Summary: Do you want to shoot long and at an extremely long range? Try this advice from some expert shooters who shoot 1,000 yards to 2 miles.
They take accuracy to an extreme level. The top shooters have a lot in common.
We share their equipment and some tips to make you a better long range and extreme long range shooter.
The 2024 50 Caliber World Championships were held at the NRA’s Whittington Center just outside Raton, NM, over the 4th of July weekend. Hunting Mark sent me out west to cover the tournament.
I had some goals in going out there.
- See how a worldwide tournament was run.
- Shoot and hopefully hit the correct target at 1,000 yards with one of the big rifles.
- Learn what it takes to consistently shoot sub-MOA groups at 1,000 yards.
Suffice to say, I succeeded.
Shooting Tight Groups
Craig Martin, the 2024 World Champ, shot a 3.5 inch group, the tightest group of the weekend. All the shots were inside the X ring.
He shot that group with some serious wind whipping across the range. The .50 BMG bullet is a half-inch across. Backing his group down to 100 yards, Craig was hitting the same hole with each shot.
He shot with handloads. Every shooter brought handloads, as expected.
As a handloader for many years, I know the value of loading my own ammo. I can fine tune the bullet and powder charge to get maximum accuracy from my guns.
Bullet choice absolutely makes a difference, and the shoot reinforced this.
Andrew Hall, a Scottish transplant now living in the US, was shooting all over the target in Whittington. Another shooter slid him 5 rounds of different ammo, custom handloads.
Andrew then shot a 5.5 inch group. Anything under 7 inches is called a screamer at the World Championships. 7-12 inches is a Yeller. 12 inches is 1 MOA at 1,000 yards.
The projectile also makes a huge difference. Andrew’s screamer round was shot with projectiles nearly 100 grains heavier than what he started with.
A difference of a few grains of powder can be the difference between staying in the X ring and just staying in the black.
These people spend a lot of money on their guns, ammo and attending shooting events. Some of the guns were more than $10,000.
They probably had $3-5 invested in each cartridge they shot.
A factory rep selling projectiles sold them for 90 cents each, a tournament discount. Regular price was $1.25 each. The solid-copper bullets were milled, not cast. One shooter bought everything for more than $1,000.
- You must find what load your rifle likes the best.
- Experiment with different loads, both powder and bullet.
- Change the powder load a few grains at the time to find the best load.
- Getting good will not be cheap.
Why Ammo Is Important
Several shooters at the World Championship tell me they pack 30-50 rounds per event they want to shoot over the weekend.
These men and women were pulling up to the shooting line with precision ammo running $3-$5 per shot.
That is as much as $250 in ammo alone per competition. Many of the shooters competed in multiple categories over the 2-day event.
They easily spent $1,000 or more on ammo costs. That does not count their practice ammo at home. If you plan to be good with the .50 or any other long range and extreme long range rifle, you must shoot, you must practice, you MUST burn ammo.
If you are looking at these long range and extreme long range rifles, the big expense is ammo. If you really want to start putting bullets into a 7-inch group regularly at 1,000 yards or even hitting a target consistently at 2 miles, you must practice.
.50 BMG ammo is near the top of ammo costs. A few of the Dangerous Game guns are more expensive. The .700 Nitro Express runs around $100 per shot.
- Ammo is the biggest long-term cost
- Reloading reduces the cost per shot and lets you get more accurate ammo for your gun.
How the Show Was Run
Ed George, a regular contender at the World Championships, ran the tournament. Ed noted the event was only possible because of so many people who showed up to shoot and to volunteer to help run things.
Newbies, like me, got paired with veterans who could show us what to do and how to do it. They also stepped in to correct the occasional mistake. By the end of the event, I was confident I could handle things.
For the volunteers, pulling targets was the most important duty. We went behind the 1,000 yard berm and stayed on a concrete catwalk built into the very thick berm. From our posts on the catwalk, we watched the targets a few feet over our heads.
After each shot, the target was pulled down on the rope and pulley system. The bullet hole was pegged with a bright orange marker and hoisted back.
At the firing range, the shooter clearly saw his bullet’s impact and he lined up to shoot again.
After each round was over, the targets came down. We measured the group using the two shots that were farthest apart.
- You need lots of help to put on an event like this.
- Pair new folks with veterans.
- Be willing to learn.
Why Good Optics Are Essential
Every shooter on the line that day invested $1,500 or more in their rifle scope.
At least 90% or more of the shooters shot high magnification Nightforce scopes. They shoot Nightforce for a reason! Nightforce is specifically built to handle the double recoil of a .50 BMG. The first recoil is the gun coming back, and several quality scopes can handle this.
The second recoil is caused by the muzzle brake. The brake cuts the recoil, more than 50 percent in many cases, by diverting burning gasses to the side.
This comes at the cost of forward recoil, the gun being pushed forward.
As a shooter, you do not notice this. It happens too fast and it is too light. However, the scope will notice. If the optic is not meant to handle the forward recoil, it will break. Air gun scopes are meant to take that kind of recoil, but probably will not last long on a 50 BMG.
Aside from Nightforce scopes, a few people brought high-magnification Vortex scopes like the Razor HD Gen III. Vortex is making inroads into the long range shooting community.
I also saw one Schmidt & Bender scope, and some of the shooters also told me they have Sightron scopes.
A new Sightron was on the Winner’s Prize table this year. Chris, this year’s top shot, world champion and tightest group at 3.5 inches, took home the Sightron over a bunch of other prizes on the table.
What I did not see was any other brand of scope. Swarovski was mentioned, but no one at the World Championships brought one.
I also did not see any Leupold scopes. Leupold is certainly capable of 1,000 yards and more shooting with excellent accuracy. Few people put one of their 50 BMG rifle.
Military sniper and legendary shooter Chris Kyle said he preferred the Nightforce to other scopes because of its durability.
- Nightforce is built from the ground up to handle the recoil of the .50 BMG
- Nightforce has a lifetime, transferable warranty.
- Nightforce’s zoom levels let you clearly see the X ring from 1,000 yards away.
Heavy Duty Guns
Why is the scope selection so limited? These are heavy duty guns with plenty of recoil. Chuck Hawks pegs the 50 BMG recoil at 70 pounds, give or take.
By way of example, a typical .30-06 recoil is half that. The 50 is not the hardest recoiling rifle on the chart either.
That 70 pounds is enough recoil to shred a cheap scope. If the scope is not built to stand up to such recoil, heavy duty in other words, it will not last.
Rifles that routinely reach to 1, 2 or more miles away are also known to pack plenty of punch. Simply put, you need a big enough bullet to maintain velocity over that distance and burn enough powder to push it hard enough to get out there.
You must have a scope capable of handling the recoil.
Cheap scopes, even with a lifetime warranty, are not going to perform. They will break. If the scopes breaks in the middle of a match, your day at the tournament may be over.
- Get quality optics if you want to shoot long range.
- Make sure the scope is rated for heavy recoil.
- Cheap scopes will not suffice.
Everyone on the range at the NRA Whittington Center outside Raton, NM, had a muzzle brake on the end of the barrel.
I doubt anyone would shoot the unlimited practice rounds and the three 5-shot rounds “for score” without a brake. You have at least 15 shots that count and as many as you want for practice within the practice time limits.
Imagine being slammed in the shoulder with 70 pounds of force 20-30 times or more in the space of an hour. If you shoot more than one category, then you repeat the punishment for each category.
My .50 BMG has a brake that weighs about 8 pounds. The weight reduces recoil a bit, but the shark gill design is what really cuts the punch. Mine kicks about like a 20 gauge.
I shot longtime world championship shooter Martin List’s rifle and put my shot on the edge of 9 ring! His rifle was held in bench rest.
That, with the weight of the gun and the brake resulted in a genuine push, not a kick. It was like shooting a 410 shotgun.
A straight fin brake pushes the gasses out at 90 degrees to the barrel. A slanted brake pushes the gasses a bit backward to the direction the barrel is pointed. This is what creates forward recoil.
This effectively reduces the amount of recoil by pushing the gun forward. It does not completely counteract the regular recoil. It does reduce recoil, sometimes more than 50%.
- Muzzle brakes will save your shoulder, but ruin your scope.
- Everyone on the range at the World Championships had a brake.
- Get a good brake
- All the brakes were screwed onto the barrel. Clamp-on brakes come off too easily.
The World Championships was so much fun. The fellowship and the new friends I made were worth the trip alone.
Getting to stand shoulder to shoulder to world champions and learn from them was more than just a bonus.
Shirley List, Martin’s wife and a champion shooter in her own right, called the annual event a big family reunion.
Everyone was willing to share tips, tricks and techniques, and insisted when I go back next year that I have to bring my .50 BMG, which I have named Ragnarok. They offered to help me in whatever I needed.
Shooting Martin’s gun and seeing I hit the target and at the 9 ring is just something I cannot put into words.
Finally, as a professional gun journalist, hanging out with people who speak my language is always a good time.
The Fifty Caliber World Championships and the King of 2 Miles are international shooting events hosted by and sponsored by the Fifty Caliber Shooting Association. Click this link for more info.