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Data Tracking for the Long Range Marksman

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There are various schools of thought and methods for tracking data on a particular rifle. This article will serve to address the methods as used by Military and Law Enforcement professionals as well as the “Tactical Long Range Rifle” Competitor. 


These methods and ideas are derived from the standard training protocols of SF Tactical and Logistics, LLC which provides accredited training courses to Militaries and Law Enforcement agencies around the world. 



Definition; The accurate and honest record keeping of each round fired from an INDIVIDUAL rifle, in order to understand the characteristics and abnormalities portrayed by the INDIVIDUAL rifle under all circumstances and conditions previously experienced, allowing the professional marksman to enter into a situation with as much possible data obtained from previous engagements to greatly increase the probability of first round impacts on target. 






I often assimilate the relationship a marksman has with his rifle to a relationship one would have with his Wife, and Mother of his Children (or Husband and Father accordingly). If we use that idea than it stands to reason that, If within this relationship there is no communication, the relationship will be severely strained. Each party begrudging the other for their own inadequacies. The same holds true for the Marksman and his or her Rifle. If we don't provide a clear and open line of communication with our rifle we can not expect to get the most beneficial and successful results from the relationship. The only way to communicate with an inanimate object is through observation and record keeping. This is where the Data Tracking becomes paramount to your consistent success.  



Did you know? 


  1. Just because your buddy is shooting lights out groups of .25 MOA out to a bazillion meters with Federal Gold Medal Match 175gr BTHP’s, that it doesn't mean YOUR Rifle will be able to hold sub MOA with the same ammo? 
  2. For every +/- 20 Degrees F your point of impact can shift as much as +/- 1 MOA in elevation? 
  3. Your point of impact can and most likely will shift when shooting off a bag as opposed to a bi-pod, or other form of hasty support?
  4. Your point of impact can and most likely will have a dramatic change from fouled cold bore to clean cold bore shots? Do you even know if your shooting a cold bore shot? 
  5. Is your rifle zeroed to cold bore point of impact, or not? should it be? 


By tracking ALL of our interactions with our Rifle we can begin to see patterns emerge, consistencies, abnormalities, successes and failures. All the things that make a strong relationship work are spelled out clear as the written word on paper. And just like any relationship, once the fundamental ground work is laid and adhered to, you begin to realize the major problem is YOU! and you can fix that. 






The professional marksmen (MIL/LEO) do not load their own ammo for duty use. This would create a liability issue that no one wants to deal with. However, most competition shooters and a lot of hunters on this page will be creating their own super secret, special home recipe that is guaranteed to drop that Elk in its tracks at 7000 yards first time every time. And I get that, just remember to be safe, and stay within your SAAMI specs for chamber pressures. I will explain the tracking aspect for creating a custom load then move into more of the day to day data tracking. 



TRACKING LOAD DEVELOPMENT (also comparable to selecting factory ammo your Rifle likes to shoot)



When creating a working load for a specific rifle it is important to realize that what worked on your last rifle may be slightly different than what this rifle likes. You must maintain a SEPARATE data book for EACH rifle. This data book should be maintained with the rifle for the life of the rifle, should the rifle be sold or transferred, the data book should go with it. 



When working up a load, the point of impact in relation to the point of aim is NOT important. what is important depends on your end use. Are you a hunter? if so velocity and accuracy will be paramount because barrel life and precision are of a much lesser concern. Competitive shooter? You will be focused on precision and velocities that provide a flat trajectory while providing an adequate barrel life, unless your sponsored, then SEND EM FAST AND FLAT! 



Track the data from each shot or shot group to include; Bullet weight, bullet type, primer type, powder charge, overall length, distance from lands (jump), Type of case used, velocity measured at muzzle and at target (100y increments if your using various distances will get you enough info) as well as all environmental conditions; amount of light, direction of light, temperature, barometric pressure, elevation, wind speed, wind direction and to a lesser extent humidity, time, and date. Continue to shoot, track and evaluate your data until you have completed your load development. 






It is imperative that a data book be assigned to a specific Rifle and only data from that Rifle be input into the data book. During the life of the rifle, if you change optics, or loads, or factory ammunition that change should be NOTED in the book with specific dates and changes made to keep the information clear and coordinated. The data book(s) should be kept with the Rifle at all times, should the Rifle be transferred or sold, the book(s) go with it. 



The first thing we want to track in the Data book is the specifics of the Rifle being tracked. 


  1. Shooters Name
  2. Make, Model, Caliber of Rifle
  3. Current Optic and Mount
  4. Rifle Serial Number


From here we will Zero the rifle, obviously this will depend on your needs, If your a hunter who usually addresses game between 100-300 yards, a 200 yard Zero would be suited to your needs and would allow for a center hold hit from 100-300 yards if you’re shooting 175g .308’s. 


For the competitive shooter, your zero will again be your choice factoring in your usual target distance, caliber of rifle, ect.. 



To establish a proper zero I recommend firing (2) shots from a cold bore, wait about 5 mins then proceed to fire a controlled (3) round shot group with a fixed and precise point of aim. Each of these (3) shots should be tracked on a ZERO target data sheet. It is important that you input the following data. 



  1. Environmental conditions
    1. Date
    2. Time
    3. Location
    4. Temperature
    5. Altitude (density Altitude if you’re so inclined)
    6. Humidity
    7. Barometric Pressure
    8. Light / Light Direction
    9. Wind / Wind Direction
  2. Ammunition Specifics (Load# or Lot#)
  3. Distance to Target
  4. Shooting position used (most supportive possible for zero)
  5. Support type used (bi-pod, bag, bench, ect.) 
  6. elevation and windage readings on the Turrets (try to obtain mechanical zero) ALWAYS CHECK YOUR TURRETS!!!! 
  7. Magnification setting 
  8. Be sure to mark your point of aim (POA)
  9. Mark your “Call” (where you SAW the point of aim at the instant the shot broke…be honest! not every call is a dead center hold! if so, your a liar!)
  10. Using a spotting scope plot your impacts in your data book. (POI)


At this point if you’re not using accurate MIL or MOA zero targets I recommend measuring the distance of your initial group from the POA and inputing the proper corrections into your turrets.



Once you have made the required adjustments to move your GROUP to the point of aim. record your new data on the same page



  1. Changes in environmental conditions
  2. Elevation and windage readings (after correction)
  3. Mag Setting
  4. POA
  5. Call
  6. POI


At this point you should carefully set your turrets to ZERO and note that you have set turrets to zero based on this data.



What this Data book page now tells us is; “On this day (DATE), at this distance (RANGE), in these conditions (ENVIRONMENTAL), this rifle using this load will now provide a POA / POI with ZERO corrections for windage and elevation. 



At this point you can begin to create your confirmed external ballistics table for your Rifle using this Specific Load which you have just zeroed by routinely and meticulously following the data tracking plan in various weather conditions, ranges, locations, elevations, shooting positions and varying targets. 






Each rifle has a tendency to shift the POI during COLD BORE shots, these can also differ from COLD BORE (CB), to CLEAN COLD BORE(CCB). If you always run a CCB than you should always know where that first CCB is going in relation to your zero. if you always clean your rifle and foul the bore with a few shots before headed out to the field or the competition, you should always know where that CB shot is going in relation to your zero. We do this by tracking EACH and EVERY cold bore shot we can!! 



The COLD BORE tracking is done completely separate from the other tracking in your book and should be kept in a centralized location so it can be compared to all other CCB and CB shots in order to see the consistent pattern of your CB shot. When tracking CB shots it is important that the following information be recorded. 



  1. Date
  2. Time
  3. Temp
  4. Altitude (Density Altitude if your so inclined)
  5. Humidity
  6. Barometric Pressure
  7. Distance (does NOT have to be your Zero distance)
  8. Correction on turrets 
  9. Position shot from (prone, sitting, bi pod, bag, ect.) 
  10. Light / Direction
  11. Wind / Direction
  12. Hold
  14. Point of impact


Once you have completed a few CB shots you will notice a pattern, disregard the shots that you KNOW you shanked…and you will shank. Be honest, so you can trust your input. You know should have a pretty good understanding of where your FIRST and most important round will be going in relation to your ZERO. you can now choose to dial the CB correction in addition to the Environmental corrections, or hold off that correction with your reticle. Or, if your so inclined, ZERO your turrets to the CB POI. Just remember if you adjust your Zero to CB POI, your zero will be OFF after that CB shot and any future shots will require turret correction in addition to environmental or reticle hold off. Not recommended. 






WRONG! your computer program is running mathematical equations related to constants and formulas. Sure it can tell you that your load is MOST likely going to drop 22.14 inches at 425 yards…however, until you have dialed that correction, and taken the shot…Can you be sure? 



I recommend using the Ballistics charts as guidelines and rough corrections to get you on target at distance and in the wind, but write that computer chart in PENCIL in your book. once you confirm with real world data then, and only then, use a pen and make it permanent. 






After each session, practice, or hunt, you should record the round count. This will allow you to keep a running total on total rounds fired through the particular rifle…generally speaking a .308 which is running standard pressures and velocities should expect roughly 6000-8000 rounds of barrel life considering a decent barrel construction, material and contour. When you get to that window you should start to look for DATA that doesn't match….if you notice that you are now needing to add another .25 Mil of elevation to reach your POA with your impact….then next week your up to .50 Mil to reach the same POI…chances are your Barrel is washing out and your losing velocity. 





We track data in order to understand the dynamics of our Rifle. What it is capable of, what it likes, what it doesn’t, how we interact with it and what will routinely provide the best results. 9 times out of 10, if you are being honest in tracking your data and you understand how to speak the language of the Rifle through your data book, you will find that the problem is NOT the gun. The problem is the nut behind the bolt. 






The best books on the market in my opinion are STORM TACTICAL DATA BOOKS! 


They are available at many online retailers, brick and mortar stores and at www.AmericanSnipers.org 






Proceeds from your purchase will go directly to support our Snipers deployed and here at home. Providing them with the tools they need to continually and successfully reach out and touch the enemy. 



Train hard, Train Safe, Train to WIN! 






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  • 2 weeks later...

Great article Jeff, thank you for contributing to the community. we look forward to more of your knowledge, experience, and insights in the future. I am also personally looking forward to our long range rifle class. Stay safe out there brother.

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