AR15 At 1,000 Yards (Can a rack grade AR15 and M855 make 1,000 yard hits?)

For a while now there has been a lot of talk about how ineffective the 5.56 service round is. It’s all over the internet gun boards and the popular slick newsstand gun magazines.  Time and time again we are all told how the 5.56 is a 200-yard gun, or if you’re using a carbine, you’re stuck with a 50-yard gun.  Everyone knows this, it’s just plain common sense!   The problem is, it’s not really true.  A whole lot of people sound off about something they really don’t know much about and have zero experience with.    This amused me for a few years, then as more and more time passed it really started to bug me to the point of aggravation.  A certain type will always repeat the same inaccurate info and we all know that. The problem is that it causes those in military service to lose confidence in their service weapon and what it can do. Confidence in your tools is an important thing, if you believe in and know for a fact what your rifle can do, you shoot it better.

Most serious followers of the AR15 platform know about the MK12 rifles and have read stories about 500 to 800-yard kills and how effective it has been in the GWOT.  A few are at least vaguely familiar with High Power service rifle matches.  But they assume any AR15 type rifle that can be used for these ranges is by necessity some super customized and specialized weapon.  Obviously there is truth in that. To shoot a winning score at Camp Perry you have to have some specialized rifle work done and use special ammo.    When these accomplishments are brought up in discussion, they are shot down by the people who “know better” because they are not the same guns issued out to troops or normal civilian users for self protection.  And so it goes on and on, that the AR15 is a 200-yard gun.

It is not.   It will do more than most believe, and it will do it with military-issue ammo.

Back in 2006 I started a personal goal of making a 1,000 yard shot on a man-sized target with a Colt A2 with HBAR using only a 1906 leather sling and iron sights in the prone position.  I did make my goal laying prone and setting with the help of 80 grain Sierra matchkings. It took a lot of practice and dry firing leading up to it and it is one of my proudest moments.  I have continued this type of thing ever since and have come to be fully familiar with what an A2 rifle will do.

After years of the 200-yard gun claims, I decided to do this again, but this time I would use a M16A2 upper.  There is a big difference between a Match Target Colt HBAR  with competition sling and FF tubes and match triggers and a  Colt M16A2  with government profile barrel and milspec trigger.

My goal was to repeat my 1,000 yard hits with as close to a rack grade standard issue rifle as I could.   The rifle is a Colt M16A2 upper that was a contract over-run,  It has the 1/7 twist chrome lined barrel in a government profile.  The lower is a Colt lower from another rifle, using the standard milspec trigger.  It doesn’t have 3-round burst or any of the associated parts, but it’s essentially the same as a M16A2.


The M16A2 upper/Match Target lower on left with Colt Cammando on the right.

Instead of the 1906 leather sling, I  used the boring old cotton/nylon parade sling with metal hooks and slider as my only support. I used no rest or bipods and I did not use a 30 round mag as a monopod for support.   The iron sights are A2 standard sights.  Of course. the A2 sights top out at 800 meters when zeroed in the standard methods, but I knew from my last time doing this that careful adjustment of the front sight post will allow you to gain more elevation from the front/rear sight combo to make hits on target at 1,000 yards. My  only other help was a cotton shooting jacket to help me squeeze into the tight uncomfortable shooting positions needed to be able to hit at real distance using iron sights.


I decided to use two different types of ammo since I wanted to reflect the more popular 5.56 loads.  I used black hills MK 262 for my first 10 rounds and M855 for another 10 rounds .  I didn’t expect much from the M855 since it is not MK 262 but I thought I would get close.   The MK 262 is the most common long range load, and for terminal performance it is best to use it anyway.  It is an issue round as well, so I felt it gave no real advantage that handloads would being a normal soldier/Marine could theoretically be able to use it.  Of course civilians can use MK 262 or TAP or the copies of the popular loading.

Getting on paper at that distance is tough and of course I had one of my best friends to spot for me. He is an experienced spotter and long range shooter with iron sights as well and we work together great when trying these projects.  To help me establish zero before making my record shots, I set a steel gong about half the size of the man sized target beside the  paper target I would be using for record group.


The steel gong can be seen on the left in the picture and is painted neon  red/orange. the record paper target is to the right of the steel gong and is a man sized ( belt to head) black target with bullseye in the center mass.

I fired 10 rounds of the MK262 first at the steel gong to make sure I was on,then refined my hold.  After making hits I moved to the record paper target and fired.  I fired 10 rounds and got 6 rounds in the target.   All six rounds would be fatal. One was in the center circle “bullseye” and some in the lower groin.  The rest of the rounds did not go in the black, but were so close they almost cut the outline of the target.


Clicking the image will enlarge it and allow better inspection of the hits. They are hard to see since it is black but I tried to mark them with a red sharpie.


The close picture above shows the shot in the center bull , the hole is cutting a white line. Some of the upper body shots can be seen in the upper right ( viewers right) of the target/picture.  Lower hits can not be seen.

If this does not seem special to you, remember, this is with a rack grade rifle, using rack grade sights using only a sling.  A fast look up of the size of the regulation NRA  1,000 yard national match targets used at camp perry for a comparison will give some perspective.  Just find the measurements on the NRA  bull only and the 10 ring.  And compare to how small this target is.

Next up I started what I thought would be a lesson in frustration and I shot all around the targets like mortar rounds using M855.  I knew I could get very close and was fairly confident I would get on target in the black.  I expected a elbow or ear lobe type of hit but nothing special.  I started out with my earlier 10 rounds on steel and then 10 on the record target.  I fully expected to shoot them, then go check out the target to see if I was close.  I planned on shooting at least 50 rounds before I got a decent hit with the m855.    Even at that rate, it would still be nothing to snub at.  M855 is not match ammo. But I knew it would get close. Machine guns are expected to make some hits that far and that was the original goal of the SS109/M855 anyway.  Keep that in mind when people say the M855 or 5.56 is a 200-yard cartridge.

I went through the process again. I fired 10 rounds at the steel. My spotter told me I was making hits, and I even heard one ring the plate loudly. I knew then I was as close as I probably was going to get as far as my zero and hold would be after some adjusting of the rear sight to make up for the M855 trajectory being different than the MK 262 round.


By this point it was about 92 degrees and sweat was pouring in my eyes and glasses.  I decided to fire the 10 rounds on record then go look at the target to take a break. The barrel was very hot at this point from heat of firing and the sun. I even had stripped off the shooting jacket because of the heat.  My intention was to see if I was even close to the black before I shot up all my M855  using the same sight correction that may have been off.

I had swapped to the IDPA target to have a fresh target and because of the position of the sun.  The light brown color of the target was easier on the eyes then black and did not cause as much trouble with the front sight as the black target would have by this time of day.

You can imagine our surprise when I walked down to the  IDPA target I had shot at.   One of the 10 rounds fired had hit the “A” of the A zone of the target, one was a head shot, and a third was a center hit in the lower gut.


That is three rounds out of 10.  Ten rounds of military grade, Lake City green tip M855. Fired from a contract over run Colt M16A2 upper with  milspec trigger.  Using a parade sling made from cotton.  Three rounds of what is the least thought of US issue military ammo made using nothing more than a sling for support while laying prone and using iron sights.   I was very pleased.  And I do not feel that three rounds out of 10 on this size target with this rifle is a paltry accomplishment.  I have made better shots with much higher quality match guns, I have made a 1 mile shot, but this is as pleasing to me as any of those other shots.

Everyone there promptly said, “no one will believe it” so I had them witness and sign the target.


This is not some special gimmick.  The AR15 is fully capable of this kind of shooting.  If you shoot and are familiar with your weapon as much as you should be, you too can do this.  If you can do this at 1,000, think of what you can really do at say only 500 or 600.  A trained rifleman should be able to destroy a squad in the open at 700 or under with nothing more than an A2/A4 using issue ammo.  It does not take the over-hyped relic M14 to do it either.   The M4 will come very close to this performance as well.  Those who say the M4 is almost useless for anything past 50 yards need to wake up.   Using the M262 ammo and iron sights, we have made multiple hits on the same type of targets at 800 yards.  The lack of a plain M4 with iron sights currently is the only reason why you are not looking at the pictures of 800 yard results with an M4.  It will do it.  In fact, the M4 is more accurate then the 20 inch rack grade service rifles.  That will be a project for next month.

The guns like the SPR MK12 have given the impression to a lot of people that only those types of AR15 pattern weapons can hit as far.   It is a question of accuracy and how much you need.   If you need to make head shots at 600 yards, sure, I would pick the MK12.  But if all you need or all your skill allows is center mass hits, then the service carbine/rifle is perfectly capable of these at long ranges.

It is a training issue.  Its a marksmanship issue.   Spend less time trying to put 15 rounds in a man sized target at 15 yards in 1/2 second and spend a little more time practicing the basics and really learning what you and the gun can do.   The fast DA hyper-violent shooting has its place to be sure, and do not neglect it.  But don’t let it take over your mind.  Being able to knock down the bad guy before he gets within the range of double taps is also important.   Would you rather trade shots at 25 yards or  pepper the bad guy at 700 before he can shoot you?   That won’t always be the case of course, but it is a skill you should have if you want to call yourself a rifleman with well rounded skills.

The terminal effects of the round at these ranges is another matter and gives people an excuse to not practice. The thing is, a hit is a hit. Kills at 800 yards have been made with the MK12, so that should tell you something.  Even if it takes 3 hits to put some one down at 900 yards with your 5.56 carbine, they are still down at 900 yards.  I would gladly use up three rounds than have to deal with a bad guy at 50 yards.  Ten rounds needed to stopping a target 900 yards away is worth more then 100 rounds when the bad guy is with 50 as far as I am concerned.  Work with your weapon, learn it and don’t let the gun rag writers and forum experts make you lose confidence in your tool.  The AR15 and the 5.56 work.  Don’t listen to the fluff used to sell new platforms/calibers.


Link to Q&A about the article.

A lot of people who emailed me, or commented on the subject wanting to know how it was done and my procedures etc.  After talking to a friend about it, I re read the article and realized that I should have been more clear in some parts. While the majority of people know what the point I was trying to make, some others seem to think I was trying to say something between the lines. So I am going to answer the question that have popped up from a few people since the article.

First is the assumption that I was making any claims about the terminal performance of the 5.56/M855 round or even the MK 262 at this distance.  I was not.   I simply shot  the drill as a way to demonstrate that the AR15 is capable of  accuracy and accomplishments a lot of people do not bother to imagine or try out.    I never said the 556 would knock a man down at 1K or penetrate X amount of inches.   But, a hit is a hit.   I doubt few would volunteer to be shot at 1K with a 556 to prove how wrong I am.   In the 6os a man was knocked off a bicycle from a stray 22LR shot that escaped over a range berm in Ohio.  It was over a mile from where the shooter was setting.   That does not prove a thing.  But a hit is still indeed a hit.  Even if it feels like a hornet sting, if some one is nailing you at 1,000 yards, that would demoralize me and seriously make me rethink wanting to get closer.  The SS109 was meant to fired at longer ranges in LMG use. So to claim it would not put some kind of hurt on a person is absurd.  How effective that hurt is, is another matter and not the convern of the article.

How did I see the target and what aiming point did I use to be able to hit such a target ?  That is the next common question.   It is simple.  I adjusted the front sight to account for more  elevation. I did not go out with a military 25Meter zero.   Elevation was adjusted using the front sight for the most part and I refined it with the rear since I had plenty left over to play with.   I zeroed the sights at 1,000 yard to the point I used a so called “6 oclock hold”  But actually I adjusted the sight to the point where I held the front site about 5 foot below the target.  That is why I had the steel gong painted neon orange.  I got on the steel. then moved to the paper.   It was not some impossible thing to do or a miracle.  Nor was it “flinging lead down range” ’till I got lucky

You can not get lucky if you don’t do everything right before hand.

Having the hold so far below the point of impact gave me plenty of room to see the target and light. I also could see any impacts into the dust to make windage changes or any other change I needed.  Also a spotter with a 60x spotting scope to help.

How did you do it without 80 grain  bullets with a OAL that required you to single feed?   That was where the gross amount of sight manipulation comes into play and a shooting lane between two hills blocking all but a head wind.   The 80s are great, and if you are trying to hit a X ring at perry, you will need them or the 77 grain HPBT. But with enough adjustment in your sights, you can get just about anything on target. If it is a decent weight.  Careful reading will show I shot the heavier match 77 grain load to get on target initially and had  doubts about the M855. I never said that the M855 was a wonder bullet.

What enemy did you expect to prove the M855 would kill at 1,000 yards?   A cardboard target is all I set out to prove the round would hit. Though few would really let some one shoot them at 1K with the 556 no matter how much the claim other wise.  Also when I said “lethal” hits,  I wrongly assumed people knew that most hits in the “black” of the target are considered solid hits, not anatomically correct. So yeah, my use of lethal was a slang term used in the context of the too large scoring area of military targets. And people have bled to death from groin and lung hits.  So I guess I would consider them lethal depending on the abilities and medical expertise of the enemies you are engaging.  But draw your own conclusions.  My point was to show that the AR15 in stock form will hit at 1,000 yards with good and issue ammo if you know what you are doing. Nothing more.  Furthermore, it was not just luck getting the M855 on target. It is certainly not match accurate ammo. But it is within reason to expect a decent lot of M855 to be able to hit a man.

If the article gave you more confidence in your weapon that was my goal. It does not matter if the average Marine or soldier can or can not do it. It matters what you can do with it when it is in your hands.   It does not matter if you can not imagine needing to take a shot like that. Having the skill builds your confidence and it is there on the off chance you ever need it.  Why does anyone even bother shooting at anything?

According to The Complete Book of US Sniping by Peter Senich,  confirmed kills were made in Vietnam with the M16A1 and 55 grain M193 at 800 meters.  That does not make the combo a sniper rifle or the last word on the subject, but it does show what the right combination of marksman, weapon and skill, can achieve.  Crazy long shots have been made with weapons people never dreamed  of since before  Billy Dixon  knocked and Indian Chief off his horse at the battle of Adobe Walls.   The test was done to show that no matter what you are using, you should always be confident in your skill being able to make hits that are beyond what so called experts say. And, to the limit of what the system is capable of and beyond if possible.Improved marksmanship is something to always strive for, no matter what the weapon and ammo is.  It hurts nothing to have the ability to shoot this far. Oddly enough some people are just out right offended that I did this.  As if hitting your target at such a long range is offensive to them.  It is never a waste of time to be able to hit as far as you can on a realistic sized target.