Long range shooting requires kit and equipment that most hunters and occasional gun owners do not necessarily carry. Shooting at longer ranges is great fun and its increasing popularity makes that clear, so today we are going to go through everything that you need to get started. While some items are essential, others are nice-to-haves, so let’s discuss exactly what you need to get started in the sport of long range shooting?
A high quality weapon system of match grade or similar, including the rifle, scope and ammunition is vital. These components need to be of superior quality and capability than the majority of hunting or entry-level rifles used today. A range estimation device and trajectory card or ballistics calculator is also essential, along with the correct tools and knowledge to determine wind speed, direction and atmospheric conditions.
It is important to also remember that the amount of gear you are able to carry will depend on your physical ability or method of movement; will you be treading around on foot, or will you have a vehicle to help carry the load? We will run through a list of individual items and break them down into essential and recommended gear categories, while sharing a few of my own tips and tricks as we go.
The Long Range Rifle System
We’ve already mentioned that quality needs to be superior (or above average) when long range is to be desired, but how superior exactly?
- The Rifle – when it comes to the gun itself, you really don’t need much apart from a good barrelled factory rifle that has a reputation for accuracy and reliability. Something along the lines of a Howa 1500 or Remington 700 will be perfect. Unless you plan on shooting competitively, these affordable options will exceed most beginner to intermediate demands. Just bear in mind that a thicker barrel is always the better choice under long range application, and extra length will increase effective range allowing you to shoot further.
Tip: your rifle should have the appropriate-height cheek rest and length of pull to match your frame and your optic of choice. If it doesn’t, consider purchasing an aftermarket stock or chassis, otherwise experiment with DIY methods of achieving the same result.
- The Scope – unlike the rifle, the scope needs to be of high quality and suitable capability. Entry-level scopes will not make the cut, and reticles and turrets need to go beyond the plain crosshair and capped turrets. You need to start looking at reticles that have increment markers, and turrets that are able to adjust for bullet drop at any given distance.
Tip: now that you’ve combined a good rifle and a high quality optic, don’t skimp on the mount. Invest in a solid mounting system and scope rings that will keep your rifle zeroed at all times.
- Ammunition – as is the case with your scope, ammunition needs to be of high quality as well. This means that hunting ammo will not achieve the desired result, but instead you must select ammunition based on its aerodynamical ability and long range capability. This typically leans towards boat-tail bullets with a high ballistic coefficient.
For more information on long range rifles, scope and ammo, you can scroll back and read the following articles:
- Is a Longer Rifle Barrel more Accurate?
- How to Choose a Rifle Scope
- The Best Bullets for Long Range Precision
Essential Long Range Rifle Gear
The following items I would consider to be essential, and on the top of your list when working from a budget.
- Weapon System – as we have already discussed above, a suitable rifle, optic and ammunition are all key components of your long range gear.
- Rifle Support – when it comes to long range accuracy, unsupported firing positions just won’t do. A good quality bipod that is able to swivel from side to side is my recommendation, as this form of support is lightweight and portable. Shooting rests and sandbags also work well, but they can be cumbersome. If you are in the market for one of these products but do not yet have one, then a half-full daypack (or rucksack) works well as a means of soft support.
- Ballistics Calculator – anyone who has any experience in long range shooting will be able to tell you the significance of a ballistics calculator. Without one, determining an accurate trajectory will be impossible. There are some real good mobile ballistic apps for iOS and Android, a few of my favourites being Ballistic Advanced Edition, StrelokPro and iSnipe. For those of you who own a Garmin Smart Watch, we have another good recommendation for you: TruFlite: A Great Ballistics App for Your Smart Watch.
- Bubble Level – while some would argue that the bubble level isn’t an essential long range accessory, I would personally disagree. A bubble level attached to your riflescope and prevents cant error while shooting. The video below indicates the severity of horizontal displacement caused by scope cant at longer distances.
- Method of Estimating Wind – wind is the second largest effect experienced on a bullet during flight, after gravity. It is also the hardest to account for, and becomes easier with experience. There are some tools that can be used to make your job easier, such as a weather meter. Kestrel is the go-to brand when is comes to ballistics, and the Kestrel 3500 is the minimum model required for long range shooting, giving you temperature, wind speeds, barometric phenomena, pressure trends and humidity readings.
- Range Finding Device – the further your target is from your firing position, the more crucial range estimation becomes. Guesstimating range is not feasible, otherwise first-round hits will be near impossible. Two common options to estimate range to your target are the laser rangefinder or Ballistic Milling Reticle. If you have a reticle capable of estimating range, but are unsure on how to do so, read the following blog post: How to Estimate Range with the Mil-Dot Reticle.
- Cleaning Kit & Barrel Rod – there is an age old debate over whether cleaning and maintenance of a firearm is required or not. My advice is to follow a good cleaning regime and to follow one regularly. A barrel rod is considered a crucial item, as it will be your only saving grace in clearing a barrel obstruction or stuck/separated case.
- Targets – unless you are hunting, you will require some form of targetry. While paper and cardboard targets are common, they lack excitement when shooting over longer distances. When shooting long range we typically use reactive targets. These produces a clear and immediate indication of a hit or miss. Steel gongs are common and highly recommended, as they are capable of providing a visible impact (when freshly painted) and also an audible “ping” which travels over long distances. Milk jugs, out-of-date fruit and clay pigeons are also fun-to-shoot disposable options.
- Ear Protection – sound protection keeps your ears out of the danger zone when firing an unsuppressed rifle. You should always have available ear pro in your range bag.
- Hydration Pack – long range shooting is fun, and it can be easy to forget to stay hydrated. Hydration packs are easily affordable and fit snug to your back when moving about on the range.
Recommended Long Range Rifle Gear
The following items are not essential, but are recommended and should be considered once you have purchased all of your essential gear.
- Chronograph – a shooting chronograph is an instrument used to measure the velocity of your projectile, and having one available to you will make data collection a whole lot easier. They are particularly useful in determining temperature effects on your cartridges, allowing you to make the necessary alterations as temperature fluctuates. You can read the following article to find out more: The Effects of Temperature on Bullet Flight
- Data Book with DOPE Chart – a field data book is often considered an essential item by many long range shooters, and can be otherwise known as a DOPE (Data Obtained from Previous Engagements) book. This durable, weatherproof book holds all of your adjustments and calculations required to accurately engage targets at long distances. It can be vital in the event that your ballistics calculator malfunctions or loses power.
- Flip Caps – one of the most vulnerable components of a precision rifle setup is the optics. It is highly important to always protect the scope and its glass. If your rifle is not in your hands or in a protective case, scope caps should be fitted. Protective lens flip-up covers or flip caps are a good aftermarket option, providing excellent protection for the scope’s glass. A mini DOPE card can be made and stuck to the inside of the rear flip-cap for quick reference adjustments when needed.
- Heavy Duty Tripod – a heavy duty tripod has many uses out on the range, from securely holding video recording devices and wind meters, to mounting your spotting scope and even supporting your rifle (as seen below) when foliage or other obstacles render your bipod ineffective.
- IFAK (Medical Kit) – the individual first aid kit (IFAK) saves lives, and should always be carried when operating in remote areas or handling firearms. Read the following article to find out more: Contents of an Individual First Aid Kit: What Do You Really Need In Your IFAK?
- Lens Hood – lens hoods are fairly inexpensive and have so much to offer. This scope accessory (as seen below) attaches to the front of your objective lens and blocks the sun from causing excessive glare, prevents rain from falling directly onto your lens and obscuring vision, and also helps to protect the lens from damage if you accidentally knock or bump the scope.
- Rice (or Sand) Sock – placing a rice sock beneath the butt of your rifle increases stability and allows for easy fine adjustments be squeezing or releasing the sock while aiming. The rice sock can be made by filling a good quality sock, about 4/5 full, with rice or sand. Rice is lighter than sand, but may swell when wet. Airsoft BB’s (plastic pellets) are a perfect compromise, just make sure to fill enough to keep the sock firm.
- Shooting Mat – a simple yet effective piece of kit that will keep you dry and clean while shooting from the prone position. The shooting mat is by no means an essential item, but is considered a nice-to-have that can make your shooting experience a little more enjoyable when your goal is to stay clean and dry.
- Spotting Scope – used to observe bullet impact, the spotting scope can make shooting at long distances a whole lot easier. If you plan on using a spotting scope, you’ll need a spotter too, and if you intend on adding a spotting scope to your inventory, avoid cheap brands with oversized features at all costs. Rather pay the price and invest in a good quality optic.
- Suppressor – otherwise known as silencers, the sound suppressor is a muzzle device that attaches to the end of a firearm and offers a number of advantages when used correctly. The primary function is to reduce the intensity of the rifle’s muzzle blast; both the audible sound and visible flash. Other advantages include a reduction in felt recoil and jump angle, which all combine to provide the shooter with a more pleasant shooting experience.
- Torque Wrench Mounting Kit – using a torque screwdriver will prevent over-tightening which may otherwise cause damage to your scope mounts and accessories. If you own one, I recommend checking all screws each time you clean your rifle or at the end of each shoot before placing your rifle into storage.
Long range shooting is an expensive hobby, not only as a result of the rifle and ammo cost, but also due to the other essential and recommended items that we have already discussed.
The good news is that you don’t need to go out and buy everything all at once. Take your time, borrow kit and equipment where you can, and don’t skimp on quality.
If you’re a newbie or looking at getting into long range shooting from scratch, please follow our blog and get in touch if you’d like to, we also offer advice and practical training courses.
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