What Does it Take to be a Long Range Shooter/Hunter Part 2.
In Part 1, we discussed cartridge selection. In this part, we’ll discuss components to make a good long range shooting/hunting rifle or system. What are the components that make up a good long range shooting/hunting rifle? Now remember, this is just merely my opinion. Most of these components are ones that I have found that work well for me. There are 3 million different ways to skin the long range cat and they all work great. Barrel, action, stock, trigger, scope, and rings are the components that go into the foundation of a long range shooting and hunting rifle or system.
Barrel- There are dozens of really good quality barrel manufacturers. Most of them produce benchrest quality barrels. I would most certainly recommend a stainless steel barrel. Determining which contour to go with can be the challenge. Typically heavier contour barrels lend to better and more consistent accuracy. However, a heavy barreled rifle can be fun to shoot, but not fun to carry in the mountains on a mule deer hunt. A matter of finding a balance of accuracy and consistency to a nice manageable weight for carrying and handling can be a challenge in its own right. I personally like a barrel weight in the heavy sporter to light varmint contour, maybe even sendero contour.
Another thing to consider when deciding on what barrel you want to go with is barrel length. Usually, the longer the barrel is the more velocity you will get out of your cartridge. I like barrels in the 24”-26” range. When shooting long range I like to get the most velocity that I can out of a cartridge to take advantage of the ballistic coefficient of the bullets that I shoot. If I can shoot a high b.c. bullet at a relatively fast muzzle velocity it will give me a larger margin of error if I happen to miscalculate the wind speed or direction. Barrel length can have an affect on this. Assuming that you are having a rifle built by a gunsmith, you will be able to choose which twist rate that you want to help stabilize heavy for caliber high b.c. bullets. If you are planning to use a factory rifle, then you may be limited as to what bullets you can shoot, because most factory rifle barrels don’t have a fast enough twist rate to stabilize heavy for caliber high b.c. bullets. Don’t let that discourage you from using a factory rifle though. I have seen several factory rifles that are very capable long range shooting and hunting rifles. I understand that not everyone can afford to have a semi-custom or even full custom rifle built. Aftermarket barrels that I have used and had great results with are Shilen, Krieger, Bartlien, Brux, Broughton, Benchmark, Hart, Douglas, Criterion, and some others that I’m sure I’m forgetting. There are also some carbon fiber wrapped barrels that are proving to be very accurate as well as light weight. While they are expensive, you certainly get what you pay for.
Action- Actions come in a few different variations. Most precision rifles are built on custom bolt actions. I certainly recommend and prefer this method. Custom actions are built one at a time and not mass produced, therefore they are made to tighter tolerances. Custom actions are machined square to the centerline of the bore. All of this higher quality comes at a cost. They are certainly more expensive, but you get what you pay for. With these actions you can get two different types, push feed or controlled feed. Push feed is what your old tried and true Remington 700 is. Controlled feed is what a Ruger 77 or Mauser action are. There are several factory actions that are a great platform to build off of as well. It’s hard to beat Remington 700 and Winchester 70 actions to build long range hunting rifles off of. I’ve even used several Savage actions as well. With the right components you can make them good enough.
Stock- Stocks can be a bit of a controversial topic. What one person likes and is comfortable with, the next person might not. I personally like a stock with a bit of vertical grip. It is more of a natural and comfortable feel for me. I’m not a huge fan of traditional sporter style stocks. They just aren’t as comfortable to me. Thumbhole stocks are comfortable as well, but are limiting. How, you might ask? Well, if you are faced with a shot that forces you to shoot from your non-dominant side, then traditional thumbhole stocks don’t allow you to comfortably shoot. There are companies that manufacture what is called an ambidextrous thumbhole stock that can be comfortably shot with either hand.
The materials that stocks are made from affect things as well. While they can be very appealing to the eye, traditional wood stocks can be negatively affected by the weather especially moisture. When wet wood swells and can make the stock come in contact with the barrel making accuracy and point of impact change. They also tend to not be as strong as other materials. I’ve broken wood stocks.
Laminate stocks tend to be less affected by weather and stronger than wood stocks, but they can also be heavier. You can get many different colors and designs in laminate stocks that are very appealing to the eye.
Composite or synthetic stocks are very impervious to the weather and can be very strong as well as light weight. There are many styles as well as finishes available with synthetic stocks. I personally prefer these types of stocks because they seem to be the most durable.
There are even super lightweight and strong stocks being made out of carbon fiber. I know of many mountain hunters that are going to these types of stocks to get their gear even lighter. When carrying all of your gear on your back ounces count. If you can shave ounces off of your rifle and not compromise quality or performance then it’s a win in my estimation.
Trigger- A lighter pull weight on a trigger can improve accuracy tremendously. A lot of factory rifle triggers can be safely adjusted and tuned to a lighter weight. There are also many companies that manufacture aftermarket triggers for most rifle manufacturers. I have tuned both factory and aftermarket triggers. There is a very noticeable difference between a factory “lawyer proof” trigger and either a tuned factory or aftermarket trigger. In a hunting long range rifle, I think that 2.5-3 lbs trigger pull is a good weight. I think much lighter than that and it increases the possibility for an accidental discharge. I’ve shot benchrest rifles with 6-8 oz. trigger pull. While that is nice I wouldn’t want it in a hunting rifle. Please don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying that benchrest triggers are unsafe, because they are. I’m saying that in hunting scenarios when your adrenaline is starting to flow, your heart rate is increased, and your breathing might be increased because of the dash to get into shooting position, then the risk of the trigger being engaged unintentionally can be increased. Timney, Jewell, and Rifle Basix, are a few of the many quality trigger manufacturers that I have used and recommend.
Scope Rings- Not a lot of people think that what base and or rings that you use can have much of an effect on your rifle’s accuracy or scopes performance, but they can. They are certainly relative. You get what you pay for. I tend to stay away from 2 piece dovetail style rings and bases. I know a lot of people that have great luck with them, but I think that they are more susceptible to failure or malfunction. It seems to me that when there are more than one piece or part that can move, then Murphy’s law kicks in. I’ve had good luck with one-piece alloy rings and bases on many hunting rifles. More recently I’ve gone to using a one-piece picatinny rail and quality rings. They seem to be machined to better tolerances and tend to line up straighter.
Another thing that I don’t think a lot people realize is that they tend to over-tighten the screws on their scope base and rings when mounting. Most manufactures include torque specs with their rings and bases. Most of them are in the 20-30 in/lbs range. Over-tightened or over-torqued scope rings can put uneven pressure on your scope’s main tube and not allow it to track correctly. Properly mounting and torquing your scope and rings can help your rifle to become more accurate.
Optic- This is where the Chevy, Ford, Dodge, GMC, Toyota, Nissan, Jeep, or whatever you prefer to drive argument takes place. Do you dial or hold your dope? First focal plane or second focal plane? MOA or Mil? 1” or 30mm? Or whatever other debate you choose. Unless you have experience with all or most of these things it’s tough to form an opinion on them. Since 2007, I have been using Huskemaw optics exclusively. I have tried several others, but I like the simplicity and reliable function of Huskemaw optics. There are dozens of other companies that make great reliable optics as well. Their glass is clear, reticles precise, and turrets function flawlessly.
Holdover versus dialing dope. Out to certain yardages simple holdover reticles work ok, but as the ranges increase, their accuracy decreases. Also, with holdover reticles, you have to prove the data and figure out at what yardage your hash marks and point of impact actually align. If you haven’t gone to the range and proven this data, then when you go to take that shot in the field it then can become a crap shoot, pun intended. The same is true with scopes that have turrets to compensate for bullet drop. You have to go out and prove your data so that you know what your DOPE is. If you don’t know what DOPE stands for, it’s not a throwback to college days. It’s an acronym for Data On Previous Engagement. Going to the range and testing and proving your data or DOPE is very crucial to long range shooting.
The thing that I like best about Huskemaw optics is their RFBC custom turret. Their turret is custom and cut specifically to your rifle and ammunition and also tell you the correction to make for wind compensation. To get the custom turret with your Huskemaw scope, you have to go to the range and collect the data for it. You shoot at different ranges and see how the actual data and the perceived data from your range card compare.
There are other brands of scopes that also have turrets that can be dialed to compensate for bullet drop. There are a few different ways to calculate for the drop at various ranges. You can build range cards, or DOPE sheets, from the data that you have collected. There are also ballistic programs in the form of an app for phones and other electronic devices that will calculate bullet drop and wind deflection for your current shooting environment. These work great, but can be a little slow. They are also electronic and could be subject to failure. I try my best not to tempt Mr. Murphy and his stupid law.
Figuring out what system will work best for you and your situations will come with trying different setups. I have found that most long range shooters are very accommodating and willing to let you check out their setup and even shoot it. I hope you find some beneficial tips in this article.