The thousand yard shot is the jewel in the target shooters crown, it may not be everybody’s cup of tea but with practice, perseverance and skill accurate shooting is possible at and beyond 1000 yards.
It’s easy to assume that taking shots at extreme range is a new fad made possible by modern developments in ammunition and firearms such as the .338 lapua magnum cartridge designed for anti-personnel sniping during the 80’s and currently in use as the sniper round of choice in many armed forces around the world. The .50 Browning Machine gun round was also adopted as a precision sniping round in the 80’s and the first Barret M82 anti-material rifles were sold to the Swedish Army in 1989.
Even more recent innovations have given us the .408 CheyTac in 2001, although it wasn’t officially recognised by the Commission Internationale Permanente pour l'Epreuve des Armes à Feu Portatives (C.I.P.) until the 15th May 2013, until then it was officially a wildcat cartridge. It was designed by Dr. John D. Taylor and William Wordman and based on the .505 gibbs cartridge to be accurate out to 2,200 meters.
Table of Contents
- Back to Basics
- Seeking Precision
- What’s the Point?
- Choosing Your Best Scope for 1000 Yard Shooting
- What to Look For?
- Recommended 4 Tactical Scopes For 1000 Yard Shots
- Recommended 3 Competition Scopes for 1000 Yard Shots
- Final Verdict
Back to Basics
While these developments are impressive and exciting people have been shooting at long range for years and years and not necessarily with modern scopes and advanced new ammunition. The iconic Lee-enfield rifles of the late 19th and early 20th centuries often had iron sights graduated out to 1000 yards and some early models were even graduated out to over 2000 yards. These rifles fire the .303 British cartridge without the benefit of the cutting edge technology used in the development of modern sniping rounds.
Between 1967 and 2002 the world record sniper kill for range was held by a US Marine Corps corporal by the name of Carlos Hathcock, he was recorded as having killed an enemy at 2,500 yards, not using what would be considered a precision weapon by today’s standards but with a .50 calibre browning machine gun fitted with an 8 power unertl scope using a mount he designed himself. In fact it was Hathcock’s use of the Browning machine gun as a sniping tool that inspired the development of .50 calibre precision rifles.
Not only do his achievements seem amazing considering he was working without the precision engineered equipment and laboriously designed and tested ammunition goes into modern sniper and target rifles but still amongst the top 20 long range sniper kills of all time are two shots made during the late 19th Century, one in 1864 by an unknown Confederate marksman who during the siege of Fort Sumter killed a Union soldier at 1,390 yards with a muzzle loading Whitworth rifle.
Another in 1874 was made by Billy Dixon, a civilian scout who regularly worked with the US army. On June 27th 1874 Billy helped defend Adobe Walls against an attack by Indians and became famous for making a shot at 1,538 yards with a sharps .50-90 rifle, in his memoirs he never claimed the shot was anything other than lucky but he was still celebrated as an amazing marksman and would later become one of the few civilians to win a congressional medal of honour for his actions at the Battle of Buffalo Wallow.
All this goes to show is that while modern rifles, ammunition and equipment may make it easier to make long shots they are by no means a necessity and that there is a rich history of long range marksmanship stretching as far back as the history of firearms goes. This may come as a relief for those who may not have access to expensive .408’s, .338’s and .50 calibres. The .300 Winchester Magnum and .308 are both perfectly capable rounds at 1000 yards and even specialist cartridges for long range shooting such as the 6.5mm Creedmoor can be had much more cheaply than some of the larger long range cartridges.
Just because there are plenty of suitable cartridges out there doesn’t mean that people don’t push for more performance, even the .408 CheyTak has been modified by ‘wildcatters’ in an attempt to improve on it’s already awesome performance. The results of these unofficial modifications include the .338 and .408 Baer,.338 snipe-tac, .375 CheyTac, .416 PGW, .510 Snipe-Tac and many others. While the makers of these cartridges are seeking increased performance any improvement in these cases is very marginal.
The .408 and its derivatives are the result of this constant search by long range shooters for the perfect calibre but the 6.5 mm Creedmoor is another, and perhaps more accessible, option for the target shooter that was the result of this search for a perfect precision cartridge.
It was produced in a collaboration between Dave Emery, a ballistics scientist at Hornady and Dennis DeMille of Creedmoor Sports and introduced in 2007. While it was designed specifically for long range shooting it’s shorter cartridge case compared to larger 6.5 mm loads such as the 6.5-284 or 6.5 Remington Magnum make it suitable for use in short action rifles allowing for a lighter more compact package and the fact that the case dimensions are comparable with .243 Winchester and other very popular cartridges means that producing components or even converting existing rifles to shoot the Creedmoor cartridge is very simple and cost effective.
This relatively simple conversion process will be helpful when in early 2019 USSOCOM starts to phase in the 6.5mm Creedmoor as a replacement for the 7.62x51mm cartridge (.308) in semi-automatic sniper rifles such as the M110 and H&K G28 after it won a comparison with the 7.62x51mm NATO and .260 Remington and in tests proved to have double the chances of a hit at 1000 yards, an increased effective range by half, less recoil and better performance in wind than the 7.62, although the .260 did return similar results.
When development started on what would become the 6.5 Creedmoor other 6.5mm cartridges were already very popular for target shooting due to the high sectional density and ballistic coefficients of what are often quite long, narrow bullets. It’s these long, slender projectiles that provide such excellent aerodynamic performance and accuracy at range.
The combination of these characteristics effectively mimics the performance, in terms of muzzle velocity and trajectory of the .300 Win Mag despite the Creedmoor being significantly smaller and much more comfortable to shoot.
The lighter recoil of cartridges like the Creedmoor is something to consider when choosing a scope for your 1000 yard rifle as the brutal recoil of cartridges like the .338 and .50 will require very robust optics which do cost a premium, you may be able to save a little on your scope by opting for a softer recoiling option, but don’t scrimp on it, if you want the best results at long range you need the quality offered by top of the line optics.
What’s the Point?
Long range shooting has many legitimate purposes, military sniping is obviously one purpose of long range shooting but hunting and wildlife management is another very important one. While I don’t normally advocate taking very long shots in a sporting shooting context due to the risks of wounding. I’m far more impressed by the fieldcraft that gets you close enough to an animal for a shorter range kill than an extreme long range shot that risks the welfare of a deer.
For pest control and other purposes though sometimes long shots are demanded by the terrain or the nature of your quarry and competent marksmen can very effectively control vermin at long range with the right tools. The .260 Remington is gaining popularity for vermin control and is an excellent long range round, showcased in this video being used at extreme ranges for vermin control;
Recreational target shooting at 1000 yards is another shooting discipline which is growing in popularity and while many 1000 yard competitions have their roots with the military as a competitive way of encouraging excellent marksmanship, such as the Wimbledon Cup, the highlight of which is the 1000 yard high powered competition, but more and more long range target clubs and associations are being established all the time and it is growing in popularity.
Choosing Your Best Scope for 1000 Yard Shooting
Whatever rifle and calibre combination you settle on though and whatever purpose you intend to put your rifle to you will want to put a quality optic on it and if you are serious about hitting targets at 1000 yards let alone competing you really do need to pay some attention to your equipment and get the very best you can afford.
Specialist long range kit isn’t always cheap, yes there are manufacturers out there who will produce relatively inexpensive optics that will do the job at long range but if you’re shooting competitively or you need something very precise for long range vermin control or for tactical applications I’ll bet you want to do a little more just do the job.
You want consistent precision that matches the performance of your rifle, you might have spent several thousand dollars on the rifle of your choice, you may even have had it customized to your specification, each round for that specialist piece of equipment might cost several dollars and hours of time working up the perfect load for your requirements and painstakingly hand loading each one.
With all the time, effort and money being spent on your rifle and ammunition spending a few thousand dollars on a scope seems quite reasonable.
What to Look For?
While super high magnification isn’t essential for long range shooting and nor is variable magnification they certainly can help in certain situations. For target competitions where you may be aiming at a small bullseye and be guaranteed a stable, rested position and a fixed range a fixed power scope won’t be a disadvantage.
If however you are likely to need to engage long range targets at multiple ranges being able to adjust your zoom is useful. You might see some long range scopes able to zoom up to 40 times magnification but 20 times is normally adequate.
To give you a nice bright, clear image at maximum zoom you will need a large objective lens to gather as much light as possible. In a hunting scope this might be to give yourself a few extra minutes of shootable light at dusk and dawn but for shooting at extreme range at high zoom it is absolutely essential to give you a useful amount of light at the exit pupil.
These are essential for shooting at extreme range, if you have set up your rifle and scope combination for 1000 yard shooting you may not to make many adjustments when shooting at that range but if you are zeroed to a shorter range or want to stretch a shot out as far as some of those record sniper kills without target turrets you would have to aim so high that you wouldn’t even see your target and hitting it would be a matter of luck.
Being able to adjust your point of aim using target turrets makes these extreme long range shots possible and allows you to calculate a point of aim accurately without the need to ‘guestimate’ and hold over your target.
When you are shooting at extreme range you need plenty of adjustability from your turrets, while many people think larger diameter tubes help gather more light, that isn’t actually true, it does allow the use of bigger lenses which might improve image quality but not by increased light gathering.
What it does do is allow the scope to be built more robustly which might be important for tactical applications and it will also give more space inside the scope for more adjustments to be made possible.
BDC reticles which are popular on tactical optics for use with common military calibres are popular for close to mid-range but aren’t as useful for ultra-long range shooting out to and over 1000 yards. You are always going to need to adjustability provided by target turrets at these extreme ranges.
However that’s not to say you should pick a standard duplex style reticle. Extra points of aim will allow you to more easily adjust your aim for last second shifts in wind once all your major calculations and adjustments have already been made.
Recommended 4 Tactical Scopes For 1000 Yard Shots
1 NightForce Optics 5.5-22x50 NXS Riflescope
While the optical quality and features of the NightForce scopes might be matched by some products from manufacturers like Schmidt&Bender there will be few who can compete with the rugged, almost bomb proof construction of the NightForce line-up.
This rugged construction not only makes the scope suitable for extreme hunting and tactical situations but it will also withstand the brutal recoil of specialist calibres such as the .338 and .50. This particular model features adjustable zoom up to 22 power and a 50mm objective lens, this adjustable zoom makes it perfect for shooting at any range.
As well as target turrets it offers a proprietary NXS MOAR reticle which allows aids with calculating adjustments and giving extra points of aim for range and windage adjustments. The reticle has an illumination feature that offers plenty of contrast making it easy to see in low-light conditions or at extreme range.
We’ll return to the NightForce line-up a little later for a dedicated target optic.
2 Schmidt and Bender PM II High Power 5-45x56mm (34mm tube)
This may just be the ultimate long range scope. It was developed to meet US Special Operations Commands requirements for a sniper scope for extreme long distance shooting. Schmidt and Bender are amongst the very best manufacturers of optical equipment in the world and while they do charge a premium for their products may well be the best manufacturer of optical equipment in the world and while you do pay a premium for their products they are worth it.
The target turrets on this model are designed to be low profile to avoid any snagging but still offer the full range of adjustments you might expect on full size turrets. The 34 mm tube helps with this by giving plenty of internal space for reticle adjustments, speaking of reticles this scope has plenty of reticle options so you can pick the perfect one for your specific needs.
As the saying goes pictures are worth a thousand words and this video from Schmidt and Bender shows just what this scope has to offer;
3 Leupold Mark 8 3.5-25x56
Leupold make some fantastic optics and can compete with the very best. The features of this scope read like a checklist of the perfect features for a long range scope. The zooming feature will allow you to spot for targets at low magnification and zoom in for a precise shot.
As with many very high end scopes you have a choice of reticles and illumination with this model. I have been using leupold scopes for over a decade and have never had reason for disappointment.
4 Burris XTR II 5-25x50 (40mm tube)
Burris has hit one out of the park with this exceptional rifle scope. It balances a massive 50 mm objective lens, 30mm tube and excellent build quality with outstanding features while still coming in at a decent weight and competitive price.
Built around a compact body, but still huge 50mm objective lens, this scope has fully multicoated lenses and illuminated reticle. It has every feature you need to shoot successfully at extremely long ranges but does not include anything that will make the scope hard to use or distracting under pressure. For hunting or competition use it doesn’t get any better than this!
It’s also protected by Burris’s lifetime warranty for complete confidence in the product.
Recommended 3 Competition Scopes for 1000 Yard Shots
Thousand yard competition shooting is a very specialist shooting discipline which requires very specialist equipment, these fixed power scopes might not be as popular as the more versatile adjustable zoom scopes but they do fill a particular niche in the market for very serious target shooters.
1 Nightforce Competition 42x44
With the same build quality as the rest the nightforce lineup this scope is their dedicated long range target scope and offers fantastic performance without the complication of the unnecessary zoom feature which might be useful for tactical applications and target shooting at variable ranges but for known ranges this will be perfect.
2 Sightron 45x45
I’ve been using a sightron scope on my .300 blackout for a while now, it isn’t a rifle or cartridge suitable for long range shooting but the scope has been really impressive and Sightron offer this dedicated target scope as part of their lineup. It features fixed 45 power magnification which allows you to see everything in plenty of detail for precise shots to be taken.
3 March 40x Benchrest Scope
Benchresting is a particular target shooting discipline which is as much a test of a rifle as the marksman. Benchresting removes a lot of the human error in shooting and tests the perfection of the ammunition and rifling, this scope is designed for that style shooting but would also be a good option for 1000 yard shooting from the prone position which will be more appropriate for competition shooting.
While the choice between a target scope for competition shooting or a more multipurpose scope which would be suitable for using at multiple ranges or in sniping and extreme long range hunting scenarios will be determined by your intended shooting discipline any of these premium optics will be more than up to the task you have in mind.
Whatever you choose though you can’t escape from the fact that you will have to put in a lot of time at the range if you are to get good at the 1000 yard discipline. If you invest thousands in your rifle, scope and ammunition make sure you match that by investing time on the range. While you can rely on any of these best scope for 1000 yard+ for great results you can’t blame them for bad results if you’re not putting in the practice.
Get out there and punch some paper.