Long Range Hunting

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If there is one thing that hunters love to do, it’s to criticize, berate, judge and impose their personal ethics on other hunters. I’m not sure if this is a new phenomenon or if the Internet has just given everyone a more prominent voice. And I doubt there is a topic right now that elicits more rants and judgement than that of long-range hunting.

There’s little question that the media has really popularized long-range shooting in the past decade or so and manufacturers have been quick to respond with a bevy of new products to aid in this endeavour. From super accurate rifles and ballistic-compensating scopes to bullets with super high ballistic coefficients, shooting extended ranges has never been easier nor more effective. Yet, many hunters look at the practice as the root of all evil in hunting. Even the prestigious Boone and Crockett Club has voiced concerns over the practice and questioned the quality of hunter that would partake in such a practice.

Let’s put one notion to rest here right now: there is really nothing new going on here. People have been shooting at long ranges for as long as we’ve had gunpowder. Sit around any campfire in a hunting camp and after a few rums invariably a couple of people will start talking about the amazing shots they’ve made at ranges stretching close to a kilometre. Whether it’s the rum talking or not, some hunters have been taking shots well beyond the capability of their gear and experience for centuries. All of this new focus on long-range shooting isn’t causing more of this “Kentucky Windage” type shooting; quite the opposite in fact. At least hunters are now equipped with the gear and knowledge to make these shots, rather than just holding randomly over an animal and pulling the trigger. Long-range shooting is a precise science with some very precise tools. Anyone that thinks this is making more people shoot beyond their ability than before is fooling themselves.

But, with that said, all long-range shots do come with a certain code of universal ethics and if there is one thing that all this media attention has done, it’s made those ethics more mainstream. Are all hunters going to abide by them? Of course not. They didn’t before either, but at least now it’s being talked about and preached by North America’s top long-range shooters. I’ve had the good fortune to sit in on a couple of Darrell Holland’s seminars at the Safari Club International convention and I’ve talked at length about long-range hunting with the likes of John Porter and Aaron Davidson. The one common theme that all expound is the importance of doing it ethically. These men are the leaders in long-range shooting and they don’t take the responsibilities that come with it lightly. Nor do most long-range shooters.

If there has been one piece of gear that’s really revolutionized long-range shooting, it’s modern rifle scopes. User-friendly ballistic turrets and ballistic reticles have really put long-range shooting in the realm of the common man. They have allowed shooters to have the same point of aim and point of impact through a wide variety of ranges. Holding the crosshairs above the target or Kentucky windage, as it’s more commonly known, in an attempt to compensate for the trajectory of the bullet, has become a thing of the past. Now, regardless of range, we can hold exactly where we want the bullet to hit, through the use of turrets or ballistic reticles. While a shooter’s skill level still needs to be up to the task and wind must be minimal, the guesswork has been totally eliminated in regards to where one needs to place the crosshairs.

While exposed turrets have been around for decades, several scope manufacturers are now offering custom turrets for individual loads. What exposed hunting turrets allow you to do is basically re-zero your rifle for each shot and corresponding range, by simply turning the elevation turret to the designated yardage. While the option to externally adjust turrets isn’t new, until recently shooters had to calculate how many clicks to turn the turrets based on the minute angle or fraction of an inch that each click represented. In some cases it was a fairly complex calculation. Now, however, custom turrets are available that allow you to turn the turret to match the yardage so no calculation is required. Huskemaw, Leupold, Swarovski, Zeiss, Vortex and a host of others now offer these custom engraved turrets.

Ballistic reticles are a much simpler system and allow the shooter to hold on the target through a variety of ranges. While most are little more than variations on the mil dot reticle, Ziess’s Rapid Z reticle actually allows the shooter to adjust the reticle for each individual cartridge, through the use of an online calculator. By adjusting the magnification, the scope can be calibrated to allow hold-on-target accuracy to 800 yards with their Rapid Z 800. It is the only reticle where secondary hash marks are yardage indicated, regardless of the load or cartridge being used. These reticles have really changed the rules of long-range shooting and taken some of the arc out of the learning curve. While turrets once ruled the long-range game, many hunters now prefer the ultimate simplicity of the ballistic reticle. Both systems are equally accurate and it’s as much a matter of personal preference as anything.

While the definition of long range is an ever-changing number, I still look at shots over 300 yards as being a heck of a long ways out there. The great thing about these modern scopes is that they will turn basically any common hunting cartridge into a 500-yard gun, with a few provisions of course. Vanessa has a Tikka chambered in the venerable 30-06 and with a Rapid Z 600 on it, and she can bang a 10-inch metal gong all day long at 500 yards. We just recently returned from Africa and our Professional Hunter was fascinated with her scope. After firing a few rounds at the range, he made a perfect shot on a warthog at 489 yards. You couldn’t have wiped the smile off his face. Now obviously he was a very accomplished shooter at shorter ranges, but this was his first foray into long-range shooting and it just demonstrated how user friendly and effective these new scopes are when mounted on an accurate rifle, shooting the appropriate bullet.

While it’s understandable that long-range shooting is not everyone’s cup of tea and it may be unfathomable for some to believe that there are people capable of ethically taking game at ranges in excess of 1,000 yards, there is a lot more to the people that shoot at these ranges than first meets the eye. They realize that they are breaking new ground here and that they must meet a higher standard of ethics. From what I’ve seen, they are. Rather than criticize, take the time to learn and understand what long-range shooting is all about and you’ll see that it’s just another style of hunting that some people enjoy and some don’t, but it really shouldn’t draw any more criticism than any other form of hunting.

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