Longer-range hunting is becoming increasingly popular, in no small part thanks to the numerous technological advances seen in today’s rifles, ammunition, optics, and apps like Ballistic. But as longer-range hunting has gained adherents, the criticism has come along, too--criticism that these longer-ranges might lead to hunters taking less than ethical shots on game animals.
While there’s no hard and fast definition as to what equals an “ethical shot,” the general consensus is the most humane shots put down animals as cleanly and quickly as possible. So, how do longer-range hunters determine what is, for them individually, an ethical shot?
Know Your Range –Obviously! No one wants to be taking a shot that’s too far and could result in a wounded animal. But with the fine optics we have at our disposal today, it can be easy to confuse what we are able to see with what we can reasonably engage. Translation: just because you can see it, doesn’t mean you should shoot at it.
One of your best friends here is the rangefinder. Use it and often while in the field. If you are in a fixed position, even for a short time, range various landmarks in the distance so if the trophy elk or deer steps out, you already know the yardage involved.
Practice at Distance -- The other part of knowing your range is practicing your shooting at various distances. Sure, you need to get your rifle zeroed and for most longer-distance hunters that is done at 200 yards. A great and necessary start.
Now, though, you need to get a feel for what your target looks like at 400 and 500 yards. This will give you practice, for example, with what your holdover points are or what elevations adjustments you will need to make at various distances. Distance practice also schools you about which magnification settings on your scope work best you for at various distances.
Positions –Bench shooting is a great way to initially prep for longer-distance hunting. Unfortunately, there are darned few shooting benches in the backcountry! If you plan on hunting with shooting sticks or a tripod, use the sticks or tripods when practicing, too. Prone is the steadiest position, so lay out, using your backpack for a rifle rest, and get comfortable sending lead downrange from this position, too.
Get creative -If you have some land available, get out on it and see how well you can shoot using trees, rocks, small hills and fallen logs as supports. Maybe you have access to land but can’t actually shoot here? Pull your bolt, make sure the rifle’s empty, and set up on the logs, hills, etc. This way, you can at least get a sense of what it’s like to brace yourself up against a tree or a big rock, and what kinds of adjustments you can make in-field to stabilize your position.
Know Your Bullet – Big game hunting bullets are made to expand, and that expansion is a key factor in a bullet’s stopping power. Yet, not everyone realizes these bullets require a specific minimum velocity for the expansion to occur.
What velocity? It depends on the bullet. For many traditional hunting rounds, the bullet needs to be traveling at 2,000 feet per second (fps) at the target for the bullet to expand.
The good news is that a number of ammunition manufacturers have designed rounds specifically made to expand at lower velocities, including Barnes and their new VOR-TX LR, Federal’s EDGE TLR, and the Hornady ELD-X line of ammunition. The Hornady ELD-X, for example, still gets very good expansion when the bullet’s velocity is down to 1,800 fps. Barnes rates its VOR-TX EL rounds as effective out to 700 yards, while Federal’s EDGE TLR is rated to provide solid expansion at 200-fps less than other polymer tipped bullets.
Use Ballistic –Once you get your hunting rifle zeroed, make sure you create a Bullet Profile on Ballistic. Not only will the profile tell you the holdover points or adjustments needed at various distances. The Profile will also calculate the projectile’s velocity/fps at various distances. Compare those velocities to your ammunition specs to find out at what ranges you can expect good bullet expansion.
Once you are in the field, make sure you update Ballistic to the current environmental conditions, plus the altitude. Factors like the temperature and relative humidity can and will impact the flight of your bullet, the more so as the distances increase.
Lots of practice, top-flight gear, solid data, and a big assist from Ballistic: that’s a great formula for helping the hunter find his or her ethical, long-distance shot.