I am ashamed to admit how long this review took to write. My wife purchased the Long Range Shooting Handbook: A Beginner’s Guide to Precision Rifle Shooting by Ryan Cleckner for Christmas 2020, and I’ve only just now gotten to post my thoughts on it.
I originally put this on last year’s “gift list” because I planned on 2021 being a year of precision rifle study and practice that started with my precision 22 LR project in 2020 and continued with my first PRS match in September 2021. I shamefully didn’t get started reading it until after the match was over.
Bottom Line Up Front
If you’re a beginner looking for a one-and-done resource about getting started with precision rifle shooting, then I think Ryan Cleckner’s book is a fantastic resource.
There are a few bits of information that I don’t think are as valuable, such as discussing his suggestions for specific rifles and optics since rifle lines and optics evolve over time, but the context of these suggestions (i.e. the “what to look for” remains sound).
Are there better resources out there that cover the topics of each individual chapter? Yes, but overall this book ties all of the important concepts into one single resource targeted at beginners. Intermediate and advanced shooters will probably find it too basic, but it’s still a worthy add to a bookshelf.
Ryan Cleckner, the Author
Ryan is an interesting fellow. After finishing high school he spent a stint in the Army, serving in the 1st Ranger Battalion of the 75th Ranger Regiment. While there, he became a sniper and sniper team leader, and attended many courses on the topic.
He served in two deployments to Afghanistan before leaving the military to pursue his education.
After finishing law school, he worked for the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) as a manager of government relations. He also spent time working at Remington, and then began teaching Constitutional Law at the University of Alabama.
Aside from all of that, and his book, I routinely see him appearing in YouTube videos with others, as well as publishing his own podcast.
In short, Ryan has been around and you can tell his heritage of military, study, and teaching. In all, I appreciate his style of both speaking in writing because it comes across as very “everyman” and relatable, rather than talking down to the audience. It know that sounds like a silly thing to see, but I’ve noticed that it’s quite common in this genre.
The Long Range Shooting Handbook
The Long Range Shooting Handbook consists of 311 pages broken into 4 main sections.
Each section has 4 to 8 chapters explaining the components of the section. The organization of it makes sense from a training perspective, as Ryan starts with selecting the right gear to get started, then discusses the basics of how long rang shooting works with that equipment. The meat of the book is the application section, which builds on the marksmanship fundamentals chapters to focus on long range shooting.
I think Ryan and I would get along, because we approach the equipment question from the same direction. A mediocre gun in the hands of a great shooter will outperform a great gun in the hands of a poor shooter.
In the second paragraph of this chapter, he offers up a paraphrasing of Jeff Cooper’s Art of the Rifle.
The chapters here cover ammunition, rifle selection, optics, accessories, and suggestions. Overall, I thought Ryan found a nice balance of approaching technical topics like bullet construction and pro-con of various rifle configurations. I found myself nodding along with him far more than raising an eyebrow, so that’s good.
I also enjoyed how he used his own experiences while deployed to discuss how certain things did or did not work out for him. Of course, his description of the Mk 12 SPR got me thinking about a new project.
A Slight Drawback
I probably could have done without Chapter 7, where he offered up his personal suggestions. Call it a personal preference, but I never really like it when authors of print books list specific makes and models, because these things are likely to shift and evolve over time.
For example, he advocates for beginners to start with a Remington 700 SPS or Tikka T3 rifle. In 2016, I probably would have nodded along- but we all know what happened to Remington Arms, and Tikka dropped the T3 line in favor of the [better] T3x series shortly after the book hit shelves.
The same thing happens with optics, where he suggests the now-discontinued Leupold Mark 4 3.5-10×40 as a good starting place, and the Vortex Razor Gen II as a personal favorite. Don’t get me wrong, these are both fine suggestions in 2016, and even today if you can find them, but if someone buys this book in 2024 then the market is likely to have moved on.
Not to belabor the point, but a better approach is listing off the criteria of why these are good scopes and what to look for. Ryan does do this step as well, so the whole chapter could have been better without the specific suggestions.
Part II: Long Range Shooting Fundamentals
The second part of the book consists of four chapters laying out the basics of long range shooting.
- Marksmanship fundamentals
- Units of measurement (such as MOA, MRAD, and others)
- Environmental effects
Ryan opens this section of the book talking about marksmanship fundamentals, but not in the way I expected. Instead, he spends his time talking about proper sight picture and trigger control. He only briefly touches on actual marksmanship positions, as they are covered later in another chapter. Given how most of the book focuses on long range rifles and optics, I’m not sure how useful the discussion of sight picture using irons is, but it does serve as a primer.
His discussion of minutes of angle (MOA) milliradians (MRAD) is remarkably similar to how I broke it down in my own article, though there are a few nitpick moments that aren’t worth bringing up since they don’t actually affect the learning objective of the book.
In the measurement chapter, Ryan also discusses acceleration, velocity, gravity, and ballistic coefficient. These are useful to know, but the explanations (especially of ballistic coefficient and drag models) is very shallow. He is clearly not trying to overwhelm a beginner, so if you’re looking for a better explanation than your better off looking at Bryan Litz’s seminal work.
I thought the chapter about ballistics was quite well done, covering internal, external, and terminal. The details here are enough to be valuable but not overwhelming.
Part III: Long Range Application
Just from the layout of the book, it’s clear that this is really the meat that Ryan wanted to get to. It consists of nine chapters, with all of the preceding sections leading up to what he talks about here.
The first chapter is about mounting a scope to a precision rifle. It is a series of detailed checklists for each step of the process, and I wish he had included some diagrams or photographs to illustrate what was going on. Visual aids when discussing a physical process are always better, in my opinion.
This is the kind of thing that can quickly be explained using a video, such as one of the ones I posted earlier.
The chapters on shooting and spotting are useful, discussing the basics of building a solid position with the rifle and stabilizing it. The shooting chapter does not actually discuss field positions beyond prone (that’s later), but does emphasize the importance of a stable position using bags, loading, and other mechanisms.
The spotting chapter explains how to identify and correct for misses, that’s pretty self-explanatory. Likewise, the chapter on zeroing the rifle is short and more theoretical than practical. Given the detail he went into with mounting the optic, I thought there would be more here when discussing zeroing it.
I wanted to highlight this chapter because it is, of course, of great interest to me. Ryan opens by explaining the importance of getting as stable as you can, and that he will share five examples. He also discusses the use of a sling, which is always a valuable tool.
The main positions he discusses are the seated, kneeling, and standing. His descriptions have a few variations of each. For example, with the sitting position he discusses crossed leg and crossed ankle styles. With the kneeling position, he shows the high, low, and supported variations.
For the standing position, Ryan covers the traditional “target standing” style as well as supported styles.
I think Ryan’s discussion of shooting positions was…okay. It’s been done better in other places. That said, I appreciated his thoughts on putting the emphasis where it should be- quickly hitting targets at a variety of distances, not printing tiny groups.
Mr. Cleckner expresses a preference for speed over precision once “good enough” has been achieved, and I respect that. In this case, “good enough” is about a consistent 1 MOA from a stable position.
The remaining chapters focus on estimating and accounting for distance, wind, and angle. These are all important elements and I thought the discussion was well well done without being overwhelming.
The last chapter of the section offers advice about cleaning the rifle. Pretty standard stuff.
This last section of the book is short. It contains a ballistic tables for common cartridges like .223, .308, 6.5 CM, and .338 Lapua. There’s also some example pages from a log book and a target.
I can see this being somewhat useful for a brand new shooter who doesn’t have access to a chronograph or their own log books, but it wasn’t very useful for me. Ballistic tables are a very individual thing between the rifle, ammunition, and weather conditions so I’ve never cared for “one size fits all” tables like this.
Of course, it speaks to Ryan’s “good enough to be quick” mentality.
In all, I found The Long Range Shooting Handbook to be a worthy read, especially for a beginner. It’s nice to have a single book cover such a breadth of topics.
That said, I think there are other books that cover certain topics better. For example, John C. Simpson’s Foundations of Sniper Marksmanship does a better job discussing marksmanship fundamentals, rifle setup, shooting positions, and drills.
Pete Lessler’s Shooter’s Guide to Rifle Marksmanship is also an exceptional book on various rifle positions and employment. Aside from the shooting positions themselves, which he includes more of, Pete spends a good amount of time discussing running a bolt action smoothly and the importance of mindset.
Bryan Litz’s work is the defining book on rifle ballistics, and the myriad of blogs and websites out there are good resources for what is considered “good” equipment as of today.
So do I think you should buy this book? If you’re a beginner, and are looking. to get your toes in the water, then yes. It’s an “everman” approach that covers everything you need and nothing you don’t all in a single place.
If you are more advanced in your journey, already having properly set up equipment and fundamentals, then you can probably pass. I’ve heard that Ryan’s been working on a new book targeted at more advanced shooters, but it’s not been released just yet.