Part 1: Cartridge selection Long range precision shooting has come a long ways. A thousand yards used to be a magical number, but advances in ballistics understanding and rifle and ammunition technology have effectively moved that target closer. It is now commonplace to find thousand yard benchrest competitors shooting 10 shot strings under minute of angle, or roughly 10″. Think about that for a minute. In years past, a rifle that would hold less than minute of angle at 600 yards was considered to be exceptional. Now you need to shoot considerably less than minute of angle at 1000 yards to even be competitive, and if you expect to win you need to shoot closer to half a minute. Thousand yard benchrest competitors are now closing in on the quarter minute mark:Part 1: Cartridge selection Long range precision shooting has come a long ways. A thousand yards used to be a magical number, but advances in ballistics understanding and rifle and ammunition technology have effectively moved that target closer. It is now commonplace to find thousand yard benchrest competitors shooting 10 shot strings under minute of angle, or roughly 10″. Think about that for a minute. In years past, a rifle that would hold less than minute of angle at 600 yards was considered to be exceptional. Now you need to shoot considerably less than minute of angle at 1000 yards to even be competitive, and if you expect to win you need to shoot closer to half a minute. Thousand yard benchrest competitors are now closing in on the quarter minute mark:

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accurateshooter.com best 10 shot 1000 yard group in history Videos on You Tube abound of shooters hitting steel plates at 1500 yards and further with .308’s and even 3000 yards with more specialized calibers. I’ve been shooting .308 out to 1000 yards for a while, but I’m starting to feel left behind. It’s time to push the envelope. To show just how far long range shooting has come, I’m going to combine this with another project I’ve been wanting to do for a while. I’ve always been a DIY kind of guy, and I’ve always tried to educate myself and do most of my own work instead of just calling up a good gunsmith and having something made to order. That’s the easy route, although for something like this it requires a rather large budget.  I’m going to make this a DIY project where I buy the factory rifle, optics, rings, cases, bullets, powder etc and prepare the entire platform myself, at home, with no expensive machine work (I don’t have a lathe in my garage), using tools that are easily and inexpensively available from well known and reputable gunsmith suppliers Brownell’s and Midway USA. One thing about extreme long range shooting, you aren’t going to do very well at it with ammunition you buy.

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This is the province of the precision handloader, where all of the aggregate skills of creating the ammunition to good position and reading the wind are tested thoroughly. That means for specialized calibers new reloading dies will be required, at a minimum, along with quality cases and bullets, all of which have gotten extremely expensive. The goal of this project is to keep the budget under control, and that means creating a precision rifle and ammunition all by my lonesome. Known as “homesmithing” there’s an entire market out there for people who like to do their own tinkering, and I intend to tap what’s available to homesmith a reasonably available factory rifle into a one mile precision machine.

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Choices, choices….. There are literally dozens of wildcat cartridges out there designed and specialized for long range shooting, but since this is a home project I have to consider only calibers available from the factory in suitable rifles. I have a nice tactical .308 but videos on the internet notwithstanding, I know that shooting any bullet at extreme long range requires that it stay supersonic to the range desired or you risk losing stability as the bullet passes back through the sound barrier. I’ve seen many a short barreled .308 exhibit this problem at a thousand yards with bullets cutting slots in the target from tumbling, if they hit it at all, from losing stability on every third or fourth or fifth shot. My .308 has a 26″ barrel on it but there’s no keeping a .308 supersonic at one mile, likewise a .30-’06, so those are out. 338-lapua-comparisonLooking at the factory catalogs brings me to two cartridges that have found favor with the military for reaching out a little further than standard sniper rifles and can be found in factory rifles: the .300 Winchester Magnum and the .338 Lapua Magnum. (The .50 BMG is of course a contender at these ranges but is an automatic $5k+ investment and thus is disqualified by the expense.) Both the .300 Win Mag and the .338 Lapua are supersonic at 1760 with heavy bullet loads, but one cartridge does have an advantage. The .300 Win Mag pushing a 200 grain SMK to 2900 fps starts a .596 BC bullet at a higher velocity than the Lapua. The favored Lapua load is the 300 grain SMK at .768 BC and 2600 fps (both rifles with 26″ barrels). The superior BC of the heavy .338 bullet is the clear winner at one mile. It drops 3 MOA less, drifts 4 MOA less in a full value 10 mph wind, and stays decisively supersonic while the .30 caliber round is threatening to drop into the danger zone. Dies and reloading components for the .338 Lapua will be slightly more expensive but it is clearly a one mile cartridge while the .300 Win Mag looks better suited to 1500 yard ranges. I’m a far cry from being an expert wind reader, so I will take all the “bullet fu” I can get before I ever pull the trigger. In the next installment of Project 1760, I’ll cover rifle selection. You might be surprised to find you can get into extreme long range shooting a lot cheaper than you might think. [caption id="attachment_981" align="aligncenter" width="640"]Firearms, Tactical & Defense Training Firearms, Tactical & Defense Training[/caption]