Long Range Rabbit Hunting
By Shane Green
This year my personal challenge was to make a long range shot on a rabbit at 1000 yards plus. The area I shoot over in the South Island of NZ allows various types of hunting the numerous rabbits occupying the hill country. One type is a team effort of a couple of shot gunners walking the gullies with a rifleman on each slope above. The smooth bores flush out bunnies ahead which usually head uphill allowing the rifles to get their share as well.
Another style we employ is a couple of moderated 22lr [legal in NZ and very useful in that the quieter method doesn’t upset the population compared to centre fires or 12ga walking the contours of hills with plenty of briar on them].
These suppressed 22lr also make for an excellent vehicle rifle on the shorter range targets which present whilst moving from one area to another.
Finally we have the hills where we can engage at long range hunting with our centre fires. I reported on the .204 Ruger last year and I am still mightily impressed with this cartridge for small game out to what I would now term “medium range” of 500 yards or 450m.
Once again I did most of my long range shooting with this cartridge in my Remington XR100. I will have another story to tell next year which will be frustrating to Aussie readers – there is another Remington .204 Ruger on order but it will be for use in NZ only because of our draconian legislation. The new long range rifle will be a Remington clone of the AR15 with a flat top receiver including a picatinny rail and heavy 22” fluted barrel!
This year my project of a long range .224 bore finally came to fruition after long years of patience. This long range rifle is a 22/6mm Imp launching 80gr moly Bergers at 3550 fps.
With the help of Vicki who spotted the long range strikes for me I managed a hit at a lasered 1030 yards! I believe that it was the 7th or 8th shot that connected after many near misses.
A Nesika Bay single shot bench rest type bolt action in stainless steel was mated to a 27” Mike Rock barrel [length chosen so it would still fit in a 1750 Pelican case otherwise it could have used a longer barrel for efficient powder burn]. A McMillan A3 style stock was ordered to suit my length of pull requirements along with a carbon Kevlar light weight finish.
The trigger is a Jewell set at approx 2-3 oz as our current trigger scale cannot measure this low a let off. These triggers have an excellent reputation amongst the bench rest competitors and accuracy buffs worldwide.
I certainly have no complaints except that in very cold weather it is a little light – that is not the trigger’s fault, just conditions.
The wildcat cartridge begins as a 6mm Remington case which is necked down to 22 then fire formed to blow out the case body to a minimum taper with a sharp 40 degree shoulder.
These cases are neck turned and I load using bench rest style straight line dies. The cases are checked for length; uniform primer pockets and flash holes uniformed. The loaded cartridges have less than half a thousandth of an inch run out at the projectile tips.
The original plan was to load 75 Hornady A-Max moly for this rifle however the jackets are failing at 25 yards and create a sideways hole on a paper target with a consistently bent nose. The 80 gr Bergers were coming to pieces as well but when we moly coated them we finally managed to achieve round holes in the target. Note the 75 A-Max were already factory moly coated so could not be improved upon.
This is what happens when one is “pushing the envelope” as our gunsmith PK says.
For this trip I utilised a Nightforce 8-32 Bench rest model scope. My opinion is that these are quite good competition scopes for shooting long range targets during the daytime. They have great shortcomings when utilised on small game at distance in poor light. The light gathering of this Nightforce scope is appalling when compared to the 8.5-25 Mark 4 Leupold on my XR100. Thus contrast suffers as well and it became impossible to identify small brown rabbits on a close cropped hillside only a matter of minutes after the sun had disappeared on afternoon.
Changing over to my other rifle and scope it appeared as if someone had turned on the floodlights for me! The benefits when bright light was available were magnification up to 32X and reliable 1/8 moa adjustments.
I just hope Leupold will build a higher power variable than the 8.5-25 which I use now. In the meantime I guess I begin saving for a few years for a down payment on a S&B 10-50 which are in the prototype phase at the moment.
A 20 MOA canted picatinny rail has been fitted along with Leupold Mark 4 tactical heavy duty rings. This allows enough elevation for the rig out past 1200 yards if required. To fit 2 rifles in my Pelican 1750 case I had to remove the scope off the Nesika but the zero was only off 3/8 MOA after refitting and checking in NZ. This was after retensioning the ring nuts with the preset 65” pounds torque wrench designed for this application.
To ensure that I don’t cant the rifle [remember that 1 degree of cant equals 1 MOA and thus approximately 10” at 1000 yards!], there is a US Optics rail mounted bubble level fitted. These are extremely useful and easily transferable between rifles should picatinny rails be utilised.
Another advantage for this method of attachment means that the level will not require “levelling” or fitting to each individual rifle.
Without knowing the distance to target long range shooting becomes a guessing game. Therefore an excellent range finder is a necessity.
A Swarovski 8x30 monocular range finder gave great service and readings out past 1800 yards consistently. I believe that this is the best range finder for those seeking reliable readings past 6-800 yards commercially available.
The units that exceed the Swarovski in performance are military only cost many times more $. The optics are clear with good contrast and I had no trouble identifying rabbits out to 1080 yards and then ranging them.
After ranging I consult my ballistic programme to determine correct elevation adjustment required for that distance.
Normally I guess wind hold but this particular shoot the wind at our shooting position was not apparent at all yet a constant 2 MOA right adjustment kept the strikes centred. Normally the wind is our greatest enemy at long range however on this afternoon it was stable.
My biggest problem was a lack of rear sand bag. Due to the fact I was seriously over the airlines weight allowance I purposely left out a rear bag intending to purchase one from the local sports store. Unfortunately none were available so I used a rolled up piece of material. This allowed a small amount of “bounce” as I experienced approximately .25 MOA extra elevation divergence from that observed on the “F” class ranges in Australia.
My testing for accuracy and come ups was carried out at the local big bore range. This factor caused me the greatest grief as all misses were in elevation – either just over or just under the rabbit engaged.
Remember that a rabbit body at 1000 yards is approximately .25 MOA. To shoot a .25 MOA group at 100 yards is no great thing with the quality of rifles; barrels and projectiles these days. To shoot .25 MOA at 1000 yards is entirely another ballpark!! I would say that the majority of shots fired on this day were in a 5 – 6” group. Not small enough to hit regularly. Earlier testing had shown consistent .25 MOA 3 shot groups out to 800 yards.
A Harris swivel bipod with Pod Paws were employed to allow easy scope levelling and consistent footprint on the lunch table used as an impromptu bench.
The Leupold Mark 4 spotting scope proved to be as useful as originally planned.
This spotting scope has the Tactical Milling Reticle - or more commonly known as the TMR. These are fine hash marks on the vertical and horizontal lines delineating half a mill radian. With these reference marks my spotter was able to give exact corrections rather than “guesses”! This fine spotter has a magnification range of 10 – 40X and the reticle is in the first focal plane.
Therefore the reticle appears quite small on the lowest setting of 10X but is quite useful from say 25X and up. This is because first focal plane optics with multi powers maintain the same gap / measurements at all power settings. I could not have undertaken this shoot without a spotter and this person requires very good optics to be of help.
A final comment is the degree of difficulty in hitting such a small target at these distances is exacerbated dealing with live targets. Every shot was at a different distance requiring individual solutions for elevation. This is much more difficult than say 1000yard target shooting because with this game the distance is constant.
I grew up on a 40,000 acre property in Australia and began shooting at 8; shot IPSC competition; sporting clays and hunted feral pigs here in Oz plus half a dozen trips to Africa. Current interest is long range rabbits on annual trip to NZ plus Cape York pig hunting each year. Beginning to compete in "F" class to help read wind.
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