LJ Bonham is a semi-subsistence hunter, hunting magazine editor, and firearms enthusiast who lives in the Rocky Mountains.
Let’s get one thing straight, most game animals are taken at two hundred yards or less. Shooting—and hitting—at longer ranges is the exception, not the rule.
So why is long range hunting now all the rage? Two major factors influenced this latest trend—some say fad. Well publicized exploits by American and allied snipers in Iraq and Afghanistan have rekindled the public’s interest in long range, precision shooting combined with hunters’ traditional frustration at animals which are often untouchable across mountain canyons or wide open expanses. Taken at face value, long range hunting seems no less ethical than stalking in close, but is it?
An ethical hunter dispatches game with as little suffering as possible and recovers any animal shot. A wounded animal who wanders off to die a lingering death far from the shooting site is the worst possible outcome. In short, a humane kill requires a well-placed shot coupled with enough bullet energy to inflict immediate, decisive trauma. To accomplish this, hunters must have two things.
1. Shooting Skill
It is not enough to have average hunting marksmanship—placing a bullet into an eight-inch diameter circle (the vital area on most big game) at two hundred yards or less with a ninety percent or better success rate. An ethical long range hunter must do this at five hundred or even a thousand yards.
The shooter must estimate range to within twenty-five yards, and wind speed within less than five miles per hour. Failure to do so results in either a miss or a maimed animal.
Long range shooters must control their body movements. They must squeeze the trigger in the pause between breaths and heart beats with flawless, repeatable smoothness. This self-discipline is difficult enough on the target range, but more so in the field when the year’s meat supply is on the line. A long range hunter must have skill and training similar to military snipers, and they must practice, practice, practice.
2. Proper Equipment
Ethical long range hunting requires specialized equipment: purpose built rifles, range finders, optics, weather meters, ballistic calculators, and ammunition.
The average, mass produced sporter rifle is not up to this task. They are too light to maintain steady aim in heavy winds, their barrels flex too much, and the stocks are often not bedded correctly.
A good long range rifle has a heavy, stiff barrel, and a substantial, well fitted stock. It must shoot to one minute of angle (MOA) or less. A 1 MOA rifle will place a shot within an eight-inch circle at 800 yards, and ten inches at one thousand. Most sporter rifles are lucky to hold 2 MOA; their effective range is thus limited to 400 yards, at best.
Just as important is what the rifle rests upon. It must be rock solid; at least a bipod with a sand bag under the stock’s butt, or even a full shooting bench.
A long range hunter must have a laser range finder which is reliable to one thousand yards or more. Without this data, accurate long range shooting is impossible.
Long range rifle scopes are very different than scopes intended for ordinary hunting. The long range hunter must also have a powerful spotting scope. Without it, wind estimation is difficult. It also helps to have a second trained person operate the spotting scope to estimate wind, find targets, and observe where shots impact.
Weather Meters and Ballistic Calculators:
A long range hunter needs a hand held weather station which measures temperature, humidity, and wind speed. This data is plugged into an electronic ballistic calculator which tells the shooter how to adjust their long range rifle scope for ambient conditions. A wind meter does not replace the spotting scope since it only measures the wind at the shooter’s position and not down range at the target.
Low priced, generic ammunition is not made for long range hunting. Production ammunition often has wide velocity variances and uses bullets with low ballistic coefficients. Long range hunters must load their own ammunition to exact tolerances with specialized, high ballistic coefficient bullets, and customize the load to their specific rifle.
Caliber selection is critical. As a general rule, a bullet should impart at least 1200 foot pounds of energy on deer sized game and 1500 on elk or larger animals for humane kills. A long range hunter needs a cartridge which will provide that energy, or more, at the intended shooting distance. This means a powerful magnum. Here are some which, when coupled with proper bullets, are suitable choices.
- 7mm STW
- 28 Nosler
- .300 Winchester Magnum
- .300 Weatherby Magnum
- .30-378 Weatherby Magnum
- .340 Weatherby Magnum
- .338 Lapua
- .338-378 Weatherby Magnum
Is long range hunting ethical? Yes, under the right circumstances. The hunter must have the proper training, skills, and equipment; put in the necessary practice time at the range; and know and abide by their personal and technical limitations. Making the shot is not enough. The hunter must recover the animal no matter the terrain or distance involved. Anything less is an insult to the life taken and to hunting itself.
Note all the equipment and that the first shot hits too far back. Luckily, the hunter sends an immediate follow up shot. Most wounded antelope run for miles.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2016 LJ Bonham