Advance Weapons Technology Offers 1,000-Yard Class
By John Bibby
I have been very interested in long-range shooting for quite some time. Back when I lived in Florida, I decided that my budget could not afford true long-distance shooting. To simulate it on a reduced budget, I bought a precision 24-inch barrel AR and worked with that on the 600-yard range. My thought process was the Berger 77-grain would have the energy to get to 600 yards and would behave similarly to a 6.5 Creedmoor or a .300 Win mag at 1,000 yards. With that rig and my local 600-yard range, I put several hundred rounds down range and routinely shot MOA groups. The practice was fun, but it wasn’t really long-range; there was no way I was going much further and maintain an MOA-sized group with that equipment.
A bit later, I thought I would have the opportunity to exercise further out. To do that on a budget, I bought a Savage 12 Benchrest in 6.5×284. It is a very good and accurate rifle, but my location to shoot dried up just as I started to develop consistency. Shooting that rifle at my local 300-yard range is just a waste of powder and projectiles. When Don Fraley of Advanced Weapons Technology offered for me to take his 1,000-yard class, I jumped at the opportunity.
Don is a very thorough guy, and we went over the equipment I had for the class. My Savage 6.5×284 would work fine, but with over 700 rounds through the barrel already, it wasn’t the best idea for a 200- to 250-round class. It might well give up precision right when I needed it the most. After a bit of discussion, we decided on a new rifle in a relatively new 300 PRC caliber. I inquired with Hornady about projectiles for the project, and they were almost as excited as I was about the project. The 300 PRC was to become my new friend and accomplice in the quest to hit an MOA target consistently at 1,000 yards.
A student (Vernon) with his stock Ruger PRS in 6mm Creedmoor.
Preparing the Rifle
I traveled out to Don’s shop in Kentucky to help (read as “watch”) him build the rifle. That was well worth the drive. I have seen how a factory builds a rifle. What I had never seen, was a fine craftsman hand-tune a precision rifle. Trust me, it is a completely different thing, and the results told the tale as well; but I am jumping ahead. After spending the day seeing the rifle machined and assembled, I had a much better feel for the cost difference between my Savage and a custom rifle. The last thing we did on Day 1 was test-fire the rifle to make sure it went bang.
The next day, Don worked on other things in his shop while I built some handloads using Hornady 225-grain ELD® Match and 230-grain A-TIPs™. After I carefully assembled about 25 rounds, we dashed off to the range to see what powder and bullet seating the new rifle liked. It turned out she liked a stout load of H-1000 at about 10 thousandths off the lands with the A-TIPs. That group was about 0.300 inch. That wasn’t superb, but it got us in the ballpark, and we knew she would shoot better with further testing once I got her Cerakoted.
Dave at ULTerra Camo did a great job. He did the action and the stock in his ULTerra “debris” camo with the stock in a much more subtle pattern. I spent the entire 3 weeks that the rifle was with my Cerakoter attempting to find H-1000. I had no idea thumper powders are a scarce item these days. The powder I needed was not to be found: it simply didn’t exist locally or on the internet. I called Hodgdon®. A slightly embarrassed rep admitted that demand has far outstripped supply. He could get me two pounds of H-1000, but he strongly recommended IMR Enduron® 8133 or Retumbo as being better for the 300 PRC. As a good faith gesture, he sent me three pounds of each.
The Hornady 230-grain A-TIP and IMR Enduron 8133 loved my rifle, and my rifle loved them. When I fine-tuned the jump, I was rewarded with a 0.193-inch, 100-yard group. I am a fairly good shot, but that was the third best group I have ever shot. That became the production load. After the ladder testing, I had enough powder for about 220 rounds. The curriculum suggests 250, so I was cutting it pretty close. Then I knocked over an open powder can as I was attempting to refill my powder measure. Such a waste of good powder, but something tells me that floor sweeping is not part of the precision reloading process. I left for the class with 165 loaded cases and a strong hope that they were enough.
Day 1 of the class began with some socializing as we all settled in. Don told us about himself and then each of us gave our own elevator speech as to who we are and why we are at the class. Several people had never shot past 200 yards. A few had significant practice out to 500-plus, and two guys had taken a class for over 1,000 yards. We were then paired with another student for shooter/spotter teams.
We deeply dove into the “how.” About a month prior to the class, each student received a thick binder with specific instructions to familiarize ourselves with the material. Four days is not enough time to teach all the information from a cold start. I and several others did not have a full grasp on some of the concepts on Day 1, but everyone had at least a cursory acquaintance with trajectory, effects of gravity and wind, the Magnus effect, the Coriolis effect and spin drift. We all showed up with ballistic charts for our ammunition.
We spent the morning of Day 1 in a very interactive lecture involving practical ballistics. The topics ranged from bullet form factors to G1 versus G7 ballistic coefficients and drag modeling versus ballistic coefficient computer models. This was broken up with a catered-in lunch. Then off to the range, where we confirmed our 100-yard zero on paper targets and gradually worked our way out to 500 yards. This was done to confirm or adjust the ballistic chart we were working with. I chronographed my loads as part of the latter testing process, so I was fairly confident my model would be accurate. I found the awesome accuracy node at a fairly low velocity (for the caliber) but went with it due to time and powder constraints. My velocity measured roughly 2,650 fps. Of my five-shot test group, the slowest was 2,638 fps and the fastest was 2,663 fps. The extreme spread was 25 fps with high single-digit standard deviation—not spectacular but very acceptable.
With this information, my ballistic chart was pretty close to dead-on for Day 1. We didn’t reach past 500 yards on Day 1. It was more about seeing people shoot and work through dope adjustments while confirming velocity and variance for everyone. We used a LabRadar Chronograph. We even had a scope (well-known brand) give up the ghost on the 20th shot. Don provided a loaner.
Day 2 again began with lecture. Don delved deeper into the science behind ballistic calculators. We discussed how bullet velocity affects ballistic coefficient, and how each supersonic shot likely has four different drag coefficients over different speeds. A deeper dive into G1 versus G7 coefficients helped to illuminate when to use which model. There was a spirited discussion on spin drift and the Coriolis effect and determinations on how much they can really affect 1,000-yard shots. We went over the Hornady 4DOF™ drag model calculator for our caliber and projectile as well as local conditions. After another catered lunch, we put our stuffed brains aside and exercised our trigger fingers with practical application.
We all ran a quick series of shots from 100 to 500 yards to confirm our real-world holds and checked them against our newly generated 4DOF drop charts. Out to 500 yards, everyone was very close. Full of confidence, we all failed miserably with our first few 750-yard shots. All but two of us (me included) shot to the right of the targets. Not correcting for the shifting 5 to 7 mph crosswind and a touch of spin drift got us all. The other two over-corrected and shot far left. After a bit of coaching and pointing out the things discussed in class, we all got on target. It took some of us a few more shots and a bit more coaching, but the lessons sunk in with real-world shooting. My bullets were hitting 9/8 MOA low compared to my dope chart. Others had similar issues. But the real-world feedback got us right in the groove and fairly quickly got most of us on the 750-yard steel. The primary steel target was 18×10 inches; the secondary was a 1/3-scale, 10×6-inch IPSC target. The larger target was our goal, but some of us need to overachieve. That IPSC target was tough, but most of us got hits there, too.
The next evolution was to reach even further and ring the 1,000-yard gong. Let me tell you, after making very inconsistent hits on the IPSC target at 750 yards, the 10-inch round at 1,000 still seemed out of reach. I adjusted my dope up the same nine extra clicks it had been low on the 750 and was only about a foot low at 1,000, but I was at least 24 inches wide right. My spotter confirmed my hits on the steel backer behind the gong. After three shots into the same part of the backer were confirmed, one of the instructors helped me figure out the reasons. Dialing in the additional come-up was pretty easy. Figuring the holdover was simplified by having about only a 1 mph wind from the left. On my fourth shot with the new hold, I rang the gong. It was about ¾-inch from the bottom edge, but it was a hit.
Top gong, bottom edge hit. My first hit at 1,000 yards.
The joy of hitting the gong, that an hour previous seemed like a pipe dream, was amazing. The wind picked up and became erratic. That played havoc with my next five rounds. I was within a foot with all but one of them, but close is not a hit. The wind died down, I noticed that and squeezed off the confirmation shot. It took six follow-up shots, but I hit the gong a second time. Due to being a spotter in the first round of shooting, I was the sixth shooter to hit the gong twice and qualify for the certificate. I didn’t care. I hit it twice, on purpose. We finished out the day working on wind. The volume of fire died down a lot as people really got dialed in. All 10 students earned their certificate on Day 2. Two people had a lot of difficulty. Their rifles weren’t truly up to the task, and one of them had a recurring issue with his scope coming loose. First, the ring screws loosened and then the base screws loosened. The instructors were very sharp, spotting the problems before too much ammo was wasted. The good news: both people had back-up rifles that proved to be much more capable and were used on Day 3 to good effect.
Day 3 began with more lecture, mainly about troubleshooting the issues encountered at the range. These issues ranged from equipment failures, to confusing spin drift and wind drift, to causes of vertical stringing after a confirmed hold was established. Many of us had experienced wind shift, and that took up a fair amount of the discussion time. We also delved into more on spin drift, Coriolis, Magnus and how they affect the shot. We also discussed when to be concerned with them and how they can mitigate each other to some extent. I confirmed how much you really need to both study and shoot to really get high first-shot hit probability. Up to now, we were shooting to see the effects and adjusting from there. It really gave me pause to think about having to take a shot without a sighter at 1,000 yards.
After another catered lunch and off to the range. None of us were particularly happy with our ability to hit the 1,000-yard gong on demand. I tuned up on the larger 750 target and then switched to the smaller 750. After getting three hits in a row, I felt confident for a first-shot hit at 1,000 yards. No such luck. The wind picked up, and I missed by 18 inches. A reread of the wind and a close to dead-center hit with my follow-up shot. I and many of the others spent the day working to overcome the wind. A few of us intentionally chose to wait for the wind to pick up to take shots. It meant less hits, but it meant more feedback and practice reading. I ended the day with eight more hits on the 1,000-yard gong, with one string of two of three hits. The miss was only off by about an inch, for a three-shot group of just under 8 inches. Solid spotting by my partner and an instructor, as well as helpful suggestions from the instructor, greatly helped that string happen.
We also had a single elimination “Top Shot” contest. Two people missed the 500-yard target, the other eight continued. Three people missed on the IPSC at 750 yards. I was one of them. I rushed the shot. Lesson learned. Two people ended up in a shoot off at the 1,000-yard target. Both either hit or missed for four consecutive rounds before one of the shooters hit, and his competitor missed. It was great fun.
Day 4 is normally set aside as a makeup day for those who struggled. We didn’t have any such problems. Instead of a follow-on theoretical class, Don offered to show us his machining process for building AWT rifles. We were all happy to watch the process. He took significantly longer to do each step as he walked us through the what, the why and the how. Several people had very direct and pointed questions, as they had some practical experience with machining. Everyone walked away with a much greater appreciation for the difference in quality and thus cost in such a rifle.
Again a catered lunch was our break before heading to the range. At the range, it was more of a free day, so people worked on their personal marksmanship shortcomings. We also had several alumni of the class show up to shoot with us and help with tackling issues. We took turns behind each other’s guns to see the differences in recoil, optics and feel. I managed to hit the gong with a few other rifles, one in 6.5 Creedmoor and one in 6.5 PRC. I worked on using my reticle to make quick follow-up shots on further or nearer targets, compared to where my scope was dialed. I was very happy with my degree of success.
My shooting partner decided to take a shot at besting my +/- 8-inch group. After a few sighting shots, he settled down for a serious go. Long story short, he and his Fraley 6.5 PRC slammed three shots into just over 2.5 inches with all three shots on the gong. Yes, he has pictures and at least 12 witnesses.
The view from the shooting line on Day 1.
The tuition of the 4-day course is $1200. Considering I have personally spent almost that in ammunition shooting the 6.5×284 and learned a whole lot less doing so, the class is well worth the expense. The instruction and coaching along the way upped my long-distance game in ways I probably don’t even realize yet. In addition to doing it, I know a lot more about the “why.” I also know what to look for in a precision rifle, scopes, spotting scopes, chronographs and many other components that make up long-range precision. On top of that, Don and his crew were wonderful, super knowledgeable and very able to share that knowledge effectively. For anyone wanting to up their long-distance game, give Don and Advance Weapons Technology a call.