Long Range Shooting at Big Game
by Chuck (Onehorse) Tarinelli
The lone hunter shook his head in disbelief as he watched the buck pronghorn walk over the crest of the hill and out of sight. He had just emptied his rifle at the antelope as it had leisurely walked up the draw in front of him. Five shots and the buck never as much as jumped, broke stride, or even turned its head. It almost seemed to have contempt for the hunter’s shooting ability. Not that this hunter couldn’t shoot. After all, at one hundred yards, he could knock a target off the backstop by shooting off the four thumbtacks one at a time with four shots. The trouble was that this first-time antelope hunter from “back east” had never shot at anything beyond one hundred yards. The year was 1985, and the hunter was me.
Hunters who search for game in thick cover usually get quick shots at close range. If they can see their quarry and get into action quickly enough, they can shoot it. They need only aim at the right spot on the side of the animal and squeeze the trigger. Knowing exactly how far away a deer or other big game animal may be is not critical when distances are one hundred yards or less, but beyond these point-and-shoot ranges, it’s a whole different ball game. Hunters who are inexperienced in long range shooting often realize, too late, that they are way over their heads when faced with these long shots.
I once watched a hunter shoot five shots from a 300 Win. magnum at a cow elk that was so far away it never even knew anyone was shooting at it. This guy was from Florida and, like me on my first western hunt, had never shot at an animal or target at long range. Over the years, I’ve witnessed hunters lobbing bullets at animals with nothing more than some kind of vague idea that they needed to aim somewhere above the animal, but with absolutely no idea of precisely where to hold. Basically, they were using hope and counting on luck instead of confidence and shooting skills in trying to make these shots.
When shooting game at long range, hunters have to know the distance of the animal, how much their bullet will drop at that distance and the required hold-over. They need to know their personal ability so they can decide if they can ethically shoot at that range, and the discipline to hold fire if the shot is beyond their capability. They need to practice shooting at long range. Luckily, hunters who get long range shots usually have the time to do the precise aiming that is required. Even so, the amount of time this process can take is always an important consideration. These articles will outline several techniques that can be used to make these shots as quickly and accurately as possible.
Next, we’ll look at bullet flight and hunting optics.