As I mentioned several weeks ago, this summer is shaping up to be very busy. If all goes well, I’ll complete two of my long-term goals: shooting my first long-range precision rifle match and going on my first safari. However, to offer the greatest chance of success at either I need to get my tools (rifle, scope, and loads) and skills in ship shape. That said, living in a big city, practice doesn’t come easy.
When doing research on 1000 yard ranges in the Tri-State area, I learned that Pennsylvania has a pretty active long range precision community. New Holland hosts good matches as do a few other ranges.
To maximize my chance of success for this summer’s Steel Safari and (actual) Safari, I signed up for Jamie Dodson of Wolf Precision’s Long Range School. The class designed to teach shooters the skills necessary to shoot out to 1000 yards. This wouldn’t be my first long-range school, but I thought it would be an excellent refresher and an opportunity to get familiarized with my AI AT and Hensoldt ZF scope.
The class is 3-days long, roughly split about 1/3 classroom, 2/3 range time. Jamie is an excellent, funny, and patient instructor. He peppers his lectures and drills with interesting anecdotes and stories.
On Friday, instruction focused on the basics: safety, equipment selection, and marksmanship. With 4 students in the class, there wasn’t a stunning variation of rifles on the line. The other three students shot Wolf Precision’s “loaners.” These weren’t your average Remington PSS’s, however. They were Wolf Precision custom rifles: BAT Action in an AICS chassis, chambered in 223. The rifles all shot 75 gr Hornady Amax bullets. With most of the rifles on the line shooting the same cartridge, bullet, and similar velocity, it drastically simplifies Jamie’s job as an instructor. Also, student confidence is much higher because they are shooting incredibly accurate, light-recoiled, dialed-in guns. Any misses are 100% the student’s fault.
Some Amax bullets, useful for explaining the concept of “BC”
In the afternoon, we went to the range and spent the majority of the afternoon confirming and adjusting, if necessary, our zeroes. After some good marksmanship drills, we chrono’d our rifle/loads.
I also brought my Tikka T3 so I could test fire custom ammo from Safari Arms. My PH asked me to shoot 175 gr Swift A-Frame bullets when I hunt Eland. Unfortunately, nobody sells factory 7mm RM with that bullet, so John at Safari Arms was able to roll me up 4 batches of 5 rounds each. Compared to the “managed recoil” load (140 gr @ 2700 fps), the Safari Arms load (175 gr @ 2850) was quite “stout.”
The two heaviest loads required a serious amount of force to work the bolt and had notable primer flattening. My best group size (1″) was nothing to write home about, but I think the limitation was recoil fatigue rather than the inherent accuracy of the rifle/ammo.
That evening, Jamie took our data and printed us Data Cards for our rifles.
On Saturday morning, we went deeper into more advanced concepts including a Shooter’s Log. Then we discussed the cold bore shot and clean cold bore shot. We covered different angular measurements, Mils and MOA. Wind got a fairly serious treatment of both theory and “rules of thumb.” Finally, we closed on what Jamie called “Group Therapy,” in short, the futility of firing large numbers of groups. Rather, he recommended working on fundamentals, shooting dot drills, if necessary.
Sat. Afternoon, using the data cards Jamie created earlier, we started to stretch the legs on our rifles. My strategy generally was to draw a sketch of the scene in my notebook, including a few relevant items: target location, target distance, elevation come-up in mils, and some reference points such as a treeline, ridge, or road. This strategery works fairly well if you have a lot of time. My Zeiss 10×45 LRF did a good job of ranging w/o any hiccups.
I also learned something annoying about the trigger on the AI AT. Trigger weight adjustment is fairly simple, done with a normal allen key. 4 turns, however, rendered it unreliable. On the first box of ammo that afternoon, I heard a “click” instead of a “bang” and the trigger went dead. I gave it one fewer turn and it proved to be reliable after that.
After performing the basic drills with the AT, I tried hitting some distant targets with my Tikka T3. It really highlighted the difference between a “tactical” rifle like my AT and a “sporter” like my Tikka. The AT weighs over twice as much. All that extra mass makes it feel much more planted when you are dialed in on a target. As mentioned before, the recoil on the T3 wasn’t painful, but it was quite distracting after more than 10 rounds back to back. The combination of a heavier round (7 RM vs 6.5 Creed), lighter gun, and bare muzzle implies several times the free recoil of the AT. On the plus side for the Tikka, compared with other sporters I’ve shot, is the aftermarket cheek piece I added. Next to a decent trigger, an aftermarket cheek piece is my favorite modification to a sporter that might be called on to make a distant shot.
Using the data card from yesterday, I was able to hit 500 and 600 yard steel targets with the Tikka. Unfortunately, the Zeiss Conquest scope ran out of elevation before 800 yards so I stuck with the “close” targets. I could buy a slanted base or zero the scope for 250, but honestly, the likelihood of me shooting at animals beyond 400 yards is basically zero, full stop.
Jamie was nice enough to lend me a Harris bipod for my Tikka. While taking it off I learned that Harris Bipods are basically also Conibear traps. I accidentally got my trigger finger bit by a joint when it snapped shut. Not very pleasant.
A fellow student brought a Nosler Custom rifle chambered in 30-378 Weatherby Mag. It had a huge muzzle brake. Because of the weight and brake, subjective recoil was about on par with my Tikka but “dat muzzle blast.” I think “rifle” probably understates it, more like “field piece.”
After a fair amount of time spent on the first range, we went to a more distant range and started shooting at 800, 900, and 1000 yard targets. I was pretty pleased to hit a milk jug of colored water at 1000 yards. That was fun. Hitting a 1000 yard target came down to the accuracy of the wind call… a discipline I still need a lot of work on.
Sunday Morning was a good introduction to a lot of more advanced concepts. We started with basic ranging using mils. In the age of laser rangefinders, why teach milling? Jamie gave us a pretty good anecdote regarding a buddy of his who was hunting trophy bull elks. Combination of mist and fog caused his LRF to spit out bad numbers. Without a backup plan, that would be it. He used the average size of a bull elk chest (32″) and the apparent size in mils (2.5) to calculate the approximate distance (355 yards). Dialed the dope, filled his freezer.
Next we covered shooting up and downhill, shooting moving targets, holdoff/holdover, and a long list of tips/recommendations.
In the afternoon, we returned to the range for the Test. The test was a culmination of everything we’d worked on the prior two days: Precision marksmanship, hitting steel “at range,” milling an unknown distance target.
My score was lower than I wanted, for reasons I would learn a few weeks later, my dope off enough to miss at 500+ yard targets, I consistently needed less come-up than my data card said. Oh well, I still got a lot out of the class, and it was a great warm up for the Steel Safari.