Long range hunting is as much of an art form as it is a science. On one hand it requires diligent practice and a lengthy range, and on the other hand you've got to know how to adjust for wind and specific loads.
One thing's for sure, though, certain cartridges make your job as a long range hunter a whole lot easier. What you're really looking for are those flat-shooting, hard-hitting cartridges that have a proven track record for delivering when a trophy is on the line. Fast magnum cartridges have always been favored when hunting at long range, but velocity isn't the only consideration you've got to make. It's mostly shooter preference, especially when it comes to recoil and reloading for maximum cartridge performance.
We've broken it all down for you here, giving you the 8 best long range hunting calibers. They aren't a replacement for practice, but they sure make the job a whole lot easier.
.300 Winchester Magnum
The hunting and shooting market doesn't need any more .30 caliber cartridges, but it seems like they just keep appearing anyway. The .300 was once considered one of the fastest of these loads, but today it has been eclipsed by several other fast .30s that shoot pancake flat. So why is it included on this list? First, the .300 Win. Mag does shoot very flat, and it produces a level of recoil that is manageable for most shooters, doling out far less punishment than the really hot .30s. The .300 Win. Mag also benefits from a wide selection of premium .308 bullets, with stacks and stacks of available load data. It may not be the fastest cartridge on this list (or even the fastest .30-caliber), but the .300 Win. Mag is no slouch. It'll push a 150-grain bullet around 3,200 fps and 180-grainers about 3,000 fps. Ammo is available in most sporting goods stores, and there are lots and lots of factory loads to choose from if you don't load your own.
7mm Remington Magnum
Last year, the venerable 7mm Remington Magnum turned 50 years old, and in that period of time many other 7mm cartridges have been introduced. Still, the 7mm Remington is far and away the most popular, as it remains one of the best long-range cartridges on the market. The Remington drives 140-grain bullets around 3,200 fps, and the heavier 160 grain bullets still travel at better than 3,000 fps. There's a huge selection of quality .284 bullets available, and the high sectional density of the heavier bullets (.310 for the 175 grain) means deep penetration and excellent retained energy. The 7mm Remington is suitable for everything in North America and has a proven reputation on African plains game. Unlike the 6.5x284 and the .30-378, you can typically pick up ammo for the 7mm Rem Mag at your local hardware store.
7mm Shooting Times Westerner
The 7mm Shooting Times Westerner (STW) was developed in 1979 by outdoor writer Layne Simpson, and although it never reached the popularity of the 7mm Remington Magnum, the STW trumps the Remington cartridge in every other respect. Based on the 8mm Remington Magnum necked down to accept 7mm bullets, the 7mm STW became a darling of western hunters and anyone else who needed a flat-shooting, hard-hitting medium bore cartridge. The 7mm STW propels 160-grains bullets close to 3,200 fps, and this bullet carries more than 2,000 pounds of energy at 400 yards. As an upside, long, heavy-for-caliber bullets don't drift as much in surging crosswinds. The STW may not be as popular as the 7mm Remington Magnum, but it is a long-range cartridge with few equals.
8mm Remington Magnum
The 8mm Remington Magnum has never been en vogue, but it has a list of loyal and devoted fans that include the likes of Craig Boddington. Developed in 1978, the 8mm Rem. Mag boasted excellent ballistics and made an excellent choice for large game in the States and abroad. The only problem was that it required a long action and there weren't a lot of .323 bullets around for reloading. The .338 Winchester Magnum was already a popular cartridge, and even at that time there were plenty of fast .30's from which to choose. As a result, the 8mm Remington Magnum was largely forgotten. However, long-range hunters are still aware of the big 8mm, and there is plenty to like about this cartridge. It fires 180-grain bullets at upwards of 3,300 fps and 200-grain bullets at 3,000 fps, producing better than 2 tons of muzzle energy and shooting flat enough to hunt in open country.
The .220 Swift is aptly named — it was the first factory cartridge that broke 4,000 fps. The .220 was introduced in 1935 by Winchester, who chambered the cartridge in their model 54 bolt-action rifle. The earliest .220s met with mixed reviews, and many hunters decried it as a barrel burner. However, modern metallurgy makes the .220 Swift a viable varmint cartridge today because barrels are capable of handling the .220's speed. Federal's 40-grain Nosler Ballistic Tip load leaves the barrel at a smoking 4,250 fps, and when this load is sighted in 2 inches high at 100 yards it is still 1 1/2 inches high at 200 yards, and only about two and a half inches low at 300 yards. You won't find many commercially available varmint loads that can match that kind of trajectory.
Roy Weatherby's company name shows up several times on this list because he made a living on speed. In the 1950s, Roy experimented on a .30 caliber load made from necking down the company's .378 Magnum, and so the .30-378 Weatherby was born. In 1996 it became commercially available, and the initial figures were pretty staggering. The cartridge would send a 180-grain bullet out of the muzzle with a velocity in excess of 3,400 fps and produced a tremendous 4,676 foot-pounds of energy. That same load, when sighted in 2 1/2 inches high at 100 yards, is just over 3 inches high at 200 yards and dead center at 300. If you are immune to recoil and don't mind spending about $150 on a box of ammo, Weatherby offers several variants of their Mark V lineup chambered for this cartridge.
.270 Winchester Short Magnum
The .270 Winchester Short Magnum (WSM) is based on the unbelted .300 Winchester Short Mag and drives a 130-grain bullet at over 3,200 fps. Thanks to the popularity of the .270 Winchester, there are a bunch of quality .277 bullets on the market. The .270 WSM is inherently accurate and generates enough energy to kill anything in North America except the great bears. In addition, the .270 WSM's short overall length means that it can be chambered in light rifles with small actions, making it an ideal mountain hunting cartridge. It generates about 10 percent more recoil than the .270, yet retains about 20 percent more energy at 300 yards. It can be used on varmints with light 100- and 110-grain bullets, deer-sized game with 130-grain bullets and the heavier 150-grain loads work well on elk and caribou.
.338 Remington Ultra Magnum
Be forewarned that the .338 RUM, while it has all the credentials to be an excellent long-range hunting round, generates a level of recoil that many hunters simply cannot tolerate. However, this cartridge is capable of delivering a 225-grain bullet at 3,200 fps, which generates about 4,500 foot-pounds of energy and shoots flat enough to be considered a true long-range cartridge. The .338's case was developed using a shortened .300 Remington Ultra Magnum beltless rebated case with a modified shoulder and necking it out to accept .338 bullets. For the experienced hunter who can handle the level of kick generated by the RUM, it's a fantastic cartridge for long-distance shots on elk, moose, caribou, and large African plains game like eland, giraffe, and zebra.