Going the Distance

I remember clearly the event that sparked the passion I have for Long Range Precision Shooting. It was 1995 and I was a young avid outdoorsman living in Flagstaff, Arizona. I was only 23 and single at the time so living in a place like Flag was paradise. My weekends were filled with hunting, fishing and doing anything outdoors. During the summer the ranches to the east of the city had some pretty large Prairie Dog Towns, ripe for varmint hunting. Prairie Dogs are pests on farms and ranches. They are destructive to the soil and the holes they produce can injure livestock, so varmint hunters are a welcome sight to most ranchers. While I was certainly a novice at this type of hunting in the beginning, it did not take long before I had a solid understanding of my quarry. My buddy and hunting partner Scott and I, would work for the weekends, planning our outings to the smallest detail. With permission from the ranch owners, we would work the Prairie Dog Towns with our trusty Ruger 10/22’s, always with the mindset to outdo each other in both feats of marksmanship and body count.

Gunnisons’s Prairie Dogs. Cute no doubt but destructive to ranch and farm land. National Park Service Photo.

One of our regular trips took us to a dog town on a cattle ranch east of Flag. This was our favorite spot that we affectionately called, “Hush Puppy”. On this outing as we neared our customary parking spot, we noticed a man sitting at a folding table with a rifle next to his vehicle. “What is this claim jumper doing on our spot?”, “Does he have permission from the ranch?” I said to Scott. “Does he have permission from us?” he replied with clear disdain. While we had no legal claim to the area, hunters can be quite territorial and we were no exception. We both thought this intruder should not be target shooting near our hunting area like that. Prairie Dogs are cunning and skittish animals. Proper entry into the hunting area and methods of the hunt will determine your success. Especially, when using relatively close range rifles chambered in .22 Long Rifle, like we used. Approach by stealth, being mindful of any noise and the direction of the wind to get within range was crucial. We were both convinced that our day at Hush Puppy was ruined. To our surprise, this day would turn out to be a day to remember, and one that would set a course for me that has lasted to this day.

It turned out the claim jumper was no target shooter. He was actually an accomplished varmint hunter. At a comfortable distance we perched on a nearby rock outcropping, observing through our binoculars in awe as shot after shot found their marks. 250, 300, 500 plus yards! Not a miss. How is this possible? Is this guy for real? Is somebody messing with us? All of these thoughts raced through my mind during the symphony of shooting we had just observed. I mustered up the courage and decided to approach the man. He was well dressed, at least by our standards, well spoken, polite and to our senior by at least 25 years. I introduced myself and shook his hand. His name was Clark and he was from Phoenix. He was in Flagstaff visiting his daughter as she attended Northern Arizona University. I only had one question for him, “Clark” I said, “How are you doing that?” He replied with a chuckle as he noticed our 10/22 rifles. I know now the question I asked was simple in thought, yet very complex in answer.

We spent the better part of two hours pestering the man with more questions. It seemed one question gave birth to two more. His patience and eagerness to share his knowledge was generous to say the least. We also marveled at his rifle. A super custom stainless Remington 700 chambered in .220 Swift, bedded in a beautiful laminated wood stock. It had a 26” heavy barrel and was topped with a Leupold Scope. An amalgamation of art, beauty, science and craftsmanship, a modern day varmint hunter’s Lightsaber. “Are guns like this the work of fiction or reality?” I pondered. I had never seen a rifle like this in any gun shop I had been to. We must have made an impression with Clark because it was not long after our discussion before each of us had a go with that rifle. Lining up behind that purpose built custom rifle is difficult to describe. The name Ferrari comes to mind but the word does not do the experience justice. The adage “you get what you pay for” rings very true when it comes to long range shooting. A cheap activity this is surely not however as I will show you in future articles all is not lost for the budget conscience shooter.

Saying goodbye to Clark and thanking him for my brief, tuition free education was bitter sweet. I could not wait to get started on my own, but I still had so many questions. As I watched my own personal Yoda disappear down the dirt road, I knew my path was clear. Off to the gun shop! Clark mentioned that .22-250 Remington was a great cartridge for varmint hunting and it was good for new and experienced varmint hunters alike. He did not recommend the .220 Swift for several reasons that were beyond my understanding at the time. Most of them had to do with reloading the rounds, which I was just starting to acquire the skill but had not become well versed yet. I took his advice and found a gun chambered for .22-250; A Savage 112 BVSS. It fit the bill nicely and was within my meager budget. It had similar features that Clark’s gun did, without the big custom price tag. Over the course of the next few years, that factory Savage rifle took me farther than I could have imagined. As I gained knowledge and experience, those distant impossible targets seemed to get closer and closer and my ability to hit smaller and smaller targets grew rapidly. The .22-250 is not known to be a true long range cartridge by modern consideration, but it can be a tack driver out to a pretty good distance.

The Savage 12 BVSS. What a beautiful gun! I wish I still had her. This is the newer model but it looks identical to the one I had. Honey, where’s the checkbook? Photo courtesy of Savage Arms.

Now in 2018, I’ve learned to leave the Prairie Dogs alone, but my love for Varmint Hunting has evolved into a love for Long Range Precision Shooting (LRPS). Several disciplines of competitive shooting involve some or all of the elements of LRPS. Range disciplines such as Benchrest and F-Class, have contributed tremendously to the popularity of shooting long range. Tactical Long Range Precision competitions have become quite popular and have proven effective in pushing the limits of both man and machine. There is also a small but growing, group of Extreme Long Range Shooters. They are the, “Tip of the Spear” in the long range shooting community, making hits out to two miles. YES, two miles! Seeing these Wizards in action is truly amazing.

While I don’t participate in any organized discipline, pushing the limits of my marksmanship skills is what drives me to go farther, faster and with more accuracy than the shot before. The entire process both excites and aggravates the mind and senses as this is no simple endeavor. It is filled with highs and lows, hits and misses. However, on the surface, the process appears so simplistic and rudimentary. Assemble a well-crafted and tuned cartridge, make the calculations, elevation, wind and other factors accounted for, breathe, relax, slow down, pause, squeeeeeeeze and the let Big Dog bark. The rest will be determined by the Shooting Gods. The reward for your display of skill is the satisfying distant report of the bullet impact on target and your spotter calling, “Hit,” Payday! I love it when a plan comes together. Next round.

Like Clark before me I hope to pass on that little spark of intrigue that will get new shooters to take the journey I have taken. In future installments I will be your guide on how to get started in LRPS. Not in any specific discipline, just a jumpstart with some basics and to help cut through some of the technical fog. Rifles, optics, chambering options and accessories will all be discussed. It will certainly not be a bible for long range shooting. That would take volumes. Instead, it will be an easy read with opinion, fact and hopefully a little humor. See you next time.

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