This is the slow time of year for guys like me who are always looking for new products to write about. All the new stuff that was introduced last January — guns, ammo and optics — has been reviewed by now and the upcoming SHOT Show and SCI Conventions are still several weeks away. One thing I do know, however, is that almost everything related to new rifles, scopes and ammo for the coming year will carry the “long range” banner, for there doesn’t appear to be any end in sight for this trend that has dominated the shooting/hunting world these past few years.
The prospect of shooting iddy biddy groups at 1,000 yards and beyond appeals to a great many, and I can understand that, even though I’ve had the opportunity to do it but a few times. What I don’t understand is how many “long range” rifles are purchased by those who have no place to shoot. I spent more than two hours on the internet researching shooting ranges of 1,000 yards that were open to the public. The NSSF’s website <wheretoshoot.org> claims to be the most comprehensive source of such information. You simply enter your zip code and it lists all shooting ranges within 160 miles of your home, in my case, the Charlotte, NC area. Of the 101 ranges listed, not one 1,000-yard range appeared, and there were only four that went 500 yards.
I actually had better luck doing a Bing search for “1,000-yard shooting ranges near me,” which yielded two websites, those of Applied Ballistics and Deserttech, two companies that specialize in long range/tactical rifles. Between the two websites I came up with four 1,000-yard ranges open to the public, they were 110, 175, 194 and 215 miles from my home. If you live in the New England area, which is comprised of six states, you have only one 1,000-yard range – the Sig Sauer Academy in Epping, NH. Keep in mind that roughly 60-percent of America’s population lives east of the Mississippi River.
Frankly, I was amazed how relatively few 1,000-yard ranges, public or private, exist, even in the west where there is obviously much more open land. Nevertheless, to set up and maintain such ranges requires an interest level, dedication and the resources that few clubs have. Though I have no way of knowing, I’d venture to say that the sale of long range rifles pretty much reflects demographics, and that more of them are sold in the east. In a recent discussion with a friend of mine on this very subject, he put it to me this way: how many guys own .458s that will never see Africa? All I know is that the long range phenomena has been good for the firearms industry, and good for the shooting sports.
A couple of early-bird releases come courtesy of the Browning/Winchester group. From the former comes, of all things, a new Browning X-Bolt Pro Long Range rifle. This new iteration boasts a second generation carbon fiber stock for which they claim “…unmatched rigidity and all weather stability, while reducing overall weight.” The stock, which carries a Cerakote Burnt Bronze finish, features a right hand palm swell and textured gripping surfaces. The stainless barreled action sports a fluted bolt and bolt handle, and it, too, is protected with a matching bronze Cerakote finish. The free-floated 26” barrel is of heavy sporter contour, hand chambered and hand lapped. The muzzle is threaded 5/8”-24 TPI and fitted with a muzzle brake, but a thread protector is furnished if muzzle brakes aren’t your cup of tea. One can of course fit it with an aftermarket suppressor if loud noises also aren’t your cup of tea!
The X-Bolt has one of the very best detachable magazines extant. It’s of rotary design and, being of polycarbonate, light as a feather, virtually indestructible, easy to load and it fits flush with belly of the stock. Browning’s highly effective Inflex recoil pad is standard in all chamberings. The MSRP ranges from $2,099 to $2,179 depending on caliber.
From Winchester comes a new and rather classy version of its popular XPR turnbolt. Dubbed simply Sporter, it’s a walnut-stocked version of this popular rifle that competes directly with Ruger’s American. The original concept behind both guns was to produce a budget-class rifle to compete with Mossberg and Savage, and priced low enough so as not to compete with their own respective flagship models, the Model 70 and the Hawkeye. In keeping with the budget theme, both guns were introduced with injection-molded polycarbonate stocks. Despite the fact that “plastic” stocks have been with us for decades and are getting better all the time, there’s still a significant number of hunters who favor a traditional walnut or wood laminated stock. Of course, one could simply buy either gun, scrap the OEM stock and stick the barreled action into an aftermarket drop-in walnut or laminated stock like those offered by Boyds’, but not everyone is willing to do that, even though they may love the gun. I, however, did that very thing a couple of years ago. I took a Winchester XPR and a Ruger American, ditched the stocks, and replaced ’em with a couple of drop-ins from Boyds’. The accompanying before/after photos speak for themselves.
Anyway, with the new XPR Sporter one doesn’t have to do that. Other than the stock, all the features that make the XPR so popular are there: the M.O.A. trigger system, two-position safety with bolt unlock button, Teflon coated bolt, short bolt rotation, Inflex recoil pad and a detachable box magazine. About the only thing I don’t like about this rifle is that the magazine doesn’t fit flush. The XPR is available in 12 calibers from .243 Win. to .338 Win Mag., and all carry an MSRP of $599.
Another trend that will continue unabated is riflescopes with increasingly higher zoom ratios. I suppose there’s a practical limit as to just how high this ratio can be, but we already have scopes with 1:7 zoom ratios, and I’m sure we’ll see a 1:8, if it doesn’t already exist. That means you could have a scope that cranks from, say, 4x-32! That’s all well and good, but do keep in mind that to accomplish that the erector lens assembly inside the scope has to move back and forth a longer distance. As such, with scopes having reticles in the second (non-magnifying) image plane, it becomes more of a challenge for scope manufacturers to keep the POI (point of impact) shift to within acceptable limits.
Back in the day when the 1:3 zoom ratio was the industry-wide standard, i.e., 3-9x, the lens system had to move only half the distance than it does in a 1:6 scope. The longer the distance, the more difficult it is to keep POI shift between lowest and highest magnifications to a minimum. In my experience with hundreds and hundreds of scopes over the years, POI shifts of 1 to 1 1/2 MOA were common with 1:3 zoom ratio scopes. It’s one of the arguments for Euro-style scopes having reticles in the first focal plane because they have no such problem. However, with either system, the old adage: “you get what you pay for,” applies. It’s just one of the reasons why some scopes cost five times as much as others that outwardly may look just as attractive and offer similar specs.--Jon R. Sundra