Use Enough Gun

He who knows that enough is enough will always have enough.

–Lao Tzu

Shooting at 1000 (Slight Return)
As I stated in a previous episode of this article, I did my shooting at 1000 yards on this occasion with a .338 Lapua Magnum.  It’s not really beginning to stretch its legs at 1000, so it was no problem.
My friend “Mark” was shooting with a cartridge that is not typically the first thing that comes to mind when long range shooting is the topic of discussion: a 22-250 Ackley Improved.  His rifle is a Remington 700 with a Krieger barrel with 1 in 8: twist.  He’s shooting 75 grain moly’d Amax bullets at approximately 3050 fps, which is a pretty mild load for the Ackley (even for the standard 22-250).  He said he hit the accuracy node there and was happy with it.
“Mark’s” idea for the rifle, if I understand it accurately, is that the bullets are cheap, the powder charge is not huge (therefore a little cheaper than something “magnum”), and the round has minimal recoil.  The barrel life may not be super, but at 3050 fps, it’s probably not going to burn out overnight either.  Cheaper rounds equal more rounds to practice with.  Low recoil translates to better shooting for longer periods.  He said that when the barrel burns out he’s considering something that launches a 6.5mm bullet.

 

The .338, if memory serves, showed marginally better grouping down range, the differences being pretty minimal.  Considering the difference in ballistic coefficient between the 250 grain Scenar (~0.322 G7) and the 75 grain Amax (~0.212 G7), that’s pretty good shooting.  The 22-250 is also a bit more appropriate to use on targets that aren’t a half mile away as well.  It was the only centerfire rifle that he brought, and I think that his skill with it had that “beware of the man with one gun” type of quality to it, while the TRG was somewhat of a novelty to me.
I sent a couple rounds downrange with “Mark’s” rifle, and it was very cool to shoot something with that little recoil that is capable of hitting something so far away.  I had been trying to get my position good enough to keep the scope on target through the recoil cycle.  By the end of the day I was starting to have some limited success.  After all the effort, to shoot the 22-250 was pretty cool.  I believe I understand why the .338 Lapua is said to not be a very good round for beginners. 
There’s a lot of wisdom in Rawhider’s words: “adequate gun for the purpose”.  I’m not saying that I don’t like my .338, but I’m starting to see the wisdom in something smaller that can still reach out there.

___________________________________________________

What did I get out of this trip?  First, some of my shooting goals for the year were to “stretch my legs” and get out past 1000, to get better at doping wind, and to improve my shooting position to be able to spot my hits through the scope.  Happily, I feel as though I did at least something to further my progress toward those goals.  The simple experience of actually seeing what the targets look like from the 1000 yard line was invaluable.  Knowing that wind correction really isn’t magic is also very helpful.  While the computerized gadgets make it so simple that even a simpleton could achieve good results, I want to reach a point where I can do it myself.
I realized that the scope on #1 is really starting to be the defining limitation on that rifle.  I had felt as though it was my duty to you to shoot that rifle from the full distance.  It has been my constant companion throughout this blog, but due to the inadequacies of the scope, it is conspicuously absent from taking part in the proceedings.  I apologize for that.  I know that some of you will take the TRG as overkill, and of no practical use.  At least Ihad fun.

Going the Distance

Hey farmer! You don’t know very much do you?
No, but I ain’t lost.
Day two:
We got up again when it was dark and went out to a local diner for breakfast.  It was drizzling outside.  I had biscuits and gravy for the second day in a row.  We then headed back home geared up, and made our way to the range.  The weather cleared up and we didn’t see a drop for the rest of the day.
The exercise:
We were operating in alternating pairs of shooters, “Mark” and I as one team, “Rod” and “Ethan” as the other.  One team ran the targets from pits while the other shot.  The targets were the RWVA full size known distance course targets.  The scoring portion of the target is 20” wide and 18” tall.  We shot from 600, 800, 900, and 1000 yards. 

 

We shot our strings in what seemed to be some kind of competition format.  2 sighters were fired followed by 2 separate rapid fire strings of four shots in 30 seconds or less (slow rapid?).
The winds were mostly in the 12-15 mph range, with some exceptions both lower and higher.  There is enough variation in the landscape to cause the winds to blow in different directions along the course of fire.  There were flags at approximately 400 and 500 yards uprange from the targets.  Prior to getting started “Mark” and I went on a lead collection expedition (“Mark” must be obsessed with saving the environment or something) at the wolf and buffalo silhouettes a couple hundred yards behind the target lines.  The wind at our location was coming straight downrange at a smooth 3-5 mph, while at the same time I could see the flags blowing hard (maybe 12-15), both in their own directions.  There are several “valleys” that pipe wind in from different directions.
I ended up using the TRG for the bulk of the shooting that day.  Having a rifle that well-made shooting a round that big and fast  makes for a very forgiving system.  I felt like I was cheating all day long.  The specs are roughly, .338 Lapua Magnum, 27” barrel with a 1 in 12” twist, three lug bolt, detachable magazine, Sako TRG bipod, Roedale muzzle brake, Near Mfg. 40 moa canted picatinny rail, Seekins low 35mm rings that hold a Vortex Razor 5-20x50mm scope.  The scope’s elevation turret has 5 mils per turn with a zero stop and about 26 mils of usable elevation left after its zero, which is 100 yards.  The combination of quality (and very expensive) components were worth the expenditure in this case.  There are no problems with it and it just works the way it should.  Period.  Not having any mysteries to solve, or things to fix or even worry about, is a great feeling.
As in the previous day, I used my “smart” device to obtain my firing data.  I had pretty solid numbers for the muzzle velocity this time.  I didn’t have a lot of experience shooting in complex wind conditions.  I decided not to overthink it too much.  I simply made my best guess as to speed and direction, then put the number in the device.  It gave me numbers, and I put them in my scope.  I would get set, fire a sighter, and then see a marker eerily close to where I had been aiming.  The only pattern I noticed was that the data was consistently 0.1 to 0.2 mils low.  Other than that it was so easy it was stupid to get on target.
There were no real surprises at the 600, 800, and 900 yard lines.  When we got to 1000 the wind had picked up quite a bit.  I was seeing quite a bit of mirage in my scope by that time.  Without planning or conferring, “Mark” and I both ended up holding off into the wind during an extended gust. We got fooled.  Our groups looked almost identical, both on the right edge of the target, from where the wind had been blowing.  Pretty much point of aim = point of impact with the numbers my device game me.
Here’s my second group from 1000:

It’s just shy of 21”, pretty much exactly 2 MOA.  Sure, it could be better.  But I was happy with it for my first time shooting that far, and in those conditions.  My best group of the day, according to my data book, was from the 800 yard line, and was about 1.5 MOA (also a 4 shot group).
After the structured shooting was done, we set our sights on the silhouettes up the hill and behind the target pits.  The “wolf” was (if memory serves) at 1170, and the buffalo was at 1250.  The buffalo was easy, so I didn’t play on it that much.  The wolf was quite a challenge, as its body is about .65 MOA thick and about 2.5 MOA from nose to tail.  It was also on a steep hill and I suspected an updraft.  Later, when I mentioned this possibility to “Mark” he mentioned that he also thought it was a possibility, as he had seen a tumbleweed flying about 20 feet in the air.  The updraft, probably combined with shooter error, resulted in a lot of shots over and under the wolf.  I would say that I probably hit it 20% to 30% of the time.
I tried the Remington on the wolf, but found that the bullets were behaving erratically at that range.  My computer told me that they were going subsonic just a little before reaching the target, which made sense considering the disparity in performance from the .338.  Since then I have learned that the .308 is just a lot more difficult to shoot at long range than a .338 Lapua. 
I got out the Sako 75, being pretty sure that the 30-06 would make it without problems.  I put the numbers in the device, unscrewed the turret caps, got out a penny, stuck it in the slot, and started turning the adjustments (yes, this felt ridiculous after the ease of adjusting the TRG’s scope).  The computer told me 39 MOA.  After 29 MOA of turning, my penny’s motion was halted by the limits of the scopes internal range of adjustment.  With no more elevation travel and a reticle that had no suitable means for precise holds, I decided that it would be fruitless to expend any ammo on a 0.65×2.5 MOA target at 1175 yards.   

           
                             Yes, we were really shooting at targets on the far hill.

To be continued one more time…

Warming up for 1000

Hey farmer! You been livin’ here all your life?
Not yet.
Day one at the range:

 

In preparation for shooting at 1000 yards, it seemed prudent to get our rifles dialed in at 100.  My TRG had not been fired since I removed the scope and adjusted its position to get the eye relief just right.  It turned out that it was 2 clicks low and 7 clicks left (0.1 mil clicks).  It’s a pretty simple thing to get a scope with a mil reticle and matching turret adjustments zeroed.  I didn’t want to waste my .338 ammo at 100 yards, so that was that.
On to the Remington…  The load I brought was not my normal load, so I quickly got the 175 SMK’s dialed in.  I’m pretty sure that I have previously chrono’d this load, but I couldn’t find the data anywhere in my hell hole of a reloading area, so I went with my best recollection, which was 2650. 
After getting that zeroed quickly without having to take the trip downrange, my attention turned to a steel coyote (wolf?) silhouette target.  “Mark” ranged it at 770 yards with his Leica 1600.  I had bought one of those “smart” devices that I have held in contempt so long (for some reason the marketing on the Magpul video got me wanting to obtain a portable computer for firing data).  I want you to know that for the most part I have been successful in ignoring the thing in my everyday life, but since I bought it for shooting I brought it to shoot with.  I put in the range, some conditions, my best guess at muzzle velocity, wind speed and direction.  It gave me a firing solution.  I dialed the scope’s turrets accordingly.  I set the magnification on the scope to its maximum magnification of 10x, and homed in on the target, which measured about 38” from nose to tail, about 8” from its back to its breast bone, and the rest should be apparent from the pictures.
Shot 1: hit.  Shot 2: hit.  Shot 3: hit.  Shot 4: just low.  Shot 5: hit.  Maybe this computer crap works?

           

           

           

With the two other rifles dialed in it was time to get #1 going.  A group of 4 revealed that I had at some point changed my zero from its 250 yard zero to a 100 yard zero.  I remembered doing it after seeing the group.  I decided to try the 200 yard steel chicken from offhand.  I used a reticle holdover at 10x and hit the chicken 1 out of 2 times from offhand.  It was a little breezy out, 10-13 mph, which made it a little difficult. 
After getting the rifles zeroed, we moved on to some pistol plinking.  “Mark” had brought a gallon of .45 ACP ammo, with 230 grain flat point bullets that he had cast himself.  We shot at a 25 yard plate for a while before getting bored. 
We tried to get the pig silhouette at 300 yards with our 1911’s.  It’s interesting to shoot at longer ranges with a pistol.  We were using our ejection ports to index off the rear sight, and our front sights at a sub 6 hold.  The pig was too difficult, so we moved on to the chicken at 200 yards.  For this we used the bottom of the front sight to index off the top of the rear sight, and experimented with the placement of the front sight on the target.  “Rod” and another shooter, we’ll call him “Ethan” managed to hit it one time each.  I got close a few times, but no cigar.
I shot about a quart of 230 grain cast lead bullets through the Colt.  Mark makes good ammo- I didn’t have anything that looked even remotely like a malfunction or even a hiccup.
We packed it up and prepared for the next days 1000 yard shooting.
To be continued…                  

Rod & Clod’s Inaugural 1000 Yard Invitational- Part 1

Hey farmer! Where does this road go?
Been livin’ here all my life, it ain’t gone nowhere yet.

 

How it started:
I’d been talking with a friend about getting together with him and his brother to do some shooting and visiting.  Not too long after, I got this message: If I arrive at your place the afternoon of the second, crash on your couch and we leave early the 3rd”…”  This meant that I had to get up off my duff and actually get in some shooting.  It also meant that I had to squeeze my into my crowded reloading space and make some ammo.  The underlying implication was that I would have to stop making excuses and actually do something other than making forms, pouring concrete (more on that story to come), and typing tomes about how I love to look at my rifle.
This brings to mind some goals I set for myself at the beginning of the year:
“I have some goals for this year. The first would be to get myself from being a novice at shooting in the wind, to an “acceptable” level. By acceptable I mean, not terrible. I don’t expect to become a wind master in a short period of time, but I will be tackling that issue with some gusto.

My second goal is to stretch my shooting legs a bit. I need to find a place in excess of 1000 yards, hopefully more like a mile. This will be not only fun, but it will test my fundamentals and consistency, which I need.

Thirdly, I need to get my bipod technique down. No more hopping bipods- I want to see that bullet hole appear in the target. I will get my position straight this year.”


The plan was that my friend, we’ll call him “Mark”, would pick me up.  A road trip would then ensue, terminating at his brother’s place, which happens to be near a 1000 yard range.  We would engage in 1.5 days of shooting, then begin the trip back.

I planned to bring 3 rifles, and began to prepare accordingly.  The rifles would be a Remington 700 in .308, my Sako 75 in 30-06, and a Sako TRG-42 in .338 Lapua Magnum.  I already had a bunch of .308 loaded up in the form of 175 Sierra Matchkings.  I loaded up the remaining pieces of brass from the current cycle in the form of 155 grain Nosler Custom Competition HPBT at approximately 2950, with a total of about 80 rounds.  I also got to work loading .338, and came out with 159 rounds of 250 grain Lapua Scenars with a muzzle velocity of about 2970.

“Mark” arrived and we had a show and tell outside in the street in front of the neighbors involving revolvers and gun stocks.  I got my luggage crammed into 1 backpack, 3 rifle cases, 2 ammo cans, and a wimpy looking ammo box full of really cool looking .338 cartridges.  We got up the next morning and left the house by 0dark30.

The trip:

This was a good roadtrip.  The things that stand out were that I got to pick the brain of someone who knows a thing or two-thousand about bullet casting and reloading, not to mention shooting.  It’s nice to bounce ideas off of a person instead of a keyboard once in a while.

“Mark” is a lot more of a people person than I am.  It was interesting to experience, say for instance stopping for coffee.  I would normally pay my money, take my drink, leave a tip, and leave.  “Mark” has the ability to strike up a 10 minute conversation with a total stranger about our trip to shoot from 1000 yards, which I think is pretty cool.  It started looking like we were going to pick up a 3rd passenger for a minute.

We stopped at a pawn shop where we saw some interesting things.  Here’s an example:


    Spotted outside a small town pawnshop…

Later we stopped at a garage sale on the off chance that I would find Grampa’s old Mauser selling for $5.  No Mausers, but I did find a DVD copy of “Brokeback Mountain”.  I told Mark that they had it, and that I figured he would want to buy it.  He suggested that it would make a good target, but we decided against it due to laziness or apathy.

After travelling many miles for many hours, crossing at least one time zone, and getting food at quaint local diners, we arrived at his brother’s destination.  We’ll call him “Rod”.  We had some quick chili, drank a V8, and headed for the range.

To be continued…

Choices in Optics Selection for the Practical Rifle

I was once a hardcore believer in the superiority of iron sights.  They’re simple, rugged, generally unobtrusive, lightweight, and they come standard on the M14.  Once upon a time that was just the ticket for me.  A sufficiently skilled rifle shooter can accomplish many things with such a rifle.
When I began to seriously explore the use of optics, it didn’t take long to see how much more in the way of performance a properly selected optic can offer.  With a bit of minimal familiarization, the use of such a device is very intuitive.
Let me say up front that I’m not an expert in terms of design, determining resolution, recognizing things like chromatic aberration, or other such things on the technical side of the optic world.  For more information from such a scope aficionado, I turn to Ilya.  His knowledge in the realm of optics is impressive and his opinions are well thought out and articulated.  There is also a nice forum over at SWFA where a dedicated band of optic gurus gather to chat.
I have enough time behind a scope to know what I want from one for a given application.  What will work best for you will depend on the application that you have in mind.  I’ll try to offer general advice as it would suit various applications, as well as what I would prefer for the “general rifle” application that I’m primarily working with in this blog.  I will also disclose that I have a predisposition towards cutting edge tactical precision rifles (I still have trouble with using the word “precision”, which is a noun, as an adjective.  It’s not a very precision use of language). 
The first thing that I think many people will need to seriously consider, is that the amount of money a scope worthy of consideration will probably cost nearly as much as the rifle.  I’m sure there won’t be a shortage of people who will disagree with me, but you get what you pay for, and optics ain’t cheap.  If you need to find a way to justify a large expenditure, say to yourself and others, “Buy once, cry once” repeatedly.  The use of catch phrases to put a stop to critical thinking was well demonstrated in the book Brave New World (we’re living it anyway, so why not embrace it?).    
If you’re one to balk at the price, consider that the optic enables the rifle to do so much more than it could otherwise.  Irons in low light don’t work too well.  In my experience the aperture gets hard to see through.  An optic is much better, especially one with an illuminated reticle.  A magnified optic allows you to observe details about your target that you would not be able to see with the naked eye.  It may also allow you to actually see targets that you would not be able to detect with the naked eye.
The first requirement that should be made of a riflescope is that it is reliable.  There are several components of what reliability means in reference to a riflescope.  The first is the robustness of the scope.  How much abuse will it take before failure?  Is the scope purged and sealed such that it will not fog internally?  These things are determined by the quality of materials and construction, which is obvious.  Robust construction typically, and unfortunately, equals more weight.  Top shelf scopes these days can take an incredible amount of abuse.  I wonder if they are more durable than most iron sights.  I think that some of them are.  Durability means $$$.
A second component of riflescope reliability is that the tracking of the windage and elevation adjustment is consistent.  Many scopes have sufficient play in the system that you cannot dial up for elevation and expect it to return to zero.  This is a sure recipe for frustration.  Many scope companies consider some amount of inconsistency in tracking within acceptable parameters of quality control.  Some of these same companies have golden reputations as well.  Study up on who produces quality stuff, and who charges a lot for inconsistency.  Don’t take it for granted that because your scope says it has ¼ minute adjustments that it actually does. 
Related to the tracking of the scope’s turrets is the proper calibration of the reticle subtentions, if you have a ballistic, mil, MOA, or inch per hundred yard (IPHY) reticle (there is a difference between MOA and IPHY that will add up over longer distances).  You will want to ensure that the reticle subtentions are what they are supposed to be.  The only way to accurately check this is to use a properly scaled target at a precisely measure distance.
Traditionalist readers will likely scoff at the idea of anything that is more complex than a duplex (say it like Jesse Jackson to make yourself feel really happy).  What can you get out of a mil reticle (just to pick a specific example) that you cannot get from a duplex? 
1.     You get precisereferences for holdovers.  No more holding over the back of an animal and guessing.  Put a little work into memorizing your trajectory and you will know what you’re looking at, and therefore where the bullet will strike.
2.    You also have a precise frame of reference for wind holds (Kentucky windage).  This also takes a bit of memorization in terms of what the wind does to your bullet.
3.    It doesn’t take much work to learn how to lead moving targets.
4.    You have a graphic representation of how large you can expect your group dispersion to be in any given position, again if you put enough work into knowing your limitations.
5.    You can use the reticle as a rangefinder if you are at an unknown distance without a map, laser rangefinder, or intimate knowledge of the area.  To use the reticle in this manner, you need to know the size of the object downrange you’re using as a reference.
6.    You can zero your rifle without going downrange.  You can do this without even knowing how much a minute or a mil will translate on paper at your distance.  This works because you have a ruler in your reticle that will tell you how much you need to dial your turret to get your zero.  It’s conceivable to fire one shot, adjust the knobs, fire another shot, and be right on (although it’s always taken me three shots with my mil/mil scope [“mil/mil” means that the reticle and knobs are both in mils]).
To sum up the merits of a calibrated reticle, it gives you a yardstick to be able to do the things that used to be regarded as voodoo carried off by shooting shamans.  There are no more of Carlos Hathcock II around (much to the detriment of modern Americans).  He could hold for elevation and wind and make hits with a simple reticle.  It takes a lot of natural talent, hard work, and a ton of rounds downrange to be able to do that.  With a calibrated reticle, hard work, and a lot of rounds downrange, people like you and me can hold for elevation and wind and hit things.
If you decide to get a calibrated reticle, make sure that the scope’s elevation and windage turrets are calibrated in the same units (mil/mil, or moa/moa).  It will save you from having to try to do conversions in your head.  Having like units means that you can see what the difference will be when you turn the knob.  The ruler in the reticle is a very, very handy thing to have.
Hunters have traditionally used capped elevation and windage knobs.  With the Leupold I have on #1, I have to get a penny out and take off the cap before I adjust anything.  Then I have to hope not lose the cap, because my personality predisposes me to lose small items, if only temporarily.  These scopes are not meant to be adjusted regularly, but are intended to be a “set it ‘n’ forget it” system.  I have a precision rifle fetish, so I like to have the ability to adjust the scope if I have the time and the terrain dictates such a change.
The argument for capped turrets is that they’re less prone to snag on things and to get turned accidentally.  These are valid concerns, but in my opinion, they do not outweigh the benefits of having the adjustment at your fingertips.  Many of the current turrets lock, and have to be pulled up to turn them.  Another argument for capped turrets is that they look nicer.  I can’t argue with that, except to say that I would rather be looking through my scope than at it.
The next “feature” that I would heartily recommend is that the reticle be in the front focal plane.  What does this mean?  Most American hunting reticles offer 2ndfocal plane scopes.  This means that the apparent size of the reticle always appears the same to your eye, even as you increase or decrease magnification (the downrange image increases or decreases while the reticle size is fixed).  Second focal plane (SFP) scopes are nice in a way because the reticle is usually never too fine or too thick.  It’s always at the size it was designed to be.  In contrast, front focal plane (FFP) scopes have a reticle that will change size as you increase or decrease magnification.  The reticle appears to change with the image.  Why would you want this?  Because it keeps the calibration “valid” throughout the entire magnification range of the scope, which is not possible with an SFP scope.  This means that all of the advantages of the calibrated reticle are available throughout the magnification range.  This is worth something in my opinion.
Some people just won’t like FFP reticles.  I noticed that when the magnification is turned all the way down, which is my default mode, the reticle appears quite fine, although not as fine as the standard crosshair on an old Bushnell 3-9 I have.  I practiced some snapshooting with an FFP scope and had a bit of a hard time with it.  Mainly the image I saw was out of the norm for me and felt like a bit of a surprise.  I’m convinced that I could get used to it.
If you only shoot at static targets at known distances, you do not need a front focal plane reticle.  The reason to get a front focal plane is for holds and movers at any magnification.  It’s one less thing to remember when you have limited time to engage a live target and your magnification is turned all the way down.  For reticle ranging, I don’t think it matters as much. 
Speaking of magnification, I believe that there is a trend of the gear-obsessed, non-shooting (for all intents and purposes) rifle owners to favor high magnification because the big number is attractive.  Of the people I talk to, it seems that most of those who actually shoot at real stuff generally do so at ranges under 300 yards, most commonly in offhand, kneeling, or using some sort of improvised support.  In this type of shooting scenario, I believe that minimal, if any, magnification would be more desirable than a lot.  A healthy guideline is to have about 1X magnification per 100 yards of distance to the target available.  This is a flexible guideline, but I think a valid one.  If you like a bit more magnification, fine, but you shouldn’t needmore, and could likely make due with less.
I believe that the lower end of the magnification range should take precedence over the high end.  You should be keeping your scope set at the lowest range as a default setting anyway.  The reason for this is that you need to be ready for quick, unexpected contacts.  These are generally more common than long shots, and are more easily addressed with lower power.  The field of view is wider on lower settings and your brain can make the transition easier because of less disparity between the image the naked eye sees and the magnified image.  If I could magically have any scope I wanted, it would have a bottom end of a true 1x.  In the real world, I would like the bottom end of the magnification to be no greater than 3x.
To determine a starting point for the high-end magnification, what I would do is look at where your cartridge is likely to hit the trans-sonic barrier (where it approaches the point of slowing down to the speed of sound), and try to have enough magnification to equal 1x of power per hundred yards at that distance.  What I’ve got in my ’06 right now will get to about 1200 before going transonic (it’s not a hot load), so I would look to 12x as a good starting point for the high end.  Another route to go is to consider the maximum distance you’re likely to shoot at.  What I don’t like about this is the possibility that you have an unexpected opportunity to shoot at a much longer distance than normal.  It’s really not a big deal anyway, but I spend too much time thinking about stuff like this.
What is of more importance than magnification for shooting long distance is how much elevation you have available in the scope’s erector system.  You don’t want to come across the opportunity to shoot at 1300 yards for the first time just to find out that the 14 mils you have left (after the initial 100 yard zero) in your scope isn’t going to cut it.  Then again if you have a calibrated reticle you could holdover for part of the elevation adjustment.  You might want to run the numbers in a ballistics program when shopping for scopes if you think you might want to stretch your rifle’s legs at all in the future.
One way to get more elevation out of your scope is to use a canted scope base.  Most long range shooters use a base with at least 20 minutes of angle worth of cant.  Why?  Most scopes have a given amount of elevation adjustment.  Most will zero somewhere near the center of this range, given a scope mount that is parallel to the bore.  This means that approximately half of the scope’s range of elevation adjustment is wasted!!!  The canted base causes the zero to be closer to the end of the scope’s elevation adjustment, and will give you that much more elevation you can actually use.
Moving right along, the illuminated reticles are all the rage.  Do I want one?  Of course I do.  I have experienced a couple incidents where I would have liked illumination.  Do I need illumination?  Probably not.  A sufficiently thick reticle will probably be enough to hit a target I can see.  Once someone put up glow sticks at 100 yards in the darkness.  I just couldn’t find my mil-dot reticle anywhere to hit the stupid thing.  It’s not likely that you’ll be in enough darkness to come across a situation like that, otherwise you wouldn’t see your target (unless it glows).
If your scope has a lot of magnification you may want to consider whether or not you need a parallax adjustment.  Here’s a description of parallax from an earlier article:  Parallax can be illustrated by trying to read an analog speedometer from the passenger seat of a car. Because the seat position is so far out of alignment from where the speedometer was intended to be read, you’re seeing the speedometer needle over a slightly slower number than it is read from the driver’s seat. If you were able to look at the needle from outside the driver’s window, you’d see the needle over a slightly faster number. The difference in both instances would likely be only 2-3 mph. 
Parallax usually is adjusted by a knob on the left side of the scope’s turret housing.  The nice thing about the parallax knob is that you can adjust it to get rid of parallax.  The problem is that if the adjustment is not necessary it is something else to mess with.  Parallax is not as much of a problem with scopes that don’t go above 10x.
One area where I think traditional scopes have been great is in their size and weight.  Scopes that have a lot of the aforementioned features and that are built to take a lot of punishment tend to be heavy.  I have a scope that is built like a tank and has all the whiz-bang features I want it to have on my TRG (.338 Lapua).  It weighs 37 oz.  On that rifle, it’s not such an issue, but on something I would have to carry a bunch, I think it’s too heavy.  It throws the balance of the rifle off.  I would be happy with a scope somewhere in the 20-25 oz range.
Something that I do like about the scope that is currently on #1 is that the image appears to be nice and wide, and the ocular housing to be thin.  This makes the scope visually unobtrusive from a shooting position and easy to see around.  Some of the more “tactical” scopes seem to take up more visual space around the image.
Lastly, consider the optical quality and its effect on the image that you see.  If you use your scope to help you see what you’re shooting at, optical quality is a big deal.  I consider image quality to be a bonus, rather than a priority.  The priority is that the scope doesn’t break and tracks the way it’s supposed to.  A high resolution image is like a rifle that shoots a quarter minute.  It’s nice to have, but a rifle that shoots half minute will work (for general purpose shooting that’s still more that is needed).  Please don’t take this paragraph to mean that BSA scopes are fine.
Put all those things together and what do you have?  Something like a 3-12×44 with some type of mil illuminated reticle, 0.1 mil turrets, a 30mm tube, in the 20-25 oz range, at least 20 mils (68.75 moa) total elevation would be nice, and built to take a beating.  It sounds a lot like a Nightforce F1, the IOR 2.5-10×42 FFP, the SWFA SS 3-9×42, or the Bushnell Elite Tactical 3-12×44 (I understand that those scopes don’t necessarily compare exactly to each other, I’m just talking features) would all be close fits.  The Nightforce is a little heavier than I would like (but I would be perfectly happy with one), the IOR is lacking a bit on the high end magnification and on the low end it has a bit of tunneling, and the SWFA is again lacking a bit on the high end magnification and is not illuminated.  In some correspondence with Ilya, he recommended the SWFA for my needs, and commented that the illumination on the Bushnell is poorly executed and the eye position flexibility a bit tight (almost a direct quote). 
On my rifle, I would rather have a 50mm objective lens, because the 20moa scope base I have for my Sako 75 puts the scope high enough to clear one, even with low rings, and I just don’t like the look of a lot of space between the barrel and objective lense.  Why not get more light if you have the space for it?

If after reading this it seems like I want a new scope on #1, you are very perceptive.

brOakley v2.0

 

Yes, they broke… again.  brOakley v1.0 happened when one of the arms broke during a rough ride in my backpack.  In a stroke of genius I decided to go with it and break the other arm, then epoxy the elastic on.  They continued to be very functional for the better part of a year until a little kiss from a scope’s ocular housing quickly finished their useful life.
I continue to locate potential market niches for Magpul to work their polymer magic.  First they need to make a coffee mug that will withstand what I call “normal wear and tear”, then they can get together with Oakley and make some glasses that won’t fail under the recoil of a 168 grain .308 Federal Match round.  I want to be able to drive a pickup over my next pair of Oakleys.

Review: Sniper’s Hide Online Training

Sniper’s Hide Online Training is a resource that I’ve been wanting to explore for a long time.  The first lesson debuted on 2/13/09.  I believe the initial cost of the training was $50 with a recurring subscription for $10/month.  I balked at the cost.  Guess what, I lost THREE YEARS that I could have been shooting better.  Currently the initial cost is $150, which I was able to budget for and start out in March.  It sounds like a lot for an online resource, but I believe it is a good use of money.  Incidentally, this had a little to do with why I took my break.  I didn’t feel like I could properly assimilate new information while trying to write about how I do it.

You may be wondering what Sniper’s Hide online training is.  It is a subscription based series of lessons.  The primary medium of the lessons is video, although it is typical that a PDF document accompanies it.  The lessons are posted as threads in the Sniper’s Hide forum, and are open to discussion from subscribers as well as the instructors.
It appears upon casual observation that one lesson is released approximately every month.  The instruction is provided by Jacob Bynum, who operates a shooting school called Rifles Only, and Frank Galli, who operates the Sniper’s Hide website and is a member of the Rifle’s Only training cadre.  Rifle’s Only has a reputation as a premier training school for precision rifle.  They also offer training in other weapons systems.  Since I can’t afford to go to a shooting school for real, I’m putting a lot of faith that this will get me most of the way there if I am very diligent.
The context of the lessons is on precision tactical rifle shooting.  There also seems to be a sub-emphasis on preparing for tactical precision rifle competitions.  What it seems to me is that this provides a context in which cutting-edge, specialized shooting equipment is employed in a realistic manner in field conditions and under time constraints.  This is somewhat along the lines that I have been writing about, although I have used more traditional equipment.
You may wonder why I am interested in precision rifle shooting.  Seeing how accuracy and precision and generally good things in any rifle endeavor, it follows that more accuracy and precision may be even more gooder.  What I think is that learning what it takes to refine one’s technique to reach the nth degree of accuracy has to spill over to other shooting, so long as we’re still talking about working the rifle in a manner that’s feasible in the field.  Improving trigger control, understanding breathing better, and learning how to control the recoil, among other things will work in our favor even without a fancy 16 lb. rifle.
In December 2011 I bought a DVD about precision rifle shooting.  I was expecting it to be very helpful (I thought it would blow my mind).  It had some good points, but for the most part it was too basic.  There was also a strong marketing element in the video as well, which was disappointing.  What I wanted out of that DVD I got in spades with the online training.
Since the online training started, they have covered a fairly good breadth of topics.  Some of the topics they’ve covered include loading the bipod, natural point of aim, using a rear bag, trigger school, moving target, mirage, the cold-bore shot, follow through, breathing, the effects of shooting through branches on bullets, angle fire, wind, shoulder position, barricades, cleaning a precision rifle, “driving” a semi-auto, etc…
What’s more important to me is that the topics are covered in sufficient depth.  I feel that my understanding of rifle shooting is pretty decent.  Couple that with the fact that I’m living within modest means, and the result is that I have pretty high expectations when I plunk down my federal reserve notes.  I have no regrets with the cost of the training. 
On day 1 of having access to the training, I already had new ways to look at shooting prone with the bipod.  They explain an easy way to make sure you’re actually straight back, demonstrate how much pressure is needed when loading the bipod, discuss in depth how tension in the shoulders affects accuracy, spend quite a deal of time on trigger technique and why it is so crucial, and approach breathing in a way that is a little different than I have understood it.  Did it change a lot?  I wouldn’t say that it changed any one thing a lot, however the changes were noticeable.  The sum of what I experienced in the first week was enough to necessitate moving my scope.  I also felt that because I had a greater understanding of a lot of different things, I could be much more deliberate in the way I approached taking a shot.
If you’ve been on the Sniper’s Hide forum you have probably noticed that there can sometimes be a lack of civility.  I was expecting that culture to be carried over to the subscription based portion, or even magnified.  I was very surprised to find that it just isn’t there.  The lessons are presented at the top of the thread, people ask questions about them, and the questions are discussed.  It’s a surprisingly encouraging atmosphere, which I think is important for effective learning.
At the time of this writing, I have had access to the training for about a month.  Did it change my shooting overnight?  No.  So what did it do?  I feel as though it has given me some direction to focus my practice, especially in the realm of shooting with the bipod.  To be honest, I somewhat expected that my first trip to the range after having the online training would reveal that I now have perfect form.  I see now that my expectations were unrealistic.  I feel that I have made some progress, and instead of searching blindly my path is at least slightly illuminated. 
I would love to explain all the intricacies of the aspects of rifle shooting as they are described on the training.  I want to do everything I can to help out you while helping myself.  The problem is that it would be unethical of me to continue to pay for a subscription based service and put it all up for free on my own site.  I would encourage you, if you are at a point to learn precision rifle and have an open mind to learn new things, to give the online training a try.

Cheekweld Part 3: Results on Paper

Way back in February I started this series on the importance of cheekweld.  “Anonymous” left a comment that said, “The suspense is killing me how whether it affects the accuracy problem with your rifle. My guess is that it does.”  I wanted to see if he was speaking literally, so I waited long enough to see if the suspense actually killed him.  If he doesn’t leave a comment on this article, we’ll know what happened. 

To sum up what I wrote in February, I explained why cheekweld was theoretically very important in part 1.  In part 2, I reviewed a stock pack that now is always on #1, my Sako 75 30-06. 
This being part 3 of a trilogy, I shot some groups on paper with and without the stock pack.  The testing protocol was designed to eliminate known problems that I in particular experience that affect my accuracy: cold bore shooter, and cold bore rifle.  I also wanted to control to a degree how hot the barrel got during each testing phase.
During the test I intended to fire 2 four shot groups from 100 yards with and without the stock pack for a total of four groups of four rounds.  To eliminate the cold bore rifle issue, I fired three snapshots prior to both the non-stock pack and stock pack groups.  To eliminate the cold bore shooter issue I then set the Sako down and fired 5 shots through the Remington 700 with the bipod.  I then moved the bipod to the Sako and was to shoot 2 groups of 4 shots in a row with 20 seconds between each of the total of 8 shots for each portion of the test.  Then I took a break to let the rifle cool and give myself a break. 
There were to be 2 different loads used for each testing phase.  Group 1 of each phase consisted of 185 grain Lapua Scenar HPBT bullets.  Group 2 consisted of 155 grain Nosler Custom Competition HPBT bullets.  Both the loads used Vihtavouri N150, Winchester brass and Winchester Large Standard Rifle primers. 
The only diversion from the testing protocol was the first group of the second phase of the test, which was with the stock pack.  I forgot to space the rounds by 20 seconds and probably shot it closer to 5 seconds between each round.  The best thing I could think of doing to correct that mistake was to let the rifle cool for a minute and fire 2 more groups with the appropriate ammo with the correct time intervals.  I couldn’t just do it right and end up with clear results now could I?
Here are the results you’ve been dying to see:

Control Group:

 

The group just left of the center diamond was the 185 grain Lapua Scenars.  The group to the upper left is the 155 grain Nosler Custom Competitions.  The Scenar group was 1.217” center to center and the Nosler group was 1.207” as measured with my Lyman dial calipers.  The mean group size was 1.212.  Notice that the shape of the groups was even the same.  The high shot in both groups was the first shot.

 

Experimental Group:

The center group was the one that violated the testing protocols because I fired it too fast.  Noslers on the bottom left and Lapuas on the bottom right, 0.962” and 0.996 respectively.  The violator group was 2.029”.  The mean of all three was 1.329”.  The mean of the bottom 2 was 0.979”.
Notice again that the bottom two groups are the same shape.  Mrs. Rifleslinger asked how I did that on both test phases, but with different shapes.  Trade secret (call for details on the sale of the bridge).  I really am rather dumfounded that even with different loads, the groups on each target were nearly identical, both in shape and in size. 
Seriously though, the groups seem to form letters.  If you turn target 2 upside down and overlay it on target 1, the groups clealry form the word “juju”.  I think I might have stumbled onto some kind of Ouija rifle board.  Bad juju.  You have probably never seen scientific testing conducted with such rigour. 
It’s difficult to take anything from these tests, as they aren’t really that scientific, and the sample size is too small to be statistically significant.  But hey, it’s rifle shooting, not a damn laboratory.   You can see that when I did my best to shoot consistently, the groups with the cheekpad were a little smaller.  In fact, I believe that these are the only sub-moa groups I have ever shot with this rifle.  Good thing they weren’t five shot groups, huh?
Also notice where the group size comes from in each testing phase.  In the control phase, it’s mostly vertical.  In the experimental group, the vertical and horizontal dispersion are closer to being equal, but there is more horizontal dispersion than in the control group.  I really don’t know what to make of that.  It seems obvious that the vertical spread would come from inconsistent cheekweld, but I don’t know why there would be more horizontal with the cheekpad.
Anyway, there you have it.  It seems to me that there’s a little difference with the stock pack.  Nothing mind blowing or earth shattering, but a difference.

Dry Fire Meets Moving Target Practice

I needed to find a way to practice moving targets more than I’m able to do at the range with live fire.  Moving target engagement has been one of those things that doesn’t work out very well in dry fire.  Then you show up to the range with no practice, which results in wasted ammo and frustration at having to learn a skill at a time when you should be verifying what you learned in dry fire.

When I came up with the idea of shooting the close range moving targets, I had a pretty good idea that I couldn’t just show up to the range with no preparation and blow all the targets to smithereens.  It’s difficult to come up with a dry fire method of moving target practice that is a.) safe and b.) predictable enough to actually learn something on. 

What I came up with cost me about $15.  It’s a laser pointer that I ordered from Amazon.com.  I think it was mailed directly from China, which is disappointing.  The upside is that it’s purple just like Mace Windu’s lightsaber (yay).  The second component to get on with the business is a steady handed assistant.

This type of practice is quite difficult starting out.  I’m not quite sure why, but it’s especially tiring.  It’s also hard to find the dot, and then to verify that the dot is being seen by the aiming eye through the sight.

What I’ve found is that working with the moving laser is that it teaches the skill of acquiring the target with the open support-side eye, and using that information to get the rifle sight on the target.  This will save you when you spot the ground squirrel and try to get him in your scope to shoot him.  It may also help you not only find, but hit, that big buck when he breaks into a run.

I practiced shooting the dot from a distance of about 7 yards.  My assistant found that the most steady hold for the laser was in the armpit, then the body is rotated like a turret.  A bit of experimentation with the speed of the moving laser is necessary, and helpful for you to determine what you are actually capable of tracking.

At first I think it is most beneficial not to lead the moving dot, but to place the crosshairs as close to it as possible.  Once you can hit it, which is difficult considering it’s very small, then feel free to play with a bit of lead as you deem it appropriate.

So now I can add laser pointers to the metronome as my claim to fame.  How exciting.

Snapshot Progress

This is one of those skills that I keep chipping away at over time.  My progress may be slow, but it’s progress, which as the opposite of congress, must be a good thing.
The last time I did any substantive testing with my snapshot was on 6/21/11.  I did 12 repetitions, attempting to hit a standard orange clay from 25 yards.  I hit on 7 of the 12 attempts (58% hit ratio).  My average time for all 12 attempts was 1.95 seconds.  The average time for hits was 2.02 seconds.  My fastest time, which was on a hit, was 1.43 seconds, and was the only attempt to succeed in breaking the standard time, set by Col. Cooper, at 1.5 seconds.  My slowest time, a miss, was 2.70 seconds.

On 4/17/12 I hit the range intending to prove that I had it down.  I knew that I was not at my best, having tried to get in “shape” in a week, without getting quite there.  At the range I did 16 reps, trying to do exactly the same thing as before.  I used the same timer, the same person timing me, the same rifle, the same sight and magnification setting, and the same type of target (actually from the same box).  My load has changed.  The current load is 155/~3000.  The old load was 185/2740.  I hit on 9 out of 16 attempts (56% hit ratio, pretty close to last time).  My average time for all 16 attempts was 1.49 seconds.  The average time for hits was 1.57 seconds.  My fastest time, on a miss, was 1.21 seconds.  My fastest hit was 1.39 seconds.  Three of my 16 shots (18.75%) were under the 1.5 second standard.


In the time I’ve been working on this skill since then I’ve made some changes to my technique.  I’ve also put in a lot of time and effort into improving.  Progress has not come easy from the work put in or the changes made.  I realized that when I work the bolt, it feels like it’s pretty slow, and I can hear every click the bolt makes distinctly, but when I watch it on video it seems instantaneous.  I realized that shooting the snapshot on 4/17/12, it felt like I was rushed for time it happened faster than I could register everything.  When watching the snapshot on video what stood out was all the wasted time.  I realized that I need to make the snapshot feel like my bolt technique feels.  That means repetition. 

I have video of every snapshot attempt I made on 4/17/12.  I watched them for whatever I could pick up on and improve.  I noticed that there was a definite lag as I obtained a sight picture.  You can see me bring my cheek down and watch it slowly compress.  In other videos, I noticed a lot of difference in my reaction time to the beep.  In my fastest attempt I pretty much had the rifle in firing position before the beep was over, which I think is at 0.3 seconds.  In some of the shots the rifle moves very quickly and explosively and the muzzle stops cleanly as the final position is realized.  On most of the videos it looks like I’m trying to move quickly while immersed in viscous fluid, and the last three or four inches looks choppy and separate from the rest of the motion.

In the final video I loaded up four rounds and tried to take out four clays.  I only hit the first one.  Any guesses as to why I missed the others?  Trigger control. It was painfully obvious when I didn’t notice I shot my gun dry and the muzzle dipped.

I believe that the muzzle dipping phenomenon is more than a flinch.  I have heard several IPSC grandmasters talk about the difference between the muzzle dipping before and after the shot breaks.  The latter is described as the subconscious execution of recoil control.  In this particular case I did jerk the trigger pretty hard.  Now I’m going to put that out of my mind and think about GOOD TRIGGER CONTROL (which is what you need to do to get better).

I have also noticed that working to improve speed has a tendency to reduce follow through to the point of it not being there.  This really stood out to me with the close range movers.  This is one of those things that I keep going back and forth on… working speed while trying to maintain a semblance of proper form.

Back to the drawing board

On 4/18/12 I started working on how to get an instant sight picture as the rifle comes up.  The conventional wisdom states that you need to bring the rifle up to the eye.  Yes, to a point.  I tried taking it literally, which is how I roll.  Unless I’m going to set the toe of the stock on my shoulder, that ain’t gonna work.  So bringing the head down is a necessity.  The trick is to bring in down right now and not to make it a 1., 2. type of motion.  I think that will shave off another 0.2 to 0.3 seconds.

Another seemingly unrelated skill I’ve been pursuing is flash recognition.  Apparently the human vision system is capable of recognizing images very, very quickly, on the order of 0.001 seconds.  I’m hoping that after working on this visual ability, I can connect a jumper wire from my seeing chunk of brain to my trigger finger chunk of brain and down to the finger itself.  I’ll let you know how that works out later.  I think I can take off another 0.1 to 0.2 just from that part alone.

I’ll let you know how that works out.