There is a huge mythology around what it takes to make shots at long distances and the majority of it is exactly that, myth. With practice, training, and the right gear you can make shots at most ranges within the capability of your rifle. The 1000 yard shot was once a hallmark of the legendary but with modern flat shooting calibers, it can be had with far less skill and practice than before.
To get started, you are going to need a few things and the skills to use them. We will cover the skills and gear together to give a more complete picture.
While the .308 was the classic rifle caliber used for distance shooting, it is far from the best. It does well at medium ranges but as you reach the longer shots, it is a little more finnicky. The current favorites tend to be either the 6.5 Creedmoor or .338 Lapua. Both of these are great, flat-shooting rounds but for most people who don’t hunt at extreme ranges, the 6.5 is the way to go.
If you are more into classic calibers, the .300 Win Mag is a great choice and the caliber I use personally. The .270 is also a good option but shots past 800 yards are more challenging with it. Even the venerable .30-06 does a fair job.
The make is just as important as the caliber. In general, you want a rifle that is made to be precise from the factory. Many a good rifle has come from the Remington 700 platform but recently they have been less reliable. The Savage 110 is also a fair bet but again, quality is going down. For either of these rifles, I would look for a good used one that was still in great shape. Something about 10 years old or more.
A better bet is to go with a company making precision rifles out the door. I prefer Bergara personally and own a few of their rifles. For the price, you can’t get better. If you do want better, there are many custom and semi-custom companies that make great rifles. Wilson Combat and Accuracy International come to mind.
While you can get decent range on iron sights, for anything past about 300 yards, a scope becomes almost necessary. It is actually better to plan your rifle around your scope than the other way around. I usually purchase the scope I want first and set up a rifle based on what scope I end up with.
There are many considerations for a scope, far more than what this short article can cover. If you have more questions, you can check out this comprehensive guide to learn a ton about what optics are out there and what will work for you.
At a minimum, you want some form of ranging reticle, good power, and turret adjustments if you want to get serious about long-range shooting. There are plenty of other factors but with optics prices actually coming down, you can get a great entry-level scope for far less than they were just 10 years ago.
Getting your Range
The first order of business if you want to hit the long shots is to know how far away you are shooting. This determines bullet drop and it is one of the things you will have to know to make an accurate shot. You will also need to know the information about your cartridge and its ballistics but that is comparatively easy.
To start, you will hopefully have a reticle that is capable of estimating distance to a target. For anything but Bench Rest shooting, this is a vital component. Learning to do this is a skill and takes practice and critical thinking ability. Starting out, it helps to have a laser rangefinder to confirm your estimations. If you are interested in seeing what is out there and how affordable they have become.
With the range and your ballistic data, getting the right angle and dialing in your scope is a simple task. This will at least get you close.
Reading the Wind
The last thing you will need to do for basic long-range shooting is know the value of the wind. This is by far the hardest skill to learn for new shooters and there is very little you can do to make it easier. It’s trial and error so you will have to practice.
Personally, I carry an anemometer. This is a small, pocket-sized device that will tell you wind speed at your location. You can use it to see what effects wind is having close to you and compare that to spots along your bullets path. From here, you can begin to estimate total wind values. It will take time but it can be done.
Pay attention to your bullet impacts. That is the true tale of whether you are getting it right or not. This assumes that you are using a good rifle, good optic, and good ammo.
The final thing you will need to really nail long-range shooting is time. You have to be behind the trigger and make shots. In the end, it’s the only way to learn. There are a number of schools across the U.S. that teach long-range classes and these are invaluable. They build confidence and teach real-world skills needed to make accurate shots.
I can not overstate the value of training. It is by far the best investment you can make. But you will need a good setup and good ammo before you head out in most cases. You can call ahead as some schools do have loaner guns but it will be far more enjoyable if you have your own gear.