What shooter has not dreamed of hitting a far-off, record-breaking shot? For most it will remain a dream. This dream can become reality, but there are some imperative things you need to learn. regarding bullet drop on long-range shooting.
What is long-range shooting?
Before discussing long-range shooting, we need to determine what that means. To some shooters, long-range may be anything over a couple hundred yards. A U.S. Marine, who regularly qualified at 500 yards, would have a different interpretation. In other words, it is all relative.
However, for the purpose of this article, the long-range will be 1000 yards or more. Although the information is shared with the hope of stretching your hits to these more extreme ranges, it can still be used to help bag your next 150-yard buck.
Importance of understanding bullet drop
So, what is bullet drop, and why is it essential for long-range shooting? Simply put, bullet drop is the loss of altitude a bullet experiences as it travels further from the firearm. This is rarely a concern when shooting targets at short ranges, as most calibers will retain a flat trajectory for up to 100 yards. As the range is stretched and the bullet drop increases, every shot eventually reaches a point where failing to compensate for bullet drop will result in your round hitting too low on the target or missing entirely.
Top factors influencing bullet drop
Wind is one of the most recognized factors facing any shooter. A slight breeze can cause a bullet to drift, increase the drop rate, or decrease velocity. Suppose the wind blows against a hillside, a tall building, or over a large canyon. In that case, it can create a vertical variable as well.
Gravity is an invisible force that cannot be escaped, even by traveling as fast as a speeding bullet. As soon as the projectile leaves the barrel, gravity goes to work and starts pulling it downward toward the Earth.
Drag results from resistance on the projectile as it travels through the air. The drag causes a gradual decrease in speed. As the speed slows, the effect of gravity increases, and the bullet drops closer and closer to the ground.
Spindrift is the effect of spin stabilization of the projectile. Bullets are fired from a barrel with a right twist fly with the tip slightly raised and to the right of the tail. This is the yaw. As the bullet travels farther down range, the velocity decreases while the yaw increases. As the yaw increases, so does the movement to the right.
If shooting from an angle, it is important to remember that the distance to the target is slightly different than that measured via line of sight. Whether shooting uphill or downhill, the point of impact will be higher than the point of aim.
The overall environment also impacts bullet drop. Temperature, humidity, altitude, and atmospheric pressure can all cause the point of impact to be changed. Under 1000 yards, these effects are negligible. The greater the distance beyond 1000 yards, the more they must be considered.
- Coriolis Effect
Coriolis effect, or the effect caused by the spin of the Earth, is almost science fiction in nature. But, for long-range shooters, it is real. When shooting extreme distances, the unfelt centrifugal force of the Earth’s spin will change the point of impact. Shooting east/west causes a high/low impact, and shooting north/south will cause a right/left impact.
Calculations and equipment tips to compensate for bullet drop.
Minute of Control (MOA)
You first need to make the many mathematical calculations needed to determine the bullet drop and the required MOA adjustments. Only some shooters can make such calculations in their heads, so there are many booklets, calculators, and electronic applications available to do so. Keep an eye out for a future Rifle Basix blog post covering MOA more in-depth.
Choosing the right rifle and barrel
A firearm capable of making a 1000+ yard shot is the first step toward success. Your .243 deer rifle is nowhere near capable of accomplishing the feat, at least not with any consistency. You will need a rifle built to tip the scales in your favor and chambered in a round meant for long distances. Check out our recommendations on the best hunting rifles for long range shooting.
While the many bells and whistles modern long-range rifles offer are not absolute, the basic features they all share are essential. A long, heavy barrel provides increased velocity and decreased vibration. The barrel should also have a twist rate suitable for high-BC ammunition. A heavier overall rifle will reduce recoil and provide a steadier platform. A muzzle brake/recoil compensator up front will further reduce recoil. At the same time, a large, smooth bolt handle will allow operation with minimal disturbance of position.
Upgrades and accessories
While I generally tend to purchase add-ons for my firearms only if absolutely necessary, there are some upgrades from which long-range rifles highly benefit. The first item needed is a quality scope. Only some humans can see a target at over 1000 yards, never mind accurately sighting a rifle on that target. Scopes specifically designed for long-range shooting will also allow you to compensate for many of the previously discussed left/right & up/down effects. A bipod provides further stability, and an adjustable stock offers a more comfortable platform. Finally, a quality trigger is a must. If your trigger is not smooth or clean, breaking your shot is doomed from the beginning.
Once you understand the fundamentals of bullet drop, long-range shooting becomes more of a science than science fiction. Of course, practical application is the only thing that helps you learn as much as practical application, so hit the range, put some bullets on target, and start learning!