Short Range Training for Long Range Shooting
We’ve all heard the saying about learning to walk before you run. In my experience, the same logic applies to long range shooting.
Short range training is all about removing some of the variables involved in long range shooting and isolating others. Learn to hit a big target at short range before reversing the formula. Pinwheel the target in calm conditions so you gain useful experience when the wind is blowing. One of the most common problems that new long range shooters face is how to get started. They often lack access to areas where they can shoot long range, as well as suitable targets. Some just don’t have the required gear yet. I always tell them that shooting is shooting, and the only way to prepare for long range shooting is to shoot some more. It doesn’t have to be at 1000 yards, though.
The mechanics of shooting a precision rifle can be taught at any distance. Short range training is a good place to start.
Natural point of aim, breathing control, and trigger press can be taught, learned, and practiced at short range. With dry firing, they can be performed in a room just big enough to manipulate the rifle. I used to dry fire my hunting rifles on mounted deer in my house. I got to know my triggers very well and learned how to break them when the crosshairs looked right. Now I have small dots and tacks with colored heads strategically placed around the basement. Keep them small and focus on the fundamentals. This is also a good time to reinforce gun safety practices—please make sure the magazine and chamber are empty before pointing the rifle at your wall and the neighbor’s house beyond.
While it’s good practice, dry firing doesn’t give us any feedback on the target. I do all of my load development and zero checks from the same field prone position I use at long range. Sometimes I work on them over my hunting pack to practice without a bipod. Extreme precision can be had without a shooting bench or sand bags. For shooters just beginning the long range game, I recommend slowly weaning themselves off the bench until they’re comfortable on the ground. Work on building your position so it feels natural to you and you’re as straight behind the gun as you can be. This will vary among shooters, so don’t get hung up on being perfectly straight behind the gun. Take a few dry fire shots to confirm the crosshairs stay on target. If they do, fire a shot at your zero range and see if you can spot your hit on impact. If you can’t, adjust your position until you do. Self-spotting your hits is an important skill for long range hunting, and can be learned and practiced at short range.
A drill I like to run is done at 100 yards. I hang a target with several one-inch circles on it. I fire one shot at each circle from any field position I want to practice, trying to hit the center of the circle. I never shoot at the same one twice and I break position after each shot. This simulates taking a single shot on a one-MOA target. If I can keep it in the one-inch circle at 100 yards, I know my position is solid enough to hit a one-MOA target at any distance. Multiple shot groups tell me about the precision of the rifle—this drill shows me the accuracy potential I can bring to bear with the whole system.
.22 rimfire rifles are an excellent short range training tool for any kind of shooting.
Shooting .22s reminds me of warm summer evenings and my kids’ first shots. Good memories! When my daughter was nine-years-old I started teaching rifle shooting for the local 4-H club. For a few years, I had classes full of eight, nine, and ten-year-olds, several of which had never fired a gun before. I had a great time and probably learned as much as they did. It taught me to think outside of the box in order to keep them challenged and having fun. We started with relatively big targets, short distances, and solid bench positions. Eventually we moved further away, shot at smaller aiming points, and practiced with different positions. That’s the same evolution most of us make when we take up long range hunting.
Rimfire rifles are also being used by professional long range instructors like Shawn Carlock, of Defensive Edge. If you sign up for one of his multi-day advanced long range classes, you’ll spend some time behind a precision .22 rifle before stretching your legs at distance with a boomer. With no recoil and very little noise, Shawn’s students can focus on the fundamentals of long range marksmanship, as well as get a primer on wind doping. It’s an eye opener to shoot a .22 in the wind, even at short range.
Other than the wind call, every aspect of taking a long range hunting shot can be practiced at short range. Here are some of the specific things I do to get the most out of my short range training:
- Treat every shot like it’s the only one you’ll get. A cold bore shot into the center of the bull is worth more to me than the tiniest group shot just outside of it.
- Dry fire. A lot! I drop the hammer on an empty chamber as often as I can, especially during zero checks and load development. Work on finger placement and control, as well as your cheek weld and body position.
- Practice unorthodox positions at short range before trying them at long range. Short range training reduces or removes environmental factors from the shot, allowing you to focus on the mechanics of the shot itself. Try new things that may be useful, checking to see if they’ll work by running the one-inch drill with them.
- Check your zero from a field shooting position. Learn to call your shots. If the trigger breaks with the crosshairs off the “X”, repeat the shot. A solid zero is the foundation everything else is built from.
- If you hunt with a spotter, practice together. Practice what each other’s roles are and how to communicate with each other.
- Now is a good time to check your equipment. By equipment, I mean anything and everything you plan to use. Hunting clothes, hearing protection, bipod, rear bag, etc. Use it all from your field positions. Make sure it actually works as intended before packing it in for the shot of a lifetime. It’s usually pretty obvious if it won’t work, even at short range.
- Remember—this is supposed to be fun. If you feel like your rifle is beating you up, switch to a lighter recoiling rifle or a .22 rimfire. Dry fire some more. Do not let it turn into a flinch. Recoil anticipation is easy to learn and hard to forget.
There are endless ways to make short range training a valuable addition to your long range practice. In the end, we all improve by shooting more, regardless of distance. I would love to hear your thoughts on this. Please leave a comment below or email me. Thanks!