Competitive Shooting The King(s) of 2 Miles Dave Merrill September 29, 2017 Join the Conversation TRAINING WITH THE APPLIED BALLISTICS ELR TEAM The road is rough and rocky, the tires of the SUV kicking up dust and dirt clods as we make the long journey to a rarely visited corner of the NRA’s Whittington Center in Raton, New Mexico. We pass locked gates, steep grades, and even a long-abandoned mining village along the way. The goal is a 2-mile target, and we’re tagging along with the Applied Ballistics ELR (Extreme Long Range) shooting team as they practice for the King of 2 Miles (KO2M) competition happening in mere days. KO2M is a relatively new competition, and so far no one had been able to hit the final target during the course of fire. The Applied Ballistics Shooting Team intended to change that. Between the time of this practice session and the competition itself, a Canadian sniper would successfully shoot a militant over 3,500 meters away with a McMillan TAC-50. Years ago this would be considered pure luck, but we know better now. THE INCREASING ENVELOPE Back in the day, a long-range match would stretch out to 1,000 yards. Still today, successfully hitting a 1,000-yard target is considered a benchmark for the aspiring precision shooter. What used to take a tailor-made rig can now easily be performed with an average AR-15 and some mathematics, as we demonstrated in a previous RECOILtv FirstLook video. Whether it’s the fastest Olympic 100-meter freestyle swim time, competitive hot dog eating, or sleeping with the most women in 24 hours (as recently broken by a 34-year-old man in Singapore; 57, in case you were curious), records are meant to be broken. One-thousand yards turned into a mile; now one mile turned into two. “Once we’ve gotten this down, the next benchmark will be 3 miles,” Bryan Litz, owner of Applied Ballistics and captain of their shooting team, tells us. EVERYTHING MATTERS When it comes to long-range shooting, there are nearly innumerable variables at play. While your basic trajectory chart found via a random Google search will probably work just fine if you’re looking for a rudimentary measurement with a ham-handed precision standard, it’s much different if you’re going the distance. Small effects in trajectory that simply don’t affect shots at close distances increase exponentially with range. You’re probably familiar with the basics of muzzle velocity, wind, and projectile weight, but when shooting across the horizon many other factors become relevant — spin drift, ballistic coefficient, atmospheric density, angle to the target, and even the movement of the Earth, called Coriolis effect. Yes, the spin of the Earth. Rarely do we hear Coriolis mentioned unless they’re making fun of the movie Shooter, but at two miles it’s significant. Leveraging new technology and pushing limits. “There’s just not a lot of f*cking wiggle room,” explains Emil Praslick, AMU veteran, wind thaumaturgist, and member of the Applied Ballistics Shooting team. Years back, every computation would have to be performed by hand or with the aid of spartan calculators. While that can still be done, it’s difficult and time consuming. Effectively, Applied Ballistics has democratized long-range shooting. A long-range shooter no longer has to know the equations by heart or spend vital time with complex procedures. After setting up their ballistic calculators with individual rifle, scope, and load attributes, a press of a button on a Kestrel weather meter spits out a firing solution. There’s no magic — just breathing, trigger squeeze, and, of course, mathematics. But that doesn’t mean when a successful shot is taken at distance it doesn’t feel that way. That feeling is most definitely magic. LEVERAGING TECHNOLOGY… UNTIL THE WHEELS COMES OFF Being at the top of your game and breaking barriers isn’t easy or cheap, but down the road we can all reap the benefits. Everything the Applied Ballistics shooting team is using is completely customized for one goal: ELR. It isn’t for the faint of heart or light of pocketbook. At least not yet. The Applied Ballistics team pragmatically starts with established, known quantities from other long-range disciplines such as F-Class shooting. Then they look for limitations in equipment, attempting to fix those deficiencies with new technology. Left to right: .375 Lethal Magnum, .338 Edge, 7.62 Nato, 5.56 Nato. The main caliber utilized by the Applied Ballistics Team is the .375 Lethal Magnum. Four-hundred grains of solid copper screaming out of a barrel at 3,200 fps is nothing to turn your nose up at. The barrel life is measured in the hundreds rather than thousands of rounds, and everything gets as solid and supersized as Arnold Schwarzenegger in his heyday. Another caliber used is .338 Edge, like the popular .338 Lapua Magnum but with a larger case capacity. Precise ranges’ angles to the target were confirmed with a commercial Leica Pinpoint R1000, which purports accuracy as high as 2mm. A FLIR Recon B2 thermal biocular with magnifier, which costs about as much as a house, was used in an attempt to see trace beyond 1 mile. Back in 2005, a 32-inch 720p HDTV cost several hundred dollars. Now you can pick one up at Walmart for under $100, assuming they still have anything with such low resolution. This same effect can be seen with any developing technology, and the early adopters and trailblazers always pay a premium. While ELR shooting may never be performed on a beer money budget, it won’t be just for Lamborghini owners for very long. IT DOESN'T TAKE A VILLAGE, BUT IT DOES TAKE A SOLID TEAM Military snipers usually work in pairs; police snipers aren’t always so lucky, sometimes running solo. But when we’re talking Extreme Long Range, it takes three to tango efficiently. There’s a shooter, ballistician, and wind caller. Zoomed-in view of targets seen in top photo. The game starts with communications between the wind caller and ballistician. The wind caller calculates and estimates the scope elevation and base value of wind, then the ballistician physically moves the turrets for the shooter. The ballistician also makes any further adjustments required for more shots. The role of the ballistician may seem extraneous in this case — after all, couldn’t the shooter just do it? While that could certainly be done, having one person in a specialized role increases speed and reduces the chance of error. Even when a projectile’s time in flight can be measured on a stopwatch, pace matters. The role of shooter is self-explanatory: They’re the trigger puller. It’s their job to maintain as much stability as possible, load, hold the reticle where they’re supposed to, and produce that squeeze and break at the right moment. As the projectile makes the long journey to the target, the wind caller is on the scope. They watch the trace of the bullet, environmental factors, and determine if any adjustments are needed. All of this happens while the shooter prepares for a fast follow-up and the ballistician stands by for corrections. You know that satisfying “ding” you get when you shoot steel at range? This isn’t like that. Even if you were able to hear the ringing steel at two miles (which you probably won’t), the report takes over nine seconds after impact to reach your ears. Add in the bullet’s time in flight, and it adds up to a good portion of a minute. The author trying his hand at distance. If you can’t hit, you should at least look good doing it. PRACTICE Even though the Applied Ballistics shooting team was training deep inside the NRA Whittington Center, the very location where the competition would be held just days later, they weren’t setup anywhere near the actual course of fire. The competition would consist of several different targets at different ranges, but the Applied Ballistics team just had one in mind: The 2 Mile. Incidentally, the training targets sat at 2.1 miles. One was large, nearly the literal broad side of a barn rather than the proverbial. The other was smaller and more practical: a 36×36-inch square of steel. When it finally came to the competition, the actual target would end up having more than twice the square inches with a 48×60-inch target. If you’re training for a footrace, it’s better to try and go farther and faster than the competition itself — and that’s virtually what the Applied Ballistics team did. Practice runs were made with the shooter, ballistician, and wind caller, putting final finesse on their roles. Everything was tuned for speed and precision. New techniques were tried and others discontinued. At one point Bryan Litz put out an unbelievable three-shot group on the 2-mile target: 17×22 inches. At any other distance, a group of this size would be laughable (or fall into the realm of the Mini-14), but at over 2 miles it’s incredibly impressive. Toward the end of the training session I got to try my own at two miles. Big target? Pshh, no. Going for that 36×36-inch gong. This, as you may anticipate, turned out to be a mistake. But as that first shot whizzed mere inches over that plate, I was hooked. As if regular long-range shooting doesn’t cost enough … THE COMPETITION The second annual King of 2 Miles was held on June 27 to 29 at the NRA Whittington Center. The pool of shooters was randomly split in half, with half shooting one day and the other half the next. The third day was set aside for the finals. The first day for a shooter consists of qualification targets at ranges of 1,543 yards, 1,722 yards, 1,888 yards, and 1,953 yards. Five shots were allotted to the first target, and three shots for the subsequent targets. If at any point you don’t make a single hit at a given distance, do not pass go, do not collect $200, and you’re out of the competition. Derek Rodgers isn’t a robot or a magician. Or so he claims. Scoring is designed to reward early hits. For example, since 1,543 yards has five shots, a first round hit equals 1543*5 points (7,715), a second round hit equals 1543*4 points (6,172), and so on. Total time for these targets must not exceed nine minutes — when you count in bullet flight time, there’s not a whole lot of room for error and correction. After every shooter completes the qualification stages, the top 10 scores move onto the finals. Ranges for the finals were 2,667 yards, 3,028 yards, and 3,368 yards. Each target had five shots allotted, and the scoring system remained the same: Hit early and rack up the points, miss all and you don’t advance. Mitchell Fitzpatrick. THE WINNER(S) Derek Rodgers of the Applied Ballistics team took the top title this year, and was also the first one to actually hit the 2-mile target. In something that only seems to happen at sporting events in movies, it was his very last shot of the competition that put him in that exclusive category. Unlike normal shooting competitions, where only the shooter takes home the prize, the entire team (shooter Derek Rodgers, ballistician Paul Phillips, and wind caller Emil Praslick) all went home with the rewards. Remember, it takes a team. In the time since their definitive win at the KO2M, shooters from Applied Ballistics have continued to dominate in the ELR field. Aside from taking the KO2M two years in a row, they’ve also won the 2017 World’s Longest Shot Challenge and the 2017 NRA ELR Championship, with Mitchell Fitzpatrick taking home both cups. We’d say keep your eyes peeled for these guys, but chances are they’ll be far, far away. WHAT A VERY TOP-LEVEL ELR KIT LOOKS LIKE Below we break down Paul Phillips’ rig of the Applied Ballistics Team and associated observational gear — be sure you’re sitting down. .375 Lethal Mag Rifle and Scope Bat Action (.50-Cal) $2,500 Bartlien Barrel (custom taper and length) 950 Custom 75 MOA tapered base 200 Lethal Precision Arms (metalwork and custom dies) 1,800 McMillan ELR Beast stock 900 Custom Bedding job and hardware by Alex Sitman 850 Bix and Andy Trigger 400 Phoenix Precision bipod 450 Nightforce ATACR ELR 7-35 scope 3,600 Nightforce rings 200 GSL Technology Copperhead Silencer 1,950 Subtotal: $13,800 Projectiles LPA brass (100) $400 Cutting Edge bullets (100) 400 Hodgdon .50 BMG powder (8 pounds) 210 Federal 215M Match Primers (case) 50 Brownells Reloading supplies 2,500 Subtotal: $3,560 Shooting Gear Crosstac shooting mat $200 Edgewood rear bag 200 ESP hearing protection 2,100 Subtotal: $2,500 Observation/Ballistics Applied Ballistics (Kestrel, books, seminar, CDM) $1,000 Targetvision camera system with external ant. 900 Vortex Razor HD spotting scope, 65mm 1,200 SIG Kilo 2400 Applied Ballistics System 1,500 LabRadar (x2) 1,120 FLIR Recon B2 w/magnifier 102,000 Leica Pinpoint R1000 35,000 Subtotal: $142,720 Total: $160,280 Explore RECOILweb:Knight's Armament Tour on RECOILtv Road TripsEnter Here! 12 Days of Christmas 2020: Day 1 - ATAC Defense Enhanced Rifle Giveaway!Preview - Pyro TechniqueMaxim Defense's Prototype PDX in 300BLK NEXT STEP: Download Your Free Target Pack from RECOILFor years, RECOIL magazine has treated its readers to a full-size (sometimes full color!) shooting target tucked into each big issue. 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