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Getting the Gear: What You Will Need to Get into Long Range Hunting

Long range hunting can be daunting to get into, here is some gear that will make it easier to get started.

Getting the Gear: What You Will Need to Get into Long Range Hunting
If you want to be a successful long range shooter, you need to become familiar with these tools. (Photo courtesy of Mark Fingar)

Like most outdoor activities, hunting comes in different flavors. Stand hunting and spot-and-stalk hunting are a couple of the most common, but long-range hunting is increasingly popular, with more and more hunters looking to extend their ethical range. Moving into the world of long-range hunting shouldn’t be daunting, but it does require getting familiar with new equipment and techniques to ensure the best chance of success.

Firearms enthusiasts usually fall into one of two categories. There are the avid and recreational shooters that love to burn powder. This group usually focuses their time and money on learning about and using rifles and optics. The other group is hunters. They focus their time and effort on hunting, with the rifle and scope seen as just two of the many tools required for a successful hunt. To be good at long-range hunting, the individual needs to be both shooter and hunter. 
Long-range hunting is unforgiving of error, and, while it doesn’t need to be gear and knowledge intensive (or expensive), there are a handful of items and techniques that have a significant impact on whether or not the hunt will be successful.



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Hornady 4DOF is a free ballistic calculator for long range shooting. (Photo courtesy of Mark Fingar)

Using a good ballistic Calculator for Long-Range Shooting

The first, and most important, tool to learn how to use for long-range hunting is a ballistic calculator. If you already own a smartphone, the good news is the best ballistic calculator known to man is free. That’s right, I said free. If you’re one of the proud few who doesn’t have a smartphone, get one. It’s a super-computer that fits in your pocket.

Hornady’s 4DOF is free in both the iOS (Apple) and Android app stores and downloads in a few moments. It is, by far, the easiest to use and the most accurate of any of the ballistic calculators (including the ones that cost a pretty penny). Hornady has a few videos on YouTube showing you how to use this app, so this is probably the only time it’s possible to sit around the house in your underwear and learn how to become a better long-range shooter. For free. The only downside to 4DOF is the bullet library (not to be confused with the ammunition library) has limited selection. All of Hornady’s bullets are there, and so are the most popular bullets from Berger and Sierra. After that, it’s left lacking.

While a smartphone and a ballistic solver app are both essential for effective long-range hunting, they do not need to leave camp with you. My usual process is to get into camp and take a reading on barometric pressure, temperature, humidity and altitude. This step requires our second essential item, a handheld weather station (usually made by Kestrel). Get the cheapest one they have because all you need it for is temp, pressure, altitude and humidity. I enter that information into 4DOF and generate a range card from 100 yards out to whatever range I think I might need to shoot, usually in 25- or 50-yard increments. I create my data when it’s cold on the first morning of the hunt and use that same data every morning unless there’s a big change in the weather. I’ll also create a range card for the warmest part of the day and just switch back and forth between the temperature changes.

What the range card tells me is what to dial on my scope, depending on the range to my target. This brings us to our third and fourth pieces of essential gear: a scope with an exposed elevation turret and a range finder. Scopes with exposed elevation turrets usually have a larger knob on top that’s marked in milliradian (Mil) or minute of angle (MOA) increments. If 4DOF tells me to dial 6.2 Mils, I spin my turret to 6.2 and I’ll be dead on for elevation at that range, assuming I’ve taken the time to set up everything correctly.



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Choosing a scope that has good, accurate turrets is essential for long-range setups. (Photo courtesy of Mark Fingar)

The Importance of Having Good Optics for Long-Range Hunting

Be picky about what scope you use for long-range hunting. We don’t have the time or space to get into scopes in much detail in this article, but from a purely mechanical perspective there are some scopes that will never be good for long-range hunting even if they come with an exposed elevation turret. In short, never use a scope made in China for long-range hunting because the elevation turret lacks the precision required for accurate shot placement. The factories in China that make turret components only guarantee a plus or minus five percent accuracy. With tolerances that loose, the scope will never work reliably with any ballistic calculator. Mainstream optics brands that I trust include Leupold, Nightforce, Zeiss and Trijicon. The Sig Electro-Optics Tango 6, Bushnell Elite and LRHS, and Vortex Razor scopes are also trustworthy.

Range-finding binoculars like the Leica Geovid Pro aren’t essential for long-range hunting, but they sure make it easier. Not only are the optics excellent, the binoculars contain an on-board ballistics calculator as well as environmental sensors, and they provide GPS data. While the range card method is far more economical, having binoculars that can instantly tell you what to dial on the scope to hit at the range acquired is as efficient as it gets. The onboard environmental sensors mean the data is current to those exact conditions and the GPS capability can drop a pin to the animal’s last location.

Long-range hunting introduces some additional challenges—not just in making accurate shots at longer distances, but in other supporting tasks like recovering animals. It’s not uncommon to make a shot at last light. Having the ability to drop a pin on a smartphone’s map and then navigate across a canyon to that pin in the dark is a lot easier than trying to find a downed animal with no assistance other than a flashlight. The Leica Geovid Pro binoculars combine all of those capabilities into one piece of gear.



Recommended


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A bipod and a rear bag are of utmost importance. (Photo courtesy of Mark Fingar)

Bipods and Shooting Bags for Long-Range Shooting

Two other pieces of essential gear are a field bipod and a multi-function rear bag. The best I’ve found in each category, respectively, are the MDT Ckye-Pod (double- or triple-pull) and the Armageddon Gear Shmedium waxed-canvas Game Changer with the Git-Lite fill. Both of these items are important because long-range hunting requires devotion to building a stable shooting position. Taking these two items along, at a minimum, gives the hunter a couple of quick and reliable options.

Before researching the MDT Ckye-Pod, brace yourself. These bipods cost between $800 and $1,000, which sounds insane. However, I greatly prefer to hunt with one because it allows me to quickly get into a seated position in almost any terrain. All I have to do is pull my backpack into my lap and I’ve got enough stability to shoot as far as I feel comfortable. The legs can be pulled together for more height or spread apart to get lower to the ground. The triple-pull can get the rifle as low as nine inches off the ground and as high as 37 inches. The double-pull can move between six and 19 inches. Each leg adjusts individually, and the owner can completely disassemble the bipod for cleaning and maintenance.

The Ckye-Pod brings with it a ton of adjustability and durability, but it’s the stability in highly volatile field conditions that make it worth the money to me. A stable shooting position is what makes long-range hunting possible. Without a stable rest there is no shot. If I could guarantee I’d be able to shoot from the prone, I wouldn’t feel inclined to purchase a Ckye-pod. However, I’ve found that it is usually the seated position that gives me enough elevation off the ground to have a clear line-of-sight to my animal, while still being fast enough to set up and stable enough to shoot for several hundred yards. The only bipod that allows me to do this is the Ckye-Pod. I have highly experienced hunter friends that swear by the Spartan bipod, but I’ve never used one and cannot comment. Try to borrow and use as many different bipods as possible, but I’ve done that enough and have happily settled on the Ckye-Pod.

The Armageddon Gear Shmedium Game Changer with Git-Lite fill is the other critical piece of the equation. If you get one, dump about ten percent of the fill in an extra plastic bag and save it for later. They come stuffed full and benefit from having a bit more squish in the field. Its odd shape allows it to be thrown over a tree branch or fence post and still provide a flat stable surface upon which to rest the rifle when employed under the forend. The Game Changer bag also works well as a rear bag stuffed under the rifle’s toe—should the opportunity to shoot prone arise. Wedging the buttstock between the two peaks minimizes lateral movement and immobilizes the rifle. Opportunities to shoot in the prone are rare, but I almost always use the Game Changer under the toe when confirming zero once I arrive in camp. It has the additional benefit of providing a comfortable place to sit when glassing and it makes a great pillow for that midday nap on the mountain. That’s a lot of utility for a bag that weighs a bit less than two pounds.

A lightweight and strong tripod is also handy to have. It can be used to glass for animals and then serve double duty as a shooting support. The rifle can attach directly to the tripod or, depending on the field conditions, a tripod leg can support the rifle’s toe when the forend is resting on a bipod or bag.



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A good stock is the foundation of the entire long-range setup. (Photo courtesy of Mark Fingar)

The Best Stocks for Long-Range Guns

A good rifle stock belongs in the must-have category, but there is some room for opinion on what makes a good long-range hunting stock. Anything made from rubber or injection-molded polymer doesn’t qualify for long-range work because it cannot hold the barreled action rigidly enough to guarantee the rifle’s best accuracy. These stocks also have the problem of the forend possibly bending to touch the barrel when the rifle sits on a loaded bipod.

An adjustable comb is borderline essential on a stock. Why? An adjustable comb enables the shooter to establish a firm connection between their head and the rifle. A firm connection is essential because, under recoil, the head and rifle moving together allow the shooter to retain a full field of view through the riflescope. This is how a shooter can see where the bullet lands, making for quick corrections and follow-up shots. Short-action cartridges don’t generate much recoil, so an adjustable comb is just nice to have. However, long-action cartridges have more recoil. Any long-action rifle really needs an adjustable comb, or the hunter will never know where or if they hit the tar- get, unless a spotter is present.

Long-range hunting isn’t much different from regular old spot-and-stalk hunting, but it does require additional knowledge and proficiency with new pieces of gear. Likewise, the composition and features on the rifle’s stock become a lot more important as distance to the target increases. No one has to wake up one day and declare his discipleship in long-range hunting, but studying and applying the techniques used opens the door to this ever-growing community.




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