Accuracy at a distance is both simpler and more complex than you think.
Is the ability to accurately shoot at 500, 600, 700 yards and further an innate ability, or a skill that anyone can learn if they apply themselves? We as a society thrill to the stories of long-range snipers like Carlos Hathcock, Lyudmila Pavlichenko, and Chris Kyle—consistent accuracy at great distances is incredibly impressive. But although the vast majority of us won’t go down in the annals of history for our distance-shooting exploits, it’s definitely a skillset that even an average Joe or Jane can add to their toolkit with the right equipment, training, and patience.
There’s a saying among the old guard: Most rifles will consistently outshoot the shooter. And it’s true that the accuracy you can expect out of even a budget rifle, mounted on a rest in controlled conditions, is going to be better than what the average shooter can do in field conditions. That said, if you’re looking for extreme long-distance accuracy as a Western game hunter or an F-Class competitor, it’s definitely worth splashing out for a rifle purpose-built for it. (How will you be able to tell? The short answer is that it’s like figuring out who in a group does Crossfit—they’ll tell you, early and often.)
Of equal importance is a top-quality optic adorned with the right reticle. Good glass can absolutely make all the difference when you start talking about reaching out to targets at distances beyond what most people can see with their naked eyes.
In an encouraging trend, more and more manufacturers of optics and guns purpose-built for distance shooting are now offering training classes that are taught by experts but designed for the average shooter. One such is Steyr Arms Training Academy, which now offers courses taught by Steyr’s Training Academy director Eduardo Abril de Fontcuberta at beginning and advanced levels. Their SPR1 (Steyr Precision Rifle, natch) course teaches the fundamentals of zeroing your rifle, wind estimation, ballistics know-how, software options and more. Steyr isn’t alone in this effort, of course—but it’s very exciting to see the increasing dedication from them and other precision-shooting gear manufacturers to helping the customer get the most out of their equipment.
“But Trace,” you may protest, “patience is an innate ability, not a learned skill!” Well, yes and no…and this is where the question of whether long-range shooting ability is the product of talent or skill gets thorny. To be certain, when it comes to the absolute top levels of distance shooting—those folks shooting at targets a kilometer away or more—there does seem to be a certain je ne sais quoi that either you have or you don’t. But up until that lofty, rarified level what really seems to make the difference is patience and perseverance. The patience to take each missed shot as a learning opportunity, not a failure; the patience to wait until the conditions are just right before squeezing the trigger; the patience to continue practicing and learning even when the weather stinks and your neck is cramping. And that’s definitely a skill you can learn by doing.
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