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

A Beginner’s Guide to Scope Mounting

By Mark V. Lonsdale

It’s a source of constant amazement to see how many people turn up at the range with no clue how to zero their scopes or, quite often, they are incorrectly mounted to begin with. More than once I have seen scopes mount 90 degrees counter-clockwise, placing the elevation turret on the left side, and the windage is at 12 o’clock, where the elevation should be. Then there are those that turn up at the range with a new scope but neglected to bring the correct tools to mount it.

So here is a few tips for beginners.

  1. If you have never mounted a scope, ask a knowledgeable friend for help, or have the local gun shop do it.
  2. Purchase scopes of known good quality that have a good warranty program. Some companies offer a lifetime warranty on defects but obviously not abuse. You drop it on the concrete, that’s on you.
  3. Invest in good quality rings of the correct size and height – 1”, 30mm, 34mm, 35mm; low, medium, high, extra-high. The goal is to have the scope as low as possible without touching the barrel.
  4. Invest in a good base rail that is matched to your action/receiver. I have a preference for Badger Ordnance 20 MOA rails but there are several quality manufacturers.
  5. Make sure you have the correct tools, wrenches, Allens, or Torx for your rail and rings. Often times the smaller Allens or T15 Torx will come with the scope, but it’s also recommended to invest in a torque wrench. The manual for the scope or installation instructions that come with the rings and rails will give you the correct in-lbs torque values.

Currently, there is no shortage of gadgets out there to aid in mounting and squaring a scope, but I’m old school and have found that the human eye is a pretty accurate alignment tool.

Step 1 – Make sure you have all the right gear and tools

Step 2 – Check and double check that the rifle is unloaded. Remove the bolt. More than one individual has had a negligent discharge in the house prior to cleaning or working on a firearm.

Step 3 – Set the rifle in a secure cradle on the work bench to mount the rail. Set the rail in place to ensure the bottom contours of the rail match the contour of the top of the action. A Remington 700, for example, is rounder in the front and flatter in the rear. Snug the mounting screws down (4) and then insert the bolt to make sure the screws are not so long that they protrude down into the action and interfere with the bolt cycling. If everything is good, then take the screws out, add a small dab of blue Loctite (not red) and then torque the screws to factory specifications (15 in-lbs for Badger with a T15 Torx wrench)

NF Lima51

Rings mounted on the Badger rail so that they don’t conflict with the power adjustment ring on this NF 7-35×56 F1 ATACR

Step 4 – Set the rings on rail as far apart as the rail will allow to begin with. Tighten the cross-bolts finger tight and then remove the top half-shells from the rings. At this point I set the scope in the lower ring-halves to see if it looks approximately right for eye relief and that the scope rings are not conflicting with the elevation/windage turrets, a battery receptacle for an illuminated reticle, or the power adjustment ring. At this point, loosen and move the ring halves to best accommodate the scope but still as far apart as practicable. Then get behind the rifle to check that the eye relief (3”-4” approx.) is correct. This can vary depending on the model of scope.


NF 7-35×56 ATACR scope correctly mounted with the rings spaced as wide as practicable and correct eye-relief confirmed. I routinely do initial zeroing from the bench, but I set eye-relief for prone shooting since most competition F-TR and ELR shooting is from the prone position. 

Step 5 – Once you have the scope in the right position, add the top cap halves of the scope rings. Add the four screws on each cap ring but keep them loose at this point. Now rotate the scope so that the elevation turret is vertical and windage horizontal. Some shooters use a small float-bubble level on the rail and top turret to ensure they are both horizontal, but I have found that just eye-balling it I can get it right. As I said, the eye is a very accurate tool, especially for carpenters and engineers who can eye-ball even the slightest deviation in horizontal or vertical plains.

Step 6 – Tighten the cap screws just enough to hold the scope from moving or rotating. Then get back behind the rifle to see if the rifle is still vertical in the cradle and if the scope looks to be square on top of the rifle. I am looking at the top of the elevation turret and the side of the windage turret to see if they are horizontal and vertical respectively. I will then get my shoulder into the stock and look through the scope (at the lowest power) to see if the reticle appears to be vertical. It also helps to have a vertical line on the wall to look at, but you can also use a door post provided you have put a level on it and know it is truly vertical.

Step 7 – If everything looks good I will incrementally snug up on the ring half screws and the ring to rail cross-bolts. The goal is to allowing everything to find its natural lay on the scope and in the rail. This is done in increments until I have everything snug. Then torque the cross-bolts to the required 65 in-lbs and the ring screws to 15-18 in-lbs for Badger steel or alloy rings.

Torque Wrenches2

The top torque wrench has the T15 Torx bit for rail screws and cap screws. The T-handle torque wrench is preset to 65 in-lbs for the cross-bolts

Note: If you are using the Nightforce XTRM Ultralite rings CNC machined from 7075-T6 aluminum and titanium crossbolts and jaws, then the crossbolt recommendation is 68 in-lbs., and cap screws 25 in-lbs. For Mark 4 bases, Leupold recommends 22 in-lbs for 6-48 screws and 28 in-lbs for 8-40 screws; and 65 in-lbs for the crossbolts.


You are now ready to head to the range. Starting with a target at 25 or 50 yards, and after setting up on the bench, take a look through the scope and see if everything looks good. One aid that is useful is a vertical line on the target that has been plumbed or leveled to ensure that it is perfectly vertical. This gives you a reference line to compare the vertical line of the reticle.


The black vertical line down the left side of the target is plumbed vertical as a reference for the reticle

If all looks good, proceed with bore-sighting and then zeroing the scope. More on that in another article. But one step that I have added recently is the use Dead Level tool. This is made by Badger Ordnance and works as an engineered level test bench.


Badger Ordnance Dead Level prior to mounting the NF 5-25×56 ATACR. Note the float bubble in the upper left corner of the Dead Level

The way this works is you take the scope off the rifle and attach it to the rail on the Dead Level. Then level the Dead Level to the bench through the use of the float bubble and two adjustment screws that also function as legs. Next, line the scope up with the target that has the plumbed vertical line and see how close the reticle squares to the line. It should be perfectly parallel and, from personal experience, it is a good confirmation that the scope is correctly mounted.


Looking through the scope, on the Dead Level, at the plumbed vertical black line in the middle of this target

Since you know that the Dead Level is level, and you know that the vertical line on the target is perfectly vertical, then it is just a matter of ensuring the scope is perfectly vertical. If there is any error, loosen the cap screws, rotate the scope and then retighten the cap screws. If everything looks good, torque the cap screws.

The final step is to remount the scope on the rifle, tighten and torque the cross-bolts, and proceed with zeroing the scope.

Final zero with the NF 5-25×56 (left) and the NF 7-35×56 (right)

Lastly, mounting the scope on the work bench takes about 30-40 minutes; and then final adjustments and testing at the range takes about an hour. The important thing is to not rush the process, take your time, follow the manufacturer’s instructions, and don’t over torque or strip and screws.

NF 7-35x56 Lima51

Nightforce 7-35×56 ATACR mounted, zeroed and ready to go to work. 


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Anatomy of an Extreme Long Range Rifle

By Mark V. Lonsdale

Ten-time National Champion and Team USA World championship shooter, Paul Phillips, also with Team AB, was kind enough to share the specs on his King of 2 Miles (Ko2M) rifle. This rifle is a veritable beast of an ELR rifle, at a fighting weight of 46 pounds, and the product of a true team effort.

Paul Phillips 375 LM BigMacStock

Paul Phillips with his .375 Lethal Magnum with a 38″ Bartlein barrel. Paul was running this Big mac stock while he was waiting for his McMillan ELR Beast (see pics below)

The rifle is a .375 Lethal Magnum built by 2016 Ko2M champion Mitchell Fitzpatrick of Lethal Precision Arms. The rifle was built on a BAT 50 action with a Bix n’ Andy trigger, a 38” Bartlein 1:7.5” twist barrel, bedded by Alex Sitman into a McMillan ELR Beast stock provided by Kelly McMillan. Mounted on a 75 MOA rail, the scope is a Nightforce Optics 7-35×56 ATACR which provided sufficient vertical adjustment to reach out to 2 miles. Shooting was done from the prone position off a Phoenix Precision F-TR bi-pod

Paul P

Paul shooting in the 2017 Ko2M with his .375 Lethal Mag in the McMillan ELR Beast stock and topped with the Nightforce 7-35×56 ATACR 

The Cutting Edge Lazer Max 400 grain .375 projectiles were loaded into Bertram brass, formed by Lethal Precision, with Paul doing all the load development himself. Ballistic support was provided by Bryan Litz of Applied Ballistics and Team AB equipped with Kestrel Elite wind and weather meters with the Applied Ballistics analytics software. The team also had the new Garmin Foretrex 701 GPS and the Sig Kilo 2400 rangefinders, both with AB analytics

For more information on all the members of Team AB and the 2017 Ko2M, check out the latest October issue of RECOIL magazine.

Team AB ko2m1710

Team AB at the 2017 Ko2M. Paul 2nd from left standing. Derek Rodgers kneeling (L) with his winning .375 CheyTac with a Barnard action, 36″ barrel, and McMillan ELR Beast stock.


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Beginner’s Guide to Extreme Long Range Shooting (ELR) – Part 1

By Mark V. Lonsdale

Making the decision to enter the world of Extreme Long Range (ELR) shooting could be an expensive exercise, especially if you actually expect to make consistent hits out beyond 2,000 yards. So let’s begin by defining ELR.

In the world of competition shooting, mid-range runs from 300 yards to 600 yards, thus 600 yard F-TR matches are considered mid-range matches. Long range shooting is the events at 800, 900 and 1,000 yards including long range high-powered rifle shooting (with a sling), Palma competition, and long range any rifle any sight. Then, in the early 1990s, we saw the advent of F-Class shooting named after Canadian George “Farky” Farquharson.

F-Class, with heavier scoped rifles and tripods, and F-TR, utilizing target rifles in .223 Rem. or .308 Win. with bi-pods, suddenly made 600 and 1,000 yard shooting very accessible to keen hunters and serious recreational shooters. No more heavy shooting jackets, iron sights, or awkward sling positions. It was all about comfort, scopes and bi-pods.

So if long range is 1,000 yards then ELR is anything beyond that or out passed 1,500 yards. Keep in mind that 1 mile is 1,760 yards and snipers are making hits at greater than one mile in Afghanistan utilizing their .338 Lapua Magnums and McMillan Tac 50s. In the recreational world, 2 miles, 3,520 yards, is the current crowning achievement with the King of 2 Miles match run in Raton, NM, in June/July time-frame each year.

Derek Paul

Derek’s rifle is .375 CheyTac built on a Barnard action, Bartlein barrel, and McMillan Beast stock, topped with a Nightforce 7-35×56 ATACR

So when the decision is made, then the journey begins from 1,000 yards (easy), to 2,000 yards (not so easy) to 3,500 yards (very tricky) – and be assured, your .308 Win or 6.5 Creedmoor is not the right tool for the job. You need a bullet that will carry energy out passed 2,000 yards and that has the ability to buck the wind. This requires adequate weight and velocity plus a high BC. For example, a 175 grain SMK .308 Win. has a BC of .505 while a Cutting Edge 400 grain Lazer MAX .375 has a BC of .930, and the .375 has the demonstrated ability to make hits at 3,000+ yards (in the right hands). Obviously reading wind is critical in all long range shooting but some bullet designs, such as VLDs, have a fraction of the wind deflection of their conventional counterparts. More on that in Part 2.

If your goal is to go only to 1,500 or 2,000 yards then a 300 Win Mag or .338 Lapua Mag may do the job. But for extreme long range, the calibers that rule are the .375 CheyTac, .375 Lethal Mag, .408 CheyTac, .416 Barrett, and of course, the .50 BMG (plus assorted improved wild cats).

416 375 CT

The long range line up. For this project I am building a .375 CheyTac since that is the caliber that won the Ko2M in 2017. Once a shooter steps up to .416 Barrett, which has a modified 50 cal case, then it requires a much bigger action and heavier rifle.

Now all this comes at a price. Before making the decision to build a $5,000 – $6,000 rifle, and then top it with a $3,000 – $4,000 scope, ask yourself if you are willing to spend $6.00-$8.00 every time you pull the trigger. A box of 20 factory .375 CheyTac costs $140, and even reloading, the projectiles can be $1.50 to $2.50 a piece and the brass even more.

So before breaking the bank, or your marriage, run the numbers and see what you can afford. Be assured that you can still share the thrill of long range shooting with a good .300 Win Mag, 7mm Rem Mag, or 6.5 Creedmoor, and for significantly less than feeding a .375, .416, or big 50.

Well, I ran the numbers and did my research, so now the journey begins. As of this writing ammunition components began arriving, Peterson Cartridge Co. brass in .375 CheyTac, along with Cutting Edge projectiles in the same caliber. The Whidden reloading dies and bushing will be in the mail tomorrow and I already have the press.

CE352 PetersonBrass

Cutting Edge MTAC projectiles and Peterson brass in .375 CheyTac

I have a Stiller TAC 408 action on order, the 30″ 1:8 barrel is on order through Hill Country Rifles of Texas, and a McMillan A5 Super Magnum stock is in the works. Since many of these items have long lead times, you do not want to wait until you have one component to order the others. I am currently looking at high MOA rails since a standard 20 MOA rail used for 1,000 yard shooting is not going to get me out to 3,500 yards. Depending on the amount of vertical adjustment in the scope, a 50 to 100 MOA rail is needed.

Enough for Part 1. Do your homework, crunch the numbers, and stay tuned for future articles on this project as the rifle and loads come together.


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F-TR Competition Rifle Build

By Mark V. Lonsdale

This project began with a little research into what the top F-TR shooters were using, and who better to ask than Derek Rodgers, current World Champion and US Team member, and Kelly McMillan, owner of McMillan Fiberglass Stocks and US Team sponsor/supporter.

Kelly Derek

     Kelly McMillan and Derek Rodgers with F-TR rifle complete with McMillan XiT stock

For an action. the options were Kelbly’s F-class Panda action, Borden or Barnard. Since I was very impressed with the Atlas Tactical action that Ian and Ryan Kelbly had barreled for one of my sniper rifles, I went with their Panda action. For a barrel, the options were Krieger or Bartlein Heavy Palma profile loaded into a McMillan XiT stock. Since the planned load will include Berger 200 grain Hybrids or 200.20X, the twist would be 1:10″

Berger 200.20X

Since I was already building a new sniper rifle on a Bartlein barrel, I decided to go with a Krieger Heavy Palma 1:10 on this project. Fortunately there was one on Krieger’s Direct webpage that was available for immediate purchase so I had them ship it directly to Kelbly’s Inc in Ohio.

Kelbly Panda Bolt

Barreled action built on a Kelbly’s F-Class Panda action with integral 20 MOA Rail

Kelbly Panda Bolt-Face

Closeup of the Panda bolt face 

Kelbly’s was able to chamber the barrel and barrel the action in less than four weeks, so now it is off to McMillan Fiberglass Stocks for a little XiT magic. This will include a custom molded color scheme, a 3-way adjustable butt-plate, adjustable cheek rest, inletting, aluminum pillar bedding, and an Anschutz fore-end rail to accommodate a Phoenix Precision FTR bi-pod.


McMillan Fiberglass Stocks’ XiT competition stock purpose built for F-TR and used by members of the gold medal winning US Team and World Champions

Xit-with-Phoenix (1)


                           US Team Rifle built on a Panda action and McMillan XiT stock                                         topped with Nightforce optics

As of this writing, the barreled action is in Arizona having the stock fitted,  so will follow up with a blog when the completed rifle comes back and I begin load development and range testing. Stay tuned to Tactical Rifle Shooters on this blog or facebook for updates.


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Kestrel Elite 5700 ABS

Mark V. Lonsdale, STTU Training Director

It is not too difficult to build a rifle that will shoot sub-MOA at long range (1000 yards). It is even not that difficult to dope the temperature, altitude and humidity, but the wind is another story. In the absence of range flags on a known distance range, eyeballing the wind is an art in itself. A gusting wind can move a projectile three feet off target which equates to a total miss.

So back in the 1990s, when I was active in long range sniper training and doing research for a the book ALPINE OPERATIONS, I broke down and bought a Kestrel 2000. At the time, I found this to be a very useful device, so carried it with me for the next 20 years.

Doing high altitude cold weather research for Alpine Operations 1998

With time technology advances, so after using the Kestrel 2000 for two decades, I am now putting the Kestrel Elite 5700 through its paces. Where the 2000 provides temp and wind, the 5700 is a veritable weather station. More importantly, you can program in all of your rifles and loads to generate firing solutions through the Applied Ballistics software. And trust me, it is easy; the inputs are quite intuitive. Then you can link it to your cell phone or iPad through Bluetooth and have an enlarge screen to work off. Will post a more complete review in the next few weeks.

                                  Kestrel Elite AB 5700, the older Kestrel 2000, and the                                   Bluetooth link to smart phones or iPads.  

Look for a full review in the near future


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