The Ultimate Firearms Destination for the Gun Lifestyle

How to use a 22LR for Long-Range Training

This article originally appeared in RECOIL Issue 40

Photos by Rob Curtis

Using 22LR as a Surrogate for Effective Long-Range Training

Sub-caliber training rifles are nothing new to the long range and precision crowd. Most serious competitors have used .223-caliber training rifles for years. But now, with highly accurate .22LR rifles such as the CZ455 and builds based on the Vudoo Gunworks Remington Model 700 pattern rimfire action, shooters can mimic a competition or duty rifle in a caliber that’s much more palatable to the wallet.

The trick is turning .22LR’s ballistic drawbacks into training advantages. Chief among this list is range considerations. Instead of looking at .22LR’s short range as a handicap, with the right drills, it’s amazing how well the round can simulate a centerfire experience. It’s also a good way to get some long-range training in on a non-centerfire rated range.

SET A BASELINE
First things first, you have to set a performance baseline — otherwise you’ll never know what’s attainable with your platform once your training progresses. Start with ammunition selection. .22s can be very ammunition sensitive, so trying out a few loads until you find one that your gun likes is important. Once that’s out of the way, it’s time to focus on basic rifle marksmanship fundamentals. While it’s in vogue to look down on shooting groups on paper from the prone, this uninterrupted time alone with your rifle lets you blueprint your shot process and learn to “command detonate” the gun, when the sight picture is at its best.

At whatever distance your range can provide, use a target that can provide feedback of the accuracy capability of your system. The four components of the accuracy equation are; weapon, optic, ammo, and the shooter. Optic selection is important for shooting .22s, especially at close range. Many casual shooters poke fun at how ridiculous a 4.5-27 or 7-35 optic is on a rifle that lives its life inside a few hundred yards. The point they’re missing, though, is that it isn’t about the level of magnification the scope provides, it’s about its ability to dial out parallax. This becomes harder at closer ranges and has a serious effect on accuracy.

Isolating the weapon, optic, and ammo from the shooter component is best achieved firing from the prone position using a bipod and rear bag. Once you’ve gotten down into a fundamentally sound, prone position, fire a minimum of five, five-round groups. The more groups you shoot the better the data set will be, but 5×5 will give you an honest assessment of the accuracy capability of your system. The slow velocity of the .22 means the projectile will take longer to leave the barrel and force you to perfect the follow through of your shot, otherwise you’ll start seeing your groups open up very quickly.

TURN UP THE HEAT
Once the baseline is established, add “hot, nasty, badass speed.” The first exercise continues shooting five-round groups, but start setting a par time for each shot. The idea is to train up to firing a fundamentally sound shot as quickly as you can clear crosshairs on the target.

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Tripods aren’t just mission essential equipment, they are also fantastic training tools. Be sure to vary the height of the tripod constantly to avoid only training for the best-case scenario.

Mount, acquire, fire. Mount, acquire, fire. 22LR is cheap, abuse it.
Develop a rhythm. Key points to focus on are short breaths between shots, quickly returning to your natural respiratory pause, and keeping your head connected to the gun with your eye in the optic during the bolt throw. Very quickly, you should get your shot-to-shot splits below 3 to 4 seconds, anything over 6 seconds is a no-go as you’ve burned up your oxygen and glycogen and are now entering a deficit that can impact your performance.

MTRE’s or Multiple Target Rapid Engagements, even targets on the same sheet of paper can increase your ability to quickly break shots with an acceptable sight picture just as soon as there’s margin of target around your reticle. The minimal recoil of 22LR makes follow-through, keeping the reticle on the target after breaking a shot, a breeze. Additionally, adding in the physical stress of something like a Forgot Your Ammo drill (which makes the reticle extremely difficult to get settled down) teaches you to either: A) time the shot, or B) force the shot. Both are skills that must be mastered when getting off our chest and into more practical/tactical shooting positions.

UNSUPPORTED POSITIONS
A good culminating event for unsupported positions is the five-position shoot. At Ridgeline the drill is shot on an 8-inch target at 100 yards. Begin standing, in the offhand position, fire one shot, then progress through kneeling, sitting, then prone before coming back to standing. Fire one shot per position for a total of five shots. Time standards are less than 60 seconds for basic, less than 45 seconds for advanced, and sub 30 seconds for instructors. Accuracy standard is zero or hero, either they’re all in and you get your time, or you fail. They end state of this drill is to get good at assuming a stable and repeatable position as quickly as possible.

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When shooting unsupported positions, focus on keeping the supporting bones as vertical as possible as well as maximizing surface area contact with the ground. Always check your natural point of aim on the target before beginning your shot process. Accept the wobble of the reticle and “get comfortable being uncomfortable.”

SUPPORTED POSITIONS
Supported alternate positions are the name of the game for both the tactical and competitive shooter. More often than not, these are the positions we most often find ourselves in when deployed or shooting a match. For training, use a tripod, as it’s easier to transport to and from the range than a barricade or other prop. If your range allows it, leaving some common props there for your training isn’t a bad idea, either. Things like VTAC barricades, barrels, tank traps, folding ladders, and others all present unique challenges when it comes to building an alternate position. Whatever support you end up training on, use a target that allows you to measure your wobble zone and accuracy from each position with a known value such as MOA or inches.

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Once you get comfortable shooting from all positions, start challenging yourself by creating less and less stable shooting supports. The finite muscle control you’ll develop from training like this will greatly aid your shot timing.

A word of caution when it comes to training these positions: vary the height constantly, and get outside of your comfort zone. Perfect world, especially with a tripod, we set the height that gives the best natural point of aim and delivers the best shots. However, in competition or when using an environmental support out in the world, the rifle often rests above or below the optimum height, and that’s where we want to spend a good chunk of our training time once we’ve mastered the positions at optimum height.

The lesson here is learning the difference between what you can do and what you can get away with when the situation is less than ideal. Having this knowledge saves valuable seconds when you know you can get a good shot off using a slightly awkward shooting position instead of readjusting in search of a perfect position.

WIND
For precision and long-range shooters, wind is our greatest opponent. It’s what makes the discipline so interesting. Rarely will you ever make the same shot twice, the world is in constant motion. Wind calling is the dark art of precision rifle shooting, and the only way to get better at making wind calls is to make a boatload of wind calls, learning from both your successes and your failures.

The .22 trainer offers a good way to fine-tune your wind calling chops. The majority of 22LR cartridges have a 0.1xx and occasionally a 0.2xx ballistic coefficient and that poor wind fighting ability gets even worse as velocities drop. Plugging in your rifle and preferred cartridge into a ballistic app, you’ll see that this high drag performance equates to roughly 0.1 Mil/0.25 MOA of wind drift per mile-an-hour of full value (perpendicular to the bullet’s path) wind at 100 yards.

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At the end of the day, always remember: support the front of the gun, support the rear of the gun, get your natural point of aim, and break a clean shot. It’s that simple.

Having to pay such close attention to your wind calls and instantly seeing your success or failure appear on the target builds your mental rolodex of what each mile-an-hour of wind looks like through your optic and in your surroundings, as well as what it feels like on your face or skin. When you transition your refined wind call skills back to your match or duty gun, you’ll amaze yourself with how accurate your first shots on target are. Using targets such as the Ridgeline Group Therapy Target with it’s 0.25 MOA grid, the shooter can maintain a single point of aim and literally watch their rounds be pushed by the wind as the it ebbs and flows.

All of this is very scientific and very analytical, as precision rifle shooting often is. At the end of the day, though, shooting .22s is easy, not very demanding, and a just a ton of fun. With events like Appleseed and the NRL 22 matches continuing to grow and new club matches popping up almost every month it seems like, there are a ton of opportunities for you to get out and get shooting. Go do it.

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