In the world of weapons, distance is often a key measure of overall effectiveness. Yeah, your rifle, ammo, and optics are capable of hitting targets at ranges of +1,500 yards….but are you?
With the rise of precision machining, affordable manufacturing, and economies of scale; firearm, ammunition, and optics manufacturers aren’t just pushing the envelope on how far they can send a round downrange; they’re reimagining how hunters and shooters can use these tools entirely, all while keeping costs top of mind.
Modern firearms, ammunition, and optics have made HUGE strides over the past few decades. Some might argue the strides are so significant that consumers might feel intimidated……hell, even left behind.
Enter, West Coast Long Range.
Background: So, there I was, aimlessly scrolling through the myriad of hunting-related Facebook groups; Typically, my feed is comprised of hunting memes (some funny, some slightly offensive), videos of hunts, articles from other blogs (yes, we read other blogs too), and of course plenty of posts with armchair experts slinging mud over a difference of opinions.
Ain’t social media great?
Just then, a Facebook post from West Coast Long Range caught my eye.
Ok, you’ve got my attention; I wonder what this entails.
A few Facebook messages later and I was chatting with West Coast Long Range owner, Mark Zorich, locking down the details on where to meet and observe one of his upcoming classes. A class where he just so happened to be hosting members of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF).
This is going to be interesting, I thought to myself.
If you’re new around these parts, I’m mainly a waterfowl guy. To say that I “love” hunting waterfowl would be an understatement. I need it, like oxygen or water. I love it so much it’s become a massive component of my life, something my family will gleefully attest to (that was sarcasm)……. #sorrynotsorry.
Big game hunting or long-range shooting is another story entirely.
What was I thinking? Am I going to be out of my element here? Fuck it, I thought. I’m only going to observe the class; what’s the worst that could happen?
Boy, was I in for something even I couldn’t have imagined.
Range Day #1
I arrived at the location Mark provided me at around 11:30 am that morning. The actual class started around 8:00 am, so they’d already gone through the safety training and were doing some questions and answers accompanied by lunch.
Mark runs a relaxed operation, but he’s keen on safety, which was made wildly apparent and continually reinforced.
Post safety briefing, Mark has each student shoot a five (5) shot group in order to gauge their techniques and abilities. Essentially, he’s establishing a baseline to start them at so he can see progress through the day or weekend. From there, they dive into a block of hands-on instruction and start shooting at the 100-yard line, fine-tuning the skills discussed while also running drills focusing on certain fundamentals.
Wide-eyed and hopped up on one of the tastiest lunch spreads I’ve seen (Mark feeds his students incredibly well), the class jumped in their rigs and headed up the crest of a hill directly behind us for the next stage of the clinic……long range shooting from 200 to 1,350 yards.
Excitement filled the air immediately upon seeing what was in store for the RMEF crew…..and myself, for that matter.
After setting up the pop-up tents and laying out all of their gear, Mark ran through all the data points and inputs discussed before lunch (windage, terrain, temps, etc.). From there, the class began working on updating their DOPE charts (Data On Previous Engagement).
Some of you might ask, “What the hell is a DOPE chart?”. Solid question. I asked Mark the same.
DOPE or “Data on Previous Engagement” is a term used for the data you need to shoot accurately at “X” distance in certain conditions.
Let’s rewind a bit.
Back in the day, before fancy ballistic computers were commonplace (i.e., an app on your phone), shooters kept running data logs where they would document temperature, humidity, density altitude, sun angle, and numerous other inputs to use that as a reference for a possible future shot in similar conditions.
Presently, we have these powerful and highly accessible ballistic computers on our phones or in a standalone handheld weather meter, where we can upload the nearest weather station data directly or link with a device such as a Kestrel. This provides accurate real-time data to provide an extremely accurate firing solution.
External ballistics are constantly changing, so having a way of updating them as the day warms or cools keeps your firing solution accurate.
Once these data points are added to our firing solution, it will form a DOPE chart.
So, now the DOPE chart will tell you that at 300 yards, you need to add .6 Mils (or 2.4 MOA) into the elevation turret of your scope so that you can hit the dead center of your target. You can also add wind values and direction, so you know how to compensate for wind the bullet might encounter on the way to its target.
It sounds complicated, but Mark made it a seamless and easy experience to learn from and engage with.
Plus, “DOPE chart,” as a term, just sounds fuckin’ awesome.
So did it all work? Yep, sure did. The first shots from the hilltop firing line were hits for most of the class.
Alright, these folks were paying attention; I like it.
The remainder of the day was spent with Mark providing hands-on, 1:1 instruction with each shooter as they progressed through each scenario and target. Each target was progressively further down range, and Mark provided guidance and education based on each shooter’s needs.
It was awe-inspiring, to say the least, especially when you’d hear the “GONG” sound of a direct hit on target.
Some of these folks had never shot past 500 yards so that they were reaching out to distances beyond 500 yards, and being able to hit targets consistently, was a true testament to Mark’s methods. The guy knows what he’s doing, that’s for sure.
Range Day #2
I was eager to see what day two had in store for the RMEF crew, knowing that it would be a day full of 500 to 1350-yard shooting.
I arrived at the range just as Mark and the RMEF crew sat down for lunch (good timing on my part). Freshly cooked tri-tip was on the menu today, so clearly a win for all.
Shooting station rotations were on the docket today, emphasizing body positioning, trigger discipline, and dialing instead of holding over on target. Mark was keen on reinforcing the practice of “knowing vs. guessing” when it came to scope work.
Each station that Mark laid out was set to mimic what the shooters might encounter while hunting. Partially obscured targets or odd and unfamiliar shooting positions were thrown into the mix with the intent of repetition, building muscle memory.
And I’ll be damned; it worked. The RMEF crew was hitting targets consistently throughout the day.
Were there some misses? Absolutely, yes. But each missed shot was met with a nugget of insight from Mark on what they could do to adjust or approach the shot better.
By about 2 PM, the winds had picked up and were gusting 10-15mph, so it added a new level of realism to the class and gave the students even more confidence in their newly honed shooting abilities.
And then it happened.
“Casey, did you bring your rifle?” asked Mark.
I knew it; I wasn’t getting out of there scot-free.
“No, just here as an observer.”, I replied.
After a bit of back and forth (all cordial), Mark offered to let me shoot one of his rifles. Talk about nerve-wracking.
First off, these guys have been shooting solid over the past two days. Second, it’s the RMEF crew; these guys just spent the past two days honing in their already well-honed shooting skills. And now they want me to shoot with a rifle and optics that I don’t have any experience with? I was prepared to eat a GIANT piece of humble pie.
As I plopped down in a prone position, I recalled the past two days of what I had observed. Mark briefly walked me through the rifle and scope. “Dear God,” I thought, “Please don’t let me embarrass myself now.”
Distance to target 1150 yards. First shot….a bellowing GONG sound rings out…..Mark yells, “Hit!”
Disaster averted, and I saved face, thank goodness.
Second shot…..another bellowing GONG sound. Mark yells, “Hit.”
On the third shot, a minor GONG sound rings out, but still a hit nonetheless. I’m grinning from ear to ear. By this point, newfound confidence is brewing, and maybe I’m on to something here….Or Mark’s just that good of an instructor.
If you’re serious about leveling up your shooting, taking a class from Mark and the West Coast Long Range crew is a no-brainer. Mark is incredibly friendly, knowledgeable, and an absolute expert in his field. Do yourself a favor and book a class; you won’t regret it.
Questions and Answers with Mark Zorich, founder of West Coast Long Range:
Post range days, I sent over some questions for Mark to answer and provide further information for those interested in what he offers. Here are some of the standouts from our round of Q&A.
Casey: What gear do you recommend a person taking your course bring with them? Also, what is the cost of the course and what’s included?
Mark: For any of my courses, you just need your rifle that has an adjustable power scope and turrets that can be dialed, your rifle, ammo, and a bipod. Everything else is a personal preference. I aim to make it as easy as possible for you to come out, and I’ll do all the work. You are at the class to shoot and learn.
Generally, the cost of my classes includes all range fees, course materials, catered lunch, and a custom shooting bag you get to take home. Cost is dependent on the course and the range. Some ranges charge me more to use them, so I have to have my price reflect that.
Generally, my two-day courses are $650-$750, one-day courses are $350-$425, and private four to five hours lessons are $250-$325.
Casey: Can you provide some insights into your background?
Mark: I spent six years in the USAF, where I did three (3) combat deployments. I had two to Afghanistan and one to Iraq/Kuwait/Oman.
When wrapping up my last deployment in 2014, I knew I wanted to get out and do something in law enforcement. I started the police academy while still in the USAF in early 2015. I got out of the USAF in May 2015 and graduated from the police academy in Sept 2015. I was immediately hired on with an agency where I have been a cop ever since.
The tactical aspect of law enforcement has always been what interested me. I knew I wanted to be on SWAT, so I tried out and made the team. I have held the majority of positions on the team (perimeter, entry, breacher, and sniper), but the long gun is where my heart is.
After going through primary sniper school, I quickly became my swat team’s lead sniper. Two years later, I went to advanced sniper school, and in 2019 I was chosen to be a POST (Police Officers Standard of Training) certified sniper instructor, which there is only a handful of in the entire state.
I started teaching and training with agencies all over Northern CA. I started West Coast Long Range in 2021 because I saw the need for hunters to get quality rifle training, which has taken off since then.
In 2020 I started my journey into competitive shooting. I shot my first NRLH (National Rifle League Hunter Series), where I placed 8th in my division (Open Light).
Since then, I have fallen in love with the competitive side of shooting as it’s a great way to be pushed and sharpen my skills against the best shooters in the nation. This season I have done pretty well. I had a top 3 finish at a pro/am event in Reno, NV. I placed 7th at a match the day before, 14th at the NRL22x nationals in march, and 7th place finish at a match in Sacramento last weekend.
I have a handful of national-level matches left this year where I hope to continue placing in the top 10 or higher, and I hope within the next two seasons to be a contender for the top spot on the podium.
Casey: What does your personal big game hunting setup look like? Rifle, optics, range finder, bipod, etc.?
Mark: My personal hunting rifle is a 6.5 SAUM built on a Defiance Machine Anti X action, 24in Proof Research carbon barrel, Area 419 Hellfire muzzle break, Trigger Tech Diamond Trigger set on an MDT Hnt26 carbon fiber chassis. I have a Leupold Mark5HD 3.5-18-44 scope with an H59 Reticle. I’m shooting 134 Gr Power Hammer Copper bullets at a little over 3000 FPS.
I also have a 6.5 Creedmoor built on almost the same setup, just sitting in an XLR Element 4.0 Chassis. I’m shooting 140gr ELDM bullets at 2950 FPS on that one.
DMR LLC chambers all my rifles out of Las Vegas, NV. They are one of the best gunsmiths in the country and have an extremely quick turnaround time.
I’m sure next year I’ll have a completely different setup. I’m always building new rifles in new calibers and cartridges. I’m looking at building a 7mm PRC this fall to run 190gr bullets. That round significantly improved on the 6.5 PRC and the 6.8 Western. It could be the ultimate North American big game cartridge.
Casey: What are some pieces of advice that you’d give to shooters looking to hone their skills?
Mark: Learn the fundamentals and take a course with a vetted instructor. I get it’s fun to say you took a course with a navy seal or some cool Tier 1 dude, but look at what they are teaching first. Yes, it’s fun to do cool guy stuff, but you can’t do that until you get the fundamentals down. Then you need to keep shooting. It’s a perishable skill, and if you don’t keep up with it, the skill goes away fast. There are tons of great dry fire drills you can do, .22s are a great way to train for cheap or look at shooting some competitions. The biggest thing is to keep practicing those fundamentals and keep shooting.
Casey: What are some of the best rifles and optics for beginners and seasoned shooters?
Mark: This is all very budget-dependent. First, I would say, always buy a nicer scope than a rifle. I would rather have a $1000 scope and a $400 rifle than a $1000 rifle and $400 scope.
The scope is the absolute most crucial part of your rifle.
The scope will also be the first thing you grow out of as you become a better shooter, so buy something a little nicer than you think you need.
As for the rifle, try to get something that can be adjusted and fit. Rifle fitment is critical to applying proper fundamentals. Most companies now offer rifles in the mid-price point with Length of Pull (LOP) adjustments and check riser adjustments (Comb height); those two are key to being comfortable behind your gun.
Casey: How are you adjusting for windage? How do you encourage your students to do the same?
Mark: I typically use holdovers for wind. With the type of scopes that I use, I either have .2 mil or .25 mil hash marks. Since wind is never consistent, I find it more reliable to hold for it rather than dial it into your scope and hope it has stayed the same. I encourage my students to hold wind, but with a lot of hunting-style reticles, that is hard as they don’t have hash marks in their reticles.
I also teach about giving your gun a wind number. Take my 6.5 Creedmoor, for example. That gun is an 8 MPH gun. and what that means is at a full value (90 degrees) wind at 8 MPH; my rifle will match my yardage in mils. So at 100 yards in an 8 MPH wind, I need to hold .1mil, 200 .2mil 300.3 400.4Mil, and so on.
This method works exceptionally well because it’s easy to remember, and it’s easy to do calculations on the fly. If you have a 4 MPH wind, cut that in half, or if you have a 16 MPH wind, double it.
This also works with MOA rifles, but it’s just a bit different. You want a wind value that will cut your yardage in half. So at 100 yards, you would want a wind value that equaled .5 MOA, 200 1MOA, 300 1.5 MOA, 400 2MOA, and so on.
This concept can be hard to visualize, so I will help each student do it on their ballistic calculator, and then they can see it on their DOPE chart, that’s usually when it clicks.
In conclusion, I highly recommend that anyone interested in honing their long-range shooting potential needs to check out West Coast Long Range. Mark knows his stuff, and he made a believer out of me.
About the Author
When not hunting, Casey spends his days overseeing brand management and partnership opportunities with one of the largest eye care and eyewear companies in the world. By night, he puts his passion and knack for creative direction to use building out and managing Hunt Bums and its respected properties.
A native Californian, Casey is a diehard Pacific Flyway waterfowl hunter who also enjoys pursuing dove, deer, turkey, and just about anything else with four legs or feathers.
Casey lives in Elk Grove, CA, with his fiancée, two stepsons, and a lazy dog with a crooked mouth named Zephyr.
Interesting article. Very relevant to today’s hunter.