Ever walk past a beehive and decide to kick it for no reason? It can stir up a lot of trouble in a hurry. It’s a lot like starting a post about what the best long-range caliber is. Opinions will come flying in from every direction, however, unlike bee stings, opinions are a good thing. Let’s get the one thing we can all agree on out of the way right now. The best long-range caliber is the one you’re comfortable shooting with, from a gun that you’re comfortable shooting, at a range you’re comfortable shooting at. Now that we have that little bit of truth out of the way, we can talk about some of my favorite long-range calibers, including some of the rifles, ammunition and optics to go along with them.
What do I mean by long range?
That’s the truly loaded part of this equation. Just about everybody has a different opinion of what long range is, and then there is the usage. Let’s stick with hunting, and for the sake of argument, we’ll stick to deer hunting, as it is the most popular form of big-game hunting in North America. It gets trickier too, when we discuss locales. For a Midwest whitetail hunter, 200 yards is around the maximum for a clean shot. Folks out west often think of 200 yards as a chip shot. For the sake of this discussion, we’re going to stick to 300-1,000 yards, with a 200-yard zero, as considered “long range.” I have a buddy in South Dakota right now who would ask if we’re just talking about .22s if we’re under 1,000 yards. All kidding aside, let’s stick to a more reasonable meaning of long range, shall we?
7mm Rem Mag
Shocked that I’m not starting out with one of the current crop of sexy calibers? Well, don’t be. The 7 Mag is a magnificent caliber. It was introduced commercially in 1962, along with the Remington 700 rifle, and is a belted magnum along the same lines as the legendary 375 H&H. Since its introduction, the 7 Mag has remained a popular caliber, especially with western hunters looking for a flat-shooting rifle with decent recoil. My personal 7 Mag is a Winchester Model 70 topped with a Trijicon AccuPoint 2.5-10×56 scope with a simple amber post reticle. Nothing fancy here. No multi-crosshair reticle, or any of that stuff. Just a simple, game killing machine that I’ve put a ton of bullets through, and filled my freezer multiple times over. I have tweaked it a few times here and there, and one of these days, it’ll go to Mag-Na-Port to have Ken Kelly do his magic.
There are a lot of factory loaded bullet options for the 7 Mag. Most start out with a 140-grain bullet with weights pushing 170 grains or so. There are lots of options for bullet shapes and construction, too. Commonly a boat-tail bullet design is preferred to reduce drag. On average, you can expect 3,000 +/- fps at the muzzle and close to that in ft.lbs of energy from a 155-grain bullet. At 500 yards, velocity drops down to around 2,200-2,300fps and energy down to 1,700-1,800 ft.lbs. Trajectory of the bullet drops around 35 inches. This is why practice at these ranges is critical. I have shot out to 1,000 yards on static targets, and taken game in the 400-500 yard range. Comfort in the caliber and rifle makes the 7 Mag my personal pick for best long-range caliber for hunting.
.300 Win Mag
The popular 300 Mag was Winchester’s answer to the 7 Mag, with a bigger bullet. It isn’t quite as fast, and the drop is a little more, but the energy at longer distances, due to the bullet weights in the 165-220 gr. range make for some serious “Oomph” on impact. While the popular .308 has a following in the long-range crowd, the performance of the .300 Mag far surpasses it, and has made the Mag option more popular with military and law enforcement. It is an excellent caliber for deer, elk and other big game.
Velocity for the 300 starts out around 2,900 fps at the muzzle and dropping off to between 2,100 and 2,300 at 500 yards. Energy averages 3,550 ft lbs at the muzzle and is still pushing well over 2,000 at that 500 mark. Drop is around 36 inches at 500, too. You can see by these average stats why the .300 Win Mag is widely considered one of the best range calibers for hunting. My experiences with .300 mags have always been pleasant. The first one I spent much time with was a Weatherby Vanguard topped with Leupold optics. That rifle was fun to shoot with very manageable recoil. My uncle uses his in Alaska as his go-to for caribou where distances can often be 500-700 yards.
Talk about a divisive caliber. Some say it’s too “fad-ish,” while others swear allegiance to it and are mad because I didn’t proclaim on high that it is the best of the best. It’s pretty safe to say that the popularity of the 6.5 has exploded as of late, with virtually every rifle manufacturer producing a 6.5 of some form or another. Let me simply state that I have shot several 6.5s at distances out past 700 yards and have been impressed with the round. My favorite rifle – so far – is the Smith & Wesson M&P 10 Performance Center, but there are so many nice rifles in this caliber, Like Mossberg’s Patriot, now that you can’t go wrong. We were hog hunting with the Smith topped with a Vortex scope in Texas, as well as banging gongs at 500+ and having a blast doing it.
Velocity for the 6.5 starts out around 2,700 fps at the muzzle and drops to in the 2,100 range at 500 yards. Energy is 2,300-2,400 ft lb range, dropping to 1,300 or so. A 140-grain bullet will drop roughly 44 inches, too. These kinds of numbers have done a few things, too. The military is pushing to adapt the 6.5 to more applications, which can only help advance the caliber. It has also helped spawn a range of development including the 6mm Creedmoor and the 6mm ARC, both seem pretty impressive.
Is this the end-all, be-all list of best long range calibers? Not by any means. These are simply three popular calibers that you can find just about every rifle offered in, and a wide-range of ammunition being loaded for. What caliber do you feel is best for long-range hunting or shooting?