While hunting skill is paramount to the sport—in order to gain a shot opportunity in the first place—marksmanship is a close second. The farther you can extend your maximum lethal distance, the more successful you’ll be at bringing home the winter meat.
Understand, I’m not a proponent of extreme-range game sniping. Stunt shooting shouldn’t be practiced on living animals that suffer when hit poorly.
However, with good equipment, attention to detail, and diligent practice, it’s also a very possible shot. And in the West where I grew up, the ability to shoot long can be critical.
I know of one guided hunter from the East that refused a 400-yard shot at a massive coues deer because he was uncomfortable with the distance. He had plenty of time to get prone, improvise a solid rest, read conditions, and execute a careful shot, but he had no experience doing so.
Had he previously focused on building marksmanship skill, congratulations would have been in order. Another hunter later shot the buck, and it scored in Boone & Crockett’s Top 10.
Build your skill, and then let your abilities—not someone else’s arguments—determine your maximum ethical range. Start with good equipment: a very accurate rifle chambered for a fast cartridge topped with a quality scope with either a good ballistic reticle or target-type turrets.
Learn to judge wind (and to limit long shots in strong wind) and perfect your trigger control. And practice.
My philosophy is to be the best hunter I can, so that I rarely have to take long shots, and the best rifleman I can so that I can shoot far if I have no closer option. Try it. You’ll bring home less tales and
—Joseph von Benedikt
The hardest part of this debate is defining long range. For some, anything over 100 yards is long, while for others it might be 1,000 yards. For me, long range is somewhere between 400 and 500 yards, depending upon the conditions, terrain, external factors, and size of game.
Putting a finite number on what is ethical is pretty difficult. What I am OK with you might not be and vice versa.
So, here is how I define long range and make an ethical decision: When that trigger is squeezed, an ethical hunter should be 100 percent confident in their ability to kill quickly and cleanly. They should also know that the shot was taken from as close a range as possible.
Now we all know, 100 percent of the time, nothing works out perfectly, but reducing the distance reduces the problems.
Increasing the distance increases the odds of failure. Group sizes and wind drift increase, unseen brush can deflect a projectile, energy and velocity drop, and an animal can move during the bullet’s time in flight. Stretch the distance far enough and difficulties in recovering wounded game in a timely fashion crop up. If it takes an hour to walk across a canyon after the shot, finding that poorly hit animal may be very difficult if not impossible. If you were closer, you could have followed up immediately.
If you advocate extremely long-range hunting, it says to me that you are not much of a hunter. It says you need a mechanical crutch to make up for a lack of basic woodsmanship. It also says you really don’t respect the game you hunt. Hunting should be a challenge with no sure outcome or guarantee. It should be the searching, the pursuing, and the stalking, but not the remote act of killing that defines it.