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Ethical Shots: How Far Is Too Far?

Is long-­range hunting sporting? Is it ethical to attempt a shot on an animal at long distance?

Ethical Shots: How Far Is Too Far?

(Photo courtesy of Eric R. Poole)

Long-range hunting is controversial. Few subjects elicit such a passionate response from readers. Having served as your editor for nearly seven years, I am aware that many shooters are not hunters, or don’t support the killing of some or all animals. Therefore, I make an effort to fairly mix the content to address news, prevailing trends and changing interests.

Among lawful hunters, there are additional divides. When the Lyman Alaskan 2.5X scope was introduced in 1939, many argued against its use for spoiling fair chase. Such sportsmen assert rules to ensure that hunters have no advantage over wild, free-­ranging game. They pair equipment with one’s ability to afford the equal opportunity for an animal to escape. Fair chase also promotes self-­restraint and encourages a hunter to develop fieldcraft.

Fair chase believers often look down on those who hunt from long range. Guns & Ammo’s Elmer Keith, for example, notoriously shot a mule deer with a .44 Magnum. The story goes that Keith and his rifle-­equipped friend were after a muley on an adjacent ridge. Keith set up in a reclining position, braced his dominant arm against his leg and shot at the deer with the 6-­inch-­barreled Smith & Wesson Model 29. The first four shots were misses, but Keith managed to walk rounds onto the animal. The fifth shot struck the buck and the sixth killed it. It was Keith who determined the distance was 600 yards, which surrounded him in controversy for the rest of his life.

For decades, innovators and wildcatters have worked to improve the performance of cartridges for hunting. The goal was always to flatten a round’s parabolic trajectory while retaining velocity and energy for effective penetration. Advances in engineering, science and modern manufacturing have allowed accuracy potential for many rifles to fall within 1 minute of angle (MOA). This is also credited to consistent ammunition. Several manufacturers produce tipped expanders for hunting that resist the friction of high-­velocity flight and harness the potential of an efficiently sculpted low-­drag projectile. Hence, several cartridges are now capable of effectively killing game beyond 1,000 yards, which brings us back to ethics.

A destination for training hunters, FTW Ranch has designed courses around the motto, “Because you only have one first shot!” Though FTW’s Sportsman’s All-­Weather All-­Terrain Marksmanship (SAAM) can teach a person how to strike steel beyond 1,000 yards, students learn what their real-­world capabilities are with a particular rifle setup. You leave understanding how far you can ethically take an animal with a single shot, and the confidence needed to do so.

(Photo courtesy of Eric R. Poole)

During a guided antelope hunt in Wyoming with Heart Spear Outfitters, I tested my capabilities using a synthetic-­stocked Mossberg Patriot equipped with a Leupold VX-­6HD scope. On the afternoon of my arrival, I zeroed the rifle at 100 yards using Hornady’s Precision Hunter ammunition. In fact, I sacrificed my first day of hunting to develop dope at 100-­yard increments from a bagged rest in that climate. I continued stretching the distance until I reached 600 yards. At 100 yards, I stacked five shots in a ragged hole that measured three-­quarters of an inch. At 600 yards, I managed three-­of-­three shots within 10 inches.

After lunch, my guide Kody Glause, fellow hunters and I hopped into his truck and headed out to pursue free-­range antelope buck. The drive took an hour and a half, but as soon as we crossed over the cattleguard and onto the property, I spotted a mature buck lazily roaming the rolling prairie at about 250 yards. Glause used a spotter to analyze his thick, black horns, but I wasn’t trophy hunting.

After a few minutes of awkward silence, I asked, “I know it’s the first day, and that this is the first antelope we’ve seen, but is there any reason not to just stalk that one?”

Glause turned to me and with a curious tone replied, “Not if that’s the buck you want.”

“Let’s go for it,” I said.

The buck didn’t seem pressured by our presence. Glause, another hunter and I set up on a mound for a prone shot across my pack, but the buck slowly meandered towards several does. He bedded down for a while, got up and continued to walk away from us among his harem. The wind kicked up and died a few times, and we never wanted to risk wounding one of the other antelope. So, I waited for the perfect conditions.

An opportunity didn’t open up until Glause spotted him with his rangefinder at 585 yards. There was no wind, so I dialed up the scope’s turret and made ready. “You going to take him?” he asked. With the buck perfectly broadside, I pressed the trigger and watched the bullet’s trace arc into the antelope’s shoulder. With one shot, the buck was down. “That was 587,” the Glause noted. “Great job!”

Though it was a very affordable rifle, the experience illustrated the point about where firearm technology is at today. The circumstances couldn’t have been more perfect, and I have the training and experience necessary to make a clean shot such as this. The question remains: Is long-­range hunting sporting? Is it ethical to attempt a shot on an animal at long distance? Let me know your thoughts at 


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