I consider myself a competent and proficient shooter. I can take a rifle, work up a decent handload and usually punch a tight cluster of holes into a bullseye at 100 yards.
I figure in the walk, jog, run categories, I can jog alongside most of my fellow shooters. But when I took a course in long-range shooting over the weekend put on by Precision Rifle Shooters of Idaho, I felt like I’d entered a room of sprinters, and barely knew how to crawl.
The instructor, smart-guy-in-chief Travis Woodbury, was explaining the mathematics behind long-range shooting. Math instruction and I parted ways early in high school, and I never found a good reason to get reacquainted.
I prefer debatable subject matters over absolutes because you can bluff your way through discussing the merits of modern vs. classic literature, but you can’t bluff through a mathematical equation.
To my surprise, when the equation is focused on launching a bullet eight and a half football fields and making it land in the right spot, math gets kind of sexy.
My mathematical illiteracy found an unlikely ally – my iPhone. Woodbury explained how to program in the right information into the "Shooter" app, and the smart guys who designed it did all the work as long as I could tell my iPhone what bullet I was shooting and its velocity, along with distance to the target and wind speed.
Using the Shooter app was more fun than sneaking a multiplication-table cheat sheet into Mrs. Beyerle’s fourth-grade math class, which I may or may not have done depending on the academic statute of limitations.
But all this fancy-pants math doesn’t amount to much if you can’t back it up in the field. After putting a few shots into a paper bullseye at 100 yards to ensure our rifles were on target, our next task was hitting a steel plate at 745 yards.
I was back to a wobbly walk considering 600 yards was the farthest known distance I had ever hit a target. And 745 yards was the warm up. I would be lying if I said I had the utmost confidence in my shooting ability at this point, but fortunately, long-range shooting is a team sport consisting of a shooter and spotter.
My range partner, Kevin Colby of Weiser, was in the fast jog category in the shooting world, and this course probably turned him into a sprinter. He led off, and my fragile ego was safely behind the spotting scope.
After his second shot, the steel target vibrated like an airplane breaking the sound barrier, and a couple seconds later, the faint sound of a bullet hitting steel reached our ears. It was an impressive feat of shooting, and I learned something from him. He trusted his shooting, adjusted his scope after he missed and connected on the second shot. Then connected again on the third shot to confirm his adjustment.
Now it was my turn. I settled behind the gun and felt my nerves calm. Looking through the scope felt familiar and normal, even if the distance was abnormal. I told myself “trust the smart guys.”
I missed, then missed again. But instead of lobbing more bullets and hoping one eventually connected, I trusted the smart guys – Woodbury's lessons, the computer app on my iPhone and Colby coaching me on how to adjust the scope to account for the wind.
I squeezed the trigger again, felt the rifle recoil, and saw the target vibrating in the distance.
Wow, this stuff works, thanks to all the smart guys.
For more information about Precision Rifle Shooters of Idaho, go to www.prsofid.com.
(To be continued)