Tom Maciak is an engineer for Trijicon and designs many of the company’s top riflescopes. He’s also an accomplished long-range shooter who taught me and some Special Forces heroes how to be better rifle shots in Utah a couple of years ago. Talk about a humbling experience on all fronts! Still, I walked away a much better shooter following the “Zen Master’s” 10 steps to success. Here they are:

1. Rifle/Load Combo

The foundation is a rifle/load combination that is consistently accurate. Forget about bullet speed, it’s all about accuracy and using bullets with as high a Ballistic Coefficient (BC) as possible.

2. Proper Fit

The rifle has to fit you exactly so that you can aim it properly — every time. You can buy auxiliary cheek pieces and butt-plate extensions if need be. Also, the scope must be positioned fore and aft so you can look through it without having to scot the head up or back.

3. Reticle Focus

Scope/diopter/reticle focus is critical. The reticle must be in focus for your eyesight — and has nothing to do with the target being in focus — so you should do this against a blank background, like a wall.

4. Parallax

Most quality variable scopes with a top-end power of 10X or more have a parallax adjustment knob that’s marked at various yardages. Determine the distance you are shooting at then set the parallax knob to correspond with that distance. Then turn the knob until all is blurry then turn it until all is back in sharp focus.

5. Body Position

Long-range shooting is always done from the prone position. The proper position is to get the body parallel to the rifle. Why? Because if your shoulder is canted to the side, the recoil can “roll” you to the side, which can take your shot off-target at long distance. Here’s how to do it. Get into position, take a breath, close your eyes and relax — then open the eyes. If your body has moved, you will not be on target.

6. Keep The Scope Level

Even if you are on a sidehill, it is critical that the horizontal reticle be horizontal to the imaginary horizon. If not, shots will be impacting left or right depending on how the rifle is canted.

7. Make A Dope Chart

Many riflescopes today feature adjustable turrets that are calibrated to the specific load so that all you have to do is get an accurate rangefinder reading and “dial it in.” However, this will not work if you have not used a chronograph to get the exact velocity of your load, plus you have to plug in the anticipated environmental conditions — altitude, humidity, ambient temperature, etc. When using the chronograph take an average of at least five shots, but 10 is better.

8. Use A Rangefinder

The laser rangefinder is critical, and for this game you have to spend some money and buy one that can give you accurate readings at extreme distances. Lower-priced rangefinders are undependable at long ranges. When taking readings, it’s best if you can rest the unit on something solid. Serious long-rangers have a spotter on the rangefinder who mounts it on a tripod.

9. Proper Breathing

Breath control is crucial. Many top shooters recommend shooting at the bottom (end) of the exhale. That’s because when you’re behind the rifle the breathing and heartbeat create a rise and fall, and at the bottom of the exhale the body tends to be in its most relaxed state. At this point you should about 3 seconds before the body becomes oxygen-deprived. Taking it to the next level, top shooters also learn to shoot between heartbeats.

10. Practice Makes Perfect

You have to burn a lot of gunpowder to become a proficient long-range shooter. Also, if your scope has some sort of BDC or multi-crosshair reticle, you need to know exactly where bullets impact when using it. For example, the manufacturer might say that for your rifle/load a specific crosshair is dead-on at 450 yards, but your range work shows you it really is on at 440 yards, so you have to note that and make adjustments.

Have you ever tried long-distance shooting? Drop me a note at and tell me about it.