I had a customer come in the shop the other day with a great picture of a nice Mule deer that he shot in West Texas. He told me that it was the longest shot he had ever made. “Must have been about 550 yards, had to hold over 12 inches on his back and the old 30-06 dropped him in his tracks!” I asked him what bullet he has shooting and how his rifle was sighted in. “150 grain Federal Premium and 1 ½ inches high at 100 yards,” was the reply I got from him. I congratulated him on the great Buck and went back to work. The only way he could have killed that buck was by luck or the deer wasn’t 550 yards.
There are a few things wrong with what he told me. First, if he were shooting at a buck at 550 Yards with that caliber, bullet, and hold over, his bullet would have hit low by about 40 inches between the bucks legs. If there was any kind of wind, it would have pushed the bullet off by at least 24 inches and that’s with only a 10-mile per hour wind. Shooting long distance takes several things to be able to do it and do it well. First, you need to sight in your rifle for the distance you are going to be shooting. If you know that you will be shooting four to five hundred yards then sight your gun in accordingly. A 200 yard zero is good for most shooting, but for long range 3 or even 4 inches high at 100 is better. The contrary to this is if your are hunting in heavy timber or the thicket of East Texas, then you will want to sight in for short range and dead on at 100 is perfect!
Flat shooting cartridges are great, but how flat is flat? Two of the flattest shooting cartridges on the market are the 300 Remington Ultra Mag and the 7mm STW. If you compare these flat shooters to a good old 30-06 or a 270 Winchester, you will be surprised at just how non-flat they really are! A 30-06 or 270 Winchester will drop about 44 inches at 500 yards and the 7mm STW or 300 Ultra will give you the same drop at 550 yards. I find it incredible that a cartridge that is 400 feet/second faster will only give you an extra 50 yards in flat shooting. Don’t feel to bad about taking your old 30-06 on a New Mexico Pronghorn hunt.
Point blank range is a term used to find the perfect path in which to sight in and max distance to shoot any given round. Most game animals have a kill area of about 10 inches. So you will want to sight in your rifle where it will not shoot more than 5 inches high at any give point or no more than 5 inches low at a given range. A 7mm Remington Mag shooting 150-grain bullets has a max point blank range of 364 yards, and a max high point of 172 yards. You will have to sight in the rifle 3.7 inches high at 100 yards. Basically any range from 0 to 370 yards you hold the cross hairs dead on the chest cavity and pull the trigger, the bullet will hit in the kill area. The point blank range will work well for most of our true hunting ranges. Even for shooting varmints like Prairie Dogs or Coyotes the same 10-inch kill area will work for a prairie dog standing up.
Custom scopes that compensate for the range is another way to go when shooting long distances. Swarovski, Premier Reticle and Leupold all have custom range compensating reticles. Swarovski uses the TDS system, which has a cross-hair for 100 or 200 yard shooting and lines under the main cross hair that work for 300, 400, and 500 yards. Leupold has their new Boone & Crockett scopes, which look almost identical to the Swarovski TDS crosshairs. My personal favorite is the custom cross-hairs made by Premier Reticles. This company takes the Leupold scope and will put range-compensating dots below the main cross-hairs. The dots can be used for 300, 400, 500, and 600 yards. Premier can install dots all the way out to 1200 yards if the customer requests. These dots are right on the money for the different distances, however you will have to give Premier the exact bullet information like brand of bullet, weight of bullet and the velocity. I have used both the Premier Reticle scopes and the Swarovski TDS scopes and I can tell you it takes all the guesswork out of long range shooting. If you know how far the animal is you can put the right dot or cross-hair on the chest and that is where the bullet will go.
Practice, practice, practice, there is nothing that will help you more than shooting your rifle at the longer ranges. Take a day and go out to American Shooting Center and shoot on their long-range course. Head up to the forest and set up a target or better yet red or yellow balloons and shoot long range. I like balloons because it’s easy to tell when you hit one, the balloons also move with the wind, which is more like shooting at a moving animal.