Practical long-range rifle shooting is about making first-round hits on targets to the effective range of the rifle, in the field and under time pressure.
Competitions in this format are split between describing themselves as "tactical" matches and "hunters test" matches. Examples include Dr. David Kahn's Keneyathlon, the Practical Rifle Team Challenge (CO), the NRA Whittington Center's Sporting Rifle Match (NM), the Blue Steel Ranch Steel Safari (NM), and various "Sniper Challenge" matches around the country such as the Nor-Cal Tactical Bolt Rifle Challenge held at the Sacramento Valley Shooting Center. Whatever the name, the crux is delivering first-round hits on unknown-distance targets. With off-the-shelf rifles available for under a grand that will hold one-MOA groups, half the equipment problem is easily solved. The other big decision regards optics.
For a brief moment while running the bolt, the author looks over the scope to orient the rifle on the next target in a field challenge.
What optics should you put on your long-range rifle? A scope for practical long-range shooting needs to do the following: provide a clear view of the target area and a precise-enough sight picture; precisely specify hold-over out to the maximum engagement distance; precisely specify wind drift or target lead or trail out to the maximum engagement distance; and allow optical ranging of targets when a laser range-finder cannot be used. The adjustments need to be 100-percent repeatable; the scope needs to retain zero. Low-light capability is desirable.
When you pick up a scope, the first thing you do is look through it, put the reticle on target and get a sight picture. In variable-magnification scopes, there are two types of reticles: first focal-plane (FFP) and second focal-plane (SFP). Most shooters are used to SFP reticles that appear to stay the "same size" as the magnification is turned up and down. Paradoxically, this means that at different magnification settings, the reticle features demarcate different angular distances. For example, if the mil-dots are calibrated at 10x, then at 5x, they would actually mark 2 mils. Confusing? It sure is, and that leads us to the solution: the first focal-plane reticle. The FFP reticle appears to "shrink" as the magnification is dialed down, just as the actual target image shrinks. This constant ratio means that the reticle features are always calibrated; 1 mil is always 1 mil regardless of scope power. The shooter can use the reticle for range estimation, elevation hold-over, and windage hold-off at any magnification setting. The downside of the FFP configuration is that the reticle lines can be too fine at low magnification and too thick at high magnification.