I’m a former US Marine and a third award expert with the rifle there. Lots shot better than I did, but I understand the fundamentals very very well. I’ve since switched over to civilian marksmanship and while many aspects are very different, there are a lot more that carry over just dandy!
Shooting a rifle isn’t about killing things or destroying an engine block from a mile away. It’s about finding a single point downrange and putting a hole in it. If you could do it with a pencil from 1000 yards away, you could do that and accomplish the same thing. Doing it with a rifle is more satisfying!
I don’t know why everyone does not share my delight with explosives. If they don’t, it has to be some abhorrent character defect.
–Ragnar Benson, from Ragnar’s Guide to Home and Recreational Use of High Explosives, pg.110, © 1988.
The above quote shamelessly stolen from Joe Huffman‘s Boomershoot site. For me it’s the ability to affect things physically from so far away that you need special optics to even come close to seeing what affect you had on it, if any. It’s not just as simple as pointing the gun downrange and pulling the trigger, is it?
Yes. Yes it is! The hard part is pointing it EXACTLY where you want it. This particular post is going to help us get to that point. Let’s not sit behind the rifle yet. First we need to gear up. I’m going to go over the mandatory equipment first and the optional equipment second.
Note: This guide is done using my personal experience and the gear that I’ve used. This is NOT intended to be an end-all be-all of guides. When I started civilian shooting, I couldn’t find details of what equipment to buy. I had no idea! I spent a LOT of money on items that I did not need. I’m trying to alleviate that problem for people that want to shoot but aren’t sure where to start.
What are you going to be shooting for? Rabbits? Elk? Aspirin? Depending on your quarry, you will want a different rifle. The cheapest ammo of all, smallest recoil, but the ability to maintain accuracy out to 150 yards makes the .22LR the popular choice by a long shot. I own a Winchester Wildcat .22LR, hardwood stock, heavy bull barrel, and it feels like a death laser! If I aim, the bullet hits exactly what I want. I think it’s wonderful! With the price of ammo, I can shoot all day long and spend MAYBE $40. Granted, my rifle is a bolt action. The difference between them is reload time. With a bolt, if I’m fast I can get a shot off every .75 seconds. Probably closer to 1.5 seconds. Semi-automatic rifles mean the round is loaded automatically by the previous round.
For larger quarry, you may want a .223. This round has a maximum range on a point target of 500 yards. Some states will allow you to take deer with this round and others will not. This is to ensure the animal dies humanely. This is also a great round for self defense in the home if you’ve got an AR-15 variant.
The proper caliber is entirely shooter’s preference. This is based on what you intend to shoot, how much recoil your body can handle, what’s comfortable to hold/shoot, and what distances you plan on shooting out to. For your first rifle..
DO NOT go out and buy a $5000 custom rifle kit! Buy a cheaper rifle so you know what parts of it you do not like.
A good rifle is custom to your needs. When you buy a rifle, you are not buying a single piece of gear. The barrel, the action, the stock, the sling swivels, the rail, and the scope (if included) are all individual parts and can be swapped out with aftermarket parts if you are not happy with them. This allows you to start shooting on day 1 with a $500 budget while when you’re finish, you wind up with a $3000 rifle, piece by piece. Don’t think the AR rifles are the only modular ones! No way. Pick a barrel you like, then customize from there.
I like a heavy/bull barrel. It wobbles and flexes less than a thinner barrel. A thinner barrel doesn’t really matter out to 300-500 yards. A bull barrel weighs more, however. The trajectory of a round varies depending on the temperature of a round, so a bull barrel will change trajectory a little more since the barrel takes longer to cool down.
Barrel length is also a factor. Shorter barrels can work just fine out to 500-600 yards, but will most likely be inadequate out to 1000+ yards. The longest barrel you will usually find is around the 26” mark. Some 50 cal or .338 Lapua rifles may have longer.
I own a .308. It’s a Remington 700 SPS Varmint. 26” heavy bull barrel. The stock on it is terrible. It’s not free floating because of the flimsy nature of it, it would collapse and wobble ever so slightly if you mounted the bipod on the very end of it. It will be replaced.
Price: Varies greatly
The scope is the second most important piece of equipment you will own next to the rifle itself. Without a good scope, you will NOT hit your target with anything other than luck. First, let’s look at the stats. My .308 has a Vortex 6.5-20×40. What does this mean? The 6.5-20 means the magnification goes from 6.5x up to 20x. The last number is the objective lens size. The larger the diameter, the more light that is allowed into the scope and the brighter your image. So instead of seeing maybe 10’ of area downrange, you might now be seeing 25’. This doesn’t SHRINK what you see, just makes more of what you can see available.
The scope also has different reticles. The reticle is the set of lines that you see when you look through a scope, also called the ‘crosshairs’ in the movies.
Looking at the above image, you can now see why ‘crosshairs’ is not an accurate term all the time. The most popular reticles for civilian use are Duplex, Mil Dot, and Target Dot. For field use like hunting, mil-dot is the most popular reticle in use. There are a few other reticles not shown here that display different elevations for shorter distances so you can shoot off the cuff without having to worry about adjusting elevation manually.
When buying scopes, it’s common to see a lot coming from China and others from Japan. Chinese optics are by and large regarded as straight poop. Japanese optics are regarded with respect because they put more science and effort behind their products. US Made scopes are going to be my recommendation, but that’s because I like US Made stuff when I can. Nightforce and Vortex, for example.
One additional option I want to focus on is the parallax adjustment. It’s similar to the focus… if you focus on a point, it is in focus and everything else is blurry. Scopes need to make 2 different objects focused. Your target and the reticle. The focal point in a scope and the reticle should line up. If they do not, then there is a problem with the Parallax. When this happens, you can move your eye sideways in the scope end and you can see the reticle MOVE while the target does not move. Parallax adjustment fixes this and makes sure they appear as one image. A simple way to see if your parallax isn’t set properly is to look at your target. If you see Blue or Red outlines on the side of everything, it’s out of whack. Basically it’s acting like a prism at that point. Adjusting the parallax will correct that.
Scope prices range anywhere from $30 for a .22LR scope up to $1200 for a high end Leupold or $2400 for a good Swarovski or Seamons or even $3200 for a Schmidt Bender.
The scope I use is a Vortex 6.5-20×40.
The most commonly used scope mount is a picatinny/weaver rail. There are other options, like Leupold’s proprietary mount, so make sure you purchase your rail accordingly. Buy your rail to fit your scope, not vice versa. It is NOT unusual to have to spend $100 or more on a good rail.
For long distance shooting, one factor you have to decide is to go with a flat rail or a 20 MOA rail. You can get different angles, but 20moa is standard. When you shoot, your rifle round goes UP before hitting its zenith, and then drops down before hitting its target. Since you can only adjust a scope to take into account LONGER distances, you will need a rail that gives you a 20 MOA rise right off the get go. Some scopes may not allow you to raise the point of aim high enough to accommodate 700, 800, 1200 yards so you have to compensate by using an angled rail. 20 moa is recommended unless you have a very specific use.
Notes on mounting the rail… every time you travel, tighten up the screws if necessary. Don’t buy a cheap screwdriver for this. I’ve broken several because they suck. This means Kobalt from Lowe’s is wrong. Stanley brand are garbage. Next up, I try Craftsman.
Another area you don’t want to skimp on. Crappy rings will mean the scope might wiggle a little bit when shooting, making it impossible to zero. I like my Leupold rings that ran me $54 (cheap IMO, would have paid $100 for them). When picking your scope rings, make sure you pick the proper size. Scopes are sold in 1” and 30mm variants. Pick the rings to fit the scope properly. Rings can be bought in 3 different heights depending on the size of the objective lens on the scope, so make sure you buy one of the appropriate height. This is the reason why you need to buy rings to fit your scope and not the other way around.
This can either be in the form of a bipod, a lead sled, or a bean bag. Bean bag substitutes are things as simple as cat litter, sandbags, or even stuffed animals (I’ve seen it).
The cheapest option is a bag rest. These take many forms. They all serve the same purpose, but here are a few examples.
There are 3 benefits to these. First, they are cheap. You can get a GOOD shooting bag like the Caldwell for under $60 for a front bag and under $15 for a rear bag. Your own gear can serve as its own bag rest which means there’s no extra out of pocket expense. The second advantage is that depending on the materials used, they can help reduce recoil. Not by a huge amount, but it sure won’t hurt. If the interior of the gap is lined with rubber or leather, they can grip the rifle, not harming it, and help soak up the recoil. The third advantage is that they’re extensible. This means that they’re infinitely adjustable depending on how you squish them and rock them. The disadvantage to them is that they’re usually set to a specific height. Bag rests do not go to very high heights.
I prefer bipods simply because they’re attached to the rifle. They’re also fairly cheap, but the lower amount of money you spend on these, the lower quality bipod you get. For instance, the cheapest ones will not allow you to adjust the sideways angle that the rifle shoots from (more on this lower). The more expensive ones also have rubber grips on the feet instead of hard plastic ones. These make it FAR easier to shoot without the rifle sliding all over. It’s difficult to judge the improvement unless you try both on uneven ground. The concept is identical to that of a tripod for a camera. A tripod works because if you take ANY 3 points, they form a flat plane. You can put a tripod on any surface and it will not rock. All 3 points are on the ground. A bipod is the same thing, but it uses YOU for the third point. Also like a tripod, the legs almost always telescope out to lengthen or shorten, depending on use.
Bipods generally attach to either a picatinny/weaver rail or a sling swivel. Most rifles geared towards hunting use the sling swivel. The first picture shows what a sling swivel is. While they do sit with the hole perpendicular to the rifle, most of them do allow it to swivel as the name implies.
Sling swivels are always located in the same spot. This particular rifle has got 2 in the front, 1 in the rear. A few reasons for 2 swivels in the front if yours comes with them. First, it allows you to adjust which swivel mount the top of your sling goes to for greater comfort. The second and primary reason is so you can mount both a bipod and a sling at the same time. The below pictures show the locations of the swivels on almost all rifles.
Some bipods have their own sling swivel to accommodate the rifles that do not come with one so you don’t have to make a choice between each one. The bipod I have is one such bipod. In this picture, I’m displaying the basic bipod’s necessary features. First is the clamp that’s shown in the middle of the padded area, far right side of the image. This locks into the sling swivel mounts displayed above. It is tightened down by the thumb screw on the opposite side of the mount plate, facing to the left. As you tighten it, it draws the clamp in farther and because the clamp is curved, it squeezes it at the same time it’s drawing it in, ensuring a locked fit onto the sling swivels.
In this next picture, I’m showing off 2 other functions of the bipod. The first is an optional secondary sling swivel of its own, just to the left of the large knob. Shaped almost the same as the ones on the rifle, these are used to give yourself the ability to have a sling AND bipod on rifles that only have a single front sling swivel. The other feature I’m pointing you to is the large thumb knob on the center of the mount plate area. This is used to tighten the bipod down so there is no rocking movement to the rifle. If loosened, you can rock your rifle left and right as you need to. Because the ground is RARELY perfectly flat, this is a feature I strongly recommend! A rifle that’s canted to one side will not give proper performance because it is NO LONGER ZEROED properly. I am using my wallet in this picture because the clamp that grabs the swivel head falls down into the hole and I wanted to make sure it’s displayed for the picture. The swivel clamp is perfectly normal if it falls beneath the hole when not in use, just FYI.
The bipod is mounted one of two ways. Either you mount it so the legs collapse towards the barrel end or collapse towards the stock end of the rifle. There are reasons for each. When a rifle fires, the recoil drives the rifle to the rear. Because of this, you will put less strain on the bipod if you mount it so the legs collapse FORWARD towards the barrel. If you mount it so the legs collapse backwards towards the shooter, then you put stress on the bipod because they only flex in a single direction. How much stress? Hard to say and it might not even have a detrimental effect on the bipod, but in my eyes, why take a chance? The other reason for variation is field use. When aiming from the hand, the weight of the bipod may affect your aim. If it’s mounted to face forwards, it may throw off the balance, making it hard to balance and hold. This is NOT an issue with zeroing the rifle because that is almost always bench work.
If at all possible, borrow someone else’s bipod and use it at the place you plan on shooting at the most. If the benches are high, you will want a shorter bipod and vice versa. This will let you buy the most appropriate piece of equipment without doing trial and error, wasting money.
Another option, while the most expensive of the bunch, offers the most stability.
In this picture, you aim with the knob in the rear that raises and lowers the stock as well as the wheel in the front which raises and lowers that. You also adjust the lateral movement of the barrel with the knob just above the wheel. On the bottom, this model allows you to add bags of weights to help soak up the recoil. Notice the top of the lead sled also sits BEHIND the stock. The lead sled is designed for precision shooting that takes the human error out of the project. You aim with knobs, pull the trigger, and see where it hit. I do not do this when I am shooting for target practice because to me it takes the fun out of it, but some like it and I will not knock them for their choice.
You can’t shoot a rifle without ammunition. You don’t go out and buy a box of bullets. You buy cartridges or rounds. The term ‘shell’ is usually reserved to shotguns, even though it’s technically not. The bullet is the term for the projectile itself. A sample rifle round (looks like .30-30 is below.
You’ll notice that the bullet is not pointy. Not all rifle rounds are, but most are. This gives it a better Ballistic Coefficient (BC). The BC is a term I am not going to go into detail with in this post. It deserves a full day long post all its own. When fired, the gun hits the primer, igniting it. The ignited primer sets off the gunpowder which explodes in glorious fashion causing the entire cartridge to explode. Because explosions follow the path of least resistance, it simply forces the bullet down the barrel and down range to wherever you are pointing it.
For shooting, I prefer full metal jacket rounds. This term means that the entire visible portion of the bullet is jacketed, usually in copper.
This is similar to the next type of bullet. The hollow point bullet has a drilled out tip so when it impacts an animal (or other medium), it mushrooms, hopefully expending the full amount of energy in the bullet right into your target, inflicting maximum damage. Preferable for 2-legged targets or varmints, but not always recommended for food kills. Interesting note, the Geneva Conventions outlaw the use of hollow point bullets for use in international war. Stupid, but it is what it is. The below picture shows a full hollow point cartridge (.38 Special in this case), the bullet itself, and an expended bullet that’s already been impacted.
The last item is very similar to a hollow point bullet and helps accomplish the same goal for a higher price, but better BC. The typical make and model of this bullet is the Hornady VMax.
With this one, you don’t lose as much speed due to drag, but when the plastic tip impacts the target, It forces the rest of the bullet to mushroom and fragment, causing maximum damage. The tradeoff with this is cost.
Price: Varies based on availability, caliber, and quality.
The muzzle break is a piece of equipment that goes on the end of your rifle once you get a gunsmith to thread your barrel. It forces the blast of the rifle round to be directed to the rear and helps turn the recoil down by a large margin. The same threading will not work for a sound suppressor (NOT A SILENCER, those don’t exist) unless they happen to have the same threading. Do not assume they are the same. It’s recommended to get a company to thread your barrel. For instance, GemTech will thread your barrel (for a price, about $145) which will maintain the warranty of their products.
These can be the same as a muzzle break, but by definition are different. They are used strictly to hide any kind of flash a shot would make, visually eliminating the flash.
Currently requiring a $200 tax stamp (Shall Not be Infringed, right?), suppressors will enable it so that you can shoot subsonic rounds without the need for hearing protection. With many .22LR rifles, the only sound you hear is the racking of the bolt if applicable. This is NOT a silencer. The movies taught you wrong.
Price: Varies +$200 for Federal Tax Stamp
A good spotting scope will make shooting much easier, but is not needed. The issue arises when you shoot. Once you pull the trigger, with anything past a .22, your rifle has a significant recoil which means you simply cannot watch where your rifle round impacts. The guide to buying a spotting scope is the same as to buying a scope. If you have a spotting scope, you’ll be able to see exactly where the round impacts provided you’ve got a…
The spotter is just a person that watches through a spotting scope and looks to see where your shot lands. As they watch, they’ll be able to see the exact trajectory your bullet makes as it hits the target. The sonic waves around the bullet compress and distort the air around its path and is easily visible through a spotting scope.
Price: A Pizza
A tripod can be expensive. You will be VERY sorry if you go cheap on this. Buy a tripod designed for a high end camera or a telescope. Telescope tripods use the same mounts as camera tripods, but they have finer adjustments which make it a ton easier than using a cheap tripod. BUY A GOOD ONE! A ‘Gorillapod’ just will not cut it, folks.
These are small side-saddle bags that strap onto your rifle stock to cushion and raise your cheek weld and they provide extra storage opportunities for your ammunition.
Dry firing a gun can be harmful. Very harmful depending on the gun. A snap cap is a fake cartridge that does NOT fire but instead provides a cushion for the gun’s hammer to impact instead of hitting nothing.
Price: $9 per 2
A good case is vital to storing your firearm while traveling. The more money you spend, the better case you get. I like water proof ones for obvious reasons. Rust is your rifle’s worst enemy. Protect it! A soft case is good for most purposes. Small, lightweight, cheap. For flying, you NEED a hard sided case. I have a soft case and a hard case depending on my uses. Do not be afraid to cut up the foam in a hard case. Foam is replaceable.
Again, rust is your rifle’s worst enemy. Desiccant makes storage easy. A desiccant simply sucks the moisture out of the air. If your case is not airtight, then desiccant is pointless. My case requires it, otherwise when I close it up, the gun is trapped with all of the moisture and it’s got nowhere to go. Rust does not need water. Water is a catalyst with rust, so the more rust appears, it does NOT use up the water in a case. It just helps oxidize the iron more and more, a la rust. This can be bought cheap. For mine, I bought a box of silica that came in a large container and split it up into a few of my son’s socks and zip-tied it shut. Silica can’t come out, moisture can still go inside. I just leave it smashed in between the layers of foam near my rifles.
You NEED cleaning gear. Your rifle needs more cleaning than a newborn just about! This part is fairly simple… Toothbrush, get a brass brush cleaning kit from a gun shop, get a boresnake like the one pictured in the left most Case picture, and get rags. The rags should probably be stored in a gallon size ziploc bag. For cleaning solvents, I prefer Hoppes 9. I think it’s fantastic! WD-40 is NOT rifle cleaning gear. Neither is duct tape. Buy the right stuff.
Buying the appropriate gear is up to you. Everything you buy will either make your shooting easier or more difficult, but it’s up to you to determine which. Buy what you need and only what you need.
If any information is inaccurate, send me an email and I’ll get ‘er fixed up.
Noobs Guide to Handling Rifles – Part 2 – The Zero
Update: 5/16 – added pricing