Taking A Poke: Introduction To Long Range Shots

By Cole Daniels

long distance elkAfter four days of hiking, watching, and tracking elk through the Colorado Rockies, it was time to take the shot. These elk were still nearly 400 yards out but they were finally relaxed and contentedly feeding on the next ridge. I verified the range and set the sticks. My .300 Weatherby Mag was meticulously sighted in weeks ago and I was confident in the shot. When the 6 x 6 bull turned broadside, I tapped the trigger. The entire herd of 20+ animals started moving in unison over the ridgeline as they had every other time I approached them on this expedition. The big bull followed the herd but made it just 20 steps before he toppled over. My preparation paid off.

These public land elk were pressured and knew what human scent was all about. This was as close as I was going to get. When hunting in long range situations, hunters need to prepare for shots out to ¼ mile or more. For some hunters five or six hundred yards is acceptable. Personally, I feel comfortable at 400 yards. I wouldn’t pull the trigger on anything much further out. Wounding an animal is never a good idea and at long distances in rugged terrain it is inexcusable. If you are planning a hunt for elk, mule deer, pronghorn, or even bears, it is crucial that you can shoot proficiently at long ranges. Here’s how:

This isn’t a trick or a gimmick or something you can buy at a sporting goods store. It’s work. But it is fun work, so enjoy it. You need to be capable of consistently firing three shot groups of an inch or less at 100 yards. This inch becomes four inches at 400 yards. To become that accurate requires a lot of shooting and a lot of testing different loads to find which one groups best.

Obviously, you need a gun and ammunition combination that can get the job done. Flat, fast cartridges are the rule here, not a recommendation. The .308 and .300 are my favorites for western hunting but there are other good calibers too. The .270 is typically flat and fast but in my opinion a bit smallish for elk and bear. I prefer Hornady cartridges but all the major manufactures offer something for the long range shooter.

Range Finders And Scopes
Most high quality rifle scopes offer long range reticles. That’s great, but useless if you don’t know far away the target is. Enter the laser range finder. This tool has revolutionized long range shooting and allows serious shooters to responsibly hunt at distances only experts would attempt 20 years ago. If long range shooting is in your future hunting plans, buy a good range finder and a scope with at least 4-14x magnification and practice using them.

Shooting Position
Taking a shot from long distances requires a solid shooting position. I like to shoot from a prone position. If the landscape doesn’t allow for that, a seated position with the use of sticks will also deliver a steady shot. The prone position gives the shooter a solid rest for the stock and an anchor for the butt of the gun. It is without a doubt the best position for long range shooting.

Variables In The Field
Wind drift can also have a big effect on ballistics. A stiff wind can alter a 400 yard shot by as much as two feet depending on the bullet and the wind speed. If you are not completely confident in calculating wind drift for long distance shooting, the best advice is not to take the shot. Brush and vegetation can also be an issue. A clear path to the vitals is even more important at long distances as it is at short range. Wait for an animal to give you a clear shot before pulling the trigger. I don’t feel like I should have to make the following statement, but I will. A moving target at long distances is just not practical for 99% of hunters. The point of taking a shot from way out is that your target is more relaxed.

The Buddy System
One of the advantages of long distance shooting is most of the time the animal has no idea where you are. Typically, they won’t move very far or very fast after the shot. If you miss, a companion acting as a spotter can help you make an adjustment for a second shot. The spotter can also judge how good a hit was and recommend a follow up shot if it’s needed.
The best way to shoot long distance shots is from close range. That’s right… I try to avoid them. Getting close to game is the best way to hunt. However, if you truly work on shooting from long distances and feel comfortable with the shot, take it.

Meet Cole Daniels:

Cole cut his teeth hunting whitetails in Southwest Wisconsin and mulies in western states.  He also enjoys waterfowling, upland bird hunting, and fishing.  When Cole isn't pursuing game, he fits in some time to work at a major manufacturing firm as human resource manager.