When shooting targets at extreme distances (like 2000+ yards), you’ll quickly uncover some new obstacles. A few factors that could be safely ignored inside of 1000 yards become critical to getting rounds on target. You’ll face new equipment challenges that may not be obvious at first glance. As your bullet’s time of flight extends up 3 seconds, and possibly even up to 6+ seconds, priorities shift. Everything is important, but to differing degrees.
In this post, I’ll start by focusing issues you’ll face surrounding optics. That certainly isn’t the biggest challenge when it comes to ELR, but there are some significant obstacles you have to address when it comes to optics to be able to send rounds way out there – so it’s a good place to start. There are also several products on the market that can help you overcome those challenges, and I’ll highlight some of those in this post. In subsequent posts I’ll touch on several other aspects you might need to consider in ELR.
The Primary Problem with Optics in ELR
When shooting targets that are two miles or more away, you intuitively think the problem would be seeing the target … so perhaps you need lots of magnification. But that isn’t it. If you’re aiming at 1-2 MOA targets, it’s not a struggle to see those out to 3,000+ yards with 25x magnification and hits can be made with much less. The primary issue related to optics is having enough elevation adjustment to dial and/or hold the necessary correction. At extreme distance, the bullet has slowed way down and the amount of drop becomes so excessive that you have to get creative in how you correct for it.
One way to wrap your head around the vast difference, is to compare it to something many of us are more familiar with. If you look at the ballistics of a 6.5 Creedmoor between 500 and 1000 yards the average drop is 4 foot for every 100 yards. Now, if you compare that to the ballistics of a 375 CheyTac at extreme range between 3000 and 3500 yards, the average drop is 43 feet per 100 yards – 10 times more! The CheyTac bullet is still traveling around 950 fps way out there, but it is dropping fast! It roughly takes 5 mils (16.5 MOA) to adjust from 500 to 1000 yards for the 6.5 Creedmoor, but it takes 15 mils (50 MOA) to adjust from 3000 yards to 3500 yards!
|Avg. Drop Per 100 yards|
|6.5 Creedmoor @ 500-1000 yards||48”||1.0|
|375 CheyTac @ 3000-3500 yards||516”||3.0|
Honestly, with a mid-sized 6mm or 6.5mm cartridge like the Creedmoor, it’s rare to find yourself dialing more than 10 mils of elevation (roughly 30 MOA), because that covers you out to around 1200 yards and those mid-size cartridges shine inside of that range. However, cartridges like the 375 CheyTac and 416 Barrett are being used in ELR to reach out to 3000+ yards, which is closer to 30 to 40+ mils of elevation (roughly 100-135+ MOA).
A couple of years ago I did a massive scope test where I thoroughly tested the 18 most popular tactical scopes in the $1500+ price range. I measured the total elevation travel on each scope, and those results showed the majority of scopes used for long range shooting have 20-38 mils of total elevation (66-128 MOA), with most being around the middle of that range.
Obviously if you have a scope that only has 27 mils of adjustment, and you need to dial 40 mils … you’ve got a problem. But even if a scope has 27 mils of total elevation travel that doesn’t mean you’ll be able to dial that much. In fact, most people will only realize 50-90% of their scope’s travel. Bryan Litz provides a succinct description of the problem and the common solution:
Here’s the problem: if you mount a scope on a flat rail, it will zero near the center of its range of adjustment, and you’ll only have about 1/2 of the scopes available travel to go up. So if your scope has 60 MOA of available travel and you zero it in the center, then you’re limited to 30 MOA of vertical travel. If you need 31 MOA, you’re screwed. The most common fix to this problem is to make use of an angled or tapered scope rail. A tapered scope rail is taller in the back than in the front, so that when you mount your scope, the muzzle is slightly elevated in relation to the line of sight. This causes the scope to zero closer to the bottom of its range of elevation, which means you have more capacity to go up, meaning you can adjust for more drop at longer ranges. – Bryan Litz
Here is a diagram I created to help illustrate what we’re talking about here:
You can see in the diagram that a level scope only takes advantage of about 50% of a scope’s total elevation travel. The usable elevation adjustment is indicated by the yellow arrows, and the total adjustment is indicated by the blue area. On the level scope, the other half of the travel is in the opposite direction of gravity, and won’t ever be of use. What a waste! But, when you use a tapered rail and/or mount, you are simply tilting the scope forward so more of its internal adjustment range is usable. This moves your zero from the middle of the travel closer to the edge of it, and there is less wasted adjustment. This can allow you to employ 70-95% of the total elevation a scope offers, depending on how well you match the taper of the rail and/or mount to your scope.
I mentioned in a previous post about my 300 Norma Build that my Nightforce ATACR 7-35×56 F1 scope on that rifle measured at 37.0 mils of total elevation travel available. I carefully paired that scope with a tapered rail and mount so that I’m able to use 36.3 mils of that, which is 98%. I have just 7 clicks below my 100 yard zero! I’ve been accused of being a bit of an extremist … so don’t feel like you have to be that exact. But I do know two veteran shooters who machined a custom rail for their ELR rifle so that it was exactly to the click at the bottom of their elevation travel. One is them is John Buhay, who just placed 2nd in King of 2 Miles. I’m not saying it’s worth the effort to do that, but then again … they don’t call it Extreme Long Range for nothing!
Products Worth Checking Out
Now that we understand the primary problem with optics, I’ll point out a few products that can help you get the most out of your scopes mechanical adjustment.
If your action has a removable rail, then you might be able to switch it out with one that has more taper. There are many options out there for actions based on the Remington 700 footprint and other popular actions, like these rails from Nightforce that feature 20 to 40 MOA of taper. You can find custom rails in sizes like 30, 50, or 60 MOA, but the price for those more niche tapers is usually higher.
Tapered Scope Base Street Price: $60-135 ($300+ for custom options)
Tapered Scope Mounts
Spuhr makes outstanding mounts (not a sponsor, but I use them on most my rifles). They offer several models with varying levels of taper built-in. For example, their popular 34mm picatinny mount is offered with these taper options:
- 3 mil / 10.3 MOA
- 6 mil / 20.6 MOA
- 9 mil / 30 MOA
- 13 mil / 44.4 MOA
- 18 mil / 61.8 MOA
Other companies make good tapered mounts too, but I mention Spuhr because they’ve earned my trust, I see a lot of top shooters trusting them too, AND they offer so many options to help you optimize your scope setup.
Spuhr Mount Street Price: $410
ERA-TAC Adjustable Mount
The ERA-TAC adjustable mount allows you to adjust taper in 10 MOA increments from 0 to 70 MOA (roughly 20 mils). This is the mount I use on my 300 Norma Mag, and it’s pretty ideal. I’d definitely buy it again for that setup. At first I thought an adjustable mount might not be as solid as a fixed mount, but this thing is rock-solid. I used it to place in the top 20 at the Wyoming ELR PRS match last month, which included over 120 rounds from a large magnum … and it was still zeroed … even after enduring baggage handlers on two plane rides there and two plane rides home! One benefit of an adjustable mount is that you can change your zero (say from a 100 yard zero to 1000 yard zero) based on your application, and still get the most mechanical travel possible in either case.
The downside of this mount, compared to some of the other options I’ll cover, is that it isn’t designed to adjust on-the-fly out in the field. It’s more of a set it, lock it down, and re-zero your rifle setup. But’s it’s really good at that, and it’s worked well for me.
ERA-TAC Adjustable Mount Street Price: $508
Ivey Adjustable Scope Mount
The Ivey Shooting Adjustable Scope Mount has up to 60 mils or 200 MOA of on-the-fly adjustment. The adjustment on the mount is graduated in either 0.5 mil or 5.0 MOA increments. To change settings you loosen a locking cam knob on the left side of the rear ring, then dial the adjustment you want, then tighten everything back down to secure the ring firmly in place to prevent movement from recoil. I haven’t used this personally, so I’m not sure how accurate or repeatable they are, but they look serious. I did notice Chase Stroud, a world-class shooter who has been shooting ELR for a few years, was using one (not sure if he still is). I’d bet it is capable gear if he was running it on his rifles.
Ivey Adjustable Mount Street Price: $745
Cold Shot Adjustable Scope Base
The Cold Shot Adjustable Scope Base essentially acts as a riser that you mount on top of an existing picatinny rail, and it provides up to 144 mils or 300 MOA of additional on-the-fly adjustment. Honestly, for the amount of adjustment and price, this product seems like a killer deal. Another plus of this setup is that because it’s independent from the scope mount, it seems like it’s be easier to switch from one setup to another (regardless of the scope tube size you were using). However, it does create one more interface that could slip or move under recoil, and in that way it could add some liability to shot-to-shot repeatability.
Cold Shot Adjustable Scope Base Street Price: $429
The Secondary Problem: Now I Can’t See!
Once you do finally get all of your scope’s mechanical elevation adjustment going in the right direction by carefully pairing it with a rail/mount, you may notice a secondary problem: Your barrel is in the way! In this game, it’s common to see barrels from 36” all the way up to 40” or more. When you combine a long barrel with a lot of cant in your rail/mount you may not be able to see through your scope because your barrel obstructs your view. Doh!
Shooters have had to be even MORE creative in solving this secondary problem. Some guys machine custom risers to boost the scope up higher so they can see over the barrel. But that has a rippling effect: now your cheek rest can’t get high enough to get a proper cheek weld – so you are either floating way up in no-mans-land or now you need make a custom cheek riser. Here is what a setup like that ends up looking like:
The photo above is of Bill Poor, a west Texas shooter who connected with target at 3 miles back in January 2018 with his 408 CheyTac (view news story). It took him 8 shots to get on target, which is pretty impressive. Luckily Bill and his dad are talented machinists, because custom machine work like what you see on his rifles can add up quickly.
But even after you have risers for the scope and cheek, you’re stuck in a bit of an unnatural shooting position, which can be a pain in the neck (literally)! You can see how far Bill is floating above the bore in the photo. At the very least, it might take some getting used to.
The Charlie TARAC: An Elegant Solution To Both Problems!
… And then there was the Charlie TARAC from TacomHQ! As an engineer, I love how creative and elegant of a solution this is. It addresses the primary problem related to having enough elevation adjustment AND the secondary problem of being able to see over the barrel.
The Charlie TARAC is similar to a periscope. It shifts the image of the target using mirrors to add a preset MIL or MOA value. Instead of tilting the scope with tapered rails, rings, and risers, and having to change your cheek position, you simply attach a little device to the end of your scope and it shifts the target image optically (via mirrors) – so you change nothing! You can keep your rifle zeroed at 100 yards (or whatever you prefer), and then quickly snap the Charlie TARAC to the objective on your scope when you need to need to shoot to extreme ranges.
The Charlie TARAC can be attached a few different ways (see options), but I typically see guys using their magnetic scope mount. You attach their mount on the sunshade of your scope, then the Charlie TARAC simply snaps into place and is held there with strong magnets. It might not sound like it’d be stable under recoil, but I’ve personally seen guys get hits with this setup out to 2 miles – so it is very repeatable. It was awarded the Innovative Product of the Year at the King of 2 Miles 2018 competition.
Because it is similar to a periscope, it also helps you see over your barrel. The image the Charlie TARAC captures comes from higher above the bore, so that practically eliminates the secondary issue without having to raise up the entire scope to see over the barrel. It seems to be a very clever solution to both issues.
The Charlie TARAC can be set to shift the image by up to 300 mils (or 1,000 MOA). It comes pre-calibrated from TacomHQ to whatever amount you specify, or the end-user can set/change the adjustment. Adjusting the unit involves a few steps, so this isn’t something that is intended to be done on-the-fly in the field.
Here is a real of example to illustrate how you might use it: Let’s say your rifle was zeroed at 100 yards and your scope had 32 mils of elevation adjustment available from there. If you set your Charlie TARAC to 30 mils, when it was attached to the end of your scope your zero would be shifted by 30 mils. So if you were engaging targets and needed up to 32 mils of adjustment, you could engage them without the Charlie TARAC attached. But if you needed 36 mils, you would simply attach the Charlie TARAC, which would shift your zero by 30 mils and then you’d just need to dial 6 mils on your scope. With this setup you’d be able to dial up to 62 mils of elevation. And for that entire range you can stay zoomed in at your full magnification, and hold dead center for elevation!
Charlie TARAC Street Price: $1500
One Last Option: New March Genesis ELR Scope
What if the scope could just dial more … maybe a lot more?! March recently released a brand new March Genesis 6-60×56 scope specifically designed for ELR, and it features 400 MOA of elevation (equivalent to 118 mils)! Doc Beech from Applied Ballistics bought one and told me he was able to dial 428 MOA of elevation! I’d bet the average scope features 60 MOA of elevation or less, really good scopes like the popular Nightforce ATACR feature 100-120 MOA, but nothing else is remotely close to 400+ MOA. I ran some quick ballistics and that would be enough adjustment to take a 375 CheyTac past 4,500 yards. WOW!
This scope is unique in a few ways. Here are a few highlights:
- It is a scope and mount in one. March took a huge leap from traditional scope tubes to house room for all that mechanical travel. It features an integral picatinny mount, and a “central gimble system and slider bearings with main frame (worldwide patents pending).”
- It offers the highest zoom ratio and highest magnification for a First Focal Plane (FFP) scope in the world
- Each turn of the turret is 50 MOA, in ¼ MOA clicks
- It’s currently only available in MOA, but March says there is a mil-based model coming
- Retails for $5,000
Doc had his new March Genesis ELR scope with him at the King of 2 Miles competition, and I got to spend a little time behind it. The optical clarity was very good, with several other guys there being pleasantly surprised how sharp the targets were beyond 2,000 yards. I also really liked the reticle, although I’m sure some shooters may think it is too busy. Reticle choice comes down to personal preference, but this one seems very functional. Unfortunately there is only one choice, so hope you like it!
We had some free time at the NRA Whittington Center the day before the Ko2M finals, and the Applied Ballistics team invited me to try “Rimfire ELR” with them on afternoon. Yep, you’re probably thinking what I was when I first heard about it: What does “Rimfire ELR” even mean?! Bryan Litz explains, “Rimfire ELR is an exciting development that will allow many more people to enjoy the challenges of ELR shooting on standard ranges (~600 yards). A few members of the AB ELR team are getting set up with Vudoo actions, and AB Weapons Division will be building us trainers which emulates our full-scale ELR guns.”
I was intrigued and am always up for burning some gun powder, so I joined them. We started by mounting Doc’s March Genesis scope on Mitch Fitzpatrick’s custom rifle sporting a Vudoo action, Bartlein barrel, and McMillan stock. It had to be the most expensive 22 Long Rifle I’ve ever seen! 😉 After zeroing the scope, Mitch immediately started testing it at 400+ yards. Within a couple of minutes he hit a 1 MOA rock at 577 yards twice in a row! Time of flight of that 22 bullet was similar to the big 375 caliber bullets they were launching at 2,000+ yard targets earlier in the day, so the wind and other variables had a long time to act on the bullet. We all took turns behind the rifle, and I have to admit that while I started off skeptical of “Rimfire ELR,” it had to be the most fun I’ve had behind a rifle in a long time! And that says a lot! We shared lots of laughs as we stretched out the distance and pushed the time of flight into a few seconds. The challenge to hit a target around 600 yards or more was eerily similar to what guys were facing earlier in the day when they were shooting targets at 2,000+ yards with big 375 magnum rifles, with a few important distinctions: no recoil or muzzle blast, and the ammo cost less than $0.20 per round instead of $7.00 per round! The AB guys definitely convinced me how fun “Rimfire ELR” can be, and it seems to be a great option for guys who only have access to a range with more traditional long range distances.
While I enjoyed shooting the March scope, I have to admit that in the back of my head I wondered how well it tracked. A few years ago I did a massive scope test, and both March scopes I tested had dismal mechanical performance. I measured 2.2% error in the clicks on the first March scope I tested, and thought I must have got a bad scope. So I contacted them and they sent me another scope – and it was even worse, with 2.7% error! Of all 18 scope models I tested that were in the $1,500+ price range, the tracking on the March scope was significantly worse than any other brand. After I published the results, a few of my readers ran the same tracking test on their March scopes and reported similar results.
If you had 2.5% error at 3,000 yards, your bullet would land 10’ off target (based on 375 CheyTac ballistics). That is a lot! You could obviously walk the subsequent shots on target, but in competitions like Ko2M you only have 3-5 shots at each target and if you don’t connect, you are out. Some advanced ballistic engines allow you to correct for this kind of error, but that adds complexity to something that is already pretty complex. Also, most people don’t test to see how precise their click values are, and if you didn’t do that you’d likely get pretty frustrated trying to diagnose why your shots were off.
I’d be very interested to hear if the Applied Ballistics team ends up testing how well the March scope tracks. I’m hopeful March has addressed the tracking issues I ran into a few years ago, because the March Genesis scope offers some compelling features for ELR. I also personally love seeing someone bring a novel product to market, so I’m hopeful they succeed for taking a risk to better serve ELR shooters. I fully expect other scope manufacturers to head down the same path in the near future, so thanks March for blazing a trail!
While the March scope addresses the primary issue related to having enough elevation adjustment, it still has the secondary issue related to not being able to see over the barrel. In fact, when we were shooting the 22 LR rifle and moved beyond 800 yards, the suppressor started to obstruct our view. The length of the barrel and suppressor on that rifle was short compared to the 36+” barrels found on most 375 and 416 magnum ELR rifles, so it might be a problem fairly quickly on those setups. So even with the March scope we’re back to needing to raise up the scope, then add a check riser, and potentially being in an unnatural shooting position. So while the March Genesis has a lot of cool features, there may still be some compromises compared to a setup like a Nightforce ATACR F1 scope combined with a Charlie TARAC.
March Genesis Street Price: $5,000
It’s VERY exciting to see all the advancements being made around ELR, and I only expect it to accelerate from here. Can’t wait to see what comes next!
I know that was a lot on optics – thanks for staying with me! It’s just easy to get lost with all the options out there, so I wanted others to benefit from all the research I’ve done and conversations I’ve had with veteran ELR shooters. Next time I’ll hit on a few other areas that make ELR hard, and promise they won’t be as long-winded! 😉