To the OP, my longest shot to date is right at 400 yards on a Coues deer. There was a bit of a breeze that day and missed on my first shot. Second shot he dropped in his tracks from a shot in his neck.......unfortunately I was aiming for the heart/lungs. I'd do it again I suppose, but on such smaller targets I prefer 300 yards.
I shoot bench-rest as a hobby,and love it.I also enjoy ringing the 600 meter gong with my .308 varminter.When I hunt,however,I never take a shot longer than 200 meters.If I can't get closer than that,I don't shoot.There are just too many variables involved in a hunting shot that can turn it into a mess.
I like your story! I don't think it's fair to compare Hathcock and Hayha though. Hathcocks hunting was done in very dense terrain where the enemy didn't present themselves too often or for too long....not taking anything away from Hayha's shooting skills. I feel you have to compare apples with apples.
Hathcocks opponents expected to be attacked and shot at every second...from yr story Hayha's opponents didn't!
Hathcock was in very foreign territory whereas Hayha was on home ground.
Makes a lot of difference!
I love sniping type shooting and have indulged more than once.
Now that I think of it, It's one of the attractions of bow hunting.
300 Win Mag mine or yours if Zero'd properly and with my reloads out to 500 yards to easy. The guys here at work laugh and call me sniper Bob when I start talking about making shots over 300 yards (a long shot to them is 200yds in Alabama) it's not hard after 30 years of military training and having to qualify with an M16 out to 300 meters with open sights 500yds with a good rifle and scope is doable of course I don't shoot in heavy cross winds and at 500 yds and beyond mostly at Paper.
Good to see that everyone pretty much agrees that the answer to this question is very much a personal one. While most calibers have their limitations they can pretty much be broken down into catagories as James stated, with limitations attached. The factors in play, at the time of the shot, influence the decision to attempt or not, wind, light, angle, breathing, adrenalin, etc. Proficency comes with practice, limitations come with one being honest with him/her self. Everyone makes this decision once their finger makes contact with the trigger. For most of my hunting (other than DG) I have used my .338 Win Mag for the last 25 yrs. With 180gr Accubonds @ 3100fps and it is extremely accrurate. While I would prefer shots under 200 yds, I practice out to 500yds and would not hesitate to take this kind of shot if there was no other way to get closer and the rest of the conditions were "right". The caliber & bullet are more than adaquate at that range. Hunting in the mountains in the East Cape I made quite a few "across canyon or down into the canyon" shots between 348 yads up to 521yds. All one shot kills, from as small as a Bushbuck to as large as a Cape Eland (The Eland was shot with 210gr Nosler Partition at 348yds with complete penetration). Shooting accurately is 99% mental. Practice and know your rifle and ballistics. Before you squeeze off that shot, have the confidence to KNOW exactly where the bullet will strike. If you can do that, these kind of shots are not only "doable", they are ethical.
There is no easy answer to this. I've shot and screwed up animals at 100 yards and I've taken animals cleanly at over 400 on multiple occasions. In really exceptional conditions I'm comfortable out to about 500 yards, if I have a range-finder. Without a range-finder I'm pretty comfortable out to 300-350. I regularly shoot rockchucks at 400+ and I don't miss too many. They're roughly the size of the vital zone on a deer or antelope-size animal.
If you don't really know your ballistics and REGULARLY (more than once a year!) shoot at long range you have no business shooting beyond 200-250 yards. Ballistic tables don't mean anything. Real-world holes in paper at 300, 400, and 500 yards are incredibly revealing. It all has to do with experience. You simply must shoot a lot to develop good trigger technique. I reloaded and shot over 1000 rounds before my first africa trip. It really, really helped. Setup is key too. I would always prefer a 400 yard shot on a calm day over a bipod in a prone position to a 100 yard shot off the sticks in windy conditions.
If you need to walk up there to see where you hit the critter, you're shooting too far away. When you get to the point that you "know" where the bullets are going, then you can feel confident about stretching it out when required.
Oh, and forget the financial penalty of muffing up a shot in Africa. The sore feet and two days lost while walking down a stupid wounded springbok when you could be looking for a monster kudu are way more painful than the lost tropy fee.