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Long Range Hunting on a Budget: Part 1

Long-range hunting and shooting can be doable and affordable.

Long Range Hunting on a Budget: Part 1

(Mark Fingar photo)

Many of us have probably seen shows featuring hunters shooting game at long distance. It’s impressive, and enough of us have thought “I’d like to do that!” that the current shooting sports rage is long range competitions and hunting. However, let’s discuss the ethics as it relates to hunting, as well as the ins and outs of long-­range hunting, and what’s required.

Some will not agree with my opinions, but I hope that this information gets you thinking. I base my beliefs on more than 45 years of hunting experience. I’ve used the bow and arrow, muzzleloaders, a lot of old lever-­action rifles, old and new calibers, as well as various long-­range rifles and scopes chambered in powerful cartridges. I have shot to 1,400 yards with frequency and have done a lot of shooting at a mile (1,760 yards). I spent a good deal of time participating in high-­power rifle competitions and have coached and called wind for numerous shooters.

The Ethics

First, allow me to define what I consider “long range”: Shots beyond 300 yards. These shots require considerations for elevation and windage. I believe that shots on game beyond 800 yards — no matter what animal the shooter is shooting at or with what rifle, under most circumstances — is further than what should be attempted. Why? Bullets are running out of velocity, and terminal performance, beyond 800 yards, and wind becomes difficult to read.

Ruger’s Marksman Adjustable trigger can be set between 3 and 5 pounds. The single-stack magazine holds 3 rounds of 6.5 PRC and fits closely to the polymer stock. (Mark Fingar photo)

Anyone going into the field to hunt an animal should feel a profound respect for it, enough that you want to cleanly harvest it. As hunters, we should make every effort to stalk as close to the game animal as possible to take the most accurate and effective shot. We should practice with our equipment and know its capabilities and limitations. Hunting should not be a competition to see who can shoot something the furthest. If that’s your goal, I’d ask that you stay home and shoot steel.

I believe hunting means stalking and cleanly killing the animal. I have only killed two animals at ranges beyond 400 yards. I acknowledge that there are times, places and circumstances during hunting where it may not be possible to stalk closely. A hunter may have spent a considerable amount of money on a tag or a hunt, and they are only presented with one opportunity to take the animal, and it simply works out that it is not a close shot. Most of the animals I have killed have been inside 150 yards, many using an old lever-­action rifle in an obsolete caliber.

The multi-port muzzlebrake is included and made a significant difference with felt recoil. As with other muzzlebrakes, it does increase the noise of the rifle on the firing line. (Mark Fingar photo)

Firearms, optics, and ammunition technology improved dramatically in the last 15 years. There are several practiced shooters who believe that 600 yards is the “old 200 yards.” Having the equipment, skills and capability to effectively and cleanly shoot a game animal at long ranges greatly increases the hunter’s odds.

The Essentials

Most of the rifle and scope combinations used on extreme-­range hunting shows cost north of $10,000. Is it really necessary to spend that much money to successfully hunt at long ranges? There is a simple analysis that can be done to determine what you and your equipment are capable of. First, decide what animal you are in pursuit of. The kill zone on a mule deer is approximately a 12-­inch circle, so let’s play it safe and call it 10 inches. You must then hold this 10-­inch circle at a distance to cleanly kill a deer.

The Ruger American Rifle’s free-float barrel, reciever and bolt are finished in a matte Burnt Bronze Cerakote, which pairs well with the Go Wild camo and minimizes reflective shine. (Mark Fingar photo)

You will need to accurately range the deer, account for the angle of fire, accurately estimate wind at the muzzle and down range, determine muzzle jump, spin drift and wind drift, and know the atmospheric conditions. With this information, you can correctly set the scope for elevation and adjust for the wind. There will always be errors in the wind-­drift determination. For winds less than 10 miles-­per-­hour (mph), a person good at reading mirages can probably get a wind estimate to within 2 mph. If winds are more than 10 mph, mirage reading doesn’t work and the estimation error will be larger. This error in drift must be factored into the group size of the rifle and ammunition combination. Getting closer is always better. Your equipment’s capabilities are one part of the equation, your ability to read the wind is probably the limiting factor. Most of the long-­range hunting bullets on the market should not be pushed to distances beyond which their retained velocity drops below 1,700 feet per second (fps). I consider 6.5mm to be the smallest effective caliber for long-­range hunting. Projectiles smaller than 6.5mm don’t retain enough terminal performance at long ranges.

The composite stock on the Mossberg test rifle featured an almost vertical pistol grip, which was comfortable for prone and benchrest shooting. (Mark Fingar photo)

Let’s shoot a 6.5mm PRC loaded with a 143-­grain Hornady ELD-­X bullet, which has a G7 ballistic coefficient (BC) of .315, at 3,050 fps muzzle velocity and assume .8 MOA or .85 inch at 100 yards in accuracy. At an elevation of 6,000 feet, with 23 inches of mercury and 50-degree F temperature, Table 1 is the result of putting this information into the Hornady 4DOF calculator. Remember: To put a bullet in a 10-­inch circle and cleanly kill a deer given the wind-­drift error, an accurate range measurement must be made while factoring muzzle jump and spin drift. In an elk, the kill zone measures approximately 14 inches.


The bullet in Table 1 has plenty of retained velocity to be effective to ranges we shouldn’t consider shooting at animals. To hold the 10-­inch kill zone, we shouldn’t attempt shooting past 700 yards. For the 14-­inch kill zone on an elk, we’d be good to about 850 yards; this assumes, however, that we have access to a solid rest and possess the skills and experience practicing to hold .8 MOA in the field. Also, bear in mind that the greater the distance, the greater the uncertainty in reading the wind, hence a larger wind error. A half-­MOA rifle extends the effective range and gives us a higher probability of making an accurate shot.

Two sling studs under the forend will accept either a bipod or forward sling mount — or you can use both at the same time. Put the bipod at the forward mount and attach a sling at the rear. (Mark Fingar photo)

For best results, a basic weathermeter is needed, a quality rangefinder capable of ranging game at the distances you plan to shoot to, determining angle of fire, and a ballistic solver that factors all this in and accurately calculates a total firing solution. Being proficient at shooting and reading the wind are givens.

Rifle & Cartridge

To hunt effectively at long range, you need a rifle and cartridge combination capable of better than 1 MOA accuracy. The more accurate, the better. The rifle should be chambered in a caliber and with a twist rate capable of supporting a heavy-­for-­caliber, high-­BC bullet with muzzle velocity in the 2,700 feet-per-second (fps) or higher range. High velocity, lightweight, low-­BC bullets are subject to excessive wind drift at long range. I consider the 6.5mm Creedmoor a good entry level long-­range hunting cartridge.


An adjustable cheekpiece ensures that a hunter can shoot with the eye properly aligned behind the scope without the need for muscular tension in the neck lifting the head to see clearly. (Mark Fingar photo)

You don’t have to spend $10,000 to come up with an effective rifle to shoot long range. To demonstrate this, I acquired a Ruger American Rifle, which starts at $599 and is available in many interesting chamberings. My example in 6.5 PRC wears Go Wild camo on its synthetic stock and retails for $789. I’ve fired a lot of Ruger American rifles in various chamberings, and I don’t think I’ve encountered one that, broken in, didn’t shoot better than 1 MOA with good ammunition.

Suppressed hunting is catching on, so manufacturers are including capped, threaded muzzles as standard features. This eases the installation of a direct-thread suppressor. (Mark Fingar photo)

The Mossberg Patriot Predator, Long Range (LR) Hunter and LR Tactical models are also moderately priced and offer solid performance. The LR Tactical models offer features to improve accuracy potential, including a heavy contour barrel and an adjustable comb. The Predator  and Patriot LR Hunter are lightweight rifles with light contour barrels. Several other brands offer comparable rifles. For this article, I will detail test results using a Mossberg MVP LR in 6.5 Creedmoor and a Ruger American Go Wild in 6.5 PRC with factory long-­range hunting ammunition.

While a 10-round-capacity magazine is not necessary for hunting, it makes zeroing and practice at the range more convenient for shooters. (Mark Fingar photo)


You don’t have to spend $2,500 on a scope to get a good quality, effective scope for long-­range hunting. A scope with maximum magnification in the 15X to 20X range is my preference. It should have a clear, sharp image and parallax adjustment. Most importantly, it must have a target- or tactical-­type elevation turret that is clearly marked with accurate, repeatable adjustment increments that match closely the click value labeled on the turret. The scope must be mounted with the reticle level with the rifle; if you don’t have levels, take it to a gunsmith. If the scope is not level it will lead to greater and greater windage error as the range increases. The scope should be equipped with a reticle featuring hash marks for windage hold-­off. In many hunting situations, you may have to make wind calls and adjust in the moment. Some situations don’t allow time to dial, and if you do start dialing you take a risk of getting confused.

The Leupold VX-Freedom 6-18x40mm makes for a great, affordable, long-distance hunting riflescope that can be used for target shooting, as well. MSRP $500 (Mark Fingar photo)

There are several good scopes on the market in the $425 to $700 range that fit the bill. Burris Signature HD 3-­15x44mm ; Leupold VX-Freedom 6-­18x40mm; Bushnell Engage 6-­24x50mm; SIG Sauer Whiskey4 5-­20x50mm; and Vortex Diamondback Tactical 4-­16x44mm scopes are some examples.

A top-mounted 20 MOA-biased optic rail extends the adjustment range of any scope. A Burris Signature HD 3-15x44mm was used for testing on the Mossberg, making use of its Ballistic E3 illuminated reticle. MSRP $672 (Mark Fingar photo)

Bullets & Ammunition

Use a bullet and ­cartridge combination that retains enough velocity at the distance you may have to shoot. Retained velocity translates to effective expansion and terminal performance. My “rule of thumb” is that the retained velocity should be above 1,700 fps. Bonded long-­range bullets might be capable of functioning at 100 fps or so slower than 1,700. I do not consider hollowpoint bullets appropriate for long-­range hunting. They may be accurate but, in my experience, they do not provide reliable or predictable terminal performance because they do not expand. Any terminal performance they provide is totally random and unpredictable. It is totally a function of what the bullet might hit and when it tumbles. The greater the range the greater the penetration before the bullet will begin to tumble.

The combination of a sufficiently-sized bullet and high velocity makes the 6.5 PRC a great introductory cartridge when hunting at long and short ranges. (Mark Fingar photo)

In the last decade, there has been a proliferation of good long-­range hunting bullets. Barnes offers the monolithic, tipped LRX line of bullets in a wide range of calibers and weights. It also offers the VOR-­TX Long Range line of ammunition loaded with LRX bullets. As good as the Barnes LRX bullet is, it has comparatively low BC and the monolithic bullets don’t expand below 1,900 fps. They will not be effective in most cartridges beyond 500 to 600 yards.

Federal offers the Terminal Ascent line of bonded bullets and ammunition. As of 2023, heavy-­for-­caliber bullets in .270, 7mm and .30 calibers are available. Federal also added a new ammunition line loaded with Hornady ELD-­X long-­range hunting bullets. Hornady offers the widest range of calibers and weights in its non-­bonded ELD-­X line. Hornady has built a reputation afield with its Precision Hunter ammunition, which is loaded with ELD-­X bullets.

Very low drag (VLD) bullets such as the Federal Terminal Ascent, Hornady ELD-X, Norma Bondstrike, Nosler ABLR, Speer Impact, Remington Premier LR and Barnes LRX were built for hunters. (Mark Fingar photo)

Norma offers the Bondstrike series of bonded bullets as components and loaded ammunition in 6.5mm, 7mm and .30 calibers. Nosler continues to offer its bonded ABLR line of long-­range bullets in a range of calibers and weights. Speer introduced its Impact line of bonded long-­range bullets in 2023, but only lists the 6.5mm and .30-­caliber bullets as of writing. For 2023 Remington offers the Premier Long Range line of ammunition loaded with the Speer Impact bullet. All these lines are effective and have good designs. Generally, the decision will come down to what shoots the most accurately in your rifle.

In Part 2 of this series, I will discuss other equipment that is recommended to go afield for long-range hunting. I will also detail test results with what I would call “entry-level” long-range rifles and optics. As you will see, you can get good results without spending your child’s college fund.

Sound Off

At what range do you usually take game? Do you have a general interest in long-range shooting that doesn't involve hunting? Let us know by emailing and use “Sound Off” in the subject line.

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