Jim Elmore and Bruce Mansur at the 2818 yard target

Precision Long Range Shooting Standards in the shooting industry seem to revolve around the military.  “Confirmed Kills” is the mainstream way to measure the longest distances shot with a particular manufactured rifle or proprietary cartridge; a topic visited  about much in WU courses.  With military engagements being the vast minority of the Precision Long Range/Extreme Long Range Shooting sport, why does one hear more about distance “records” revolving around Military Sniper engagements, rather than in recreational use?

This was a question posed by Jim Elmore, whose goal is to set a sporting rifle standard around Extreme Long Range Engagements.  Elmore has been attending the Whittington U’s School of Extreme Long Range since April of 2012.  His group of four shooters has completed ELR I and ELR II in 2012, with ELR III slated in April of 2013.  All Precision Academy courses take place in the Backcountry Training Area (BTA) and each course this group has attended yielded successful engagements to the furthest target distances:  2400 yards for the BTA Known Distance Range and 2818 yards for the BTA High Angle Range.  This is quite a feat, considering these distances were the “firsts” for everyone.

Jim Elmore is not a military sniper and has never served in the military, nor have any in his group of shooters.  He is a recreational marksman focused on the technical aspect of Extreme Long Range shooting.  This pursuit of excellence has turned into a journey of sorts, encompassing several training sites and rifle/ammunition builds.  On September 5, 2012, the WU Extreme Long Range Standard for the .408 Cheytac was set with a successful engagement at 2818 yards within three rounds at the BTA High Angle Range.  This is a very unique engagement distance because there are only a handful of cartridges that can perform to these distances and only a handful of people who have the opportunity to shoot this far.

The Setting

The Whittington U Courses are all progressive in nature, with specific items covered and focused on during each course.  Extreme Long Range I focus on the fundamentals of precision marksmanship: Internal Ballistics, External Ballistics, Marksmanship Techniques, and Optical Adjustments; real time wind calls and known distance, data-gathering engagements at the BTA  Known Distance Range to distances at 2400 yards.  ELR II focuses on Alternate Firing Positions and High Angle Engagements.  The BTA High Angle Range incorporates reactive steel targets from 200-2818 yards, with angles ranging to 30 degree engagements.   Shooting between 6800-7200 feet, in temperatures sometimes ranging from 80-90 degrees F, allows students to maximize the potential capabilities of the cartridges/projectiles at the extreme ranges.

Firing Point #2 – WU BTA High Angle Range

What is most unique about the Whittington U is that they are not directly affiliated with any manufacturer.  This means that the WU can truly set standards in the firearms community without bias.  There is no underlying motive when discussing any certain manufacturer, product or cartridge.  The true motive is education.  They, themselves, want to see if things perform as stated.  The WU have very established engagement perimeters, meaning it is a controlled setting minus environmental considerations – which are always par for the course in Extreme Long Range Shooting.

There are many factors that come into play when engaging at 1.6 miles in distances.  The spotter plays an integral role because it is the spotter who has a higher probability to see the impacts of the rounds at those distances – a much better chance than the shooter anyways.  The BTA High Angle Range is built for real world engagements, meaning there is a very small impact in the target areas as it relates to the natural setting.  Steel targets of various sizes are arranged at various distances to accommodate a variety of cartridge/projectile combinations.  The targets are set at a minimum of 2-3 Minutes of Angle at the extreme ranges, requiring tremendous discipline while engaging.  These target sizes are not impossible either, although all shooters think so at first when looking at the range.  Many are quickly surprised as to what can be accomplished and becomes a large part of their individual story.  This is part of the overall goal with all WU Courses – Rethinking what is possible.

The Pursuit

The .408 Cheytac cartridge has been around since 2001 with the initial development revolving around a military application of the cartridge, in a medium to long range anti-personnel precision round.  But as time has gone on there has been stronger support for the sporting use of the cartridge.  Ammunition always becomes a factor in the introduction of a specialty cartridge and availability can become an issue.  Elmore utilized ammunition loaded by Jamison International, from Sturgis SD, that employed a 419gr solid copper projectile, RL-25 Powder at 131.5 grains with an overall length of 4.303 inches.  This yielded an average velocity charted at 2886 feet per second, chronographed at 6400 feet ASL prior to any Known Distance engagements.  The rifle platform consisted of a McRees stock with a Stiller TAC408 action, Krieger stainless steel barrel with a 1:13″ twist, Holland muzzle brake and Timney #510-U trigger.

Elmore engaging a 3 MOA target at 2818 yards

The Whittington Center is also known for wind and this is one of the main focuses in our Precision Academy.  At the extreme distances, winds can become very difficult to work with.  As the projectile begins to slow down, it becomes much more susceptible to minute wind speed/direction changes.  The WU advocates training in the harsher conditions because this helps in establishing a new “normal,” or baseline of performance expectations.  But when working with $8-$12 per shot, accurate and timely decisions become a much larger factor.

The BTA High Angle Range applies GPS Waypoints to calculate the exact distances to the targets from the firing points.  The afternoon of September 6, 2012 was a surprisingly calm one, with little winds despite of the 85+ degree temperatures.  However, what the little winds present did wreak havoc at the 2818 target.  Elmore’s spotter, Bruce Mansur, did a great job of identifying the splash, or the impact signature of the round as it struck the dirt in front of the target.  This gave Mansur, spotter with a greater advantage of sight, the information necessary to provide the shooter the appropriate adjustments, which were applied from Shot #1 to Shot #2 and finally a successful impact on Shot #3.  This impact was initially identified by Mansur as it occurred, later to be follow-up by a physical target inspection by the group.  Interestingly enough, Elmore recovered his projectile, which had what appeared to be a tip-first impact on the steel, verified both by the deformation of the projectile and the paint removed on the target.  According to Elmore’s Kestral 4500NV with the Horus ATag Ballistics, he was at the velocity limit, potential trans-sonic phase of the projectile flight.  The appearance of a tip-first impact helps to reinforce the theory of a stable flight path at that distance.  However, it bears to be stated that all subsequent shots were either lost or moved horizontally in extremes.

Impacting at these distances is not an easy task to begin with, let alone with consistent follow-up shots.  The extreme impact variations in the follow-up shots can be attributed to sight picture discrepancies due to the changing light conditions as shadows fell in the target area.  An obscuration of the target itself leads to inconsistencies in sight picture, which show greatly at these distances.  The winds are also a prime suspect due to the difficulties in keeping up with wind speed/directions shifts between the firing position and the target.  Also, there could be more to the actual flight degradation of the projectile itself at this distance not accounted for.  The consistency in impact from the first three shots, in that they were relatively in-line and in front of the target, bears witness to a more consistent flight path in those ideal shooting conditions.

The Future

The next step in this journey is not the final step by any means but one that is beyond what was previously attained.  Elmore is extremely pleased with this accomplishment, as he should be.  However, there were many pieces to this puzzle that came together on the afternoon of September 6, 2012.  Up until that moment, Elmore remained very consistent at the previous distances.  This is accredited to the ammunition, rifle platform and Elmore himself.  Bruce Mansur, the spotter, also played a key role in identifying and adjusting from impact to impact.  Success can be spread amongst several individuals, from those who prepared the ammunition, built the rifle, spotted the round and pulled the trigger.  But this feat would not have been accomplished without the initial quest to establish a baseline of standards outside of military engagements.

Recovered Projectile at 2818 yards

And this does not take anything away from the Military Sniper who may utilize this, or any cartridge in a combat theater.  What setting a standard in this manner does, is remove the offensive use of a precision firearm platform and pulls it back into a sporting application.  Everything seen in the WU Precision Academy is for recreational use.  There are many hunters who come to utilize the BTA Known Distance/High Angle firing points to focus on realistic shooting positions.  This helps them learn as much as possible about their equipment to make them a better hunter.  There are also many recreational shooters, who are extremely technical in nature,  that have a distinct goal of testing, verifying and applying much of the theory behind Extreme Long Range Shooting – again, in a realistic setting.

So this journey has become a rather important quest for anyone seeking empirical data around a particular cartridge.  September 6, 2012 is the first standard of the extremes set at the WU School of Extreme Long Range.  This is also the first record keeping attempt by the WU to pass off to others.  They plan to document as meticulously as possible the extreme engagements from cartridge to cartridge, and create a database of sorts for the future.

Up next: 2 Mile Engagement

Instructors learn something new every course at the Whittington U and are dedicated to the proper dissemination of information.  Stay tuned for more from Jim Elmore and his group of three.  On deck in April 2013: The 2 Mile Engagement.