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All photo credits: Cowboy State Daily

Long-range shooting with a heavy barreled, scoped rifle is science and art.  It’s common for people in search of long range accuracy to spend more for a scope than a rifle, and for those very, very serious about it, precision comes in small increments and at breath taking prices.

While I have a rifle with relatively long-range capability in 6.5 Creedmoor caliber, that kind of shooting is not an obsession.  I can do quite well offhand even with iron sights out to 200 yards, though as I’ve gotten older, that range has shrunk a bit and I prefer steadier shooting positions.  I can still do reasonably well with a scope out to 300 yards and beyond, but my manhood doesn’t ride on that ability.  I spend far more time shooting with rifle and handgun at much closer ranges.

I even have all of Stephen Hunter’s Bob Lee Swagger novels, and even the 2007 film Shooter, starring Mark Wahlberg, based on Hunter’s Point of Impact.  OK, so it’s not entirely accurate, but it’s an entertaining film of its kind.

Understanding, at least at a basic level what’s involved, I appreciate those who achieve great things with rifles at amazing ranges, like the Wyoming team that recently set a new world record, and by a far piece too, as Mark Heinz at Cowboy State Daily reports:

From the pull of the trigger, roughly 24 seconds elapsed before forward spotters heard the telltale plunk of a 422-grain copper bullet piercing the thin metal target.

The shooter was 4.4 miles away, a distance so great, the Earth’s rotation came into play.

Actually, it—the Coriolis Effect—comes into play at considerable shorter distances.

It was a new world record for a rifle shot, set by the Jackson-based Nomad Rifleman team led by Schott Austin and Shepard Humphries. The shot was made with a custom-built rifle chambered for the .416 Barrett cartridge.

During a Zoom interview Tuesday with Cowboy State Daily, Humphries declined to identify the team member who made the shot.

You’ll see shortly gentle readers, why this was, of necessity, a team effort.

It beat the team’s previous Wyoming state record of 3.06 miles. It also broke the previous world record shot of 4 miles set in 2020 by Paul Phillips of Texas.

Still, even with the Wyoming air [at 7000 feet] working in their favor, it was nothing short of miraculous for the shot, the 69th attempt that morning, to land inside an 8-inch orange bullseye. The bullseye had been painted in the center of a white, rectangular target measuring 120 inches wide and 92 inches tall.

Ah.  So it wasn’t a steely-eyed rifleman loosing a single shot.  Even with a very powerful scope—this one was 35 power–no one could effectively see the target at that distance, let alone unerringly hit it.  And of course, in Wyoming, there is always wind.  At those kinds of distances, any bullet will be traveling through an unknowable number of wind zones of varying direction and speed.

‘I’m not sure where it was set during the shot,’ Humphries said. ‘When we’re shooting extreme distances, we don’t zoom all the way up to full power, because that can make things get fuzzy. We back off just a bit.’

To say nothing of how unsteady the reticle is at that kind of magnification.  On TV and in the movies, sniper’s reticles are always steady.  In reality, there is always movement.

Landing a bullet on target at 4.4 miles was ‘simply phenomenal,’ said long-distance shooting enthusiast David Asmuth of Laramie. He’s the president of the Laramie Rifle Range board of directors.

‘It’s a one-in-a-million shot. They said it’s not statistically repeatable,’ he said. ‘The amount of precision and time that went into that shot was simply amazing.

After making a shot like that, one is best advised not to try again.  That holds true for me at far, far shorter distances.  When I make a shot like that, if anyone is around, I’ll ask: “any questions?” and calmly put the rifle away.  To get a sense of how long the bullet was in flight, count off 24 seconds with a watch.  It’s a surprisingly long time.

‘When a bullet is in flight for that long, you have to take into account the rotational speed of the earth. What you’re shooting at isn’t going to be in the same place it was 24 second ago when you pulled the trigger.’

A massive flight arc had to be calculated to make the 4.4 mile shot work, Humphries said.

The angle of the rifle’s barrel, coupled with shooting from a ridge above the target, accounted for the arc in the bullet’s trajectory, he said.

“That made it more like artillery, where you’re lobbing it in,” Humphries said.

Notice the scope mount, which allows a more feasible angle for artillery-like rifle shooting:

The .416 Barrett is a necked down .50 BMG cartridge, which provides greater velocity, among other long-range attributes.

The .416 Barret bullets were leaving the rifle’s muzzle at a velocity of roughly 3,300 feet per second, Humphries said. They dropped into subsonic velocity at about 1,100 feet per second and were traveling at a downward angle and about 600 feet per second as they reached the target zone.

That’s substantially slower at the target than most pistol bullets.  It took 69 shots to make the record, and the team was delighted it took so few(?!).  Considering the shooter couldn’t see the target, how was that done?

Forward spotters were in five bullet-proof bunkers near the target, Humphries said. They had to rely on their ears rather than their eyes to guide the shooter’s adjustments.

‘When we were making 2-mile shots previously, we could rely on dust from the bullet impacts to help us walk the shots in to the target,’ he said. ‘With these shots, we discovered we couldn’t see most of the bullet impacts.

‘The bullet is coming down so slowly, and at about a 48-degree angle, it was just penetrating into the ground without kicking up dust.’

Instead, spotters had to listen for the bullets thudding into the ground and radio back to the shooter to adjust accordingly, he said.

The shooter would be making minute adjustments in elevation and windage, actually lobbing rounds in like artillery without modern sensors, firing one long, one short, one left, one right, until by as much luck as skill, the 69th shot hit true.  It’s an amazing, expensive feat, though one of little practical value.  The effort has surely advanced the science and art of extremely long range shooting, but in terms of increasing the ability of a military sniper to make single shot kills from great distance, having to make 69 shots with multiple spotter teams near the target tells the tale.

Still, pretty cool.