Mid-Range Riflery

posted on March 4, 2011

One way to fend off cabin fever is to analyze your shooting game. Specifically, whether your ability to hit targets beyond standard-engagement ranges is in concert with your go-to rifle's full potential. The accepted maximum ranges for many cartridges are often based on outdated word-of-mouth wisdom or its modern cousin, "word of blog." We sometimes unknowingly limit ourselves by failing to accept new technology and techniques. Two good places to look for a longer pair of rifle "legs" are your ammunition and sighting system. Upgrading either component can bring a modest range increase without breaking the bank. Here are a couple of ideas to mull over while you wait for the weather to break.

Longer View
Reflex sights grace many tactical rifles, but their lack of magnification and holdover points can make it difficult to deal with targets beyond zeroed distance. If your sight has nothing more than a simple dot, practice holding above the target at specific distances out to 200, 300 or even 400 yards/meters. A decent ballistic program will calculate holdovers in inches, MOA or even mils, but confirmation with live ammunition is absolutely necessary. More detailed reticles, such as the 65-MOA circle/dot in EOTech's Holographic Weapons Sights have multiple points that can serve as repeatable references for a variety of distances.

If no optic currently rides your rifle's topside, another upgrade option is to choose from the 1-4X scopes on the market. Variable-power optics in this class are very useful for applications requiring shots ranging from across the living room to several hundred yards. I made good use of many such scopes as a Soldier and found steady practice allowed me to make shots out to 600 meters with 7.62 NATO carbines. The challenge when shopping in this arena is to weed out the junk from the gems. Many inexpensive scopes inhabit the former category, but there are always diamonds in the rough. One example is Millet's 1-4X DMS. Retailing for a bit more than $200, this entry-level optic has proven trustworthy for me on several carbines. The pricing spectrum's middle ground contains optics like the Horus Vision Talon 1-4X, a very functional scope with a basic Horus reticle in the first focal plane. It is well suited for mid-range shooting on rifles intended for competition, dangerous game and self-defense.

Far Flyers
Enhanced ammunition will also add distance to your rifle. I'm a big believer in handloading for better performance. But the fun is not limited to the roll-your-own crowd. Mid-caliber rifle shooters can enjoy Hornady Superformance ammunition, designed to push the velocity envelope (requiring less elevation correction for distant targets) within specific varmint and match chamberings. I've tried .223 Rem., 5.56 NATO and .308 Win. Superformance loads and have been impressed with their higher velocities. Not every Superformance load shot accurately through my rifles, but I've found at least one projectile weight that worked in each case. I recently shot Hornady's 75-grain 5.56 NATO Superformance Match load against an old lot of the company's standard 75-grain match ammunition.

The Superformance load I tested was 290 fps faster than the standard match variety. If you can add that much velocity without losing accuracy (not a guarantee), this sort of bump can be quite a performance enhancer.If you prefer lever-fed guns, Hornady's Leverevolution ammunition enables you to shoot projectiles that are far more aerodynamic than traditional bullets. I've tested .30-30 Win. and .357 Mag. loads, and each extended my ranges well beyond standard ammo. The flatter trajectories provided by these cartridges result in reduced times-of-flight, allowing less time for wind to deflect a projectile than with conventional bullets of the same caliber.

From Theory to Reality
I taught my wife to push her AR beyond familiar territory during a recent "range date." Since her carbine was set up with a reflex sight, my first order of business was to show her how to deal with targets beyond 100 yards using it. We added a 3X magnifier once she established the needed holdovers. Although these devices magnify the reticle along with the target image, the power is low enough to permit relatively precise aiming. Mounts that allow magnifiers to be quickly flipped to one side permit normal use of the reflex sight for close-range work. Our fighting troops use this same setup to great effect. My wife found the 3X magnification tightened her groups and helped with holdover-point identification. Her first 300-yard group using this sight combo—fired prone—produced a nice 5-inch cluster in the silhouette's center mass. The 3X magnifier was a solid investment.

None of the above ideas are new. However, we all suffer from a tendency to stick with the tried and true, even when the ability to improve may be within reach. Regardless of the specific chambering or type of rifle you prefer, spending time determining how to push the envelope a bit can pay off when the weather breaks and you head back to your favorite fields and firing lines.


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