A 1,000-Yard Shot

long-range shooting sniper

My first firearm was a .22 Long Rifle Lever Action gifted by my father on my 10th birthday. On our rural 22-acre farm near Lake Whitney, Texas, I could stalk-and-plink to my heart’s content. Aside from humans, buildings and livestock, nothing was safe: trees, mounds of dirt, grape trellises…I shot it all.

Old soda cans were my favorite target. I set them up on logs and counted out twenty paces. I knelt and steadied the barrel on a misshapen rock, looked down the iron sights and executed the cans, one-by-one, until I had saved the free world from soda can-shaped terrorists.   

My first harvest was a grackle perched on a dying oak tree. I had no idea what type of bird it was, but I nailed it from 40 yards on a windy day. I grabbed its corpse with bare hands and carried it to my dad, who ordered me to quickly ‘bury that damn thing’. Turns out, grackles are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.

The writer's childhood farm in Whitney, Texas 

As a teenager, I used a 20g shotgun to destroy skeet flung 50 yards in the air. At first, I would blast the skeet the moment they were airborne. Over time, I let the skeet reach its zenith before taking my shot. As I became more skilled, I let the skeet begin to plummet before destroying them. Within a few weeks, I could shoot two flung at the same time.

After high school, I joined the US Navy. Like every squid before me, I qualified on shooting ranges with a Beretta M9 pistol and Mossberg 500 shotgun. The furthest they asked us to shoot was 15 yards. I qualified grudgingly, like I was auditioning for the NBA by performing a layup.

After Field Medical Service School at Camp Pendleton, California, I was introduced to the Marines. The first thing we did was insult each other for good measure.

Did you know M.A.R.I.N.E. stands for Muscles Are Required, Intelligence Not Expected? Well, now you know. Of course, N.A.V.Y stands for Never Again Volunteer Yourself. 

After the standard military pleasantries, we went to a 100-yard range and plinked a 3x5 target with an M-16 firing 5.56mm. At the time, that was the furthest I had ever shot.

With Kopfjäger, I learned my past shooting experiences were as difficult as throwing a rock in a lake. Kevin Reese—award-winning writer and photographer—said great marksmanship extends beyond 1000 yards or more, beyond the limits of normal human vision and hearing. From that distance, a hunter can take game without worrying about their scent being detected downwind or spooking the animals by coughing or sneezing.

To enter rare company, Kevin claimed, a sharpshooter must go beyond 500 to the mythical 1,000-yard shot, or the equivalent of 10 football fields. 1,000 yards is where elite Marine snipers operate. Many go beyond—even to 2,000 yards—though that generally pushes any rifle to its limits.

Not all rifles can reach 1,000 yards and not all ammunition will go that far either. Many ranges don’t offer 1,000-yard opportunities. Some offer 2,000-yard shots—over a mile—where the bullet might fly for 5-8 seconds before striking its target. The longest successful sniper shot in the world was over 3,800 yards away. 

At Triple C Range in Cresson, Texas, I finally got the chance to shoot 1,000 yards. However, before I could even think about hitting a miniscule target on the far end of the county, I needed the proper gear.

1,000 yard shooting range

The 1,000yd range at Triple C 

First, safety. Ear protection is crucial. I used earplugs to avoid the eardrum damage of a 1970s heavy metal rocker. Kevin used earmuffs, and we also employed a Phoenix Weaponry .338 Suppressor to reduce the boom of rifle-fire and save our precious eardrums. The suppressor also helped reduce recoil, enabling me to stay on-target after every shot.

I used prescription sunglasses for eye protection – and to get my fuzzy peepers up to 20/20.  

The rifle was a McRees Precision BR-10 chambering 6.5 Creedmoor. McRees Rifles are notorious for their consistent accuracy, generally guaranteeing sub ½ MOA or better. McRees Precision Rifles are used by members of the US Military, including elite snipers.   

Mounted on the rifle was a Sightmark Latitude 6.25x56 PRS. With its first focal plane reticle, fast-focus eyepiece and scratch-resistant lens, I was working with one of the best long-range scopes in the business. If you’re using a Sightmark Latitude and failing to hit your target, there’s a high chance it’s a user error.

Mike Burks—a highly experienced long-range shooter—provided a Sightmark Latitude 20-60x60SE Spotting Scope mounted on a Kopfjäger K700 Heavy-Duty Aluminum Tripod. The long-range spotting scope combined with the ultra-stable tripod would provide a consistent, reliable factor while calculating our shots.

long range snipers

The writer and his trusty spotter 

To prevent placing the rifle and our own bodies on cold pavement, we used a BlackHawk shooting mat. This made the whole experience far more comfortable, and because shooting 1,000 yards can require dozens of shots and possibly hours on the range, comfort is vital.  

The McRees Precision BR-10 was fitted with an Accu-Tac PC-G2 Bipod. This nifty shooting rest saved my arm muscles and provided a forward rest for the rifle. As always, stability is key. We also used dual bubble levels to ensure the rifle stayed level for the duration.

One of the lesser known but most important accessories is a tactical squeeze bag. This is a simple sack partially filled with sand that rests under the rifle’s stock. When squeezed, the bag lifts the stock and lowers the muzzle, providing greater stability and control.

Without a squeeze bag, the shooter would need to steady the rifle with their hands, which are prone to miniscule tremors and shaking. When long-range shooting, especially extreme distances like 1,000 yards, eliminating every tiny variable is crucial.  

Aside from the rifle, perhaps the most important piece of gear was the Kestrel Ballistics Weather Meter. This nifty device provided current wind speed, temperature and humidity information. With the Kestrel’s data, we were able to calculate our shots using a Data On Previous Engagements (DOPE) ballistic method.

Basically, the DOPE gave us all the shooting information from the last time all this equipment was used together. We were already armed with data on bullet trajectory, velocity, drop, Mil-Dot and atmospheric pressure.    

Kopfjäger tripod

A Kopfjäger K700 Tripod

After the gear and ballistic information was prepared, I began shooting targets at 500 yards. Gusty winds blew from every direction, intermittent and erratic, challenging our calculations. The range’s distant windsocks—which indicate wind direction and speed—were flip-flopping more than a politician up for reelection.

Regardless, I took aim and struck the 500-yard target high on each corner, and after some minor windage and elevation changes, I nailed it in the center. After I did that, Kevin made me do it three more times, just to be sure.

My next target was 800 yards away, or the same distance as two laps around an Olympic track. Even through the scope, the target looked small and hazy. I settled the reticle’s crosshairs, took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. When my lungs were totally empty, I squeezed the trigger.

I perked my ears to hear the spotter’s assessment.

No call.

A total miss.

Kevin gave me an adjustment, “Two clicks up.” I tentatively made the change and struck nothing except fat air. The guys were quiet for a moment, then Kevin nudged me with his foot. “Spread your legs out,” he said, “and get off your rifle.”

He was right. I was crowding the rifle, bracing the stock too low against my chest. My legs weren’t splayed out. I was trying to force the rifle to work with my own strength and will, instead of getting out of my own way and letting the rifle do what it was designed for.

I readjusted and nailed the 800-yard target in a single shot. Kevin made me plink it two more times, just for good measure.

“The thousand-yard target,” Kevin said, “line up your shot.” Apparently, the rest period between 800 and 1000 yards is approximately two seconds.

I ran through my mental long-range shooting checkbox. Splay your legs. Use the squeeze bag. Take a deep breath. I gently squeezed the trigger and waited for the spotter’s corrections.

“Dead on,” he said, just as I turned to see Kevin filming me. I couldn’t believe it.

shooting 1,000 yards

The mythical 1,000-yard shot 

I successfully hit 1,000 yards on my first try. I shot twice more, hitting the millenary target each time. It was so easy, I wondered why we even started at 500 yards. I could’ve done this in my sleep.

My fourth shot went wide, kicking up a puff of dust on the small berm. The windsock had shifted again, and Kevin gave me a series of adjustments to try. I followed his instructions, lined up the shot, and…click. I was out of ammunition.

After a quick reload, I lined up another attempt. My next several shots danced around the target, kissing each corner, grazing the edges. I felt a rush of frustration. The wind was too unpredictable.

300 yards out, the wind was probably going east at 20mph. 600 yards out, it was westerly at 15mph. At 1000 yards, the wind was swirling before plunging into a saucy tango that was taking my bullets on an unwanted jaunt to Nowhere-Ville.

I looked at Kevin with despair. I’d already hit 1000 yards, right? Weren’t we done?

“Let’s hit it a few more times, just so you know there’s no luck involved,” Kevin said. That sounded weird to me. But, wasn’t luck involved? I mean, what about the wind?

Kevin seemed to read my mind. “There’s no mystery going on here, Mark. Gravity, bullet velocity, wind…they’re just factors that we adjust to. Don’t complicate what’s actually happening here.”

I repeated the steps. Chamber a round, splay the legs, use the squeeze bag, take a deep breath. I was beginning to wonder if my first three shots were pure chance just as I squeezed the trigger.

“Hit!” Mike called.

I loaded another round and fired again.

“Hit!” Kevin and Mike said simultaneously.

I kept shooting and shooting. Sure, my back was beginning to ache and my fingers felt a little numb. A headache was growing behind my eyes and my splayed legs wanted to assume their natural position, but I was hitting a target 1,000 yards away. I fired and fired.

In the end, I hit the goal target a total of 8 times. Shooting 1,000 yards is not magic and it’s not luck. There are no shortcuts nor scenic routes. Whether you grew up shooting different guns in rural Texas or have never touched a firearm in your life, long-range shooting is within reach.  

More than anything, two factors enabled me to reach out and shoot a target so far away I couldn’t see it with naked eyes: Experienced help and the right gear. Every little thing was crucial.

All the best and brightest snipers in the world can’t shoot over half-a-mile without the proper gear. Spending eight thousand dollars on equipment won’t help you very much if there’s no veteran shooters around to provide guidance.

If you get out to a 1,000-yard range and can’t hit those distant, tiny targets at first, don’t despair. You wouldn’t expect to run a sub-5-minute mile or do a triple backflip off a balancing beam on your first try, either.

Shooting is the same. There are tiny nuances you never knew existed. Every single gun is different. An expert on firearms 40 years ago might be flabbergasted by modern guns.

Familiarity with firearms, feeling the shock of a discharge and understanding how all the accessories help takes time. You may have misfires, jams and minor frustrations along the way. More than anything, you need an experienced shooter to guide your practice, and you need the right equipment to achieve such a feat.

Note: Since the abridged publication of this article, Triple C Range in Cresson, Texas, has undergone organizational changes and become closed to the public. 

     


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