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Thinking of entering the world of ELR?
By Brendan Fike
It is great to see so many people wanting to enter the world of Extreme Long Range (ELR) shooting. Just know that it is highly addictive, you have been warned!!! We often field questions from shooters interested in getting into ELR like  What calibre is the best for ELR, as I only want to buy once & not have to first invest in a trainer rifle?  What scope is the best for ELR?  What MOA Picatinny rail should I use?  Which angular measurement system is better, Minute of Angle (MOA) or MiliRadians (Milrads or mils)?
Apart from calibre, scope, Picatinny rail cant & angular measurement systems, there is a whole host of factors that need to first be taken into account. Join us for an informative rundown of some very important factors needing your consideration below.
ELR demands precision, consistency & a constant evolution of testing for refinement. In fact, it never ends & probably one of the reasons why we never get tired of it. I have some friends that just couldn’t be bothered putting in all the effort, they say I am too pedantic. These personality types rather want instant gratification & outstanding results with the least amount of effort. Well as with anything, this isn’t a realistic expectation & most probably will limit them ever reaching their true ELR potential. Every person needs to decide how far they want to challenge themselves, some are never content at the level they’re at, whilst others are happy to burn powder & send a lot of rounds downrange in the hope to get a hit or two. To really excel in the sport, one needs to be a perfectionist, have an enquiring technical mind & be practical. Above all one needs to be willing to immerse themselves in internal & external ballistics & try to understand all the factors affecting a bullets flight & how these are calculated. ELR is far more than squeezing a trigger & mastering fundamentals.
Besides the known calculated effects there is actually a whole host of observed phenomena that still has not been accounted for. The various G7 drag curves derived from Doppler radar testing are only most accurate for the particular rifle setup the projectile was shot out of during that test. Each rifle will leave its specific rifling distortion on a bullet, like a fingerprint & thus the data from that particular test rifle most probably will not be the same as your specific setup. These effects you start to see in ELR & specially ULR distances. Other times there are unexplained occurrences you will witness whilst shooting. For example, you may have trued & verified your ballistic solver & be on the target consistently. The next day you go out to the same range at the same time, practically identical environmental conditions & somehow your elevation is consistently way off target. Why? This is where an enquiring mind will start looking for answers. Could there be a low unseen inversion layer on one of the days resulting in your bullet traversing through the warmer less dense air above the colder dense air closer to the ground? I don’t know, just thinking out loud.
Speaking with Eduardo Abril de Fontcuberta recently he agreed that the ballistic solvers currently being utilised are missing something. But with more shooters observing this phenomenum at ELR/ULR distances, this will most certainly eventually provide enough data to more closely identify the cause of these observed phenomena so that our solvers can evolve to become smarter in their predictions.
If you are considering entering the world of ELR, there is not much sense in starting off with a Super Magnum calibre. The larger the blast, the larger the recoil; the longer the barrel, the more difficult it is to successfully practice & master the fundamentals required. Typically, it is much more beneficial to start off with a smaller calibre to firstly hone your fundamentals of marksmanship to a point where you are comfortable, confident and shooting accurately beyond the supersonic capability of your chosen calibre/cartridge setup. There are many lessons to be learnt along the way, which will stand you in good stead later on when you step up to a super magnum or big bore. When shooting at this level, the fundamentals should come naturally, similar to muscle memory theory. You should not have to be focusing a lot of them for each & every shot, rather your attention should be freed up to tackle additional challenges the particular range or environmental conditions have in store for you & your spotter.
Accurise one of your own rifles
Our South African firearm licensing woes may deter you from purchasing an interim starter rifle or re-barreling an existing firearm you have. Perhaps consider taking one of your existing rifles and kitting it out into an LR/ELR platform. You can use its barreled action & have it blue-printed/trued. I always have a gunsmith inspect the barrel & re-cut the crown as its essential to accuracy. Consider switching to an aluminium chassis such as Gun Warrior, MDT, Ballistic Beast, or the various other conventional stock offerings on the market like McMillan, GRS & some great local custom stock manufacturers.
Look for a suitable muzzle brake, bipod, rear bag, scope, bubble level, bag rider, etc. Deciding to keep your licensed barrel you then need to select bullet & powder components to suit the twist & length of the barrel. I did this with my old 243 Win Musgrave Model 80 that my dad bought for me when I was five years old. A farmer sold it as he was not getting any form of accuracy out of it. My dad had a quick look at it & found the two action/stock mounting bolts were loose & after torquing those down & free-floating the barrel, this rifle was a shooter of note.
I recently further accurised this rifle, still in its original wood stock, by glass bedding the action, pillar bedding the action screw holes, installing & bedding a 20MOA Picatinny rail, re-cutting the crown, installing a bipod Picatinny rail to the fore-end & mounted a 90MOA/26mils Tactical scope to it. From there all I concentrated on was developing a consistent load that gave sub-moa accuracy with low Extreme Spread (ES), as I wanted to use the same load for hunting & long-range shooting. I have shot this rifle out to a mile (however I must admit the little non-VLD 95gr Berger Classic Hunter bullets out of a 1:10 twist were not very stable at this range, but they still got there, except a few that fell short of the target due to instability). Recently I shot them out to 1 200m without a problem. I am 100% confident in this rifle to engage targets 500-700m with first-round hits, hence I limit myself to a safe 500m shot when hunting plains game. The marksmanship fundamentals to shooting this rifle are the same as on a Super Magnum rifle, except this little 243Win has no recoil to mention, no massive blast & is very cheap to shoot a great deal. There is no substitute for trigger time.
Consistency is key, and in ELR it is everything.
Precision Reloading & Load Development Considerations
You need to get all the precision reloading equipment together, along with the premium brass, bullets, powder, and primers needed to ensure your reloads have a low double-digit or, better yet, single-digit ES. The further you shoot, the lower you want this ES to be as velocity spread becomes more pronounced at distance. Consistency is key, and in ELR it is everything. You will have to spend some time testing various components, and find out what works in your particular rifle set-up. Spend a lot of time talking to experienced shooters, YouTube is another source of information, internet forums & social media discussions are interesting. However do not take what you read & hear as fact, rather use it as a guideline & verify it for yourself. In any event, reloading preparation, procedures & processes are exactly the same in a smaller calibre as for a Super Magnum calibre. The goal is exactly the same.
Essential to ELR is a quality chronograph such as a Magnetospeed or LabRadar; all my other chronographs found themselves at the bottom of the rubbish bin, good riddance to them! These are obviously used during load development, but more importantly, their main function is to keep checking for any changes in your barrel or reloads that would affect your expected muzzle velocity. It is so surprising to hear from shooters wanting assistance with their load development who don’t even have a chronograph & thus have no idea what their average muzzle velocity actually is or their velocity spread. Secondly, they are not able to spot velocity fluctuations during load development, which is key to selecting a good ELR load. You need accuracy combined with a low standard deviation (SD) & low ES. You can have a beautiful textbook 5-shot one hole group at 100m with a scary ES of 150fps. Without a chronograph you probably would be fooled into a false belief that you now have got a perfectly tuned load, only to try shoot it north of 500m & see strange vertical dispersion. In some cases, the variance is enough to miss the entire target itself, when the previous shot was where it was supposed to be. Often what happens is the shooter will make a ballistic correction based on the impact of the last shot, only to have the following shot way off again, I refer to this as chasing one’s tail. A pointless exercise with the only outcome being frustration, confusion & shattered confidence.
Each shots velocity is analysed & one can then decide if the impact you saw downrange was a true reflection or if vertical dispersion was caused by a higher or lower velocity than what the ballistic solver was expecting. Some shooters view a chronograph as an expensive nice to have, rather their view of a chronograph is something one can just quickly borrow once only to measure the velocity of that “magical” 100m load you developed & you are set for the life of that firearm. Well, in reality, its essential ELR kit, without it you are really not taking this sport seriously & will not achieve anywhere near the true potential of your setup.
There are those shooters that weight sort brass. There are those that sit for hours volume sorting them with a syringe in hand, sore backs & water everywhere. Firstly I have proven over & over again, weight sorting brass is a pointless exercise. I have had brass varying as much as 6-7gr from the average brass batch weight, but producing exactly the same muzzle velocity as the rest of the brass. Volume sorting is too tedious for me & not the most accurate system either. Rather when shooting, I batch cases according to the velocity they produced, batch 1 for velocities lower than expected, batch 2 for velocities as expected & batch 3 for velocities higher than expected. The lower & higher cases get tested again with the same load & if they produce the same velocity variance, they get permanently classed accordingly & the load is adjusted to cater for their difference in internal volume.
Starter ELR rifle
If you do consider building a starter rifle, consider capable calibres like the various 7mm (RemMag, RSAUM, Shehane), 300’s (WinMag, WSM, Norma) or 338’s (Lapua, Norma). These are fantastic options and are cheaper to shoot than the Super Magnums. Push these rifles way beyond their supersonic capability deep into the subsonic range. Use Millers Stability formulae as a guide to select the correct projectile in relation to your barrel twist, velocity & atmospheric pressure regions you will be shooting in. The fundamentals needed to become proficient with these calibres will stand you in good stead when you decide to step up to a Super Magnum.
Cost & Component Availability
To become proficient at ELR, you need to put in the regular range time. Jumping right up to the Super Magnums with solid bullets means each shot will cost about R60-R100/reload, versus a smaller calibre at anything between R18-R35/reload. Now at R60-R100/shot, you will not shoot as much as you would the R25-R35/shot rifle.
A very real problem is the availability of components. Super Magnums burn a lot of powder & shoot expensive projectiles. Importers do not seem to be able to keep up with the demand. One, therefore, has to buy in bulk when components are available & be prepared to part with vast amounts of money. Another problem is the limitation on the quantity of nitrocellulose propellants one can legally store on-premises. A super magnum devours tins of powder without much shame so we are always sitting with rationing powder as the importers are unable to reliably keep powder available. As I am writing this piece, I am down to my last two tins of Retumbo with no relief until October 2019 according to word on the street. I, therefore, cannot afford to practice & still compete in the upcoming competitions. I have had to decide which competitions to skip & prioritise the ones I know I have enough powder to shoot. Not a great situation at all. Whereas if I was shooting a smaller less powder hungry calibre, I would probably still be able to attend all the ELR shoots & do some practice.
Selecting a Suitable ELR Calibre
Selecting a calibre to shoot ELR is quite a personal decision, based on prior experience, information from research carried out and the opinions of ELR shooters you have spoken to. At the end of the day, you will make up your own mind, having taken all of the above into consideration. Yes, probably the most popular ELR calibre at present is the .375
My personal decision to build a Super Magnum 338 variant (33XC) does not mean it is the best ELR rifle. By no means. I have personal reasons why I decided to go this route knowing it certainly has its disadvantages. However I want to explore its advantages, and hence for me, it might be the best choice. My reasoning is to use a super-efficient monolithic bullet in a moderate calibre at speeds between 3200-3300fps. It will have much less recoil & concussion compared to the 375’s, 408’s, 416’s & 50BMG’s. It will be more comfortable to shoot especially in a competition where a stage requires 15-20 shots within a finite time period. Shooter fatigue is a very real thing.
If I was forced to recommend a calibre, a good place to start would be one of the 375 variants. This is based on personal experience & by considering the many favourable ELR results achieved worldwide in the last few years coupled with it still being fairly moderate enough to shoot accurately without destroying the dentist’s artwork. There are a whole host of bullet manufacturers offering 375 bullets nowadays so there is a lot to choose from.
As already stated above, there are many factors to consider. It is not as easy as buying a calibre and sailing off into the ELR sunset. I hope this assists in giving our readers a more holistic picture of what additional factors you need to consider when making that all-important decision.
Impact Extreme Shooting
Contact: Brendan Fike
Briefly, we started Impact Xtreme Shooting with the immediate aim of promoting & growing Extreme Long Range (ELR) shooting in South Africa. This shooting sport had taken off in a big way in the USA & Europe since 2015 but was not represented here in South Africa. There were a few private shooters doing their thing, but no platform to bring this all together & expose it to the mass of other shooters by organised ELR Events & Competitions.
Our King of 1Km & King of 2Km (3-4 Nov 2018) @ Bokpoort was the first official 2KM competition in South Africa (Actually on the African Continent). Records were set at Bokpoort Cowboy Ranch during this ELR shoot, the first-ever crowning of The Official King of 2KM, Ruan Ellis. Liezl Meyer became the first South African woman to achieve 1708m in an ELR Competition.
Zululand Gong Shoot (22–‐23 Feb 2019): Impact Xtreme placed 5th In the King of 1Mile on day1, Day2 placed 2nd Team & 3rd Individual position overall.
Master of 2KM+ (15–‐16 March 2019) We hosted an ELR Event at Moreson Ranch, Vrede. All rules & format follows those hosted internationally.
Another Milestone distance & South African ELR Competition Record with a winning distance of 2277m set by B Fike.
King of 2 Miles France/Master of 2Km France Event (20–‐22 April 2019) Impact Xtreme Shooting was invited to this event due to our social media presence & networking, where we participated in the Master of 2Km. We finished 8th place overall out of 54 shooters from 16 countries.
Fort Mistake Long Range Shoot ( 22 June 2019 ) Team Impact Placed 3rd and as individuals, they placed 5th and 7th overall
SendIt ELR (06 July 2019). Impact Xtreme was invited to participate. placed 2nd Team Overall & 2nd + 5th Individuals overall.
SA Reloading International (13–‐07–‐2019) Impact Xtreme was invited to an intro ELR Day outside Middleburg, Mpumalanga, to expose other shooters to ELR. Targets From 1Km Out to 2Km were successfully engaged by various “newbies” with my firearm available for those that didn’t have their own suitable rifle setups.