ELR Realities Part 2, Conditions Matter
When you scroll down your social media feed, there seems to be a lot of 1 shot hits at ELR Distances. Extended Long Range shooting has come to mean beyond 1500 yards give or take a few hundred. There is always a video at some point during an outing among friends where they film that 3000 yard shot and get their hit on steel. Cue the cheers.
Well to be perfectly honest, you can make anything look good on video. You get long unseen work ups, unlimited takes and even what I like to call creative editing. Let’s not forget target size, a 12ft square plate at distance doesn’t sound as impressive, so glossing over the size helps. When I work an ELR event we like to take a data driven approach as well make it a true learning experience. We’ll gather data on day one, giving the shooters an opportunity to fine tune their dope. Then on Day Two we take them to a different location. It’s a new look, new angles, and changes on the wind. The targets are 18”x30” except for the longest shot, it’s 36”x30”, and we limit them to 3 shots only. To make it even more meaningful we score them. This helps determine the validity of their data.
The old sniper meme is, “Only 3 shots from any one location”. You shoot and move. By staying in one place you become a target. Anyone can launch a cone of lead and then count only the hits. If you shoot 20 rounds and only get 4 hits, I don’t care if the first shot hit the target, you really aren’t doing anything but wasting ammo. Dope is Data on previous engagement so if you cannot repeat it, how do you know if its truly correct ?
It’s funny just how quickly people lose the concept of how many shots they are actually taking. Their memory is only that of the hits and not the misses. Have a purpose, have a plan and stick too it. I asked one shooter after seeing him launch a cone of lead and his response was pretty funny, 8, no wait, 12, oh, 14. Quality, not quantity.
The conditions on the ground matter. Everything from mirage to wind, especially at these distances. Even on a perfect 85 degree day that mirage is throwing the target all over in the scope. Spotting the hits is equally as difficult. After the shot is taken, the line gets eerily quiet as everyone is listening for some type of feedback. You get the spotters counting the seconds in their head so they know, was that a hit or splash on the dirt in front of the steel ? Bang, 1000 - 2, 1000 - 4, 1000 - 6, ping. That’s an impact.
This past weekend we were out and had 8 guys putting their rifles, ballistic calculators and their wind calling abilities to the test. Conditions were good, but far from perfect. We had a heavy mirage the first day, until a front came through late in the afternoon. Then we had a nasty 11 0’Clock to 1 O’clock head wind the next day that couldn’t decide left or right until after lunch when the front left. Believe me, I would rather a 10MPH 3 O’Clock wind than a 3 MPH one that is switching from 11 to 1 between the shots. Great conditions to learn a thing or two but equally frustrating.
Regardless of which computer you use, I always stress recording the data to hard copy. How you get the most out of the computer is to compile data and fine tune the results. Once you have that extra data, and you have trued up the computer, then you can be confident in just using the calculator. But still, when the temps start to reach 95 degrees, if you’re on a smartphone a few short minutes in direct sunlight and it’s in temperature shutdown mode. So it’s important to have the hard copy data on hand.
We find that when comparing several different ballistic computers that they are all, really, really good. The deciding factor is always the Operator inputs and the amount of data used . So people wing the most basic elements, hoping that close, is enough. While others use limited drops to true the curve, then they wonder why one end bends away from the other. We find the more data you can feed off of, the quicker and easier it is to true everything up.
Drops should be a function of gravity, of course you have variables such as the scope adjustments, and shooter influence on the release of the shot. But the basic math is pretty straight forward. If you have a big variations you might want to check your scope or look at your fundamentals.
Wind Blows !
Wind is the great equalizer and has the biggest effect on the probability of hitting the target. Anyway you slice it, it’s all about the wind. Very few misses were based on having the wrong drop, instead those types of issues were usually operator induced. Either failing to put the solution on the scope or shooting at the wrong target. Everything else was 100% wind.
The other drift variables can go either way. Some guys used them, others had them turned off. It’s pretty much equally split down the middle. We did see excessive drift inputted which upset the wind calls by a wide margin. With the wind coming from the right at 30 degree off center, you saw adding too much left was pushing the round well past the target. For me, I use 1/2 of what the computer says, and only in winds under 3 MPH. The hit rate does not line up with the popular talking points. I am still under the impression it’s more about off-setting shooter errors than actual drift.
Still you can’t always completely ignore it with some software. There is a clear bias to turn everything on with some programs while other supply the same output with the variables turned off. I have seen this several times now and this past weekend was no exception. So I have taken to turning it on with a program like Applied Ballistics as it seems to work best. With Field Firing Solutions it’s not nearly as critical. .1 Mils is far less than a 1 MPH missed wind call. Usually the target can absorb it.
We score the Shooters so here is the break down of each shot.
Rate of Fire
On the first day we had some interesting vertical variations we did not see the second day. The first day was more of an open shoot and certainly the hotter of the two days. Temps reached into the 90s and we had little cloud cover. On the second day, temps were 15 degrees cooler (on average) and we had a lot more cloud cover. When guys started sending rounds down range at a higher rate of fire the vertical dispersion increased dramatically. On the second day when we limited them to 3 shots we saw none of it. Everyone on the line but one shooter used a 338LM. In many ways that made it easier to diagnose issues. However since each person gathered dope at their own pace, it was harder to keep track. Ammo varied too.
Bottom line, these heavy magnum calibers are not designed to have a high sustained rate of fire. So my advice is to limit your shooting. Pace yourself as much as possible. Long pauses are better than continuing to throw rounds at the problem.
The great part of the class, everyone but two guys had suppressors. The bad part was trying to determine which variable was causing the vertical variation. Barrel, suppressor etc ? Heck was it the ammo in the sun ?
Shooter fatigue with these rifles is also a factor. While you may not notice it at first. You are getting beat up, and it does take a toll on your overall stamina and accuracy.
An interesting target read from the weekend, we found a pretty fair number of keyhole hits on steel at the distances beyond 2000 yards. Not all the bullets were supersonic and they were not all transitioning well. I attribute that to several of the guys using the 300gr bullet with a 338LM. The velocity is at what I would consider the bare minimum speed needed with the 300gr bullet. In order to get the necessary performance I find it’s best to be at 2850fps or higher. Any less and you find unpredictable results. Sure inside the 1 Mile range it works great, even up to 1 Mile, but after it falls off much quicker than you would expect.
The winner of the weekend, Shooter “A” with a 7mm REM MAG. He was shooting 180gr Berger Bullets at 3060fps and his success is unmistakeable. It’s not his first time shooting ELR with this set up, and we like to say, “Fear the man with one rifle, he may know how to use it”. This quote applies to him to perfectly.
The other round on the line was the Hornady 285gr bullet. We have found these to present the best balance of speed and performance out of a 338LM.
Setting up a Purpose Drive Rifle
The final lesson learned, if you’re gonna shoot ELR set the rifle up for ELR.
One of the issues we see is travel with scopes. Most scopes have about 26 Mils of adjustments, but some are not using 100% of that travel. I recommend using a base with enough cant built in to give you 100% of the travel. In fact you’re better off having to zero at distance so you can shoot further than to sacrifice that top end because you have a 20MOA base. The minimum should be 40MOA of cant in your scope base for your ELR rifle. In some cases, like the guys with the .375s and .50s you might want to consider a 60MOA.
The conditions were tough, trying to beat the wind with an extended time of flight shot is a challenge. The targets we used were only 18”x30” except for 2220 yards. That target was 36”x30”, nothing was a give me. It was basically two 18x30 next to each other. This matters, as a lot of people are shooting targets that are measured in feet and not inches. It’s one of the reasons I am Gunsite Fan, Man Sized Target at ELR Distances.
Doubling the width of the target gave every single shooter an on command hit at 2220 yards. Nobody missed that plate., So clearly you can sway the results by increasing the size of the target. However for man sized target, that gets much more sporty and in my opinion is what this is all about. Good Luck and No Wind.
Programming Note: GAP 300NM Update
I was able to stretch my 300 Norma Magnum a bit on this day. I had 2 loads to play with, but only a couple of rounds. My first load is relatively slow, pushing the 230r Berger @ 2715fps. It’s super accurate, but really slow. My next load I played with was pushing the same 230gr Berger at 2950fps, maybe even a bit more. This was an absolute hammer and much more comfortable to shoot than a 338.
My drops at distance were:
1300 yards - 9.1 Mils
1500 yards - 11.6 Mils
1700 yards - 14.3 Mils
1900 yards - 17.9 Mils
2100 yard - 21.5 Mils
2200 yards - 23.5 Mils
It’s an H1000 load and we’ll have more on that later.
If you want that crossover rifle, the 300NM is definitely one to consider. It’s much more efficient and a bit easier to work with.