I'm going to visit the public range in the next week or so to check zero on my deer rifle, which means popping a few rounds at 100yd to make sure I'm still minute-of-deer out to 250ish.
But after the luxury of a 750-yard playground earlier this month, I've had a few realizations...
One: Having the room to play at long distance is wonderful.
Truly, nothing can wring out both equipment and shooter like working with distances of a quarter-mile or more. Simply finding a target can be a challenge. Then comes the task of positively identifying it, even with a reasonably powerful scope. I found out that my budget mil-dot scopes (Bushnell Elite 3200s) are pretty good scopes for the price, but they sure don't compare with scopes that cost a few times more. When you're doing most of your shooting at 100-200 yards, the aberrations in an inexpensive scope aren't as relevant.
Two: It might be counterintuitive, but I shoot less at long range than I do at short.
I've never been much of one for mag dumps to begin with - they're a great way to turn money into smoke and noise, but for effective fire they're not so useful. An Appleseed instructor (and former military guy) I knew back on the East Coast used to say that while full auto was okay for making someone keep their head down, nothing encouraged it like accurate aimed fire.
If I want to make my shots count, I'm taking my time on them to a certain extent. Holding for a pause in the wind. Waiting on mirage. Watching the grasses and leaves subconsciously to see where the gusts are doing funny things. And yes, keeping the barrel cool.
Three: A good shooter can make any rifle work; a good rifle won't make a bad shooter work.
I was lucky to have some very good shooters who were very happy to coach and help me with distance. I'm also fortunate enough to have a few rifles that are capable of effective accuracy at the ranges we were playing with. And yes, I was able to feed my ego a little bit, because I'm not a bad rifle shot. Once I got a feel for how my rifles were handling, and with good wind calls from good spotters, dropping shots in at distance was challenging but not frustrating.
While sitting with MattG popping prairie dogs, he spotted one out on its mound around 375-400 yards. I dialed up a few clicks of elevation, held a half-mil of Kentucky windage, and let fly. I missed.
By four inches. Laterally. My wind call was off, my elevation was perfect. I'm awful proud of that miss.
Four: At any kind of significant distance, reactive targets are almost mandatory. Punching paper is great for getting a zero, after that it's much more effective to ring steel. And if you have the space to do it, boomer targets are even better. Like, for instance, a defunct car with a bit of dynamite stuffed into it:
That's a lasered 300ish yards, on a target about the size of a pop bottle, with the winds one might expect from the high prairie in the afternoon. The rifle is one I spun together from a bunch of spare parts, shooting Federal's outstanding 50gr ballistic-tip .223. (Seriously, some of the most consistent non-match ammo I've had the pleasure of using.)
Five: A good spotting scope and/or binoculars is a must. My little 8x32 binoculars are great for finding deer, not so much for 3-inch targets at 250 yards.
Six: Shoot the rifle you're comfortable with. I know I'm somewhat recoil sensitive. My .308 Savage is a twelve-pound rifle, and comfortable to shoot pretty repeatedly. The AR mentioned above? I can shoot that all day long. The old saw about "a man with one gun" does have some basis in truth.
Seven: I am blessed with some of the best friends in the world. Seriously, you guys... the best.