Best Long Range Hunting Cartridges | carnivorous hunting

Hunters often define “long range” as about 500 yards. MeatEater’s Janis Putelis told me that he doesn’t pull the trigger on anything beyond 400 yards, and new hunters should probably stay within 300 yards. But if he’s practiced a lot, he’s shooting from a solid rest, and he’s not shaking from deer fever, these five rounds are more than capable of taking down an animal even past the 500-yard mark.

We stay away from wild shells, very large shells, and ICBMs because we used the Caliber Battle criteria to make this list. Ballistics are important, but so is comfort, ammo cost and availability, and versatility. A .50 BMG might be “better” at long range, but you’re not dragging one up the tree stand on your next whitetail hunt. All of these cartridges will get the job done remotely without forcing you to take out a second mortgage or pick up a Humvee.

Long Range Cartridges We Use

*All measurements at 500 yards

6.5 Creedmoor

Haters may hate, but everyone knew this cartridge was on the list. The MeatEater crew has shot too many moose and whitetails with the 6.5 Creedmoor to ignore. The Creedmoor made its way into the long-range shooting circuit thanks to its high-BC, low-recoil bullets. It didn’t take long for hunters to jump on the bandwagon and they soon discovered that it walks that fine line between power and comfort. New hunters will also appreciate the wide selection of reasonably priced cartridges available from all the major manufacturers.

our choice: 120 Grain Trophy Copper 6.5 Creedmoor
Velocity at 500 yards: 2015fps
Energy at 500 yards: 1080 ft-lbs.
Drop at 500 yards (200 yards zero): 41.6 inches
Recoil: ~13 ft-lbs.

6.5 People’s Republic of China

The 6.5 PRC is even newer than the 6.5 Creedmoor, but has already jumped from the competition bench to the deer blind. The PRC makes modest improvements to the Creedmoor’s speed and power, but what really appeals to long-range buffs is its factory turn rate. Cartridge designers specify barrel twist rates when they submit their designs to SAAMI, and the PRC comes with a 1:8 twist, one of the fastest available. This allows factory guns chambered in the PRC to stabilize the long, heavy, high-BC bullets favored by long-range hunters. You’ll notice from the list below that while the PRC isn’t always the fastest or most powerful, it rivals the .280 AI and the .300 Win. magazine in the bullet drop category.

our choice: 120 Grain Trophy Copper 6.5
Velocity at 500 yards: 2158fps
Energy at 500 yards: 1241 ft-lbs.
Drop at 500 yards (200 yards zero): 36.5 inches
Recoil: ~17 ft-lbs.

.270 Winchester

The .270 Winchester doesn’t get enough love these days. Between 6.5 fanboys and .30-caliber Fudds, outdoor writers seem to have forgotten about Winchester’s legendary 97-year-old cartridge. It’s a shame to cry. It’s a great long-range option that packs more heat than a Creedmoor 6.5, drops less at 500 yards, and only hits with about 20% more recoil. Plus, it’s one of the least expensive options on our list.

our choice: 130 grain Copper 270 Winchester Trophy
Velocity at 500 yards: 2100fps
Energy at 500 yards: 1273 ft-lbs.
Drop at 500 yards (200 yards zero): 37.3 inches
Recoil: ~16 ft-lbs.

.280 Ackley Enhanced

The .280 Ackley Improved started out as a wild card and never enjoyed the popularity of the other cartridges listed here. But the .280 AI has been around since the 1950s and has earned a deserved reputation for stopping animals at ranges of over 500 yards. Ammo is limited and somewhat expensive, but not impossible to find. You can think of it as an upgraded 6.5 Creedmoor – it also fires a 140-grain bullet, but fires it about 300fps faster.

our choice: 140-Grain Trophy Copper 280 Ackley Improved
Velocity at 500 yards: 2165fps
Energy at 500 yards: 1457 ft-lbs.
Drop at 500 yards (200 yards zero): 36 inches
Recoil: ~16 ft-lbs.

7mm Remington Magnum

In his famous book, “Cartridges of the World”, Frank C. Barnes describes the 7mm Rem. magazine as a “good long range big game cartridge”. We should all aspire to such high praise. It fires the heaviest bullet on our list so far, but it launches that 150-grain pill just as quickly. The only drawback? Recoil. At 500 yards, it hits 5% harder than the .280 AI, but produces about 20% more recoil off the shooter’s shoulder.

our choice: Trophy of 150 Grains Copper 7mm Rem. Magnum
Velocity at 500 yards: 2139fps
Energy at 500 yards: 1524 ft-lbs.
Drop at 500 yards (200 yards zero): 37.1 inches
Recoil: ~19 ft-lbs.

.300 Winchester Magnum

The grandfather of long-range hunting cartridges, the .300 Win. magazine is another favorite among the MeatEater team. It hits with more recoil than the other options on this list, but it delivers on the business end of the gun. He won’t turn you into Chris Kyle, but there’s a reason the famous American sniper chose the .300 Win. magazine At 500 yards, it travels the fastest and hits the hardest of all the options on this list. That doesn’t mean it’s the “best”. Many hunters try the .300 Win. magazine and opt for something with less kick. But if you can control it, the .300 Win. magazine can take large animals that look small from where you shoot them.

our choice: 165-Grain Trophy Copper .300 Win. magazine
Velocity at 500 yards: 2167fps
Energy at 500 yards: 1721 ft-lbs.
Drop at 500 yards (200 yards zero): 36.3 inches
Recoil: ~26 ft-lbs.

A Note on “Inherent Accuracy”

Some cartridges develop a reputation for accuracy, but that often has more to do with the rifles being used than the attributes of the cartridges themselves.

It is true that straight wall cartridges that have a long narrow column of powder tend to be less accurate because that column does not always fire consistently. But pretty much any hand-loaded or match-grade bottleneck cartridge shot from a quality barrel can be super accurate if you’re shooting 100-yard groups.

However, at long ranges, the speed and shape of a bullet (ie its ballistic coefficient) make some cartridges more “accurate” than others. A fast bullet going through the wind will produce more consistent groups at long range than a slow bullet being blown by the breeze. What’s more, some cartridges are designed to use a faster standard barrel twist rate, which allows those barrels to stabilize long, heavy, high-BC bullets. Those cartridges will also be more accurate at longer ranges.

The cartridges on this list have bullets with similar weights, BC and velocities. That is why accuracy was not a criterion. With a good gun, any of these cartridges can make consistent shots at whatever distance you consider “long range.”

last shot

Hunters don’t necessarily have to aspire to be “long-range hunters.” The best hunters are those who can get close to an animal, and the skills required to do so will serve you better than any high-velocity, low-drag rifle setup.

But some hunts don’t allow such close range shots. Hilly or open terrain can keep target animals out of arm’s reach. In the final hours of a multi-day hunt, a 400-yard shot might be all you can get. If you find yourself in that situation, your cartridge had better be up to the task, and these five options will work well on everything from pronghorn to black bear.