Dialing It In

My recent relocation to Utah provided the impetus to start or reinvigorate an assortment of hobbies: I commenced paragliding training, I bought and assembled a modern mountain bike, and I set about acquiring the tools and tradecraft of riflery. This post synopsizes the beginnings of the latter.

I have owned and shot handguns and shotguns over the past twenty years but not done any riflery during that period. I will readily admit that I did not adequately appreciate the activation energy required to get started and so thankfully a former co-worker and US Marine provided extremely generous mentorship as I bootstrapped.

After some research I settled on the idea of a Remington 700 bolt-action and began trying to find one. I snapped up an XCR Tactical LR chambered in 308 I found online through a nearby store that I managed to pick up a couple of weeks later. In the meanwhile I kitted myself out with a Vortex Optics Viper PST Gen II scope and some mounting equipment from LaRue Tactical. I also acquired an extra picatinny scope base from Outer Impact when LaRue’s proved to be backordered 4-6 weeks.

I like LaRue’s LT204 mount a lot as it attaches and detaches very easily and yet sits very stably.

I also grabbed some ammo, a mix of target rounds and match/hunting grade rounds. The former I got from Hornady in 150 grain SST (Super Shock Tip) which combines the benefits of hollow point (rapid expansion) and full metal jacket (stable flight) ammo by shaping the main body of the bullet as in the former but then filling out the structure to be like the latter with soft material that forms the tip. The latter I got in 149 grain full metal jacket on the thought this would provide very similar characteristics to the former in a target shooting context while running about half the price.

I furthermore acquired a Wheeler laser bore sighter for some initial calibration. I used it initially in my bedroom to assure a baseline calibration and also to attune my brain to the usage of the various knobs on the scope.

Finally I headed out to the range Thursday of last week. Frustratingly the range safety officer stuck a magnet to the target rounds I had brought and informed me that steel core ammo was not allowed. I was pretty sure my ammo was not steel core but alas the magnet test has false positives and I did not press my case.

I came back the next day, this time with my pricier and non-magnet-attracting rounds, and proceeded to have a slightly less frustrating experience. I played around with the laser bore sighter for a bit and then began putting some rounds downrange. The first two rounds completely missed the target I had set up at 100 yards but then the third one hit. Foolishly I started playing with the knobs on the scope to try to adjust things (having, in hindsight, not collected enough data to justify more tuning) and then missed the paper altogether on the next few shots. What proved deeply frustrating was not being able to see how/where my stray rounds were going as I stared down the scope and also the struggle to see the marks on the paper without adjusting my zoom higher than I wanted for the actual shooting. I had gotten to the range a bit late and didn’t think I was equipped to make good use of ammo that was costing me $1.50/shot and so packed up, went home, and ruminated on how to do better next time.

I bought a Vortex Optics Razor HD spotting scope, an Amazon Basics tripod, and a GoSky smartphone adapter mount. By Thursday of this week everything had showed up and I set about playing with it in my garage. I could see in beautiful resolution the trees of distant mountain tops. I then attempted to attach the smartphone adapter to the spotting scope and… too small. Damn it! I cursed my luck and ordered their “Big Type” variant and prepared myself for an only somewhat less frustrating day at the range on Friday.

On Thursday afternoon I enjoyed a delightful paragliding session at the end of which the newest student, Steve, here on an extended visit from Chicago, asked Ben for suggestions on where he might do some shooting. Ben turned to me, made the handoff, and Steve and I made plans for the next day contingent on the morning’s wind’s amenability to paragliding. The wind would prove atrocious for paragliding and so we ended up at the range at its 1000 opening time. The wind was also not particularly great for riflery either but at least a bullet deflected by an inch at 100 yards while your feet remain firmly planted on the ground offers less drama than slamming into a hill at 20MPH because the bit of nylon strapped to your body suffered a surprise deflation in a gust.

As it turns out, having a partner spotting for you works even better than having an iPhone strapped to your spotting scope ever could, and it’s just plain a lot more fun all around. That plus the extra equipment made for a far more effective and enjoyable session.

I strapped on the laser bore sighter and then aimed at the succession of concrete pillars to get a general idea of what I was doing. I then commenced putting some rounds downrange and drilled three or four into the dirt while attaining the crudest of calibration adequate to hitting paper.

At the outset I was consistently hitting very low and a little bit left. I focused on the elevation turret exclusively for a while until my shots were generally landing at an appropriate height. I then set about playing with the windage turret until my shots were going center of target, at least statistically. In both cases I found myself intuitively reaching for the Binary Search computer science algorithm wherein you employ successive splitting of a possible range and thereby find a solution in logarithmic time.

After about 25 rounds I felt fairly pleased with what I had accomplished. My shooting had also gotten a little worse in the previous few rounds and we had gone through about half the ammo so I declared success for myself and handed over the gun to Steve to allow him to reap the rewards of helping me zero the gun.

I definitely will not win any medals for the grouping I achieved this time out, but I don’t feel too terribly given that this was a new set of equipment being zeroed at 100 yards by an unskilled operator in wind that nearby was registering 20-30 knots with a large gust factor.

Steve’s shooting offered an interesting contrast to mine. His first several shots proved far less precise than mine had, swinging to the extremes across both axes of the target, and yet he ultimately accomplished a superior accuracy, on two occasions hitting the bullseye that he called. A solid performance!

This was a great outing and now I have a lot of homework to do:

  1. Adjust the turret caps to lock in the zeroing work
  2. Acquire a weight to hang from the spotting scope tripod to stabilize it
  3. Swap out the Outer Impact rail for the LaRue one and stabilize with LocTite
  4. Play with the Wheeler reticle leveling system I got to address tilt
  5. Validate that the Big Type smartphone adapter works to gather better data
  6. Read up on body posture to better stabilize my gun handling
  7. Look into better shooting props than the ones the range has on hand
  8. Play around with shooting while stabilized with a sling
  9. Try swapping in the MagPul Hunter stock I bought
  10. Play around with the bipod attachment for the stock mentioned in (9)

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