The Swarovski Challenge is not about training snipers or preparing to shoot game animals at such distances, it is about the pure challenge and joy of marksmanship.
by Keith Wood | Aug 11, 2020 | FIREARMS, SHOOTING
Sally Cook, an attorney in Atlanta, warms up with 300-yard shot at Barnsley Resort’s open air pavilion.
It’s not about training snipers or preparing to shoot game animals at such distances, it is about the pure challenge and joy of marksmanship.
America loves its riflemen. Whether the subject is frontiersman Davy Crockett, buffalo hunter Billy Dixon or the fictional Matthew Quigley, the longer the shot, the more enduring the tale. For centuries, the greatest marksmen have hit targets at seemingly impossible distances using rare skill borne by years of practice, innate ability and a keen understanding of the bullet’s journey toward the target. Until recently, a 1,000-yard shot was considered the purview of only these elite shooters. Those days are over.
In the past decade, long-range rifle technology has grown by leaps and bounds. Optics suited for taking shots at extended distances have improved, new cartridges have pushed the accuracy envelope, laser rangefinders have taken the guessing game out of range estimation and ballistic applications provide the exact data needed to put shots on target. The shooter still needs skill, of course, as gear alone won’t hit the target for you.
The prospect of hitting targets at more than a half-mile is intriguing, but most of us don’t have access to that type of range to practice on a regular basis and may never get the opportunity to try it out. Most hunters and shooters also lack the equipment and knowledge to make such shots. These are the individuals who the Swarovski Challenge is designed for.
Auburn University student Chloe Medlin focuses on the steel target 1,000 yards away. She is an intern in Auburn’s new wildlife enterprise management degree program.
The Challenge is the brainchild of Swarovski’s Dean Capuano and John Burrell of High Adventure Company, an industry leader specializing in developing and operating high-end sporting destinations.
Among those destinations Burrell has developed (or established) is the Beretta Shooting Grounds at the luxurious Barnsley Resort, a first class retreat just an hour northwest of Atlanta. The property, which lies in the foothills of the Appalachians among towering loblolly pines, is ideal habitat for bobwhite quail.
While developing the quail hunting operation at Barnsley, Burrell saw the potential to create a long-range shooting experience that would satisfy experts and beginners alike as well as add additional off-season activities for the resort guests. One call to Capuano and the Swarovski 1,000-yard Challenge was born.
Since the shooting grounds at Barnsley are Beretta-affiliated, selecting the right rifles was an easy decision. Tikka, part of Beretta Group, has been producing rifles in Finland for four decades and has a reputation for quality, accuracy and value. Tikka’s T3, chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor, is a highly capable rifle, especially when combined with Swarovski’s X5i riflescope, which was designed specifically with long-range performance in mind.
Shooters also have access to another Finnish-made rifle, a Sako TRG-22, also chambered in 6.5mm. The performance of these rifles must be seen to be believed.
The Challenge is simple on its face: hit a 30-inch steel target from a solid benchrest position at 1,000-yards.
Participants don’t need to own a rifle to try it out, though shooters are welcome to bring their own.
During our visit to Barnsley, Tania Tuttle and Sally Cook, who had never fired a rifle in their lives, took on the Challenge. After a brief safety discussion, John Burrell went through a PowerPoint presentation on the fundamentals of rifle shooting from body position to breath control and everything in between. Hitting targets at long distances is all about getting the basics right, so it is crucially important that a shooter is comfortable with those skills before moving to longer ranges.
Once the ladies were comfortable with the theory of shooting a rifle, it was time for some hands-on instruction, and who better to assist Burrell than Capuano and Gary Turner, the owner and President of Talley Manufacturing.
Secure scope mounts are an important link in the chain and Talley Rings are an integral part of the accuracy of the rifles used for the challenge. Benchrests are set up underneath Barnsley’s open-air pavilion, where shooters have access to targets from 100 to 500 yards.
Both women quickly found their mark at 100 yards before taking each steel target in succession at 200, 300, 400 and 500 yards. Once they demonstrated that they could handle the basics safely and effectively, Tania and Sally were taken by UTV to the second shooting position.
From a hilltop location, the ladies took aim at a steel plate 750 yards distant. They dialed the correct elevation adjustment into the X5i’s turret and waited for the wind call from the spotter.
Recent graduates of the 1,000-yard Swarovski Challenge include (l-r): Lisa Woodham, Stuart Owen, Kim Eveland and Andrew Lewis.
“Hold on the right edge of the target,” Burrell told them, watching the swirl of the mirage and the swaying broomsedge for indicators of the wind’s direction and speed.
Tania exhaled and pressed the trigger. The shot surprised her, just as she was taught that it should, and she heard Burrell report a “hit.” Seconds later, the sound of a high-velocity bullet hitting steel echoed back to the shooters.
Now it was time for the true test: a 30×30-inch target at 1,000 yards. For the ballistic-minded among us, that makes a 3 Minute Of Angle (MOA) window of success.
Tania reloaded and settled in behind the rifle, massaging the rear sandbag in search of her natural point of aim. The wind call came, and she held accordingly. At that distance, the bullet drops more than 340 inches below its 100-yard zero and a 5 MPH wind can cause more than 3½ feet of deflection. Even with a muzzle velocity of 2700 feet per second, it takes the bullet 1.56 seconds to reach the target. Tania’s bullet splashed on the target with a satisfying flash of the red LED lights that indicate a hit.
Then it was Sally’s turn and she, too, made the shot. Not bad for a couple of ladies who just two hours earlier had never looked through a riflescope.
The Swarovski Challenge is not about training snipers or preparing to shoot game animals at such distances, it is about the pure challenge and joy of marksmanship. The satisfaction of hitting a target 10 football fields distant might be compared to hitting a 300-yard drive on a golf course or knocking a baseball out of the park. The difference is, it doesn’t take a lifetime of practice to achieve this goal.