With the amount of work our snipers are getting done downrange, the public interest in snipers and what they do are increasing as the GWOT goes on. I figured I would give the LoadOutRoom Team a chance to see what goes on in the mind of a sniper to make a shot at extremely long ranges…1.14 miles to be exact.
The Rifle, Ammo, and Scope
In order to make a shot at this distance, you need a rifle that is extremely accurate. We refer to accuracy within a rifle by looking at its capability of producing a low MOA. The lower the MOA, the better the accuracy of the rifle. A typical military grade sniper rifle must hold a 1 MOA group at one hundred yards, meaning at 100 yards, the rifle is capable of holding a 1 inch group (5 rounds). I typically shoot rifles that are in the 1/2 – 1 MOA range, although, I have shot a few that are in the 1/4 MOA range.
For this shot, I used the Stiller Tac .338, left-handed action, 9 twist Schneider poly rifled barrel, a Shark Jaws suppressor, McMillan A5, with a Premier reticle 5 – 25 scope, very capable of producing 1/4 inch groups at 100 yards.
The ammunition was a hand load of 300 grain .338 Berger. When we want to engage a target at extreme distances, one of the things we take into effect is something called the bullets ballistic coefficient (BC). The BC basically refers to the bullets ability to overcome air resistance in flight. The perfect bullet would have a BC of 1. Snipers typically use bullets that have a BC of around .4 – .8, anything in-between is generally considered a “good BC” for a sniper’s bullet.
There are a ton of scopes on the market today that we can choose from. The scopes that I used in the military were nothing like what I made for this shot. I used the Premier reticle 5 – 25 scope. The numbers “5 – 25” refer to amount of zoom the scope can achieve by twisting the magnification ring closest to your eye.
Most think that a shot taken this far, the sniper would want to crank the zoom all the way to 25, but this is not the case. When I cranked the zoom to the max, I only intensified the amount of mirage that I was picking up emitting off the ground near the target, basically blurring the target out. I decided to operate with a magnification of around 15, that way I could still see the small target and while keeping the mirage only slightly visible, enabling me to “read it,” indicating the wind speed.
When making a shot at this distance, a sniper needs to take a lot of things into mind, temperature being one of them. A rule of thumb I keep in mind is that with hotter temperatures the bullet flies better due to the air being less dense than colder temperatures.
The altitude at which the sniper is located has a great effect on the flight of the projectile. The higher the altitude, the further and better the bullet flies, just like aircraft that fly at high altitudes.
The density altitude, or DA as we refer to it, is the altitude that the projectile “feels” or “lives in” once fired downrange. The “Density Altitude” is the pressure altitude adjusted for non-standard temperature.
Wind will cause the sniper/shooter to miss the target completely, in some cases by 50 feet or more depending on the velocity of the wind. We also take into account the angle of the wind, whether the wind will influence the bullet from the 3 o’clock, 5:30, etc. In order to hit our target, we need to determine the velocity of the wind and angle, which will give us an idea/solution of how much we need to hold into, essentially using the wind to push the bullet into the target.
Knowing that the target is 1.14 miles (2022 yards) away, we figured out how much we need to aim above the target/dial in on the elevation on the scope. In order to make the shot, the bullets maximum height it would reach in its flight path would total 42.1 feet above the target.
In some of the sniper movies that I’ve seen, snipers adjust for something calling Coriolis. In the sniper community, Coriolis is used to determine how far our target will move away from the intended aiming point due to the Earth’s rotation. This was something that I did not take into account because the flight time of the bullet was only around 3.8 seconds.
Once we’ve determined all that is discussed above, it’s time to take the shot. Taking a shot at this distance, the sniper/shooter needs to have every basic shooting fundamental in order. My eyesight is not the greatest (somehow I made it through sniper school), but seeing a target at this distance, even on 25 magnification, still seems to be a bit small. With the target being a “human silhouette,” imagine trying to shoot something that resembles the very tip of a pencil at distance, that’s about what it looks like. Everything has to be tuned in to the max, breathing, heart beat, relaxing of all muscles, etc.
I recall on a deployment as a sniper in Afghanistan, the typical range was around 450 yards, my longest was half a mile. These were no chip shots by far, but the room for error due to the closer ranges far exceeded that of a shot beyond a mile. Everything has to be perfect.
Once I finally aligned my sights on the 1.14 mile sniper shot, my spotter, Chase, gave me a final wind call before giving me the signal to fire once conditions were at their prime and consistent. Pulling the trigger back perfectly to its rear, I watched the bullet fly to the target by watching its vapor trail (the disturbance in the air caused by the bullet, similar to a wake in water) and watched the bullet strike a few feet right of the target.
Spotter and I quickly made a correction, allowing the miss to hit the target on a second round shot. By breaking down the reticle to the finest MIL’s (in increment of measurement inside the scope), I held for the wind and correction. This is typical in real world sniper engagements at long ranges. The saying, “One shot…One kill” does not always apply, especially if the target is partially exposed or moving.
The second round impacted the target a little less than 4 seconds after the trigger was pulled.
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