By Thomas Gomez Via Gunsamerica.com
Long range shooting is an expensive endeavor. A good rifle, nice scope and ancillary gear can easily set a marksman back several thousand dollars. Shooters on a budget, or those who want to get in a lot of training repetitions, may pick up a rifle that mimics their main long-range rifle relative to weight and feel, but that uses a less expensive round.
I am currently gearing up for a National Rifle League competition in the Fall. For that competition, I will use a Howa chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor, mated to a Kinetic Research Group stock. I want to train, but at this stage in my training, there is no need to tap into my expensive 6.5 Creedmoor ammunition. To save my ammunition and extend the barrel life of my 6.5 Creedmoor, I assembled two training rifles.
The first training rifle is a Remington 700 that features an old-school 1/12-inch twist barrel. 1/12 twists stabilize 147- to 168-grain ammunition well, and the best bang for your buck, relative to .308/7.62 training ammunition, is Austrian 147-grain ammunition. My Remington 700 holds MOA at 100 yards and, at the altitudes I shoot, is perfectly capable of hitting an 18-inch target at 1,000 yards. Like the Howa, the Remington 700 is mated to a Kinetic Research Group stock. These rifles feel identical and have the same manual of arms.
The second training rifle is a Howa Mini Action chambered in 7.62×39. The Howa Mini Action Rifle debuted several years ago at SHOT Show and features an action that is 12 percent shorter than the Howa short-action rifles.
- Cartridges: .204 Ruger, .222 Rem., .223 Rem., 6.5 Grendel & 7.62×39
- Barrel Length: 20-in. lightweight, 22 in. standard & 20 in. heavy barrel options
- HTI®synthetic, pillar-bedded stock & recoil pad
- Capacity: 5 or 10-round detachable magazine (depending on caliber)
- Bolt: Forged, lightened, one-piece bolt w/ two locking lugs
- Safety: Three-position
- MSRP: $608 USD
I am indifferent about the size of the action. My main draw to this rifle was the 7.62×39 chambering. I always considered 7.62×39 to be nothing more than a machine gun round, great for low-cost plinking and basic target shooting. Aside from some hunting applications, I never considered 7.62×39 suitable for long range training application. Until, one day shooting at the ranch, some friends and I were shooting steel out to 1,000 yards and, in between strings, I decided to send a 7.62×39 round out to 1,000 yards. Since I didn’t have any data about the rifle or round, I “walked” my rounds on target. Four rounds later, I made contact with the steel plate. Cycling the bolt, I sent another round and observed an impact. I sent several more rounds down range, and had more hits than misses. Frankly, I was stunned.
The 7.62×39 is certainly not the best round for long-range shooting. It is slow and has a low ballistic coefficient. Unless you are handloading, or shooting expensive hunting ammunition, you are mostly left with imported bulk ammunition. With that said, 7.62×39 is perfect either for training new shooters or reinforcing one’s own skill set. Let’s look at what makes the Howa Mini Action, chambered in 7.62×39 the perfect training tool.
It is inexpensive to shoot
A quick online search reveals that bulk 7.62×39 retails for around .20 to .23 cents a round. This equates to $230 dollars for 1,000 rounds. You can do a lot of training with 1,000 rounds. In comparison, 1,000 rounds of .308/7.62×51 M80 would cost roughly $670. I primarily shoot Wolf WPA Military Classic ammunition through my Howa Mini. It typically holds between 1.5 to 1.75 MOA at 100 yards, which is not bad. One thing I particularly like about Wolf WPA Military Classic is its even velocities. The most extreme spread I have witnessed was 35 feet per second. This spread is amazing, considering that I have seen Hornady Match grade ammunition with extreme spreads of 70 feet per second. The average 10-shot velocity of Wolf WPA Military Classic ammunition through my Howa Mini is 2,488 fps. I tend to buy ammo in lots of 1,000 rounds. Even with a heavy shooting schedule, this will last a good portion of the year.
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7.62×39 Recoils … Just Enough!
So why do I not feel like a Howa Mini Action chambered in 5.56/.223 Remington is the perfect training rifle? The 7.62×39 has an edge over 5.56/.223 Remington because 7.62×39 has a little bit more recoil. The first position that long range shooters master is the prone position. Learning correct body position, how to load a bipod, and how to use a rear bag are all essential skills for a long-range marksman. Correct body position manages recoil, which then allows a shooter to both observe their shot and get back on target faster. The 7.62×39 can be shot all day with little to no discomfort, though a shooter will not be able to observe hits or misses without good body position
7.62×39 and Its Use for Seasoned Long-Range Shooters
One of the most dynamic variables in long-range shooting is wind. To be a good long-range shooter you must learn how to read and shoot in wind. Standing on a range with a Kestrel can be fun, but you don’t know what is happening down range until you cook off a round. One drill that I like is to set up a 10- and 18-inch gong on the range and work back in 100-yard increments. I intentionally set up targets, so that I must contend with ½ value or full value winds. To account for variations in velocity, I usually zero my Howa Mini with a MagnetoSpeed chronograph and leave it on the barrel for the duration of the day. After each shot, I note the impact and take a quick peek at the velocity.
Things get interesting when you start shooting at the transonic range, which for a 7.62×39 is between 500 and 600 yards. I personally think good shooters are made practicing in the transonic range. At this range, shooters can practice truing a ballistic solver. One thing that I have noticed with a 7.62×39, is that the smallest mistakes are amplified. Bad parallax? Round is in the dirt. Rifle is not level? Round is in the dirt. Round flew over the target? Check the MagnetoSpeed for a hot round. Round landed below the target? Check the MagnetoSpeed for a low velocity. Are holds not lining up with your ballistic data? Check your Kestrel for Density Altitude and temperature. Shooters can get away with a lot of when using a super caliber like the 6.5 Creedmoor or .300 Norma Magnum, but the 7.62×39 will hold a shooter accountable for every variable, and that accountability will only make you better.