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Distance on a Budget

Long-range shooting can be practiced without breaking the bank with some research and creative ingenuity.

Long-range shooting usually starts out as something “cool” to try at the range. The inevitability of competition, even against ourselves, drives us to want to see just what we’re capable of—and then go farther. The first round successfully placed on target at distances well over 100 yards is truly something memorable.

Engaging targets at long range requires more than just a passing desire to lob lead, and is the culmination of a host of factors—many of which are within our control as shooters. What stands between us and the improvement of our long-range shooting skills is practice; more specifically, proper practice. In today's economy, this is often easier said than done. Prices have risen on everything from the firearms themselves, to the ammunition they eat. Practice costs, so we do what we must to make the most of it. Still, the allure of shooting at distances creeping up to and passing the 1,000-yard line can make even the most frugal of shooters start dropping some serious cash on range trips.

In my case, the round of choice for general distance shooting between 250 and 600 yards and further is the .308/7.62x51 NATO. Years of research have been put into perfecting the round itself, and both the United States Army and Marine Corps have employed the round in combat operations worldwide. The .308 has a proven pedigree, and is downright fun to shoot—especially at long range. These facts, coupled with the numerous loads available from the major ammunition manufacturers, make it an excellent cartridge for distance shooting regardless of experience level.

In the summer heat on the United States Marine Corps Base Quantico’s Range 4, it takes about 1.5 seconds for a .308 round to travel 600 yards. This also allows the shooter to literally watch the round in flight—the round’s disruption of the air it passes through as it flies downrange. Of all the facets of distance shooting, this singular factor is by far my most enjoyable. What's not enjoyable is watching dollar signs stack up with every shot; less enjoyable still if you’re having difficulty bringing rounds onto target as distances increase. Even though the .308 is one of the most readily available cartridges, it is still not uncommon to see prices around $1 per round for mid-range loads and better. Barring an unlimited budget, those numbers add up fast. Fifty to upwards of 150 rounds fired can easily see $150 or even more depart from your pocketbook. With that kind of money spent, leaving the firing line feeling frustrated with your performance is perhaps the most de-motivational eventuality of firing at targets placed football fields away.

I wanted to end those days of frustration, but I didn’t have the financial means to justify spending hundreds of dollars on a skill I know to be perishable if not constantly practiced. So I set out on a quest to keep my long-distance shooting skills sharp without having to take a second job. I looked into reloading my own rounds and purchasing in bulk, but what I finally settled on took me in an entirely different direction, and seemed counter intuitive—I decided to buy another rifle.

I created a distance training platform, and decided that my investment would be one that mirrored the fit, finish, feel and relative performance of my Ruger Gunsite Scout in .308 Win. with Hi-Lux 2-7x32 LER glass riding atop as closely as possible. I wanted to practice, but I also wanted to be able to eat at the end of the day. I wanted to be able to practice trigger press, wind gauging, breathing control, bolt operation and the rifle fundamentals in a manner that were scalable to my larger caliber. I wanted to concentrate on all of those things I knew needed improvement before I could truly begin to see just how well that Ruger could perform. I set my ideal corresponding target ranges between 300 and 400 yards—long enough to make for some really challenging shots, yet short enough that even on a bad day, rounds are still finding the target.

Obviously, buying another .308 wouldn’t solve my problem, I needed to find another caliber—one that would have performance scalable to the .308, but was much more affordable. I wanted to put together the entire package—rifle, optic and a good amount of “starter” ammunition—for under $450. After some hemming and hawing over the details, I settled on the .22 Long Rifle. Ammunition is cheaper and, save for the recent shortages that seem to abating, somewhat plentiful. With it set up to fire at a range between 100 and 200 yards, though not perfectly scalable to the .308, it was the best choice given my parameters. There are numerous .22 rifles that would have fit the bill, but I chose the Mk-II FV-SR; a 16.5 inch, 1/2x28 threaded-barrel bolt gun introduced by Savage as a “tactical trainer.” An oversized, heavy bolt handle gives the operation of the rifle the feel of something much larger. MSRP is currently at $260—I obtained mine for $225.

I outfitted the Savage with glass from Konus-Pro, selecting the 2-7x32 model 7260 optic. It commands an MSRP of $139.99, but is often available around the $75 mark. For the purposes of my project, it was the perfect fit. I also added a generic, multi-position bipod, as well as a spare A2-style flash hider, bringing my total investment to right around $320, leaving more than $100 for the purchase of ammunition. I bought a little bit of everything, from Remington and Winchester bulk packs, to CCI and Wolf “match” .22 Long Rifle cartridges. All told, I came home with over 1,700 rounds of ammunition, and still hadn’t hit my $450 limit.

The .22 round can’t be called a direct comparison to the .308 by any means, but its performance at several pre-determined distances can be invaluable at practicing for corresponding longer ranges. The bulk of my .22 shooting was done with 40-grain bullets, while my .308s were primarily 175 grain. What I found on the range comparing the two rifles and rounds was staggeringly quantifiable in one very specific and valuable sense.

In terms of horizontal bullet drift, the smaller size and rounder nose of a .22 bullet, coupled with the lower muzzle velocities delivered by the round, amplified the impact of wind on my shots. I measured drift at various ranges, and then performed the same measurements with the .308. I found that between the two rifles, there exists an approximate scalability of half the range of the .308 minus 30 yards (shooting 100 yards on the .22 equals shooting 230 yards on the .308). The drift measurements I obtained while shooting the .22 at 100 yards in a 10 mph right-to-left crosswind were nearly identical to those I obtained at 230 yards with the .308. The .22 consistently shifted between 3.7 and 3.9 inches point-of-aim to point-of-impact, and the .308 consistently shifted between 3.5 and 3.6 inches. Pushing the distances out further, the .22 began to show significant wind impact past 150 yards. Still, the scalability factor (Range in yards multiplied by 2 plus 30 yards) held up. At 150 yards, I noted an average drift of just over 8 inches for the .22; the .308 at 330 yards gave similar results, with point-of-impact group averages drifting 7.9 inches from point-of-aim. Pushing to my maximum desired range of 200 yards, the drift measurements with the .22 were between 14 and 14.5 inches, while the .308 consistently marked at 14.6 inches or less when shot at 430 yards. Shooting the .22 in the wind is a blast, especially after realizing the drift compensations needed for various distances in various crosswinds. A few hundred rounds of.22 and my performance at the corresponding distances on the .308 improved markedly. It seems I’m not alone in my desire to find a way to improve shooting with the .308 using a .22 rifle; an entire rimfire shooting competition has developed in California around the same premise, with remarkably similar results.

The sheer affordability of .22 ammunition has translated to a huge increase in trigger time, which has enabled me to concentrate on the fundamentals of shooting. I can put 500 rounds of .22 into my range bag for under $25, while shooting the same amount of 145-grain military-surplus 7.62x51 rounds will push past the total investment I have so far into this .22 training rifle. While there’s no true substitute for practicing with the .308, the ability to focus on follow-up shots, breathing control, smooth trigger press and other caliber-unspecific nuances of rifle shooting allows me to step behind the glass on the .308 with confidence in my abilities, and clear goals for what limited ammunition I may have to expend. I have significantly reduced the frequency of finding myself frustrated while trying to dial in the .308 on long-range targets.

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24 Responses to Distance on a Budget

Observer wrote:
April 25, 2014

Locally, Ace Hardware has a good supply of ammunition. And I've been in a lot of Ace Hardware stores.

Newguy wrote:
April 24, 2014

22lr is not to be found for $25/500 more like $8/50 if you can find any. waiting waiting waiting for my backordered 10,000 for $650, about the cheapest you will find for CCI May I suggest 7.62x54R for Mosin-Nagant. A good M39 or 91/30, are great shooters, Surplus ammo is less than 25 cents a round delivered to your home and a little more powerful than a .308. Rifle and a case of ammo (440 rounds) will cost less than $400

Jim Buchanan wrote:
April 23, 2014

I have bought 5 boxes of 22 lr from Cabelas anywhere from 333 rounds in a box to 500 rounds for $20-$30 over the past month or so. Go to Gun Bot and search for cheap ammo.

John T wrote:
April 23, 2014

.22 is out there. You just need to be patient, check your local gun shops-not all are gougers on .22, and use the ammo finder programs and apps. As for the article itself, why is he paying $1 a round for .308? Does he not reload, or if he does, is he buying expensive high-end bullets?

TheGreatJuntao wrote:
April 23, 2014

An excellent article. Plus the 22 brings back plenty of good memories of youth. And yes to the others 22 is hard to find these days but it is out there. Mostly online stores. Not real cheap but can find a good deal. Store had 500 rounds for 15 dollars a couple days ago. But shipping was about that as well. No sense in assigning blame to the author. And until i see 308 or whatever ammo i shoot cheaper than 22 it still makes for a sound idea.

Mark McCarty wrote:
April 22, 2014

I'm working on 800 yards for under $700. Early results are very good. I've managed to put together a package for $700 that went 2 for 3 on a 12' wide by 24' high steel plate out of the box. I think 900 yards is obtainable with a little massaging. Would like to publish the build if people are interested.

22man wrote:
April 22, 2014

Ive been hitting bricks at basspro for .22 500rds for 25 bucks.

jeff tackitt wrote:
April 22, 2014

I just purchased 10000 rounds in pennsilvania for 450 bucks. 22 ammo is out there you just have to find it.

sean in AK wrote:
April 22, 2014

This article is woefully out of touch with reality as the rest of us non-gun-writers see it. I can tell you for a fact that there has been NO .22LR ammunition on the shelves for almost a year and a half up here in Alaska....NONE, ZERO, ZILCH, NADA. Not even those with connections at the big-box stores are getting any, it just isn't making it up here. Somewhere, somebody is diverting it to who-knows-where, but it's not making it up here.

George wrote:
April 19, 2014

I concur with what others are saying. I would love to know where I could buy 500 rounds for $25. Hell, I'd love to know where I could buy 500 rounds. This guy is a gun writer and obviously has connections, which is fine. But writing an article about 22lr being a great economical way to practice shooting is a bit of an insult to those of us who live in the real world. Most of us right now who want .22lr can A:get incredibly lucky at the Walmart, B:go to a gun store that price gouges $6/50rds, or C: deal with some price gouging dirtbag reseller who has a friend at the Walmart.

AMU_Vet wrote:
April 18, 2014

Benjamin as a former Highpower bullseye shooter and instructor, I for one very much appreciate your work here deriving your 'half the range of the .308 minus 30 yards' formula. This catches my eye, as I've been wondering it myself. I'll expound it as a useful tool and quote your article as a reference whenever any beginning shooters on a budget ask me how to get started on learning wind doping skills. I intend to carry this to the next level and design an appropriate bullseye target, complete with the correct size scoring rings needed to duplicate this .22 training at your appropriate distances, and hand these targets out for them to use. Thanks again, this is a very valuable reference article and teaching tool.

Claudio Adam wrote:
April 17, 2014

To keep up the good work; Always learn something new and to benefit by weapon wise, reading American Rifleman/NRA. Best Regards.

Rock 918 wrote:
April 15, 2014

What a bunch of losers bagging on the author. Didn't your mothers ever tell you if you can't say something nice don't say anything at all. Great article, and good idea.

Claudio Adam wrote:
April 15, 2014

There's no better way, than by way of practice, as a kid your handed an air rifle, and a box of pellets,a chair, and told to shoot it until your to tired to stand, hence the chair. And just when you think it's just about enough, it ain't. After time and time again you move on to the 22.cal. There's seldom luck pure luck under conditions, -just Training and then some more. Best Regards.

Bill wrote:
April 15, 2014

I'm confused. The article was purported to be about shooting at distance on a budget. The article I read was about shooting at 100 yards with a cartridge I can't reliably find.The author has some good points, but I can't get past the complete disconnect with the reality that .22 LR is no longer available in most places. In the past few years to today, it simply cannot be found in most retail locations unless you have incredibly good luck or a friendship with someone who can set aside a box for you. And a 500 round brick-forget about it. I quit shooting .22 some time ago and save what I have for my daughter to shoot. If you want a 'cheap' trainer that you actually expect to shoot, the sad fact is you will be looking at a .17 rimfire or a handloaded .22 centerfire. At least, that's my observation walking into any gunstore in the WY-NEB-CO region.

Big D wrote:
April 15, 2014

Gary, the NATO is lower in pressure than the corresponding .308 round, but the opposite when comparing the .223 to its higher pressured corresponding NATO round.

Bill Mottinger wrote:
April 15, 2014

Great article; you put Savage's 'tactical trainer' to work doing what it was designed to do. I didn't see any mention that you were feeding 7.62/51 to your 308. Thanks.

Slowshot wrote:
April 14, 2014

Many ranges will not permit .22 rifles to be used on ranges over 100 yards. Too many 'skips' over the berm.

Larry Penn wrote:
April 14, 2014

After reading this I was sick. This comes from the NRA. This goes to show this person knows nothing about shooting or rifles.

Petradog wrote:
April 14, 2014

I haven't been able to find .22LR in any significant volume for over a year and a half. You must have connections.

HMH wrote:
April 14, 2014

The 308 is the higher pressure of the two. The opposite of the .223

Stan wrote:
April 14, 2014

Where are you finding 22s??? I can't!

Gary wrote:
April 08, 2014

Your Ruger rifle says it's chambered for the .308 round. How are you safely using 7.62x51? I thought military rounds had higher pressure than commercial rounds.

Keagan wrote:
April 07, 2014

Where are you stealing 500 rounds of 22lr for 25 bucks?