Photos by Schultz Photography
Todd Hodnett has carved his own well defined path by not fitting into someone else’s predetermined box. He’s a problem solver and pioneer in extreme long-range shooting whose career has had a snowball effect in the wider world, leading to improvements in the way our armed forces train and operate today. This Texas cowboy went from ranching, to competitive shooting, to teaching some of the most elite military members in the world.
Growing up in Texas, Hodnett spent much of his free time hunting, and before long he pushed his long range capabilities to the limits as he took animals at ever further distances. Competitiveness always stirred within him, no matter the application. Within a year of taking up competitive cowboy action shooting, he was a national champion. Shortly after breaking into long-range competitions, he won major matches. Perseverance sets him apart from the rest. Taking opportunity by the horns, he founded Accuracy 1st, which trains both civilians and military.
After establishing one of the best shooting schools in the world, Hodnett relied on his experiences as a pilot in order to fine-tune the way ballistic science was used and taught. By partnering up with companies like Applied Ballistics and Horus Vision, he’s had an active role in bringing products to market that aid in making long-range hits possible.
Hodnett’s positive personality is contagious, while his experience is captivating. Even if you’re not interested in long-range shooting, the story of how he’s built his success might provide some motivation that’ll help you push past your own perceived limits.
RECOIL: Did you grow up shooting?
Todd Hodnett: I grew up shooting and hunting, and that was just part of growing up in West Texas. We grew up right beside a prairie dog town, so I’ve been shooting scoped rifles since I was 6 years old.
Once I got into ranching and farming, I was on horseback all the time, so I knew where the deer lived. The problem became that my hunting season would be over in about 30 minutes because as soon as the sun would come up I’d be waiting in the right spot. I ended up dropping the rifle and getting into bow hunting for about seven years and really enjoyed that. Because of that, I spent a lot of time in the field and got passionate about hunting again.
What was your first gun?
TH: The first gun I ever started shooting was a single-shot .22 and then moved up from there. My first long-range gun was a .22-250.
Was cowboy action shooting a natural progression for you?
TH: A buddy of mine who I traveled with shooting archery competitions called me up and said, “Hey, I found our sport.” I wasn’t interested in it because I grew up ranching and farming and didn’t want to dress up like a cowboy to shoot guns. But while on a hunting trip with him, I checked out his cowboy action shooting guns. After playing with his guns for a few hours, I was hooked and bought some of my own for the sport. While I waited about a month for my reloading stuff, I started with a dry-fire schedule. But, once I got my reloading stuff, I kept with that same dry-fire schedule for a year. I ended up winning regional and national matches that next year. That led to starting my pistol shooting school in the early 2000s.
What helped you surpass guys who had been competing for years?
TH: Tenacity. Going from a rancher to a national champion pistol shooter in a year was a commitment. I would dry fire three hours a day, every day. I always gave 100 percent. I don’t consider anybody “a natural.” Everybody pays their dues; some people pay more dues faster and work harder. That person will get there more quickly.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve gotten?
TH: Never be satisfied with status quo. Don’t be complacent; always strive to do better than you’ve done in the past. Don’t let someone else set your limits for you.
How did you end up training the military?
TH: I was called out of the blue and was asked to teach Rangers some pistol techniques. I was happy to teach them. After the class, they asked me to shoot a sniper competition with them. They let me borrow a rifle, and ended up placing Sixth at the match. At the match it was announced the Sniper’s Challenge match, which was the biggest of the year, had a few openings left. Me and a guy I met that day partnered up, and he lent me his rifle. The ammo I ordered arrived two days before the match, but it was enough time for me to zero it and play with it just barely. I was fortunate enough to win that match and several after.
How did you end up training them to shoot long-range better?
TH: After winning several matches using the Horus reticle, Horus called me up to ask if I’d shoot for them. They asked if I’d also demo for the military. While demoing the system for a military group in 2004, they asked me if there was anything I’d change about the way they shoot. I said “yes,” and from there I worked with them for a month. We went up to my high-angle facility in Utah. It worked out well and led to training several elite units. At the time, I was still doing ranching and farming while balancing my time to teach long-range shooting.
What helped you become a SME in long range so quickly?
TH: As far as long range, I’d been shooting it forever, but I wasn’t formally trained. I didn’t really have a box to think in. I started looking at different ways to extend my ranges with different reticle types I was using. I read sniper manuals and different books. A lot of stuff didn’t work at far distances. I started questioning things. That became the motto that we live on, “Question everything.” By questioning everything we find out why the bullet did what it did. I tell guys, “The bullet doesn’t get to vote; it doesn’t lie.” The bullet gives us the answer, and we build everything backward. This developed the new way we do things with ballistic engines.
Did you have a mentor who helped you along in shooting?
TH: Not in the long-range shooting world. Once I got into the pistol side of shooting, it’s been neat meeting some of the icons like Jerry Miculek, Rob Leatham, Jim Clark Jr., Michel Voigt, and Kyle Lamb. I’ve been blessed with good friends in the shooting community who are also icons.
With long-range shooting, the term DOPE is frequently used. Do DOPE and ballistic engines go hand in hand?
TH: When I came on board and starting teaching the ballistic computer and the Horus reticle system, all the military groups I was training were shooting every 100 meters to gather DOPE (Data On Previous Engagement). That has all changed now. We’re really not gathering DOPE anymore; what we’re doing is finding the actual algorithm the bullet’s flying on — we true.
The beauty of truing is, even if your ballistic coefficient (B.C.) is off, your algorithm tracks in the opposite direction. We’re looking for the time of flight to target. From that we equate backward to the muzzle velocity (M.V.) that gives us a perfect algorithm. I could care less whether my M.V. is tracking perfectly with the chronograph; all I care about is that my hold is perfect for every target.
For long-range shooting, how important is an accurate B.C.?
TH: BCs are suggested by the manufacturer, and we know a lot of them are off. Truing is the only way that you’ll ever be able to gather a correct algorithm if your B.C. isn’t perfect. If we knew the perfect B.C. and the perfect muzzle velocity, there’s no need to true. But for the guys in the field, they don’t have chronographs. One of the primary reasons we teach the way we teach is because in the field, I can take three or four rounds of ammo and gather the new M.V. by shooting it on a rock at the distance of transonic and have a perfect algorithm. When truing, you true at transonic because you measure long to predict short in any mathematical equation for accuracy. I don’t have to shoot every 100 meters. This is one way the military changed some of their training.
What advancements have you brought to military?
TH: The points that we brought to the military that had exponential gains are: truing, speed shooting formulas we developed, and the tremor wind dots in the Horus reticle. The Tremor wind dots make it easy for guys to get on target and get shots off quickly. The Tremor wind dots will probably have the same leap as truing did. The Tremor wind dots helped to clean up the other Horus reticles that people felt were too busy.
What do you think is the biggest problem with long-range shooting?
TH: Some people think it’s unethical to take a shot past 300 meters. It may be unethical for some people, but you should never put that limitation on somebody else. A good example is my son, who recently hit four out of five shots at a mile with my 300 Norma. So, with somebody who has the skillset, the tools, and who practices, that’s something they feel confident in. I want more people to feel comfortable and build their confidence in taking those long-range hunting shots. It’s a wonderful pastime to spend with family without it sucking a lot of money out of the family funds.
What one piece of gear do you think every long-range shooter needs?
TH: A bubble level. I don’t care if it’s one of mine or someone else’s because if you’re canted at all, you’ll blame a miss on a bad wind call. You end up doubting your wind call if you’re canted into or away from the wind. Cant is one of the biggest problems people have, but is the cheapest to fix.
Do you think some people have become dependent on technological advancements instead of sticking to the basics?
TH: As big of a scientific problem it is to put a small projectile on target a long ways off, we have ended up being super antiquated by having data books and writing down every shot. Which, to me is a waste of time. I think, like with every sport, people end up buying the wrong equipment. You have to be careful where you’re getting your information. All apps aren’t created equal. Very rarely do we find an app that is as accurate as a Kestrel. The problem is some new applications try to copy other ballistic engines. A good engine will be accurate and easy to use. You shouldn’t have to be a rocket scientist to be able to use it. It has to be quick and it must be intuitive. A Kestrel with Applied Ballistics is probably the easiest to use and the most accurate because we’re able to true it and use custom drag models.
Speaking of drag models, which do you use?
TH: The big difference with Applied Ballistics are the G1, G7, and the custom drag models. When you’re dealing with custom drag models, you’re not dealing with one of the standard drag models like the G1 or G7 — you’re not shooting the standard bullet. The standard bullet, which is 1 inch in diameter, weighs 1 pound and has a certain shape to it. All you’re really doing is taking your bullet and trying to find the closest comparison number to that bullet, and that is your B.C. Then you’re trying to bend the algorithm based off your comparison number. It’s not really the perfect algorithm to have.
People say “The G7 is so much better than the G1,” well it is better but not until you get past transonic. Up until transonic, they’re nearly identical. As long as you true, a G1, a G7, or a custom drag model, they’re all identical out to the distance that you true. All we’re doing is re-bending the algorithm to make it fit. But G1 and G7 are good comparison models, but once Bryan Litz from Applied Ballistics understood truing, he was able to build custom drag models. By building custom drag models, we’re shooting the predictions off of that bullet’s drag model, not how it compared to a G7 drag model. That’s a huge benefit when we shoot at further distances, like out to a mile.
Where do you think the firearms industry is headed?
TH: The firearms industry as a whole is going to be challenging with regulations. America has always been very pro-gun; unfortunately, things are changing all the time. I see trends that scare me to death. Most companies are ready for change and will adapt very quickly.
As far as the long-range community, we’ve made huge leaps and bounds over the past 10 years especially. The world has changed in a huge way and everybody’s caught on and making the needed changes. Most of the time, the people who aren’t embracing the new stuff, it’s because they haven’t used it and have a lack of understanding. But, it’s the same problem we had with the military community. What you’re going to see are new reticles and new calibers. We’re always tweaking, trying to get better scopes, better bullets, and better B.C.s. The industry as a whole, now that we know what we’re capable of in the long-range world, the ammo’s going to get better because people will demand it.
Which calibers do you think we’ll see more of?
TH: The 300 Norma is an amazing caliber. I was a big fan of .338 until I shot a 300 Norma, and now that’s all I shoot for long range. The .260 Remington, I think you’re going to see a huge jump with it coming up in the future. We’re already seeing a lot of players moving in that direction, and a lot of venders making better ammo.
If I could only have two guns in my safe, they would be: a 300 Norma and a .260 LaRue. The .260 would replace all my M4s and all my .308s. It’s a great caliber because it’ll go transonic at 1,000, so it’s a caliber that can do everything an M4 can do all the way up to nearly a 300 Win Mag. It’s ease of shooting, and no recoil makes it great. A lot of the competition world already knows about .260 and 6.5 Creed, so the .260 — I think you’ll really see it coming into its own in the near future.
The 300 Norma is the best long-range caliber you can get into today. I think 300 Norma will take over and rule the long-range, hunting, and military markets for the next decade.
The 300 Win Mag, is a weapon system I was not originally impressed with. But, it’s going to make a resurgence because of the .230 Berger, you get the capability of a .338 Lapua. And, it’s what we call a Walmart gun. You can go to any store in the United States and pick up 300 Win Mag ammo to go shoot pigs at 200 meters for when you don’t want to shoot your good Berger ammo.
What advice would you give a shooter who wants to improve their long-range abilities?
TH: No matter what happens, at the end of the day when the batteries fail, we still have to be able to go back to square one. You can never get past the fundamentals. All advanced shooting is, is when you don’t screw up the fundamentals. Most of the time when we have problems shooting, it’s because we’re not taking care of the fundamentals. This isn’t a Kentucky windage guessing game.
Is there any one thing that you would recommend a shooter practice to improve their proficiency?
TH: The number one thing is wind calls. Long-range shooting is about wind. After we changed the way we look at gathering DOPE and improved ballistic algorithms, elevation holds are a known.
You have to go out and shoot in the wind. You have to learn what a gust of wind looks and feels like. One thing you can do is go outside with a Kestrel and learn how to calibrate yourself to wind because when you’re on the trigger you can’t look at the Kestrel. Train yourself to know how to adjust your hold for the wind. Learning more about wind will make you a much better long-range shooter.
As far as guns and gear are concerned, which is more important?
TH: Buy good optics. If you have to choose between spending money on a gun or an optic, spend the money on the optic. The optic will allow you to enjoy your day on the range. It’s a fabulous tool that will retain its value. I’m not saying don’t buy a good rifle. If you can, obviously a good quality gun like a Surgeon or a LaRue is money well spent and will also retain their value. But, if you have to make a decision, a good quality optic is paramount. Good quality doesn’t have to mean expensive. The Bushnell lines of optics are very affordable and really nice quality.
What would you suggest for someone looking to buy his first long-range rifle?
TH: There are two different applications: bolt gun and semi-auto.
For a bolt gun, you have affordable and top of the line. For affordable, the Tikka T3 Tactical. It’s one of the best rifles you’ll lay your hands on. It’s a phenomenal little gun. It’s an entry-level gun, but I’m not for sure it’s not as accurate as some of the more expensive rifles you could buy. For top of the line, a Surgeon Rifle. I own several Surgeons, and love them — never had a problem with them. And, Surgeon is a great company.
For the gas guns, or semi-auto, I wouldn’t buy a gas gun that isn’t a LaRue. LaRue Tactical is by far the best in the marketplace.
Past a good gun and optic, what else is important to you?
TH: Ammo. You can’t shoot a good gun and get performance with junk ammo. A lot of times people don’t understand you cannot just go to Walmart and buy the sale ammo and expect good results. Once you find what the gun likes, as far as ammo, you can get the most out of the weapon system.
For long-range shooting, you can’t skimp on the laser range finder either. A good one will cost you, but it’s what will help you make first round hits. A laser range finder that’s capable out to the further distances is what you need. Essentially, you end up paying “per meter” for capability of the laser range finder.
Which range finder do you use?
TH: I use the PLRF 25C and the 05. I’ve got other ones, but primarily, I use those.
How are your classes different than others?
TH: Over the past 14 years of teaching my classes, I teach in a way that the new guy and the guy that’s been there multiple times will still get something out of the class. We developed a class so the new shooter gains fundamentals, while the experienced shooter will be able to further understand the finer points of the fundamentals.
When I teach a class, it’s not to give you the answer for you to write down and memorize. My classes are taught for you to understand the reasons why. Knowledge sets you free. You can never make a bad decision if you have knowledge. I teach pure knowledge of: ballistics, reticle use, BCs, density altitude, drop, muzzle velocities, and different ways to shoot a weapon system.
I continue to evolve my teaching. I develop ways to improve my shooting, and then that’s made into a class. An example is I used to teach really heavy loads of bipods for recoil management, so you can get back on target and adjust. But, the reality is, one day I was teaching that and we were shooting off a vehicle, I would load the bipods, and they would slide. It made me unconfident in my long-range shots, because I was concerned I wouldn’t get the same performance with my DOPE that I got while loading my bipods. And, I was correct. So, instead I started teaching consistent loading of bipods. Now I teach giving the weapon system a consistent base to perform off of for every shot.
So are you saying you don’t load bipods anymore?
TH: If I’m shooting close, like 300 meters, or movers, I do load my bipods heavy because doing so will not pull me off the target. But, if I’m doing 800-meter head shots, I will load bipods as consistent to when I zeroed, trued, and gathered my information out to those distances. It’s not an always or never when referring to bipods. It just depends.
When I shoot long range, the process for loading my bipods is:
- I pull the weapon system into my shoulder
- Load the bipods with my shoulder
- Once my NPA is established and my crosshairs are on the target,
- I then start loading to the target,
- And, as I load to the target, as soon as my bipods start to roll,
- I hold the pressure that I have at that point,
- And pull the trigger.
What you’re looking for is being consistent with the weapon system.
Since you assist with improving optics the military uses, can you explain some of the features future optics will have?
TH: You’re going to start seeing scopes that have data within them. I know Nightforce has one that’s going to be released soon. It’s something we’ve been asking the industry to produce for the last 10 years. You’ll have the capability of having weapons-mounted range finders to where you’ll put the crosshairs on the target, and all of a sudden you’ll have all the data and elevation holds. In the near future, you’ll be able to have wind holds as well. But, the scopes will still have legacy reticles, similar to the Horus Tremor 3. The Tremor 3 that can plug-and-play with new technologies will take over and be used by the military for the next 20 years.
It’s been a long process working with the government to produce optics we need, and it’s getting very close. There are a lot of new designs and reticles that work with these capabilities. It’s exciting and intriguing what’s coming down the pipeline in the next five years.
Why has it taken so long to get to this point in making scopes “smarter”?
TH: The ballistic engines have to be really good that are included in the scopes. The problem has been that the capabilities weren’t being reached for what we needed at further distances. A lot of companies invest R&D money and go down the roads we ask. They knock out the advances in small steps, but any error in the mathematical algorithm shows itself once you get out past about 500 meters. Many systems don’t account for wind and aerodynamic jump. There are so many aspects that are accounted for in the ballistic engines, and some of the scopes don’t include solid algorithms.
What are the best and longest shots you’ve made or witnessed?
TH: I was training Marines out in Utah, and the longest shot that several of us made during the training was a boulder, and it was 4,889 meters away.
One of the most impressive shots I’ve seen was when my son shot a pig at 1,668 meters. Long range is different for everybody. I’ve seen phenomenal shots, which were closer distances, because the call was more difficult.
Some of the luckiest shots, I’ve ever had were with a pistol. I tell people that when there’s a bullet in the air, there’s hope.
You’ve been married for a long time, how’d you meet your wife?
TH: We’ve been married for 27 years. We met while skydiving. I was jumping that morning and trying to get all my jumps in, and she was taking a class. Later that day, I was flying the airplane, and I got to throw her out of the plane. We were engaged a month and a half later and married a few months after that.
What’s your best memory or highlight, thus far?
TH: I’ve been very fortunate throughout my career. But, being able to hunt with my boys gives me the best memories every year. We’re able to take animals at extreme long ranges and spend time together.
As far as in competition shooting, it’s not the shots made. The friends that I’ve made in the shooting world have been the best part of my career. Some of my best friends are guys I’ve been able to train over the past decade. Being able to work and be friends with such amazing men has been a great opportunity.
Do you have a plan for retirement and who will continue this legacy you’ve started?
TH: Right now we’re starting to look at franchising. We’d have Accuracy 1st in Australia, Canada, and Great Britain. Those locations would consist of guys who have been through our training multiple times and know the material. As far as, here in the United States, I’m not ready to retire yet. It’s on the horizon, but not near. At some point, I’ll have more instructors working with me to facilitate the needs of the military. We’ll have quality instructors who have all the same knowledge. We’ll never slack off on the quality of the instructors. We don’t teach at a minimal level.
If you could be any animal, which would you be and why?
TH: Hmm, that’s an interesting question. I would be a falcon because it’s a bird of prey that’s a hunter. Since I like flying, I would want to be a bird. And being a hunter, I would want to be the best hunter. And the best hunter is probably a falcon.
Depends on environment:
- Appendix carry Glock 43 and Sayoc knife
- ZEV 19 with DeltaPoint Pro and Pro-Tech Automatic/Switchblade folder knife
Todd’s Top 3 Tips
1. Buy a good scope
2. Get a level on your scope
3. Fundamentals are priority
- Proper gun setup for you
- Proper body alignment
- Be a consistent platform to allow your rifle to give you consistent results
- NPA (natural point of aim), find your target in your scope before you start to load your bipods
- Be consistent on your load. You can’t load heavy all the time.
- Dry fire and watch your reticle movement. Play with your technique to minimize reticle jump.
- Shoot in high winds as much as you can. This is where you will learn.
- Never stop learning
- Be careful where you get your information. Question everything.
- The bullet always tells the truth
Wife, Shannon, and sons Colby and Will
LaRue .260 with NF 4×16 ATACR with T3 reticle
Other favorite firearm:
Surgeon 300N with NF 5×25 ATACR with T3 reticle
Most notable event:
Hunting with my boys
Practical Shooting: Beyond Fundamentals by Brian Enos
Top Gun; Oh Brother, Where Art Thou