Just a trio of tips for new and not quite veteran distance shooters looking to improve their long game:
1. Start off shooting at 75-100 yards
Proning out with a custom bolt action .308 or a .338 Lapua won’t do you any good unless you can shoot straight. Forget the wind and mirage. See if you can hit consistently at 100 yards first. You should be able to blow the head off a Barbie doll at that distance. At least, that’s what I used to do when I was practicing T-zone hits. Drilling holes through nickels, dimes and quarters can also be fun. Just a little clear tape over the top of the coin, and—walla!—you have an instant target.
Once you get good and consistent at shorter distances, it’s time to reach out a bit.
2. Learn to read the wind
There are multiple factors affecting distant shooting, but foremost is (1) the guy or the gal behind the gun (I’m talking about basic marksmanship factors here), and (2) the wind.
Whether you’re shooting a sub-MOA precision rifle or a 3 MOA carbine out to, say, 300 yards, wind matters. Reading the wind takes a little practice.
Range flags help during practice, but you won’t have a range flag when you’re “down range” on a military or private security contract deployment. Nevertheless, watch the flag and pick up tell tale signs. Watch downrange a bit for blowing leaves or even grass too. You can also check the wind at your location.
Wind is a tricky, interesting thing to study. You’ll find quickly that it can be full force, quarter angled and any other number of variations. As well, the wind can blow, say, from the right to the left directly in front of you but then shift halfway downrange so that it’s blowing from the left to the right. The wind can also blow anywhere from 5-15 mph or more if you’re about to endure a tornado.
The distance (e.g. at your location, halfway to the target and close to the target), speed and direction of wind will all play a factor in your bullet’s pathway.
3. Reading the wind in the mirage
Whether you’re looking through a spotting scope or the glass on your long range rifle, the blurry mirage will show you what’s happening environmentally downrange. For long range shooters, the term ”mirage” does not refer to a true mirage, but rather to heat waves and the refraction of light as they are bent through air layers of different density between the shooter and the target, similar in effect to an object appearing bent when protruding out of water (read more about this phenomenon here).
Learning to read wind and mirage from a good spotter will help you immensely at shooting accurate groups.
When it comes to understanding the mirage, focus on the target then back off about halfway to observe the mirage itself. All this is done through glass. As a general rule, if the lines of the mirage have heavy or large waves, the wind is mild or it may not be windy at all at the location of the mirage. On the other hand, the tighter together the lines of the mirage, the more wind at that location. And this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to mirage reading–skilled shooters can identify all sorts of different patterns that help them accurately compensate on distance shots.
Getting out, reinforcing your skills and learning to read the wind and mirage will help you learn to be a better long distance shooter, but also keep in focus that nothing can replace good old fashioned marksmanship. You can’t blame the wind if you can’t shoot well, so make sure to get good up close before going long.
Safety warning: Jeffrey Denning is a long time professional in the art of self-defense and any training methods or information he describes in his articles are intended to be put into practice only by serious shooters with proper training. Please read, but do not attempt anything posted here without first seeking out proper training.
h/t: South Texas Shooting
Cover: Aaron Samsel