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So You Want to Shoot Far?

So You Want to Shoot Far?

Far is subjective.  With Grandad’s 30-30, a broadside buck at 250 yards is far.  For an F- Class competitor, a mile would be far.  But I think most of us can agree that firing a rifle 1,000 yards is pretty far.  It’s 914.4 meters, or well over half a mile.

There’s an impressive list of military records from foreign conflicts, where our highly-trained boys in camo combine skill, experience and technology to push the envelope on über-long distance target intervention.  To my knowledge, 2707 yards is the current best.  Looking at those numbers has a tendency to devalue the formidable 1,000 yard shot.  But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. 

At a grand, a 150-grain hunting bullet tossed from a .308 Win drops 43 feet (yes, feet) from the bore line.  A 10 MPH breeze can push the point of impact over 12 feet left or right.  That doesn’t address the influences of temperature, angle, dew point, altitude, mirage, gyroscopic spin drift, or atmospheric pressure.  Oh, and don’t forget about Coriolis Effect.  You know, rotation of Earth under a projectile in flight.

I developed an interest in long range shooting a few years ago, and I wanted a gun that could make it happen.  Among many hobbies I’ve picked up and lost interest in, this one will be with me for the duration.  I’ll warn you though… it’s addictive!

The following is an account of how I acquired the rifle that I now refer to as “The Butcher” (as cheesy as that sounds, bear with me).  The journey, as it were, was a lesson in physics, patience and humility, though not necessarily in that order.   

 Complete, with bipod and dope chart.

Complete, with bipod and dope chart.

Over the course of a few trips to the Rocky Mountains, I got to shoot a number of rifles made by Butcher’s Bull-istics, LLC, in Thompson Falls, MT.  These rifles made 400 yards feel like a chip shot.  Upon inquiring about the gunsmith, I was told to call Thom Butcher, the mastermind.

After several conversations with Thom, it was decided he’d build me a rifle for long range hunting.  While I had a clear picture of what I wanted, his expertise guided me through component selection when needed. 

The first component I had in hand was the scope.  EuroOptic had it delivered within days, which is a breath of fresh air, considering lots of the other components had a six to eight-month backorder.

When the firearm was complete, Thom graciously invited me to shoot it with him and his son, Zach.  Needless to say, I was all over it like a chimp on a jack-knifed semi truck spewing bananas across the interstate.  But that also meant making a trip to Montana.  Twist my arm...

Honey, let’s go hiking…

That June, my lovely wife and I flew west with the express purpose of shoo, er… hiking and visiting friends.  She was excited to see alpine lakes, watch wildlife and soak in some hot springs.  I was too, and spent the duration of the flight from Philadelphia to Spokane with my nose buried in a tattered copy of Robert Rinker’s Understanding Firearm Ballistics, rereading the excerpts that I’d highlighted the first three times.

When I met Thom and Zach at a Conoco station on a gorgeous Sunday afternoon, they took me to a property that far exceeded what I had pictured as a “range.”  We went over a cattle guard, through a towering stand of Ponderosas and into a long, rolling meadow.   Three counties away, at the end of the field, there was an orange dot.

 1,000 yards

1,000 yards

 Looking through the spotting scope, 60x

Looking through the spotting scope, 60x

As we drove toward the dot, it became apparent that it was, in fact, a series of dots; various sizes of spray-painted steel plate.  As we got out of the vehicles, Zach said, “We’ll start at 400.” 

In the presence of giants

Now, I generally consider myself a decent shot – not stellar, but not too sloppy when I plug my head into what I’m doing.  I was pretty certain 400 yards wouldn’t be an issue, but when asked what my long range shooting experience was, I wasn’t about to eat a crow sandwich. 

“I’ve read some books,” I replied.  “I understand the science, and I’ve shot 400 yards a few times.”  Humility is a virtue, but it’s especially valuable at times like these.

Thom was trained by one of the best shots in the country; his father, Bob Butcher shot NRA master class, and captured Washington State Hi-Power Rifle Champion two years in a row.  In his father’s footsteps, Thom customized his first rifle in his early teens and hasn’t let up since.

Zach is a walking ballistic calculator and arguably the nicest person you’ll ever cross trails with.  He and a friend shoot pie plate groups at 200 yards with an open-site, factory .22LR loaded with junk ammo.  Freehand.

After pulling a spotting scope and sand bags out of the car, they uncovered a green gun case.  Despite having seen my finished rifle in photos, I was still floored seeing it in person.

With a 26-inch barrel chambered in the mighty .338 RUM (Remington Ultra Mag), the rifle also has a 20 MOA rail on top of the custom 700 action.  Thom and Zach have it launching 300 grain Nosler AccuBonds at 2,700 FPS.  It retains more energy at 1,000 yards than a typical 30-06 round carries at 200. 

At 10 or 11 pounds including the scope, the gun is heavier than your average mountain rifle, but by no means an unmanageable bench-rest beast.  The action is as smooth as wet glass, and the two-pound trigger would ruin even the pickiest scotch drinking gun snob.

A dose of humility

The target of choice was a 6" wide grader blade.  Shooting off a bipod and sand bag, I pulled the first shot - a clean miss at 400.  No rebuke came.  Zack, from behind a Leupold spotting scope, simply said, “Now you know how the trigger feels.  You’re six inches left of center.”

The big rifle’s recoil was far less than I’d expected.  A good muzzle brake and recoil pad do wonders.  The empty casing looked like it had eaten a 300 Win Mag for lunch, but the kick was less mule-esque than any 7 mag I’ve ever fired.

I worked the spiral fluted bolt, got comfortable on the stock, and sent a second round.  The bullet threaded the bolt hole I’d aimed at.  A third and fourth round each rang the grader blade, the points of impact touching the bolt hole.  I was shocked at how accurate the rifle was.  Enough point blank ammo expended, we backed up.

Long range work

With an 11 MOA adjustment on the Nightforce for drop at 600 yards, it was much the same as 400.  That is - me whiffing the first shot, then the accuracy of the rifle proving itself.  This time though, I had an excuse.  While we moved vehicles and shooting equipment, an intermittent breeze picked up.  A five MPH wind from 9 o’clock meant a 1.25 MOA correction to the left.  After slapping the grader blade a few more times, we retreated another 400 yards.

Now at 1,000 yards, lying prone, I was scoping a target more than twice any distance I’d ever shot before.  It was the moment I’d waited for; my holy grail of long range shooting.  The orange dots were again one, when viewed with the naked eye. 

They told me to cease firing on the grader blade, and to direct fire at the 24” circular gong target.  At 400 and 600, the big RUM would’ve torn through the half-inch thick gong, so they save it for distances or calibers that won’t instantly turn it to Swiss cheese. 

After giving the scope 25 MOA for drop, and 2.25 for wind, I again settled in behind the glass.  The slightest mirage came off the meadow when looking through the crisp, 22-power scope.  As Murphy would have it, the wind was now inconsistent.  Swirling, gusting, and ceasing.

True to form, the first shot resulted in a puff of dust to the right of the target.  Thom corrected a few mistakes.  “Load the bipod and check your bubble level.  It’ll make a difference now.”

After running the action again, I lumped up the sandbag, put my cheek on the stock and worked it into the bag until the rest was solid, holding steady on the bullseye.  A quick look at the bubble level – which was built into the rear scope ring – and the safety came off.  I talked myself through the shot.  Breathe in.  Breathe halfway out and hold.  Finger on the trigger, smooth pull.  Let it surprise y…  WHOOOM.  The rifle roared.

It took 1.4 seconds for the bullet to reach the steel, and an additional three seconds for the gratifying SMACK to report.  That was the moment I’d so eagerly anticipated.  I couldn’t help but laugh, chamber another round and do it again.  Zach took a turn, promptly placing a black scar three inches from the bulls-eye. 

While Zach shot, I looked through a pair of Swarovski binoculars and watched the vapor trail arch toward the orange disc.  Usually, low light performance separates a good pair of binos from a phenomenal pair.  But light wasn’t lacking that day, and I simply couldn’t see the vapor trail through my Nikons.  Though both sets were 8x42, the Swarovskis had a distinct clarity advantage beyond 100 yards.

After letting the barrel cool, I sent two more.  For the first shot, I kept my head, watched my level and breathing, and rang the gong.  By the time I took the second shot I was having far too much fun and threw caution to the wind.  The last round resulted in a show of dirt.

As Zach proved with his shot, the rifle’s accuracy is mildly ridiculous.  From a bench, in optimal conditions, and with the right guy at the trigger, it’s a true half-MOA tack driver.  That’s saying something for a rifle that can still be manageably packed on a hunt. 

 (L-R) Thom Butcher, Dan, Zach Butcher

(L-R) Thom Butcher, Dan, Zach Butcher

Upon my request, Butcher engraved his name on the barrel – bright stainless lettering against the sniper grey Cerakote.  I’m not one to name my firearms, but the moniker kind of stuck.  I’ve yet to take any big game with this canyon pounder, but we’ve definitely been terrorizing the local groundhog population.  My farthest confirmed kill at this point is 625 yards.  So what’s next for my long-range game?

Well, I’ve ordered a big SAS suppresser that’ll fit all my rifles, and I’m waiting on the paperwork to get back from the ATF.  It’ll be nice to take Boone, my Labrador, groundhog hunting without fear of destroying his ears.  In the meanwhile, a friend and I are discussing our next long-range rifles.  In an upcoming blog, I’ll cover the advantages of buying a rifle vs. building a rifle, and what I’ll do different next time around.

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Zero Your Turrets - T.0.

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Lighten Your (actual) Load

Lighten Your (actual) Load

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