The topic of long-range hunting gets a lot of attention around campfires, at gun store counters and in the sporting press. One problem is that long-range hunting has never been definitively defined. There is of course a reason for this. If you’re shooting a .22 LR, long range means something completely different than if you’re shooting a .300 Winchester Magnum.
My definition of long-range hunting has long been shooting at any range where you have to hold off the animal. This applies very well until you bring field adjustable turrets into the equation. Target turrets or ballistic dials allow you to hold dead on at almost any range. So, this definition might need the addendum of, “with a maximum point blank or 1/3 second zero.”
My son’s African Rifle – a Mossberg Patriot in .308 Winchester loaded with 165 grain Nosler Trophy Grade AccuBonds – has a 1/3 second zero or maximum point blank range of about 270 yards. Zeroed at 230 yards the bullet will never rise or fall more than three inches above or below the line of sight. Given this definition, long-range for him and his rifle would be anything beyond 270 yards.
Another way to define long-range is with velocity. Big game bullets are designed to expand because bullets that expand damage more tissue and put animals down faster. If you’re shooting at an animal so far away the bullet has slowed below the velocity needed to generate expansion, you could say that’s a long damn ways, at least for the load you are using. With the .308 Winchester this distance will vary depending on the bullet you are shooting and its muzzle velocity. For example, the Nosler AccuBond needs to impact at about 1800 fps to provide meaningful expansion. Using this definition, long-range with my son’s rifle, firing a 165 Nosler Trophy Grade AccuBond, would be just on the other side of 500 yards.
You might also argue that due to the potential for animal movement, if it takes the bullet more than a half-second to get there, you’re shooting at long-range. This makes sense too; in a half second an animal could move more than a foot and cause a miss or a wounding shot. With my son’s rifle his half-second distance would be 400 yards.
Yet another method is to use the natural shot dispersion of your rifle / cartridge combination. If your rifle, like my son’s, averages 1.3 inches for five, five-shot groups at 100 yards, then the distance were this group size exceeds a kill zone could be considered long-range or at least high risk. Bat’s Mossberg theoretically has the potential to group outside the kill zone at any distance beyond 461 yards.
All of this technical number crushing is interesting but what about the person behind the rifle? No matter what all the numbers tell you, if you cannot shoot well, they mean nothing. Brag about ballistics, scopes, triggers and high dollar barrels all you like, the weak link is the person the trigger finger is attached to. Not only do they need the skill to make the shot, they need the honesty to pass on shots they know are outside their ability.
The good news is that with practice, skill and good equipment can come together and allow a hunter to connect. A few weeks ago my son and I were watching several kudu bulls and some cows on a mountain. They were about 900 yards away and after an hour or two looking through one of Leupold’s new GR 12×40 spotting scopes we picked one out. The problem was the kudu had already seen us and we needed a plan.
Our PH, Geoffrey Wayland of Fort Richmond Safaris, finally rationalized a tactical approach. He and Bat would sit on the tailgate of the truck and I would drive up to the wood line, which was about 600 yards from the kudu. Once there, they would slip off and stealth into the trees at the base of the mountain as I drove away. Bat and I discussed the situation and concluded that with a good rest, 450 yards was his limit. I also reminded him to set the CDS dial on his Leupold scope as soon Geoffrey gave him the range.
Hey, I’ve watched this kid shoot since he was four. I knew what he was capable of. What I did not know was what he was capable of when under the intense pressure of a trophy kudu.
I wheeled the Toyota truck like a pro, even with the steering wheel on the wrong side, while shifting gears with my left hand. (In the end I would get no credit for it.) The boys bailed out and I pulled about a mile away, stopping so I could see the bull through a gap in the trees. I waited what seemed like an eternity and then saw the kudu spook and begin to move up hill. The biggest bull stopped under a tree, I held my breath and began to count; 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 – time was running out – 6, 7… He hit the ground, I heard the shot, and then I heard the impact.
I jumped in the truck, grinded a few gears, and rushed to the base of the mountain. Bum knee and all, I shot up the rock slope wanting to be there when Bat arrived. Bat and Geoffrey had returned to the truck so, I beat them to the bull by a few minutes. Long enough to get the dust and what not out of my eyes before they arrived.
It was not just a shot, it was a hunt. A hunt that, like all hunts, is ultimately all about the shot; finding it, getting it, taking it and making it. It was a 456-yard journey for the bullet that lasted for about 6/10ths of a second. It occurred in just a blink of an eye. And, that brings us to the moral of this story, which has nothing to do with long-range hunting. It’s about how fast your kids grow up. If you blink you’ll miss it.
What is the definition of long-range hunting, Anymore, I have no freaking idea! But, when your 15-year-old son shoots a trophy kudu, 456 yards is just a few quick steps, even if they are all up hill.