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8 Underrated Long-Range Cartridges

by Craig Boddington   |  November 7th, 2012 46

OK, let’s get this straight: You won’t see me making a guest appearance on Best of the West. While I’m fascinated by long-range shooting, I have little patience with shooting at game animals at extreme ranges. There is some distance at which the variables become too great and the risk of wounding an animal is too high. Exactly where this lies is impossible to determine because it’s a moving target, depending on conditions, equipment and skill. However, before you get to “extreme range,” there is often a place for shooting at “long and longer” ranges.

I still think of 300 yards as a fair poke, with its feasibility depending on the conditions and the steadiness of the shooting position. However, when I was kid we considered 400 yards to be a very long shot. With the great rifles, ammunition and optics we have today—and laser rangefinders—shooting from 300 yards to somewhere beyond a quarter-mile is practical when conditions allow. For this kind of shooting, some cartridges are better than others.

For big game you want plenty of accuracy, but with a good barrel and ammo, most modern cartridges are capable. You want a trajectory that’s flat enough to remove at least some of the guesswork, but here’s something else: You want a cartridge with enough velocity and bullet weight so you have plenty of energy remaining when the bullet arrives. Most of us would probably agree that, depending on size of the game, the magnum 7mms and .30-calibers make excellent choices in this arena. But there are some other choices worth considering!

  • Dave

    Craig's suggestion that the .270 be used on elk at 400 yards just creeps me out. He's a superb marksman and seasoned hunter; most would end up maiming whole herds before actually bagging an elk at that range. Sorry, but in my opinion, no non-magnum should be recommended for big game (other than deer) beyond 300 yards.
    On the other hand, he has a great candidate with the .338 Win mag. Think about it: The .338 Lapua has become a world-class sbniper cartridge, holding the record for two kills at a mile and a half. .338 Win only drops a couple hundred fps from the Lapua ballistics; should be a great long range game-getter!

    • bph9

      You have been bitten my magnumitis. In reality the much touted Rem. 7mm Mag with a 24 inch barrel often gives no more velocity than a .270 Winchester of the same barrel length. The 7mm shines only because its ammo is available with the heavier 175 grain pills which few hunters use anyway because they want the top velocity bullet weights that are lighter in weight and they end up with a fire breathing clone of the .270 Winchester with no gain in velocity.

      The .270 with the 160 grain slugs will shoot right through an elk at any reasonable range so the 7mm with its 175 grain would only be a plus when shooting at really big stuff like a Grizzly bear. But as a side bar Jack O'connor killed a grizzly with only the 130 grain bullet out of his .270. So much for Magnumitis hype.

    • Chris

      Sorry Craig but I have to agree with Dave. I just finished 23 months in S.America and used a Remington Model 70 .338 Win. Mag. hand loaded with .338 Lapua bullets. I had multiple VK's at and over 700 yds. I had 1 at 1,400 yds.! That is my personal best. My team calls it my "Parting Shot" as it was my last shot before heading back home for good. I own three rifles in this caliber and if I had to choose just one rifle and caliber for the rest of my life the caliber would be the .338 Win. Mag., as for the rifle, I can't decide right now? All I can do is close by saying Dave is right and the .338 Win. Mag. is a HIGHLY UNDER-RATED CARTRIDGE!……………………..Guys (and Ladies) take another look at this cartridge even if it's just reading the specs in a reloading guide or looking the rifles up in any Annual Rifle Magazine, then go to the back of the book/magazine and check out the Ballistic Tables! I think you'll be pleasantly surprised!

      • Terry

        The mag is the best. I have taken Elk at 520yds.with fantastic results. A nice 6×6 is hanging on my wall. if recoil is the problem that’s why they made muzzle brakes the right one will reduce up to 48 % and they work. I owe a ruger m77 mark II 338 win mag stainless with a brake on it less recoil then 30 06 love it and use it all the time.

  • Alan Maslonek

    Dave, I totally agree with Craig in saying that the 270 is perfectly adequate. If you do your part on shot placement, it will do its part. I have taken elk at long range with a 270 and it worked perfectly. Shot placement is key. If you can't accurately place your shot for a given distance, you have no business shooting at that distance with any caliber. To many people think because they are shooting xxmagnum, that their distance is unlimited…simply untrue.

  • stantdm

    Well said.

  • old vet

    No "Magnum" ever made, will make a bad shot any better. There are folks out there who think that's the case. We see them all the time at our "sight in days" at our club. All the noise and extra recoil soon has them all over the paper. A hunter owes it to the game to deliver a clean kill. One of the worst cases of "scope bite" came from a 30/30 this year.

  • guest

    south paw…

  • Richard

    30-06, any day !

  • Sherrill Neese

    30-06 for me. I've always been happy with it. Although, I am thinking of getting .375. With dreams of Africa and Alaska…..

    • Tim-LV

      Stick with .375 H&H. I gave in to the hype when the .375 Ruger came out. Recoil is for worse than the .375 H&H. Actually worse than my .458 Lott. Also check out the CZ.550 American. Great rifle.

    • shootbrownelk

      Sherrill, stick with the .06.. I have a winchester stainless classic in .375 H&H…It's heavy and hard to pack around where I elk hunt.,oh yeah I almost forgot…OUCH!

  • Tracy

    Variety may be the spice of life, but to be honest, I do 99% of my rifle hunting in .30-06. I know exactly how the cartridge behaves, and what I can and can't do with it. In 37 years of hunting in AZ and TX I've been very fortunate to never lose an animal. That's probably because the longest shot I've ever taken was 331 paces (before laser rangefinders). Not to say that longer shots have not presented themselves, but rather that I either worked closer to the target (not that there's any working to the target in a TX box blind!), or passed on the shot. IMHO, there is no valid reason to ever pull the trigger unless you *know* you're going to put the target down. They're God's creatures, too, and deserve our care and respect.

    • old vet

      We need more hunters out there with your ethics. Pass them on. Too many out there think the kill, by any means, IS the hunt.

      • buckshot #4 deer

        Amen! I live and hunt in Indian Lake, N.Y. and could fill pages about garbage hunters with no class, ethics or morals! They bait even next to the county dump then poach a bear or even a cub then skin it taking the head and paws with the skin and just leave the carcass! God forgive me but I've been so tempted to shoot them when I see them! I have to satisfy myself by calling the Staties (N.Y.State Police) and getting them busted. Most of them are from N.Y.City…. It's only a 5 hour drive and they've been doing this for 20 plus years. We owe it to the Wildlife and our Children to turn them in anytime we see such disgusting behavior!

        • Brandon

          AMEN!! Keep turning g em in as they keep acting like scumbags. Pass on the good aspects of our treasured outdoors and teach ethics and morals

  • Marine223

    As an old Jarhead I've never shot an animal at any great distance, BUT while in the Corps (that's corps NOT Corpse Barack) with the M14 .308 WITH PEEP SIGHTS, I was consistantly hitting an 18" Black at 500yards with that miraculous piece! I'd like to talk to some Marines in Afghanistan to see how they're doing with the revived M14 with scope!On the two legged Animals!

    • jim

      Thought this was about long range rifle shooting…political comments have no place here,

      • mike hunt

        freedom of speech jim – let folks say what they want – ESPECIALLY political comments..

    • USMC65

      I join you in your question. When I first used the m-14 @ Parris Island in 10-66, I thought it was a sensational weapon and still think so; @ 500 yds. with open sights it was a relatively easy high 40's out of 50. It must be a beast with a good scope.

      • leroy wilcox

        love the m14 like it so much i have the civilian version

  • bph9

    Oh for the good old days, when we had the likes of real professional writers like Jack O'Connor, Warren Page, Nash Buckingham, and Ted Trueblood to just name a few. What we really need is more articles on how to teach a person how to hunt and how to respect game animals not as long range targets but as respected noble game animals.

    Lets face facts long range hunting is for slobs not real hunters. When one understands the habits of game animals the close range shot is the norm not the exception. When reading up on the old time hunters most of their shots were taken at very close range, read that 15 to 25 yards. They new where and when the animals watered and fed which enabled them to outwit their quarry. They were also not 200lbs overweight either, which meant they could walk for miles or climb mountains to get to the game. Today if a four wheel drive vehicle will not transport the urban dwelling blaster to the game they simply drive on to the next shooting range to blast away at long range. One kill out of 10 wounded animals is usually their goal when hunting. Continued below

    • mike hunt

      I agree, Also there is a safety issue – I dont hunt the lower 48 anymore because I dont want these folks watching me at long range through their scopes or rangefinders. If there is any brush or trees at all, they may not be careful about what they are shooting at.

    • coondog

      It is a shame all who follow your post will not allow the baby Jesus to shut their mouths and open their minds. The only long range shot I ever took was 300 yards or a hair less and that was only due to the quarry being a Bighorn and after 3 days of stalking I knew it would be my best opportunity. Remington 700 with 130gr, 270, best rig going for 300 yards. Which is the longest distance anyone can continually use one shot for one kill. Write on brother.

    • Zipp

      Now wait, your being a bit absolute. I get your point, trust me. I even agree with a lot of what you said, but I think there’s some wiggle room in there. Technology has improved by leaps and bounds. This does extend the maximum effective range for some hunters. There are shooters that possess the skill set to take a game animal at extended ranges, but more often this is the exception and not the rule. The increased technology can also mislead those who don’t have the developed skill level to attempt shots at longer distances then they should.

    • Ezra

      Let’s look at this issue with some calm intellect and discuss the article that was written vs a ‘hot button’ issue wit

    • ezra

      Wishing to travel back in time or bring back the dead are, at least, not the ambitions of a healthy mind. To deny access of such a wonderful sport to those with disabilities or physical limitations…much less call them names like some adolescent simply inexcusable. Finally to deny that it is impractical or wrong in some way to take advantage of modern technologies, machining and optics would be simple minded as the game animal has become hyper aware of our presence and the fact that they are in the food chain. The idea of an animal destined for the BBQ or smoker being any more “noble” than the man looking at it through the fine german optics with laser distance calculator is a great idea in a book but in the real world hunt a 424 yard kill by a disabled person using modern equipment and transport is as good as one made by a fit healthy person who used ‘old school’ equipment, tracked it for weeks leaving bloody footprints in the snow…. Let’s leave our prejudices in the past. Let’s allow all who are properly motivated and trained in both firearm and personal safety while ‘out there’ enjoy this legal sport in the fashion they choose.

  • bhp9

    Lets face facts unless you practice in all the field positions, standing , sitting and prone and shoot at least 2,000 rounds of practice ammo during the summer months you have no business shooting at long range period. This rules out 98 per cent of most of the once a year hunters.

    The mind set is that if I buy the latest and greatest expensive equipment I automatically become the re-incarnation of Daniel Boone, Annie Oakley or Agnes Herbert. The reality is that no equipment will take the place of experience in regards to estimating correct hold for up-hill shots or down-hill shots, or how to read the wind and mirage or how to control muscle tremors or how not to break your shooting concentration. This only comes with the expensive and time consuming practice of shooting thousands of practice rounds. Something the once a year hunters does not have the time or inclination to do period.

  • Jon

    I thought the key word here was underrated. Imho, the .270,30-06, and .308 were pretty much the standards by which long range, or even longer range calibers were judged.

    • Jon

      Yes I'm aware 30-06 and .308 are the same caliber, I should've used cartridge instead.

  • Winston

    Interesting piece, except why on earth would anyone want to own any obscure round? I've learned my lesson here. Rare ammo is hard to find, blindingly expensive and there's just no reason. I use a Weatherby Mark V chambered in .300 Weatherby Magnum. It's a great rifle and a great round, but costs a fortune to shoot, especially the lead free stuff here in CA. Were I starting over, I wouldn't consider anything that isn't cheap, common & capable like the 30-06 Springfield, .308 or .270.

    Just my opinion. I could be wrong.

    • Robb38

      I know back in Vietnam our sniper rifler for most of us was a basic 30-06 hunting rifle with just a 3-9-40 scope too me its just a good all around rifler good for just about any kind of hunting and i have made a good may shots out pass 700 yards an a 1000 yards. but its a different world when the deer is shooting back at you. IF you have ever seen the movie The Shooter where he shoots the guy through his scope and takes off half of his head that shot was really made in nam from 300 yards with a 30 06 just lucky he was facing the sun an our sniper saw the sun reflecting off his lense so thats what he aim at an made it

  • Ron R.

    I have used 270 , 130 grain Nosler BT. bullets for years here in Tuson Arizona on Coues Deer and mule Deer at very long ranges out to 400 yards and never lost a deer . This is a very accuarte caliber , i sight in my rifle 3 inches high at one hundreds. And with these bullets and IMR – 4350 powder , can not beat it. These Coues Deer are a small target at tha range , as far as Elk here in Arizona i have not tried this caliber on them but i have friends that use them with great results. 270 is very accurate cal. I have hit deer in very tight places with little room for error. Now i just bought a 270 win mag any ideas for a good load outhere.

    • Coondog99

      Thank you Ron R, although I believe 300 yds. (is a must) where one should cap their distance. At 300 with my old Rem. 700 and the 130gr, 270 cartridge I feel I can take anything, however I always get as close as possible to the meat I need in my freezer. It seems to me “hunting” is a game now, a disheartening immoral one as well. So many of you F’ers should just get into target shooting, show some respect for Gods creatures. Or go small and help local farmers with pests and varmints and the like if you HAVE TO KILL. Will never forget your kind from “the fields.”
      Peace Out!!

      • Ron

        Hey coondog, I totally agree with you getting close is a must , just making a point how accurate the 270 is with this bullet and I have shot way closer than 400 yds , but here in Arizona these gray ghost catch you from a long ways out ,believe me I don’t just go out looking for these long shots ,but sometimes that’s all we got , but I do take my time to look and really make a decision if I can make that shot and with a good shot placement . Once again sorry if you miss understood my comments I am in no way just a crazy hunter out there just flinging bullets at animals , I do shoot a lot and know what my rifle can do . believe me I have seen my share of crazies out there.

      • 8millsniper007

        I am in no way trying to insult anyone here but just because you have a comfort level of 300 yards does not mean that they should make it a law. Different people have different skill levels, just because I am confident and comfortable taking a longer range shot does not make me fat and lazy and ready to kill the first thing I see moving. I have fired hundreds of thousands of rounds to hone my skills. Am I capable of a one shot drop at 800 yards you bet your ass I am, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to take it, in fact a lot of things need to happen for a shot like that and more often than not I will get as close as I can to the animal. My thoughts on that are, you have to walk over to recover the downed animal anyways so you might as well get as close as you can. But please do not label someone that is capable of making long shots as lazy f’ers and animal haters. I am a huge animal lover, if you want to talk about cruelty to animals try the bow hunters. In my 30+ years of shooting I have had to track one wounded animal and that animal was my first and last time bow hunting. My passion is long range target shooting and if I pass some of my skills along when I am hunting and reach out a little farther than the average shooter then that is my right, I have worked dam hard to shoot like I do. But at the same time I know my limits and if there is the slightest doubt in my mind about taking a long range shot I will pass everytime. Not all guys that can shoot long range do so because they are fat and lazy, we do so to better ourselves for hunting, competition and or because we enjoy it.

  • Horse Thief

    The 280 Rem or Ackley in a bolt action rifle is a fine choice for long-range hunting without going to a magnum chambering. It is capable of nearly all the North American game, minus maybe the biggest bears, and for a hand loader you can easily get a great load.

  • Dig-Dug

    I enjoyed the article, but as with all long range shooting articles I have read recently they get away from long range and take on practicality aspects. When the author states that the round is hard to shoot at even 300-400 yards (long range for me personally but not for a long range article) it shouldn’t be in this discussion. I don’t use them long range on “big game”, but varmints and antelope beyond 500 yards have fallen to my 5.6×57 RWS and 6mm xtc. I know there are more “acceptable” cartridges in these calibers that can do the job as well, 220 Swift and 6mm Rem.

  • Suzann Sayers

    I have killed a lot of game a lot of ELK A LOT OF DEER WHITETAILS AND MULEY a lot of other bigame. My go to gun is my 257 weatherby best long range gun I have ever saw. In the mts. I use my 280 I love it dropped a MOOSE last year in its tracks. A 338 win. mag is hard to beat also I own two of them. When I am in GRIZZ. COUNTRY i PACK MY 375 h&h it is fun to use different calibers or that is the way I see it. To the guy who said you need to shoot 2000 rounds every year to get ready or you should not shoot long distants. Is a JOKE!! PEOPLE like him has ever been hunting I do not have time to do that and he should look at my trophy room.

    • gas2800

      I have a ar15 chambered in 7.62×39… what would be a good upper to but for a bit longer range?

    • coondog99

      your 257 weatherby is a beauty as is its cartridge. basically, even factually, it’s all you need for true long range shots. i’m speaking as a humane person here, no offense. i’m old so the cost of ammo and recoil increase would wear me out, but a fine piece for damn sure. you know i’ve never fired a “Mag” round in my entire 40 years of hunting, not even a .22 WMR. there has never been nor there will there ever be a need for such.

  • wylie

    As a kid I learned to shoot with an old 22 single shot w/iron sights. I learned to make every shot count. everyone should learn to shoot this way period.(my kids did)I have never lost any game. doesn’t mater what cal. you use, as how good a shot you are. i know old timers that took Big Game w/22’s.
    learning w/scopes,range finders ect. are crutches…..I still would
    rather use iron sights. People in the 1800’s killed up to 3/4 of a mile
    or so (no scopes) they were shooters.

  • JJ

    6.5×284 and .264 very similar ballistically. .260/6.5 Creed/6.5×47 are all short action cases.

  • TruthFinderXXX

    I got a 280 Remington RS in 1987, it shot factory 150 core-loct pretty good, as in slightly under 1 inch for a 3 shot group. I micro polished the bore with flitz, then had a gunsmith set the trigger to a crisp 2.5 lbs. Then I started hand loading the Barnes X 140 grain flat base it got real nice as in 3 touching at 100 yards. I have killed several nice deer at well past bragging range with this rifle, the longest was with me allowing for 36 inches of drop, rifle was zeroed at 100 dead on.

  • Tmaht

    When the heck did .270, .30-06 and .308 become underrated?

  • leroy wilcox

    tho i do not hunt anymore i do enjoy the challenge to be able to hit a target at over 500 yds just to be able to say i can still do it

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