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How far can I effectively shoot with my rifle scope?

How far can I effectively shoot with my rifle scope?

Your effective shooting range is determined by a number of factors; the cartridge, your skill as a shooter, and your rifle scope’s elevation adjustment. Making sure the rifle scope you’re interested in is capable of adjusting its elevation enough to reach your desired ranges is a vital step. Unfortunately, we’ve seen this step overlooked a number of times before. 

It’s an important step but not complicated at all. I’ll walk you through it step-by-step. By the end of the article, you will have an accurate enough estimation of the rifle scope’s capabilities with your current rifle.

Accurate enough? Yes, you won’t have the exact elevation adjustments capable without firing a few downrange. You will, however, have enough of an educated estimate to know whether the rifle scope in question will shoot the distances you want. Additionally, you’ll also learn how far your cartridge can still effectively put down big game – all from the comfort of your own home. 

I will be using my personal rifle build throughout the article as an example of how to check how far I can effectively adjust my elevation. My rifle is a simple Ruger American® Rifle Predator chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor, a 22” barrel with a 1:8 twist rate.

All of this information can be found online on Ruger’s website, and I am confident you will find the corresponding stats for your rifle. If not, we have videos showing how to find those data.

Mounted on my rifle is a Zeiss Conquest V4 4-16x44 rifle scope. This particular rifle scope has 80 MOA of elevation adjustment available.

Side note: I highly recommend the Conquest V4. When it comes to a high-quality rifle scope with great glass and an incredible amount of elevation adjustment, the V4 is hard to beat. The price point is just an added bonus.

 

Hornady ELD-X 143gr

 

Finding your cartridge’s ballistic data

Most factory ammunition has the necessary data printed right on the box. If not, it will be available online with a little bit of digging. The most important variable you’ll need for this check is the muzzle velocity of your cartridge.

For my rifle build example I will be using Hornady’s 6.5 Creedmoor 143 ELD-X, which has a muzzle velocity of 2725 ft/s.

custom outdoorsmans rifle

 

Just a couple more data points

With just a couple more data points, we’ll be able to accurately gauge at what distance your rifle scope and cartridge are capable of effectively adjusting for elevation. The final measurements you will need are sight height (in inches) and barrel twist rate.

How to Measure Sight Height

There are varying methods of measuring your sight height. The simplest method is measuring from the vertical center of your barrel to the vertical center of your rifle scope’s objective lens using a tape measure. This method is the least accurate, but it will get the job done.

Take your time with this measurement, and try to be as precise as possible. You should land somewhere between 1.5 to 1.75 inches. I like to measure 3-5 times and average it out.

Barrel Twist Rate

Hopefully, the barrel you have installed has the data available online on the maker’s website. If not, don’t worry – you’ll find a very simple method to measure twist rate in the video below. 

GeoBallistic App

You can do this part manually, or you can get with the times and use an app. Doing it manually is not covered within the scope of this article.

My personal favorite is named GeoBallistics, it’s free for a single rifle build-out which is all we will need today. It’s available for both Android and Apple devices, so everybody can follow along.

New Rifle Screen and DOPE chart

 

Putting it all together

Now that you have GeoBallistics installed and all of your data (muzzle velocity, sight height, and barrel twist rate), it’s time to do some calculations! Don’t worry, you don’t have to calculate anything - the app does the work.

Using and inputting data into the GeoBallistics App

  • Create a New Rifle - The free version allows you to create a single rifle’s datasheet. For our purposes, that’s all we need.
  • Select your ammunition - There is a vast library available for factory-loaded ammo. I chose Hornady ELD-X, and the app has automatically inputted the weight, drag function, and ballistic coefficient of the cartridge.
      1. Input your collected data - Under the rifle section, input your collected data. Select either MOA or Mils depending on the rifle scope in question. We’re using a standard 100-yard zero.
  • Input Energy and Velocity Threshold - Personally I use 1,000 ft/lb for my minimum required energy threshold and 1120 ft/s for my velocity. This isn’t about whether the rifle scope is capable of adjusting to distance, but instead whether my cartridge is even effective at that distance.
  • Save and Done

  • Once your data has been inputted, GeoBallistics will calculate a Data On Previous Engagement (DOPE) chart for your current rifle build. You may notice a few rows are highlighted gray, red, and yellow, these are quick indicators of the following statements:

    Gray Highlight: The distance at which the bullet will hit the vital zone without adjusting for elevation.
    Red Highlight: The level of energy desired for the bullet to be delivered to the target. 

    Yellow Highlight: The velocity desired to be maintained to target.

    The red highlight is what I want to pay attention to. It’s the maximum distance my bullet will fly and still contain enough kinetic energy for a lethal shot on a mule deer. Looking at my chart, the range is 721 yards, which means I’ll need to adjust 17.8 MOA.

    Can your rifle scope adjust that far?

    Once again, we have to visit the maker’s website. Looking into the Conquest V4, I found that the external elevation turret dials up to 80 MOA - more than enough adjustment for my goals. Taking a quick look at my DOPE chart, 80 MOA adjustment, coupled with my cartridge selection, will allow me to shoot just under one mile. It probably goes without saying, but unless you’re ringing steel, I highly discourage that shot.

    What if my rifle scope can’t adjust enough?

    Most modern rifle scopes with an external elevation turret have enough adjustment for shots out to 400-500 yards. If you already own a rifle scope and realize it doesn’t have enough adjustment to get out to those distances, all hope is not lost.

    There is the option of installing a 20 MOA Picatinny Rail which, once configured properly, will afford you an extra 20 MOA of elevation adjustment.

    Another option is to use the reticle. If you’re fortunate enough, your reticle will have built-in elevation adjustment in the form of hash marks that can add a considerable amount of range. Be sure to read up on the differences between first focal plane and second focal plane rifle scopes to accurately determine how much adjustment your BDC reticle adds.
    Previous article Scope base basics: 0 MOA or 20 MOA?
    Next article Riflescopes: Elevation Adjustment

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