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Long Range Hunting

Target shooters who try to become hunters


Listen To the Voice of Experience

“Long range” depends on the skill of the individual, not the cartridge or the rifle. I feel that it begins when the hunter first becomes uncertain that they can kill the animal they are hunting with one shot into that animal’s ‘kill zone’.


Wayne Van Zwoll, in an article in the August 2004 edition of ‘Field and Stream’ wrote of firing at various ranges with Craig Boddington, David Petzal and Layne Simpson and concluded, “Two hundred yards is the limit for an average shot and 300 for a very good shot. Four hundred is a chancy proposition even for the best riflemen, and we would all do a lot better if we got closer.”   Amen!

Listen to B’wana Bob - When you’re going hunting, leave the Macho Monster cartridges at home and take a rifle that you’ve shot enough to be comfortable with under any and all conditions, and then live within it’s limitations (and yours). That’s what it means to be a real hunter.

BEAUFORT WIND SCALE

BEAUFORT

NUMBER                   NAME                            WIND SPEED - MPH


    0               calm - Smoke rises  vertically                        less than 1

    1               light air - direction of wind shown                    1-3

                      by smoke                                                

    2                light breeze - wind felt on face; leaves           4-7

                       rustle

   3 or more - Forget it, too much wind for accurate long range shooting unless you are very experienced - And just think how many injured animals suffered to enable you to gain that experience.

Hunter versus Shooter

HUNTERS

SHOOTERS

Talks about how close the hunter got to the game animal before firing

Talks about how far away the animal was before firing

 Knows that the shot is urgent, it must come in 15-30 seconds, maybe much less

Have no experience with shots that must come NOW

Takes the wind as it is, adjusting for it as well as they can

Waits for the optimal wind. After all, paper targets don’t go anywhere

Practices in every practical firing position, but especially off-hand

Sits at the bench all day and fires little groups in the target

Plans a stalk to ensure that any wounded animal can be retrieved

Denies the possibility of wounding the animal - If they think about  it at all

The gun is a tool, a means to an end - To put meat on the table

The gun is a toy, enjoyable in inverse proportion to the size of it’s groups, or direct proportion to it’s power, long range capability and ability to feed the shooter’s ego.


Uses a telescopic sight with the lowest magnification and widest field of view  for hunting the anticipated animal.


Uses the highest magnification possible.

Pride themselves on practicing ethical hunting

Uses the bench rest shooter’s motto - “It’s ok to bend the rules, just don’t get caught.”

Almost any hunter can, with practice and effort, become a good shooter

No shooter, without a painful adjustment of attitudes, can become a good hunter.



14 inches at 500 yards and 30 inches at 600 yards is a lot of ‘Kentucky windage’, without considering the 6-12 inch groups at that range of even very good hunters!! And yet, people continue to blast away at such ranges, and we’re talking about a large animal like a caribou or an elk. Of course, deer or antelope are much smaller, with smaller ‘kill zones’, which means that for one shot kills, shots must be attempted at closer ranges than these. None of this tries to factor in impondrables like shifting winds that aren’t ‘average’ or animal movement. A good hunter strives to harvest their quarry as efficiently as possible, which means stalking close to ensure a killing shot. Someone who regularly shoots at an animal at 500 or 600 yards is no longer trying to kill their quarry as humanely as possible. Hmmm, remember that description of what a ‘slob hunter’ is characterized by??

At 400 yards, If you do shoot and hit, but the animal moved a few inches before the bullet lands, or a gust of wind blew by, or a bug bit you just as you squeezed off the shot, and you missed the lethal kill zone, you may now have a wounded animal to chase after, but before you can even begin tracking, you have to go across that 400 yards and find where the animal was standing when it was hit. Unless you have a buddy helping, you may not even be able to find this.  Oh, and don’t forget you are carrying a 10 to 12 pound rifle with a LONG barrel while you’re doing this.

At 400 yards, under favorable conditions, you are operating at the outer limit imposed by nature on rifle and hunter, but what about longer ranges than point blank range?

Let’s look at a .30-378’s combined distance from center at 600 yards. Remember, we’re only looking at two variables here. Trajectory and an average wind. Variabilities from wind speed and wind direction, animal movement, and hunter factors like weariness, excitement, or flinching aren’t added in. Here is the CDFC data from ‘Ballistics Explorer’.

So, ok, with an absolutely superb shot and an elk obligingly standing broadside and not moving, we have a dead elk. John Barsness in an article in Rifle magazine reported that , in his extensive experience, NO elk had been killed beyond 400 yards, and LESS than 1 in 10 caribou had been killed beyond that range. So, in hopes of getting a long range shot on a single game species, less than 10% of the time, you’ve chosen to bring along an 11-12 pound rifle that can’t be easily carried in the field.

Just for fun, let’s see what happens when a hunter armed with a run-of-the-mill factory .270 Winchester in a 8 ½ pound rifle with a 24 inch barrel, shooting a 150 grain bullet at 2850 fps, with the same wind, b.c. and accuracy does.

Note that we are zeroed at 405 yards and the point blank range has now dropped to 448 yards.

Finally, let’s factor in the accuracy of the shooter. Under hunting conditions, not at the bench, I feel that a hunter is lucky to get a 2 inch group at 100 yards, and this small of a group is only from some sort of rest, never standing and shooting off-hand. So, let’s give the shooter a 1 inch group at 100 yards, called 1 minute of angle or m.o.a.,  resulting in a 4 inch group at 400 yards, and see what happens when we shoot at an animal at 448 yards, as seen in the target below.

So far, so good. The ‘Point Blank Range’ for an elk or a caribou extends to 481 yards.


Now let’s add in wind. Any target shooter knows that wind drift is the Great Variable for them. According to NOAA, the average National  wind speed is right around 7 miles per hour. Of course, that may be a headwind, tailwind, or from the sides at various angles, it may be blowing steadily, or gusting, and it may be entirely unpredictable. Let’s add in an average 7 mph, coming from the shooter’s right, a ‘worst case’ direction, but not an unreasonable one. The bullet path now is affected by both a downward pull and a sideward push and the result of the combination is described as the ‘Combined Distance from Center’ by the ‘Ballistic Explorer’ program.

The ballistics problems

Bullets lose velocity, and the more you have, the faster it’s shed. After about 350-400 yards even a bullet with a high ballistic coefficient (b.c.) is losing velocity fast. I have a ballistics program by Dexadine, Inc. called ‘Ballistics Explorer’. Although not entirely ‘user friendly’ for this computer -challenged writer, I find it to be very useful. Using this program for elk or caribou hunting, let’s look at the .30-378 with a hypothetical 200 grain bullet with a high, but realistic, b.c. of 0.592 and a muzzle velocity of 3230 ft/sec. Nobody aims at the brain or neck of a distant animal, a big elk or caribou has a heart-lung ‘target’, the kill zone, about 8 inches in radius so let’s zero the rifle at 405 yards. This will enable a lethal hit on such large animals at lesser ranges while maximizing it’s ‘point blank range’ - the range within which a killing hit will be made when holding right on the center of the heart-lung area. This is all quite standard and not unfair at all to the .30-378. The trajectory graph looks like this:

The Three Types of Hunters

1. Hunting as an End in itself - These are hunters who treasure the experience of the hunt, and don’t judge their success by killing or not killing their quarry. A hunter goes out to put meat on the table. They take whatever combination of weather that comes along, wind, rain or snow, whatever. They carry a general purpose gun that fires a cartridge that can efficiently harvest the hunted animal. It’s ‘enough gun’ while not being ‘too much gun’. They shoot their gun from all practical shooting positions until they are comfortable that they can harvest the hunted game animal, no matter what conditions they confront. A classic example is the resident hunter who can spend all season being selective in trying to get a tender animal for eating at the table. A trophy-sized animal is actually avoided because they are likely to be so tough to eat. Failure to get an animal is not viewed as a defect and doesn’t make the hunter feel inadequate. He or she realizes that no one bats 1000 and they realize that the important thing is to enjoy their time out in the hunting fields. If you are this type of hunter, you are fortunate indeed.

2. Hunting as a Means to an end - They want to show others how skilled they are and putting meat on the table is only a nice side benefit. This type of hunter puts their ego on the line and MUST procure an animal, the bigger the better. They feel that if they get a trophy animal, they will be that more impressive to other people. If they can’t collect some sort of game animal, at least they still can brag about the gear they have. Their rifles are specialized, heavy and long. Too much wind, or too unpredictable a wind, and they are useless. If it’s rainy or snowy, they stay in camp because they don’t like lying in a pool of water or melting snow while they wait for the hunted animal to get into the proper position to be shot. They can’t use their large diameter telescopic sights if it’s blowing rain or snow, anyway. Enjoying the experience of hunting is no longer the primary reason they go out. They’ve put out a lot of money for their hunt and by golly they are going to show some return for that money. This is where the typical long range hunter falls.

Just because something can be done, doesn’t mean it should be done. Yes, you can kill an animal at 1500 yards, but how many would be wounded, and even lost, before that successful shot?

3. The classic slob hunter who has no regard for the animal they are hunting, considers game laws are for ‘the little people’, and has no respect for landowner’s property. Are game animal’s “God’s creatures”, or put another way, God’s ‘property’? Hmmm, that’s food for some thought.


If this is the first time you’ve visited this site, before going further, follow this link to go to my web page on The Ethics of Hunting and then return back to here only after reading it. The key point is - Respect your quarry - Strive to never cause the animal to suffer unnecessarily.

I am a part-time long range TARGET shooter myself, occasionally shooting in Hi-Power matches with a Colt H-Bar at 600 yards. Do I like target shooting? Definitely yes, I have a progressive reloader to help me out. So what’s wrong about long range hunting?

The .30-378 is one of the more popular cartridges used by long distance hunters.  Any standard reference book will acknowledge that barrel life with any such cartridge can be short. For example, ‘Cartridges of the World’, 9th ed, “In any case, useful barrel life can be extremely limited.”  However, even the most conscientious hunter is going to sooner or later hit a game animal in a nonlethal place, requiring multiple fast repeat shots. The inevitable result? A burned out barrel that no longer provides the required accuracy for 400 yard shots, let alone more distant ones. Additionally, the recoil of these cartridges is so heavy, accurately aimed fast repeat shots by most hunters are impossible anyway. At 11-12 pounds and with a L-O-N-G barrel, the gun is so heavy that carrying it in the field is difficult, so it is often set up in pre-positioned spots. Where does ‘hunting’ become merely “shooting”? I think about here.

 Long range hunting apparently began with a few target shooters who liked to shoot at 1000 yards. Most long range target shooting lacks the stress of time that is an intrinsic part of hunting big game, where the shot must be NOW, before the animal passes out of sight or gets into shelter. Paper targets don’t move much. Most target shooting also allows ample time for winds to settle down, and the light to become favorable. For some shooters, long range hunting was helped along by the aura of military snipers, where wounding the enemy is actually a Good Thing, causing the enemy to spend money on hospitalization and rehabilitation. In hunting game animals, though, wounding is very definitely a Bad Thing.

Well, at 379 yards, 35 yards shorter, that’s a dead elk with the .270, too. So it’s simple. If you see an elk or caribou at 413 yards distance, just stalk 35 yards closer before shooting. If you can’t get any closer because of terrain, then what are you shooting at that animal for, anyway? If killed, it still has to be retrieved. If the animal may see you if you move, drop back out of sight and stalk closer. That’s why it’s called ‘Hunting’ and not ‘Shooting’. Might the animal get away? Hey, no one bats 1000.


Remember that VanZwoll article in ‘Field and Stream’?

“Two hundred yards is the limit for an average shot and 300 for a very good shot.”

Any reasonably efficient hunting cartridge will work for harvesting game within 300 yards. Look at the graph below to see how the ‘slow’ 9.3x62 Mauser does. For HUNTING, any super-performing, hot magnum only begins to show it’s ballistic superiority at ranges beyond which they are neither needed nor useable.

If we don’t allow for the wind, the center of the group is 8 inches low at 448 yards, but ½ of the hits will be outside the 8 inch limit we have set for the kill zone of an elk. To get ALL of the hits within the 8 inch kill zone with a 4 inch group at 400 yards, we must now move up to 414 yards.