“Thirty Days to One Thousand”, pretty catchy title right? I thought it might spark your curiosity, but the value of the title ends there. The entire process only took eleven days. I made it to the range four times. The fortieth round through the rifle hit a twelve-inch gong at over 1000 yards. I truly believe that if I had been more experienced, this could have been accomplished in one full day.
THE BEGINNING OF THE JOURNEY
It had been a long day on the mountain. The midday November sun was quickly making its final descent westward. I called out the yardage. My buddy rechecked his dope card. He settled in, squeezed the trigger and the 183” buck dropped like a fat kid crossing the finish line. It was beautiful. It was a perfect shot. However, it was also well beyond my effective shooting range. That day has been a burr under the saddle of my mind for a long time. I cannot shake a haunting truth. If “that deer” had been “the deer”, then I most likely would have failed to capitalize on the opportunity.
Around here, we work hard. We work extremely hard. We sacrifice time and sweat and money for years on end hoping for that one chance at that one animal. I can’t imagine how I would deal with the failure if that moment were to finally arrive and I missed my chance because I was too cheap to have the proper rifle and the proper equipment.
I’m not a long-range shooter. I’m not a rifle geek. I don’t reload. I don’t have a lot of extra time in my life to dedicate to another hobby. The question at hand is this: can a regular guy put together a hunting rifle that will consistently produce long-range shots on a realistic budget?
I chose 1000 yards because, in my world, that is a “long-range” shot. I am NOT, in any way, trying to put parameters on your moral shooting distance. I am not trying to encourage people to shoot animals at 1000 yards. I am simply trying to test my theory. Can modern equipment help everyday hunters shoot at a distance that previously seemed impossible? The logic is this: if I can consistently hit 1000 yards at the range, then my effective range in hunting situations will increase.
For my journey, I set the following parameters. I wanted to hit a twelve-inch gong, at 1000 yards, from a bi-pod, using factory ammo through a factory rifle.
THE RIFLE & CALIBER
The Ruger American Predator is $419 off the rack. I consider that reasonably priced. Read the reviews and you will find few complaints. Contrary to the theme of this article, 99% of my shots are in thick timber and at less than one hundred yards. When I spot a shooter in the thick and nasty, I don’t have time to put on hearing protection. I also deal with target panic. For these reasons, I opted for a smaller caliber. The 6.5 Creedmoor has become super niche. The ballistic information and ammunition are widely available and easily accessible. I felt like this was a realistic and relatable option for the majority of people.
Be still, my soul! This was pure selfishness. I’m a Vortex fan. The quality, customer service and price of Vortex keep me coming back. Many companies are currently producing amazing optics. I suggest you pick one that you like, block out the haters and roll on.
Since I’m a long-range rookie, I tried to surround myself with mentors to help me along the way. I asked Vortex which scope they thought would be best for me and they recommended the Viper PST Gen II in 5-25×50. I was a little concerned about the weight but I trusted their advice. In my opinion, the scope is the most important piece of the puzzle. It doesn’t make sense to use anything less than the best, even if you save a handful of ounces.
My driving force is high country mule deer. A bench rifle is not the goal. Increasing my effective range in hunting situations is my goal. I needed an above average bipod. The Spartan Precision Javelin Bipod is carbon and weighs less than six freaking ounces! I literally just giggled typing that sentence. Are you kidding me? Is that even real? A rare earth magnet attaches the Javelin to its universal adapter. This gives you the option of packing your rifle without the bipod attached. Who cares how much your scope weighs when your rifle doesn’t have a boat-anchor bipod hanging off the front? Problem solved.
It took a couple of hours to mount and level the scope.
Old school is still cool because it works. Once I got to the range, I removed the bolt, hunched over like an ogre and stared through the barrel. The bench rest was repeatedly adjusted until the 100-yard target was centered through the barrel. Then I cranked the scope dials until they were on the target. Repeat, and repeat again. The first shot was on paper. The chronograph worked. We were in business!
Honestly, the rest was pretty boring. Mistakes were made. Turrets that had made a full turn were inevitably cranked in the wrong direction. I miscalculated my corrections. Days were spent running dry-fire drills at the house. However, once the rifle was zeroed at 200 yards, I literally dialed the turrets and squeezed the trigger. My first shot at 1008 yards was a hit! And I hit it again and again. It was ridiculously easy and I couldn’t be happier about it.
My brother and I went out a fifth time. More mistakes were made but the gong still sang. We set up at a random distance of 535 yards. I dialed the correction and handed the rifle to my brother. He had never shot the rifle before but he easily hit the gong both times. Mission accomplished. That is as close to “plug and play” as possible.
The reality is that the scope and the bipod were magical. I used quality ammo and I bought a solid rifle, but I think we all know that the optics and the bipod were the stars of the show.
VORTEX VIPER PST GEN II
I fly a Swiss-made aircraft for a living and it is less precise than this scope. The Viper PST is nothing short of quality precision craftsmanship. At 1008 yards, the bullets were dropping twenty-seven feet!
There were three adjustments the day I shot at 1000. The initial set up was 30.75 MOA. The first shot hit the bottom of the gong, but the group was low. I came up .5 MOA and twisted to 31.25. The second group was high. Then a third adjustment came back down to 31.00 MOA and the metal sang like an angel. At all three settings, the bullets were stacking in at 6”-10” groups. That’s nearly surgical! When a knuckle dragger like Howard can see results like this, the credit goes where credit is due. This scope is stunning!
SPARTAN PRECISION EQUIPMENT JAVELIN BIPOD
First of all, I chew gum heavier than this bipod. The iPhone X weighs 6.14 ounces. The long version of the Javelin weighs 5.54 ounces. (I got that idea from a YouTube review but the comparison is perfect). It is nearly weightless and super sleek. No bulky legs swinging around and banging on the brush.
Second of all, there are no spring-loaded, metal legs to clang and bang around.
There was one annoyance with the bipod. I called and visited with my Spartan contact. We came to the conclusion that it was most likely a defect with my specific bipod and not true of all Javelins. They offered to send me a replacement, but it wasn’t that big of a deal to me. The magnet that holds the bipod leg in the “open” position isn’t strong enough to keep that leg from collapsing to the “closed” position when the leg is fully extended. So, if I pick up the rifle and start walking with the legs extended, it flops around more than a traditional bi-pod.
The Javelin has two positions. Position one is “locked” and doesn’t allow for lateral barrel movement. This was perfect at the official rifle range. Position two allows the barrel to pivot left and right. When I shot at 1000, I was on rough terrain and having the bipod locked was pre-loading the bipod in a weird way. I switched to position two and the rifle settled in like a sleeping baby. A lot of thought has gone into the design of this bi-pod and it shows.
OPPORTUNITY OF A LIFETIME
A couple days after I finished “30 Days to 1000”, I was afforded the shooting opportunity of a lifetime. I spent 14 hours driving through the night in our minivan from my home in NW Montana to Branded Rock Canyon in Western Colorado. BRC offers what may be the most premier, private shooting course in the USA. As my buddy put it, I felt like I was being invited to play with the “big kids” during recess.
BACK TO THE BEGINNING
We tore our rifles down and torqued all bolts to spec. We reset our zero and sat through a ballistics class. We fired our rifles in a wide array of shooting environments. Life-size silhouette targets ranged from 200 yards to over 1000. We even took a few shots at a mile. Angles varied from zero, to as steep as 40 degrees. We learned how to estimate wind holds. We learned how to run our ballistic programs and we learned the value of having a good spotter. There was even a remote controlled moving target!
Here are some truths I walked away with from BRC. Not all shooting scenarios will offer the perfect, prone shooting position. In order to create the most stable shooting platform possible, you need to learn how to use the tools you have available. This is where Spartan Precision Equipment came into the picture. The second lesson was the value of recoil management. Being able to spot your impact is essential for long-range shots. Again, Spartan’s high-grade carbon shooting accessories provided amazing recoil recovery and realistic follow up shots.
For me personally, I left “The Rock” with two main nuggets of truth. I left feeling unbelievably confident in my shooting system. I took a little chiding for shooting a $400 rifle and a Vortex scope, but I had zero complaints. I hit every target we were presented with and I shot with consistency (credit goes to my spotter and his wind calls). The other lesson was an incredible respect for the wind. So much detail goes into a quality “long-range” shot; I don’t think I’ll be shooting past my original limit. I have tremendous confidence in my shooting system and its ability to drill vital-sized targets at 1000. However, my ethical shooting distance will remain unchanged.
I couldn’t be more thankful to those who provided me with the opportunity to visit BRC and I couldn’t be more proud of how well my setup performed throughout the course. It blows my mind at how easy it was to increase my shooting ability from about 250 yards, to consistently drilling a 1000 yard target at will. Needless to say, I am looking forward to hunting season.
My Final Take Away
Will I be shooting mule deer at 1000 yards this year? Definitely not, but I have literally doubled my effective range. If I can do it, so can you. Buy quality gear. Find mentors. Increase your odds. Now, I know that when “the deer” appears, I will have done everything I could do to convert opportunity into success.
You can comment or ask Howard questions here.