How Far is Too Far?

At the near-certainty of being met with "Well, DUH!" responses, let me just say that over the last few days I renewed my appreciation of how much fun long-range shooting is, and how complex it can be. I did an abbreviated two-day class at the world-famous FTW Ranch in the Texas Hill Country, and I picked up some tidbits which will immediately be put into my bag of tricks, and which you can use.

FTW has incredible terrain for long-range shooting -- so much so that the best special forces units on the planet go there for training. For a hunter, the school (normally four-day) teaches long range shooting with an emphasis on discovering how far is too far for you, on that day, in those conditions, with that longparticular rifle/load. I've gone on record as not being a fan of trying to stretch shots on game just for the bragging rights of shooting at long range. A lot of animals have been wounded and lost by those producing television shows featuring this latest fad, not to mention hunters who want to emulate these on-screen "heros." 

FTW strongly discourages that kind of "hunting," (and yes, I put it in quotes for a reason). Their approach is simple. Learn how to determine the range where you can make a first shot kill with 100 percent certainty. Sure, we were hitting steel at 700 yards with a 20-30mph crosswind, but not every time. And, we had highly skilled spotters calling the wind. We even connected on steel at 1,800 yards, but it took a lot of bullets downrange. 

The facilities and the instructors are first class, and I can't boil down everything they taught into a few words, but here's a tip that anyone can use. In their SAAM (Sportsman's All-Weather All-Terrain Marksmanship) class, they call it "Acceptable Reticle Movement," or ARM. As with many great concepts, this one is stone simple. We all know that you can't hold a rifle (or pistol, for that matter) completely still, and we often teach shooters that they have to accept the sights moving, or "the wobble." It's critical to just keep pressing the trigger while the sights wobble. BUT ... and this is the key ... this is not true if the sights are wandering off the target. What I learned is that the ARM should be about a third the size of the target. If you are shooting at a nine-inch steel gong, the crosshairs should wobble no more than three inches. That way, it doesn't matter when the shot breaks. It's still a hit. If, on the other hand, your sights are moving around at twice the size of the chargetarget, you'll yank the trigger, trying to time the moment when the crosshairs move across the target. For a hunter, that may well mean a miss, or even worse, a wounded animal.

The practical result of using the ARM concept is that when you see the crosshairs moving too much, you change something. Get a better shooting position or a solid rest. Get closer. Or don't shoot at all. You might be okay making a shot from a prone position at 500 yards if you have the right rifle, you have practiced at that distance, the wind isn't gusting, and the crosshairs aren't moving. On the other hand, if you are shooting offhand, your max distance might be 100 yards or less. If you are shooting a deer with a nine-inch diameter vital area, your ARM is three inches.

I like the ARM idea because it gives the hunter a tool -- a measuring instrument -- to determine whether he or she should take the shot. Too much wobble makes it a no-go. 

While at FTW we shot the Ruger Precision Rifle in 6.5mm Creemoor at long range, and also did part of their dangerous game course with the Ruger FTW rifle in .375 Ruger. By the way, that cartridge also does great out to 500 yards, as we saw when perched on the top of a windy peak.

Our small group also sat in on a shortened class on using the Kestrel ballistics computer (using the new Ruger Kestrel, which preloads Ruger rifles and loads). In short, the Kestrel is PFM -- Pure Freaking Magic. I'm going back to FTW to take the full four-day SAAM course, and I'm looking forward to sitting through the entire Kestrel class.

I haven't had that much fun shooting in some time, and I want more! ~ Tom

Tom Gresham
Author, outdoorsman, gun rights activist, and firearms enthusiast for more than five decades, Tom Gresham hosts Tom Gresham's Gun Talk, the first nationally-syndicated radio show about guns and the shooting sports, and is also the producer and co-host of the Guns & Gear, GunVenture and First Person Defender television series.