The One Mile Prairie DogBy Mike Brust
©Copyright 2011, The Varmint Hunters Association, Inc.
A few years ago I qualified for the V.H.A. 1000 Yard Club. It marked the successful conclusion of almost three years of effort that taught me how different ultra-long range shooting is from what we normally would consider as simply long shots.
The canted base and generous range of precise scope adjustments allowed the author to “dial in” on targets to beyond 1,800 yards.
In the process I learned a lot about the equipment that makes this type of shooting not only possible, but amazingly predictable. While there still is a considerable amount of preparation and shooting skill required, connecting on a tiny target in the next ZIP code would be very difficult without the help of some of the latest technology in rifles, scopes, and accessories. Frankly, a lot of it has been developed in recent years in order to satisfy the need for top-quality military sniper equipment.
I also have learned that many people have absolutely no concept of how far 1,000 yards actually is. A friend, after seeing my prominently displayed V.H.A. 1000 Yard Club certificate, said he was just amazed that I could hit such a small target at “farther than the length of a football field.” At that point I realized I needed to make another shot, and in a scale that everyone understands: miles. Actually, it probably just provided a good excuse to take the next step. So my quest for the “one-mile prairie dog” began.
One mile is exactly 1,760 yards. Much of what I learned from shooting at 1,000 yards could be applied to this distance, but there also were new challenges. First, my 1,000-yard cartridge, a .220 Swift, wouldn’t cut it. It basically was out of gas after 1,000 yards, so I clearly needed a bigger bullet/cartridge to carry the necessary velocity, accuracy, and energy out to almost twice that distance. After considerable research, I decided that the 6.5-284 Norma (or Winchester) would be the ideal round for the job. It is a favorite for 1,000-yard target shooting, with a reputation for accuracy, moderate recoil, and superb downrange ballistics, especially when pushed out of a long target barrel. Unfortunately, not being independently wealthy meant that having that type of rifle built was beyond my means. However, within weeks of coming to this realization, my next issue of The Varmint Hunter Magazine™ announced a new rifle from Savage called the Precision Target Rifle. Besides being reasonably priced, it had everything: a stiff single-shot short action, a massive 30-inch target barrel, a special AccuTrigger that could be adjusted down to ounces, a flat-bottomed laminated stock designed to ride well on bags, and unbelievably, in the F-Class version it was chambered in none other than the 6.5-284! Subsequent reviews confirmed its long range potential, with 500-yard groups that rivaled what some rifles shoot at 100 yards. My one-mile quest was back on track.
This article originally appeared in Varmint Hunter Magazine, and appears courtesy the Varmint Hunters Association, Inc. The VARMINT HUNTER Magazine is a popular publication of the VHA. Each year, the VHA hosts several 600-yard IBS matches, a coyote calling contest, and an annual Jamboree in Fort Pierre, SD. The Jamboree is a week-long shooting event known as “a summer camp for shooters”.
Black Hills 6.5-284 Norma ammo proved to be superior to the author’s handloads..
After acquiring a new F-Class Savage Precision Target Rifle, the next most important component certainly would be the scope. Besides the need to be optically exquisite in order to see and hold on small rodents a mile away, several other critical elements would be necessary. A 142-grain Super MatchKing 6.5mm bullet, pushed out at 2,975 fps, drops 122 feet at 1,800 yards. That’s equivalent to 75 minutes of angle. If I planned to use a scope that I could sight in at 200 yards and then “dial out” to 1,800 yards, it would need a minimum of about 73 minutes of angle of internal elevation adjustment, and that’s assuming I could externally adjust it to be at the very other end of its adjustment range for close shooting. There are very few scopes available that have that capability combined with quality optics, adequate magnification, fine crosshairs, precision adjustment, and absolute repeatability. While some of the premium scope lines have tactical and/or long range scopes that met most of these requirements, one brand exceeded everyone else’s specifications in virtually every category. Nightforce scopes, particularly the NXS 5.5-22x56, appear to be designed just for this type of ultra-long range shooting. It has 100 MOA of internal elevation adjustment, crystal clear optics, a calibrated NP-R1 reticle (that proved invaluable during the actual shooting), and precise adjustments in exact MOA graduations.
Although expensive, I knew I had the right scope when I was setting it up. I was using one of Ken Farrell’s excellent canted solid steel bases to externally adjust the scope to be at the “bottom end” of its elevation adjustment when sighted in at 200 yards. I noted the setting, and then dialed the scope until it stopped at the other end of the internal adjustment to determine how much travel I had available. I made several adjustments in both directions and also did the same with the windage adjustment before returning it to the original setting. After all those adjustments, including several against the stops, I shot again at 200 yards to see how much the group moved. It didn’t. The rifle printed a tight three-shot cluster right on top of the group I shot when I began.
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