By Mark V. Lonsdale, STTU
Over the years, I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen fellow shooters and competitors perform poorly or blow a match because they forgot a critical piece of equipment or failed to prepare adequately. I’ve also lost count of how many times students have turned up at my precision rifle classes with a rifle that had not been zeroed and lacking the tools to zero their own scopes. This goes back to the old adage of, Poor Preparation and Planning Produces Poor Performance. In one case a shooter had driven across country for a competition only to realize he had left his rifle bolt on his work bench at home.
Every athlete in every sport has a pre-game ritual that he or she goes through before a competition. This ritual has both a practical value and a psychological value. The practical value is that no critical piece of equipment or procedure is missed, while the psychological value is putting the athlete in a winning frame of mind. Knowing that you have checked all the boxes, bolsters confidence in your readiness to perform.
This is the same reason that the military utilizes checklists for mission preparation and high risk activities, especially where every step can be mission critical. Consider something as mundane as checking the gas gauge. Whether it is a vehicle, a boat, or a helicopter, no one wants to get half way to the target only to run out of gas and become stranded in enemy territory.
Sample checklist page from the STTU Sniper Data Book
Whether for practice or competition, no one wants to turn up at the range only to find they have forgotten their bolt, ammo, or bipod. The same is true for a hunting trip. And the further one has driven to the range, competition, or hunt sight, the more frustrating a simple error can become. So let’s start with ensuring a rifle is ready to shoot.
All the screws and bolts that should be checked and torqued
As soon as you take delivery of a new rifle there are four things you want to check. 1. All the bolts and screws are secure. 2. The scope is correctly mounted with the correct eye-relief. 3. The bolt and safety function smoothly. 4. The scope and rifle are zeroed at the first opportunity. All too many novice shooters have the gun shop do all this for them, but it is important that rifle owners know how to do all this for themselves.
Fix-it-Sticks and Pelican box with small tools essential to have on the range
Before headed to the range, ensure that you have all the tools necessary to check action bolts and scope mount screws, and that you have the Allen wrench for zeroing the scope turrets. In your range bag you will need your ear and eye protection, staple gun and staples, along with targets or patch materials. Lastly you will need ammo, a bipod, a rear bag, and a shooting mat. It is also a good idea to carry a cleaning rod in case you have to knock a squib load or debris out of the bore.
While rifle prep and zeroing is often done off a shooting bench, it is recommended that the zero be confirmed from the same position that one would use in competition or in the field. This is most often from the prone bipod position.
Team mate Derek Rodgers shooting prone, checking zero and muzzle velocity, prior to the 2019 King of 2 Miles
When it’s time to shoot, there are two important rituals: 1. Setting up the shooting position; and, 2. Developing a firing solution.
An ideal shooting position is one where the shooter is in a comfortable natural position and the rifle can be aligned with the target in a neutral position. This means that when the rifle is on its bipod and rear bag, the shooter could take his or her hands off the rifle and it remains on target. This ensures that the shooter is not straining to hold the rifle on target. This is further confirmed by dry-firing a few times to ensure the cross-hair is not moving off target with each trigger squeeze. Two additional tasks of prepping the rifle are snugging down the friction adjustment on the bipod and ensuring the scope turrets are zeroed. The ammo and data book should also be placed conveniently near the bolt hand.
.416 Barrett ELR rifle sitting “neutral” on a Phoenix bipod and rear bag. This rifle is built on a BAT action with a custom Bartlein barrel, McMillan Beast-2 stock, topped with a NF ATACR 7-35x56mm FFP MOAR scope. Firing solutions with Kestrel 5700 Elite with AB ballistics.
Developing a firing solution begins well before moving to the line to shoot. Assuming that you already have your rifle data in your Kestrel 5700 Elite (bullet, BC, MV, twist, etc.), the firing solution requires several steps after accurately ranging the target.
- Calibrate the internal compass
- Enter the latitude
- Capture or enter the direction of fire (DoF)
- Capture or enter the direction of wind
- Ensure that the environmental functions are active (not locked)
- Spin your 5700 to clear and update the environmentals
- Capture the wind speed
- Read the firing solution
If you are “old school” and don’t use a Kestrel, or similar device for an accurate firing solution, then there are two things you need to be able to calculate – the distance to the target and the wind. Assuming that the rifle and ammunition meet the requirements of a “precision rifle” and the shooter has proven shooting ability, the two most common reasons that shooters miss the target are failure to accurately range the target, and failure to read the wind.
It is not possible to estimate ranges to these targets without a very accurate laser rangefinder. That is the science. The art is estimating the wind at those distances.
When shooting at 100 to 300 yards, a shooter has considerable latitude when “estimating” range and wind and getting rounds on target. But when shooting out passed 600 yards, range estimation needs to become more than just an educated guess, and out passed 1,500 yards it needs to be even more accurate. Fortunately modern laser rangefinders have solved the issue of range but reading wind remains a combination of art and science.
Take the time to make a checklist of what you need to take to the range. This becomes even more important before heading across country for a competition or hunting trip. For SWAT snipers, this checklist is an absolute necessity not an option.
See you on the range.