Long Range Hunting

August 2, 2011

long range hunting shooting
Plenty of range time at varying distances is a must if you ever plan to attempt long shots in the field.

I have just added the third book on “how to make long shots” to my library. All are filed in the fiction section. Like the previous two, this one is bogus. In this case, I have hunted with the author on several occasions and can attest to the fact that he is one of the worst field shots I’ve ever known. These books and the pundits that write them deal with making ultra-long (500-yard or longer) shots at game. Often, they discuss shots in the 700- to 1,000-yard range. Anyone that promotes such shooting at living targets is both unethical and counterfeit.

Yes, it’s possible to make such shots — target shooters do it all the time. But it takes an intimate knowledge of the rifle’s trajectory, absolute certainty of the distance, an exact knowledge of the wind speed and direction (both at the shooter’s location and at the target), a rock-solid rest and a target standing perfectly still.

I have been hunting around the world for more than 50 years, and these ideal conditions are rarely, if ever, present in the real world. It’s pure theory, usually proposed by writers who do most of their hunting on a keyboard. For the average hunter, equipped with a conventional rifle, ammo and scope setup, under real field conditions, 300 to 400 yards is the practical outside limit for shooting at any animal — and even there, making the shot takes a lot of pre-hunt preparation.

The Long Poke

First, if an animal is 400 yards away and moving, you don’t have a shot. If the animal is slowly grazing, or bedded, chances are you can get closer. That is always the first option any hunter should explore. However, there are times when the terrain, wind or lack of cover simply won’t allow you to get any closer, and a long shot is your only option. In such cases, here’s how to get it done.

1. You must prepare in advance. Preparation for a possible long shot begins at home. You must have an accurate rifle and load combination. If your setup won’t consistently group, hot or cold, in 1 1/2 inches or better at 100 yards, don’t even think about shooting at 400.

2. You must zero for the long and short shot. Most of my big-game rifles are set to strike 2 ½ inches high at 100 yards. By sighting them in that way, I create a maximum point-blank range. That means from the muzzle out to 300 yards and beyond (depending on load) the bullet will rise 3 inches and drop 3 inches, staying within a 6-inch kill zone. That results in a point-and-shoot distance with no holdover that will work in nearly all hunting conditions. Check any ballistics table or loading manual to find out what your load’s maximum point-blank range is, and how to zero to get it.

If you anticipate longer shots, a practical alternative is a scope reticle with built-in hash marks for different distances or an adjustable turret, like Nikon’s BDC reticle. The key to using these is an absolute confidence in the distance, and no matter how good at judging distance you think you are, no one is accurate enough past 200 yards.

3. You must use a laser rangefinder. Today, rangefinders that read out to 1,000 yards are cheap, light and rugged. They are a must-have for anyone attempting a long shot.

4. You must practice shooting at long distances under field conditions, not sitting comfortably on a solid range bench. Whether you sit on your haunches and use crossed shooting sticks or choose to lay prone with your rifle on your pack, the place to learn and perfect your technique is at the range, not in the field. Only such practice will clearly show you what you can expect of yourself and your rifle in the field.

5. You must have a steady trigger finger. The biggest cause of misses at long range (assuming you have a proper setup) is the simple jerked trigger. Hold those crosshairs where they need to be and gently increase pressure on the trigger. This has been preached a thousand times before, but squeeze the trigger so that the rifle firing is a surprise to you. Keep your mind focused on holding the crosshair where it needs to be and squeeze.

6. You must have a good rest. With a standing target that far away, you have plenty of time to establish a proper rest. Avoid very hard surfaces like a rock or tree branch. Rock-solid contact on the rifle can easily change the barrel harmonics and change the point of impact. Never rest on the barrel. Place your pack, your hat, or even a pair of gloves between the rifle forend and the hard surface to rest your rifle on.

7. You must know when not to shoot. If there’s a howling wind or blowing rain or snow, or if your target is behind some bullet-deflecting brush or you can’t set up right, don’t shoot. There are simply conditions when taking a long poke just shouldn’t be attempted. No hunter worth his boots should ever send one out there just to “see what happens.” Have the discipline, self-control and respect for the animal to know when to pass up the shot.

Yes, you can train yourself to make long shots, but it takes preparation and discipline to make them pay off, and don’t fall for the 1,000-yard hype.