By Mark V. Lonsdale
Testing your skills at long range shooting is neither expensive nor overly difficult. Anyone with a modicum of rifle shooting skills, a good 300 Win Mag, 7mm Mag, or even 6.5 Creedmoor, and a box of match grade ammo, can sling lead at 1,000-1,500 yards and score five out of ten hits on a 36” gong. But when you make the decision that you not only want to compete, you want a high probability of winning, then the cost and time commitment increase considerably. You just went from the $1,500 rife to the $5,000-$8,000 rig (rifle, scope, mounts, rings, bipod, etc.); with top of the line scopes, alone, running $2,000-$4,000 plus mounts. There is also the investment in precision reloading equipment, ballistics solvers, and a significant time commitment. Part of that time commitment is traveling to locations where you can actually shoot 1,500 to 3,500 yards.
Tools of the trade – 375 CheyTac built on a Stiller TAC-408 action in a McMillan A5 SuperMagnum stock. The Kestrel 5700 Elite and Garmin 701, both with AB Ballistics solvers, are essential to ELR shooting
Now, when you decide to try your hand at extreme long range shooting, out passed 1,500 or 2,000 yards, then the investment in equipment and time go up exponentially. Even small improvements come at high costs along with considerable time and effort. ELR shooting is not a game for just “run what you brung” hunting rifles with factory hunting ammo.
Never the less, there is significant growing interest in ELR shooting from both recreational shooters and the military. But in both cases, the name of the game is increasing hit probability at 1,500 – 3,500 yards; and even more challenging, first round hit probability out passed 2,000 yards.
One of the best examples of this was the Applied Ballistics ELR World Record attempts shot in January just prior to the 2018 Shot Show. I had the privilege of being invited to be one of the Rangemasters for this event, so had a front row seat to observe some of the best ELR shooters put their skills on the line.
David Tubb and Christie Tubb competing in the ELR Central World Record Attempt in Pahrump, NV, 2018
Sponsored by Bryan Litz of Applied Ballistics LLC, and organized by Paul Phillips of Team AB and the US Rifle Team, the match was hosted on the Wilcox range at Front Sight, in Pahrump, NV. Shooters were challenged by five 36”x36” steel targets positioned every 250 yards from 1,500 yards out to 2,500 yards. What made this match different from many others was no opportunity to practice on the range, no opportunity for sighter shots, and the need to place three out of three shots on steel to score. The shooter could choose what distance he or she felt comfortable at shooting.
Kelly McMillan and Paul Phillips being interviewed at the ELR Central World Record attempts in Pahrump, NV, January 2018. Paul was the first to go 3 for 3 at 1,500 yards using a 375 CT in a McMillan Beast stock.
With some of the top ELR shooters in the country, including US Rifle Team and Team AB shooters, only three shooters were able to go three for three after two attempts (4 hours apart). Keep in mind that many of these shooters had $6,000+ invested in their rifles, practiced regularly, and were shooting hand loaded ammunition that ran about $7.00 per shot.
Listening to the competitors prior to the match, many felt confident in their abilities and high dollar thunder sticks. Most were serious shooters with close ties to the shooting industry, who had all scored hits on extreme long range steel targets at other locations. But doing it cold on an unfamiliar range was a whole new challenge, especially calculating for wind, spin drift, and Coriolis with no sighter shots.
So why did this match make the rule of “three for three” with no sighters? First, because it is “practical” both for the long range hunter and the military sniper. As the Training Director for the Specialized Tactical Training Unit my interest, and passion, is for the long range cold bore shot. This is a motivation shared by Eduardo who manages the King of 2 Miles shoot, since he is also a sniper instructor in his home country. The US military is also exploring the lessons learned from ELR shooting, and in particular the various ballistic solvers now available. Devices such as the Kestrel 5700 Elite, and the SIG and Wilcox rangefinders, loaded with the AB Ballistics solvers, have made great strides towards quantifying and minimizing the variables of long range ballistics.
However, all this modern technology does not take the burden off of the shooter. The shooter must still develop reliable data to input into these devices, such as muzzle velocity, projectile BC, and zero. It also requires a rifle/ammunition combination capable of sub-MOA accuracy, and a scope that has sufficient elevation to reach out passed 2,000 yards. This often requires running a base with more than 20 MOA of slant to optimize the elevation in the scope. For example, with a 40 MOA base on my 375 CheyTac, I can only dial out to 2,400 yards, then I have to use hold-over on the reticle; but with a 60 MOA base I can reach out to 3,500 yards. The other alternative is to go with a TACOMHQ Charlie Tarac, but that’s an article for another day.
TACOMHQ Charlie TARAC mount on a Nightforce ATACR 7-35×56 scope with Tremor3 reticle
Another issue in ELR shooting is knowing at what distance your bullet will go transonic and potentially lose stability. How well the bullet carries energy and velocity is a combination of caliber, muzzle velocity, bullet weight, bullet design, and ballistic coefficient. Again, we are not looking for that lucky hit on a huge steel plate, but consistent first round hits and follow-up shots. Taking 20 to 30 shots to hit an 4-foot gong at 4,000 yards may be fun, but it is more luck than skill. This is not to detract from the individuals who spend several thousand dollars in the effort, or the hours of hand loading ammo, but the true practical value is in first or second round hits and then consistent follow-up hits. As commonly said, “there is little value in havig a rifle that shoots quarter-inch groups at 100 yards if you can’t read wind at 1,000 yards.” While changes in elevation, temperature, and direction of fire (DoF) can be plugged into a ballistic solver, even the best wind meter such as the Kestrel only gives you the wind at the firing point, not 1,500 to 3,500 yards down range. Wind reading is still the foundational skill and art to successful long range shooting.
There are no wind flags or artificial wind indicators in ELR shooting. Shooters and spotters must learn to read the mirage or dust kicked up by previous impacts in the dirt.
But for those shooters willing to commit the time and expense to ELR shooting, it can be an immensely satisfying endeavor. It can also be immensely frustrating, especially when you travel a thousand miles to shoot an ELR match, but are eliminated after only 6 rounds, but there are dedicated individuals who are wiling to keep trying and keep coming back.
King of 2 Miles event at the NRA Whittington Center in Raton, NM. The ELR targets are not the 1,000 yard targets seen to the right, but up in the hills to the left, from 1,550 to 3,520 yards
For the shooter who is new to ELR, or just considering stepping up from a 300 Win Mag to a 375 CheyTac, you will not find a more open, friendly, or helpful group of shooters than ELR shooters. They are all willing to share the “secrets” of their rifles, optics, and ammunition, knowing that when it comes down to competition day, it is more about solid shooting fundamentals and reading the wind than having the best or most expensive rifle.
See you on the range!