Precision rifle courses at the Blue Steel Ranch require high quality equipment with some very specific attributes. If you are going to commit to spending a significant sum of money to attend a course in precision shooting, it makes sense to be sure your complete system of rifle, ammunition and support equipment is up to the task to insure that you have a rewarding and beneficial experience. Nothing is more frustrating than finding out on the first day of training that your system lacks reliability or the necessary accuracy for the task at hand. This brief is intended to help in the selection of equipment for these classes. If you have any questions about equipment for these classes, please call the office and ask to speak with one of the instructors for the class. Let’s start by listing some requirements.
Accuracy: The rifle and ammunition combination chosen for the LRR/PR classes should be capable of at least one MOA accuracy. That is, it should be capable of producing a five shot group 1” center to center at 100 yards, using the ammo you will use in the class. It does not have to be a “bench rest” accurate, quarter MOA tack driver. If you have a rifle like that, great! However, there are many more important components to the skill of hitting long range targets in the real world than the absolute accuracy of the rifle. A skilled practical shooter can be very effective with a one MOA rifle.
Reliability: Your rifle must be rugged, reliable and portable. The system of rifle, magazines and ammunition should be capable of functioning in the natural environment with the dust, rain or other possible conditions that may occur. Don’t bring a "trailer queen." Your rifle should weigh no more than fifteen pounds fully equipped with optics, sling, bipod and any accessory equipment. The lighter the better as you will have to carry it for some miles in the advanced course. Extra heavy barrel contours are more of a detriment for a practical rifle and belong on bench rifles. Your rifle should have a free floated barrel system to minimize POI shift with thermal loading.
The minimum caliber requirement would be a precision rifle in .223/5.56. Although you will probably be limited to 800 yard engagement effectiveness in good conditions and less in the wind, you will learn everything we have offer with such a rifle in the Intro Precision Rifle course. Maximum allowable caliber will be 300 Win Mag or equivalent in order to minimize target damage. An ideal caliber would be .308/7.62 or the related cartridges like .260 Remington, 6.5mm Creedmoor and other similar cartridges. These medium capacity cartridges will do all that is necessary ballistically while minimizing the additive recoil effect on the shooter who will fire 500-700 rounds in the course. Other full size rifle cartridges such as .30-06, .270, etc., are also usable, but in any case, match grade ammunition is essential. Plan on bringing 500 rounds minimum. You may make arrangements to have it shipped if you are flying as you may only fly with about 11 pounds of ammunition.
If you are a hand loader, make sure your ammunition has been gaged and will fit the chamber of your rifle. I can’t remember how many times I’ve seen shooters show up for an event with hand loads that would not chamber or would not allow for the unloading of the rifle without firing the chambered round. Your ammo must drop fit your chamber and extract when you need to unload without firing the chambered round. In addition, when you extract a loaded round the bullet MUST come with it and not pull from the neck of the cartridge because your OAL is TOO DAMN LONG. Bottom line, your ammunition must be combat reliable, not a compromise to some hair splitting degree of accuracy improvement.
Once again, the system of ammo and rifle should deliver MOA performance. Now days, there is plenty of factory ammo that is capable of that level of performance or better in a variety of calibers if you don’t feel like hand loading. Heavy magnum calibers are discouraged, since the repeated pounding of 500 to 700 rounds over a weekend is likely to prove uncomfortable, detracting from the learning experience. The rifle must be equipped with a sling, either a carry strap or loop style. Whether you choose a manually operated rifle or a semi-auto platform is not relevant. We will cover the subtle technique differences to maximize your performance with either.
The relationship between optic and rifle and the task they must accomplish is the most critical and often least understood aspects of long-range shooting in particular. So, there's quite a bit to say here.
The rifle must be equipped with a magnifying optical sight. We are not going to instruct on the use of iron sighted rifles as that is a discipline all of its own and requires an even higher level of dedication and visual acuity than the optically sighted rifle. The scope you choose must have certain qualities and features to be used for long range precision applications. First, it must have high resolution quality glass. Second, it must have adjustable parallax. Third, it must have exposed turrets graduated in either some MOA or MRAD increments that can be adjusted BY HAND, not requiring any tools. Forth, it must be rugged and reliable with repeatable adjustments. Most scopes designed for hunting applications are not adequate for our purposes as they usually lack one or more of the previously mentioned features.
Adjustment of POI may be accomplished by dial up or reticle based methodology and we will support both methods in our instruction format. However, even if you intend to dial your shots, it is extremely advisable to have a scope with a reticle that has some ballistic information contained in it. We recommend the Horus Vision system as the ultimate reticle based shooting system. It is offered by a number of manufactures as an upgrade option. There are also various MOA and MRAD reticle systems that are less sophisticated but still allow the reticle to be used for more rapid sight picture acquisition than the dial up method. The important thing here is that these are “universal” systems based in either the MOA or MRAD format and usable for any cartridge (i.e., any projectile with any BC under any atmospheric conditions once you have established the data for your system).
On the other hand, we strongly recommend staying away from what are known as “ballistic” reticles or BDC knobs (bullet drop compensators) designed for a particular cartridge. These are nearly useless as they only apply to a very narrow range of circumstances, such as a particular load in one cartridge under an assumed set of atmospherics that will probably never exist where you are shooting. Sadly, these are sold to hunters who usually don’t have an in depth understanding of exterior ballistics and find it easy to buy into this “snake oil”. If you were only shooting out to 300 yards or so, these systems might be just fine, but they will not allow the long range precision shooter to accomplish the task at hand. Whether your optic is an MOA or an MRAD based system is not important as both are a means to the same end. However, if you have an MRAD based reticle, the turrets should also be in the MRAD system and are usually graduated in 1/10th MRAD increments. A scope that has the reticle in one system and the adjustments in another will only lead to confusion and the incompatibility of the two systems.
Your scope must have enough adjustment to dial or enough reticle to hold over for the drop for at least 800 yards with a 100-yard zero on the scope. This means you should have about 20-25 MOA or 8-10 MRAD of adjustment left after the scope is zeroed.
The magnification of the scope should be in a range that is useful for shooting in the natural terrain. Fixed power scopes in the 10 to 12 power range would suffice, but it is handy to use lower magnifications when searching for a target and higher magnification when engaging. So variable power optics in the 3-15 to 4-20 are ideal although there is no need to use magnifications greater that 15-16 power in the field as the field of view is so restricted and mirage effect is exacerbated. 20-25x magnification is really only useful when shooting groups on paper at 100-200 yards.
Finally, your optic must be properly mounted. There is no sense in spending thousands of dollars on a nice rifle and a high quality scope only to mount it with $25 worth of hardware. Expect to spend more on the order of $150 to $300 for good mounting solutions that are rugged, stable and return to zero if removed. We strongly recommend mounting systems based around the MIL-STD-1913 (Picatinny) rail system rather than some of the dovetail, civilian grade systems common on hunting rifles. If you have an AR, this system would be mandatory but if you have a bolt gun, it is also the best system overall.
On gas guns, we often see two piece mounting systems and we’d strongly recommend one piece ring/rail integrated systems for maximum stability. Do not bridge the receiver and the hand guard on a gas gun with a mounting system. The mount should attach solely to the upper receiver and not bridge to the rail on the hand guard system. This is OK for night vision or thermals, but not the main optical system.
We will go over your equipment on the first day to recommend any improvements at possible provide solutions right there. But it is best to come prepared in the first place. If you have any questions about scope mounting and such, please do not hesitate to call us at JPE as our technical support people will sort all that out over the phone and insure that you come properly set up.
Finally, we recommend using some kind of cant indicator that can mount to the scope or the rail system of your rifle. You must be able to correct for cant if you expect to hit long range targets consistently.
The thing that really ties the rifle, ammo and optics together into the extremely effective system that it can be is the science of external ballistics. In other words, you need a tool to bring this technology to bear, quickly and accurately. There are a number of ballistic programs for your smart phone that will download real time atmospherics and perfect the algorithms resulting in spot on data for the conditions you are shooting in. I prefer Sean Kennedy’s Shooter. For about $10, it’s tough to beat. However, you need to create data cards that can be referred to quickly and not require the manipulation of a device. We recommend any of the systems that allow you to wear your data card on your wrist or forearm for quick referral. Use your smart phone app to generate this card in advance and laminate it to make it weather proof. For the BSR, plan on using a density atmosphere of 5000 feet and you’ll be close for most of the day. It is usually about 4500 in the AM and 5500 to 6000 in the afternoons.
Don’t forget to bring both cleaning equipment and the basic tools you may need to keep your system up and running. You need a full length one piece cleaning rod, jags, brushes, patches and solvents. That, plus a bore guide to fit your rifle and lens tissue and cleaner for the scope lenses complete the minimum requirements. Do not bring a cheap sectional cleaning rod, it will only cause damage to the bore. Do bring both powder and copper solvents, most solvents do one or the other well, but not both. Have some way to carry all this around to the ranges, since we will often clean right on the firing line. A small fishing tackle or toolbox will hold all the small items. A length of the proper diameter PVC pipe with end caps works very well as a rod case. A field cleaning system such as an Otis kit is very handy.
Expect to work in a two man team format with one person shooting and one spotting. The skill of being a good spotter is almost as important as being good on the trigger and that is another skill you will learn or improve on at the BSR. Good optics are costly, but well worth the expense. A set of pocket type compact binoculars in the 6x to 10x range will work well for the observation tasks. Full size 10×50s are appropriate as well. A good spotting scope on a portable camera tripod is a great help when acting as spotter. With it, one can see impacts, read mirage and wind, plus identify suspected targets far better than through a riflescope. The most practical scope will be compact, armored, waterproof and have a magnification between 12x to 40x. If you select a fixed power scope, stay in the 20x to 25x range, since mirage can be a serious problem at higher powers. A variable permits dialing up the best power for the conditions, but will generally be larger and heavier. If the spotting scope can be obtained with some kind of MRAD reticle installed, you can use it to range and call corrections to the shooter much more accurately. This reticle in the spotting scope is HIGHLY recommended. Get a small light weight collapsible tripod, not a large heavy hi-power shooter style. Once again, remember you have to carry all this gear around. Bottom line; to get the most out of this class, a quality spotting scope with milling reticle and good tripod are an ABSOLUTE NECESSITY for each team.
Now there are a number of binoculars that also have integrated range finders such as the Bushnell Fusion series. Having both binoculars and a range finder is redundant when you can combine both functions.
Get a good military type back pack, commercial style pack or shooters bag that can carry ALL your personal equipment. Preferably, it will have a compartment for a hydration system like a Camelback. Ideally, you’ll be able to strap on the pack, sling the rifle and walk from one firing point to another with your hands free and ALL your gear. That includes all of the above plus water, snacks, sunscreen, etc., everything you want with you when you go to shoot. If you don’t NEED it, don’t pack it. A drag bag can serve to haul the rifle and optics, ammo and perhaps cleaning gear. Using the shoulder straps will let you carry it like a backpack and still carry a small bag or waist pouch for miscellaneous small gear. Plan on using your pack as a shooting support as well. A pack mat, a version of a rifle case that unfolds to a shooting mat can be very useful, putting everything else into the rucksack and carrying the rifle in the mat by the handles.
A bipod is essential for the properly equipped rifle even though most natural terrain shooting requires compromised positions that will not allow the use of the bipod. Buy a good bipod that has legs in the 6-12” range with adjustment for height.
You should have at the very least a good rear bag to support the rear of the rifle on a bench or prone with the bipod. Now days, there are also other very useful bags that are a bit larger for use on a knee or resting the fore end on off a rock. There are also larger bags called position bags that are stuffed with light weight material and easy to haul. Check out the WieBad bags or CPrifle.com for lots of options.
Although you will not use it when shooting out on the rims in the advanced course, it would make things more comfortable on the concrete slabs of the square ranges. If you have one, bring it.
Bring a weather proof note book or military grade data recording set up as you must plan on recording all relevant data and information you develop in the course. Also, target locations in the field of fire for the natural terrain advanced course should be mapped out in your book.
If your shooting pants do not have some kind of integrated knee pad system, bring some along will elbow pads. Padding makes shooting off hard surfaces bearable. Sunscreen is essential in the high desert. Bring a 50 SPF sun block and apply it to any exposed skin and plan on wearing clothing that covers as much as possible without getting you over heated in the summer. A long sleeve T-shirt is strongly recommended even in the summer to keep the sun off of your arms and usually not be too hot if you have the sense to stick with light colors. Take a look at the weather for Logan before you come and be prepaired. In the winter months, it is usually in the 40-50 degree range during the days but we can have a cold snap and you should be prepared for anything.