• Matt Part 2 of a 3 part-Series

    Range estimation is a critical step in the long range hunting or shooting process. On a shooting range it’s a no brainer. The targets are generally set at known distances, but what about the hunting environment. Very rarely does the hunter get the opportunity to engage a target at a known distance. Toss in uneven terrain and difficult light conditions and the chance of determining the range to the target by eye becomes very sketchy at best especially at extended ranges.

    So let’s look at several methods of range estimation that can get us closer than just a wild guess.

    100 Yard unit-of-measure
    Halving method
    Range Card
    Laser Range Finder
    Combination Method

    100 Yard unit-of-measure

    Must visualize 100 yards on the ground
    Accurate to 500 yards
    Requires constant practice


    Determine range by the size and characteristics of an object
    Depends on visibility
    Requires constant practice

    200y--Clear in all detail, i.e. color of skin/hide/horns etc.
    300y--Clear body outline, face color good, remaining detail blurred.
    400y--Body outline clear, remaining detailed blurred.
    500y--Body tapers, head becomes indistinct.
    600y--Body now a wedge shape, no head apparent.
    700y--Solid wedge shape of outline of body


    Used when the shooter assumes the target is no less than “X” meters away, but no more than “Y” meters away. Then the shooter uses the averages of the two distances as the estimated range.

    Halving method

    The hunter picks out a point half way to the target, estimates the range to that point and then doubles it. This works very well on the longer attempts. Many hunters have a fairly easy time estimating from 100 to 300 yards, but after that they struggle.

    Range Card

    A hunter can also use a range card to quickly determine ranges throughout a target area. Once a target is spotted the hunter determines where it is located on the range card. The range to target can then be approximated using pre-referenced target points.

    The range card can be anything from a sketch to a digital photo of the hunting area with target reference point’s written on the picture/sketch. Snags, rock outcroppings, or any other terrain feature make great reference points. As a habit I make up a sketch of the ground I will be glassing as soon as I get set up and start ranging with my laser. That way if something happens and my laser won’t work I at least have some frame of reference to go off of and I am not out of business.

    Laser Range Finder

    LRFs provide an extremely accurate and fast method of range estimating a target.
    Requires extra equipment (i.e., extra batteries, tripod, etc.)
    You must not rely on this only

    Combination Method

    Perfect conditions rarely exist in the field. One method of range estimation may not be enough. Terrain with a lot of dead space limits the accuracy of the 100-yard method.
    Poor visibility limits the appearance of object method. But by combining 2 or more methods a hunter can arrive at a range estimation that is close to the actual range. Do not limit yourself!!


    To begin to understand the use of a mil or moa reticle in estimating range we first need have an understanding of what each is.

    A MIL or Mil-radian is an angular unit of measure. There are 6400 standardized (NATO) mils in a 360 degree circle. Since a MIL is an angular unit of measure it increases proportionately with distance.

    Attachment 3803

    NOTE: there is some confusion about” USMC” mils vs. standardized mils. The “USMC” mil is based on 6238 mils in circle Standardized is 6400. Both equal 3.6” @100 yards. Got it? Now forget about it.
    Requires you to know the size of the target (in inches)
    (in x .02778 x 1000) = Constant
    or size in inches x 27.78 = constant
    Divide constant by Number of mils read
    Round answer to the nearest yard


    Target size in inches X 27.78 = range to target in yards
    Mil reading

    If you insist on using meters:

    Target size in inches X 25.4 = range to target in meters
    Mil reading

    Here is a tip I just learned while shooting with my new friend Darrell Holland a couple of weeks ago:
    The above formula assumes that you’re measuring from the center of the stadia wire in the reticle to the center of another stadia wire. Very rarely can you use the center of the wire; you end up just “kissing” the edges of the target with the line. This throws off the Mil reading. He came up with a modified constant that allows for this. If you use the following formula when using the Mil-relation formula you will be more accurate.

    Target size in inches X 29 = range to target in yards
    Mil reading

    Note the constant above. Don’t be a goof and do the entire math problem every time you punch in the numbers on your calculator. The constant is the constant because it’s constant you dig?
    A 16” target X 29 will always be 464, a 36” target X 29 will always be 1044, so on and so on.

    16” X 29 = 464 = 580 yards
    .8 mils .8 mils

    16” X 29 = 464 = 1325 yards
    .35 mils .35mils

    Same applies for using inches X 27.78 give them a try next time you’re shooting with your mil reticle and see how they work for you.

    Attachment 3807

    (the above are examples of “Hollands Advanced Reticle Technology” reticles in use)

    A minute is also an angular unit of measure.In a circle there are 360 degrees. Each degree can be broken down further into minutes. There are 60 minutes in a degree. A minute of angle is 1/60th of a degree. An MOA equals a distance of 1.0472 inches at 100 yards and 2.9 centimeters at 100 meters. Since an MOA is an angular unit of measure it increases proportionately with distance.

    Fractions are difficult to work with when making mental calculations, for this reason round down to 1 inch and up to 3 centimeters. In 1,000 meters this only causes a loss of ½ inch or 1.5 centimeter in accuracy.

    Attachment 3806

    To MOA a target:

    Size of target in inches X 100 = range to target in yards
    MOA reading in reticle

    16” buck X 100 = 400 YARDS
    4 MOA
    16” buck X 100 = 914 YARDS
    1.75 MOA

    Attachment 3804

    Some tips for accuracy:
    While using the mil/moa-relation formula, the key element is a steady position.
    Your position must be as steady as when you fire at a long-range target.
    If you are not steady, you cannot get an accurate mil/moa reading.
    Some other things to consider with range estimation:

    Range can be determined by measuring or by estimating. Below are the three main factors that affect the appearance of objects when determining range by eye.
    Nature of the target
    Nature of the terrain
    Light Conditions
    Nature of the target
    A target will appear closer if:
    The object has a regular outline
    An object contrasts with its background
    A target will appear more distant if:
    The object has an irregular outline
    An object blends with its background
    The object is only partially exposed
    Nature of the terrain
    A target will appear closer:
    When observing over smooth terrain
    When observing across a depression, when most of which is hidden from view
    When looking uphill
    When looking down a straight, open road, or along railroad tracks
    A target will appear farther:
    If the observer’s eye follows the contours of the terrain
    When observing across a depression, all of which is visible
    When field of vision is narrowly confined
    Light conditions
    The target will appear closer:
    When a target can be clearly seen
    When a target is viewed in full sunlight
    When the sun is behind the viewer
    A target will appear farther:
    If the observer’s eye follows the contours of the terrain
    When observing across a depression, all of which is visible
    When field of vision is narrowly confined
    A hunter’s ability to range is as critical as his or her ability to shoot accurately. While a laser range finder will always be more accurate than estimation by eye or using MIL/MOA relation, having more tools in your tool box may be the difference between a hunt being successful or going home empty handed. Don’t let your hunt of a lifetime end in failure because your laser let you down.

    So using your new found skill scroll down and figure out how far away the buck is:

    Attachment 3805


    A note from Nate: a big thanks to Darrell Holland of Holland Gunsmiths for sharing the diagrams for the article and giving me permission to share his mil relation technique. This article was partially created from a power point presentation that my section put together for a marksmanship course in Japan in 2007. It is dedicated to my former soldiers of 2-162 INF sniper section, currently in Iraq for their second tour and on their way home shortly.
    Comments 4 Comments
    1. skipper's Avatar
      skipper -
      Hi Matt

      Thanks for the article, I posted as good as i can, this system don't make as good word processing as word.

      So the layout is a little more simple
    1. JohnnieB's Avatar
      JohnnieB -
      Great article! Thanks. I've never tried this, I'll work with it this weekend.
    1. RS2G's Avatar
      RS2G -
      Thanks for editing Skipper, I am sure that was a pain in the ass. I will try to include less pictures and diagrams in the third part.
    1. skipper's Avatar
      skipper -
      i work very well with the pictures here, i was not so bad when i found how, but new system, you have to learn how.

      very interesting ariticle