LabRadar Simplified

By Mark V. Lonsdale

For those who are intimidated by technology, here is a shooting range Quick Start guide to the LabRadar. Once you become familiar with the functionality, you will find the LabRadar to be quick and easy to use.

The LabRadar does not come with the white numbers on the left. These were added to make the text easier to follow

Once you have loaded the batteries and have the LabRadar aimed at the target, push button #1 to turn it on – you will see a blue light. Push #2 and it will ask if you want to start a new series. Push #3 to accept the new series. Push the Arm button (#4) twice – the light will turn orange. Begin shooting. Each MV will show up on the screen. When you are finished with the series, push and hold the Arm button (#4), 2-3 secs, and a summary will come up on the screen. You will see average MV, highest, lowest, ES and SD, etc. Push #2 when you are ready to begin a new series and follow above instructions.

Labradar A5 Atlas

Be sure to read the instructions that come with the LabRadar, but I have found this placement works well. Once I became familiar with the operating parameters, the only time I miss a reading is when I forget to hit the Arm button. 


When running a muzzle brake, position the LabRadar so that it is not in the muzzle blast zone 


Posted in ELR, F-TR, Mark Lonsdale, Precision Rifle Shooting, Rifle Shooting, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

ELR Central World Record Event



 Las Vegas, NV – Sunday, 21 Jan 2018

Location:         Front Sight Range, 1 Front Sight Road, Pahrump, NV 89061

Time:               Registration: 0600-0700         Range Brief: 0700

Morning Relays: 0800-1000   Afternoon Relays: 1400-1600

Awards Dinner: 1800 – 2000 at Pahrump Valley Winery

Entry Fee:        $50.00

Registration, contact: (231) 468-1231

RULES (Rev 10)

The following rules have been established to standardize the requirements for a recognized ELR Central World Record attempt, while managing 50 shooters in an efficient manner. Multiple shooters will be on the line simultaneously, waiting their turn to shoot. The order of shooters will be selected randomly prior to the beginning of the relay.

  1. The World Record will be 3 out of 3 direct impacts on a 36-inch square plate with no practice shots or sighters.
  2. One rifle per shooter for both attempts. Two shooters cannot share one rifle.
  3. Shooters will not shoot their rifles within 4 hours of this ELR World Record attempt; except for a 100-yard confirm zero.
  4. No limit on caliber, cartridge or bullet. No restriction on optics or aiming devices.
  5. Rifle weight limit of 50 pounds including anything attached to the rifle (optics, bipod, sling, etc.) No heavy Rail Guns or bolted down shooting systems.
  6. Shooters may have one spotter, and the shooter and spotter must stay as a team. Spotters can work with only one shooter for the day.
  7. Shooters are permitted to shoot and spot only once in a 4 hour period. A shooter from the first relay can spot for his spotter in the second relay so that both can shoot. Shooter and spotter cannot shoot in the same relay.
  8. There must be a minimum of 4 hours before shooters can attempt another World Record. For example, once in the morning, once in the afternoon.
  9. No more than two (2) World Record attempts in one day.
  10. The target will be 36 inches square. If there are hits on the target and there is a way to mark them on the monitor, it will be at the discretion of the Match Director to decide when the target should be re-painted.
  11. Targets will be located at distances from 1500-2500+ yards. Distance to the target will be announced on the day of the match and measured from the center of the firing line. The range will be verified +/- 5 yards with at least two (2) laser range finders.
  12. Shooters are still responsible for ranging their own targets from their shooting position on the line. ELR Central will provide rangefinders if shooters don’t have them.
  13. The Match Director will be impartial and will not coach or assist any shooters.
  14. The ROs will establish the shooting order and give range commands. The shooting order will be established by random draw.
  15. Shooting will be done from the any position, to include prone, sitting, kneeling or standing with a bipod or tripod. Shooters may have one rear bag to support the toe of the stock.
  16. Accommodations will be made for individuals with physical restrictions at the Match Director’s discretion.
  17. Shooters will be divided into relays. On command, all shooters and spotters in the relay will line up on the firing line behind their rifles and spotting scopes.
  18. There will be a time limit of 3 minutes per shooter once the individual command to fire is given.
  19. Once the shooter has been given the command to fire, no other person can assist or communicate with the shooter except the spotter.
  20. The next shooter on the line should be prepared to shoot immediately following the previous shooter and when commanded by the RO.
  21. “Impact” will be clearly announced by the Match Director or his designate for everyone to hear.
  22. Impacts on target must be a direct hit. Skip shots or ricochets will not be scored.
  23. Every attempt will be made to video all shooters for World Records. World Records must be witnessed and verified by 5 witnesses including the Match Director.
  24. Any existing record must be broken by at least 10 yards.
  25. If a shooter has a spotter, they will both be named as the “World Record Team.”
  26. If a shooter shoots without a spotter, he or she will be named as the “World Record Individual.”
  27. If more than one shooter scores 3 for 3 at a given distance, both shooters will hold the World Record until another shooter goes 3 for 3 at a longer distance.
  28. After a World Record setting performance, the exact range will be re-measured from the shooter’s shooting position to the target. The shooter’s rifle may also be weighed at this time to ensure that it is under the 50 pound limit.
  29. All shooters and spectators will be required to sign a liability release waiver.
  30. It is encouraged to pre-register and complete a waiver
  31. Additional administrative and range safety rules will be given at the pre-match range brief. Rifles will be cased or actions open with an empty chamber indicator flag.
  32. Match Director and ROs reserve the right to remove any shooter from the line and from the event for unsafe rifle handling.

ELR Central Personal Best Record Attempt

  1. If a shooter misses the first shot, he or she will be given two (2) more attempts to make an impact, but still within the 3 minute time limit. This will not be for record or certificate.
  2. Certificates will be awarded for making 3 for 3 impacts at the shooter’s longest distance. For example, 1500, 1600, 2000, etc.


Please contact the event organizer with any questions: Paul Phillips (734) 347-8024

Pauls Rifles







Posted in ELR, Extreme Long Range Shooting, Mark Lonsdale, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What is the “Best Rifle?”

By Mark V. Lonsdale

As long as men have carried guns, they have been arguing about the best rifle, the best pistol, or the best caliber. Now with the proliferation of the internet, and Facebook in particular, seeing “What is the best rifle?” from rookie shooters has become a daily occurrence.

The obvious response should be “What do you want to use it for?” however, all too often the responses are either snarky sarcasm or a reflection of the ill-informed bias of an individual. If you ask an old codger for his opinion he will tell you a 30-06, or if you ask a guy who has just spent $7,000 on a custom rifle, he will preach the gospel of his rifle. You will also see groups of aficionados such as 6.5 Creedmoor nation, RPR owners, Tikka owners, Rem 700 owners, etc., who all have their own loyalties and biases.


Factory Rem 700 SPS .308 Win in a McMillan A3-5 fiberglass stock

So let’s see if we can give a more helpful response.

Application and biases aside, any firearm worth taking into the field should be reliable, well made, have a smooth action, and be accurate. If your life may depend on a particular firearm, it should be reliable above all else, and part of reliability includes quality manufacturing and quality parts. This would include personal defense firearms, military weapons, or rifles for hunting dangerous game.

For the competition shooter, whose life does not depend on the pistol or rifle, then he or she may be willing to sacrifice rugged reliability for extreme accuracy. An example would be a rifle built to extremely tight tolerances where any dirt or irregularity in ammunition would jam the action. But for IPSC, IDPA, 3-gun, and PRS competitors, they demand a balance of reliability and accuracy, knowing that a single malfunction will put them out of the top ten and out of the money.

So are all rifles well made? The simple answer is no. Apart from cheaply made rifles that are rough at best, there are also major name brand manufacturers who have allowed their quality control and quality assurance to suffer. Fortunately other factories have stepped into the precision rifle market and that competition always has a positive effect on new products. On the custom front, while there is now a significant number of riflesmiths turning out very high quality rifles, we still hear horror stories about self-professed gunsmiths who are little more than hacks and gun butchers. So do your homework.

This brings us to two valid axioms: “Caveat emptor – Buyer beware,” and, “You get what you pay for.”

Very rarely do the words “cheap” and “quality” go well together. Similarly, accuracy comes at a price. I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve run into shooters on a public range claiming how they had just got a killer deal on a rifle or scope. With only one or two exceptions, their new rifles could not group 3 inches at 100 yards and the scopes and mounts were $30 worth of junk.

Back in the 1980s I could take a Rem 700 Heavy Varmint rifle, bed the action, float the barrel, and drop in a Jewell trigger and have a pretty good shooter. Then, when I met Gale McMillan, I discovered the value of quality fiberglass stocks such as the M40A1. Things got even better when I met Robbie Barrkman of Robar Guns and he built me a custom sniper rifle, complete with a McMillan stock and slick NP3 finish on internal parts. I still have that rifle and it still shoots sub-MOA.

SR60D 1

Robar SR60D built for the author in 1986; built on a Rem 700 action, a match-grade barrel, bedded into a McMillan Baker Special prone stock. Badger M5 bottom metal with detachable magazine was added later. 

Fast forward to 2017 – I was exchanging emails this week with a very reputable rifle builder with an interest in having him build a rifle for me. Since I had an extra Rem 700 action and a Bartlein match-grade barrel, I asked if I could send these up and have him build a rifle. His response was that he no longer trued and blueprinted factory actions because it cost more to true the action than to just begin with a quality custom action such as the Kelbly Atlas. This made sense to me when I crunched the numbers, plus you were starting off with an action with features that a stock factory action simply did not.

A5 Atlas Bartlein 308

308 Win multi-purpose rifle built on a Kelbly Atlas Tactical action, Bartlein Heavy Palma barrel, in a McMillan A5 adjustable stock. Scope is the Nightforce ATACR 7-35x56mm

This also coincided with my own findings in recent years. My last four rifles were built on custom actions: a Kelbly Atlas Tactical action for a custom competition rifle; a Panda action for an F-TR rifle; a Stiller TAC 408 for a .375 CheyTac ELR rifle; and another Atlas Tactical for a 6.5 Creedmoor PRS rifle. Three things that all these actions have in common: they a very well built; they have extremely smooth actions; and they have all earned reputations for reliability, quality, and accuracy.


Custom F-TR rifle built on a Stolle Panda action with a Krieger Heavy Palma barrel in a  McMillan XiT F-TR stock

375CT Lonsdale-Mark

Custom built ELR rifle in .375 CheyTac. Stiller TAC-408 action in a McMillan A5 SuperMagnum stock, assembled by Hill Country Rifles

375 308 Mark-Lonsdale

375 CheyTac next to .308 Win round 

Back to the topic of the best rifle.

Once the shooter has made a commitment to reliability, quality, and accuracy, then the question becomes, “What are you going to use it for?” Rifles are like any tools, in that there is always the right tool for the job. Just look in any hardware store for the proof – even the simple hammer comes in two dozen sizes and weights for various applications.

So if the answer is recreational shooting, then the choices are vast depending on range and accuracy requirements – 22LR plinking all the way up to 1,500 yard gong shooting. If it is for hunting, then the questions become big game or small game and at what ranges. There is a significant difference between small deer in a woodland environment versus big elk in Wyoming or grizzlies in Alaska. If it is for competition, then the question is what form of competition – NRA Highpower, F-TR, PRS, 3-gun, benchrest, ELR?

Is there one gun that can do it all – plinking, hunting, and competition? Yes, but within reason and with some compromise. There is a lot of versatility in a well-built .223 AR-15 or .308 Win bolt gun or match-grade gas gun. That said, the best rifles are the ones that are purpose-built for a particular use, but for example, a well build PRS rifle in 6mm or 6.5mm could also be used for hunting and long range recreational shooting.

ADM UIC Mod2 with Leupold

American Defense Manufacturing .223 topped with a Leupold 2-7x and a ADM detachable scope mount. 

For the rookie looking for a first rifle that will be competitive in a number of disciplines, and does not want to reload ammunition, then the choices would be .308 Win, 6.5 Creedmoor, or .223 Rem. Why these three calibers? Because there is a variety of affordable factory match-grade ammunition available from Federal, Black Hills, or Hornady. All three calibers are available in very accurate bolt guns or gas guns on AR platforms. Because they are military calibers, .308 Win and .223 (5.56mm) are the only calibers you can shoot in F-TR and PRS Tactical division, and both can also be used for hunting.

A3-5 NF 5-25x56

Highly versatile .308 Win rifle that could be used for PRS competition, hunting, or just recreational target shooting. Stock is the McMillan A3-5 adjustable and the scope is the Nightforce ATACR 5-25x56mm FFP

Once the shooter makes the decision to go with one of the more exotic high performance calibers such as 6mm Creedmoor, 6×47, 6.5 GAP, 260 Rem, and 28 Nosler, then he or she is committing to hand loading for optimum performance. Most medium sized deer or hogs can also be taken with these calibers. It is only when you step up to long range, open country, big game that the 300 WinMag and 7mm Mag come into their own.

Then there is the discussion of the best rifles for Extreme Long Range (ELR) shooting. Even the best shooters in ELR cannot agree on the best caliber or rifle, but there are some known facts to consider. Basically the ELR shooter is looking for the bullet with the best performance, in terms of ballistic coefficient and velocity, at extended ranges. And then building the rifle best suited to that caliber, chamber pressures and anticipated muzzle velocity. While a rookie ELR shooter can cut his or her teeth on 300 WinMag out to 1,500 yards, the game really begins with 338 Lapua Magnum, out to 2,500 yards, and quickly jumps to 375 CheyTac and 416 Barrett for 3,500 yards. Keep in mind that with each step up, the cost of rifles, optics, and ammunition can increase disproportionately. Where 300 WinMag may cost $1.50 a round, 375 CheyTac will be $7.00 per round.

High Country Stiller Action 375

Hill Country Rifles .375 CheyTac built on a Stiller TAC 408 action and McMillan A5 Super Magnum stock. 

To conclude, this article may have created more questions than answers, but hopefully more informed questions. After committing to quality and accuracy, the biggest consideration is the intended application and range; and it may be that there is more than one “best rifle” in your future. For most of us, we have lighter weight hunting rifles, heavier multipurpose rifles, bolt guns and gas guns, and really heavy competition rifles for F-TR and ELR. In addition, while a factory rifle may meet all your needs when you are starting out, as you seek more performance and greater accuracy you will gravitate to custom gunsmiths and custom rifles. You may also come to realize that purchasing a complete custom rifle from a reputable builder may work out more cost effective than trying to upgrade a factory rifle.

Finally, and at the risk of contradicting myself, there is a lot of wisdom in the old saying, “Beware of the man who only owns one rifle.” Why? Because he probably knows how to use it. So even if you own multiple high grade rifles, you will find yourself gravitating to the one that shoots the best. The most accurate rifle will invariably become your go-to rifle.


Posted in Extreme Long Range Shooting, F-TR, Mark Lonsdale, Precision Rifle Shooting, Rifle Shooting, Sniper, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Kestrel 5700 Elite AB Simplified

By Mark V. Lonsdale

With new technology streaming into our lives every day, it can become a little overwhelming and intimidating for many. Fortunately we have had computers for 40 years and Smart phones for the past 15 years, so most have come to accept both the burdens and the benefits to our lives.

Just as the Smart phone has become indispensable to our personal and professional lives, so too have the technological developments for long range shooting. One such item is the Kestrel wind meter, which has evolved from a simple wind meter back in the 1990s to a highly sophisticated weather station and ballistics solver today. But with these multiple functions comes increased complexity.

A3-5 Kestrel

Scroll back to 3 OCT 2017 where TRS did a short article on how to collect the necessary data points to initially program the Kestrel Elite. In this article we will look at some very basic functionality. This is not a substitute for reading the Users Guide, but it will help to demystify the functions for a future owner.

Kestrel Numbered

The Kestrel does not come with these numbers, but they help to illustrate the basic functions. #1 is on and off. #2 is the Options button used to change screens or Exit a function. #3 is the Adjust left and right arrows to increase or decrease a value, for example target distance. #4 is the Scroll up and down arrows to scroll through the menu; and #5 is the Select or enter button. The Link logo indicates that the Elite has Bluetooth and can be matched to a Smart phone or iPad which makes for easier, remote reading in the field or on the range.  

Modes 3

The above images show the modes of the Kestrel. For the most part, once you have programmed your rifles, the screen on the left will show the rifle selected, in this case my Atlas 308 Win shooting Berger 185 Juggernauts. The top number is the come-ups for distance and the lower number is the left windage. The center image shows the Kestrel in Ballistics mode where it is most of the time, since you don’t need to know the wind speed, only the adjustment for wind. But by switching Mode to Weather you can get the actual wind values.



Once the shooters has selected Weather mode, just hit Select to be able to read the actual wind speed. Note that the Select button now becomes the move to Settings button. 

Atlas 3

New guns, or various loads for the same rifle, are entered through the Manage Guns menu. On the left it shows my Atlas 308 Win with Berger 185 Juggernauts with a muzzle velocity of 2710 fps, and a G7 BC of 0.284. As you scroll down you see additional info such as bullet weight of 185 grains, bullet diameter of .308, bullet length, scope height above bore, etc.

Over the next few months I will continue to add short articles related to the various ballistic technologies such as Kestrels, Garmin 701, Rangefinders, and supporting Ballistics Analytics. But if you have any specific questions, Applied Ballistics has online tech support, as do all the manufacturers. I will also post additional tips on the Tactical Rifle Shooters facebook page.

A5 Atlas Bartlein 308

The Atlas Tactical .308 Win mentioned in this article. It has a 30″ Bartlein barrel for 1,000 yard shooting, a McMillan A5 stock with 3-way adjustable butt-plate, Badger M5 bottom metal, and a Nightforce ATACR 7-35x56mm scope.



Posted in F-TR, Mark Lonsdale, Rifle Shooting, Sniper, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Beginners Guide to Long Range Shooting – Part 2. The Importance of Good Ammunition

By Mark V. Lonsdale

Author’s Note: This is not a how-to guide to reloading, but it will get the novice thinking about quality over quantity.

When competing at the national and international levels in many sports, first and second place are often separated by a fraction of an inch or a split second. Gold medals are won or lost by margins so small that high speed cameras and sensitive electronics are needed to determine the winner. Shooting is no different. Just try judging groups in a benchrest shooting competition.

In several longer range shooting disciplines, many shooters can shoot perfect scores, so the winner is often determined by X counts. In benchrest, groups are so tight it looks like one hole. Even in the speed shooting sports, where a single miss over a dozen stages puts a competitor out of the top ten, the winner is often decided by fractions of a second.

So what separates the national teams and champions from all the other shooters?

It is safe to assume that everyone’s rifle at the national level is a highly accurate precision shooting machine with a match grade barrel, custom fitted stock, fine trigger, and superlative optics. In practice sessions, most of the top shooters can hold the 10 ring consistently and rack up a high number of Xs — but can they do it on match day?

Kelly Derek

Kelly McMillan with current World Champion, Derek Rodgers, and his winning F-TR rifle in a McMillan XiT stock with Nightforce optics

To quote the world F-TR champion, “Matches are won in two places – on the loading bench and between the ears.”

As seen with many top athletes who “almost made it,” their physical conditioning was superb but their mental game failed them in the finals. Very good shooters can also succumb to match nerves by not performing well on game day under self imposed match pressures. (A good article for another day.) In this article we will look at winning on the loading bench and what constitutes good ammunition.

Simply put, if it ain’t accurate it ain’t good. This is true for rifles and ammunition. So assuming you have a rifle that is capable of 0.5 MOA accuracy, let’s focus on the ammo. A round of ammunition is comprised of four components: the case, the bullet, the powder, and the primer. All four are important and all contribute to accuracy. So what is accuracy?

As a teenager, my first shooting coach told me that, “Accuracy is the Product of Uniformity,” and that advice still resonates with me today. The key word is “uniformity,” often expressed as consistency, but consistency is also the product of uniformity.

MVL Accuracy

Uniformity in ammunition begins with each component and extends up to the actual hand-loading process and final product. Shooters who are serious about accuracy will take a box of 100 bullets and weigh them into lots, for example, the ones that are exactly 200 grains, the ones slightly under, and the ones slightly over. These will be kept in lots and loaded in batches to keep them all together. In F-Class and F-TR you shoot three sets of 20 rounds plus sighters, so it pays to have a uniform batch of 80 rounds for match day. PRS shooters shoot even more, with large matches requiring 200-250 rounds of good quality ammunition.

Peterson Berger

A winning combination for F-TR – Peterson match-grade brass and Berger Bullets 

The brass will also be hand weighed for consistency, inspected for any defects, and sorted into lots. This can be made easier by beginning with quality match-grade brass from companies such as Peterson or Lapua. But even with new brass you still need to debur and chamfer the necks inside and out, and some shooters will run a mandrel to make sure the neck is uniformly round.

When you begin reloading your fired cases, you will want to keep them in batches of 1x fired, 2x fired, 3x fired, etc. But as you shoot and resize the cases, the brass will extrude and elongate, requiring that you measure and trim the brass. Again, it will be necessary to debur and chamfer the necks for consistency.

For the ELR shooter, Peterson .375 brass and Cutting Edge bullets in 352 grains and 400 grains

As a novice or recreational shooter, it is not necessary to spend a lot of time on case prep for many forms of shooting. But as you get serious and progress from club level, to state level, to the national level, you will find yourself investing more time in case prep, neck turning, concentricity checks, and load development. Be assured that all the other top shooters are seeking that fraction of an inch advantage at 1,000 yards.

Primers are the least complicated part but serious reloaders will still experiment with different primers. Beginning with match-grade primers is a good start. Powder should be kept in a cool dry environment, but to get consistency requires staying with the same lot number. For example, if you buy powder by the pound, you will only get 160 loads for 308 Win and half that for magnum cartridges. So when you change to a new can you may be changing lot numbers and see variances in burn rate. Therefore you may have 10 rounds at one muzzle velocity and another 10 at a slower or faster velocity with powder from the new can. The obvious solution is to buy in bulk if you plan to shoot a lot, and competitive shooters shoot a lot, either practicing, in matches, or working up loads.

When measuring powder into the cartridge you have two choices – a powder measure that drops powder by volume every time you throw the handle, or hand weighing each individual powder charge. Again, you can get reasonable accuracy with a quality powder measure with a micrometer adjustment, but you will get more uniformity and consistency from weighing each charge individually.


Left to right: 308 Win Berger 185 Juggernaut, Berger 200 grain Hybrid, .375 CT Cutting Edge 352 grain, all in Peterson match-grade brass 

So how can you tell you have quality ammunition?

The first and obvious validation is the groups on target. If your loads are grouping under a half-inch at 100 yards, you are in pretty good shape. But it is possible to have good groups at 100 yards that open up at longer ranges. This can be attributed to variations in muzzle velocity. If there is a significant spread in velocity, then the group will open up vertically at longer distances – faster bullets hitting high and slower ones low. So in addition to tight grouping on paper, a reliable chronograph is essential for load development. It is also essential to have an accurate muzzle velocity for each rifle and load to input into ballistic analytic programs and your Kestrel.

Left: Labradar doppler chronograph. Right: Kestrel Elite with Applied Ballistics program

To conclude, if you begin with quality match-grade components you will have a high probability of producing quality ammunition. Factory match ammo is good for events requiring 1 to 2 MOA accuracy, such as steel plate matches, but for 0.5 MOA precision accuracy and ELR you will need to hand load your ammunition. And don’t think of hand loading as a chore or drudgery. There is a lot of satisfaction to be derived from producing very accurate rounds for competition or hunting, and especially for ELR shooting. Just be sure to keep a detailed log of your load development, powder charges, seating depths, cartridge overall lengths (COAL), groups, and muzzle velocities.

For actual instruction on reloading, invest in a good reloading manual, read the instructions that come with your dies and tools, and there’s no shortage of helpful, instructional videos on YouTube.


Posted in F-Class, F-TR, Mark Lonsdale, Reloading, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Equipment Checklist for FTR

By Mark V. Lonsdale

In a previous article we discussed recreational shooters turning up at the range with no tools to tighten their scope mounts or action bolts. I’ve also been on the range when shooters had forgotten their ammunition or left other critical gear at home. For these shooters it is just an annoying inconvenience, but for a serious competitive shooter it can blow the whole match.

A5 Line Equipment

On the 600 yard line for a mid-range FTR match. Rifle is a Kelbly Atlas with a 30″ Bartlein Heavy Palma in a McMillan A5 fiberglass stock with 3-way adjustable butt-plate  

After driving several hours, spending money on a hotel, meals, and paying a registration fee, the last thing you want is to to find that you’ve forgotten something. And yet at every competition you will hear at least one competitor griping about something they forgot. Believe it or not, one competitor had even forgotten his competition rifle. The previous day at the range he had his .22LR training rifle in the same case he used for his FTR rifle, and at zero dark early, headed out the door for a match, he forgot to switch rifles. He just grabbed the case and headed to the range. This is why you need a pre-competition ritual of checking all you gear the night before.

So with this in mind, here is a checklist of essential and useful items.

FTR Competition Checklist

  • Rifle w/ scope and bipod (check torque on bolts and screws the night before)
  • Tools to adjust butt plate and check action bolts
  • Cleaning rod
  • Spare trigger
  • Rifle case to protect the rifle
  • Ammo in suitable ammo boxes
  • Chamber flag / empty chamber indicator
  • Ear protection (plugs and/or muffs)
  • Shooting glasses
  • Wind meter / Kestrel
  • Cart (where needed)
  • Rain cover for scope, rifle, ammunition

On the Line:

  • Shooting mat
  • Front bipod pad / board (and spare bipod)
  • Rear bag with extra spacer boards for sloping berms (Dead Bottom bag)
  • Small Clipboard for score card
  • Pen / Pencil
  • Timer / Stopwatch
  • Chair / stool
  • Spotting scope / scope stand

Comfort Items:

  • Hat and sunglasses
  • Rain gear
  • Sun block
  • Mosquito repellant (where required)
  • Small sweat towel
  • Water / Drinks
  • Snacks


Note: Special thanks to Derek Rodgers and Paul Phillips for the additional tips and input 


Posted in F-Class, F-TR, Mark Lonsdale, Rifle Shooting, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

New Rifle Checks & Pre-Range Rituals

By Mark V. Lonsdale, STTU

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been on the range and run into a shooter who was having trouble zeroing his rifle, and often a brand new rifle. A good number of these were attributed to the scope being installed incorrectly, and in particular, loose rings or bases. It several cases the action bolts were also loose allowing the action and barrel to jump about in the stock. So let’s look at a few checks you should run on a new rifle, plus each time you clean the rifle, and before entering a competition or going hunting.

When you receive a new rifle, either factory or custom built, the first thing you should do is remove the barreled action from stock to ensure everything looks good and that the metal to stock fit is of acceptably close tolerance. If it is supposed to be aluminum pillar bedded, then check that the pillars are there. This will affect the toque values for the action bolts.

Aluminum pillars

Aluminum pillars in a McMillan A5 fiberglass stock

If the rifle has an aftermarket trigger such as Timney or Jewel, this is the time to set the trigger pull since it cannot be done with the rifle in the stock. Keep in mind that both of these trigger can be delivered with the trigger set at about 8 ounces, a fraction of what you may be used to with a factory 4+ pound trigger. For a Jewel trigger it is screw #3 in the instructions; for a Timney Calvin Elite it is the lower screw on the front of the trigger frame, but for either, be sure to read the instructions before making adjustments.

Timney CalvinElite 2

Timney Calvin Elite trigger mounted under a Kelbly’s Atlas Tactical Action

Next, replace the barreled action in the stock and torque the action bolts. I use 65 in-lbs for fiberglass stocks with aluminum pillar bedding. A factory wood or plastic stock without pillars would be considerable lower, 35-45 in-lbs, but check with the manufacturers before going gorilla on your action bolts. Next take a business card and run it the length of the barrel between the barrel and the forend to ensure that the barrel is fully floated. This also works to get any debris out of the forend channel in the field.

Using a business card to verify that the barrel is floated; (R) torquing the action bolts

Cycle the bolt and trigger to ensure everything is working as expected. Set the safety and pull the trigger to ensure that the safety works; then release the safety to see if the action fires. This has been a recall issue in the past, where rifles could fire when the safety was released.

At this point you can mount and torque the scope rail, rings, and mount the scope. (See last month’s article on scope mounting). Ensure that the scope reticle is perfectly vertical and plumbed to the rifle.

At the Range:

If the rifle has an adjustable cheek rest, set the cheek rest so that your eye lines up perfectly with the scope. Bore sight the rifle at 25 yards, then zero the rifle to shoot about an inch low at 25 yards. This should put you very close to dead on at 100 yards. Once you are zeroed at 100 yards, loosen the turrets and zero them out so that your elevation is “0” and windage “0.” If the scope has a bullet drop compensator, then set the elevation for “1” or “100.”

If you are a serious long range shooter, you will need to chronograph your chosen load in this rifle since you will need the muzzle velocity (MV), ballistic coefficient (BC), and scope above bore height to generate a ballistics solutions chart or input the rifle’s data into your Kestrel. Keep in mind that your printed data is only valid for the environmental conditions at the time and elevation when you zeroed the rifle.  Changes in temperature and altitude can have a noticeable effect at longer ranges, but the Kestrel will adjust your firing solutions for environmental conditions and wind.


The Kestrel 5700 Elite with AB ballistic firing solutions has become the standard for long range shooters and hunters 

Rifle Checks Prior to Competitions or Hunting

Any competitor or hunter who travels to compete or hunt will know the importance of checking bolts, screws, and zero after a long trip. Whether driving or flying, screws can vibrate loose and a scope can go out of zero, especially if some ham-fisted baggage handler decides to play shot-put with your rifle case or it falls off the conveyor belt. Many shooters will remove their scopes and hand-carry them, but this will also require re-zeroing at the first opportunity.

Since you cannot assume someone will have the tools you’ll need, here are a few suggestions for a small tool kit. When rifle shooting I carry a small collection of Allen wrenches and Torx wrenches to deal with scope rings, rails, bases, and turrets, plus a 1/2″ wrench for the scope ring bolts. With handguns, I carry Allen wrenches and screw drivers for sights and grip screws. Pennies and dimes also see a lot of action with the local shooters zeroing their slot-turret sporting scopes before hunting season.

Small tool kit with essential Allen wrenches, Torx wrenches and 1/2″ wrench


Just because a rifle is new out of the box or fresh from the custom rifle builder, you cannot assume that all screws and bolts are correctly tightened and torqued. And be assured, any looseness defeats the prime principle of accuracy – “Accuracy is the Product of Uniformity.” For a rifle/scope system to perform as expected, there can’t be any inconsistency in fit or torque values.  So provided that the rifle system and ammunition meet the standards of uniformity, then the rest is up to the shooter to do his or her part. Uniformity of grip, stock pressure, shooting position, and trigger control are of even greater importance than the rifle. A good shooter with a 1 MOA rifle will out shoot a mediocre shooter with a ½ MOA rifle.


Preparing a new rifle for F-TR competition. Atlas action, Bartlein 30″ barrel, McMillan A5 fiberglass stock with adjustable cheek piece and 3-way adjustable butt plate, Phoenix Precision bipod, topped with a Nightforce ATACR 7-35x56mm scope.


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A Beginners’ Guide to Becoming a Successful Long Range Shooter

By Mark V. Lonsdale, STTU

Back when IPSC shooting was in its infancy, a shooter asked current world champion, Ray Chapman, “What was the secret to good shooting?” His answer was brilliant in its simplicity – “Don’t move the gun when you pull the trigger.” To this day I still use that quote. I also like the comment, “Be brilliant at the basics.”

Shooting is one of those sports that requires a shooter to work continuously to first develop, and then maintain, solid foundational skills. For long range rifle shooting this becomes even more important since distance magnifies errors in both fundamentals and equipment. The first goal for a new long range shooter should be to hold 1 MOA, or 1 inch for each 100 yards, out passed 1,000 yards. This process begins with a solid, stable, repeatable, natural body position behind the rifle; consistent contact or pressure on the stock; a relaxed disposition; a smooth, clean trigger press; and a stable follow through. Successful shooters develop a pre-shot and shot ritual that encompasses all of these including breathing cycle and respiratory pause.

Think about it – if you change the angle of your body behind the rifle, change the cheek pressure, or change the shoulder pressure, this will change how the rifle reacts under recoil. This explains why top F-Class open division shooters have almost no contact with the recoil pad since they want the rifle to free recoil uniformly on the front rest and rear bag. But that’s F-Class – the benchrest of prone shooting.

For most other styles of long range shooting – recreational, professional, or hunting – it requires a more solid control of the rifle. So let’s look at some helpful entry level tips on equipment and training.

  1. Invest in good equipment. If you start with a high quality rifle and scope that consistently shoots sub-half minute, then you have eliminated many variables and excuses. You can no longer blame your tools and there is a level of confidence and mental well-being that comes from knowing you have top of the line equipment. The rifle caliber will depend on the type of shooting you want to do and the ranges you want to shoot. If you plan on shooting F-TR or PRS tactical division then you will invariably go with .308 Win, which is also a good caliber for a beginner to cut his or her long range teeth on. 6.5 Creedmoor is also popular because of the affordability of factory rifles and factory match ammunition; 300 WinMag and 7mm Mag remain popular with the long range hunting community; and .338 Lapua Magnum or .375 CheyTac are good starters for ELR shooting out passed 1,500 yards. In planning a budget for your long range rifle, don’t skimp on the optics. A high quality scope with proven reliability for long range shooting is an essential, with many shooters spending more on their scope than their rifle. Quality rails and rings are also an essential.

A3-5 NF 5-25x56

Remington 700 .308 Win built for PRS/NRL shooting with McMillan A3-5 adjustable stock, Badger Ordnance M5 trigger guard, detachable magazine, and 20 MOA rail,  Timney Calvin Elite trigger, APA Little Bastard muzzle brake, TAB Gear sling, and Nightforce ATACR 5-25×56 scope. Action work and NP3 by Robar Guns 

2. Practice more than the other guys. There is a direct correlation between how many hours of structured training you do, how well you shoot, and how quickly you will improve. There is no substitute for disciplined trigger time, along with a little mentoring and coaching from an experienced shooter. As a side note, when I was coming up through the ranks of IPSC shooting and won a club level match, my fellow club members would accuse me of cheating because I practiced several times each week, while they only shot the matches one or two times a month. But the lesson here is that, while I progressed to the US top ten, they never evolved passed club level standards. Obviously the cost of practice ammunition is a concern for many shooters, but practicing positions, dry firing, and practice with a .22LR rifle can be low cost and beneficial.


Author, on left, with Col. Jeff Cooper, Bill Rogers and John Sayle at the 1984 IPSC European Championships in France 

3. Practice until you can’t get it wrong. In any high performance sport, athletes train until they transcend the conscious thought process and arrive at a point where the neuro-muscle memory is deeply ingrained. In other words, if your brain is consciously focused on your cheek pressure, grip pressure, or body position, then you will not be handling all the other things such as sight picture, wind changes, and trigger release. The biomechanics of shooting must become second nature so that you can focus on the variables down range. When it comes to body position, the shooter should strive for the ideal position behind the rifle, but you will also see many top shooters with unorthodox prone positions. So the key lesson here is, while the body position may be unorthodox, the position must be the same every time you address the rifle. Accuracy is the product of uniformity.

4. Range the targets. Mid-range and long range matches are shot at 600 and 1,000 yards. There are also other disciplines where the target distance is a known constant. But for PRS and long range hunting, the targets could be anywhere from 200 to a 1,000 yards and not at even 100-yard increments. You could be looking at 360, 572, 640 and 820 all in the same stage, so you must accurately range the targets to eliminate that variable. For extreme long range shooting (ELR), target ranging becomes even more important since the bullet is not flying flat but plunging on a steep angle. Being 10 yards off could cause the bullet to dive into the dirt to the front or rear of the target. For the King of 2 Miles (Ko2M) the targets were at 1550 yards, 1715, 1890, 1990, 2670, 3026, and 2 miles

Team AB ko2m1710

2017 Ko2M champion, Derek Rodgers (kneeling left) with Team Applied Ballistics. Rifle is a custom built .375 CheyTac in a McMillan Beast stock and topped with a Nightforce ATACR 7-35×56 scope. Ammunition used was Cutting Edge 400 grain Lazers loaded into Peterson brass. 

5. Invest in quality ammunition. While there are some excellent factory match grade ammunition on the market, the top shooters invariable hand load for accuracy. So the investment is in both time and funds. Quality and consistency are critical when selecting or hand loading long range ammunition, with matches being won or lost on the loading bench. The conscientious reloader will hand weigh all the components into batches for consistency, particularly the projectiles. As with anything made by machines, tolerances can change. As an example, I was recently testing a rifle and chronographing ammunition using Federal GMM 168 grain SMKs. When I ran out of one lot number, then switched to another, there was a 60 fps jump in muzzle velocity. If I had mixed those two lot numbers the vertical error at 600 or 1,000 yards would be huge. So part of the skill in hand loading is to minimize the variation in muzzle velocity. This can be affected by not only the powder load but also neck tension as a result of the brass hardness or brass thickness. Bryan Litz’s book, Accuracy and Precision for Long Range Shooting, is strongly recommended to really understand the vertical hit or miss probabilities with various grades of ammunition, and the horizontal errors caused by variable winds at various distances. Also invest in a good chronograph – essential for load analysis and collecting MV data.

CE352 PetersonBrass

A winning combination: Cutting Edge bullets and Peterson brass

6. Learn to read wind. While bullet weight, design, and velocity all work to minimize the effect of wind at longer distances, the shooter must still come close when it comes to estimating wind or recognizing wind changes. Where the wind may move a conventional projectile 36” laterally at 1,000 yards, for example, a long range VLD may be moved only half of that. But even being 18” off will still put the shooter out of the medals or trophies. The Kestrel wind meters have become a standard for long range shooters, and are definitely a great shooting aid, but they are still an aid not a final solution. Keep in mind that the Kestrel is giving you the wind at your shooting position, not down valley, mid-range, or at the target. The only way to learn to read wind is to make your best estimate based on measurement and observation, then shooting and logging the results on target. Over time, the shooter will develop “wind sense” which is a combination of measuring the wind at the shooting position, observing the wind down range, and the hard earned experience of shooting in variable conditions.

Kestrel Elite 5700 with Applied Ballistics analytics is currently the best aid to reading and estimating wind and atmospherics. Once the shooters rifle data is inputted into the Kestrel, it will also provide wind adjustments. 

7. Learn from successful long range shooters. With all the information on the internet and dozens of books on the market, there is no shortage of information out there. The challenge for the rookie is in separating the gems of real wisdom from the volumes of rumor or uninformed opinion from non-shooters and armchair experts. You are not interested in the opinion of the guy that shot one good group, one time, at 1,200 yards, under perfect conditions. You are looking for the hard data from the champions, with years of experience, and the dedicated individuals who are on the range every week testing and developing useful data. It is also a big mistake to post on a facebook page, “What’s the best rifle?” “What’s the best caliber?” “What’s the best scope” because you will get a hundred conflicting opinions from individuals who probably have experience with only one of those. The questions need to be very specific and detailed including your budget. “Hey guys, I am getting into long range shooting and thinking of shooting in PRS/NRL matches. Can you recommend a good set-up that will work from 100 to 1,000 yards? My budget is $4,000 for the rifle and scope.”

8. Work with a spotter. Under recoil, it is not unusual to lose sight of the target and the impact. This is where it helps to have a spotter on a spotting scope calling your impacts. That said, there is a lot that a shooter can do to stay on target throughout the shot cycle from discharge to impact. The first is body position. If you are in line with the rifle with a squared shoulder pressure, then the rifle should recoil in a straight line and not hop to the right or left. The next is a heavy barrel since heavy barreled rifles will jump less than a light sporting barrel. The third is a good muzzle brake. Muzzle brakes are not permitted in F-Class and F-TR but for PRS and ELR they have become almost standard. Lastly, if you can set your targets in front of dirt berms where a miss will kick up dirt to the right or left, high or low, then it will be easier to adjust for elevation and wind. If the target is set in front of scrub brush or open fields then it becomes more difficult to call the miss except for trace. The other option is to invest in steel targets that are so big you can almost guarantee getting on target.


US FTR Team member, Paul Phillips, spotting for Derek Rodgers at the Ko2M in Raton, NM

Once you are brilliant at the basics, it comes down to two things – the quality of your reloads and how you handle stress. Or to quote Derek Rodgers, “Matches can be won or lost on the reloading bench or between the ears”

Stay tuned for future articles on long range shooting, rifle builds, and training development.


Posted in Extreme Long Range Shooting, F-TR, Mark Lonsdale, PRS | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Building a Reloading or Gunsmithing Bench on a Budget

Tactical Rifle Shooters 

With over 40 years in shooting sports, and having moved house seven times, I have lost count of how many work benches, gunsmithing benches, and reloading benches that I have built. So while I am no skilled cabinet maker, I can certainly build something that is solid. With that in mind, here are a few tips on how to build a functional bench on a budget. The one in the pictures took less than two hours and about $40 in lumber.

In the past, I would build all my benches in 8-foot lengths since most lumber comes in 8-footers and the benches were generally in the garage. But in the last few years I have been building 4-foot modules which work well when you are converting a spare bedroom into a reloading room. This also makes them lighter and easier to move around and reconfigure.

4-foot reloading bench module added to the end of my gunsmithing bench. Still a work in progress

For the skilled carpenters and woodworkers out there, this bench will look quite crude, but it is stable and solid, and as I indicated, took less than 2 hours to build.

Materials required for a 4-foot x 2-foot bench: three 2″ x 4″ x 8-feet; two 2″ x 10″ x 8-feet; one 1″ x 6″ x 8-feet; one sheet of 1/2″ plywood 2′ x 4′

Tools required: carpenters square, Dewalt screw gun, skill saw, pencil, measuring tape, torx-head wood screws in 1 1/2″, 2 1/2″, and 3″

As you can see in the images above, the 2 x 4’s are used for the legs and cross bars; the plywood is the base for the bench top; and the 2 x 10’s are the bench top and shelving. The 1 x 6’s are the back boards. You will also see that I leave a channel down the middle of the bench. I have found this useful for small items and tools that I do not want to lose or have roll of the bench.

For the 8-foot long benches I use 4″ x 4″ for the legs and add two extra 2 x 4’s under the bench top as stiffeners. But with the 4-foot benches, the 2 x 10’s provide sufficient stiffness and support.

Bench 10.14.17

Note over-hang lip on the front of the bench. This makes it easier to bolt the press to the bench and ensures the handle and ram clear the bench throughout the stroke

Over the years I have experimented with a variety of bench heights, but it really comes down to how tall you are and whether you prefer to work standing up of sitting on a stool. At 6′ 2″ I cut the legs to 38″ and add 2″ for the bench top, so the bench comes in at 40″ which works for standing or sitting on a bar stool. But for gunsmithing and finer work I have one bench that is 44″ to the top, which seems to make pistolsmithing, sight installs, and trigger jobs easier.

If you are building a bench purely for cleaning rifles, then you may want to go with regular table height of about 30″-32″ — this makes it easier for stroking the cleaning rod smoothly through the bore.

For additional ideas and inspiration, just Google “reloading benches”

A few more bench designs that came off the internet. 


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A Beginners Guide to the Kestrel 5700 Elite Wind & Environment Meter

By Mark V. Lonsdale

What does a Kestrel not do? It does not read the range to the target. So what does it do? It measures wind, environmental factors, and provides ballistic firing solutions tailored to the shooter’s rifle and ammunition.

Up until the late 1980s long range shooters and military snipers would spend countless hours learning to estimate range and to utilize the various “aids to finding range” including the mil-dot reticle. So when compact and reliable rangefinders became affordable in the late 1980s and early 90s, these were considered a major advancement for the long range shooter or hunter. But back then, 800-1,000 yards was considered long range and few had much interest or motivation to shoot further. That was soon to change.

From left: Kestrel 5700 Elite with Applied Ballistics analytics and older Kestrel 2000. Author working with the Kestrel 2000 during mountain warfare training in the 1990s

Unfortunately the other big challenge for long range shooters – reading wind – was not alleviated by the rangefinder. Fortunately, about the same time, Kestrel came out with their compact, reliable and affordable wind meters such as the Kestrel 2000. Now shooters had a method to measure the wind and validate their own skills at reading wind. I remember carrying my Kestrel with me in the mountains and deserts, even when not carrying a rifle, just to practice wind reading over various types of terrain.

So with range and wind more easily quantified, in the early 1990s we began studying all the other factors that, while having little affect at 300 yards, had significant affect out passed 1,000 yards. This was of less interest to long range competition shooters, since they had the benefit of sighter shots to get on target, but long range hunters were becoming intrigued with making 500 and 600 yard one shot kills.

For the military, with the adoption of the 300 Win Mags, 338 Lapua Magnums, and 50 calibers, we were now looking for high probability hits at 1,500 to 2,000 yards. So now density altitude, wind direction, temperature, relative humidity, spin drift, compass direction, and Coriolis Effect needed to be quantified and predicted in firing solutions.

L115A3 338 suppressed

Accuracy International L115A3 .338 Lapua Magnum

The mating of the Kestrel technology with Applied Ballistics analytics provided the shooter with firing solutions constantly being updated by changes in environmental factors.

So without getting into a long discussion of all the environmental variables, it is sufficient for the rookie long range shooter to know that after inputting some basic data into the Kestrel 5700, he or she will be able to view the necessary elevation and windage inputs. But like any computer, if you put bad data in you will get bad data out. Fortunately the data input is surprisingly easy with the Kestrel 5700 Elite.

At the risk of over simplifying the process, once a shooter has gone through the easy to follow steps to set-up a new Kestrel, such as programing the compass and selecting units (metric or US) then it is just a matter of programing your rifle and ammunition. Before doing this, there are a few data points that the shooter will need to know. These are no different to the data points needed to use a basic ballistics program in a computer. The data points are caliber, bullet weight, ballistic coefficient (BC), muzzle velocity (MV), barrel twist, height of the center line of the scope above the bore, and if your scope is MOA or Mils. To get the muzzle velocity will have needed to chronograph your rifle/ammo combination. This is unique to every rifle, barrel length, and ammunition load.

Scrolling around in the Kestrel is as easy as any smart phone or GPS. To input a rifle, the user will scroll to Manage Guns, New Gun, and then input the following in this order:

Name: for example Rem700 185Berg or Atlas 175SMK.

MV: 2,650 fps

GM: G1 or G7

BC: 0.284

BW: 185 (bullet weight)

BD: .308 (bullet diameter)

BH: 2.5” (bore height)

RT: 10” (twist)

RTd: Right (twist direction)

Eunit: Mil (elevation unit MOA or Mil)

Wunit: Mil (windage unit MOA or Mil)

Save it and that’s it. You have programmed in that rifle/bullet combination. With the Kestrel 5700 Elite you can program and store 16 rifle/bullet profiles.


Kestrel 5700 mounted on the lightweight Kestrel wind vane and tripod. With the Bluetooth connection it can send the firing solutions to the shooter via smart phone or iPad 

Once the shooter gets in the field, he or she will select the rifle/bullet combination from the list of stored profiles, input some basic target information such as the range to the target. The Kestrel will factor in the wind and environmental factors and provide a firing solution in the form of E: 4.5 and W: 0.5L for elevation and windage. The shooter will dial that data into the turrets, hold on target and fire. If you have the Bluetooth option in your Kestrel, you can set the Kestrel on a tripod with a weather vane and have the Kestrel send the firing solutions to a smart phone or iPad.


Kestrel 5700 Elite on right showing Elevation E, and Windage W

Hope this helps to get the new shooter started, and encourage the old curmudgeons to invest in new technology. The practical value of all this environmental and ballistic technology is that it has dramatically improved first round hit probability at longer ranges and particularly at extreme ranges. That said, good solid rifle shooting fundamentals are even more important in long range shooting. Everything else is just a tool, but a reliable rangefinder and a Kestrel have become two essential tools.



Posted in Extreme Long Range Shooting, Mark Lonsdale, Precision Rifle Shooting, Rifle Shooting, Sniper | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment