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:
- Shooters don’t shoot their ELR rifles enough because of lack of opportunity or cost of ammunition
- 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.
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.
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.
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 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
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.
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 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.
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.
Feel free to post questions in the comments below, or on Global Precision Group or ELR Extreme Long Range Shooters