What constitutes a long shot is not only subjective, but also regional. Where I grew up back East, we stalked cedar thickets trying to catch a deer in its bed or set up tree stands adjacent to well worn game trails to intercept deer as they moved to established food sources. In either instance, a typical shot was around 50 yards, though occasionally I would get permission to hunt deer in orchards where I could stretch a long shot to 100 or so yards.
Now that I live in the desert southwest, things are much different. There are no trees big enough for a tree stand and even if there were, food is so dispersed that deer do not travel trails with enough predictable regularity to make stand hunting an effective method. Instead, it’s all about finding game by glassing, and then getting close enough for a shot. Because the terrain here is so vast, typical shots are between 300 and 400 yards, and it’s in your best interest to practice much farther so 300 yards becomes a chip shot.
There are generally two reliable ways to compensate for bullet drop on a long shot — holding over the target using the hash marks on your reticle, or dialing your elevation turret to correspond with the distance. Either way, you need to know the distance to your target and how much the hash marks or turret clicks change your point of impact.
Sounds pretty simple, but there are important considerations. For example, when you change the power setting on your scope, it changes the holdover value of the hash marks. And if you use your turrets, you need to have a quality scope with repeatable adjustments that can stand up to regular turret twisting and preferably have a zero stop so you can quickly and easily crank the turret back to zero.
I’ve almost always relied on the hold over method when hunting, but recently spent several days at FTW’s SAAM shooting school using both hold over and turret twisting while getting familiar with Zeiss’ new V6 line of riflescopes. There, under the guidance of skilled instructors, we engaged targets as far as 1,500 yards with the point being to learn our individual range limitations.
FTW owner Tim Fallon is emphatic that this kind of instruction is not to teach someone how to shoot game at long range—he doesn’t even like the concept. Instead, it’s about learning the distance where you can reliably make kill shots from field positions, and then practicing out to that distance using all of the skills you learned in the class.
The new V6 scopes we were using are part of Zeiss’ Conquest line, which is right between their premium entry level Terra and super premium Victory scopes. Joel Harris, head of global public relations for Zeiss’ sports optics division, tells me the V6 is engineered for someone who wants better optics in a higher performing scope; not just a long range hunting scope but one that could truly cross over from long range shooting to long range hunting.
Two of the new V6 scopes do exactly that — a 3-18x50mm and a 5-30x50mm. “The plains game guy is probably going to be in the 3-18 with a nice ballistic reticle so you can shoot any distance,” says Harris. Given the broad magnification range, side parallax adjustment and easily adjusted top turret with zero stop, these scopes are equally at home in a deer stand or shooting across a canyon as they are on a target range.
There is also a 1-6x24mm V6 with features such as an intelligent motion sensing illuminated reticle and huge eye box for super quick target acquisition for dangerous game hunters. All of the V6 scopes have premium features such as 30mm tube, machined aluminum magnification ring, 92 percent light transmission, LotuTec water repelling coating as well as FL lenses and T* coatings that make the images bright and sharp.
“That’s just unheard of in that price class,” says Harris of the enhanced features. “It’s basically a Victory scope with a Conquest name on it,” he adds.
As versatile as these scopes are, there is quite a disparity between what you can do with a 1-6x and a 5-30x scope, so FTW split our class into two groups with one using the 1-6x V6 on FTW’s safari training course, and the other using the 3-18x and 5-30x V6s on the precision training course. Though there was a variety of bolt-action rifles for the precision course, all were chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor. For the safari course we had Ruger 77 Hawkeyes chambered in .375 Ruger and one Heym double rifle chambered in .450/.400.
During the classroom part of the training, Harris explained all of the features built into the V6 scopes and how they would help us with long range shots on the precision course or the up close and personal shots on the safari course. We also discussed Zeiss’ free online ballistic calculator and how to use it with Zeiss scopes and factory or handloaded ammunition to determine the reticle hash mark values and number of turret clicks for different distances.
From that data, FTW’s instructors had crafted “dope cards” for each rifle and scope such that after zeroing at 100 yards it was only a simple matter of ranging a target, adjusting the parallax and referring to the dope card to know which hash mark to use or how many clicks to turn the elevation turret.
After choosing rifles, my group headed to one of the precision ranges to focus our scopes, confirm our 100-yard zeros and start using FTW’s shooting methods. First we compensated for distance by turning the elevation turret the number of clicks our dope cards indicated. Two hundred yards? Four clicks up. Three hundred? Ten clicks. Five hundred? Twenty-seven clicks. Hitting even six-inch gongs at long distance really was that simple, especially with the instructors reading the wind like a well-worn novel.
After working with our turrets for a while, it was time to start using the ballistic reticles. Unfortunately, ballistic reticle hash marks never really correspond exactly to round number distances such as 200, 300 and 400 yards; it’s always some “close” number such as 187, 314 and 430, and again, the values change at different power settings. Zeiss’ ballistic calculator, however, suggests an ideal power setting to get the values as close to even as possible. It’s pretty darn good, too, but you may have to use a lower power setting. Instead of trying to use the ideal power setting, our dope cards had the hash mark values for the scopes set on maximum power. While reticle compensation is not as precise as adjusting the turrets, we still consistently made many really good long shots.
While we were smacking small steel plates many football field distances away, the safari group was doing the complete opposite with the 1-6x V6s. Instead of locking down in a solid prone firing position and trying to strum the trigger between heartbeats, this group was doing things such as taking on charging buffalo where it’s all about making that first shot count — quickly — and following up should something unexpected happen.
This was the opportunity to see how swiftly the V6 gets on target, and also to practice skills such as working the bolt or topping off the magazine while keeping the rifle on your shoulder. “[It’s] super user friendly, even for dangerous game,” says Harris of the 1-6x V6, and I have to agree. The lighted reticle is motion activated so it’s on when you need it and, should it fail, you still have the black crosshairs of the reticle for aiming. With the V6 set on 1x and shooting with both eyes open, it’s a lot like using a red dot or reflex sight and the large eye box is even very forgiving if your gun mount isn’t perfect.
We ended our training a couple of days later on a challenging range with steep inclines and targets placed randomly at different angles as far as 500 yards away. There, the instructor would pick someone, call out a target and the distance to it, and give you a quick five-count to acquire the target, decide whether to crank your turret or hold over with the hash marks and take the shot. It’s one thing to make long shots, but it’s a whole ’nother world when you’re racing the clock while trying to find the target and compensate for distance, wind and angle while others watch on.
As we used our new shooting skills and knowledge of the V6 features along with the information on the dope cards, one thing became obvious — to be effective at shooting long range, you need good equipment, training and practice. It was also obvious that using the reticle to compensate is not as accurate as turning turrets, but it is faster.
Now that I have confidence and training with both skills in my toolbox, when I’m faced with a long shot I’ll use my turret if I have time. And like Fallon suggested at the beginning of the class, I learned I’m more limited when using the hash marks and will keep any shots where I have to use them closer.--Scott Mayer