ELR – Go Big or Go Home?

By Mark V. Lonsdale, STTU

When a shooter steps up from long range shooting (1,000 yards) to extreme long range (1,500+ yards) he or she is also stepping up to some heavy fire power – with the emphasis on HEAVY.

The rifles that have been winning at the King of 2 Miles (Ko2M) are in the 40-pound category with .416 Barrett being the ruler of the roost.

Team GPG Mark Lonsdale

Team Global Precision with their 2019 winning .416 Barretts complete with BAT actions, McMillan Beast stocks, and Bartlein barrels 

But when you get serious about ELR shooting, you are also investing in a purpose built rifle. In the early days of ELR shooters were running their .338 Lapua Magnums, but then stepped up to .375 Chey Tac. Both are excellent ELR calibers, but they have their limitations; so much so that the minimum caliber for consideration for the Ko2M is now .375 CT.

While bullet weight and BC are considerations, one of the biggest advantages of the bigger calibers is being able to see the splash at extreme ranges. This is important since it is all but impossible to read wind accurately at 2,000 to 3,000 yards, so the best wind indicator is the dust kicked up by an impact in the dirt or on the rocks – the splash.

416-338

.416 Barrett in the back; .338 Lapua Magnum in front – both with Accu-Tac bipods 

416-338LM

While the .338 Lapua Magnum, in the 14-16 pound range, is a practical sniper rifle for military operations, the 40+ pound .416 Barrett is not practical for field operations. It could, however, be used in fixed position defense. 

The effective range for a .338 LM is in the 1,500 to 2,000 yard range. The .375 Chey Tac has proven effective out passed 2,500 yards. But the Ko2M goes to 2 miles / 3,520 yards.

Now it is possible to score hits at longer ranges with the .338 and . 375 under ideal conditions, but when we talk about “effective” it should be defined as the range at which a rifle and competent shooter can score 80% hits. In other words, it may take one or two shots to get on target and read the wind, but then the next series should be solid hits on a 36″x36″ ELR target.

375CT-338LM

.375 Chey-Tac, in the back, built by Hill Country Rifles on a Stiller’s Action and McMillan A5 Super Magnum stock, weighing in just under 25 pounds. Three inches shorter, the .338 LM in the foreground weighed in at 16 pounds, both with Accu-Tac bipods  

So before you invest several thousand dollars in an ELR rifle, it is important to understand the limited use you may get out of a purpose built rifle. Not too many shooters have access to shooting ranges out passed 1,000 yards, and even fewer to 3,000 yards.

But if you have the time, inclination, and disposable income, ELR is a real challenge and a lot of fun.

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Berger Wins Sub-Contract For Advanced Sniper Rifle Program Ammunition

Berger Wins Sub-Contract For Advanced Sniper Rifle Program Ammunition

The single-year contract specifies 800,000 rounds of .300 Norma Mag. that will be loaded with Berger’s .30-cal., 215-grain hybrid bullets along with Lapua brass. The contract also includes 200,000 rounds of .338 Norma Mag. loaded with Lapua’s .338-caliber, 300-grain armor-piercing AP529 projectiles and Lapua brass. This .338 Norma Mag. load extends the range for snipers over the .300 Norma Mag. load. Berger and Lapua products had already been chosen for the Advanced Sniper Rifle program ammunition—now the loads themselves will be produced by Capstone. Ammunition for the contract will be loaded and tested at the aforementioned facility in Arizona.

With both brands well known by competitive shooters for high quality and match-grade precision, the combination of Berger bullets and Lapua cartridge cases for the Advanced Sniper Rifle program’s .300 and .338 Norma Mag. ammunition should prove potent for the U.S. military.

Learn more at www.capstonepg.com.

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6.5 Creedmoor PRS Rifle

Load development continues for this rifle -currently working with the Berger 140 grain Hybrids. Also using this opportunity to continue T&E with the Accu-Tac WB BR-4 G2 bipod.

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6.5 Creedmoor built on a Rem 700 action, 24″ Krieger Heavy Palma barrel, loaded into a McMillan A6 adjustable stock. Scope is a Leupold Mark 4 6.5-20x.

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Running the Labradar to evaluate various loads with the Berger 140 grain Hybrids. Note the wide, stable stance of the WB BR-4 G2 bipod 

Hollands-Leupold Using the Holland’s bubble level to confirm rifle level 

The testing continues……

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Accu-Tac WB BR-4 G2

Looking for a solid bipod with a wide, stable base for PRS, hunting, target shooting, or tactical operations? Check out the versatile Accu-Tac WB BR-4 G2

6.5CM Accu-Tac

Accu-Tac WB BR-4 G2 mounted on a 6.5 Creedmoor PRS rifle built on a Kelbly’s Atlas action and McMillan A6 stock. 

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Accu-Tac bipods are superbly engineered for optimum performance with the options of vertical or 45 degree placement, retractable legs, swivel head to adapt to uneven terrain, and a quick disconnect rail mount.

HD-50 WB_BR-4_G2

HD-50 (top) weighs in at 1lb 11 oz. while the smaller WB BR-4 G2 (bottom) is 1lb 6oz. 

Stay tuned for additional test reports

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Accu-Tac HD-50

First day of testing with Accu-Tac’s HD-50 was very positive, especially if you enjoy 0.2″ to 0.4″ groups with a .338 Lapua Magnum.

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Accu-Tac HD-50 on a .338 Lapua Magnum

Any time you can shoot sub-half MOA groups off a bipod, you know you have a sturdy bipod. 

The HD-50 has all the features expected of a high-end bipod including: positive folding leg locks and leg extensions, spring loaded retraction, and a lockable swivel head. The HD-50 weighs in at 1 pound 11 ounces.

Accu-Tac HD-50 offers a wide, stable base for long range and extreme long range shooting.

Next week will run the HD-50 on the .416 Barrett

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ACCU-TAC BIPODS

By Mark V. Lonsdale, STTU Training Director

With the changes in the King of 2 Miles (Ko2M) ELR rules, and the requirement to replace the Phoenix F-TR bipods with folding leg bipods, many shooters have been looking at the Accu-Tac bipods. These are extremely sturdy, high quality bipods with all the required features.

HD-50 WB_BR-4_G2

Top is the Accu-Tac heavy duty HD-50; bottom is the wide base WB BR-4 G2, complete with swivel head and quick disconnect rail mount

The new rules affect the closed width of the folding leg bipods. Both meet this requirement.

Stay tuned for the initial range testing this week.

HD-50 Bipod

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.338 Lapua Magnum

Full report to follow on this .338 Lapua Magnum

20200106_338LM Kestrel

Built on a Stiller’s TAC-338 action, Bartlein custom barrel in a McMillan A5 stock with Badger Ordnance bottom metal. Running the Kestrel 5700 Elite and Garmin Foretrex 701 with Applied Ballistics for firing solutions. Using Peterson brass with Vihtavuori powder pushing Cutting Edge and Sierra Matchkings. Switching to an Accu-Tac bipod for future testing

 

Stay tuned for additional info

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Range Tools – Don’t Get Caught without Them

By Mark V. Lonsdale, STTU

As with many of you, I’ve been on public rifle ranges where some new shooter turns up with a new rifle and scope but has no tools to mount it. Or the scope is mounted incorrectly and they don’t have the tools to correct it. Or someone has a squib load but has no cleaning rod to knock the bullet back out of the bore.

M6 2018

Various Allen and Torx screws and bolts requiring the correct tools. Rifle is a 300 WinMag in a McMillan A6 stock

In the same vain, any time I run a precision rifle class participants are instructed, well ahead of time, to turn up with their rifles and scopes zeroed at 100 yards. Unfortunately many are not.

Reasons participants have given for not having a zeroed rifle:

  • I signed up at the last minute and no one told me
  • I just bought a new rifle this week
  • I changed ammunition and haven’t re-zeroed
  • The gun shop just installed a new scope for me
  • My friend gave me some reloaded ammo for the class
  • I think it’s zeroed but not sure

So needless to say, the precision rifle class turns into Rifle 101 and the first morning on the range is dedicated to zeroing rifles. But when it comes time to zero out the scope dials, invariably, all but one or two will not have the correct Allen wrenches to zero their dials. Even a gunsmith in one class had no tools.

On left, small tool with all the necessary Allen and Torx wrenches in a small Pelican case. Right is a Leupold 65 in-lb T wrench and a conventional variable torque wrench (top)

Scopes come with the Allen wrench sized for that scope dial, but most scopes use one of three basic Allens so I carry all three. So shooters should have a small pouch that carries all the tools needed to tighten any bolt or screw on their rifles. This is primarily the action bolts, the scope ring screws and nuts, and Allens for the scope dials and trigger adjustment (if running an adjustable trigger such as Timney or Jewel).

Back to the participants in precision rifle classes, often times they not only do not have the right tools, they don’t know the required torque values for their actions and scopes. An experienced shooter or gunsmith can often button up the bolts by “feel” but rookie shooters can only learn the correct feel by using torque wrenches set to the correct values. This also prevents stripping out small screws such as the scope ring-halves screws that only require 15-18 in-lbs (depending on manufacturer recommendations).

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Compact set of Deluxe Fix it Sticks complete with pre-set torque wrench heads and T handle

Basic tools include:

  • Allen for action/stock bolts (or screwdriver for slot screws)
  • Allen for scope base
  • Allen for scope ring-half screws
  • 1/2” socket for the ring side nuts
  • Allen for trigger adjustments
  • Torque wrench
  • Allen for stock butt plate adjustments
  • Lens cleaning brush and soft cloth
  • Tools for additional accessories such as light mounts, lasers, or bipods

Tool kit sniper

Sniper tool kit complete with notebook and Kestrel wind/weather meter and spare batteries 

To conclude, save the instructions that come with your rifle, scopes, scope rings, mounts, and triggers. Most of these of these have specific torque values. Next, save any tools that come with these as well. Put them in a small pouch or Pelican box, or add them to your Fix it Sticks, and keep them with the rifle or in your range bag. Lastly, since we all have several rifles, maintain a small notebook or log book for each rifle so that you have a notation of required torque values and the ammunition you used when you last zeroed the rifle.

Fix it Sticks in action on scope mounting screws and nuts

 

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Posted in Designated Marksman, Fit it Sticks, Mark Lonsdale, Precision Rifle Shooting, PRS, Remington 700, Rifle Shooting, Sniper, STTU, Tactical Rifle Shooters, Team McMillan, Tools | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

EXTREME LONG RANGE (ELR) SHOOTING – SKILL OR LUCK?

By Mark V. Lonsdale

ELR shooting can be both addictive and expensive, even though hit probabilities are often low. With a match like Ko2M in Raton, New Mexico, a competitor could drive a thousand miles to shoot just six shots and be eliminated. If a shooter does not hit the first target, he or she does not advance. In other forms of competition a competitor gets to shoot 80 to 250 rounds before the day is done.

So what’s the attraction when the rifles and ammo are so expensive? ELR is like hitting that one golf ball 300 yards on a driving range, shooters choose to remember that one impact on steel at a mile (1,760 yards), while failing to attach a percentage or hit probability factor. In ELR competitions, it is not unusual to see the hit count drop to below 10% at longer distances.

One of the reasons rookie shooters enjoy ELR shooting is that, unlike other shooting disciplines, everyone misses long range targets – even national and international champions. So when the rookie goes zero for five shots at 2,500 yards, he or she does not feel so bad, because a former champion probably also went zero for five.

If that same rookie shooter was to enter an F Class F-TR competition, where all the top shooters are shooting near perfect scores (200 out of 200 at 1,000 yards), his or her lowly score would be a little disheartening. However, the serious rookie shooter will take a low score as motivation to improve next time, and by having a quantifiable score to aim for, it is easier to track progress.

Targets f-class

1,000 yard F Class range complete with wind flags

But with ELR shooting, it is almost impossible to have a quantifiable score to build on since  chance plays such a big part of ELR shooting. Why is this? Simple answer – Wind.  On a calm day, most top ELR shooters can go 5 for 5 at 2,500 yards, but on a windy day the scores drop dramatically. Unlike formal long range shooting disciplines, that are shot on a flat range with range flags to assist in reading wind, ELR matches have no down-range wind flags. ELR matches are also shot over irregular terrain replete with canyons, valleys, ridge-lines, draws and spurs. All of which contribute to unpredictable and often unseen wind changes in both velocity and direction.

As an example, at the 2019 FCSA ELR Record Challenge at the NRA Whittington Center in Raton, not one shooter was able to hit the 2,300 yard target because of tough weather and wind conditions, and an inability to spot misses. This harkened back to the first Applied Ballistics ELR Central World Record attempt in Pahrump, NV, January 2018. Only one shooter, Nate Stallter with Team Tubb, was able to go 3 for 3 at 2,011 yards on a 36”x36” target, and no one hit 2,500 yards. Again, why? The single biggest reason was a strong, variable cross-wind and no wind indicators down-range.

This is what makes ELR shooting both exciting and frustrating. Just like watching a high-roller gambling on the roulette wheel, spectators all want to see him or her win, but the gambler has no control on where the wheel will stop. It is nerve racking, but it is still all chance. With ELR shooting, everyone wants to hit the extreme long range targets, but the wind becomes the element of chance. Thanks to Applied Ballistics and Kestrel Ballistics, many of the variables such as bullet drop, spin drift, and Coriolis have become predictable, but down-range wind is still an art, not a science.

While serious ELR competitors invest heavily in rifles, optics, ammunition, and accessories, they are still at the mercy of the elements. Even the best shooters in the world cannot guarantee hits at 2,500+ yards when the winds are strong and changeable.

At best, if the shooter or spotter can spot a miss impact in the dirt or on a rock face, he or she can adjust aim and shoot quickly before the wind changes. But when the bullet’s flight time is several seconds, there is a high probability that the wind will have changed again, leaving the shooter chasing the wind for an elusive impact on steel. As little as a 1 mile per hour wind change can put the bullet off the target, but reading the difference between an 8 mph wind and a 10 mph wind at 1.5 miles (2,640 yards) is all but impossible. As an example, a 1 mph 3 or 9 o’clock wind moves my .375 CheyTac 0.55 MOA laterally at 1,000 yards, but 2 MOA at 2,500 yards. That’s 53 inches and a complete miss with a flight time of 4.6 seconds.

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

As an example of just how changeable winds can be in a mountain environment, at the 2019 FCSA 1.5 Mile Challenge, the 2,268-yard target was on a rock face up on the side of a ridgeline. My first shot was a hit so I reloaded and fired a second shot as quickly as possible. The second shot impacted about 20 feet to the right of the target, so obviously a strong left to right wind, from 9 o’clock, had picked up, even though wind at the shooting position was right to left (from 3 o’clock). My spotter called the miss, I made sight adjustments and fired again. The third shot was an impact, so again, I fired again quickly. The forth shot impacted the rock about 8-10 feet above the target, indicating a tail wind coming straight up the valley and then up the rock face.

FCSA Targets

Target locations for the 2019 FCSA ELR Match at Raton, NM

The lesson here is that none of these wind changes were visible or predictable because of the uneven mountainous terrain. I was just fortunate to get some hits. Another shooter could shoot ten minutes later and have no wind at all. This is the nature of long range shooting and the fact that some shooters may have little to no wind early in the morning, but those slotted to shoot later in the day may have hellacious winds. The only thing predictable about Raton is that the wind picks up later in the morning so everyone hopes for an early morning luck of the draw.

Mark-Lonsdale 3rd

Struggling with Raton’s tough conditions at the 2019 FCSA ELR Record Attempts. Rifle is a .416 Barrett built on a BAT EXS action, Bartlein barrel, and McMillan Beast-2 stock, topped with a NightForce ATACR 7-35x56mm

Now don’t get me wrong – there is still a lot of skill required to be a successful ELR shooter, but even world-class wind coaches, who have proven themselves in 1,000-yard F-TR competition, nationally and internationally, struggle with the fickle winds of ELR mountain shooting. But the stats show that we are getting better. In earlier Ko2M competitions, 50% of the shooters were eliminated after the second target at only 1,556 yards. In 2018, only 21% of shooters hit Target #3 in the qualifying rounds, and only 9.7% hit Target #1 in the Finals. But this year, 2019, 82% of the shooters hit Target #1 at 1,692 yards, and 50% hit Target #2 at 1,891 yards. But in the finals, no one managed to hit the 2-mile target (3,525 yards).

Team McMillan

Team McMillan at the 2018 King of 2 Miles match. Targets ranged from 1 to 2 miles.  

As for fundamental marksmanship, one still needs to be a highly competent competitive shooter to be successful in ELR. The rookie shooter should keep in mind that the ELR Central targets are 36”x36” which is only 1 MOA at 3,500 yards. So if you can’t hold 1 MOA at 300, 400, and 500 yards, you will definitely not be doing it at 2,200, 3,200, or 3,500 yards. The Ko2M 2-mile target is 48”x60” which is still only 1.3×1.63 MOA. So even with no wind, a competitor needs to have good combination of rifle, optics, ammo, shooter, and spotter – with bullet BC, stability, and wind-bucking characteristics being extremely important.

To wrap this up, just like on the driving range in golf, everyone remembers that perfect 300 yard drive straight down the fairway, but chooses not to remember all the slices and hacks that went out-of-bounds. It is the same in ELR shooting. Everyone remembers the one hit they got at 2,000 yards, but don’t mention the ten or twelve shots it took to walk the bullets in. Similarly, hitting a 3,500 yard plate once, under ideal conditions, does not necessarily make one a Ko2M contender. It may fire up his or her enthusiasm for ELR shooting, but on match day, under less than ideal terrain and wind conditions, only a small percentage of shooters make it to the finals.

2019 Mark Lonsdale

.416 Barrett ELR rifle

Final recommendation – take every opportunity to shoot in variable windy conditions over uneven terrain. And you don’t have to burn out the barrels on your ELR rifles. 1,000-yard shooting with a .308 Win or 6.5 Creedmoor is more economical and still excellent practice and experience.

Parting shot – ELR shooting is a low probability game requiring a lot of skill and more than a little luck.

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CEB Ko2M

A winning combination with Cutting Edge Bullets 

Posted in 375 CheyTac, 416 Barrett, Barrett Firearms, Cutting Edge Bullets, ELR, Extreme Long Range Shooting, F-Class, F-TR, Mark Lonsdale, Peterson brass, Rifle Shooting, STTU, Tactical Rifle Shooters, Team McMillan | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bullets & Barrels – Making the Right Choice

By Mark V. Lonsdale

Premise: What’s more important – the bullet or the barrel twist?

I see more than a few rookie shooters on Facebook asking about the best load for a specific bullet but without knowing their barrel twist. Conversely, several asked about running a particular bullet in a barrel twist that is completely unsuited to that bullet weight.

To simplify this dilemma when getting into precision long range shooting, if you already own the rifle and know the barrel twist, then select a bullet that is best matched to that twist rate, either target or hunting bullet. And if you don’t know the twist, then mark a cleaning rod and measure how many inches it takes to make one full rotation as it is pushed into the bore.

As a practical example, in .308 Winchester most factory rifles are manufactured in 1:12” twist or 1:10” twist. The 1:12” barrels were intended for the 150, 165, and 168 grain bullets, target or hunting. The 1:10” were more suited to the heavier 180, 185, and 190 grain bullets. When the Marines requested a 175 grain SMK, it was thought that a better barrel twist would be 1:11.5” Since I own several rifles in all three barrel twists, and shoot them more than any other caliber, it is safe to state that the 168 SMKs shoot great in all three twist rates, but I have opted to running Bartlein 1:11.5” barrels in my newer .308s. This works great with both 168 and 175 SMKs. The 185 Juggernauts, 190 SMKs, 200 Hybrids, and 215 Berger Hybrids, definitely shoot better in the 1:10” twist that I have in my F-TR rifles and 300 WinMags. As with many long range shooters, I prefer 200 grain Hybrid bullets for 1,000 yard shooting, and 215 Hybrid or 210-220 SMKs out to 1,500 yards, in .30 caliber.  After that we are into .338 or .375 country.

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Robar .308 Win built on a Rem 700 action, Bartlein 1:11.5″ barrel, and McMillan A3-5 stock. 

168SMK 0.5 

168 grain Sierra Matchkings from a 1:11.5″ barrel. Handloads on left, factory Federal Gold Medal Match on right

In the lighter calibers such as 6.5 Creedmoor, I’m running medium and heavy Palma 1:8” twist barrels but have found a significant difference in precision accuracy with various bullet weights. After considerable testing with 130, 140, 142, and 147 grain bullets, hands down my rifles prefer the 140 grain bullets. Consistent 0.5” groups don’t lie. So this was a case of barrel first and then find the right bullet.

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PRS 6.5 Creedmoor with a 1:8″ Bartlein medium Palma barrel in a McMillan A6 stock, topped with a Leupold Mark 5HD 5-25x scope

Hornady 140 ELD-M (left) 142 SMK (right)

If you are planning on buying or building a custom rifle, you first select the bullet you wish to shoot and then match the barrel twist to that bullet. For example, for ELR shooting, the 400 grain Lazer Cutting Edge bullets in .357 CheyTac and the 550 grain Lazers in .416 Barrett have proven to be winners. For .338 Lapua Magnum, the choice may be the 300 Sierra Matchking or the Cutting Edge 275 Lazer – one jacked and one solid.

CEB Ko2M

Running Cutting Edge 550 Lazers at the 2019 Ko2M

The general rule is that heavier bullets prefer faster twist barrels; and you can run even faster twist barrels with solid bullets as opposed to jacketed bullets. For example, in .338 Lapua, you can run a 1:9” or 1:10” with 300 grain SMKs, but a faster 1:8” with the solid 275 Lazer. The danger of pushing a jacked bullet too fast through a super-fast twist barrel is it may strip the jacket and the bullet may come apart.

This project .338 Lapua Magnum, built on a Stiller’s TAC338 action, will have a Bartlein 1:9″ twist barrel to optimize the Sierra 300 SMKs. But will also run tests with Cutting Edge .275 Lazers for comparison and ELR shooting. 

Another reason for fast twist barrels and bullets in ELR shooting is retained RPM at extended ranges. RPM is one of the components of bullet stability so it makes sense that if the bullet starts out at a higher spin rate, it will retain more RPM as it passes from super-sonic into trans-sonic and subsonic.  Thus the reason that solid bullets such as Cutting Edge dominate in ELR matches.

The final option, whatever barrel twist you may have on your factory or custom rifle, you can always re-barrel the rifle to the optimum twist for your chosen bullet and application. Serious competitive shooters consider match barrels as consumable, just like tires on your car. Just as you can change tires to best suit the conditions, you can change barrels to best suit your shooting needs. Similarly, when the barrel becomes worn and loses accuracy, just spend the $350 and get a new one. I have blue-printed actions and McMillan stocks that are 30 years old, but all it takes is a new match-grade barrel to have a new match-grade rifle.

Peterson CE

.308 Winchester (left) .375 CheyTac (right) running Cutting Edge 352 MTACs and 400 Lazers 

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Posted in 375 CheyTac, 416 Barrett, Cutting Edge Bullets, ELR, Extreme Long Range Shooting, F-TR, Mark Lonsdale, Peterson brass, Precision Rifle Shooting, PRS, Reloading, Remington 700, Rifle Shooting, Sniper, STTU, Tactical Rifle Shooters | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment