Before deciding whether you should or shouldn’t factor range estimation into your training, let’s dive into the significance of the topic.
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From a historical standpoint, the Marksman has always been selected as being the best shot of the team or unit. Back in the day, what made that shooter stand out was the ability to hit any target at any distance with ease, demonstrating a natural ability. Breaking that down one more time, we discover the fundamental skill set is an ability to hit targets with accuracy which is directly dependent on your ability to estimate the range to the target.
We understand scientifically how bullet trajectory works, although one of the largest corresponding aspects of precision shooting has always been understanding what the distance is in order to apply the proper holds for that target. Again, from a historical standpoint the expert shooters that were naturally inclined and demonstrated this ability were soldiers or individuals raised in hunting environments where the skill naturally developed over a period of time. Learning to be effective to get those shots directly correlates to understanding distances and your rifle’s capabilities.
By today’s standards, with various magnified optics readily accessible, shooters are pushing the limits of their rifles. With that, we have rapid techniques for engaging targets, including precision engagements and low-percentage-style shots. For rapid-style engagements, speed is a necessary requirement. However, with speed, we don’t have time to pull out a rangefinder and make pinpoint ranging calculations.
Understandably, from a technical standpoint, the rangefinder itself is going to be the most accurate form of acquiring distance. In tactical shooting, however, rapid engagement and thinking fast on the gun or reacting to different scenarios, our individual ability to comprehend range distance and effectively engage those targets becomes essential. The inherent understanding of estimating those ranges is now the fallback technique for being a skilled marksman.
Over-Reliance on Technology
The current concerns we encounter in training shooters with magnified optics are becoming comfortable with the equipment and perhaps over-reliance with utilizing them. To address this from a training perspective, shooters are often using these when the familiarity of distances on that range is previously identified.
For example, if an individual travels to their respective membership range and visits its marked 100-yard, 200-yard, or 300-yard range, etc., that individual has removed the internal range-finding ability as a variable from their training. These guys become comfortable learning what the holds are for those distances, yet they lack the knowledge to identify the distance without the use of the equipment from the get-go. More importantly, they miss-range these targets which present as holding either too high or too little, because the target is either further away or closer than it really is.
Again, from a training perspective, we observe a noticeable inadequacy in an individual’s training with executing the technique correctly which directly correlates to this individual’s ability to find ranges outside their membership range. The self-imposed training deficiencies now create limitations in dynamic or unexpected scenarios.
Increased reliance on the rangefinder itself is another considerable concern. Shooters become sucked into the technology at that point, again hindering their ability to apply natural identification of these ranges where they’re at. As we observe how terrain or lighting conditions change, and so forth, our abilities to estimate within those conditions become challenging as well. Many forms of technology have advanced our abilities to be efficient with identifying range: GPS, rangefinders, and precise measuring devices within our reticles for our low-powered variable optics. However, with over-reliance on these devices, we compromise our internal ability as proper marksmen to have that comfortable range estimation zone.
There’s not going to be a perfect scenario where everything is just lined up, it’s not going to be that easy. For example, suppose you’re hiking around in a hunting scenario. In that case, animals are going to pop up out of nowhere and you have a minimal, unspecified amount of time to be able to identify that range. Before you know it, the animal finds you, smells you, and starts moving on. In a tactical scenario, it’s going to be remarkably similar. The minute you get identified, that target is going to be moving and now the distance has changed. With these examples in mind, the ability to somewhat hone in on the general distance of where the targets are at, whether it is a hunting or tactical scenario, will increase your effectiveness.
As you start to become more comfortable with your range estimation skills, your marksmanship abilities start to co-align. You begin to push the distance of your comfort zone and hitting targets becomes easier, and naturally, your training should or would begin pushing further with that capability. As you create distance, you create time. With larger time allotments, you have increased your decision-making process. This means you have now provided yourself the ability to use additional resources like your rangefinder or GPS and map to get a precise range to that target so you can accurately engage within those first couple rounds that you take.
Developing Your Range Estimation Skills
Now that we have addressed how we can become better marksmen through understanding the importance of range estimation skills, let’s name some popular techniques to use this resource.
If you already own a rangefinder just take a walk around with it, start ranging objects with your eyes to see if you can get a close estimation, then confirm it with your rangefinder. Once you familiarize yourself with this practice, more often than not you’ll start to develop the ability of gauging distances accurately.
100 Meter Method
The 100-meter method is the most common technique for finding range estimation. If you understand the distance of a football field, begin looking at targets with how many football fields can fit within the distance from where you’re standing to where that target is located. For example, if it looks approximately four football fields away, you know it’s roughly 400 meters away.
Another visual referencing technique is silhouette style targeting, understanding how the appearance changes as distance increases. Silhouette-style targets change into a tapered form similar to a wedge or upside-down triangle as it goes out in distance, you can generally get an idea as to how far the target is just based on the appearance of the target itself.
Another notable technique is the bracketing method. Using a rangefinder or GPS, you can pinpoint various terrain features, structures, or similar objects to gain two or more known points. Stationary objects are helpful with this technique whether it’s a prominent rock face, group of trees, hill mound, or similar terrain feature. From those prominent features, you can estimate the distance to the target in between or slightly before/after the bracketed area.
Let’s say your local shooting range has a far berm at 600 meters, halfway to that berm is a tree at 300 meters. Using the two conclusive points you would estimate the approximate distance of your target whether it’s between the near side or far side of the bracketed area of 300 meters or 600 meters, respectively.
Another considerable option is the use of reticles. Some reticles are calibrated with a quick reference ranging bracket for a specific style of targets, these range ladders are used to find and calculate distance.
The milling formula is another popular technique. When you find the number of inches on the target, apply that to the formula and get a decent exact distance to the target. To save you time from searching the internet the formula is; target size in inches multiplied by 25.4, take that number and divide by the mil reading to get your distance in meters. If you multiply the target size in inches by 27.7, then divide by the mil reading you arrive at the distance in yards.
Unquestionably the most precise form of gathering range would be with a range finder. However, when time is of the essence, you must rely on your marksmanship skills to estimate the range and get rounds on target. Fundamentally, this will make you a better shooter overall and with the increased popularity of mid-range engagements (up to 600 meters) in today’s firearms culture, the skill of honing distance to accurately hit these targets is more important than ever. Further, range estimation is a perishable skill that should be practiced often.
For more detailed information and a breakdown of the various techniques of range estimation, check out our scoped carbine course at sidewinderconcepts.com.