November 13, 2019
What’s the fastest speed that you’ve ever driven? As if it were an achievement, most automotive enthusiasts I know can come up with such a number and recall the circumstances. (Mine is 144 mph.) Likewise, most marksmen can recall their longest shot. I’m perfectly satisfied with how fast I’ve piloted a car, but the quest to shoot farther with intent has been ongoing.
“How far” didn’t matter to me until I had served several years in the U.S. Marine Corps. We renewed our rifle qualification annually out to 500 yards, which was farther than I had shot growing up. While training to be a primary marksmanship instructor (PMI) at the Stone Bay Ranges at Camp Lejeune, I watched scout-sniper students on the adjacent Hathcock range repeatedly engage targets out to a grand. I was in awe.
It wasn’t long before I read a borrowed copy of Charles Henderson’s book on Gunnery Sergeant Carlos Hathcock, “Marine Sniper: 93 Confirmed Kills.” In it, the 1967 record-setting sniper kill where Hathcock employed a scoped M2 .50-caliber machine gun at a range of 2,500 yards was detailed and fueled my intrigue for long-range shooting.
I spent the next few years training and competing in air rifle, three-position smallbore and high-power competitions. Air rifle competition improved my offhand shooting, while shooting smallbore enhanced everything from trigger management to patience. Eventually, I was selected to become a designated marksman and made my longest shots in 2003 with a Barrett M82A3 in .50 BMG on pieces of Iraqi armor. I estimated the targets between 900 and 1,000 yards, but the unit was in a hurry to move on and left us no time to set up the laser rangefinder.
As a gunwriter, I’ve had many training opportunities to shoot past 1,000 yards. I bought an ArmaLite AR-30 in .338 Lapua and started handloading for it in 2004. The more I learned, the easier that effort became.
While working at Blackwater circa 2007, I met Tom Beckstrand, a former U.S. Army Special Forces sniper team leader. Once I became a magazine editor, I invited him to write his first article reviewing any product that he was passionate about, which is when he introduced me to Kestrel weather meters. I’ve had one since and recommend it.
My interest in long-range shooting was ignited and I extended my longest-shot distance to 1,400 yards under the tutelage of former Marine sniper Caylen Wojcik, and then to 1 mile at Sniper Country in Utah while news of Hathcock’s record was broken (six times between 2002 and 2017). The Precision Rifle Series started in 2012 with 164 shooters, and currently has more than 2,000 competitors. Our pursuit to shoot farther means that rifles, optics and ammunition have been pushed to higher performance levels. Training benefits all of us, as it is easier to prove what works. Along the way, I learned spin drift is not theoretical.
For the last two years I’ve made my way to Sportsman’s All-Weather All-Terrain Marksmanship (SAAM) school at FTW Ranch in southwest Texas (ftwsaam.com) to bring it all together. I was a member of Kestrel’s beta-testing team and helped sort out the best weather station yet: the 5700, now loaded with Hornady’s 4DOF ballistic information. This year, I used it and Ruger’s newest Precision Rifle loaded with Hornady’s Match ELD-M in .300 PRC scoped with a Leupold Mark 5HD 5-25x56mm to extend my personal best to 2,200 yards. Such a number doesn’t come by one gadget, one rifle, one bullet or a particular brand of scope. It’s a combination that requires training and lots of practice. Get out there and put time on the trigger.
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