My last article, titled “Is Long Range Hunting and Shooting for You?” was intended to help you decide if you wanted to step off into the bottomless money pit that is long range hunting and shooting. This one will hopefully help you decide to take the leap to join me and countless others. Misery loves company.
So what does it take to be a long range hunter/shooter? The sky is the limit, but it doesn’t have to be. Since this will be posted on The Mule Deer Hunter website, this article and all of its content will be related to, but not necessarily limited to, hunting mule deer.
Step number one should be determining which cartridge to settle on. What factors do you need to consider when selecting one for hunting mule deer? There are several such as, Will this cartridge be limited to only deer sized game? Am I the only one who will shoot it? Or, will it also be used by people with a smaller frame than I have, such as women and/or youth? What effect will recoil have on shooting form, trigger control, anticipation of the shot going off, and target re-acquisition after the shot? What type of terrain will I be hunting in? Will it be wide open high desert? Will it be thick timber? Will it be broken up brush with cedar/juniper tree stands. Will I be reloading or buying factory ammo for it? How often do I plan to practice? Will there be potential for me taking a shot in windy conditions? You may find that you have other questions. There are certainly a lot of things to consider when wanting to become proficient at long range shooting.
Let’s say, for the sake of discussion, that I want a rifle to use just for hunting mule deer in the mostly wide open high desert country of Wyoming, because that’s where I live. I’m going to choose a cartridge in either 6mm, 6.5mm, or 7mm. You might wonder why. Well, the bullet selection for these calibers typically consists of high ballistic coefficient (B.C.) projectiles which are ideal for long range shooting. What is ballistic coefficient, you might ask. According to Hornady, ”A ballistic coefficient is the measure of a bullet’s relative ability to overcome air resistance. Each bullet can be assigned a numerical value expressing this efficiency. The basis of this value is a ratio comparing the performance characteristics of a particular bullet against the known trajectory characteristics of a standard projectile. The ratio compares the drag of a bullet (loss of velocity caused by air resistance encountered in flight) to the drag of the standard projectile”. If my shots are potentially going to be at extended ranges, then I want my bullet to retain as much velocity and energy as possible and heavy for caliber high B.C. bullets will help me to achieve that. There are several manufacturers who make great bullets for long range hunting/shooting. Berger, Hornady, and Nosler are some of them, with many more starting to manufacture great bullets for long range as well.
What are some cartridges in these different calibers that would make great long range hunting/shooting rounds? In 6mm there are a few great rounds that I think are more than sufficient. The old tried and true 243 Winchester is awful hard to beat, but the 6XC, 6 Creedmoor, 6×47 Lapua, 6 slr, 6mm Remington, and my personal favorite 6×284 Winchester are very effective as well. These are all low to mild recoiling rounds that are pleasant and relatively inexpensive to shoot.
When the Swedes developed the 6.5 mm projectile, they were really onto something. There is a great selection of cartridges that start with 6.5, .260, or .264. Some very capable rounds are 6.5 Creedmoor, 6.5×47 Lapua, 260 Remington,6.5 slr, 6.5×55, 6.5×284, 6.5-06, 6.5 Remington Magnum, .264 Winchester Magnum, 6.5 saum, 6.5 wsm, and the latest and greatest 26 Nosler. Some of these cartridges are less expensive than others to shoot as well as having less felt recoil.
With the advent of better performing projectiles, so too come better performing cartridges. That doesn’t necessarily make already existing cartridges obsolete. There have been several 7mm cartridges around for decades and they are still, if not more, effective as they were when developed. Some of those, as well as more recent cartridges are the 7×57, 7mm-08, 284 Winchester, 280 Remington, 280 Remington Ackley Improved, 7 saum, 7wsm, 7mm Remington Magnum, 7mm Weatherby Magnum, 7mm STW, 7mm Dakota, 7mm LRM, 7 RUM, and most recently, the 28 Nosler. A lot of these cartridges that I have listed are standard factory chamberings. However, many of them are wildcat cartridges and are only available when you have a gunsmith do aftermarket or custom work. I’m sure there are some devout die-hards who are wondering why I haven’t included in my writings .25, .270, and 30 caliber cartridges. While I think they are sufficient, and there have been countless numbers of game killed with them, there are better options, in my opinion.
This will probably stir debate similar to the Chevy, Ford and Dodge argument. But I’m hoping to stir you to do some research in finding what might best serve you when pursuing the majestic mule deer bucks, that we are passionate about, in the varying atmospheric and environmental conditions. Variables such as wind, elevation, ranges, temperature, barometric pressure, and angles all affect the flight of a bullet tremendously. In choosing a cartridge and bullet, you can limit these variables considerably. This process can be as simple or as complex as you make it.
As a hunting guide for mule deer and antelope since 1998, I have seen a myriad of cartridges used. Some work better than others, but that has more to do with shot placement and bullet performance. With that, some of you might be wondering, “What is your preferred cartridge for hunting the elusive and majestic mule deer?” I’m glad that my current collection of long range rifles isn’t capable of envy, because I would have to take and use them all at the same time. I really like my 243 Winchester, 6×284, 6.5×284, and 7mm Remington Magnum. I’m very familiar, practiced, and proficient with them, but since I’m human and struggle with being content, I’m really intrigued by the 6 slr, 6.5 saum, and 28 Nosler. I will probably someday have rifles chambered in these cartridges, but until then I’ll use what I have. There are dozens of other cartridges that are just as efficient and capable as my personal favorites. Finding what will best serve you is part of the fun and madness of long range shooting.