoor, 300 PRC, 300 Norma Magnum, and 338 Norma Magnum to see if they better meet your long range needs. While it is not necessary to run out and buy every new caliber that comes down the pike, it is worth taking the time to do some online research, find an opportunity to shoot them, and then make comparisons. The same is true of optics. Leupold and Nightforce have both made advances in superior long range optics suited to competition, hunting, law enforcement and military applications.

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MK13 MOD7 clone, .300 WinMag, built on a Stiller’s action, topped with a Nightforce 5-25x56mm ATACR, similar to the current rifle used my Marine Corps snipers.  

10. Keep your training interesting – All too many shooters go to the range with no defined goals and shoot just for fun. Having fun is important, but working on issues from the previous range session is more important. Let’s say you were shooting great at 100 yards but struggling at 300 yards, then work on your 300 yard shooting. The same is true out to 600, 1,000, and 1,500 yards. A shooter with a new rifle or ammunition will also want to begin with a solid 100 yard zero and then begin collecting data at longer ranges. The goal is to validate the data from your ballistics solver (Kestrel with AB solution) and to establish the limitations of the rifle, caliber, scope, and shooter. Hitting steel plates at progressively longer distances is both satisfying and fun.

Team GPG Mark Lonsdale

Team Global Precision competing at an ELR match in Raton, New Mexico. We would not be able to score hits at 1,500 to 3,500 yards without Applied Ballistics analytics, Kestrel 5700s with AB, and Garmin 701 GPSs 

11. Be open to advice from informed professionals – If you’re on a public range or department range and look across at another shooter’s target and see that he or she is absolutely drilling it, maybe there is an opportunity to learn some. In most cases you will find that accomplished shooters are willing to share their knowledge and make suggestions on how you can improve your performance. It may be something as simple as a change in equipment or ammunition, to how to better run the ballistics in your Kestrel. More than once a shooter has asked me for advice on the range, usually because they are struggling to hit what they shoot at. All too often I will find that their scope is incorrectly mounted, they are using cheap bulk ammunition, they are resting the barrel on a hard surface, or they have no concept of squeezing the trigger as opposed to jerking the trigger. All rookie mistakes that are easily corrected with a little constructive advice.

For many of you, much of what has been covered here is old news, but there may be one or two points that gave you cause to think. But for many rookie shooters, much of this is new, so feel free to share it with your friends or shooting club.

HAVE FUN & BE SAFE

END

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.308 Win tactical rifle built by Robar on a 700 Rem action, Bartlein barrel and McMillan A3-5 stock. 

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Posted in 375 CheyTac, 416 Barrett, Cutting Edge Bullets, Designated Marksman, ELR, Mark Lonsdale, Precision Rifle Shooting, PRS, Reloading, Remington 700, Rifle Shooting, Sniper, STTU, Tactical Rifle Shooters, Team Global Precision | Leave a comment

DON’T GO UNDER GUNNED

By Mark V. Lonsdale, STTU

So what does it mean to be under gunned?

Much of this discussion is situation dependent, but in short, under gunned means that the firearm that you are carrying or selected lacks either power, range, or capacity for the intended use.

For example, a defensive handgun is convenient for every day carry (EDC), but probably not what you would choose if you were knowingly entering a dangerous situation. One thing that is accurate in many western movies is that the sheriff grabs a shotgun or Winchester when about to confront the bad guys.

Marlin Guide 45-70

Marlin Guide Gun in 45-70 Govt. A truly hard hitting brush gun. 

There is an old expression, “never take a knife to a gunfight” but it is also true to not intentionally take a handgun to gunfight. If you have ever been on a shooting range (or in combat), when someone is shooting a handgun and everyone else is shooting rifles, the difference in power is dramatic. The handgun sounds like a pop-gun compared to the boom and crack of the rifle rounds. If you also look at the impacts on steel targets, 308 Win hits much harder than 9mm or even 45 ACP, and .300 Win Mag hits harder than .308 Win at long range.

So if you have the choice, and know you are going in harms way, then a 12 gauge or semi-auto rifle would be a better choice. The length of the shotgun or rifle would also be influenced by the environment or terrain. For close quarters urban fighting, a 10” to 14” barrel may be optimum, but for rural outdoor environments, a fully length 16” to 22” barrel would be a better choice.

On the topic of caliber, when SWAT teams and CT teams were embracing the H&K MP5 in the late 1970s and early 1980s, many traded in their M-16s for the handy, compact MP5s. But in doing this, they gave up their 100 to 400-yard capability of the 5.56mm (.223 Rem) for a 9mm pistol cartridge more suited to 25 to 50 yards. This became evident during a hostage rescue operation in the 1980s when the rescue team, armed with 9mm MP5s, began taking enemy rifle fire from 300 to 400 yards. This type of event resulted in almost every SWAT team going from the MP5 9mm to the M4 5.56mm and its numerous variations.

Load out

For the conventional military application, the M16 5.56mm became popular in the jungle environments of Vietnam where ranges were relatively short and the ability to carry more rounds was considered important. Precision engagement of individual enemy soldiers was replaced by squad and platoon-level mass fire into the jungle or night. Statistically, tens of thousands of rounds were being expended for each confirmed kill. But in embracing the 5.56mm, the deep thinkers in the Pentagon were neglecting the probability of future conflicts in more open terrain.

The open terrain of Afghanistan requiring effective engagements out passed 600 meters

Therefore, when our war fighters entered Afghanistan and Iraq in 2001 and 2003, it quickly became apparent that the 5.56mm round, in the hands of the average grunt, was not very effective out passed 400 yards. As a result, 7.62mm M14s were dusted off and refurbished as designated marksmen rifles (DMR), soon to be replaced by the M110 on the SR25 platform. Initially, designated marksmen were one for each platoon, but have now been pushed down to the squad level. There is also a range of more suitable rifles such as the Heckler & Koch HK417 (7.62x51mm) complete with optical sights by Leupold, Nightforce, and SIG.

HK SDM-R

H&K DMR rifle 

For the hunter, it would be considered unethical to hunt with a rifle that lacked the accuracy, range, or power to kill cleanly. While there are numerous stories of large game being taken with a .22 rimfire, these are the exception and still have a high potential for losing a wounded animal. Similarly, when hunting dangerous game, the hunter needs to know that the animal will be dropped in its tracks, and this requires a more powerful cartridge. There is a reason that the .375 H&H is one of the most popular calibers with hunting guides in Africa, and rapid second shot follow-up should be a smooth, practiced skill.

Rem 700 375 HH

Remington 700 .375 H&H 

This brings up one of the most common questions found on Facebook shooting pages – “what is the best caliber for hunting?” As you all know, there is no one answer since it depends on the type and size of game, the anticipated distances, and the ability of the shooter. Having talked to numerous hunting guides, and watched hundreds of would-be hunters zeroing their rifles for hunting season, it is fairly obvious that all too many hunters have little to no fundamental shooting skills. They probably had no formal instruction and don’t practice regularly so their accuracy sucks. So instead of asking, “what caliber” they should be asking, “how many rounds should I shoot in practice prior to hunting season?” or “where can I get good instruction prior to hunting season?”

Back to the topic of caliber, traditionally two calibers that have harvested almost any game in North America are 7mm Rem Mag and .300 Win Mag, but in more recent years, newer calibers such as 28 Nosler, 30 Nosler, 300 Norma Mag, and 300 PRC have gained popularity and acceptance.  In short, when you hit an animal, you want to see it physically shudder and drop, or stagger several yards and drop. This comes down to shot placement and energy dump, a result of bullet weight, construction, and velocity. Given the choice, the goal should be to be slightly over-gunned than under gunned, but whatever you choose, shot placement is everything, and this requires practice at the distances you plan to hunt. Therefore it would be unethical to only practice at 100 yards and then attempt shots at 600+ yards without a proven ability at long range shooting.

For long range competition shooting (800 to 1,000 yards), there are several light calibers, in the 6mm range, that are deadly accurate under ideal conditions, but when the wind is blowing, most top shooters opt for the 200, 210, 215 and 220 grain 30 caliber bullets. For decades I shot 190 grain Sierra Match Kings (SMK) with considerable success at 1,000 yards, but now my long range bullets of choice are the Berger 185 Juggernauts, 200 grain Hybrids, and 215 grain Hybrids – all worth checking out. The military has leaned the same lesson by now running the 220 grain SMKs in their .300 Win Mags, such as the Marines’ Mk13 Mod 7.

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.308 Win long range rifle (600-1,000 yards) built on the McMillan A5 stock with a Heavy Palma Bartlein barrel.  

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Mk13 Mod7 clone built on a Stiller’s MK13 action and Bartlein barrel in .300 Win Mag, utilizing the Berger factory 185 Juggernauts and 215 Hybrids. The Federal Gold Medal 190 SMKs used as the standard by which other factory ammunition is evaluated. 

Extreme long range shooting (ELR), out passed 1,500 yards, has further illustrated the importance of heavy bullets with a high ballistic coefficient (BC), pushed at adequate velocity,  for effective target engagement. While many smaller bullets may go the distance, their loss in energy and velocity results in tumbling and erratic performance. The light bullets are also adversely affected by even light winds. There is a reason that .375 CheyTac and .416 Barrett are dominating ELR shooting. Their heavier bullets, such as Cutting Edge 400 and 550 grain Lazers respectively, not only hit hard at 2,500 to 3,500 yards, they maintain energy, stability, and wind bucking ability.

Mark Lonsdale Shooter 20190628

.416 Barrett ELR rifle built on a BAT action, Bartlein barrel, in a McMillan Beast-2 stock. Ammunition is the Cutting Edge 550 grain bullet loaded into Barrett/Ruag brass with VihtaVuori powder

To wrap this up, when you are expressing an opinion on Facebook about “the best caliber,” give some careful consideration to the type of competition, game, and distances involved. The choice for a small deer is not the same as the ideal caliber for a massive elk or grizzly bears. Similarly, hunting in North America is not the same as hunting dangerous game in Africa. For defensive purposes, a 9mm for EDC is convenient and better than nothing, but it is not the weapon or caliber of choice for intentionally going in harms way.

On a positive note, you now have a valid reason to purchase multiple handguns, rifles and shotguns for various applications such has defense, competition, or hunting.

BE SAFE OUT THERE

END

Posted in 375 CheyTac, 416 Barrett, Cutting Edge Bullets, Designated Marksman, ELR, F-TR, Mark Lonsdale, Precision Rifle Shooting, Remington 700, Rifle Shooting, Sniper, STTU, Tactical Rifle Shooters | Leave a comment

ELR Shooting & Half Value Adjustments

By Mark V. Lonsdale, STTU

Team Global Precision – Derek, Paul & Mark

One of the (many) potential mistakes made in ELR shooting is over compensating for a miss and then missing again but in the opposite direction. This can result from making a full-value adjustment instead of a half-value hold or adjustment

For the purpose of this discussion, we will be engaging a steel plate at 2,000 yards and making the the assumption that the shooter, rifle, and ammo are capable of at least MOA accuracy at that distance (approx 20″ group at 2,000 yards).

Target 2 Group

With a steel plate that is roughly 24″ x 40″ this is what a 20″ group would look like. Keep in mind that the shooter has no way of predicting where a shot will fall within that group. It could be on the very left side of the group or very right side of the group, or high or low.

Now the shooter’s first shot is off the right edge, possibly because of an unseen wind shift from 9 o’clock, and the spotter calls for an adjustment and says, “Aim left edge”

Target 3

Shooter aims center but first shot misses to the right — however, the shooter does not realize that the shot was already on the far right edge of the group. Had it been centered or left of center, the shot would have hit the plate. This is the random nature of large groups at longer ranges. 

Target 4

Shooter makes a full-value adjustment to the left edge of the target

The problem with this full-value adjustment is that the shooter is thinking of the shot as a single point of aim rather than the center of a 20″ group.

Target 5

By using a full-value adjustment, the shooter risks missing off the left edge since over half the group could be left of the point of aim.

The solution is to use a half-value adjustment to the sights or hold. The goal being to keep the entire random nature of the grouping within the steel target.

Target 6

By making a half-value adjustment, the shooter has increased the probability of a second round impact on the steel target. 

Try this the next time you are hunting steel at extreme long ranges, and remember, carry a mental image of the size of your group at the target distance.  The other important requirement is a good spotting scope and spotter. If he or she can’t see your misses, there is no way of knowing how to adjust sights or point of aim.

END

Mark Lonsdale .416 Barrett

.416 Barrett built on a BAT action and Bartlein barrel in a McMillan Beast-2 stock. 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in 375 CheyTac, 416 Barrett, Barrett Firearms, Cutting Edge Bullets, ELR, Extreme Long Range Shooting, Mark Lonsdale, Peterson brass, Precision Rifle Shooting, Reloading, Rifle Shooting, STTU, Tactical Rifle Shooters, Team Global Precision | 4 Comments

FCSA ELR Matches in Raton, NM

This week was the first major competition for Team Global Precision competing as a team. Paul and Derek have been competing together in both FTR and ELR matches for years, making Mark the new addition to the team.

Team GPG Mark Lonsdale

Team Global Precision – Derek Rodgers, Paul Phillips, Mark Lonsdale

The first match was the 2019 Fifty Caliber Shooters’ Assn (FCSA) ELR Record Match at the NRA Whittington Center in Raton, NM. For those who have never been to the Whittington Center, it is well worth the visit and annual membership is very affordable.

FCSA Raton

Site of the FCSA ELR Record Match at the NRA Whittington Center in Raton, NM

The ELR record match was shot on the south range with targets at 2,300, 2,585, and 2,725 yards. Weather was cold and clear but wind was brutal. The 40F temp was sufficient to slow my muzzle velocity from 3,000 fps to 2,950 fps with my .416 Barrett.

Mark Lonsdale .416 Barrett

Mark Lonsdale’s .416 Barrett with a BAT action and Bartlein barrel, bedded into a McMillan Beast-2 stock by Alex Sitman, and topped with a Nightforce ATACR 7-35x scope. Ammunition is Cutting Edge 550 grain Lazers loaded into Barrett/Ruag brass and pushed by VihtaVouri powder.

Proof that the wind conditions were tough, no one scored hits on all three targets in round one, and only four shooters scored hits at 2,725 years. Being one of this successful shooters earned me 3rd place, but it was definitely a team effort with Derek spotting and Paul calling wind. In round two later in the day, only one shooter scored a hit on the record attempt target at 2,300 yards.

Mark-Lonsdale 3rd

Team Global Precision’s Mark Lonsdale taking 3rd place in the FCSA ELR World Record Attempt Match, Raton, NM

The next day, Team Global Precision shot in the FCSA 1.5 Mile ELR Match. Round 1 targets in the morning were at 1,040 yds, 1,080 yds, 1,380 yds, and 1,801 yds. Round 2 were at 1,040 yds, 1,991 yds, 2,267 yds, and 2,650 yds – all with strong, gusting and rapidly changing winds.

FCSA Targets

The 1,040 yard target was the 10” cold bore gong, and all three members of Team Global Precision successfully hit this with their morning cold bore shots. That is pretty good considering the gong is smaller than 1 MOA at over 1,000 yards.

As part of the preparation for both matches, on the first day team members chronographed their loads early in the morning at 40F temps, and then again in the afternoon at 60F temps. There was a 25 fps difference in muzzle velocity. For my rifle it was 2,950 in the morning and 2,975 fps later in the day as things warmed up. An accurate MV is critical to long range shooting and needed for input into the Kestrel 5700 or Applied Ballistics analytics.

GPG Kestrel Garmin

Team Global Precision, Derek Rodgers, Paul Phillips, and Mark Lonsdale, all utilizing the Kestrel 5700 and Garmin 701 Foretrex loaded with Applied Ballistics solvers. 

After the first day of the FCSA 1.5 Mile ELR match, Derek was in 2nd place, Mark in 3rd, and Paul in 5th, however some excellent shooters on Day 2 knocked us down the score sheet with Steve Ream taking top honors. The conditions were warmer but the wind was not cooperating. We had winds gusting well over 15 mph from 6 o’clock (behind), but as they hit the base of the mountains, the winds created an up slope updraft that caused shots out passed 2,000 yards to go high. But just when you thought you had that wind doped, it would switch to a gusting 9 o’clock (left to right) pushing bullets 20 feet to the right. A very challenging day but good practice for Ko2M next month.

Lonsdale Mark Day 2

Team Global Precision preparing to shoot the FCSA 1.5 Mile ELR Match. Mark Lonsdale shooting, Derek Rodgers spotting, and Paul Phillips calling wind. 

Special thanks to FCSA, Randy Powell, Walt Wiltinson, and Shane Saavedra for making this match a great success.

END

Posted in 416 Barrett, Barrett Firearms, Cutting Edge Bullets, ELR, Extreme Long Range Shooting, Mark Lonsdale, Rifle Shooting, STTU, Tactical Rifle Shooters, Team Global Precision | Leave a comment

Reloading for Long Range and ELR Shooting (Simplified)

By Mark V. Lonsdale

Your reloading process should begin by clearing the bench of any powders or primers from the previous caliber being loaded. More than a few shooters have had nasty accidents by loading the wrong powder and blowing up their guns.

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The powder keg behind the hopper serves as a reminder of which powder is in the measure. This bench is set up left to right – case prep, priming, powder measure and scales, bullet seating

The next step is to inspect all the components, beginning with the brass, paying particular attention to the neck and primer flash hole. With virgin brass I will use a mandrel to clean up the roundness of the neck and then de-bur inside and outside. Serious shooters may also sort their cases and bullets by weight prior to beginning reloading.

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Powered de-burring tool used to clean up the case necks before priming 

After priming, I set the measure to throw two or three tenths of a grain less than the targeted load. For example, if my load is 135 grains for 375 CT, I will be throwing 134.7 or 134.8 grains and then making up the final 0.2 with the trickler to exactly 135 grains. Slow, but simple and accurate. There are more expensive options but this seems to work for me.

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Manually trickling up to exactly 135.0 grains 

After adding the powder, visually verify that there is powder in each cartridge before seating the bullet. The last thing you need is to jam a bullet in the barrel with just the primer when there is no powder in the case. The cartridge overall length (COAL) may be driven by the magazine dimensions, if shooting a magazine fed rifle. But if shooting single shot, then 0.020″ off the lands is a good starting point for OAL development.

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Using Whidden dies in an RCBS Rock-chucker Supreme to seat Cutting Edge 400 grain Lazers into virgin Peterson brass. 

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The finished product. 50 rounds of 375 CheyTac running Cutting Edge 400 Lazers in Peterson Cartridge Co. brass

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The press to the right is a Lee Precision (90998) 50BMG to load .416 Barrett. Saves time by having a press for each caliber and only $106 for the press on Amazon. 

A note on safety. Reloading, like skydiving, is not an activity that should be approached casually or absentmindedly. A lapse in judgement can be fatal.

  1. Before getting into reloading, do your homework and background reading.
  2. Have a competent reloader teach you how to reload safely. There are also several good videos on YouTube.
  3. Organize your reloading bench and work with a calm, organized approach.
  4. Keep a log and detailed notes on each caliber, to include case length, type of primer, powder charge, lot numbers of powder and bullets, and seating depth (COAL). Then log any changes in accuracy seen with each load.
  5. Do not push the limits when starting out. Begin with a load that is well below the recommended maximum; then work your way up to the required velocity and accuracy.
  6. Don’t be in a rush to develop a load. Take your time and do it right.
  7. Use a quality chronograph in conjunction with your load development. This will give you a direct readout of Extreme Spread (ES) and Standard Deviation (SD). Low ES and SDs equates to low vertical spread on the target at longer ranges.
  8. You cannot develop accurate loads with an inaccurate rifle. Have a realistic expectation as to the accuracy you can expect from a lightweight factory hunting rifle versus a custom heavy barrel target rifle.
  9. You cannot develop accurate loads if your foundational shooting skills are poor. If you are a novice shooter, take a class and get some coaching from a competent shooter.
  10. If you are getting into ELR shooting, you will find the other shooters very helpful, but before you post rookie questions on facebook, do your own research. Google is an incredible tool for ballistics research, as are the books from Applied Ballistics

Finally, loading your own ammunition can be very satisfying, especially when you see the improved accuracy over factory ammunition. There are cost savings too, but most reloaders are loading for accuracy not cost.

END

 

 

Posted in 375 CheyTac, 416 Barrett, Barrett Firearms, Cutting Edge Bullets, ELR, Extreme Long Range Shooting, F-TR, Lee, Mark Lonsdale, Peterson brass, Precision Rifle Shooting, PRS, RCBS, Reloading, Rifle Shooting, Sniper, STTU, Tactical Rifle Shooters | 6 Comments

LONG RANGE PRS – LESSONS LEARNED

The Good, the Bad & the Ugly

Last weekend, Derek Rodgers and I had the pleasure of being invited to shoot in the Guardian Long Range Competition Shoot at Big Sandy AZ, as Team McMillan/ELRHQ. This was the first Long Range PRS event for both of us so definitely turned into a learning experience.

Derek and Mark, with Team McMillan / ELRHQ, scoping out the stages at the Guardian Long Range Competition in AZ

Supported by several major manufacturers including McMillan, the Big Sandy range, and the NRL, this match was a huge success, but more importantly, it was fun. Organized and managed by Britainy McMillan and her team of Guardian angels, the match went off flawlessly and the comradery and sportsmanship of the shooters was exemplary. The dedication and support of the RO’s who donated their time was also noteworthy.

Mark Lonsdale Guardian

Mark Lonsdale shooting one of the stages at the Guardian Long Range Competition in Arizona, Dec 2018 

Both Derek and I went in somewhat ill-prepared for this event, since this was a first. As with any form of competition, a shooter needs to actually shoot a couple of matches to gain an appreciation for the rules, format, mechanics, and unique pieces of equipment. Never the less, there is still a lot of satisfaction from the “run what you brung” attitude and no match pressure. But speaking for myself, buying factory ammo from a gun shop in Kingman, AZ, on the way to a match, is not exactly match preparation. When I was first invited by McMillan to shoot, I had committed to practicing for a couple of months before the match, unfortunately I was traveling overseas and out of state right up until the week before the match.  But it was not all doom and gloom.

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6.5 Creedmoor in a McMillan A6 stock topped with a Leupold Mark 5HD 5-25x56mm. Barrel is a Bartlein medium Palma profile, 1:8″ twist, cut to 24″ by Robar with Roguard finish

Things that went well:

  1. Excellent rifle: Even though I had not attended a Long Range PRS match, thinking ahead, I had put together a rifle that would be suited to this type of shooting. I went with an Atlas Tactical action with a Bartlein Medium Palma profile, 1:8” twist, cut to 24 inches with an APA brake, all loaded into a McMillan A6 adjustable stock. I selected 6.5 Creedmoor since some government agencies are going to this caliber in the near future and I wanted to collect data for future training programs. However, based on what the top shooters are using, 6mm seems more popular because of the reduced recoil, less muzzle jump, and quicker follow up shots.
  2. Good choice of scope and reticle – I decided to use this match to test a new Leupold Mark 5HD 5-25×56 with an H-59 tactical milling reticle. This scope turned out to be a good choice, but I ended up shooting most of the match on 13X which made it quicker to acquire targets. Night Force and Vortex also have excellent scopes for this type of shooting, particularly the NF ATACR.
  3. Good choice of factory ammunition – I had initially planned to shoot hand loads and had done quite a bit of testing with Berger 140s, Sierra 140 SMKs, and Hornady 140 ELDs. All shot extreme well, grouping 0.5” to 0.8” at 100 yards. But when the crunch came I had run out of time so grabbed several boxes of factory Hornady 140 grain ELD Match, which I knew shot 0.5” out of my rifle. This is what I used for the match.
  4. Excellent ballistics program – For the past 18 months I have been running the Applied Ballistics Analytics for ELR shooting with good success, so was confident using this for Long Range PRS. The range card that I ran the day before the match was within hundredths of a mil on range day so I had a lot of confidence in my dope. The match had eleven targets between 700 and 1,300 yards, engaged from various shooting positions, so reliable dope was essential.
  5. Excellent choice of ballistics solver – I have been running the Kestrel 5700 Elite with AB solutions for ELR so used this to confirm my range card dope on range day. In addition to capturing wind dope, with changing temperatures, density altitude, and direction of fire, the Kestrel was essential to confirming and fine tuning my firing solutions in real time.
  6. Shooting bags – I went into this match with three bags: a Wiebad mini Fortune Cookie, a Wiebad Tac-Pad, and an Armageddon Game Changer. These worked well for what they are designed, but there is definitely room to add some more bags to my inventory of options.
  7. Backpack – I had selected an Eberlestock FAC Track pack since I knew we would be moving from stage to stage all morning. This worked out to be a good choice with the correct volume to carry all my bags, ammo, water, snacks, range finder, tools, etc.
  8. Spotting Scope – A spotting scope is an important tool for LR shooting and my 30-year old Leupold Mark 4 12-40x spotting scope worked out perfectly. Apart from clear optics and a mil-dot reticle, this scope has been traveling with me for three decades and has proven to be reliable under a variety of conditions. Kowa, Vortex and Swarovski also make excellent spotting scopes.
  9. Coaching and Spotting – Since this match catered to new shooters, spotting and coaching was encouraged between shooters on each squad and by the RO’s. This was a pleasant change from other shooting sports where individuals are focused on winning and not apt to share tips that may help another shooter. Novice shooters were also encouraged to make their lack of experience known to the RO’s so that they could coach them thru the course of fire.

Backpack, Leupold spotting scope, and an assortment of bags

Things that did not go so well:

  1. Time limits – Every stage of the match had a 2-minute time limit, which meant that whether you had all your shots off or not, the ceasefire was called at 2 minutes. This meant we lost a lot of points on targets that were never engaged. 2 minutes is ample time when shooting at 100-400 yards, but when the majority of the targets are at 600 to 1300 yards, 2 minutes becomes a struggle to engage four targets with 2 rounds each from four different positions. If everything goes smoothly, 2 minutes is adequate, but any equipment issues or procedural fumbles and it becomes all too short.
  2. Position shooting – As with IPSC and IDPA, PRS shooting is practical shooting from a variety of deviously designed positions, including from barricades, t-posts, barrels, pipes, sloping roofs, hot tubes and off an air mattress. This is a far cry from shooting off a bench at your local range, or shooting prone with a bipod and rear bag. If a novice shooter was to practice two things, it would be positional shooting and economy of effort in the transitions.
  3. Bi-pod – I went into this match with a Harris 6”-9” bi-pod, and while this worked well, it was not tall enough for the targets way up on the ridgeline. So will definitely be adding taller bi-pods to my inventory.
  4. PRS bags – A shooter definitely needs a full set of bags for various options including a larger Wiebad Pump Pillow, a Game Changer, a small bag to go under the toe of the stock, such as the mini Fortune Cookie, and a smaller bag that attaches under the fore-end such as made by Cole-Tac.
  5. Scope caps – With everything else going on, including confirming the correct dope on the scope, I went into two stages with the front scope cap still closed, costing precious seconds. Just a brain fart on my part but it won’t happen again. I also observed several shooters begin shooting with the dope from a previous stage still on their elevation dial. When they missed completely on the first shot, their team mates would yell, “check dope” to get them back on target.
  6. Moving between positions – In PRS it is necessary to have the action open when moving between shooting positions but on one stage we were required to shoot only one round from each position, not two as on all the other stages. As a result I was automatically racking the bolt and reloading after the first round expecting to fire twice. This procedural error required that I stop and unload before moving to the next position, losing valuable seconds under already tight time limits. This is where mentally rehearsing the stage and visualization helps to program the brain.
  7. Shooting Slings – A shooting sling is not only for carrying the rifle but is also an aid in shooting, particularly offhand shooting. I neglected to use my sling on the 296-yard offhand stage so could have kicked myself afterwards when I saw another shooter making good use of his. Live and learn.
  8. Breaking bad habits – Sometimes it takes another shooter to point out a bad habit that you may not realize you are doing. For me it was coming off the scope when racking the bolt. Something I will work on over the next few weeks.

Hot tube, roof line, and t-post were just some of the positions

Conclusion

Advice to new shooters, and even more experienced veterans – Take the time to self-analyze your performance after each match and make a list of what went well and what needs improvement. This will give you a training plan and a road map towards improvement. Both Derek and I have our work cut out for us preparing for the next Long Range PRS match, but we look forward to supporting the next Guardian shoot in Arizona.

END

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Consistency & Concentration in Shooting

The Importance of the Mental Game 

By Mark V. Lonsdale

Any individuals involved in competitive or precision shooting know the importance of consistency in form and technique to produce repeatable accuracy, but do they appreciate the equally important role of concentration?

In any high performance sport, and especially at the elite levels of precision sports such as shooting, archery, or even darts, the mental component of the sport is absolutely critical. It is part of the 3M training and competition triad: Mechanics – Mental – Matches. Mechanics being your fundamentals of marksmanship; mental being the confidence and stress management; and matches being real-world experience under match conditions.

If you study any precision shooting sport, championships are won or lost on one point or even one X. There are disciplines where all the top shooters can shoot perfect scores in practice, but on game day it comes down to the X count to crown a new champion (especially when the wind is not beating everyone up).

2018 Nationals Team McMillan

Winning Team McMillan F-TR shooters at the 2018 Nationals where it often comes down to X counts 

So when we talk about the mental component in sports, we are embracing several aspects of sports psychology focused on championship mental preparation. The first is to overcome the fear of being beaten, especially in contact sports such as judo or boxing. Then there is just the fear of performing in front of a large crowd – also known as stage fright. Self confidence is another important part of mental preparation, and this usually develops with time, from performing well in practice and previous competitions.

Equating this to ELR shooting, the shooter who knows he has the best equipment for the job, has produced hand loads with excellent accuracy and low SDs, may feel well prepared for an ELR match. But real confidence comes from extensive experience shooting at distances from 1,500 yards to 3,500 yards under a variety of conditions. However, the greatest confidence is derived from shooting well in competitions under actual match conditions. There is not substitute for match experience in any sport. But there is another component to the mental game, and that is the topic of this paper – concentration.

Ko2M 2018 Lonsdale

Ensuring the correct dope dialed onto the scope for the next target at the 2018 Ko2M

In contact sports such as boxing and judo, a laps in concentration will get you hit or thrown, or at best, it will cause a missed opportunity to score a winning point. But that’s human nature – people become distracted and they have accidents. So the goal of the elite athlete or aspiring shooting champion is absolute concentration, which is also referred to as focus or being in the moment.

When we apply this to shooting, we are talking about the ability to self-analyze your shooting position, manage your breathing, focus on the sights or reticle, and then break the trigger cleanly every time. When the shooter has practiced for hours, days, weeks, and months on these fundamentals of marksmanship, the mechanics will become second nature, but only if the shooter is focused and in the moment when shooting. If the goal on a particular day is to shoot a tight group, and one shot goes wild, the shooter must be able to self-analyze to understand why that shot was off. In many cases it may come down to what is often termed a “brain fart” – a momentary lapse in concentration. The trick is not to beat yourself up – we all do it from time to time – just refocus and shoot again.

So what role does concentration play in self-analysis?  We all talk about the importance of a natural body position behind the rifle – a position where muscles are not straining to hold the sights on target, but rather a relaxed but solid human platform for the rifle. But to do this, the shooter must be aware of every contact point with the rifle. First, for example, is the shooter comfortable or straining in the prone position? Many shooters simply cannot get comfortable in the prone because of body type, old injuries, or just age. However, for those who have chosen a shooting discipline where prone is the standard, and there are many, then the first goal is to find that comfortable position.

Ko2M-2018-Lonsdale

Next comes the contact points with the rifle. Is the rifle light into the shoulder or firm? Is the cheek pushing down or laterally on the cheek rest? Is the cheek rest the right height to match the scope? Is the eye-relief on the scope causing the shooter to strain his or her neck? Is the shooting hand pulling back into the shoulder or torqueing the grip? Does the trigger finger lay naturally on the trigger or is the trigger too short or too long?  Is the supporting hand pushing or pulling the stock to align the sights, or is it just a relaxed support? Is the bipod front loaded or sitting neutral? And then, with all these contact points, is the pressure uniform, consistent, and repeatable?

In all honesty, a consistent shooting position for competitions that require a high degree of precision is not something that just happens overnight. It requires practice, experimentation, and often coaching from a more experienced shooter. Sometimes a shooter may have had serious problems with his or her position for years, until they take a class or get some coaching. So when it comes time to practice or game day, the shooter must have total concentration and focus for self-analysis and the task at hand.

To develop and refine this concentration or mind-set, many competitors will have a pre-match routine. This ritual begins days before the match with equipment checks, ammunition prep, and final zero and adjustments. There is then another routine on match day that begins hours before the match, which includes adequate sleep, up early for breakfast, ensuring everything is loaded into the car, and then equipment checks after registration and shooter brief. All of these little building blocks are part of the focus and mental discipline of the elite shooter. But even for the individual who is just shooting for fun and an opportunity to hang out with friends, it is more fun if you shoot well and that requires concentration and attention to details.

Ko2M-2018-Mark Lonsdale

There is no substitute for detailed preparation, structured training, and actual match experience to reduce stress and gain confidence in competitive shooting 

So now you are on the line and it is time to shoot. There should be a ritual and routine on how you go to the line, prepare your shooting position, place your ammo, timer, etc., and prepare to shoot. At this point your total focus is on the task at hand – ensuring the correct dope on the scope, watching the wind, and listening to your spotter or wind coach if you have one. This is not the time to be thinking about work, problems at home, what you plan to have for lunch, or if everyone else thinks your new rifle looks cool. It is the time for body position, contact with the rifle, consistency in shooting position, reading the wind, and time management.

Whether is it benchrest, PRS, long range, F-class F-TR, or ELR, one lapse in concentration will result in a missed shot that could blow the whole match.

Derek Rodgers 2017

World F-TR champion Derek Rodgers demonstrates tremendous concentration and consistency when shooting

Just like any other skill, concentration can be learned and developed with practice. For some people it comes easily but for others it is a challenge. Just look at the child who can read a book or play with blocks, while blocking out all distractions, as opposed to the kid who is hyper active and bouncing off the walls. One of the most beneficial activities for young children is well structured martial arts such as judo, since self-discipline, focus, and concentration are foundational to the sport.

For the adult shooter, concentration can be learned on the range with well structured, disciplined practice. By this I mean, not speed shooting on big gongs at medium range, but real effort and focus on precision shooting at small targets or at long range. If your ELR rifle is expensive to shoot and practice with on a regular basis, get an accurate 22LR, .223 or .308 for low cost practice. Another usefully way to work on concentration is playing a game like darts at home. It takes total concentration and a lot of practice to throw consistent bulls or treble 20s – and while it may not help your shooting position, it will definitely hone your focus on body mechanics.

Precision reloading is another aspect of competitive shooting that requires concentration – both for accuracy and your personal safety.  Many serious accidents can be attributed to not paying attention, being distracted, and then double charging or using the wrong powder. Precision reloading requires a distraction free environment and a system that prevents mistakes. Yes, you can lube and size cases while watching a ball game, but seating primers, loading powder charges, and seating bullets requires focus and concentration.

To wrap this up, when you get behind the rifle, put on your hearing protection, take a deep breath, then, as you exhale, block out the rest of the world and focus on your shooting. At the elite levels of any sport, it is the mental game that separates the champions from the rest of the pack. It will also help eliminate some of those annoying fliers or forgetting to dial in the correct dope on your scope.

END

Photo Credit: Thanks to the guys at Tactaholics for their great images and support of the shooting sports

IMG_3448-X3 Dylan

 

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Practice with a Purpose

How developing a training program will improve your shooting

By Mark V. Lonsdale

As much as we would like to believe that there are “naturals” in any sport, and we hope that we may have at least some natural ability, in reality, improvement is a long slow process of many small steps. As the old expression goes, “The longest journey begins with a single step.” But after that, you have to keep stepping and staying on the track.

So the goal of a stepped training plan is to get from “A” to “B” with as fewer mis-steps as possible. “A” being where you are now, and “B” being placing at a club match, state match, or national level event. “C” could be actually winning at the national level or making the Olympic team. In other words, the goal is to keep moving forward while not straying off the path to success or being distracted by the inconsequential.

At the risk of contradicting myself, in the early days of many sports, individuals did emerge with natural athletic ability, coordination, or aptitude. This is not to say they were a “natural” at a particular sport, but because of genetics or physique, they had developed to a point where their athletic ability could be put to good use on the sports field. But if you studied these same individuals, you would find that they still required training and coaching, while suffering their share of set-backs, injuries and failures. Remember, failure is the fuel for success.

Goals-Flowchart

Applying this to shooting sports, we now have the opportunity to learn from the champions who went before us and to learn from their successes and failures. The failures in particular, since when we win, we often chalk one up for the team but don’t take the time to analyze why we won. We may even put it down to “having a good day” or just “being on my game.” But when we lose, we invariably give it a lot of thought, vex over it, and analyze what went wrong, so that we do not make the same mistakes. However, just knowing what went wrong is not enough – we must get back to the range to validate our findings and correct those errors. Post event training is almost more important than pre-event training for the aspiring shooter.

Christie

Christie Tubb-Stallter competing in the inaugural ELR Central World Record attempts  

On occasions the problem may be in our equipment so we will invest in a better rifle, a new barrel, better optics, or adjust our load. But in long range shooting, most competitive shooters go into the game with tried and proven equipment, if not by them then by other top shooters. When aspiring shooters ask me what rifle or scope they should get for a particular discipline, I will generally steer then towards what the champions are using and winning with. For me personally, my preferences usually run two deep, in that I am always working with two different but proven systems. For example, I will often build two rifles for the same disciple but one will be on a Stiller action and the other on a Kelbly; one will have a Bartlein barrel and the other a Krieger, but of the same profile, length and twist rate. Both may have McMillan stocks but one an A5 and the other an XiT or A6. For optics, any shooter would be happy with a Nightforce ATACR or a Leupold Mark 5HD – both of superb quality.

375CT Lonsdale-Mark

ELR 375 CheyTac built on a Stiller TAC-408 action, McMillan A5 Super Magnum stock, topped with a Nightforce ATACR 7-35x56mm with a Tremor3 reticle. Running Cutting Edge 400 Lazers and Peterson brass.

By staying with quality hardware, the shooter is eliminating any excuses associated with his or her equipment and gaining confidence by buying the best. Then it comes down to practice and training. The shooter that not only practices more, but practices smarter will eventually draw ahead in any competition. Granted, it may take a year or two, but the training and dedication will eventually pay dividends. The athlete who practices more, and thinks he is practicing harder, may not improve as fast as the athlete who practices a little less, but is on a structured training regime that is broken into multiple attainable goals. Another expression you will hear in the gym, “Train smart not hard”

Nate Shooting 1.21.18

Nate Stallter winning the 2018 ELR-C World Record attempt going 3 for 3 at 2,011 yards – January 2018

This step process is built around training with a purpose. Each training session should be planned out so that the shooter has specific goals or identified weaknesses that need work. In a shooting sport that requires both speed and accuracy, the shooter must have a balanced training program that develops both of these simultaneously. This can be done by shooting as accurately as possible, and then increasing speed until the accuracy begins to suffer.  For example, if a PRS shooters must be able to engage multiple 12” steel gongs at 600 yards, they can begin by  first hitting each gong slow fire from a barricade. Once they have a high level of confidence that they can hit every time, then they can use a timer to begin shooting faster and faster until they miss. That will give them a base line of how fast they can shoot and still hit 12” at 600 yards. This can then be repeated from the various shooting positions used, and at varying ranges, replicating actual match formats.

For other shooting sports such as extreme long range shooting (ELR), a training progression may begin with load testing and chronographing, and then advance into prone shooting for accuracy at increasing distances. It takes time to break in a new rifle, getting the stock adjusted just right, possibly changing muzzle brakes, playing around with bipods and bags, developing loads, and just developing a general comfort and confidence behind the rifle. This could take several trips to the range over weeks or even months.

 

Derek Rodgers and Paul Phillips preparing for the 2018 King of 2 Mile in Raton, New Mexico

Once the rifle is dialed in, the next goal will be to validate ballistic data out passed 1,500 yards to 2,000 or 2,500, depending on range availability. After that, it is important to practice the exact match format, such as King of 2 Miles, where there are tight time limits to shoot the required number of shots and then transition to the next target, dial in the dope, find and engage, all the time adjusting for misses or wind.

The overarching goal being to not waist time and ammunition with unstructured practice. Each practice session should be planned in advance with very specific goals and standards. Trust me when I tell you, structured step-plan training programs work for almost every sport, so it will definitely help you reach your future shooting goals.

“Without Effort, there is no Progress”

“Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard”

 

END

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ELR Trigger Time & Ballistic Solvers

By Mark V Lonsdale

In the past year I’ve made a couple of observations about ELR shooting that readers may find helpful, particularly shooters new to ELR:

  1. Shooters don’t shoot their ELR rifles enough because of lack of opportunity or cost of ammunition
  2. Many own ballistics solvers, such as the Kestrel Elite with AB Ballistics, but have not taken the time to really understand all the required functions and inputs to get a reliable solution

So let’s start with the first issue – trigger time. In almost every other shooting discipline, such as NRA or IPSC pistol shooting, PPC, smallbore, high powered rifle, F-Class or F-TR shooting, competitive shooters shoot a lot. And when I say a lot, I mean hundreds, if not thousands of rounds per month. As an IPSC shooter I was shooting 40-50,000 rounds per year, and in the various rifle disciplines that I was shooting hundreds per month. But for many involved in ELR shooting, that number drops off dramatically.

CE352 PetersonBrass

Shooters preparing for an ELR match (1,500 yards+) may shoot less than 50-100 rounds total because of the cost of ammunition. A hundred rounds of handloads with top of the line bullets and brass, such as Cutting Edge bullets and Peterson brass, will run the shooter approximately $700, but less once he or she begins reloading the brass. But even so, $700 could buy several thousand rounds of ammunition for a smaller caliber such as 9mm, .45, .223 or .308. This is one good reason for ELR rifle shooters to keep an accurate .223 Rem or .308 Win in their arsenal for more economical practice.

20180619_121409

375 CheyTac with a Stiller TAC-408 action, McMillan A5 Super Magnum stock, and Nightforce ATACR 7-35x56mm scope. Ammunition is Cutting Edge 400 Lazers loaded into Peterson brass. Applied Ballistics comes from a Kestrel 5700 Elite with a Garmin 701 Foretrex to confirm range and target locations     

But on that note, training with a .308 is not the same as training with a .375 CheyTac or .416 Barrett. Granted, the fundamental marksmanship skills are similar, but just because you shoot well with your 6mm Dasher F-Class rifle off a rest, does not mean you will shoot equally well with a .375 CT off a bipod. From personal experience, and after talking to Derek Rodgers and Paul Phillips, I changed my style of prone shooting to better suit my .375 and saw immediate improvements.

20180704_093217

Paul and Derek shooting at the 2018 King of 2 miles. Emil on the spotting scope with    Team AB

As in any championship sport, and in particular prone rifle shooting, it is necessary to develop the required neuro-muscle memory and body mechanics to be able to adopt the same shooting position repeatedly. This is no different to the repeatable swing needed for golf, the arrow release in archery, or even throwing darts and being able to hit triple 20s. It all comes down to repetition.

Once a shooter has found his or her natural shooting position, with little to no muscle strain to hold the rifle on target, he or she must be able to repeat that position consistently. And we all know that consistency is the goal of every shooter. This is not the ability to shoot a tight group or hit the 1500-yard gong on one day, only to completely blow it the next. But to be able to take to the mound and shoot consistent good scores commensurate with one’s experience and equipment.

So while most structured shooting practice is beneficial, immaterial of the rifle or discipline, it is not the same as time behind a particular rifle. ELR rifles are bigger, heavier (23–50 pounds), and recoil differently to the more controllable calibers. ELR shooting also requires the ability to adapt your prone shooting position to targets at distances from one to two miles, under tight time limits, and at various up- or downhill angles. This requires time, ammo and practice to become consistent.

The next issue is having the opportunity to shoot at extreme distances. Many shooters only have access to 100-300 yard ranges, and are limited to shooting .223 to .308 Win calibers on many 600 yard and 1,000 yard NRA ranges. It takes time and money to travel to open country or desert where you can shoot out to 2,500 yards and to validate dope at 250 yard increments.

The result being, many shooters find themselves turning up at matches with only 50-100 rounds practice, shooting against sponsored shooters who may have shot several hundred rounds and attended multiple ELR matches. The new shooter has also not had the opportunity to validate his or her dope at all the distances being shot in the match, keeping in mind that the ballistics solutions developed at sea level on a 75 F day may not translate well to Raton, NM, with a density altitude of 9,000+ feet and 93 F for the King of 2 Miles. And even then, shooters can be eliminated after just 6 rounds if they fail to score at 1,550 yards.

Team McMillan

Team McMillan at the King of 2 Miles. The targets are not the 1,000 yard targets visible on the right, but up in the hills to the left between 1,550 and 3,525 yards

Ballistic Solvers

I will use the Kestrel with AB Ballistics as the example, since these are the most prevalent at ELR matches and sniper competitions. On several occasions in the past year I have been asked by individuals on the range to help set up their Kestrels. Many had just taken it out of the box and not taken the time to read the instructions or watch the how-to videos on the Kestrel Ballistics site. Others have assured me that they had inputted all the required data and just needed me to show them how to add multiple targets, as an example.  But on close review I would find that they had not kept the firmware updated and the most basic inputs were way off, even gun data, BCs and muzzle velocities.

A6 Medium Kestrel

My Kestrel is like my credit card – don’t leave home without it (plus my laser range finder). This is a 6.5 Creedmor in a McMillan A6 stock, and even with a top of the line Leupold Mark 5HD 5-25x scope, it is not suited to ELR shooting. While good on steel to 1,500 yards, the small bullets lose what is needed for effective ELR shooting. 

There are basically two areas that require data input in a Kestrel – gun data and environmentals. If the gun data is off, for example incorrect BC, caliber, muzzle velocity (MV), or twist direction, then all firing solutions will be off to some degree proportionate to the degree of error with the inputs. When you are setting up your Gun files, ensure that all the data is correct – don’t just guess and don’t use the MV or BC off a factory box of ammo. As long as you stay with the same rifle, the only thing that will change is the bullet info and muzzle velocity. And even if you stay with the same bullet and load, the MV will still change as the barrel wears or as you change elevations (altitude) and temperatures. Your MVs on hot summer days will be higher than cold winter months, so chronograph your ammo just prior to a match or hunting trip, and if possible, do it on site. (see previous article on muzzle velocities)

Now, for the hunter or individual shooting at less than 600 yards, there are functions that are not critical to getting on target. But as the range extends beyond 1,000 and particular beyond 1,500 yards, every input becomes critical. For example, shooters who do not have a lot of experience with long range shooting have little understanding of Spin Drift and Coriolis, and at less than 600 yards, depending on caliber, we may be talking only a couple of inches. But out past 800 yards Spin Drift is carrying that bullet to the right (out of a right twist barrel) to the point where at some given range it will be off the target. Coriolis is also adding a right drift shooting north or south; low shooting west; and high shooting east. So if your ballistic solver is not activated for Spin and Coriolis your solutions will be completely off at longer ranges. With Coriolis, the shooter also needs to input the latitude and direction of fire (which requires calibrating the internal compass), but many shooters new to the Kestrel have no experience with those functions.

Kestrel_Elite Wind Vane

Kestrel 5700 Elite with Applied Ballistics, mounted on the weather vane, also available from Kestrel. This can then send live time updates to your smart phone by Bluetooth Link

One shooter asked why the Kestrel was telling him to put in Left Wind in no wind conditions. He had the wind set at 0 mph. This was because he was shooting north and the Spin Drift and Coriolis were carrying the bullet to the right. Since these functions were turned on, the Kestrel was giving him a Left Wind to compensate for the right drift. You could even have a light wind from the right (3 o’clock) but not enough to counter the Spin and Coriolis, so you would still have to put in left wind instead of right wind.

Many environment functions can be turned on or off, just as environmentals can be set to Live or Lock, but unfortunately many Kestrel owners have not taken the time to learn these functions. Even though there are some excellent videos on YouTube from Kestrel Ballistics, Panhandle Precision, and Snipers Hide, the best way to learn these functions is to have someone actually show you and then repeat them until they are learned. Then just take the time to periodically explore all the functions in the Kestrel so that you know how to adjust each one. At extreme long range, accurate data inputs will greatly improve your probability of a first or second round hit.

Lastly, ELR shooters are some of the friendliest, most helpful individuals on the planet. They’ve all been through the same learning pains as the new shooters, so are happy to share their experience. There are also some very helpful sites on Facebook, but stay away from the ones with snarky trolls and individuals who don’t actually shoot ELR. Even a rookie can quickly sort the talkers from the serious shooters. But for Kestrel questions, start with the videos on Kestrel Ballistics or posted by Panhandle Precision on YouTube. Just search under Kestrel 5700 Elite.

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Duncan Davis, Kelly McMillan, Paul Phillips, and Derek Rodgers at the 2018 King of 2 Miles. You can be sure they will all be there in 2019 and 2020

Now get out and shoot more with your ELR rifle and play around with your Kestrel until you have figured it out. Both will dramatically improve your scores and hit probability.

END

 

Feel free to post questions in the comments below, or on Global Precision Group or ELR Extreme Long Range Shooters

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MUZZLE VELOCITY IS NOT A CONSTANT

Why Long Range Shooters Need to Periodically Chronograph their Rifles and Ammunition

By Mark V. Lonsdale

One of the most important data points that needs to be entered into any ballistic program or solver, such as AB Analytics, is the muzzle velocity (MV) of the selected rifle and ammunition combination. This is in conjunction with caliber, ballistic coefficient (BC), bullet length, barrel twist rate, and scope height above bore. But muzzle velocity is not something a shooter should measure just once and then assume it is always correct, even though many have made this mistake. Or even worse, they use the published muzzle velocity off the box of factory ammunition. While MV is less important for plinking or hunting under 300 yards, it is critically important for the long range shooters (600-1500 yards) and extreme long range shooters (1500+ yards).

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Chronograph with the Labradar 

There are a number of reasons handloaded ammunition can change in muzzle velocity, to include, increasing the powder charge by as little as 0.1 grains, changing type or weight of projectiles, changing primer brand, and changing neck tension or crimp on the bullet. Any changes to the loading components or procedure demands a trip to the range to chronograph the ammo.

Factory ammunition can also exhibit wide changes in muzzle velocities. First, when you purchase different lot numbers of factory ammo, there will usually be a change in muzzle velocity. This is often more noticeable with plinking or hunting ammo and less with match grade ammo, but even match grade ammo could have a shift of 10-40 fps.

Between lot numbers, the factory may have changed to a different powder, a different primer, or a different lot number of projectiles. Then there are environmental effects. Changes in the season, ambient temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, and elevation above sea level will all affect muzzle velocity and the resultant point of impact (POI). This will be proportionate to the extent of the swing in temperature, gain in elevation, or drop in barometric pressure.

A6 Medium Kestrel

6.5 Creedmoor used for testing. Atlas Tactical action, 24″ Bartlein 1:8″ barrel in a McMillan A6 stock and topped with the Leuopld Mark 5HD 5-25x scope   

Additional changes in muzzle velocity will occur as a new barrel breaks in, wears, or if the shooter adds a muzzle brake or suppressor.  As an example, the following MVs were pulled from one of the 6.5 Creedmoor rifles I am testing. All the test ammunition is factory ammunition from the same lot numbers. The first column was from a new 24” Bartlein barrel with a 1:8” twist.

Factory Ammo                            Jan 2018            July 2018                         August 2018

                                                          New barrel      added muzzle brake    200 rounds

Federal Berger 130 Hybrid      2,830 fps           2,866 fps                         2,892 fps

Hornady Match 140 ELD          2,726 fps           2,746 fps                         2,780 fps

Hornady Match 147 ELD          2,670 fps           2,721 fps                         not tested

The above example shows a  51 – 62 fps increase in velocity from a new barrel, to 100 rounds and the addition of a Piercision muzzle brake, and then at 200 rounds with the brake. If I was still using the original MV, this would result in a significant error in predictive POI at 1,000+ yards.

6.5CM Ammo

Factory ammunition used in 6.5 CM testing

Whichever ammunition a shooter selects, to get accurate ballistic data or firing solution, the shooter should chronograph the ammunition periodically to track wear or changes in the barrel; if there is a big shift in ambient temperature, as in 85 F summer to 32 F winter months; or a significant shift in elevation, as in sea level to 6,000+ feet. Keep in mind that 6,000’ on a hot day could result in a density altitude of 9,000+ feet, as we found this summer during the King of 2 Miles at the NRA Whittington Center in Raton, New Mexico.

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The second 6.5 Creedmoor being used for testing. Rem 700 action, 24″ Krieger Heavy Palma barrel, 1:8″ twist; McMillan A6 stock; Leupold Mark 4 6.5-20x scope 

Finally, the shooter should know that not all chronographs are equal. A cheap chronograph that may have a 40-50 fps error from actual MV, will result in a significant error in data input and all resultant firing solutions. This goes back to the computer adage of, “garbage in, garbage out” and that a computer is only as good as the data inputted.

Chrono 10.15.17

Early two screen type chronographs are sensitive to light condition and placement. 

Conclusion – accuracy, diligence, and consistency is critical in all aspects of reloading and long range precision shooting, and an accurate MV is a critical part of that process.

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