Hunting distances- how far is too far?

There is a big difference between “knowing” you can make a shot and “thinking” you can make a shot. When you know, it happens automatically and there is little, if any, doubt. When you think you can make a shot, the icy fingers of doubt are present and that is when something can go just wrong enough to make for disappointment.

To learn and get better, we need to strive to improve and push our own limits. Finding that balance is tough. I think if NA hunters had to pay $5k on a wounded elk and be done… they would not be inclined to take long shots.
 
There is a big difference between “knowing” you can make a shot and “thinking” you can make a shot. When you know, it happens automatically and there is little, if any, doubt. When you think you can make a shot, the icy fingers of doubt are present and that is when something can go just wrong enough to make for disappointment.

To learn and get better, we need to strive to improve and push our own limits. Finding that balance is tough. I think if NA hunters had to pay $5k on a wounded elk and be done… they would not be inclined to take long shots.

I think a lot of hunters pay that t9 go elk hunting. By the time you purchase an out of state license, tag, travel, gear, food, vacation time, and the laundry list of other things I'm sure I'm forgetting. It adds up fast, especially if it is someone's first time. That is not an excuse to wound an animal, it should be an excuse to get out and shoot more. Know you equipment, get in shape, the things that will help make you successful.
 
Many points that concern long range shooting on game have already been quoted.

It must be assumed that the shooter is a practiced one, even at longer distances and with various weapons. Nevertheless, external ballistics and terminal ballistics will be limiting factors for such long-range shots at game. Above all, the rifle, cartridge and bullet will play a role, but other factors must also be taken into account such as initially mentioned the shooting positions, but also whether you are shooting uphill or downhill, the wind, and one factor that was not mentioned, the altitude above sea level.

This discussion has often taken place on this forum as well as on others and in various languages. How far is too far could never be clearly defined. In the past, 500 yards was considered the magic limit, especially in North American hunting literature. In Europe that was never a topic. If you look at the external ballistics of a bullet, no matter which cartridge is used, and take into account the classic Maximum Point Blank Range technique for the shot placement, this distance of 500 yards is the absolute limit. You can certainly extend this distance with the help of the modern scopes with turrets, but the choice of the cartridge will play an increasingly important role.

Considering all these factors, and despite the best shooters, will the long range shooting on game remain an uncertain action that should only be used in exceptional situations. However, this still presupposes that, depending on which hunt you carry out on which terrain, such shots have to be trained. Unfortunately, all situations that can occur by long range shooting on game, cannot be trained so that we end up back at the first statement of this post that what works perfectly on the shooting range is far from being practicable in practice. The topic will remain a controversial topic.

As for me, I have shot up to about 400m at game like Ibex and Elk with the cartridges 300 RUM, 340 WBY-Magnum, 338 Lapua Magnum and 9,3x64, and with bullets like the 180gr Scirocco, 250gr SPBT GK from Sierra and 19g TUG from RWS. I have had the worst experience in term of penetration with the 180gr Scirocco bullet of the cartridge 300 RUM on an Elk at about 390m. In this case we are on the subject of terminal ballistic at long range shooting on game.
 
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There are a few things to bear in mind when we talk about distances and hunting. The first - well, and example. My son arrived for his first hunting trip in Africa - a college graduation present - and told me he could hit a 6" gong at 1000 yards (he'd been to SAAM school). I told him that was great, but gongs are flat and animals aren't. He'd have to calculate angles when he was shooting animals - something not important at the range. Know where the vitals are and where to place the shot to hit them. Not as easy as it sounds. Secondly, animals also move, while gongs tend to stay pretty still. You have all the time in the world to line up that gong, and maybe a few seconds to line up the animal. You might have longer, but you can't count on it.

The other thing is a matter of personal values. To me, the best part of hunting - real hunting - is getting as close as I can to the target. Sometimes that's impossible (a mountain nyala 390 yards across a valley), but most of the time, a little work and you are amply rewarded. I like to keep my shots to less than 100 yards. As much as I try not to be judgmental, by the time you get out more than, say, 300 yards, absent exceptional circumstances, the more you're target shooting and not hunting. And if you're target shooting, I don't think you should be doing it on live animals. Just my opinion.

I know many will disagree with me, and that's their prerogative. Just as it's mine to hold that view!
I agree 100%. This very topic was the subject of a long and at times heated discussion between multiple hunters in Limpopo during a June hunt.
I'm not sure what the distance is, but we all know that at some point the verb "hunting" no longer applies and "shooting" does.
 
It’s been mentioned but with ballistic programs and target turrets on rifles, elevation at long distance isnt hard to deal with. Wind at longer distances is the real wild card. Ballistic programs give you a hold off for a specified wind speed but judging wind speed is more art and experience than science. Is the wind the same as your target as it is where you are at, is there some terrain feature in mountains or canyon country that will impact your bullets flight. Lots of variables to consider before pulling the trigger.
 
I usually shoot between 150-350 meters, sometimes less and sometimes more, but I don't like to shoot more than 500 meter and only like last option...
But here now in Spain many ibex and chamois hunters are starting to shoot very far... Like 500-1000 meters, this is due new intelligent scopes, ballistic turrets, best ammo... But for many os us shoot over 300-400 is not hunt is more like práctica shoot on targets.
 
I agree 100%. This very topic was the subject of a long and at times heated discussion between multiple hunters in Limpopo during a June hunt.
I'm not sure what the distance is, but we all know that at some point the verb "hunting" no longer applies and "shooting" does.

Sure, but that can be also discussed.

It all depends on where and what you hunt. Africa is not a good example of what long range shooting at game is concerned. Different when you have to hunt elk, Ibex or sheep in Central Asia for example. If you are aiming for such a hunt, you have to adapt to long range shooting. Alternatively, one does not such hunts, but saying upfront I will never do it is not exactly ideal. I also prefer to shoot at 50 yards at a buffalo than at 500 yards at an Ibex, but if I has planned the latter hunt, I knew that the case can occur, what also happened several times.

As I have already written, this type of hunting remains hazardous, and to say that one is always 100% successful would be a lie. I had to follow an Elk under extremely difficult conditions in the high mountains of the Altai, and did not find it until the next morning.

The elk and in the middle the one and only local hunter who was willing to share with me the hardness of the 6 hours search at 3000m above sea level. I can understand why some of us dislike long range shooting at game.
Scan 1.jpeg


My joy was very moderate, but these are the risks of long range shooting.
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Fortunately one is often successful at long range. An elk shot around 350 yards at nightfall. One shot kill, on the place.
Scan 14.jpeg


Ibex at around 300 yards. Everything for example, I have more, but only to prove that, despite some statements, long range shooting at game, in reasonable acceptable distances, can count as part of hunting.
Scan 11.jpeg
 
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Sure, but that can be also discussed.

It all depends on where and what you hunt. Africa is not a good example of what long range shooting at game is concerned. Different when you have to hunt elk, Ibex or sheep in Central Asia for example. If you are aiming for such a hunt, you have to adapt to long range shooting. Alternatively, one does not such hunts, but saying upfront I will never do it is not exactly ideal. I also prefer to shoot at 50 yards at a buffalo than at 500 yards at an Ibex, but if I has planned the latter hunt, I knew that the case can occur, what also happened several times.

As I have already written, this type of hunting remains hazardous, and to say that one is always 100% successful would be a lie. I had to follow an Elk under extremely difficult conditions in the high mountains of the Altai, and did not find it until the next morning.

The elk and in the middle the one and only local hunter who was willing to share with me the hardness of the 6 hours search at 3000m above sea level. I can understand why some of us dislike long range shooting at game.
View attachment 547731

My joy was very moderate, but these are the risks of long range shooting.
View attachment 547744

Fortunately one is often successful at long range. An elk shot around 350 yards at nightfall. One shot kill, on the place.
View attachment 547747

Ibex at around 300 yards. Everything for example, I have more, but only to prove that, despite some statements, long range shooting at game, in reasonable acceptable distances, can count as part of hunting.
View attachment 547748
Was the six hour search after the shot? I don't classify that as hunting. It's a salvage operation. But good on you for sticking with it.
 
Was the six hour search after the shot? I don't classify that as hunting. It's a salvage operation. But good on you for sticking with it.

Salvage operation ?

I know that in many countries it is not part of the habit to track and search for wounded game. In our countries already, and is even required by law. It's also part of the hunt, and unfortunately does not only occur with long range shooting at game.
 
Was the six hour search after the shot? I don't classify that as hunting. It's a salvage operation. But good on you for sticking with it.

I'm not really sure what you are trying to bring to the table with this comment?

Things like this happen, it is 100% part of hunting. No one that I know of wants this to happen. It does and @grand veneur was sharing experiences of what can happen when hunting. He is being honest with some of the pitfalls.
 
Well said! I like to LOOK at animals a long ranges... but for my shooting, I like to be as close as I can possibly be. It really sucks to lose a game animal. Anyone who has never done it and claims they have a perfect shot record because they're "such a good shot" hasn't been hunting very long. That's also why I try to never take headshots on large game.
I have a nearly perfect hunting record. I wounded a pig in New Zealand once and I didn’t recover a roe deer for two days, but I’d say I’ve taken around 200 game animals on several continents. I wouldn’t say it’s because I’m such a good shot. I’ve made some bad shots and missed more than a few. I’d say it’s because I’m willing to reload and shoot again. Nothing bothers me more than watching hunters admire their shot when they can shoot again. I also watch what shots I’ll take. Having snow on ground, having a tracking dog, having good opportunity for a second or third shot, asking PH to back your shot, all play into what shots I’ll take and which I won’t. Wounding an animal is bound to happen at some point, but I think it’s used as an excuse to justify taking a poor shot too often. Nothing bothers me more than hearing repeated shots at last light and finding dead gut shot deer on my land after season has ended in Pennsylvania. I know they just shot at a glimpse of a deer or buck running at end of a long field.
 
I’ve always been a Leupold fan. However I’m really against their CDS system essentially being the only option now. Reading this I really can’t understand the popularity. No one seems to really want to take shots that require a ballistic dial. I can’t see the need except in a few circumstances like shooting across valleys in mountains.
 
"I get really concerned with time of flight on the really long range stuff (800+). At extreme ranges the target can walk out of the shot while the bullet is in flight. The result can be something none of us want no matter how good the shot is."

It doesn't have to be really long range. I once took a shot at about 300 yards at an oryx. I was in the prone position (only time ever in Africa) and my hold was rock steady. The animal was angling away from me to my right, so I aimed behind his right shoulder, expecting to hit the left shoulder.

I squeezed off the shot and turned to my PH, who was lying right next to me and glassing the animal. He looked at me and shook his head. "He took a step forward just as your shot broke. You hit him at least a foot too far back."

An extended chase, luckily in the Land Cruiser, since we were in a desert-like area, was what it took to finish him off. You can see the point of entry from the photo.
pix 038 (2).jpg
 
I'm not really sure what you are trying to bring to the table with this comment?

Things like this happen, it is 100% part of hunting. No one that I know of wants this to happen. It does and @grand veneur was sharing experiences of what can happen when hunting. He is being honest with some of the pitfalls.
No criticism intended. The "hunt" for me ends when I have hit the animal. Up to that point it was a matter of pursuit on relatively equal terms. After the animal is hit and has to be finished, it's no longer hunting. But nonetheless it is an essential component of the task. Perhaps even more noble than hunting if done correctly and, as in this case, with due diligence. Indeed, I would say his diligence was extraordinary. But it's still just cleaning up, not really hunting in the strictest sense.
 
All field positions are not created equal, some are unsupported (Off-hand, kneeling, prone), some are supported (Shooting Sticks, Tree branches, rocks, backpacks), and some are stabilized (Front Bipod and rear sandbag from the prone position) and they all provide the shooter with different effective ranges. The other thing to consider is your level of physical fitness and what you were doing just before the shot. Running 100 yards up a slight incline to get a shot at a 60” Kudo will affect how far you can shoot effectively. If that same 60” Kudo walks into your shooting lane at 400 yards and your laying prone behind a sandbagged 7mm Magnum, it’s a different story entirely.

On my first safari I had to run after a wounded Zebra thru the bush for about 2K, when I finally got into position to shoot, I thought my rifle was mounted on a pogo stick operated by a 10-year-old on a caffeine high. I’m telling you the truth when I say that 30 yard shot was a long, long shot.
 
I have shot a couple of Mouflons at about 300 meters, as I had no other choice, but I prefer to keep my shots within 100/150 meters.
 
I am always reluctant to post on this issue. I have a great deal of respect for riflemen who can hit a small steel target at 800 or 1000 yards. I hope they volunteer as snipers in our military. However, getting in place to make such a long shot on African game, or even a sheep or elk in North America, doesn't impress me. I could stalk to that distance--but not sure I could make that shot. I'm more impressed by the hunter and PH who can get his client stalked to 100 yards or less (for buffalo) without the game winding them. It's part of the fair chase and part of the fun of hunting. The rifle and scope already give the hunter a huge advantage. Level the playing field and work up close and outwit the game.
I will hit "post reply" and await the disdain from the long distance crowd.
 
To me this question is totally situationally dependent. In Alabama I am typically hunting with a 9.3x62 or 7x57. 300 is an easy shot with those rigs, 400 is doable if the conditions are right. I use simple German no 4 reticles sighted for 200.

Out west I’m shooting a 6.5 PRC. I am shooting sub 4” groups at 600 with that rig from hunting positions. Unless the wind is ripping, a 600 yard shot in decent light conditions is responsible with that rifle. Cross canyon opportunities can make this shot a reality.

I get really concerned with time of flight on the really long range stuff (800+). At extreme ranges the target can walk out of the shot while the bullet is in flight. The result can be something none of us want no matter how good the shot is.
Your last paragraph is what most long range hunters do not seem to care about. I do still call it hunting, many won’t and that’s fine. As far as long shots on game, you better have a ripping fast bullet or there are too many “what ifs”. Western US hunting is far different than anything else on the planet IMO. The amount of time it could take to re position for a closer shot may take an entire day. I’ve shot steel out to 1450ish on BLM land, but I don’t think I could attempt anything past 600-650, unless the game was sleeping standing up.
 
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I read this statement in Magnum magazine " Remember that shooting small groups from a solid bench-rest position may satisfy you, but it can also give you false confidence in your shooting ability. Your biggest grouping (not the smallest) from a field shooting position at any given distance represents the maximum range at which you should engage an animal. If 200m is the longest range at which you can hit a six-inch target with three consecutive shots, then that is your maximum range for taking body shots on springbuck. For brain shots at the same distance, you must be able to hit a tennis ball-size target consistently"

It got me thinking- I have seen many pics of tiny groups ( I assume benched groups) often with large bores like 416 and 458 Lott. I like the guideline above. He also says in the article- Do not trust ballistic programs and dialing turrets without testing at the distances on a target. What distance can you hit a 6" target with 3 consecutive shots ?

I tend to agree with the statement: "If 200m is the longest range at which you can hit a six-inch target with three consecutive shots (emphasis added), then that is your maximum range for taking body shots on springbuck."

My own practice has been (prior to buying a Blaser R8) 5 series of 5 shots (25 shots total) on a 6" plate at 150 yards) with a quality .22 LR (Winchester 52 with Zeiss glass). Reset the count every time you miss!

You will be surprised how far from sure (definition of "sure": every shot hits every time) is even a 150 yard/meter shot standing on the sticks.

6 inch plate at 150 yd.JPG


With the R8 and its .223 barrel, the Swarovski Z3 with ballistic turret, and the Leica 2000B rangefinder with ballistic program, I have extended the range to 300 yards:

Blaser R8 .223, sticks and 6 inch plate out to 300 yards - compressed.jpg


Tell you what, hitting the 6" plate at 300 yards each and every time, standing on the sticks, is not so easy... I personally get it 7 to 9 times out of 10 on my best days... rarely 10 times... and some days only 5 or 6 times...

Of course, leaning on a boulder or stump, and, of course, going prone (all being "field positions") makes it considerably easier, but not all hunting circumstances provide a convenient rock or tree to lean on, and many times vegetation is too high to get prone...

So it all means that the answer is: it depends...

That day, the answer was below 100 yards...
Standing on the sticks with strong lateral wind, in the fog and snow drizzle, in freezing temperature (a rare occurrence in Africa, but welcome to the Great Karoo in winter!) may make even a 100 yard shot chancy. I saw a guy miss an entire Kudu at about that range one day on top of a mountain. It was not me, but it could have been. It was blowing so hard that you had to brace yourself just to stand still enough to be able to glass, and it was so cold that we were all shivering uncontrollably. After a while I did not even take my rifle out of the bakkie and was happy to just glass along... Never mind shooting!

DSC01077.jpg


This day, the answer was beyond 500 yards... I killed that Kudu at 517 measured yards, with a prone shot, from a rock solid rest (a rock actually, padded with my beanie cap) under the forehand, my left fist under the heel of the stock, the Leica rangefinder ballistic solution clicked on the Zeiss scope, zero wind and ideal weather, and plenty of time.
The hunting part was to get to him in the plain, starting from the top of the mountain, and hunt him hard for hours we did, but when the shot came, it was more like ringing the steel with the MK 13.

Kudu Eastern Cape 2022 - compressed.jpg


Most days, the answer is on this side of 300 yards... This is the value of practicing on 6" plates. Most medium size game animals (deer, impala, and the likes) have a 12" vital area, and most large size animals (elk, kudu, and the likes) have a 18" vital area. You may hit way outside the 6" spot you were aiming at (a technical miss), but it still goes down (a killing shot).............

I personally try to not engage in most hunting scenario at more than 300 yards. I sometimes make an exception, such as the above mentioned Kudu, but this is rare. A specific exceptional animal that we have been after for days, under ideal circumstances, may cause me to be tempted...

As to ballistic programs and dialing turrets... you get what you pay for, and it goes from junk to gem. What is for sure is that both are useless without a rangefinder that also measures barometric pressure (often assimilated to altitude) and measures the angle of the shot too.

500 horizontal yards at sea level easily become 450 ballistic yards at altitude, or even 350 ballistic yards when shooting at altitude and up or down hill, and at these distances you do not miss by inches but by feet if your drop is miscalculated...
So yes, check the program and the dials with your own loads, and never go afield intent on shooting far without a rangefinder that gives you the EHR (Equivalent Horizontal Range), also know as ballistic range.

The bottom line is that with solid field experience, your brain and body know:
  • if the shot feels good, you should consider taking it;
  • if the shot does not feel right, don't shoot;
  • if you do not have enough experience to tell the difference, don't shoot;
  • if your bullet is too light, too slow, too frangible, or too hard, to deliver the killing at the distance you shoot, don't shoot;
  • if your rifle/scope/rangefinder/ammo are not accurate enough to have grouped reliably 6 to 8" at the shooting range at that distance, or if you have not shot with repeatable accuracy at the shooting range at that distance, whichever distance it is, don't shoot.
 
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