The Realities of Shooting ELR Distances

The goal was to hit these targets and record as much information as possible so the shooter can go back and true their software as well as have a reference point for the next day. Record keeping stressed throughout the weekend.

Separating Myth from Reality


Separating myth from legend when it comes to Extra Long Range Shooting.

The weekend of Oct 25th 2014, 10 shooters from across the country traveled to Colorado to attend the T3 Ranch ELR Rendezvous. This was a beta event to flush out the realities of shooting large caliber rifles out to distances beyond 2000 yards. The goal, gather as much data as possible. What were the practical realities of bringing in shooters of varying experience levels with a wide mix of equipment to an Extra Long Range Event.

The Equipment


During this weekend we saw everything from a 7WSM to a 408CT. That was the spread of rifles from which we would be recording data. The mix broke down as:

7WSM

300WM

300 Norma Mag

338 LM

375 CheyTac

408 CheyTac

The rifles varied from custom made precision rifles to factory rifles from Accuracy International, Barrett, and Desert Tech.

The ammo was mostly handloads, we had a mix of bullets, from Custom Solids out of the 408CT/375CT to bullets from Berger, Hornady, and Lapua. I think out of the entire line of 10, I was the only one shooting factory ammo from Hornady (285gr). I am not included in the mix of shooters, as most of the staff from Trigger Time Gun Club shot after hours. Both Paul & Zach shot 338LMs and their DTA HTi 375CT. I was shooting a AI AWSM in 338LM.


Scopes in attendance included, Bushnell XRS, S&B, Nightforce ATACs, Kahles K624i. Interestingly, a lot more money was invested in the laser range finders on the line. Several $10k+ Vector models, with the least expensive being the now discontinued Vectronix Terrapin @ $2k. Spotters on the line were the Hensoldts, Vortex Razors, and Leupolds.

The favored software on the line was definitely Field Firing Solutions from Lex Talus. This is a dedicated program that requires a PDA to run. Most were using Trimble Nomads with their FFS program. We did see some apps on the line, I did note one shooter using BulletFlight on his iPhone as an example. For me to check, I used both FFS and also ColdBore 1.0 from Patagonia Ballistics installed on a Windows Phone. (This phone is without a sim card and was purchased as a refurbished model to operate the software) We also saw several using the Applied Ballistics Kestrel Unit, or some form of Applied Ballistics Software. The Kestrel is an important tool for precision rifle shooting and having the software included in the unit is a great way to kill two birds with one stone.

The Ranch as a Player


The silent member in all this was definitely the terrain. The ranch itself played a role in the results and we’d be doing the reader a disservice if we did not mention the effect of the terrain on the ability to get hits on target at extended ranges.

The Target package was very conservative in size. We only had one feel good target and it was originally designed to be used at 2400 yards but we ended up shooting it at times at 1800 yards on the first day. Over all, every target on the line was 18” X 30” … that was across the board. The day we scored everyone nothing was larger than this size. At the farthest scored shot, 2331 yards, you are well below 1 MOA in size.


Terrain matters, it channels the winds, it creates either a positive or negative situation when it comes to spotting shots, and it has a definitive impact on where you can put targets. We saw a big difference in data based on what the terrain did to the conditions and I will say the winds were relatively speaking very light. One thing we found, there were areas where the ground was washed out around the target ever so slightly, but boy did this cause a lot of problems spotting. The rounds would drop into those washed our areas and spotting was very difficult, especially when you are beyond 1500 yards. Depth perception becomes an issue at longer ranges.

Wind Conditions on the first day were the hardest, it was a 6 O’Clock wind that varied from shot to shot. One moment it was coming from 6:30 - 7 O’Clock, the next shot was from 5 O Clock. Under these conditions it was never a “no wind” hold because it was behind us. Values were light, under 5MPH, but because of the distance, it mattered. At 2000 yards a 1 MPH wind with my 338LM using 285gr bullet is 22.5 Inches of drift, considering we were only shooting 18” wide targets that is a miss. Add in the terrain and it would channel it downrange causing all sort of problems with the call that could not be seen.

First Day on the Line


The first day we checked zeros, most were running 100 yard zeros on their rifles. This is common. In 2014 there is no longer a need to zero at distance because we have much better equipment than before. Scopes with 100 yard zeros can easily reach 26 Mils or more, in fact scopes are now reaching 34 Mils from a 100 yard zero. To translate that into MOA, that is 116.6 MOA. Quite a lot of adjustment. With an aggressive base of 45 MOA you get nearly all of the adjustment range on the positive side while still being able to zero at 100 yards. We did zero one DTA 375CT at 500 yards because the shooter felt it was a little more practical accuracy wise. However I will say, I have seen guys get sub MOA groups at 100 yards with the 375CT. Still it was no problem, we had paper at 500 yards and steel did not start on the first day until 800 yards. Even when a scope has run out of elevation you have reticles with hold over options that allows the shooter to use that to extend his range. When I shot the final target at 2331 yards. I dialed in 25 Mils and then held 4.5 Mils in the reticle to reach the target. It’s important to pick the right tool for the job ahead of time. Consider your range and make sure your equipment is up to the task.

Once zeroing was complete we had targets from 800 to 1150 yards at 100 yard increments. This allowed shooters to check their drops at the closer distances. The plates used were 1.5MOA in size to help fine tune both drop and drift.

Finally, it’s important to say, we had several chronographs on the line to help confirm the muzzle velocity of the shooters load. While many had this value ahead of time, it never hurts to have more data points and Muzzle Velocity is an important one. If you’re serious about precision rifle shooting, a chronograph is a most have tool. We used a MagnetoSpeed on this day.

Moving back to distance


With the initial set ups complete, we then moved back about 800 yards giving us access to the same target (plus a few extras).

Now the range went from 1000 yards for the first target to 1900 yards for the farthest from this firing point.

We placed water lines on many of the targets so the shooter had a solid reference point. This allowed us to determine whether the impact was high or low based on the Point of Aim. From there we can fine tune the impact and get as close to point of aim, point of impact as possible.

The conditions for the day:

Barometric Pressure (Station) 25.23

Temperature: 75 degrees

Humidity: 20%

Density Altitude: 7000ft

Altitude: 4500ft

After lunch those conditions changed to:

Barometric Pressure: 25.16

Temperature: 78 degrees

Humidity 20%

DA : 7200ft

The goal was to hit these targets and record as much information as possible so the shooter can go back and true their software as well as have a reference point for the next day. Record keeping stressed throughout the weekend.

Realities of the Day


What we saw, because of the terrain and tail wind, and I was not ready to blame the “wind” for this, but we had shooters seeing much less dope was needed to hit these targets than anticipated. Even with guys who had verified drops, we had anywhere from .5 Mils to over 1 Mil of difference. As an example, on the first day I used 20.6 Mils to hit the 1900 yard target and on the second day I used 20.6 Mils to hit the 1793 yard target. We had a cross wind on day two (very light) but it wasn’t just the wind, it was a big difference in the terrain for each location. It was much more diverse on the first day and the wind ran down a long valley towards the target.

In hindsight we also saw guys who “thought” they had solid data for their rifles, who then went and rechecked things like MV and found on Day Two it was 100fps higher. The lesson, given the opportunity, check it. When they did it answered the question for them.

We also saw some ammo with issues, vertical spreads that were a tick too high to be practical. This is critical at ELR Distances, you want the lowest possible Spread. The SD and ES numbers need to be low. Standard Deviations should be in single digits.

Still we had solid hits on steel. And I believe we gathered more than enough data to take back and work with. The only question is, did that wind and terrain cause the elevation issues we saw ?

Scoring the Shooter on Day Two

Day Two is where we wanted to see “exactly” what was happening with the shooter and equipment under controlled conditions. And by “Controlled Conditions” we mean not just letting guys shoot and report back. But we scored the shots as if we were shooting a match. We wanted to see the Practical Realities of shooting ELR Distances, On Demand, with a limited number of rounds. Not just let them walk in on target and “guess” which round did what. The plan, to work our way out from 985 yards to 2331 yards, one shooter at a time, with a limit of 4 rounds on each target. We wanted to see how many hits, which round hit, or who did not hit in that limited number of shots.

The Stats


The stats are based on 9 Shooters on the line engaging the targets in order, one at a time. We limited each shooter to 4 shots and we rotated the shooters so no one shooter was always “first”. We moved down the line, and then switched to the next target move one shooter ahead.

Conditions, very light winds, 2–3 MPH from 9 0’Clock Conditions matched the conditions above. 72 degrees, 25.15 bp, DA 7000ft.

985 Yards

Total Hits — 18

1st Round Hit — 3 Shooter

Second Round — 5 Shooters

Third Round — 1 shooters

Fourth Round — 0

No Shooter Hit — 0

Two shooters cleaned the 985 yard targets, all shooters hit.

1120 Yards

Total Hits — 23

1st Round Hit — 5 Shooters

Second Round — 3 Shooters

Third Round — 0

Fourth Round — 1 Shooter

No Shooter Hit — 0

Three shooters cleaned the stage, 2 shooters got 3 hits.

1304 Yards

Total Hits — 12

1st Round Hit — 2 Shooters

Second Round — 3 Shooters

Third Round — 2 Shooter

Fourth Round — 0

No Shooter Hit — 2 Shooters

No shooter cleaned this stage, 1 shooter hit 3 times

1433 Yards

Total Hits — 14

1st Round Hit — 2 Shooters

Second Round — 4 Shooters

Third Round — 2 Shooters

Fourth Round — 0

No Shooter Hit — 2 Shooters

One shooter hit 3 times, most hit twice.

1565 Yards

Total Hits — 11

1st Round Hit — 2 Shooters

Second Round — 1 Shooter

Third Round — 1 Shooter

Fourth Round — 2 Shooters

No Shooter Hit — 3 Shooters

Two shooters hit 3 times, 1 shooter twice, the rest hit once.

1795 Yards

Total Hits — 7 Hits

1st Round Hit — 1 Shooter (408)

Second Round — 3 Shooters

Third Round — 0

Fourth Round — 0

No Shooter Hit — 5 Shooters

The 300NM hit 3 times in a row, the next highest a 338LM with 2,

2210 Yards

Total Hits — 5

1st Round Hit — 2 Shooters (300WM, 7WSM)

Second Round — 0

Third Round — 2 Shooters

Fourth Round — 1 Shooter

No Shooter Hit — 4 Shooters

The two lightest calibers had 1st round hits, no one hit more more than once with 4 tries. The 300WM was using 230r Bergers and needed 3 Mils to hit the target. The wind was about 7MPH and was the strongest of the morning.

2331 Yards

Total Hits — 4 Hits

1st Round Hit — 1 (408)

Second Round — 0

Third Round — 2 Shooters

Fourth Round — 1 Shooter

No Shooter Hit — 5 Shooters.

No one hit more than once, the 408CT used 1 Mil of wind and had the 1st round hit. But did not hit after that. The 300NM was the flattest shooting and continued to hit well out to distance. He was using 230gr Bergers at 2950+fps.

Lessons Learned


What did we learn shooting sub MOA targets at distance, with a nice variety of shooters and equipment. It all matters, everything from the wind, to the terrain, to the load, scope, etc. Nothing can be taken for granted and you cannot go out and address the targets like your plinking with your 308 at 200 yards. It’s a completely different animal. Your fundamentals have to be perfect for each shot. You have to take each shot as it’s own, and even a quick follow up did not ensure you would continue to hit the target. As an example, the TOF for the 7WSM at the farthest target was 5 seconds. The average rifle was over 2 seconds in the air. So, you fire, count to 3, hit the target, now you confirmed your hold was right, 2 more seconds gone, you decided to shoot again, line up the shot, maybe 5 more seconds, and then fire, and the bullet is in the air for 3 more seconds. The wind has changed, and there is no beating it. We saw 1st round hits with no hits after, we saw guys try every combination of technique and it didn’t make a difference. There is simply not enough time to beat the changes in the wind value.

Since we scored this event, we had a winner, One Shooter hit a total of 16 times, and in fact hit at least once every time, never zeroing out a yard line. What was this winning combination ?

Accuracy International AX338

Hornady 285r Bullets @ 2825fps

Kahles K624i Scope

Field Firing Solutions Software

Ready for the kicker … He never shot this rifle beyond a 100 yards prior. In fact he worked up his load indoors at the Trigger Time Gun Club. He had low ES / SD numbers and he took his time confirming its accuracy. All the work up for this was done the day before as a practical exercise. At distance recording his data.

I have advocated the 285gr Bullet for the 338LM ever since the Gunsite Bullet Test we did, and it showed, we had guys shooting everything from 180gr to 230gr, to 300gr, and even the heavy solids with the bigger calibers. Does that make it conclusive, not exactly, but enough to make you stop and take notice. I have repeated this often, the shooter saw the report, tried it and the proof was in the results.

Also it’s important to note the smaller calibers, the 300WM with a 230gr load out of a 1–11 Twist rifle. He was not sure what the results would be, well they were very good. It’s important to note: this shooter was using an AB Kestrel. On day one he started out with using G7, on day two he changed it to use the Custom Curve Feature and it made a difference. The Custom Curve was a much better solution for ELR Distances. I have always said the G7 average is no better than using G1 and that proved to be true at ELR distances. For those who want to argue that fact, it should be said that Field Firing Solutions does not and cannot even use G7, it’s G1 only solution and is considered one of the best programs on the market. If you write your program to bias one over the other, of course you’ll see something, but when it’s written to not be G Value Dependent, it doesn’t matter.

My favorite, the 300 Norma Magnum, I believe this is a much better solution than going larger. If you look at the trend with Tactical Competition Shooters to go smaller using rounds like the 6mm Creedmoor, the 300NM follows this. A better bullet, a more efficient case design, and high velocities. Once he turned his data to match his drop, this rifle was on fire. He ended the day the strongest and in the afternoon when we shot this string again, he was tied for first place. The only thing preventing him from showing better earlier was a data input error. Shooter, not system. Lesson Learned.

The 7WSM was also very sporty at ELR Distances. It was certainly handicapped, but did not prevent the shooter from getting on target at least once beyond 1 Mile. It’s not the best choice, but it can be entertaining.

Software

While software is a great tool for any shooter, it’s a distraction if not understood or used correctly. To begin with software, you must understand it is only a starting point. It’s designed to get you close at first and then be fined tuned from actual data. Actual Data…

The best practice is too, first Collect Data by actually shooting the ranges you need. Record that information in your databook. Then go home and tinker with the computer to line up the curve to work. Nothing replaces DOPE, or Data On Previous Engagement. Once you put in the effort on the range, you can then use the computer to help account for changes in conditions or locations. Can you get close, absolutely, but rarely is it ever perfect, especially outside of 1000 yards.

As often repeated, Garbage In, Equals Garbage Out… if you’re winging a data point, any data point, you can’t expect it to work as the manufacturer suggests it will.

I continue to be impressed by ColdBore, I did not take my own advice above and built a record from just the basics, and I found I was pretty darn close to my actual shots. Like FFS, ColdBore is not G dependent, it was not built with biases from the start. When coders try to stay true to an ancient, unmodified model, of course things will be off. You’re using an old model with new technology. Why ? We already know where the problem with it, so why not correct it in the design, just like FFS & CB 1 are doing.

I tested wind calls with ColdBore and found it be super close. I have been talking about the variations in Phone Apps when it comes to wind. Well I was running the wind in ColdBore and sure as heck it was closer than most. I had several spot on calls for others using it.

The amazing thing with software, once you actually shoot the targets, you find where the errors are and you match it to what you shot, then it starts to work as advertised. There is a clue there, shoot first, software later.

There is no shortcut, better record keeping equals better results. You have to put in the effort, because like anything you get out of it what you put in. Sure people get lucky or are doing things at don’t highlight the variations, or errors. If a guy is telling you his App is spot on, ask what he is shooting, 600 yards on a 4MOA tall target is not gonna prove anything.

Lasers are also a critical component to get actual ranges to the targets. Not all lasers will work and ELR Shooting is a very expensive sport. So plan accordingly. You need accurate distances as small errors will make a big difference. So take the time to invest in the right gear. Look up Danger Space.

Roberts Tactical Precision I.R.I.S.

This was a very valuable tool on the line when spotting for hits. In most cases, especially on day two we had great conditions to spot hits. But on day one, the ground was not cooperating at all. The IRIS System was great to help identify actual hits on target. The biggest problem, Solids… solid bullets barely make a mark both on the target it self and the ground around it. They just don’t “splash” like a jacketed bullet.
Kirk Roberts came out, brought his light system and we all agreed, it was well worth it to put them out.

Details

I.R.I.S. (Interactive Remote Identification System) is a patent pending target system that offers many benefits to the long range precision shooter. The high intensity 42 light amber directional LED is visible past 2 miles in daylight, and is highly visible in the worst shooting conditions such as rain, snow, or fog. The wireless Impact Detection Module picks up impacts to the target and sends signals to the Target Control Module housed in the lighting system. I.R.I.S. can also be activated by a high power hand held remote control, capable of triggering IRIS up to 2400 yard (confirmed). The handheld remote can control up to 12 IRIS target systems, allowing full control of multiple target locations from the shooting position. The handheld remote aids in locating targets at long range, as well as indicating which target the shooter is to engage. I.R.I.S. can be run in the field for many days of continuous use on a single charge. We have left I.R.I.S. powered on in the field for over 30 days, since there is minimal draw at idle from both the IDM and TCM.  Both the IDM and TCM lighting system are completely self contained, weather proof, portable, and easy to setup in minutes.

 

• wireless Impact Detection Module (IDM), no wires to be shot or damaged from impacts. 
Each IDM operates on a independent frequency, allowing multiple I.R.I.S. systems to be used in close proximity.
 Multiple IDMs can be programmed to control a single I.R.I.S. TCM lighting system.

• fully contained Target Control Module (TCM) 
and rechargeable battery (charger included) 
• TCM is fully programmable for multiple IDMs 
and handheld remotes
• multiple I.R.I.S. systems can be controlled via 
the included handheld remote
• 4 channel remote shipped with single I.R.I.S. systems 
(will control up to 4 I.R.I.S. target systems)
• 12 channel remote available for multiple IRIS systems
• IRIS includes one Impact Detection Module (IDM), 
one Target Control Module (TCM) and lighting system, 
one wireless 4 channel remote, 12 volt charger 
• additional Impact Detection Modules and handheld 
remotes can be purchased separately
• we offer stand alone systems to attach to your steel, or w
e can provide complete ready to shoot target systems with ballistic grade AR500 steel. 
IPSC style sizes 45%, 66%, 100%. 1/4", 3/8" 1/2"  

specifications:

        

         -IDM transmitter range - 150 yards** Cheytac and 50BMG approved

         -hand held remote transmitter range - 2,400 yards**

         -TCM battery life - over 30 days “at idle”, 3–4 days of continual use (rechargeable)

         -IDM battery life - over 30 days 1000 hits (9 volt)

         -lighting module visible distance - well over 2 miles in daylight

          

          ** depending on conditions, terrain and interference      

Trigger Time Gun Club


Special thanks to Paul and Zach @ Trigger Time Gun Club.

T3 Ranch in Colorado, is 7000 acres of precision rifle goodness. Trigger Time Gun Club located in Longmont Colorado is growing their Precision Rifle presence by moving beyond 1000 yards to distances of more than 2000 yards. A full service gun shop, and indoor range, they have it all. http://www.T3Main.com

This was a beta for 2015, we plan on more of these events moving forward. We determined what worked and what needed to be addressed. We hope to give owners of ELR capable equipment a place to take advantage of their tools. So follow the T3 Main site for details.