NORWOOD — When Nathan C. Caster found gunsmithing eight years ago, he didn’t imagine the love he would discover in the firing of the rifles he created.
“I met a guy, he taught me some gunsmithing and one winter I built my first rifle,” Mr. Caster said. “It was a Russian sniper rifle from WWII, and I shot it a couple-hundred yards, and I found out your bullets were starting to fall off at that point.”
He began to wonder what he would have to do to shoot farther, and he fell into a rabbit hole of science and smithing that landed the 34-year-old Norwood man in Canada on Sunday with his spotter, Eric Criscitello, also of Norwood, competing in Saint-Gabriel-de-Valcartier, Quebec, against 28 of Canada’s top extreme long-range shooters, at a distance of 2.07 kilometers, or 1.25 miles.
Mr. Criscitello sits up behind Mr. Caster when he shoots and can visually see the bullet, which leaves a vapor trail through the air. He can see that trail and watch the bullet impact the target or miss. So if Mr. Caster misses, Mr. Criscitello tells him what to correct.
“There’s long range and there’s extreme long-range shooting,” Mr. Caster said. “Anything over 1,000 yards is considered extreme long range. They only have about a dozen of these tournaments a year across the country.”
That’s when he found the Canadian competition.
“I have always wanted to give it a shot,” he said, no pun intended. “I had shot out before to 2,000 yards and had multiple impacts before so this was the first tournament I have ever competed in for extreme long range.”
The 2-kilometer challenge was set up with three stages: the first target 1 km away, the second at 1.5 km and the third at 2 km. After completing the first two stages, Mr. Caster made it to the top six and moved on to the finals, In the finals he said he landed three out of five hits on a 32-inch target at 1.85 km away, putting him in first place until the last shooter shot and had four out of five hits, putting Mr. Caster in second place at the end.
“But the guy who won it was the Canadian sniper instructor for that air force base and he beat me by one shot,” Mr. Caster said. “We went to Canada just to do our best. We never thought we would win or come close to winning, so it was a surprise to us.”
But that is part of the science in the sport that gets Mr. Caster so excited. On Wednesday evening, in his home, surrounded by his instruments, his excitement took on full display when talking about it.
He said after 400 yards, the science of shooting the long-range rifles changes. He would go out to his parents’ 500-yard firing range in Pierrepont to test the stuff he builds with Mr. Criscitello, but eventually he would need more property to shoot farther. He said he made friends with farmers and would go deep into the Adirondacks to shoot at greater distances.
“It’s really hard for people to grasp what goes into making a shot at over two kilometers, or 1.25 miles away, on a 36-inch target,” he said. “So the total elevation change is 1,900 inches of bullet drop. So the bullet went up in the air 1,900 inches and came back down, drifted 12 feet.”
Then he said you add in all the other variables, including winds, temperatures, humidity, velocity, the ballistics coefficient of the bullet, meaning how slippery the bullet is as it goes through the air at 100,000 revolutions per minute, and even the spinning of the earth, known as the Coriolis effect.
“So if you shoot east at 1,000 yards the bullet’s got to be five inches high,” Mr. Caster said. “If you turn around and shoot west at 1,000 yards, it’s got to be five inches lower. So it’s about a 10-inch difference. That’s just over a half a mile and I was shooting 1.25 miles. Time flight was five seconds. So I pull the trigger and we waited five seconds for the splash.”
By calculating all those variables, being able to use his own instinct, and the sheer thrill of shooting at something more than a mile away, Mr. Caster said he was hooked.
“Taking something as big as your pinky finger and sending it over a mile away and hitting a two foot-by-two foot target is, I think, pretty impressive,” he said.