It is finally time to shoot. I hope you have read the previous articles on setting up. I would also suggest reading the safety article here and referring to range specific safety and guidelines before you pull the trigger. That is vital.
You will want to start out at short range. This enables you to safely test the rifle without risk of losing rounds over the top of the target butts. We have already mentioned bore sighting which gives you a crude zero. I bore sight at the 100yd range with a standard NRA round target which is visible through the bore. Once the scope is dialled in you can get comfortable and prepare to fire your first shot.
Basics of marksmanship
When test firing a rifle you should adhere to basic principals of marksmanship CONSISTENTLY. The data you generate from these outings will be invaluable to you as range increases or conditions differ. Shoot from a stable position. I like to shoot from prone with a bipod and rear bag under the butt. This is the position I use the most and I find it exceptionally stable. Some like to load test from a bench. That is fine if the bench is solid and rock steady. Do bear in mind the point of impact can change in different shooting positions. You should keep detailed notes on changes like this. Acknowledging inconsistencies means you can adjust for them.
However you choose to position yourself ensure that the butt of the rifle is touching your shoulder. Try to position yourself behind the rifle to absorb recoil squarely. If the muzzle swings wildly under recoil it will effect the path of the bullet.
Once you are comfortable, close your eyes and bring your cheek to the stock. Open your eye and check scope/sight picture. Is it clear? Obviously one should ensure the scope is focused and parralax adjusted first or your sight picture will be awful. Repeat that several times taking nice deep breaths. Find a consistent and comfortable cheek weld. Now you may find the scope is to close/faraway/to high/low ect. If it is then you must make adjustment’s. Always bring hex keys for this reason!
Action the empty rifle a few times and see how everything feels. Keep your breathing slow and deep.. If everything feels good and it is safe/legal to do so, place a round into the chamber. Keep finger away from trigger. Get back into your comfy position and line your cross hairs with the target. You will have to position your body/bipod/bag and rear bag so the scope points naturally at the target. You should not try to muscle the rifle to aim it. This will ensure you are calm when firing and muscles are in a fairly relaxed state. Don’t fall asleep though! Continue the deep breathing and look out for wind speed and direction. Once you are feeling at ease knock safety to “fire”. Take careful aim and on the breath out or in, hold it and gently squeeze the trigger using the pad of your finger. Keep the crosshairs aligned with the target and gently squeeze the round off. Take a mental note of wind conditions as you fire the rifle. Keep breathing deeply and try to follow the round through the scope watching out for impact at the target or splashes around it (dust/dirt being kicked up).
Did you hit the target? If you did, great. It is highly unlikely that you hit dead centre. Fire two more carefully aimed shots and see where they place. Do you have a tight group? If you don’t then check your rifle over for loose fittings, check the parralax adjustment on your scope (turn the knob until it become clear, move your head a little bit and see if the reticles shift on the target, turn knob until the reticle settles under head movement). Finally check your position and let off remain consistent shot to shot and begin another 3 shot group.
If your group was within 5 inches or so then you can begin to bring your shots towards the centre of the target. Just dial in on your scope turrets (check the manual for adjustment values). Make the adjustments and then fire another 3 shot group. Repeat this process until the groups are hitting centre of the target.
If you missed the target entirely then don’t despair. It happens. Try to spot the bullet impact at the butts. Was it low/high/left/right? Try asking the marker if you have one or get a friend to spot for you with a scope. Once you locate the impacts you can use your scope turrets to dial the shots onto target.
Once you have the rifle sighted in you may notice horizontal shifts in impact. This is probably due to wind. I would suggest you keep shooting to get used to your rifle and begin adjusting for changes in wind.
When sighting the rifle in you should stick with one type of ammunition. Mixing ammo will make the process a real headache as different brands will shift point of impact. Once you are happy your hitting centre consistently then move onto the different brands. Try 3 or 5 shot groups with a variety of brands and weights. You would be well suited to put a target with 6-10 small faces up for this. Note down which brand/weight was used on each target. You can then examine the groups afterwards and select the smallest groups to be superior ammo choices for your rifle..
If you want to hit targets consistently at multiple distances you will need to make detailed notes. I keep several notebooks which enable me to refer to previous data and use it to my benefit. I keep the following.
shooting diary I keep a general diary of shooting related stuff. I put in range visits, practice days, Comps, reloading info, the whole lot. This gives me a basic point of reference and something to show the firearms officer when he comes to review my licence (proof you shoot for sporting purposes).
range data diary the most important book of all. Every time you shoot enter as much info as possible, weather, location, environment, gun problems, ammunition data, group sizes, elevation and windage adjustments, range ect. This data will be a godsend as you progress.
rifle bore log keep a note on rounds through the barrel so that cleaning can be timed to shots fired. Also helps if you ever sell the rifle, a bit like service history on a used car..
reloading data all info regarding reloading which we will be getting into in future articles..
I realise keeping notes seems a bit anal and it is easy to get caught up in the excitement of a day at the range and forget. Just bear in mind it will greatly improve your enjoyment of future range days. There is nothing worse than arriving at the range with no data for the range you are shooting and no idea where you set your turrets at last time.
keeping your zero
Most new scopes have functions which allow you to retain your zero setting. Once you finish shooting at x distance you can wind your turrets back down to the zero you set easily. You will always know where your scope is dialled too and its a simple matter of clicking up to whichever distance you wish. Next article will discuss building data tables which will be required for the above process.
The most common form of “return to zero” among scope manufacturers are hex screws on the scopes dials. When you achieve your hundred yard zero, loosen these screws. When loose the dials can be slipped around so that the number can be reset to zero. Then you tighten the screws back up. Now if you shoot at longer range you can dial back down to your zero marks afterwards with comparative ease. Some scopes (my Vortex Viper PST does) have a physical zero stop. This helps in case you accidentally dial past your marked zeros which can easily happen. A physical zero stop prevents the scope from travelling any further. Again you would zero your rifle, set the zero stop (mine requires the elevation turret to be slipped off and shims placed under a recess. If I go out and shoot any distance I start by winding my elevation knob down until it physically stops. I know that I’m zeroed at 100yds. I refer to my data table. Dial in my elevation for the required range, adjust for windage and I’m good to go.
Again you may think this all sounds a bit fiddly and dull. As time goes on you will come to see how important these things become. Being a good long range shooter requires planning and organisation. I have seen people try to “wing it”. They spend a lot of time at the zero range trying to ” sort issues with their rifles”. They blame the hardware. All they need to do is to organise themselves. Set your zeros, note your data, keep your shooting diary. You will never win a comp relying on luck alone and it could prove to be dangerous. If you don’t know your scope settings properly you risk putting rounds over the butts and out of the range.
scope dial for elevation is at the top, windage on the right and parallax adjustment on the left. My Vortex is set at 100yds zero. The rear dial is for illuminated reticle.
By the end of your session you should have been able to find and set your zero and produced groups with various types of ammunition. I hope it was great fun. The next article looks at what we can do with the data at home and building a ballistic table.
You may have noticed I did not once mention cleaning/barrel break in. As I mentioned in a previous article I just don’t believe it reaps any rewards. In fact I will discuss why in the next article. I would suggest you wait and read before cleaning the bore of your rifle out. Sometimes clean isn’t good!! Check in next time to find out why..