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Precision Long Range 1 with Match Grade Precision

Chris Upchurch

I recently had the chance to take the Precision Long Range 1 course from Match Grade Precision, taught by Matt Howard and Chris Long.

Gear

My impetus for taking this class was to test out a new optic on my .223 DMR. When I talked to the folks at Match Grade Precision before I registered they thought that a .223 would be a bit light for this class. I mentioned I also had a .300 Win Mag. Since I wanted to exercise the .223, they suggested using the .223 for the closer range stuff and the Win Mag for the longer range shooting on the second day.

The .223 AR that I brought is a JP Rifles 16” upper on a lower that I put together myself a couple of years ago. The new optic that I want to try out is a US Optics B-10 1.8-10x. Of course, I’m running my usual AAC Mini4 suppressor. I ran this gun with a different optic (a Leupold Mark 6 1-6x) in Eric Pfleger’s Longrifle class a few years ago.

The other change I’ve made since then is to switch from factory ammo to handloads. I’m still using the 77gr Sierra Match King bullet that I was running in the Fiocchi factory loads, but my handloads are a bit hotter (and perhaps more accurate).

The .300 Win Mag is a Savage 111. It’s more of a hunting rifle, but I took it out to 900 yards in the Longrifle class. It’s topped by a Leupold Mark 4 3.5-10x scope. I’m running handloaded Berger 230gr Hybrid Tactical OTM bullets.

There was one other student with a .223 AR, but that was the only other semi-auto. The rest of the class was running bolt guns, mostly in .308 or 6.5 Creedmoor, though there was also one .243 and one 6.5x47mm Lapua. Four of the bolt guns were Ruger Precision Rifles, which all of the students shooting them seemed to like pretty well. I had a chance to put a couple of rounds through one of them. It seemed quite nice.

I brought my Leupold Mark 4 spotting scope, which has a Horus mil-grid reticle in it. I’m running an Atlas bipod on the .223 and a Versapod on the Win Mag.

Friday

I headed out from Wichita around 4pm. After a stop in Salina for dinner and to stock up on some snacks I drove on to Spearpoint Ranch.

Several other students from the class were at the bunkhouse when I arrived. We sat around chatting for a bit, then joined the owner at a bonfire out back. Eventually racked out in the on-site accommodations.

Saturday

I rolled out of bed about 6am. The hot water was out, which made my morning shower kind of interesting.

 Sunrise from the Spearpoint Ranch bunkhouse.

Sunrise from the Spearpoint Ranch bunkhouse.

Matt Howard, the instructor, came by around 8am. He handed out waivers for us to sign as well as data books. Once the paperwork was taken care of we headed up to the range.

At the range Matt went through the medical and safety briefs and went over the outline of the class. After all the students introduced themselves, Matt talked about his background as a US Army sniper and competitive shooter. Chris Long (the other instructor) has lots of competition experience as well. We were also joined by Erica Brooks, who does marketing for Match Grade Precision.

Matt went through the data book that he had handed out earlier, talking about how to use each page, with particular attention to the zeroing, target, and round count log pages. He emphasized that he wanted us to use these throughout the class to log our shots. Not only is the data you gather in a logbook useful in and of itself, it can be helpful to take a break and settle yourself down between shots.

Chris brought out his Kestrel, and he and Matt talked a bit about the importance of atmospheric data (temperature, humidity, pressure, and density altitude). This was the Kestrel model with the built-in Applied Ballistics app, so they segued into talking a bit about using a ballistics app (Chris uses the AB Kestrel, Matt prefers Strelock Pro on a smartphone).

They talked through the fundamentals, starting with your shooting position and cheekweld. After coving natural point of aim, they worked their way up from there to breathing and trigger press. They also covered shooter- spotter communications and working as an effective team.

We started out our shooting by zeroing on paper at 100 yards. Our targets were 3/4 inch square pasters, but these were insufficiently precise for what we would be doing. Instead, Matt asked us to aim precisely for the corner of one of these squares. With the subtensions on my optic, I found this a little difficult, since the reticle covers enough of the paster that it’s hard to tell when I’m holding precisely on the corner (the crosshairs on my scope are 0.1 mil wide, so about half the width of the square). I did as well as I could. My rifle was pretty well zeroed to start with, so I just ended up making a slight tweak to elevation.

The range had a pretty interesting setup, with two large flatscreen TVs hanging from the roof over the firing line. Matt hooked these up to GoPros mounted to a pair of spotting scopes, allowing us to spot using the big TV screens rather than using spotting scopes. Unfortunately, the holes from the .223 I was shooting was just a bit too small to show up reliably on the TV screen. We ended up using my Leupold spotting scope instead.

tvspotter.jpeg

We moved on to the steel targets, starting at 300 yards. The range was set up with pairs of steel targets at every hundred yard mark from 300 to 1200. We had five teams of two students each (one shooting, one spotting) so with only two targets at each range, we weren’t all able to shoot the same distances at the same time. Most of the time we were able to keep out of each other’s way, as some teams moved out to longer distances faster than others. Out to 500, the steel targets were 10” square plates. Beyond 600 they switched over to 18” targets.

IMG_6776.jpg

We shot at each distance, starting with data from our ballistics programs and refining it based on real-world results. The winds were a bit tricky, varying in strength. If it were completely flat, it probably would have been a no-value wind (coming straight at us), but the rolling hills meant that the wind was doing different things at different distances. It could be blowing to the right at 300, straight in at 400, and to the left at 500. You just had to average it out or, more likely, take a shoot and see where it landed, then adjust from there.

Match Grade Precision provided a nice lunch on Saturday. It was very tasty, with pulled pork sandwiches, pasta salad, chips, and some great brownies.

As we moved out to future and further targets, I did pretty well. I didn’t have too much trouble getting hits out to the 800-yard mark. The B-10 scope dialed well and produced consistent results. At the farther distances, we had some issues spotting where my rifle was hitting. Those dinky little .223 bullets don’t always give real distinct impacts.

Once we got to the 900-yard mark things got a lot more difficult. At this distance, my bullets are starting to go subsonic. When that happens, the bullet can start wobbling and no longer flies straight. I was able to get some hits, but not consistently. In these conditions, at least, 800 yards seems to be about the effective range of this rifle.

One of the students shooting .308 with 168-grain ammo had similar trouble at 1000 yards. Everything worked well out to 900, but at 1000 the round started going subsonic, and everything went to hell. This gave me flashbacks to my first experience shooting a .308 at 1000 back in the Guerrilla Sniper class I took from Scott Vandiver in 2012, where I spent a couple boxes of ammo for four hits.

Having run out of range on the .223, I brought out the .300 Win Mag. I figured jumping straight to 900 yards would be a recipe for trouble, so I started back at 300 again. Getting hits with the Win Mag was even more straightforward than the .223, probably because even though the wind had gotten stronger the big 230 grain rounds I was shooting handled the wind so well. They’re also much easier to spot. Indeed, my shooting partner remarked on how much movement my bullets imparted to the steel plates at closer ranges.

I never got to see any of that movement, because this rifle is pretty much impossible to self-spot with. This is a fairly light bolt gun with a pencil profile barrel. It doesn’t weigh that much (something I was grateful for when I was carrying it for miles in Montana last year). However, the light weight and stout recoil from the big magnum cartridge knocks the gun completely off target when it goes off. I have to rely on my spotter to call shots and completely rebuild my position after each shot.

With the Win Mag, I was able to march out from one distance to the next in fairly short order. At each distance, the elevation adjustments from AB Mobile app were right on, and the big round bucked the wind so well that I either got first round hits or was on target with just a few shots. It’s amazing the difference a bigger, higher BC bullet can make, even if you do pay for it in recoil. I ended up getting out to 1000 yards with the Win Mag before we wrapped up for the day.

One thing I had to be careful about with the Win Mag was remaining aware of how many revolutions I had put on the elevation turret of the Leupold Mark 4. A complete turn of the turret is 5 mils. I was dialing over twice that at 1000 yards. Unlike my US Optics, this scope does not have a zero stop, so if you lose your place, there’s no simple way to keep track of how many revolutions you've rotated the turret from zero.

We packed up and headed back to the bunkhouse where Matt gave a lesson on his preferred method for cleaning your rifle. My barrel didn’t really need it (I’d punched the bore before coming to this class), but he wanted everyone to clean to demonstrate the change you can get in a cold bore shot with an unfouled barrel at the start of class tomorrow.

After cleaning our rifles (first the horse, then the saddle, last the man, as the cavalry used to say) a couple of us headed out to a local Pizza Hut for dinner. The food was exactly what you’d expect from Pizza Hut, but the company was good.

Back at the bunkhouse, the movie Shooter was on TV, which seemed appropriate. The hot water was back up and running, so I took advantage of a nice hot shower. Most folks turned in pretty early. Lying completely still and pressing gently with your finger can be surprisingly fatiguing when you’re trying to concentrate very hard on it.

Sunday

We mustered out at the range at 8am for our cold bore/clean bore shots. Most shooters found theirs was slightly high, which is what you would expect (a clean bore has less drag on the bullet). Mine was high and about 0.6 mils left. I was a bit surprised, but even more surprised when I dialed in a 0.6 mil correction and the point of impact didn’t move. When I was shooting at 900 the previous day, the windage knob had felt a little odd, but I dismissed it as the way the knob was rubbing on the brass catcher I was using. Clearly, it was slipping. I tightened down the screws on the knob (which were indeed a bit loose) and got it back on target.

After everyone did their cold bore shots, Matt talked about the end of class qualification. The qual was pretty simple, three shots on steel at 400, 500, 600, 700, and 800. Any time during the day we could call Chris over and shoot our three shots at one of these ranges, so you could get all dialed in, then make your three shots and he would record how many of them hit. All the qual really meant was whether you’d get a gold sticker or a silver sticker on your course certificate, but a desire to do well did provide a bit of pressure.

After explaining the qual, we were free to shoot steel, either to get dialed in for the qual or to collect more ballistic data (or both). In the beginning, there was some light fog that limited our ability to spot targets to about 700 yards, but that burned off as the day went on.

The wind also got stronger as the day went on and while it was more consistent in direction than yesterday, it varied a lot in strength. You could go from needing a full mil of wind hold to hardly any as the wind changed. When spotting, I sometimes found it necessary to back off on the magnification on my spotting scope to get a better view of the wind flags at intermediate distances.

My shooting partner and I got started with the qual by warming up at 300 yards. I could have probably thwarted the wind a bit better by using the .300 Win Mag, but I was in the class to exercise the .223, and it’s optic, so I stuck with that even though it would be a bit more challenging.

We shot each distance to verify elevation and try to get a sense of the wind, then called Chris over to shoot for score. Of course, by that time the wind might have changed so you couldn’t just dial the same wind hold you just used. In the end, I went three for three at 400 and 500. As the wind picked up, I dropped one shot each at 600, 700, and 800. Still, that was good enough for a gold star on my certificate.

Several times during the second day, Matt and Chris encouraged folks to try to spot their own shots through the optic and making adjustments off of that, rather than relying entirely on their spotter.

After finishing with the qual, I wasn’t interested in replaying the frustrating experience with my .223 at 900 again, but I did want to see if I could push the .300 Win Mag out beyond 1000 yards. Initially I was hitting way high. I realized that I had miscounted the revolutions on my scope turret and was a full 5 mils above where I had intended to be.

After I corrected that problem, I ended up going through about a dozen rounds and bracketing the target without getting any hits. At that point, I decided to call it quits. I could have let the barrel cool down and had another go and perhaps gotten a hit, but 1100 yards was pretty clearly beyond the angular accuracy of this rifle/shooter combination. Still, in this class, I’d been able to push it out to 1000, which was about 100 yards further than I’d managed before. Not bad for an off the rack Savage (albeit with tailored handholds and a good quality optic).

As we got to mid-afternoon, everyone had shot all that they wanted to shoot. Chris did a nice debrief about the class, asking everyone what they liked and what could be improved. This spurred some excellent discussion, including some teaching points on how to call corrections when spotting. Chris also talked a bit about the next level course that Match Grade Precision teaches: Precision Long Range 2.

They handed out the certificates, and everyone packed up and headed out. I grabbed some food in Salina and headed back to Wichita.

Conclusion

This was a great class. When it comes to long-distance shooting like this, I still consider myself towards the beginner end of the spectrum. I don’t have enough opportunities to shoot at longer distances, so a course like this is a great chance to exercise these skills.

As I mentioned, one of my big motivations for coming to this class was to test out some gear. The AR shot well, and I left this class confident that it’s more than accurate enough to use the full ballistic envelope of the .223 cartridge if I do my part. Once I got the wind call nailed down, it could place shots with almost boring consistency out to 800 yards. The performance at 900, on the other hand, indicated that 800 is pretty close for the hard limit for this cartridge (at least under these atmospheric conditions).

I’m pretty happy with the US Optics B-10 scope. The only real problem I had was the slipped windage turret that I discovered Sunday morning. I think this can probably be attributed to user error. Ever since I stripped out a turret set screw on a Leupold scope, I’ve been afraid to crank down on them too heavily. In this case, I think that came back to bite me. One of the reasons I like this optic is that setting the elevation turret doesn’t involve any tiny little set screws. I just wish they could do the same for the windage turret.

The one other issue I had with the windage turret is it wasn’t always easy to see exactly what I’d dialed. Part of this was the lighting conditions, shaded by the roof over the shooting line but strongly backlit by the brightly sunlit range. Part of it was the fact that unlike some other optics (including my Leupold) the reference marking is on the side of the scope body, rather than the “stem” of the turret. I’m not anticipating that this will be a big issue since I’d mostly hold for windage (Matt asked us to dial rather than hold in this class, though I ended up holding later in the course). The readings on the elevation turret were much easier to see.

As I mentioned, the reticle was a bit of an issue when we were shooting on paper. The crosshairs are 0.1 mils thick while the squares whose corners we were shooting at were about 0.2 mils, so I had to kind of judge when I was covering about a quarter of the width and height of the square. I don’t think I’d like the crosshairs to be any thinner (to maintain usability at 1.8x) but a small open space in the center would be nice.

While I was mostly interested in testing the B-10, a couple of my experiences with the Leupold Mark 4 on my .300 Win Mag actually ended up reinforcing the value of certain features on the B-10. Miscounting revolutions when I dialed in elevation for 1100 yards highlighted the importance of both the B-10’s zero stop and the fact that it does 10 mils per revolution of the elevation turret. If I’d had those features on the Win Mag’s optic, it would have saved me some trouble. I think features like this are going to be must-haves on my scope purchases going forward.

One of the hazards of coming to a class like this is you see all the cool gear that other folks in the class are using. It often ends up being hard on your wallet. The results some students were getting with the 6.5 Creedmoor (and the kissing cousin 6.5x47mm Lapua) have reinforced my plans to get a rifle In 6.5mm. In contrast with the hard range limits of the .223 and .308 as they went subsonic, the 6.5s could clearly reach out well beyond 1000 yards.

I was also intrigued by the fact that Matt and Chris did a lot of their spotting using tripod mounted 15x binoculars rather than spotting scopes. They were able to make calls out beyond 1000 yards using these (not to mention that they have the skills to do a better job of it than I was doing through a 40x spotting scope). The nice Leofoto tripods that they were using also caught my eye.

I have to say that the facilities at Spearpoint Ranch were just fantastic. From where we were shooting they’ve got steel set up out to a mile, and there are other shooting areas on the property that we never even got a look at. The bunkhouse provided nice on-site lodging.

As far as the class itself, I really enjoyed myself. In particular, I liked the fact that we actually used data books and logged every shot in this course. A data book has gone out of fashion as ballistic calculators have gotten better and more ubiquitous. Many of the longer range classes I’ve been to either don’t talk much about data books or mention them but don’t actually use them during the shooting portions of the course. This is the first class I where really feel like I’ve come away from with enough knowledge and experience using a data book to make an informed decision of whether or not to use one and to make good use of one if I decide to.

It should be noted that this is purely a marksmanship class. No stalking, observation, Kim’s games or other sniper type activities, just long range shooting. All of the shooting we did in this class was done at known distances from the bipod supported prone position (moving away from these is part of the curriculum in the LR2 course). I think this is a great class for working on the fundamentals of long-range marksmanship with as few other variables to contend with as possible.

This was a good class to test out my new optic. Even more so it would be a good class to get to know a new long range rifle. The ability to do some self-directed data gathering at whatever range your rifle will shoot to is hugely valuable, and having experienced instructors on hand to help you work through any issues with a new gun and/or optic is a significant benefit. Since I think I see a 6.5 Creedmoor in my future, I think I might want to come back and retake LR1.

I didn’t get the chance to take as many pictures as I sometimes do, but Erica took a ton of great photos and posted them on the Match Grade Precision Facebook page.

Matt and Chris did a great job teaching the class. They were very accommodating of different student’s skill levels, and I think everyone came out of this class more capable than when they came in. They’ve got a very laid back teaching style and did a great job responding to student questions.

If you’re looking to up your long-range shooting skills, I’d definitely recommend Match Grade Precision and their Long Range 1 class.