Smith & Wesson M&P 10: http://www.smith-wesson.com/M&P 10
Buy one at GunsAmerica: /Smith-Wesson-Rifles.htm
Can You Shoot 1,000 Yards with a .308 caliber AR-15 style rifle? Well, can you? Conventional wisdom says no. After all, AR’s are semi-automatic designs, with hot burning gas of doom smothering all the important parts like gravy over Cracker Barrel’s Chicken Fried Chicken. Heck, the upper and lower receivers are stuck together with simple push pins. AR-type rifles can’t be all that accurate, can they?
To find out, the folks from Smith & Wesson, NRA Outdoors, Sub-MOA Firearms, Hornady, Huskemaw Optics, Magpul, Blackhawk!, Battenfeld, Champion, SportEar, and Brownells put together a long range shooting school. The rifle of choice? Smith & Wesson’s M&P 10 LE .308. The baker’s dozen of identical guns present were off-the-rack models with no customization other than the addition of a Magpul PRS Precision Adjustable Stock. These were added just so each shooter could customize the length of pull and comb height. AFor optics, all rifles were equipped with Huskemaw Optics 3-12×42 with RFBC Custom Turrets. If you send specific data on the load, rifle, actual velocity and average atmospheric conditions for your area, they’ll print a custom turret with yardages and wind holds marked.
Even the Smith & Wesson folks didn’t quite know what to expect from this outing. Sure, they’ve tested the M&P 10 at ranges appropriate for the intended use. It would be hard to imagine the LE model being used in the field for shots over 200 yards. Of course, these rifles have been tested for accuracy at 100, 200 and 300-yard ranges. They were fairly confident we’d be able to reach out to 800 yards with some success, considering the design of the rifle and ballistic profile of the 168 grain .308 round, but even that wasn’t a sure thing.
Over two days, our instructors taught theory, technique, position and lots of math, which enabled us to nail consistently targets at long distance. On day one, we started shooting in a structured environment – the SubMOA Firearms range. It’s got a beautiful shoot house on a mountain peak, equipped with benches, Caldwell Flite Control Front Rests and a passel of Swarovski spotting scopes.
The SubMOA range stretches 1,000 yards towards 9,000-foot high natural backstops. None the less, some insurance genius made them install 12-foot high berms at each target area. Based on the volume of continuous gunfire, the neighbors have taken to calling this area Little Beirut. Once the shooting started, I completely understood that.
On day one, we used the stable shooting positions and predictable ranges to develop dope books for our individual rifles and the Hornady .308 168 grain A-Max load. Starting at 400 yards, which was easy, we quickly stretched out to 500, 600, 700 and then 800 yards to capture exact elevation adjustments required to get on target given the current atmospheric conditions.
The wind was fairly calm in the morning but got interesting in the afternoon. At times, it was blowing 15 to 17 in our face. That was broken up by occasional left to right and right to left shifts. The 90-degree wind vector rarely exceeded five mph, so it was a good day to test the capabilities of the rifles. Even with the relatively light crosswinds, it quickly became apparent that the biggest variable in long range success is accurate reading and doping for the wind.
The Smith & Wesson M&P 10 at 1,000 Yards
Once we got the hang of shooting the 800-yard target from the bench, we decided to stretch things all the way out to 1,000 yards. The 168 grain .308 is not the ideal 1,000-yard cartridge, but with a consistent load and accurate gun, it’s completely doable.
Just to put things in perspective at what happened to our Hornady 168 grain A-Max bullets, consider this. At 1,000 yards, the bullet drop is a whopping 353 inches. That’s 5.19117 Ryan Seacrest’s stacked on top of each other, but we can just round down to five since he’s not easily divisible. Flight time was 1.77 seconds. That was more than enough time to recover from recoil, leisurely require the target, and still wait to watch the impact. That’s pretty darn cool.
Once we got the wind figured out results were surprisingly repeatable. Initially, we shot from a solid shooting bench with a front rest and a rear sand bag supporting the stock. As expected, this was a solid position, and we were able to knock the 15-inch square steel plate with ease. The only reason for misses was bad wind calls. See what I did there? I just blamed my spotter!
Next, we moved to prone and sitting positions, still working the 1,000 yard, 15-inch steel plates. For prone, we attached Caldwell AR Bipods to the front Magpul rail, dropped into position on a Blackhawk! Pro Shooters Mat and got busy. Even applying lots of forward pressure on the bipods for stability, we experienced the same accuracy as from the bench. Keep in mind that the hand guard on this rifle is not free floated, so we thought we might find significant point of impact variance. While we didn’t do scientific group testing to identify a small point of impact shift, we were still hitting that small plate at 1,000 yards with the same dope. If there was any point of impact change, it wasn’t significant.
Next, we moved to a sitting position using Double Crossed Shooting Sticks. Like regular sticks, there are only two points of contact with the ground, but they are split, so there is support at the front and rear of the rifle. Your body serves as an additional ground contact point. Once I got settled, I hit three in a row from a sitting position using the sticks. Yes, shooting sticks. Our NRA Outdoor instruction team knew their long range shooting techniques and taught me an incredibly stable way to use these supports. I know you professional snipers out there can do this with one leg tied behind your back, but for a regular shooter guy like me, I was blown away at this kind of result.
We got consistent results until the barrel heated up. But come on! The Smith & Wesson M&P 10 LE is a pencil barrel rifle, so that’s gonna happen. While I didn’t do scientific testing, it appeared that accuracy stayed consistent for somewhere between 10 and 20 shots in close proximity. Then, if shooting at extreme distance, you’d want to let it cool down for a few minutes. At shorter ranges of less than 400 yards, this overheating would be largely irrelevant. That’s absolutely consistent with the original design goals of this rifle.
Over ¾ of a Mile?
After hitting 1,000 targets with regularity using the Smith & Wesson M&P 10 LE, we got bored and decided to stretch things out a bit more. Just for kicks, we took aim at some large rocks in a sand pit 1,400 yards down range. That’s .8 miles. The sand pit made it easier to spot impacts while we got the range dialed in.
The first challenge to overcome was that the trajectory of the .308 round at that distance exceeded the scopes ability to adjust, even using full elevation adjustment and adding holdover with the reticle. Fortunately, a number of the rifles were equipped with some new RAMP mounts from Warne. These have a 20 minute of angle adjustment built in, so the scopes we were using could be adjusted a full 60 minutes of angle in elevation. When using an angled mount, you adjust the scope’s zero much higher in the scopes vertical adjustment range, allowing more elevation adjustment. Our reticle had vertical hash marks at 2, 4, 8 and 10 minutes of angle, so we had wiggle room around our estimated requirement of 65 minutes of angle elevation required. Yep, we had to use all available scope adjustment, plus holdover to get on target.
65 minutes at 1,400 yards is one heckuva drop. That’s about 946.4 inches, or 14.339 Ryan Seacrest’s. Put another way, the vertical drop is nearly 2 ½ of those scary high dives your childhood friends dared you to jump from. While falling from the high dive might have seemed an eternity, the flight time of the Hornady 168 grain .308 projectile was even longer. We calculated that the bullet was in the air for 2.54 seconds, give or take. While I didn’t time it, I figured it took about a week for the sound of a hit to travel back to the firing line.
While I wouldn’t want to trust my life to a first shot hit in this scenario at 1,400 yards, we managed to get on target and could reliably put bullets in the vicinity of a few feet. I did notice that Hornady Marketing head Neal Emery dipped into his secret stash of 175-grain rounds and was having even better success at the 1,400-yard game. It pays to have connections, right?
Consider me shocked. I wouldn’t have expected to be able to make consistent and repeatable hits from 1,000 yards with a stock .308 AR. Certainly, those results stem from a combination of quality gun, great ammo, and most importantly excellent long range shooting instruction. If you’re interested in learning long range shooting techniques, keep an eye on the NRA Outdoors website. While the current classes are out west, they’re opening up additional ones on the east coast, so matter where you live, classes will be within range. See what I did there?