Long Range Shooting Tips

An expert competitive shooter shares his secrets for success.

Long Range Shooting Tips
Photograph Courtesy of Bob Robb

I first met Tom Maciak, a mechanical engineer for one of the world’s preeminent makers of riflescopes and other optics for both civilian and military use, at a shooting school in Utah. Maciak is a competitive long-range shooter, and it was there that he taught a small class that included special forces members, his secrets on how he builds a rifle/load/optic combination that will precisely place a bullet at 1,000 yards or more pretty much every time, and how you, the shooter, can deliver it consistently on target. It was when I saw these American heroes paying close attention to what he was saying that I thought, perhaps, I should take some notes. Before the trip was over, we had affectionately dubbed him “Zen Master.”

That Maciak could help me ring a gong pretty much every shot with either a .223 modern sporting rifle or bolt-action .308 at distances from 100 to 900 yards pretty much says it all. If I can do it, so can you. Here are Maciak’s 12 tips that, taken together, will help make you the best rifle shot you can be.

Photograph Courtesy of Bob Robb

Tom Maciak’s 12 Tips for Long-Range Success

Photograph Courtesy of Bob Robb

  • “First off, you need to develop a rifle/load combination that is consistently accurate,” Maciak said. “Handloaders, forget about trying to get a round to go as fast as it can go without blowing up. Consistent accuracy is everything.”
  • “The rifle must fit you exactly,” the Zen Master continued. “To help make it fit better, you can buy auxiliary cheek pieces, buttplate extensions for length of pull, etc. Also, you need to adjust your rifle’s scope position by sliding your optic fore and aft until it is just right. You will also need a bipod, tripod or shooting sticks to give you a rock-solid rest. For long-distance success, everything must fit you like a glove. You have to know it, feel it, make it as familiar as hugging your teddy bear.”
  • “The scope eyepiece/diopter adjustment is critical,” Maciak said. “You have to make sure the reticle is in focus for your personal eyesight. This has nothing to do with the target being in focus, so make your adjustments against a blank background like a wall (with an unloaded gun of course). Also, do not stare at the reticle while adjusting because the eye will accommodate the adjustments. Move it a quarter or half turn while looking away, then look through the scope, then continue on until everything is crisp.” 
  • “Most scopes with 10X or more magnification will have a parallax adjustment knob,” Maciak said. “Now, at whatever distance you’re shooting, adjust this knob until everything is blurry, and then bring it back until it is in focus. But remember that this is not a focus knob, so you move your head in a swaying motion while looking through the eyepiece and make sure the reticle is not moving. When this occurs, parallax is correct for that distance. If parallax is not correct and your cheek is not consistently placed on the stock or your head position behind the scope is not consistent, it may seem like your point of aim is proper, but the point of impact might be off downrange. This may not be noticeable at shorter ranges, but everything intensifies at extreme ranges.”

"You must get your body parallel to the rifle. That may seem a bit unnatural at first, but it is really important."

  • “Many scopes have reticles that can be illuminated,” Maciak noted. “When you have too much illumination, the reticle may seem to 'bloom,' which will make the reticle no longer precise. Make sure the reticle is not too ‘hot.’”
  • “Body position is critical and something many shooters overlook,” Maciak said. “You must get your body parallel to the rifle. That may seem a bit unnatural at first, but it is really important. Why? Because if your shoulder is canted to the side, the recoil can ‘roll’ you to the side, which will take you off target for follow-up shots and/or make it impossible to see your hits through the scope. I always tell people they need to get their butt behind the rifle.
  • “It is also critical that the scope’s horizontal reticle is horizontal to the imaginary horizon even if you are set up on a hill,” Maciak said. “If not, your shots will be hitting left or right depending on how the rifle is canted.”
  • “When using a scope with adjustment turrets and ‘come-ups’ (the kind of scope that lets you dial in the distance, then place the crosshairs on the target regardless of the range), it is critical that before your head afield you create a ‘dope sheet’ for your rifle/load combination,” Maciak stressed. “First, you must chronograph your load—do not count on the velocity on the ammo box, because it is rarely exact—then use an online ballistics calculator. I like www.JBMballistics.com, but there are others. Be sure to plug in anticipated environmental conditions—altitude, humidity, ambient temperature, and so on—which you can do with a little online research before you travel to wherever it is you’ll be shooting. When chronographing the load, take an average of five shots before running the online calculations. Without this, your turret adjustment system will not work for you.”

"I stress to all the people I teach that they should shoot the bottom of the exhale."

Photograph Courtesy of Bob Robb

  • “To make the shot, you must now use an accurate laser rangefinder to get the exact distance, then use your cheat sheet to tell you how to adjust the turret,” Maciak said. “From there you simply dial it in and make the shot. But without a rangefinder it is impossible.”
  • “If you have some sort of BDC (bullet drop compensating) reticle, you have to know what the particular reticle has been designed for or it will not work properly,” Maciak explained. “Normally, you will have to make adjustments. For example, the manufacturer might say a specific crosshair is dead-on at 450 yards, but your ballistic calculator says it is really accurate at 427 yards. With that knowledge you have to make adjustments."
  • “I stress to all the people I teach that they should shoot the bottom of the exhale," Maciak said. "This helps you be consistent. When you are behind the rifle, your breathing and heartbeat create a rise and fall in the rifle position. At the bottom of the exhale, your body tends to be at its most relaxed state. Also, at the bottom of the exhale, most of us have about three seconds to make the shot before our bodies become oxygen deprived and we inhale again, so there is plenty of time to make the shot. If you are not ready by then, simply take another breath and start over.”
  • “Finally, like all things athletic—and shooting is an athletic endeavor—good follow-through is important. In this case, it is trigger follow-through,” Maciak said. “This simply means don’t slap the trigger but squeeze and hold it through the shot as you attempt to watch the bullet hit the target through the scope.”