Long-Range Shooting School
My favorite way to learn anything is to jump headfirst into the murky depths and stay afloat. That is exactly what I had done when signing up for Outdoor Solutions’ Long-Range Shooting School. I knew next to nothing about rifles and much less how to shoot them effectively. I made that painfully clear over the phone when Greg, the owner, called me to get to know me before the 2-day session as he does with all his students.
Greg assured me that I’m the perfect type of student he likes to receive, which I brushed off as him just being nice and attempting to comfort the bit of my anxiety. He sent me the lecture’s PowerPoint slide and I began studying - now I know I'm going to drown in these waters.
Going Over the Basics
We arrived at a beautiful lodge filled with remnants of what I could only imagine to be great adventure mounted along the walls. The two-story lodge is one of the most beautiful I’ve seen, nestled in a valley of mid-size Utah mountains all around. The class of roughly twelve shooters trickled in throughout the evening, all of which anxious to get started – sharing hunting adventure stories, their current loadouts, and gear they’re looking forward to getting their hands on. Once everyone arrived, we made our way down to the lecture hall.
The first lecture assumes nothing. Ryan, a retired marine, does an incredible job giving you a high-level introduction to the concepts you will learn and take your very first steps towards mastery the following day. By the end of the lesson, you’ll leave with a full understanding of what a Minute of Angle represents and how to implement it on the fly, how to create a ‘zone’ where you can quickly estimate distances for fast follow-up shots and proper shooter-spotter dialogue, and how to use a GeoBallistics app to your full advantage.
I came into the lecture nervous considering I hadn’t picked up a rifle in years, let alone with the goal of long-range shooting 1,000+ yards. I have heard of MOA and Mils but never learned what their function is or how they work. I just never really had to considering my goal is to become a bowhunter. But when I left the lecture all of the anxiety of not knowing vanished
Long-Range Shooting Day 1
After breakfast and a bit of chit-chat we made our way up to the shooting range where we were met with a lineup of Remington’s Model 700 5-R Gen2 chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor with suppressors from Advanced Armament, and Zeiss spotting scopes at each station, and a reiteration of the range rules with an emphasis on their importance.
We briefly went through the basics we learned just the night prior, as well as some hands-on experience with the rifles, spotting scopes, and ballistics turrets. It wasn’t long before we were ready to put our knowledge to practice. Starting at the standard 100 yards to check zero, everything was looking great and I was getting a better feel for the rifle and scope combination we’ve been handed. At 100 yards it wasn’t difficult to go through the spotter-shooter dialogue we learned the night before with confidence. “Spotter up”, “Shooter ready”, “100-yard target, hold true, send when ready”.
Once comfortable at 100 yards you can’t help but look beyond at the 700 - 800-yard targets and think “how in the hell am I going to hit those targets, I can’t even see the 1,000-yard target, we’re going to be hitting those by the end of the day?” We’re instructed to move on to the 200-yard target and get comfortable with that distance. With minor adjustments, and constant feedback from the long-range shooting instructors we made easy work of 4, 6, 700-yard shots even with howling winds pushing our bullets 20+ inches off course. Slowly building confidence as the distance increased. Then came the real test.
Everything Matters at This Distance
At 1,000 yards everything counts. Your breath, your hand-stability, your heartbeat, and your mindset. A 1-inch mistake at 1,000 yards is amplified to a 10-inch catastrophe. You have to apply all the techniques you’ve been taught and practiced over the past few targets and hone them in razor-sharp with absolutely no mistakes. And those are only the factors you can control.
Looking down the tube at 1,000 yards your heart rate is visibly heightened. Each beat manifested as a twitch in the field of view, something you hadn’t had to consider all that much shooting lower distances. Wind now has an incredible amount of determination against you. Luckily, we were shooting at minimum 10+ MPH winds which only added to our experience and difficulty.
“Spotter up” “Shooter ready” “Target 1,000 yards. Push left 5 MOA. Send when ready.”
Here’s the moment of truth. The moment we all knew would come but not so much believe we’d hear steel sing. Lock onto the target, inhale, exhale one-third of your breath, and squeeze. At that distance, factoring in wind, we are actually aiming the barrel 50 inches left and 22.5 feet above target.
Your Hail Mary screams out of the barrel while you’re thinking there’s no way that’s the trajectory for success. Smacked it! Less than 24 hours after arrival the instructors taught 12 students, all of them ranging in skill from 30+ years of long-range shooting to me, who had shot a rifle a handful of times at distances no longer than 100 yards, to ring steel at 1,000 yards in high winds with a hint of confidence.
“Once is luck, twice is skill” a mantra I heard consistently throughout the course. They’re right, everybody can get lucky once. So, you load another cartridge and enter the scope eager knowing that if you hold true to the process and apply technique you can in fact hit 1000 yards with off-the-shelf equipment.
Not So Easy Away from the Shooting Bench
Learning in a controlled environment was great, but the course has a hunting context embedded throughout. Day 2 we made our way up the mountain to be greeted with incredible views of snow-capped Utah mountains at all sides. The view alone was worth waking up for.
Here we applied all the knowledge gained from shooting at the range and made easy work of tricky targets spread across steep slopes, wide canyons, awkward positions, and unrelenting thermals. Long-range shooting off of packs, bipods, rocks, and even jackets mimicked likely shooting situations that many western hunters will find themselves in. Even with all the trickiness that the terrain has to offer, taking the process to heart and following every step made smacking these targets with confidence possible.
“There is no piece of gear that can increase your confident shooting range by 60%, that is effectively what this course has done. The investment in yourself is a no-brainer"
This two-day long-range shooting course transformed me as a shooter. In a matter of hours on the range, the instructors molded me into a confident shooter capable of making accurate wind calls, understanding thermals, capable of building extremely stable long-range shooting positions, and dialing for center with ease. I overheard a pupil exclaim “There is no piece of gear that can increase your confident shooting range by 60%, that is effectively what this course has done. The investment in yourself is a no-brainer”, and I couldn’t agree more.
From the lodging, the food, the instructors, and ultimately the camaraderie of the students cultivated by Greg and his instructors make this school a worthwhile experience to learn from and take on through your years as a hunter. I am looking forward to coming back and bringing my wife along next time and sharing the experience with her. If you ever find yourself in a position to take this long-range shooting course, don’t think twice about it – it is absolutely incredible.
Putting It into Practice
Recently I was lucky enough to go hunting in southern Arizona for Coues deer with Publisher, Chris Denham, and copy editor Levi Sopeland. This was my first ever deer hunt with a rifle (after many unsuccessful attempts with a bow). I was lucky enough to draw the first straw and my first rifle stalk was on its way.
The stalk wasn’t much worth noting – a fairly easy stroll into a shooting position that set us up at roughly 245 yards. I laid prone using all the techniques I had learned at Outdoor Solutions and went through my pre-shot mental checklist. I waited behind the riflescope for him to stand for what turned about to be three and a half hours!
The entire time I had absolutely no anxiety, no sense of nervousness, and the idea of a bad shot didn’t even cross my mind. 245 yards feels like an absolute layup thanks to the confidence built by Outdoor Solutions. After more than enough time considering all scenarios and how I’ll readjust my shooting bags for each, the buck finally stood and took a single step right into a very slight quartering away position. Immediately, without hesitation, I went through my mental checklist and squeezed the trigger.
My very first buck was immediately downed with a shot that felt almost too easy thanks to Outdoor Solutions and Chris’ guidance, check out Outdoor Solutions' 2020 schedule online here and experience the difference for yourself.