This is a third section in Historian’s work in shooting matches with the 22 long rifle- a great, inexpensive way to learn the fundamentals of marksmanship while also fine tuning your ability to adjust for DOPE (Data On Previous Engagement). How are you using your time? And while marksmanship is great, its meaningless without fieldcraft. Got training? There’s a Scout Course on the calendar for March. Tempus Fugit.
At the end of October, my local range had another .22 rimfire long range challenge match scheduled. It was, again, advertised as being 50 to 300+ yards, same format as the regular centerfire LR match; 5 stages, 5 targets per stage, up to three shots at each target, in order, but .22 rimfire only. Prone only, bipods, bags or other supports all ok, any rifle, any sights. No sighters and shotgun start- you begin at the stage that you are squadded in.
Last time, we had 3″ targets at 110 yards, with larger ones farther out, all the way out to 475 yards. This time, I expected that we’d use all of the 500 yard range. I spoke with the match director before the match, and despite some soft soap, all I got was an evil grin and some hints that things were going to be a bit more challenging than last time. MORE challenging. “Yes,” he said, “A bit.” Well, OK then. It was clearly time for some upgrades. My rig was adequate for 300 yards, but 500 yards is a whole different world. Comeups at 300 are around 15 mils and 10 shot groups are about 4-5 “; comeups at 500 are 35 mils and group sizes are 10″ plus. Time for some improvements.
More accuracy and more elevation were clearly in order; trigger pulls were good, and I like the rapid follow-ups that the 10-22 offers. I added a 20” Green Mountain heavy barrel and reset the scope base so that I had as much elevation available from a 50 yard zero as I could get without going over. I used some longer 6×48 screws for the back end of the scope rail, and made a spacer from a bit of sheet lead I had scrounged, oiled the base and the rifle, then bedded with epoxy. The Tapco stock did not accept the heavy barrel profile, so I went with a Magpul stock that allows both barrel profiles: I still run stock 10 round mags. The MTAC 3.5 to 10x 30 MM scope with adjustable objective and Burris’ Mil-dot reticle performed beautifully last match, no reason to change. The longer barrel, (2″ longer than stock,) also ought to give me a few fps more velocity than the 18″ barrel, or so I thought.
As always, time was tight, so I did not take the chrono with me when I sighted in at 50 yards. Again, ammunition was CCI Target, subsonic 40 grain bullet. After some conditioning and warmup with the new tube, I was shooting ragged one hole 10 shot groups from bags at 50 yards, a little under 3/8″, or less than 3/4″ at a hundred. This is an improvement. More on the lack of MV data shortly; my decision to not chrono my new tube would bite me, as we’ll see.
Weather forecast for match day was for heavy rain and wind, and this match cancels only for lightning. Rain is considered to be ‘good training’ and normal; I’ve shot matches in downpours where seeing the target was a significant challenge. I came prepared for the weather and prepared to spend extended time lying in puddles, with my dope sheets in ziplock bags and a Write In The Rain notebook for my stage by stage target cards. When I got to the range at 7:45 it was raining, but the radar indicated that the rain was almost over, so I went up to the match site and looked over the target setup.
This second match target setup was indeed even more challenging than the last. Several of the close range targets were 3/4w” x 1h” oval eggs, while the longer targets were smaller, and the max distance was now 515 yards! Again, the targets at each stage were significantly different in both angle (from 30 degrees to the left to 45 degrees to the right on the same stage,) and distance, presenting a highly variable targeting problem, and requiring MAJOR successive elevation and wind hold changes.
The wind was a significant factor. At 9 AM, the rain had just stopped, and there was no wind, but by 11 AM conditions were gusty and highly variable, with rapid shifts in speed and direction. The area out to about 150 yards is depressed, making the wind even more of a factor. Unlike the last match the ground was saturated, and impacts past a couple hundred yards were VERY difficult to see, making adjustments from first round misses much harder than the last match. The first stage we had no wind at all, and I still missed the longer ranged targets all three times, as I could not see any impacts at all. (It turns out I was missing them just under the target…. more shortly) Then came the wind. It started slow, but picked up quickly. By the end of the match, it was not unusual to see wind up to 17 mph at the firing point, and wind speeds changed rapidly. Direction shifted more slowly, but over the course of the match, the wind direction shifted back and forth over 90 degrees.
With .22s at these distances, on targets less than an MOA to perhaps 2 or 3 MOA, you need to get within just a few yards of the right distance to have any chance at a first round hit. This time, we checked all the ranges on each stage, and had good ranges. The wind was going to be a challenge, though. Just to recap, with wind drifts for a 5 mph wind at 150 yards running at 4″, a wind call off by 2 or 3 mph means a miss on a 3″ target. The farther out you go, the more the wind pushes that slow bullet. At 515 yards, the midrange is about 20 feet above LOS, and the full value wind-drift is over 10 feet, or about 6.7 mils. During this match, the most wind I held was a bit over 7 mils of drift.
My performance on this match, despite the significant improvement in equipment accuracy, did not equal my previous performance. Part of this was the weather, which made this a very challenging match, part of this was the soft and wet ground, making low velocity impacts very hard to spot, but as the match went on, it became clear to me that I had a systematic problem. I was mostly hitting the short range targets on the first round, even the tiny little eggs, ( I hit all of those!), but as the ranges got out toward 200 yards, I noticed I was hitting low on the steel, and past that, nothing! All misses. Could my assumed MV of 1070 be wrong? I had gotten 1065 measured from the factory barrel; surely, 2″ more barrel must give a few fps more velocity? I started holding higher on longer targets, and was rewarded with a few hits on followup. I finished the match having hit 10 first round targets, and 3 more followups for a total score of 14 (1 bonus point for each 10 first round hits). This was not up to my first match score, but I had met my personal goal of improving my first round hit count, going from 9 to 10. Moreover, I had moved up significantly in the ranking; even very experienced shooters with very high dollar gear did not equal my score that day. I was tied for second place for first round hits this match, which speaks to the performance of the rifle/optic/ammo combination. But why was I missing at long range?
After the match, I stayed and shot for a couple of hours, taking my time on the longer range targets, and it eventually became clear that even though my wind calls were pretty good, I was missing consistently low. If I held properly for the wind, (which in the afternoon was truly roaring,) then I got hits if I held higher than my data showed, a half mil to a mil high. Last match, I had brought the chonograph, but not used it; with the rain forecast, I had not brought it, and now regretted not doing so. I had assumed that any difference would be trivial, but that seemed not to be the case. But how much was I off on MV, and how much difference does it really make?
After extensive testing done later, the MV from this new 20″ tube was found to be 1054 fps, or 16 fps slower than assumed, 11 fps slower than the old factory tube, polished by decades of use. As one might expect from the accuracy improvement, the ES and SD were lower, too. How much difference is that?
At 200 yards, my assumed 1070 fps MV would hit 3.3″ higher than the real 1054. With normal variability in ammo and hold, the difference in impact could be as much as 4″, a clear miss on a 3″ or 4″ target, hitting low, just under the target.
At 300, the difference was 10.5″, at 400 it would be 21, and at 500 my 16 fps error in MV would result in a whopping 42″ more drop, missing so low that the bullet would be hitting the turf in front of the target. Between 475 and 500 yards, my .22 bullet drops 80″ in 25 yards. That is over an inch drop per FOOT. With centerfire rifles at long range, an extreme spread of 16 fps is considered pretty good, but those rifles have MV of 2500 to 3000 fps. When you start
at subsonic velocities, 16 fps systematic difference is a LOT. I will be chronographing my rifles regularly to verify MV, ES and SD to avoid this sort of embarrassment in future.
So, this match was a powerful learning experience, as well as being fun and cheap to shoot. This time, wind notwithstanding, I hit almost all of the close targets first shot, and again, had a blast! I used a little more ammo for the match, and stayed a bit to do some longer range practice; but my overall round count was about 150 rounds, at a cost of less than 10 bucks for ammo. And, again, NO time at the loading bench!
I will repeat what I said the last time:
If you really want to learn how to shoot in the wind, an essential skill for shooting centerfire rifles past a couple hundred yards, a .22 is a very good way to do it. Windage at 100 yards with a .22 is about the same as at 500 yards for a centerfire; at 200 yards, the .22’s wind holds are about the same as a centerfire rifle at a thousand. You don’t need to spend a lot of money for either rifle or ammo, but a good scope with target turrets and a properly sloped base to take full advantage of the scope’s elevation adjustment range is a must have.
Given that most folks start out with a .22 rifle as a trainer, the added cost to provide the needed capability to go from 50 to 500 yards is relatively modest. By the time you have shot 1000 rounds of long range practice, the savings in ammo alone will have easily paid for the .22 rifle and needed upgrades, and with 100 yard and 200 yard ranges much more common than 1000 yard ranges, training is easier to do.