Anthony Cirincione is one of the most accurate shooters in the USA. But everyone starts somewhere! The book that he has written, Long-Range Precision Rifle Expanded Edition, is almost an ultimate resource that has the answers to nearly any beginner-shooters question. But how did he accomplished this level of skills? Read this interview to find out!
JB: Why did you write Long-Range Precision Rifle? Why did you add this new material?
AC: While serving as the Sniper Section Leader of TigerForce/1-327 INF/1 BCT/101 ASSLT, I put together an outline of concepts on which to train selectees who were slotted for Sniper School. The Sniper Team leaders and I would take turns teaching daily classes on each of the “critical knowledge items” for weeks. Evenings were consumed by ghillie construction in the conference room and wives at the house none too pleased with our absence. We sent five candidates to Sniper School during 2012, and four passed. Specialist Chavez returned unsuccessful—target detection got him. The team ripped on him playfully, as brothers will. He received get-well cards, a sniper tab cut in half since that’s how far he made it through school, and other such crap. He was retrained and resent, and this time he succeeded.
The other training outline I put together contained “critical knowledge items” that needed to be understood and implemented to allow the shooter to effectively operate at a high level with his team. Sniper School is a solid seven-week course, and the imparted information is great but it was not enough at the time. Upon leaving TigerForce, I fleshed out both outlines extensively and saw that so much of this information could be extremely useful to the civilian shooter. I remembered the struggle I had gone through when I was looking for information and coming up empty-handed many times. That was the genesis of Long-Range Precision Rifle. I oriented the book to the civilian shooter who is coming from a perspective of zero experience. If read in order—front to back, not jumping around—the book was designed so that all concepts made sense. In the event the concepts didn’t, I stuck an email address in the back of the book for readers to send questions, just in case they were experiencing a point of friction during the learning process. I removed much of the fieldcraft and a couple shooting concepts from the training outlines I use when training military personnel. There are just some things that civilians don’t need to know. Some of the removed items were:
- Hide site infiltration, construction, and exfiltration
- Practices for casting artificial shadows
- Shooting through a ballistic loophole
- Sound report as perceived from the target location, given different target engagement scenarios
- Sniper-spotter crew drills
- There is no information in the book derived from the U.S. Army Sniper School. The system I provide in the book allows the shooters to adjust for changes to their ballistic baseline in range, angle, wind, altitude, temperature, and barometric pressure. You’ll find items in this book that you simply won’t elsewhere.
For the expanded version, I added five additional chapters. I am very opposed to adding information for the purposes of “fluffing it up” or making something longer just for the sake of it. I dislike teaching and writing in a vague way. The shooter needs to understand the information and be able to apply it to or incorporate it into his/her current practices quickly. As a person grows in a given profession, technology changes and new information emerges. Therefore, understanding of previously assumed “solid facts” sometimes changes. Below are the five additional chapters and why they’ve been added: External Ballistic Truing: Many shooters, including me, were doing this before the practice was given a name. I touched on it in the original book. Given its importance to midrange and long-range target engagement, I felt it necessary to expand on the idea. Essentially we’re manually lining up the algorithm provided by ballistic software to match what our bullet is actually doing in flight when we’re talking about “truing.” We’re making our electronic device “truly” reflect what we’re seeing at the range—or very close to it.
Determining Fast and Correct Windage Adjustments or Holds: My approach to windage in the original book works fine, but this edition features my current approach. It is oriented specifically to MOA riflescope users. I find it curious that so many shooters who take my class favor the MILS system for so much of the class. After discussing windage, most of them tend to be in the market for a MOA scope with a MOA reticle. The end result is a quick and accurate “all math in your head” approach. The system is not designed by caliber, with rules that change from one caliber or chambering to the next. You end up with a system custom to your gun and load, and you don’t have a chart in the end that you need to refer to all the time.
Magneto Speed V3 Ballistic Chronograph vs. External Ballistic Truing: This is a report on device research I conducted for the small arms master gunner at the 101st Airborne Division. The sniper community was considering fielding the device, and testing was needed to determine it had a place in sniper sections. A handful of us put the device through its paces, organized our findings, provided recommendations, and sent the report up the chain. The three questions we sought to answer were: (1) If a shooter fires five shots, averages the velocity readings, and plugs that MV average into ballistic software, out to what target distance can we guarantee a hit on a 40-inch-tall target? (2) Does use of this device result in more center-center hits on target? (3) Is external ballistic truing still the best practice?
How to Build a Switch-Barrel Rifle, and the Process of Swapping Barrels: Custom rifle builds are expensive. As soon as I realized you could have one stock and action having barrels of different calibers and chamberings I got excited. I had questions though. Is there zero shift while swapping barrels? If so, is it consistent or do I have to re-zero every time? These questions are answered in the chapter. Additionally, I walk you through a custom build. This includes identifying reamer parameters, to neck-turn or not to neck-turn, and how to swap barrels out.
Suppressed Subsonic Shooting: There is a lot of information out there on developing subsonic load but not a lot of info on how to use them. From my supersonic 100-yard zero, a subsonic 400-yard shot requires around 75 MOA of elevation. That’s a lot of room for error! In this section, I detail how I load develop subsonic cartridges, applications for subsonic cartridges, and how to be on target with them.
JB: How did the guys in your unit react to the publication of your book?
AC: They were glad. Every now and again when a sniper section leader leaves to go to a different unit, he takes a lot of information with him. Some sections revolve around that guy when it comes to training. When I left, my senior sniper team leader, Liam Smith, had more than just a training outline of concepts to teach. By putting the information in text form, if any questions arose the answer could be easily found. Smith’s understanding of concepts related to target engagement and tactical sniping were damn solid by the time I rolled out. I received few questions via call/text from him at my new assignment.
JB: Is there a difference between precision shooting and sniping? Are the skills transferable?
AC: There is a difference. There are different sets of standards because there are different types of competition. F-Class and benchrest shooters generally can engage targets placed at 300, 500, 600, 800, 900, and 1,000 yards. If they’re off on their point of impact a bit, these shooters get sighters—you are shown where your bullet impacted prior to shooting for score. If shooting an F-Class match, you are shown where every one of your bullets hit during the entire course of fire. Benchrest shooting requires an extremely high standard per group size to be competitive. For example, at 600 yards if a benchrest shooter has a single 5-shot group over 2 inches in size, it is unlikely he will win that match. A sniper with an issued rifle would get his butt kicked every day in this type of match if he had to use his issued rifle and issued ammunition.
However, let’s make things a bit more practical as it pertains to hunting, human target engagement, or predator control. We have targets at 267 yards, 380 yards, 550 yards, and 926 yards. Each target is 10 inches in size. Upon occupying the shooting position, the shooter has 60 seconds to engage all targets. The sniper will not only likely win, but the benchrest shooter will usually have no idea how to engage these odd-distance targets. Real targets don’t show up at perfect 100-yard or -meter lines! Additionally, there are no spotters to show you where your bullet went if you miss.
Skills between different forms of precision shooting can be transferable. There’s nothing that says you can’t build a benchrest-quality rifle, dial in the best hand load that you’re able to develop, and use an optic conducive to tactical shooting. I know benchrest shooters who can effectively engage odd distance targets. I know snipers who compete in F-Class matches with personal builds and know how to develop a great hand load. During day one of his Ballistic Research class, Anthony Cirincione (far left) teaches students how to adjust a rifle shot for range, angle, wind, altitude, temperature, and air pressure changes. On day two, students learn to apply everything they learned.
JB: Sniping/precision shooting seems to be very popular these days. Did you see an uptick in interest after American Sniper?
AC: There has always been a love of precision. Machinists require it. People who are into car racing precisely tune their hardware. Show me a person who takes his job seriously, and I’m willing to bet that there’s something he is doing that others who just want to “get by” simply aren’t. The same holds true for shooting. I attribute the boom in the popularity of the sport to the growth of different types of precision rifle matches. When like-minded people get together, they normally learn things from one another and get better at what they enjoy doing. On the tactical side, we have Precision Rifle Series matches that show no sign of going away. Benchrest and F-Class matches propel the sport as well.
Every once in a while a movie (usually not a book) will get people excited about sniping or precision shooting, but I think these do little to propel the sport. Just like the month of January gets thousands of people into the gym and on the running paths. Most of them don’t stick with it. A single motivating factor just doesn’t give someone any real drive, especially if that person is in it for the wrong reasons. People dedicated to fitness for the right reasons don’t need to make a New Year’s resolution to get in shape. It is their lifestyle—they’re already in shape. People who love to shoot love it for different reasons. Hunters who know they need to up their game see success because their goal is tangible: they get the game at the end of the day. The additional training and learning are a mean to an end. A person who wants to guarantee a first-round hit out to whatever distance is motivated every time the metal clangs and provides a visual report. American Sniper was written to honor the men to Chris Kyle’s left and right. I’m sure it was not written to engender a commitment to shooting by nonshooting civilians, nor was it to provide purpose, direction, and motivation to them. The message I got from it was that of brotherhood.
JB: What skills must one have to be a military or law enforcement precision shooter? Are the skills natural or learned?
AC: The main requirements have nothing to do with precision shooting. Most people do not meet the basic requirements. On the military side, legal problems, parenthood, tattoo type and placement, body fat percentage, and aptitude are all obstacles to a career. Of those who meet the basic requirements, even fewer are willing to put themselves in harm’s way. I shoot with many truly great multi-gun competitors. No matter how fast and accurate they are, they tell me they would never join the infantry or Special Forces. Shooting is a lot of fun; most people do not have the mentality to make it their job. Those who meet the basic requirements and have the aptitude to attend Sniper School are best served by working with a qualified instructor. Most precision shooters seem to have knowledge gaps. Train with someone who has a complete system. Learn his way, make changes if needed, and devise a system that’s yours. For those infantry guys who want to attend Sniper School, learn about riflescope mechanics and how to adjust for changes in the environment. There is no guarantee that your instructor will be someone who knows his stuff well.
The skills required to be effective with a precision rifle are learned, but there are drawbacks. This is where aptitude comes into play. If a person doesn’t know the multiplication tables, he may fail. If someone got passed along in school and doesn’t have a basic understanding of algebra 1 rules or how to use an easy formula, he may fail.
The most important things a shooter can do to increase his/her accuracy is to ensure the gun, mount, and optic are set up correctly. One single variable that is off will kill accuracy and consistency no matter how stable a shooter you are. After you have that, the single-most important factor for target engagement with a precision rifle is stable firing position. If there is any movement in the reticle prior to the shot, there is something you could be doing that you aren’t doing.
JB: What types of civilians generally attend your classes—hunters, law enforcement officers, competitive shooters?
AC: I conduct a two-day, five-hour-per-day course. On day 1, I square away equipment and teach a full system custom to what each shooter needs based on the type of riflescope and ammunition he is using. Day 1 is all about learning to adjust for range, angle, wind, altitude, temperature, and air pressure. Day 2 is all about applying that knowledge on target steel at the range. I recently moved to a new duty station. Between the new work schedule and locating land on which to conduct the day 2 course, it will be a while before I’m up and running again. Hunters primarily take the course, though law enforcement personnel occasionally do as well.
JB: Precision shooting seems pretty technical these days. Do you have to have a lot of equipment to shoot well? AC: After the gun is set up and the load and truing are finished, you don’t need much to be operational: gun, ammo, rangefinder, kestrel weather meter, moldable rearrest, and for any civilian rifle the ballistic software is on my phone. The Kestrel and ballistic software only come into play for shots over 350 yards. From an “only the shooting part” standpoint, that’s all I bring on a hunting trip or if I’m just going out to “slay the steels.” During research and development, more gear is involved. I start with a question I need to answer. If I can answer more than one question in the same shooting event, I will. It’s just like science class. Usually, you can only test one variable at a time. Everything else is a control.
JB: How do you evaluate shooting talent?
AC: I don’t evaluate shooting talent. If they’re assigned to me, they get trained.
JB: What are your future plans?
AC: I have eight years in the Army. I suppose my future plans are “12 years to go.”