“Long Range” can mean a lot of different things, even within the context of hunting. Even just a hundred yards could be considered long-range for a subsonic .300 Blackout or a handgun but would be practically short-range for a .30-06. Similarly, trying to hit a squirrel at 150 yards is fairly challenging, but a deer at the same distance is par for the course. The caliber, firearm, and target all play a part.
As a rule of thumb, we generally consider long-range to start at around 200 yards, but really, long-range is any distance at which drop, wind, and environmental factors start to come into play in a meaningful way. Once you have to do more than simply put the crosshairs on the target and pull the trigger, you’ve entered into the world of long-range shooting.
For many hunters, long distance shots aren’t necessary, but if you hunt primarily in a flat environment, they may be unavoidable. Stalking to within a hundred yards of your game isn’t always possible when you’re trying to take down coyotes or eradicate prairie dogs on a farm. Similarly, hunters after larger game like elk in open plains or tundra may not have the luxury of being able to take a short-range shot.
Unlike long-range target shooting, a simple hit isn’t sufficient for hunting; you need a vital hit. Long-range hunting involves ethical considerations not present in target shooting. This means that long-range hunting often requires even more accuracy and precision than long-range target shooting or PRS-style competition.
As hunters, we have an ethical responsibility to the game we harvest. At increased ranges, that responsibility only grows, as shots become more difficult and outcomes become less certain. It is very important that anyone pursuing long-range hunting limit their shots on game to distances proven to be within their capabilities.
To extend the distance in which you can responsibly harvest game, you’ll need two things: practice and equipment. Building soft skills and becoming proficient is something you’ll have to do on your own, but we can help you pick the right gear for the job.
On average, most rifle hunters will engage their game from 50 to 150 yards. At these distances, with most rifles, your choice of optic isn’t all that crucial. Having a magnified optic can be important, as it allows for better target area awareness and a more precise sight picture, but things like reticles, turrets, and parallax adjustment aren’t crucial.
At that distance, most rifles can be zeroed at 100 yards and still strike within an inch or two of the point of aim, which is plenty precise for medium-sized game. Start to reach out to 400 or even 600 yards, and the situation changes dramatically.
To effectively bag game at long range, you need to be able to accurately adjust for distance and wind drift. For that, you’ll need a reticle that’s up to the task. A good long-range hunting scope should, at a minimum, have a reticle with both vertical and horizontal subtensions. The simplest form of this is a MIL-DOT reticle.
MIL-DOT reticles give you the essentials, but a more modern reticle can combine your windage and elevation for a faster hold at long distance. Usually, long-range hunters will dial their scope to adjust for drop and hold using the reticle to compensate for wind drift, but in some cases, such as predator or pest hunting, multiple targets may need to be engaged quickly at various ranges. In that case, having a reticle such as our ACSS® HUD® DMR 5.56/.308, which features drop and wind hold subtensions for common cartridges, is a significant advantage.
Ranging tools built into the reticle such as MIL-subtensions or auto-ranging brackets can be beneficial as well, allowing hunters to estimate the distance to their target more accurately.
Beyond the reticle, a good long-range hunting scope should have accurate, repeatable, and well-labeled turrets. When making adjustments at the range, it’s easy enough to count clicks to determine how far you’ve adjusted. In the field, you’ll often be dialing much farther and may not be able to hear or feel the individual clicks, so clear labeling is important to tell how far you’ve adjusted.
Lastly, if you’ll be engaging targets at distance, you’ll want a scope with manual parallax adjustment. Correctly adjusting for parallax is important for accurate shot placement, and the farther out you shoot, the more important it is.
A scope with good turrets and a well-configured reticle is important, but it’s ultimately only as good as the information you use with it. It doesn’t matter how perfect your turret adjustments are if you’re dialing for an incorrect range. Marksmen often overestimate their ability to estimate distance, even within 500 yards. This can lead to shots missing by several inches—or even several feet at further distances.
Luckily, there are affordable tools for the job. Laser rangefinders provide extremely accurate distance measurements and require nothing more than pointing at the target and clicking a button. They can also often provide information on shot angle, which can be important for accurate drop estimation at long range.
The more precise you are able to be with your range estimates, the more accurately you can dial your scope to account for drop. Better range estimates mean cleaner hits, so it’s well worth investing in a laser rangefinder if you anticipate taking game beyond a few hundred yards.
Weather meters provide crucial atmospheric data in much the same way that laser rangefinders provide distance. The principle is the same: More accurate measurements mean more accurate adjustments, which deliver more accurate shots.
For that reason, long-range hunters would be well advised to invest in a quality weather meter—ideally, one specifically designed for ballistic measurements like the models available from Kestrel Instruments.
Weather meters have a lot of applications, but those made by Kestrel are specifically designed to be most useful to marksmen and hunters. The 5700 Elite is an excellent example: this handy device not only reads wind, temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, and altitude but also features an onboard ballistic calculator to help you turn that raw data into a useful ballistic solution.
In essence, it takes all the mathematics and guesswork out of calculating your holds. Let it take atmospheric readings and feed it the data from a quality laser rangefinder, and it will give you a firing solution. All done in mere seconds.
The Kestrel 5700 Elite can even interface directly with certain rangefinders, taking their distance readings automatically and feeding them into the calculator.
Armed with a laser rangefinder and top-notch weather meter, you should be well-prepared with all the information you need to dial and hold accurately for a perfect shot. Now, you just need to worry about the mechanics of making the shot.
Bipods are a staple of tactical precision rifles, and for good reason, but they’re rarely seen on hunting rifles. At average hunting distances, most shots can be taken offhand and still result in an effective hit. Once you get into long-range hunting, that can change, especially if you’re after smaller pest animals like prairie dogs.
To land an effective hit from an extended distance, you need to take your shot from a stable position. Bipods are one option, but they’re very limited in their deployment. Unless you have a flat, stable surface to place the bipod on (a rare find in the woods), you’ll have to go prone to use it effectively.
For hunters, tripods are a more elegant solution, offering much greater stability than bracing against a tree or tightening a sling. Moreover, they can be deployed essentially anywhere, often in less than a minute.
One thing to note, though, is that not all tripods are created equal. Hunters would be well-served to pick out a tripod specifically designed for hunting and marksmanship, as these will be engineered to handle the weight of the rifle and the rigors of field use. Tripods made for cameras are generally not designed to bear more than a few pounds of weight and can fail under the stress of a fully loaded rifle.
There’s no denying that soft skills are important to good hunting, whether at average distances or long-range. Practice is important, and it’s rare that gear can take the place of good fundamentals, but modern technology offers hunters the opportunity to pick and choose which skills they want to invest their time in honing.
MIL-ranging is a valuable skill, but for hunters, it’s one that can be forfeited in favor of a laser rangefinder and more time to work on perfecting their trigger press, improving their tracking skills, or simply getting to know the land they hunt better. The same goes for each of the other items mentioned in our list.
Having the right gear lets you focus more of your time hunting and improving your most crucial skills. If you’re looking to extend your shots beyond the average, a good scope, rangefinder, weather meter, and tripod are the perfect place to start.