Rifles are the firearm you reach for when you really need to get some good shooting done. The range, power and precision of rifles trumps any other personal firearm in most circumstances, and their versatility and portability, especially when looking at the most modern semi-autos makes them an ideal do everything defensive arm for preppers.
The notion of taking a rifle’s capability to its limit is an alluring one for those who are preparing to confront the end of the world; a scoped rifle of adequate power can strike decisively at ranges in excess of 1,000 yards if the shooter is skilled and understands his setup.
The idea of genuinely sniping a threat beyond their ability to endanger you or even fight back is an intoxicating one, so much so that more than a few preppers are making plans to enforce their personal zone of exclusion with precision rifle fire.
While sniping and application of high-precision, low-volume rifle fire is a legitimate and effective battlefield tactic, should preppers consider the same techniques and tactics for self-defense or defense of property in a SHTF scenario?
The reality may be different than you are thinking. In this article, we’ll consider the usefulness of long-range rifle skills for preppers.
Long Range in Context
“Long range” means different things to different shooters. For some less skilled folks, long range may well be 100 yards.
For others, long range is getting out close to the end of a particular gun and cartridge combo’s performance envelope. Some shooters assign an arbitrary distance to the notion, like 500 yards, 700 yards, or even beyond.
For the purposes of this article, I am considering long range shooting with a rifle to definitely be beyond typical defensive shooting distances measured in tens of feet, and am calling it at 300 yards and beyond.
For the former range bracket, the type of firearm used really only effects the target in a greater or lesser way; any gun is more than accurate enough at such close distance and certainly will require minimal marksmanship skill from the shooter to connect with- point and click.
For the latter range bracket, and especially way out at 500 yards and farther, if you don’t have solid fundamentals, understand the characteristics of your gun and cartridge, and know what you are doing you aren’t going to hit a man or animal sized target.
Magnified optics are almost a necessity for practical real-world effectiveness at these ranges. Many rifles are completely capable at these distances; it is the shooter who is now the weak link.
Benefits of Long Range Fire
Attaining repeatable accuracy at long range is seen as the acme of rifle skill. Extending your personal effective “bubble” allows you to take more shots at more targets, increasing your area of influence when armed with your rifle.
Practically speaking, your target, be it man or beast, may only present itself at some great distance. If you know your business, you can take a shot in confidence. If you don’t have the “legs” for it, you can only hope for the best, try to get closer, wait for your target to move closer or curse your lack of acumen.
Assuming you have a good position many targets, man or beast, will be helplessly unable to effectively fight back or defend against your first shots unless they know they are coming.
It is only after taking fire and spooking either that they will act in their defense, either by fleeing, going to ground or attempting to source your fire and shoot back at you. Not the critters, obviously. We hope…
Possessing this capability is the ultimate weaponization of math: the ability to deliver terrible power to a precise spot many hundreds or even thousands of feet distant.
While highly intricate and complex in application, when mastered, it is almost a super power, and what the military calls a force multiplier, influencing outcomes in total disproportion to what it is, which is a man with a simple rifle and scope.
A good rifleman with a good rifle can harvest game that would be unattainable any other way, or reduce or even eliminate threats with near total safety. Surely this is a skill that every prepper who is gun savvy should work to develop, right?
Potential vs. Reality
Let’s get this out of the way right up front: there is never a set of circumstances where being skilled at long range will make you a worse shooter overall.
In fact, the high level of technical proficiency and skill that is mandatory for consistent results at long ranges, where errors and mistakes are gravely magnified, most often translates into a high degree of proficiency at close ranges where shots become easy or even trivial by comparison.
I have long advocated for intensive long-range practice, even with handguns, as a general way to improve marksmanship at all ranges. This of course applies to rifles also.
Becoming proficient at long range shooting will make you a better shooter overall, and potentially afford you the ability to engage targets that you otherwise would classify as “no-gos.” Notice I said potentially.
On paper, this is a capability that you can hardly be without it does so much for you. In reality, preparing to make a shot in real-world conditions with all of the constraints inherent to it, including ethical ones, you may not have much call for shooting beyond 100 or 200 yards on the outside.
If you truly will not be stretching you legs that far in any reasonable circumstance, why go through all the strain and trouble of practicing that far out?
Of all the normal shooting variables that make up a shot, rather the difficulty of a shot, distance is the most fundamental. The most fundamental factor for determining the range of an “average” shot in your locale is the surrounding terrain.
Do you live among mountains? Hills? Wide open plains? Do you live along or among a belt of forest? All of these biomes will present, generally, longer shots or shorter ones.
Frankly, in my experience most shooters are very poor estimators of range, especially hunters, and I have often been audience to a buck story where the eponymous quarry was bagged at 300 some odd yards, only for me to pace off the distance and reveal that the antlered critter was taken with a nice little 100 yards-and-change shot.
A far cry from the 300 yard brag-worthy shot described in verse. Stop and think, right now, where is the longest potential shot you could take on your property? To the fence line, how far?
How about in your neighborhood? Down a straight street to the corner, how far is that? Range it off and see. Now think about the longest conceivable shot you might have to make in your town. Where would that be? Now how about the county?
You probably thought of long, straight and relatively level stretched of roadway or interstate, or perhaps a gentle valley between two gentle rises. Farmland is another potentially wide-open area ripe for long range shooting.
For anyone not living on or near one of these areas, or on the plains or the side of a mountain, you can probably think of precious few areas where you could really start stretching your rifle’s range a bit before natural or man-made terrain would start getting in the way.
The world is a cluttered place, and comparatively few are the areas where sightlines extend to 500, 700 or even 1,000 yards and beyond.
This factor alone will put the kibosh on many preppers’ ideas of plinking long range targets with impunity. Most fights (or shootings) happen at close range, within 100 yards, all over the world as a rule.
Whether you are shooting at a person or an animal, you cannot (rather, you should not) sling lead willy-nilly and hope for the best.
There are concerns beyond ballistics that you must address. If hunting an animal, you must have a keen awareness of both your own skill and your limitations, in addition to your rifle’s.
This is on you: a botched shot may mean a clean miss, or it might mean a wounded animal doomed to die a slow and agonizing death that you’ll be unable to recover. This happens more with long range shots of “opportunity” that are beyond a hunter’s capability than anytime else. Know your weapon, and know thyself!
If your target is a human being, why? Sincere question: again, I am assuming this is taking place in a SHTF situation where there is no cavalry coming and rule of law will not save you.
If your safety and the safety of your family, kin, friends and partners are up to you, you may have to make some hard choices that you cannot call back. I am not disputing that. My question is why you are preparing to take a shot at a threat, or is it a potential threat, that is so far away?
Are you sure they are a threat, or are you assuming? What makes you think so? How do you know for sure? Do you risk more by allowing them to approach?
Are they really heading toward you or your dwelling, or just in your general direction? Can you articulate succinctly why they need to be shot and from so far away? There are real consequences to getting this wrong.
First, God is watching. Are you okay with capping people who may or may not need to be shot? What if you are wrong?
Are you okay with that on your soul? Sure, maybe they are armed, and closing in on your location. What is their disposition? Their posture? Maybe they are good guys and gals just like you, and would not hurt you or yours. Just passing through…
Second, you might assume too much if you think that the lights won’t come back on, the police are never clocking back in and you won’t have to account for all the things you did during the Dark Days, even if it was in extremis.
Let tales of some rogue sniper make the rounds long enough and eventually you might have account for every person you watched fall silently through your rifle scope.
While it is high-stakes, close in self-defense removes several of these questions entirely. There is little doubt when someone is threatening you at close range.
If you are willing to shoot someone at long range over trespass, the possibility of trespass or the possibility of discovery, I heartily suggest you have a sincere heart to heart with someone about that. Don’t become the thing you yourself are afraid of and prepping for…
Let’s be honest: some guys are just in love with the idea of sniping. Leave no trace, strike from a place that cannot see with something they will not hear, yadda yadda yadda.
Tell the truth! I know some of you already have the ghillie suit done up. Remaining invisibly blended into your surrounding environment is a great way to go undetected if done properly; I have to hand it to you.
Here’s the part that drives me nuts- I cannot tell you how many guys I have talked to that, seriously, claimed they were just going to get in their hide or ghillie up and wait out the troubles perched next to their rifle.
What?! No joke. Their idea was if no one knows where they are, they’ll be safe. Or it is the best way to protect their bug out location. Or they won’t be “taking any chances” when the balloon goes up. Okay, dudes, take a chill pill and take off that hood; you look ridiculous.
Think it through. If that is your plan, how are you going to handle all the other business of surviving as a one-man show or a small group? Military snipers do it as a specialized role for battlefield success. You won’t have that luxury of that being the only thing you are about!
You need to tend to the business of eating, finding and purifying water, maintaining shelter, planning your next move to stay ahead of or stay safe from whatever sent you into your hidey-hole in the first place and on and on.
Yes, you may have the opportunity to take long range shots, and you might even have good cause to stay as concealed as possible, but you’ll be in one momentously, unbelievably screwed up situation before you have a legitimate cause to play sniper.
If you are just damned good with your rifle past 300 yards or so you’ll be way ahead of the power curve anyway and will have little cause or want to employ the other tricks of the sniper’s trade.
I’m not saying these skills, if you have them, won’t come in handy during a SHTF event. They may. But I am saying you should definitely not prioritize snipercraft over about a thousand other skillsets for your prepper portfolio.
Practical Preps and Rifle Setup for Long Range Success
As I said earlier, there is never a situation where being a good long range shooter hurts. However, there are times where betting it all on a purpose-made long range rifle or optimizing another rifle for long range performance at the expense of close-in handling is a bad play.
No matter how you slice it, the odds are overwhelmingly high that you’ll be forced to defend yourself up close, not preempt a “threat” and 550 yards. Your chosen weapon should reflect that.
A bolt-action rifle should not be your first choice unless you have no other choice. Bolt-actions are slow to load and fire and suffer from meager capacity. Sure, you can kick some ass with one, but if you are facing down a semi-auto gun of any stripe you are probably headed for a bad time.
Leave nostalgia and sentiment behind where it belongs; the weapon of our era is the firearm, and the paradigm of modern small arms is the box magazine fed rifle firing an intermediate caliber. A fact that is unlikely to change for the foreseeable future. Get used to it and embrace the concept.
But even so, what if we could have it all, a rifle good up close and capable at extended ranges? I’ll stop with the rhetorical questions because we definitely can have it all.
Modern semi-auto carbines and rifles are surprisingly accurate and capable performers at surprisingly long ranges. A high-quality AR stoked with good ammo and mated to a suitable magnified optic will shoot like a dream at 500 yards and beyond. That is a carbine I am talking about.
Now for most of you, the chances of needing to fire a legitimate 500 yard shot in a SHTF event is so astronomically small it is barely worth mentioning, but isn’t it nice to know it could if you had to, with no great loss of performance at bad-breath distance? You bet it is. The biggest part of this capability is going to be the optic, and this is where a well-heeled prepper can have his cake and eat it too.
LPVO, or Low-Power Variable Optics, is a nifty acronym for one of the best concepts in all-around and effective scopes on the market presently.
An LVPO is typically one that can dial all the way down to 1x or near 1x, allowing its use as a large reflex sight up close, and then dial up to 4x, 5x, or even 8x for target discrimination and accuracy at extended ranges.
These optics will have reticles of greater or lesser complexity for calculating range and holds depending on the manufacturer’s options and shooter preferences.
An LVPO is the bar-none best optical sight for a do-all generalists rifle, and once you have practiced with and acclimatized to their use one of the best performance enhancements you can pop on a carbine. Their only downsides are bulk, weight and expense: the good ones are all three.
The additional capability they provide cannot be overstated. One of their greatest advantages over RDSs is how much better they help you see, especially in low light. This is vital for identifying a target as well as discerning if a person is carrying a weapon.
If you are serious about maximizing your SHTF gun’s performance at long range without sacrificing close range capability and ease of use, an LVPO is the perfect companion for your rifle.
Long range shooting skills are a valuable inclusion to a prepper’s personal toolbox, and will definitely translate well to close range feats at arms, but overestimating the likelihood of touching off shots at far away targets consistently is a mistake.
Don’t get sucked into the mystique of the sniper: you will in all probability be doing no such thing. A desire to extend your rifle’s effective range is reasonable done simply, but gearing up to act as a sniper during a crisis where you may need to remain highly mobile is a mistake.
Charles Yor is an advocate of low-profile preparation, readiness as a virtue and avoiding trouble before it starts. He has enjoyed a long career in personal security implementation throughout the lower 48 of the United States.