Cheap Scopes Don’t Go the Distance

By Mark V. Lonsdale, STTU

After over three decades of running training for law enforcement and military snipers, plus civilian long range precision rifle classes, one of the single most significant roadblocks has been inexpensive scopes and mounts. While poor fundamental marksmanship skills and sub-standard ammo (not match grade) are also issues, hunting-grade, cheap scopes are a recurring problem.

One problem is expecting inexpensive, hunting-grade scopes to do the same job as a quality, high-end sniper or long range scope. Where a hunting scope is designed to be zeroed and then not changed season after season, a long range target scope, and especially one being used for PRS or ELR shooting, is dialed up and down to its full range multiple times a day. This simply requires a more robust, more precise internal mechanism to do that consistently.

Leupold Mark 5HD 5-25×56 on a competition grade .308 Win with a Bartlein barrel and McMillan A5 stocks

Taking a look back, the follow is a list of some of the issues trainees have had with their scopes:

  1. Incorrectly mounted scope
  2. Loose scope bases and/or rings (multiple cases)
  3. Broken wire reticle in the scope
  4. Inability to dial elevation or wind without tools
  5. No target turrets/nobs
  6. Click adjustments that are mushy and not crisp
  7. Inability to zero the turrets to “0” or “1”
  8. Poor quality optics
  9. No provision to focus or correct for parallax
  10. Insufficient internal elevation to reach 1,000 yards
  11. Inability to return to zero

In general, I recommend that aspiring long range shooters look at what the top competitors are using and follow their lead. Most or the top shooters are using either Leupold Mark 5HDs or NightForce ATACRs in 5-25x56mm or 7-35x56mm, either MOA or MILs. The following are some of the requirements for selecting a reliable long range rifle scope:

  1. Major manufacturer with a good reputation and warranty program
  2. Robust construction
  3. External turrets that can be easily dialed by hand
  4. Clearly marked graduations on the turrets
  5. Turrets that can be zeroed to “0” or “1” (for 100 yards)
  6. Adjustments that can be dialed to the upper limits and still return to zero
  7. Sufficient elevation range to reach 1,500+ yards (65 MOA or 20 MILs). More for ELR shooting where the scope should be able to dial to at least 2,500 yards without adding a Charlie TARAC (depending on caliber).
  8. Sufficient magnification to clearly see the target at long range.
  9. A reticle that offers graduations in fractions of an MOA or 2/10th MILs for hold-over and wind
  10. Side focus/parallax adjustment
  11. Sturdy, compatible, precision bases and rings

Keep in mind that a scope that has 80 MOA of elevation, will have only 40 up and 40 down from zero with a flat-top base. That will get you to 1,000 yards with a .308 Win. A 20 MOA base should improve this to 60 MOA up and 20 MOA down. This is the reason most PRS and ELR shooters select scopes with 100+ MOA or 30+ MILs or elevation, and then run 40-70 MOA bases to optimize their long range capability.

Author’s Hill Country .375 CheyTac and Stiller’s .338 Lapua Magnum, both with 40 MOA bases and NightForce ATACR scopes with over 120 MOA / 34 Mils of internal elevation.
Graduated reticle in MOA

One of the problems we often see on the range is shooters with scopes that claim to have all of the above features, but at a fraction of the price of a true long range scope. While these lesser known scopes may look like their big brothers, they simply do not have the precise internal mechanisms or range of adjustment. A $400-$600 scope will simply not do what a $2,000 to $3,000 scope will do.

In a recent class, one of these cheaper scopes topped out at 25 MOA, so was not able to reach even 1,000 yards (requiring 30-40MOA depending on caliber). Another scope dialed up 2 MOA (20.94″ at 1,000 yards) but the bullet impact moved over 5 feet. And a third was not able to hold zero or run a box drill and return to zero.

A useful initial test for a new scope is to run a box drill. This can be done by securing the scope or rifle in a cradle and then watching the reticle move on a calibrated target, or by actually shooting it. To shoot a box drill at 100 yards, simply shoot a group on a 1″ target spot, then dial up 5 MOA (or 2 Mils) and shoot two rounds while still aiming at the target spot. Then dial right 5 MOA and shoot two more rounds; then down 5 MOA; and then left 5 MOA and shoot the final two rounds. If using MOA, this should produce a perfect 5.23″ box and the last two shots should be inside the original group. If using 2 Mils, the box will be 7.2″

Another test is a tall target test on a graduated target to ensure the scope is tracking accurately to its limits of elevation and the scope is mounted correctly.

6.5 Creedmoor PRS rifle with Leupold Mark 5HD in 5-25x56mm. This scope is available in MOA or Mils and as with all Leupold scopes, comes with a lifetime warranty.
NightForce ATACR 7-35x56mm on a Mk13 Mod 7 .300 WinMag sniper rifle
NightForce ATACR on a .375 CheyTac ELR rifle. Note the clearly visible MRAD scales on the target turrets and secure scope rings.
Leupold Mark 8


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Where Were You on 9-11?

By Mark V. Lonsdale, STTU

“No matter how long it takes, no matter where we have to look, our United States military will patiently and surely hunt down the murderers and killers and terrorists, and bring them, one by one, to justice.”  President George W. Bush – Commander in Chief 

    Monday, September 10, 2001 had been a crisp, clear day at the USMC Mountain Warfare Training Center (MWTC). It was sunset as I watched 5th Platoon, 1st Force Recon Marines, their faces ominously obscured under layers of green camouflage paint, go through last minute equipment checks, preparing to be inserted into the mountains for a five-day recon-patrol exercise. MBITRs (multi-band inter/intra-team radios) frequencies had been set and tested; sat-com radios were safely stowed in already bulging rucksacks; PVS-17 night sights were clamped to M-4 carbines and SAWS (squad automatic weapons); and all loose straps were neatly taped and stowed. 

Mark Lonsdale with Captain Fiscus and Gunny Blakey at MWTC, the night of 10 Sept 2001

     Captain Fiscus and Gunny Blakey moved amongst the group checking equipment, quietly asking questions and giving encouragement. It was essential that every man understood the mission and knew his specific tasks.                 

    The planned airborne parachute insertion had been aborted an hour earlier when the CH-53 troop-carrying helicopters could not make the pre-sunset time-line. With the flexibility typical of any spec-ops unit, the platoon commander opted for a vehicle insertion to the pre-planned DZ at 7,500 feet elevation.

    As the Sierra Nevadas turned purple and faded into total darkness, and before the moon could break through, the Gunny signaled the teams to saddle up and silently move out. It was impressive to see and yet not hear twenty Marines, each burdened with a hundred pounds of weapons, radios and equipment, move off into the inky blackness without so much as a single sound.

    So by midnight I found myself with two choices. The first was to link up with the “opposition force” and try to find these phantoms – but since they had already proven themselves adept at night movement and had the advantage of Gen III night vision devices, there was little to no hope of finding them that night. So I opted for the second choice – to drive back to Los Angeles with the plan of returning to MWTC for their extract in five days.  

The night of 10 Sept 2001

    Arriving home at five-thirty in the morning, and after two days without sleep, I showered and hit the rack. Sleep came quickly but not for long. Sometime before zero seven the phone began an incessant ringing. It was my neighbor babbling something about watching my place while I was away. “While I’m a way?” I asked groggily, “I just got home!”

    She then blurted out that terrorists had attacked New York and the Pentagon and I needed to turn on the television. Flipping to CNN I was just in time to see a passenger airliner hit the World Trade Center. Then there was footage from the Pentagon; then back to New York as the second tower was hit. Confused and half asleep I felt like I was watching a Schwarznegger movie. Was this really the news? I quickly flipped through the local morning news line up – ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox – but all coverage was focused on New York and the Pentagon.

     By mid-morning I had a passing thought about the Marine Force Recon platoon that had just disappeared into the mountains the night before and would be emerging in five days to a very different United States. Having worked in counter terrorism and training for over 20 years, I knew that what we were seeing was a whole new level of terrorist violence and destruction. The news media was already speculating on the potential casualties in New York and it was in the thousands, many times more than Pearl Harbor.

     But now the proverbial “gloves were coming off.” The US military was going to be given the teeth to hunt and kill those who meant us harm. Little did I know at that time, that I would be in and out of Afghanistan, Iraq and Africa a dozen times over the next 10 years.

Iraq 2004

Never Forget 9-11

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Alaska Fish & Game Rifle and Ammunition Recommendations

Drawn from:

Firearms and Ammunition

There are no simple answers when it comes to selecting a firearm and accompanying ammunition. How accurately you shoot is far more important than the type of rifle, cartridge, and bullet you choose. Alaska has some very large game animals, including 1600-pound mature bull moose and 1500-pound coastal brown bears. Moose or brown bear hit in the gut with a large caliber magnum rifle such as the popular .338 Winchester® Magnum is wounded and just as likely to escape as if it had been hit with a small caliber rifle such as the .243 Winchester®. The bore size, bullet weight, and velocity are of secondary importance to precise bullet placement in the vital heart-lung area.

It is important for the hunter to have a good knowledge of game anatomy, the ability to correctly judge distance, the discipline to take only shots that can be made with certainty, and the ability to shoot accurately from sitting, kneeling, and standing positions. You should be able to reliably place a bullet in a circle the size of the game’s heart/lung zone from hunting positions at the distances you expect to be shooting. As long as the caliber is reasonable and a quality bullet is used, hunters kill game quickly and humanely with precise bullet placement.

Select a quality bullet

Winchester (left to right): Partition Gold® 7mm, .30-06, .300, .338, Fail Safe® .375

If you presently own a rifle chambered for the .270 Winchester, 7mm-08, .308 Winchester or .30-06 and can place all of your shots in an 8-inch circle out to 200 yards from a sitting or kneeling position you can be a successful Alaska hunter. To be as effective as possible, these cartridges should be loaded with premium quality bullets that are designed to pass completely through a large game animal, if hit in the heart-lung area.

Big Magnums Not Needed

The rifle you bring hunting should be one with which you are comfortable. Because of the presence of brown and grizzly bears, many hunters have been convinced that a .300, .338, .375, or .416 magnum is needed for personal protection and to take large Alaska game. This is simply not true. The recoil and noise of these large cartridges is unpleasant at best and plainly painful to many shooters. It is very difficult to concentrate on shot placement when your brain and body remembers the unpleasant recoil and noise which occurs when you pull the trigger on one of the big magnums.

The two most common complaints of professional Alaska guides are hunters who are not in good physical condition and hunters who cannot accurately shoot their rifles. Because these hunters do not practice enough they cannot shoot accurately enough. They miss their best chance at taking their dream animal or worse yet, they wound and lose an animal. Most experienced guides prefer that a hunter come to camp with a .270 or .30-06 rifle they can shoot well rather than a shiny new magnum that has been fired just enough to get sighted-in. If you are going to hunt brown bear on the Alaska Peninsula or Kodiak Island, a .30-06 loaded with 200- or 220-grain Nosler® or similar premium bullet will do the job with good shot placement. Only consider using a .300, .338 or larger magnum if you can shoot it as well as you can the .30-06.

It is very popular now to purchase large magnum rifles equipped with a muzzle brake. Most muzzle brakes are very effective at reducing recoil. A .375 magnum with a muzzle brake recoils much like a .30-06. Before convincing yourself that you should use a muzzle-braked rifle, consider its disadvantages. A muzzle-brake increases the muzzle blast and noise to levels that quickly damage the ear. Even when just sighting in or practicing, everyone near you at the range will find the blast and noise bothersome. Anyone near the muzzle brake when the rifle is fired may suffer hearing loss or physical damage to the ear. An increasing number of guides will not allow a hunter to use a muzzle brake because of the danger of hearing loss.

Rifle Weight Reduces Recoil

Rather than rely on a muzzle-brake to reduce recoil, use a rifle heavy enough to reduce recoil. If you are planning on packing out moose meat, caribou meat, or a brown bear hide weighing hundreds of pounds, you can carry a 9- to 11-pound rifle including scope. A rifle of this weight in .300 or .338 magnum can be mastered with a lot of practice. You can also avoid using a muzzle-brake by selecting a cartridge that you can shoot comfortably and enjoy shooting enough to practice with frequently. For most hunters, the upper limit of recoil is the .30-06 or 7mm Remington Magnum®. A majority of hunters are more comfortable with a .308 or .270.

Recommended Type of Action

If you are choosing a rifle for hunting in Alaska, you should strongly consider a modern bolt action rifle made of stainless steel bedded in a synthetic stock. A bolt action is recommended because it is mechanically simple, can be partially disassembled in the field for cleaning, and is the most reliable action under poor weather conditions. Stainless steel is excellent for most Alaska hunting because it resists rust caused by rain or snow. However, stainless steel will rust with time so must be maintained after each day of field use.

Cartridge Selection

Alaska big game varies from the relatively small (deer, goats) to the largest game on the continent (brown bears, moose). In general, hunters should select a larger caliber for the largest game. Cover type should also play a role in cartridge selection. Sheep and goats are almost always hunted in the mountains where long distance visibility is the rule. A smaller, flat-shooting cartridge may be best here. Deer in the coastal forests of Southeast Alaska are often shot at less than 20 yards. Moose in the Interior may be shot at intermediate distances. Select your cartridge based on the expected circumstances.

Round-nosed versus Pointed Bullets

A high quality rifle bullet placed into the heart or lungs of a big game animal at approximately 2000 to 2800 feet per second will expand or “mushroom” and destroy the vital organs. The shape of the bullet has no direct effect on its function, its accuracy, or its ability to kill. A “round-nosed” bullet that penetrates and destroys a vital organ is just as effective as the most streamlined of bullets.

However, a pointed bullet does not lose velocity as quickly as a round-nosed bullet. For example, a .30-06 firing a 180-grain pointed bullet which leaves the barrel at 2700 feet per second, is travelling 2300 feet per second at 200 yards. In comparison, a round-nosed 180 grain bullet at the same speed will have slowed to 2000 feet per second at the same distance, because the pointed bullet can cut through the air with less resistance just like a sleek fighter jet. Under actual field conditions, this will make no difference between a good hit, bad hit, or miss. At distances beyond 200 yards, a pointed bullet will not drop as quickly as a round-nosed bullet. Most hunters should not shoot big game at distances further than 200 yards.

Bullet Quality versus Shape

Diagram of a Nosler Fail Safe Bullet.
Nosler Combined Technology
Fail Safe®
Diagram of a Nosler Partition.
Nosler Partition®
Diagram of Nosler Ballistic Tip.
Nosler Ballistic Tip®

The bullet shape is not as important as the quality of the bullet and how well your rifle will shoot a particular bullet. Some rifles will shoot a pointed bullet more accurately and some will shoot a round-nosed bullet more accurately. You should try quality bullets of both shapes to find out which weight and shape produces greatest accuracy in your firearm.

A bullet must be “tough” enough to penetrate through skin, muscle, and even bone to reach the vital organs. It must also be “soft” enough to expand and disrupt the function of these vital organs. Throughout the history of bullet making, this has been the constant challenge—find the proper balance between “soft” and “tough.”

Modern bullets are typically constructed from a copper or copper alloy “jacket” that surrounds a lead or lead alloy core, except at the very tip or “nose” of the bullet. Most conventional bullets have jackets that are thin near the nose and taper to a thicker diameter near the base. This method of construction is designed to control the rate of expansion, as the bullet will open or “mushroom” quickly toward the thin “nose” but will not “mushroom” as quickly near the base. Examples of this type of bullet are the Hornaday Interlock®, Speer Grand-Slam®, and Remington Core-Lokt®.

The advantage of these bullets is that they are relatively inexpensive and work well on most game animals at ranges from 50 to 200 yards. At typical velocities, these are excellent bullets for almost any game. One can say with high confidence that a big game animal hit in the heart-lung vital zone with one of these bullets will die swiftly and certainly.

Construction of Partitioned Bullets

The next step in bullet construction and bullet complexity is the “partitioned” bullet. These include the Nosler Partition®, the Swift A-Frame®, and the Trophy Bonded Bear Claw®. These bullets share a common feature; all of them have a tapered jacket that is “H” shaped (see picture). The cross-bar of the “H” is a part of the jacket itself. Each end of the “H” is filled with lead, a lead alloy, or tungsten alloy. These bullets are designed to expand quickly at the front but never expand below the cross-bar of the “H.” In theory, this should be the best of both worlds: Excellent expansion to destroy tissue and a protected core that will ensure deep penetration.

Performance in the Field

The performance of partitioned bullets is excellent—they perform about as well in real life as in theory. If a moose, elk, caribou, or even brown bear is hit in the heart-lung vital area, these ultra-tough bullets often exit on the opposite side, leaving a better blood trail and ensuring a double-lung hit. The only negative of these premium bullets is cost. For example, a box of factory loads with Nosler®, Swift®, or Trophy Bonded® bullets typically costs at least twice as much as a box of conventional bullets.

To sum up on the subjects of firearm, cartridge, and ammunition selection: You can’t go wrong with a stainless steel bolt-action rifle chambered for a standard cartridge that you are comfortable with and can shoot accurately, loaded with a high quality bullet.

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Know your .338s and .375s

By Mark V. Lonsdale

I’ve talked to several individuals in recent years who had confused 338 WinMag with 338 Lapua Mag, and 375 H&H with 375 CheyTac. In short, these are very different cartridges in both purpose and range. While 338 WinMag and 375 H&H have stood the test of time as big game hunting cartridges, 338 LM and 375 CT are designed for long range shooting, with larger case volumes producing higher muzzle velocities. In addition, 338 WM and 375 H&H are based on belted magnum cartridges with a 0.532” bolt face, so can be shot out of standard long action rifles. The other two are special purpose cartridges requiring larger bolts and actions, such as the Stiller’s TAC338 and TAC408 (the 375 CT is a necked down 408 CheyTac).


300 WinMag was actually introduced by Winchester after the 338 WinMag by increasing case capacity. 338 WinMag was a modified 458 WinMag while .375 H&H was developed by Holland & Holland in 1912 as an African big game cartridge

Introduced by Winchester in 1958, the 338 Win Mag is a necked down 458 WinMag that can run bullets from 185 GMXs through 200 SST and 225 TTSX for elk, up to 250 grain Match bullets and big game 250 Interlocks. The 250 SMKs with 73 grains of VV N165 produced 2,700 fps, making for solid hits out to 1,000 yards with a sub-MOA rifle.


Introduced in 1987, the 338 Lapua Magnum was designed specifically for long range sniper applications so can handle heavier bullets and higher muzzle velocities for hard hitting at longer ranges. However it is also a good caliber for big game. While 2,750 fps is considered the standard MV, the 338 LM pushes 300 SMKs with 100 grains of VV N570 at 3,000 fps, making it effective out to 2,000-2,500 yards. Again, effective range is dependent on the accuracy of the rifle and experience of the shooter.


Remington 700 Sendero .338 WinMag with a McMillan A3 Sporter stock from the Remington Custom Shop

338 LM

.338 Lapua Magnum ELR rifle build on a Stiller’s TAC338 action, Bartlein barrel, Piercision brake, in a McMillan A5 stock, with an AccuTac bipod and NightForce ATACR. 

Coming out of Holland & Holland in 1912, the 375 H&H Magnum quickly established itself as a smooth feeding, venerable big game hunting cartridge. It is also the minimum caliber for professional hunters and dangerous game in Africa. This is a caliber that routinely pushes 220-270 grain bullets in the 2,600-2,750 fps range, ideal for elk, and 300s at 2500 fps. With a 350 grain bullet, the 375 H&H can be pushed to 2,250 fps – but still ample for dangerous game. For longer range open country hunting, the 375 H&H can push a 200 grain bullet at 2,900 fps, making it more than capable at 600 to 1,000 yards, depending on the accuracy of the rifle.

Rem 700 375 HH

Remington 700 .375 H&H Magnum. One of the most popular African safari rifles. 

Jack-Morin Rem700 375HH 

Cape buffalo taken with a Rem 700 .375 H&H 

375 CheyTac is a true long range sniper rifle and extreme long range (ELR) competition rifle reaching out to 3,000+ yards. Factory 350 SMKs produced a muzzle velocity of 3,100 fps, and running CEB 352 MTACs with 143 grains of H50BMG I’m getting 3,000 fps out of a 29” barrel. The 400 grain Lazers with 135 grains of H50BMG are running at 2,950 fps and well suited to ELR competitions.



Hill Country Rifles .375 CheyTec built on a Stiller’s TAC408 action in a McMillan A5 SuperMagnum stock


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Tuesday Tech Tip – Labradar and Light Loads

By Mark V. Lonsdale, STTU

The training never stops and the goal is to learn something everyday. Yes, we have all learned that the radical left social democrats are willing to destroy our 1st and 2nd amendment rights (free speech and the right to bear arms respectively), but we have known that for some time. So let’s focus on shooting.

375 CT Labradar2

The Labradar is a pivotal part of TRS load development and competition preparation

Today I was doing load development with my Marlin 1895SBL 45-70 Guide Gun, and hit an anomaly that I had not seen. When doing load development for hunting or tactical rifles, I usually begin with proven factory ammunition to get a baseline muzzle velocity (MV).  In this case I began with the Hornady LeveRevolution 325 FTX that I had tested in the past. Three years ago I had tested several factory 45-70 ammunitions and the Hornady 325 FTX was the most accurate, but still kicks like a mule.

325 FTX


Top: Marlin 1894 .44 Magnum. Bottom: Marlin 1895SBL 45-70 Guide Gun 

Running a Labradar, the Hornady factory ammo logged an average MV of 1,887 fps and my handloads of 50 grains of IMR-3031 came in at 1,735 fps. The problem, and focus of this tech tip, began when I tried to chronograph some light practice loads.

I began by loading 41 grains of IMR-3031 with the hope of coming up with a load that was pleasant to shoot and chrono’ed around 1,500 fps. So you can imagine my surprise when I began getting readouts of 3,000+ fps, or no read-out at all, even though the recoil was considerably reduced. The only thing for frustrating than an “unable to read” on the Labradar, is a reading of twice what it should be. I had only 10 rounds loaded up with this light load so never was successful at getting an accurate MV.


Hornady 300 grain hollow points loaded down to 41-50 grains of IMR-3031 for light practice loads. Will be working up loads with VihtaVuori N130 and N530 in the near future.

Thinking about this conundrum on the drive home, I had an inkling of the problem, but shot off an email to Richard at Labradar just to confirm my suspicion. He promptly responded with the advice to set the Labradar on pistol mode for anticipated muzzle velocities below 1,600 fps. Problem solved. So I now have additional light loads loaded up and ready for the next trip to the range.

Conclusion – Tech Tip: Move your Labradar from rifle mode to pistol mode when chrono’ing rifle loads below 1,600 fps. This would include 44 magnum, 45 LC, or any other cowboy action shooting loads.

Stay tuned for future 45-70 load development with VihtaVuori N130 & N530


Labradar 45-70


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.243 Winchester – Peterson Brass and the Berger 109 Hybrid

By Mark V. Lonsdale

Growing up hunting, the .243 Winchester was one of the most popular light deer rifles. It was also a popular caliber for long range target competition shooting. The Sierra 107 SMK was the most popular 600 and 1,000 yard competition bullet, and is still a contender to this day. But this was before the 6.5 Creedmoor became the hot new kid on the block.


Robar SR60 built on a Sako action with a 24″ fast twist barrel. Stock is the McMillan M40 hunting and tactical stock. Scope is a Leupold Mark 4 M1 3.5-10x40mm

But be assured, .243 Winchester is still a handy light hunting rifle and long range tack driver. This week I dusted off my trusty Robar SR60 SAKO .243 Win to begin evaluating the Peterson .243 brass and Berger’s 109 Hybrid


Berger 6mm/.243 109 grain Long Range Hybrids loaded into Peterson .243 Win. brass


It is still early days, but the Berger 109 Hybrids are producing consistent sub-MOA groups as I work up a load. In the past I’ve found the sweet spot for the heavier .243 bullets around 2,850 fps. This is also the first time I’ve worked with the Peterson brass, but as expected, it is meeting all my expectations. I’m currently running Peterson brass in .308 Win., 6.5 CM, .338 Lapua, and .375 CheyTac with flawless results, therefore looking forward to their pending release of .300 WinMag cartridges.

Stay tuned for additional results from the .243 Win. testing



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The Ideal Truck Gun

By Mark V. Lonsdale

Warning: Be sure to check out state and local laws and ordinances when storing or transporting firearms in a vehicle.

Let’s first define a truck gun. For anyone who has worked on a ranch, it’s a handy rifle that can be used when needed to control pests such as coyotes or wolves. It is not your best long range hunting rifle or prized safari rifle, but a less expensive utility rifle. It is selected for a balance of size, caliber, economy, and rugged reliability, and one that you don’t mind getting a little beat up.

For those old enough to remember, in rural areas, 40 years ago, it was not unusual to see a gun rack in the back window of many pickup trucks. Teens could even take their rifles and shotguns to school so that they could go hunting right after school. Some high schools even provided secure storage for rifles and shotguns while the owners were in class. This was back when there were no “gun free zones” and no mass school shootings. Go figure!

Unfortunately society has changed, and not for the better. It is now unwise to have firearms in plain sight unless on private property or headed out to hunt. So a “truck gun” now is more a carbine sized rifle that is more easily hidden behind the back seat of a pickup.

Probably the most ubiquitous carbine for the past 100 years has been the 30-30 Winchester or Marlin – and these are still viable candidates. But given the choice, many shooters prefer bolt action rifles which offer a wider variety of calibers. Even though I own and use two lever actions, I still prefer a bolt action rifle for every day carry.

Without getting into an exhaustive list of rifles, Remington and Ruger both offer light hunting rifles with 20” barrels in a variety of common calibers. One consideration I give to a truck gun is the availability of ammunition anywhere in the country. Along with 30-30 and 30-06, and without getting into the belted magnums such as 300 Win Mag, the most common light rifle calibers are .308 Win, .243 Win, .223 Rem, and now 6.5 Creedmoor. We are talking ammo that you can buy at not only gun shops but farm supply stores, gas stations, and bait shops in many outdoor-centric rural areas.

Two rifles that meet my requirements for a truck gun are the Ruger M77 Scout in .308 Win. and the Marlin 1895SBL in 45-70. With a lifetime of shooting .308 Win. in the military, for tactical training, and in long range competitions, the handy 18” barreled Ruger Scout met my requirements for a rugged little rifle, complete with detachable 5 and 10-round magazines. It also reminded me of the WWII British .303 Jungle Carbine which I had enjoyed shooting in my teens. Topped with a scope the Ruger can reach out to 500 yards with ease, but is still primarily a short to mid-range rifle.

Ruger M77 Scout 308

Ruger M77 Scout in .308 Win. with both 5 and 10 round magazines. Scope is a Leupold VX-3i 4.5-14x40mm with CDS dial calibrated for 100-600 yards. Running Black Hills 180 grain AccuBonds.

For a saddle gun I first selected a lever action Marlin 1894 in 44 Magnum, but was less than impressed by the power and performance of what is essentially a pistol caliber. So when Marlin came out with the 45-70 Guide gun I was at the front of the line. The 45-70 is not a long range hunting cartridge, but inside 200 yards the Hornady 325 grain FTX bullets hit hard.  With the appropriate bullet it could also be used for any dangerous game from grizzlies to Cape buffalo.


Top: Marlin 1894 .44 Magnum. Lower: Marlin 1895SBL Guide gun in 45-70 with an intermediate eye relief Leupold scope. Both are a handy 36″ long  

An additional popular truck gun is one of the many “black gun” AR clones in .223 Rem. 6.5 Creedmoor, or .308 Win. If ranching on the border, or areas that may be frequented by drug runners, border smugglers, or pot growers, then the high capacity AR offers more rounds, plus a number of external options including scopes and light mounts.

To conclude, the ideal truck gun is like the ideal every day carry (EDC) handgun or knife. It should be ruggedly reliable, reasonably accurate, and of a convenient size to where it is not a hassle to take it everywhere. Most modern pickup trucks have enough room behind the back seat to stow a rifle or shotgun. Remember, never leave guns, wallets, handbags, laptops, cell phones, or other valuables in plain sight in an unattended vehicle. Finally, be sure you are in compliance with state and local laws and ordinances when storing or transporting firearms.


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The Importance of a Pre-Range / Pre-Shooting Ritual

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.

M6 2018

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.

2019 Mark Lonsdale

.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.

  1. Calibrate the internal compass
  2. Enter the latitude
  3. Capture or enter the direction of fire (DoF)
  4. Capture or enter the direction of wind
  5. Ensure that the environmental functions are active (not locked)
  6. Spin your 5700 to clear and update the environmentals
  7. Capture the wind speed
  8. 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.

FCSA Targets

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.


MVL Accuracy

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The Project Rifle – .375 H&H

By Mark V. Lonsdale, STTU

Whether for FT-R, PRS, long range, ELR, or hunting, every custom built rifle begins with a fleeting thought deep in the brain-housing group. Then it moves to a little online research looking for similar rifles, but not finding exactly what you envisioned.

At this point you have two choices: 1/ dump the whole project on the work bench of a custom riflesmith, or, 2/ begin collecting the component parts.


The first step in my next project rifle — a Stiller’s Predator magnum action.

The primary parts of a custom rifle are the action, the barrel, and the stock. Since one or more of these components may have one to six months manufacturing lead time, depending on their back-orders, it is best to order all three when you make the decision to pull the trigger on this project.

But before all that, the first mental exercise is to decide on the purpose for the rifle – hunting, tactical, or competition – and if the latter, what form of competition. Taking a look at what the champions are shooting will indicate the ideal caliber for that application. If for hunting, the type, size, and relative danger of game will drive the caliber. Once you know the caliber and ideal bullet weight, the next step is to select the action and barrel.

Rem 700 375 HH

This Rem 700 .375 H&H Magnum was the inspiration for my current project rifle. I’ve always kept a .375 H&H in my safe just on the off-chance of an invitation to head to the dark continent. But I sold this one to a local guy who had won a safari hunt in Africa. This got me thinking about the ultimate .375 H&H

Jack-Morin Rem700 375HH

The above Rem 700 .375 H&H fulfills its destiny in South Africa 

In the past few years I’ve had considerable success with Stiller’s Actions so selecting the Predator magnum long action was an easy decision. Similarly, I shoot Bartlein barrels in competition and prefer barrels a little on the heavy side, so after talking to Frank at Bartlein, I settled on a 24″ Bull Sporter contour. I also knew I wanted a fiberglass stock that would be stable in all weather conditions, so after looking at McMillan’s range of hunting stocks, settled on their Tactical Hunter. This stock was selected partly because it had an adjustable cheek-rest to facilitate moving between a scope and iron sights.

McMillan Tactical Hunter

The McMillan Tactical Hunter is available with or without an adjustable cheek-rest and in a variety of colors and camouflage. 

The other components of a custom rifle include the trigger, scope, scope rings, scope level, bipod, and sling – so stay tuned as this project comes together.


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Leupold Mark 5HD 5-25x56mm FFP

By Mark V. Lonsdale

Looking for a top quality scope for long range shooting? Check out the Leupold Mark 5HD – a truly awesome piece of glass for the serious shooter, complete with a lifetime warranty. 


Leupold Mark 5HD 5-25x56mm FFP with PR-1MOA reticle and 120 MOA or 34.9 MILs elevation range 


Leupold Mark 5HD mounted on a .308 Win. F-TR rifle. Atlas Tactical action with a 30″ Bartlein Heavy Palma barrel, 1:10″ twist, in a McMillan A5 3-way adjustable stock. Ammunition is Berger 185 Juggernauts in Peterson brass with Varget powder. 

The Mark 5HD is available in MOA or MILs with a variety of reticles. I’m running the Tremor 3 reticle in my MIL scopes and the newer PR-1MOA in my MOA scope.

Leupold PR-1 MOA

Leupold PR-1MOA reticle shown at 10X. With the Mark 5HD I do most of my shooting at 20-25X 


Leupold Mark 5HD with rock solid Mark 4 35mm rings 

For more information on the Mark 5HD, check out



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