I’ve shot a lot of rounds in my life.  I was a pretty heavy volume shooter in my teens, chewing through case after case of .223, 7.63×39 and 12ga as well as various handgun calibers.  After I joined the military my volume went up drastically easily pushing tens of thousands of rounds downrange annually.  I was well trained in carbines, handguns, shotguns and all manner of belt fed lead slingers.  My education was incomplete in it’s diversity though.  Despite being raised in Alaska hunting deer I had very little experience with precision bolt guns adorned with scoped optics suited for the task.  Sure I had a nice Leupold 3×9 on a Winchester model 70 in 30-06 but that simple duplex reticle and the thick southeast Alaskan brush kept me shooting within 200 yards.  Until very recently I felt more comfortable with a red dot or iron sight equipped carbine out to 500 yards than I did with a scoped bolt gun.  When I decided I needed to fix this inadequacy I put together a simple bolt gun package that I could upgrade easily later on once my skill level warranted the increased investment.

Having been made familiar with Ryan Cleckner through his instructive and informative youtube videos with the National Shooting Sports Foundation- comments on said videos make it clear many shooters find Ryan’s teaching style resonates with them.  He can take a pretty complex topic and explain it caveman simple without degrading the integrity of the material at hand.  When I found out he was to publish a two part book series on precision rifle shooting, I had a good feeling his teaching style would translate to the written format well.  Being a fellow Ranger (he with the 1st Bn of the 75th Ranger Regt.) has not only sent a lot of rounds downrange, he also has had a significant investment in his skill set.  First trained as a sniper, then serving as a sniper team leader, Ryan was also sent to SOTIC (Special Operations Target Interdiction Course).  SOTIC is one of the premier schools our military has to offer and is held in legendary esteem.  The education gained there is reputed to be second to none.

Ryan Cleckner makes a 1000 yd standing first round hit on the TV show, Top Shot. Image used with permission of Ryan Cleckner
Ryan Cleckner makes a 1000 yd standing first round hit on the TV show, Top Shot. Image courtesy of Ryan Cleckner

I picked up Ryan’s book and read it through in two evenings.  The first time I worked my way through pretty quick, familiarizing myself with the layout as much as the content.  Like the Bible or a textbook I wanted to be able to quickly refer to a specific section as needed.  The second pass I took my time and highlighted important passages, noting in particular the things I wanted to pass on to other shooters and the lessons I had identified that would improve my shooting.  We all have flaws in form, training methods and mental errors to correct.  How many of us can say we’ve never spent time at the range frustrated and chasing our zero all over?  I’ve seen it happen to crack marksmen.  Who among us can say we treat long range shooting as ritualistically as we can?  Some of us might not be applying that as effectively as we think.  I myself was able to quickly identify 5 pitfalls I was succumbing to, thanks to the Long Range shooting Handbook.  I’ll discuss 3 here to show you how reading an approximately 300 page book helped one shooter in particular.  I will not cover every aspect of the book though.  Ryan’s lessons and teaching style speak for themselves and deserve to be read with fresh eyes.

  1. Many deer hunters I know treat a zeroed rifle as if it were held together by a fragile and ancient shamanic magic.  “You do not mess with a zeroed rifle!”  I have heard variations on this many times.  I’m now more comfortable treating my precision rifle like what it is… a well assembled machine.  I expect I should be able to spin the turrets all the way up, all the way down and then back to my mechanical zero and have the reasonable expectation my zero will not have wildly shifted.  Adjustment turrets are meant to be adjusted.  If your scope can’t move a few clicks and then come back to where it started, you have an issue with the scope.
  2.   I was failing to define what I considered an acceptable hit for each shot based on distance and the conditions around me.  I was shooting and then deciding if the results were good enough.  Now I shoot with a purpose and I know what I expect of myself and my rifle depending on the day’s conditions and shooting style before I pull the trigger.  Call your shot, every shot.
  3.   I have learned to trust my corrections (or my spotters) and to be O.K with that correction being wrong.  I’ve seen myself and countless other shooters be guilty of this.  The shooter isn’t confident of the correction they’re making after a miss, so they dial the correction but will not hold center for the next shot.  In a “hedge your bets” mindset, the shooter will shade in the direction of the correction on the target.  If you aren’t willing to trust your corrections and to let them be wrong, you aren’t going to learn how to make better corrections.  If you made poor corrections but the “hedging your bet” led to a hit, you haven’t and will not be improving your ability to hit the target when and where you want.

 

Image courtesy of Ryan Cleckner
Image courtesy of Ryan Cleckner

Ryan has done a great job with small tips that will help many shooters.  These notes range from little tricks used in the setup and installation of the rifle to simplified formulas for trajectory that get you on target faster.  Another section will guide you through what may be for you new (and confidence shattering) shooting positions.  Get outside your comfort zone and push the boundaries of your skills.  A section I found of particular interest was Ryan’s format on spotter-to-shooter communication.  In a 2 man sniper team, the spotter has the tougher job.  Ryan will fill your spotters brain with some nuggets of wisdom that will both simplify communication and keep the shooter right on the spotters direction.  This won’t just help military and police shooters, this can help a couple of shooting buddies improve their skills and save money on wasted rounds.

Book Author in Afghanistan. Used with permission of Ryan Cleckner
The book’s author in Afghanistan. Photo courtesy of Ryan Cleckner

Besides the instructional sections of the book Ryan has also included select ballistics tables, DOPE cards, round count log books and online available targets to print out.  The book itself is well constructed.  The ink is high quality and doesn’t smudge all over the place when I’m flipping pages with WD-40 all over my hands.  The spine and cover are both durable.  Ryan himself stated this book is meant to be a regular passenger in your shooting bag.

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I enjoyed this book and in two range trips have found it has already saved me the cover cost in ammo.  My first range trip was zeroing and grouping at 100 yards.  My second was drilling a 10″ target at 830 yards.  I have never had such confidence in my ability to consistently hit a target at that range (with a bolt gun) as I did that day and do now.  I could have gotten there myself eventually I know, but the Long Range Shooting Handbook got me there faster and with a better grasp of all that was happening between the buttstock and the target.

I did find sections I was already well versed in;  I expected that, as both a student of the gun and as a Ranger.  This is after all, the beginner’s guide and not the more advanced topics to be covered in the upcoming sequel. I didn’t expect this book to change my whole shooting world but it did refine and guide my approach to precision shooting.  It is not a magic tome that will transform you into a snake eating sniper capable of reading wind at 600 yards by analyzing insect flight patterns.  However it should be treated as an important part of a solid shooting foundation.  Get out shooting and challenge yourself.  Identify your weaknesses and use lessons from the book to bolster them into strengths instead of sticking with the things you’re already doing well.  This book is a great tool to build your skill-set, or if you think you’re a strong precision shooter, a tool to check your skills.  There may be ways to get to the same place faster or more accurately. As for myself, this book has helped me simplify the workload of getting into precision shooting.  Rather than stress about what I don’t know, I’m enjoying my current challenges and the satisfaction of progress.