Best calibres and bullets for long-range hunting

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Best calibres and bullets for long-range hunting

In recent years, the general interest in long-range hunting among European hunters has been piqued. It wasn’t that long ago that we were only able to follow long-distance hunting via the internet (by visiting various forums, watching YouTube video clips etc.) and the majority of these content creators lived across the pond. However, the times are changing and, just like with everything else, the long-range hunting trend has spread from the United States all the way here.

Best calibres and bullets for long range hunting
Best calibres and bullets for long range hunting

The change can be especially observed when looking at firearms on offer and sports optics for hunters that is available on the market. Lately, the topic of long-range hunting has gained plenty of traction among hunters in Europe as well, and these conversations predominantly take place on the internet. We have a considerable number of long-range shooting enthusiasts in our midst already and with recent developments in mind, the link between long-range shooting and hunting has been only strengthened.

As far as Europe is concerned, Thomas Haugland is the person who can take the most credit. He is definitely the trailblazer of long-range hunting who popularised this method and elevated the conversation among continental hunters to the next level. All news and updates about him can be followed at www.thlr.no, his YouTube channel, and online blogs. Following his example on a national level, Tomaž Ražman has been promoting the topic of long-range hunts among Slovenians, while his contributions in English (www.eu-lrh.com) target readership across the entire European region.

Of course, ‘long-range’ is a completely relative term. According to an average hunter, long shooting distance (I assume) begins at approximately 200 metres, although this range is nothing out of the ordinary for any person used to mountain hunts and who has to frequently extend their shots beyond 300 metres and farther. While perusing American forums that tackle this topic, we discover that  600 yards (nearly 550 metres) are the prevailing threshold beyond which the phrase ‘long-distance shooting’ is normally employed. It is important to point out that the topic there primarily pertains to shooting (a.i. ‘long-range shooting), while the distances when talking about hunts (a.i. ‘long-range hunting’) tend to be shorter. Long-range hunting is most often talked about in relation to distances of 300-600 metres and these distances also require different equipment set-up than long-range shooting.

Best calibres and bullets for long range hunting
Best calibres and bullets for long range hunting

Long-range hunting is often used with weapons and optics that usually wouldn’t be the first choice for long-range shooting. However, the biggest distinction lies in calibres and, even more so, in the selection of bullets utilized. I believe that everyday hunting rifles and sports optics are capable of accurate and reliable shots only up to 300 metres. But moving beyond that threshold, it is important to make adjustments of our equipment. In hunting that should be the top priority because precise and reliable shots are crucial in preventing unnecessary pain and suffering of game. It is much more simple to miss or graze an inanimate target than an actual living creature. Due to the popularization of long-range hunting, manufacturers of weapons and sports optics closely follow the trends and consequently, the amount of hunting equipment targeted toward long-range hunting is steadily increasing. This is also shown in the fact that the use of military equipment is on a decline and more often than not replaced with hunting equipment of similar features and capabilities. Another noteworthy example is the sale of sports optics. Hunters no longer use military and tactical riflescopes since the market recognized new customers’ demands, increasing and diversifying the production of sports optics for hunters in order to meet all the requirements of long-range hunting.

Once we have chosen a rifle and riflescope combination that is capable of accurate shots on longer distances, what remains is the selection of a laser rangefinder – a true necessity in long-range hunting. I suggest a purchase of an LRF with a built-in inclinometer (to measure angles of slope) that can display the equivalent horizontal range in real time. That can be proven especially useful when hunting in mountains. Of course, we must not forget to use a scope because we will experience great difficulties while accessing the game without it. Along with a sturdy backpack that we can lean the rifle against, that should be more than enough equipment for hunts up to 300 metres.

Best calibres and bullets for long range hunting
Best calibres and bullets for long range hunting

If we intend to hunt at more considerable distances, it is advisable to use a bipod, a wind gauge and a holdover calculation app, depending on the range (some pieces of this equipment set-up are unnecessary if we have previously selected a sufficiently sophisticated riflescope, such as Swarovski dS), perhaps also a barometre or something else that could come in handy. Although we already mentioned selecting the right rifle, we skipped a crucial part of using a weapon – which calibre and what kind of bullets should we choose for long-range hunting?

CALIBRES

I believe that calibres, such as the 6.5×47 Lapua, are excellent for long-range shooting but they are totally unsuitable for hunting at the same distances. When hunting, it is extremely important that we have selected an efficient and powerful calibre that will transfer at least as much (or more) energy to the game that it would be necessary when shooting the same animal at a much shorter distance. For example: .308 Winchester is a great calibre, able to transfer sufficient energy for an instant kill of deer at 200 metres of distance and, in most cases, meets the legal requirements that are in place for this particular range. However, it will most certainly let us down at 600 metres because it is simply not powerful enough for game hunting. At greater distances, we should rather opt for the stronger .300 Winchester Magnum calibre (which has the same diametre but a much stronger charge), although the bullet selected may even be the same in both cases. Consider limitations, recommendations, and charts with detailed data on speeds and charge energy but above all, stay on the safe side and make choices that will prioritize and benefit game.

Popular calibres used for long-range hunting rarely exceed the diametre of 7 millimetres (with some exceptions like .30: .300 Win Mag, .300 RUM, .300 Norma Magnum, etc.) The most logical and common choices are the following calibres: 6.5×65 (R), 6.5×68, .270 Win, 7mm Rem Mag and the like. Also, let’s not forget the two short magnum versions (.270 WSM and .300 WSM). With that, we practically listed all the important calibres from this range of products on the market. Another notable exception to the 7-millimetre rule is the .338 Lapua Magnum, currently the most popular calibre used in long-range hunting due to its lengthy effective reach and sufficient amount of energy when dealing with big distances. Obviously, this calibre offers considerably higher capacities and a longer bullet range than other (and in Slovenia more widely used) universal calibres (6.5mm, 7mm …). Another calibre that recently gained in popularity is the .300 Norma Magnum calibre. That is also thanks to Thomas Haugland.

What do these calibres listed have in common? They all travel in a mild curve and have a relatively high initial speed. With that, these calibres do not slow down that easily and maintain enviable speeds even at longer distances. When picking the right calibre, also consider the prices and general availability. There are many exotic calibres out there that are perfectly suitable for long-range hunting but they’re very difficult to get a hold of. Even if we do manage to find it, we are often additionally limited when choosing the preferred bullet.

Best calibres and bullets for long range hunting
Best calibres and bullets for long range hunting

BULLETS

We mentioned the mild, almost flat curve of the travelling bullet. In addition to the initial bullet speed and the diametre, what also matters is the ballistic coefficient. The bigger the ballistic coefficient, the smaller the resistance of the bullet mid-travel. That means that the bullet will maintain the required speed much longer. The 6.5mm and 7mm calibres are also well known for the high ballistic coefficient of bullets used (long and slender bullets, well-balanced too).

Let’s bear in mind that a bullet acts in a different manner when colliding with the target at 100 metres than it does doing so at 300 metres, when the speed of hitting the game is significantly slower. At these distances, most hard bullets simply do not reach satisfactory speeds to be fully and completely deformed – which is what is required of ethical hunting (a.i. an instant kill) of game.

Let us also take into account that the ballistic coefficient of the bullet is not a negligible factor at lengthier distances because we must strive to achieve mild curves and to maintain satisfactory bullet speeds. The popular monolithic RWS HIT ammunition is a prime example of difficulties encountered when using hard bullets in long-range hunting. The minimal speed when hitting the target has to be 700 m/s or the bullet won’t be completely and efficiently deformed.

Best calibres and bullets for long range hunting
Best calibres and bullets for long range hunting

When looking at the table of handgun and rifle cartridges, we can quickly notice that most calibres are not able to maintain this speed at 300 metres (with a couple of shining exceptions). This is partly the reason why certain manufacturers produce bullets that are designed specifically for long range hunting (Barnes LRX, Nosler AccuBond LR, Hornady ELD-X, …). Their qualities can be seen in the precision of manufacture (small tolerances in production) in order to achieve higher accuracy of shooting. It can also be observed in high ballistic coefficients and bullet designs that enable reliable deformation, even at lower speeds.

In theory, the ideal bullet for long-distance hunting should have the following qualities: an exceptionally smooth curve of travel and transformation (or expansion) of the bullet (in the moment of hitting the flank of game, the bullet should double in diametre), sufficient penetration in order to reach vital organs (regardless of obstacles and bones along its path) and exit on the other side of the animal and hit the ground, which indicates that the bullet really did transfer all its energy to game. These requirements should be met just as well at 600 metres as at 60 metres – without diminished performance quality.

Finally, I would like to emphasize the most crucial part of long-range hunting: “We must only release a shot insofar as we can absolutely trust our skill and rely on the equipment used. This decision should be made on the basis prior training and a large number of fired charges. We have to be absolutely sure that the bullet will hit the target.” If you’d rather attempt the shot and aren’t quite sure where the bullet will land, just pack your things and go to a shooting range instead. There you can practice to your heart’s content, without causing any harm to nature and its noble inhabitants.

Author: Renato BRODAR

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