November 21, 2022
By Brad Fitzpatrick
Long-range hunting is growing in popularity. With modern rifles, ammunition and equipment they can greatly extend the average shooter’s maximum effective hunting. But just because you can hit a target at a half-mile, doesn’t mean you’re ready to start hunting at that distance. Shooting from a fixed bench on sandbags with unlimited time to pull the trigger is very different than falling into a shooting position and quickly connecting on an animal across a windy canyon.
To be successful as a long-range hunter you not only need a bullet that can consistently hit targets but also one that performs appropriately after impact. As distances increase velocities drop and that can prevent traditional hunting bullets from expanding and performing. The result of a bullet failure is oftentimes a wounded or lost animal, which is something every hunter always tries to avoid. The first step toward doing so is choosing the right long-range bullet, but where to begin? This list helps simplify the process by selecting five of our favorite long-range hunting bullets. If your shooting skills are up to the task and you choose an appropriate caliber for the game you’re after, you can expect clean kills with all these projectiles—even at extended ranges.
Hornady’s Extremely Low Drag eXpanding or ELD-X bullets are designed to offer exceptional accuracy at very long ranges and they expand reliably at lower velocities than traditional hunting bullets, making them a top choice for long-range hunting. The Heat Shield polymer tip resists heating and deformation, allowing the ELD-X to maintain an aerodynamic profile and ELD-X bullets offer some of the highest BCs in their class. At close range and high velocities an Interlock ring and thickened copper jacket at the base of the cartridge ensure deep penetration and weight retention. At lower velocities the Heat Shield tip pushes back into the bullet to initiate expansion and provide excellent terminal performance on game at extended ranges.
I’ve used ELD-X bullets on a wide range of game from whitetails to African plains game at distances from 40 to over 400 yards and the results have been excellent across the board. The 40-yard shot was on a nyala bull in South Africa and despite the high impact velocity and large body size of the animal (nyala weigh as much as 400 pounds) the bullet performed perfectly. My longest shots were on common reedbuck and whitetail deer, and in both cases the bullet retained roughly 80 percent of its original weight and expanded well despite lower velocities.
I’ve had great success with ELD-X bullets across the board, but my favorite is the 143-grain 6.5 PRC load in their Precision Hunter line of ammunition. That round covers ninety percent of your big game hunting needs without a lot of blast and recoil, and the 6.5 PRC ELD-X has proven to be very accurate in several rifles I’ve tested.
Available from Nosler and Winchester in loaded hunting ammunition and Nosler as a reloading component, the AccuBond Long Range (or simple ABLR) offers everything hunters love about Nosler’s storied AccuBond bullet with a bias toward long-range hunting. The gray polymer tip improves expansion, aerodynamics and feeding and these bullets are heavy for caliber and have correspondingly high BCs (from .525 to .785 depending on caliber and bullet weight). As the name suggests, this bullet has a bonded core and jacket just like the original AccuBond. Unlike the original bullet, however, the ABLR expands reliably down to 1,300 feet per second. With modern long-range hunting cartridges that means the ABLR will expand at extreme distances if you’re a dedicated long-range shooter. But when an animal steps out at 100 yards you still have the comfort of knowing that the bonded design of the bullet will allow it to hold up at high velocities.
With its sleek profile the ABLR is a very accurate bullet design, and it’s also available as a component for those who prefer to reload. Rolling your own ammo allows the precision shooter to tune this high-tech bullet to the exact needs of their rifle and squeeze the most accuracy from their guns. If you’re in the market for an all-around hunting round factory loaded ABLR ammunition is available from Nosler, and Winchester loads ABLR bullets in their Expedition Big Game line of ammunition.
Do you love the .277s? If so, try either a 27 Nosler or 6.8 Western with the 165-grain .277-inch AccuBond Long Range bullet. The BC of that projectile is .620, and both the 27 Nosler and 6.8 Western are superb hunting cartridges.
In 1993 Texas hunter Jack Carter was so disappointed in the performance of hunting bullets on heavy game that he designed his own bullet. Known as the Trophy Bonded Bear Claw, Carter’s new hunting bullet performed exceptionally well—so well, in fact, that federal purchased the design and made some minor improvements. Over the years the TBBC bullets has undergone design improvements, reappearing in the Federal line as the Trophy Bonded Tipped bullet, the Edge TLR, and finally the Terminal Ascent bullet.
Despite their shared DNA today’s Terminal Ascent bullet is far removed from Jack Carter’s original TBBC design. In fact, Terminal Ascent bullets are among the most sophisticated long-range hunting bullets on the market today. They offer a very high ballistic coefficient thanks to their aerodynamic profile and boat tail design, but Federal has gone as far as redesigned the groove around the bullet’s shank to improve BC. Known as the AccuChannel groove, this design features a sloping rear groove wall that reduces friction while promoting exceptional accuracy. The Slipstream polymer tip maintains its shape and makes the bullet more aerodynamic, but it promotes expansion at lower velocities. As a relative of the original TBBC, Terminal Ascent is a bonded bullet, so the copper jacket and lead core are fused together. This means on big, tough game like moose and elk you can rest assured this bullet will hold together, even at close ranges.
My .280 Ackley Improved rifle loves Terminal Ascent ammunition, and so do I. The 155-grain .280 AI load leaves the muzzle at 2,930 fps, and this mild-recoil round offers me a single round for hunting everything from antelope to elk at any reasonable range.
Norma of Sweden has a long history of producing excellent brass, bullets, and loaded ammunition, so it should come as no surprise that the company’s Bondstrike ammunition is one of the best long-range hunting bullets on the market. Like all long-range hunting bullets, the Bondstrike starts with a sleek, aerodynamic, match bullet profile with a boat tail. Like other bullets on this list, it features a polymer tip that resists heat deformation and initiates expansion at lower velocities, all while maintaining very high BCs. The copper jacket is thin along the bullet’s ogive and thickens toward the heel of the bullet, and this balances expansion with impact velocity. When you strike a heavy target at close range the thick jacket nears the base prevents over-expansion, and Norma’s bonding process locks the core and jacket together to ensure there isn’t any separation.
It’s no surprise that these bullets hold up well against large, tough game. Norma is, after all, based in Sweden and their bullets are tested quite a bit on driven boar and moose in the Scandinavian forests. If you want a bullet that can stop a running bull moose at close range and expand reliably on a pronghorn or Coues deer at 400 plus yards the Bondstrike is an excellent choice.
Norma’s Bondstrike 6.5 Creedmoor load pushes a 143-grain bullet with a BC of .629 from the muzzle at 2,740 fps, making it a superb all-purpose round for the Creedmoor. Of course, if you own a 6.5-284 Norma the Bondstrike is a natural choice.
Barnes essentially create the expanding monometal bullet market with their launch of the X Bullet almost 40 years ago. Today, Barnes bullets are still trusted by hunters worldwide because they offer devastating performance on big game without a lead core. Traditionally that soft lead core is what allows other hunting bullets to expand at the lower velocities encountered when shooting long-range. Barnes chose a different route with their LRX, or Long Range X, bullet. The LRX’s nose cavity is designed to initiate expansion at lower velocities than most traditional all-copper hunting bullets, but you can still expect these monometal bullets to withstand impacts at high velocities and close ranges. The sleek, highly aerodynamic bullet design and polymer tip allow for high ballistic coefficients and relatively heavy-for-caliber bullets. This combination of efficiency and durability make the Barnes LRX a natural choice for serious hunters.
Some states and regions of the country have banned lead hunting projectiles, but that legislation doesn’t impact anyone shooting lead-free Barnes LRX bullets. This, combined with the LRX’s ability to perform on a wide range of game at greatly varying distances makes it a natural choice for hunting just about any game at any distance.
The 190-grain .300 Winchester Magnum load is suitable for hunting any big game anywhere, including in areas where lead is banned.
The Essentials Gear Box.
Our editors have hand-picked these essential pieces of gear to make you a more successful hunter when you hit the game trails this season.