Best Caliber for Long Range Hunting
By Chad Meyers
You need the right caliber at any distance – but once you get out to long ranges, you need a caliber that can actually go the distance. Not every caliber is built to go even past 200 yards, much less past 1,000. Realistically, most large game is taken between 150 and 200 yards, but on occasion you make need to take game at longer ranges up to 500+ yards.
When you’re planning a long-range hunt, you need a bullet that will end up about where you aimed it, and still have enough stopping power to bring down your target at about 400 to 500 yards. Some of the best long-range hunting calibers, such as the .300 Win Mag, 7mm Remington Magnum and 6.5 PRC, will do just that.
This guide will introduce you to some of the best calibers on the market for long-range hunting – but what exactly makes a quality caliber in this arena?
The first thing we need to look at are the ballistics, or the energy that a bullet will hit its target with at different distances. It doesn’t matter how good your shot is if the bullet’s no longer packing a punch at a longer distance.
Basically, the higher the energy a caliber can produce, the more confident you can be that the bullet will have the strength to take down your target. We’ve included this information for each caliber described below.
Another way of comparing calibers is through their velocity, and particularly how long the bullet remains supersonic. If you know how far you’ll be shooting, you’ll want to choose a caliber that remains supersonic even a bit past that distance.
The next crucial thing to consider is the bullet trajectory. This refers to how much the bullet drops over different distances due to gravity, but also how a crosswind will affect your bullet.
Different hunters have different opinions on bullet drop. While some prefer a bullet that shoots flatter, others feel that because gravity has a consistent, predictable pull, they are consistently able to adjust for a more significant drop just as well as a smaller drop.
However, do keep in mind that elevation can impact trajectory at longer ranges more noticeably than at shorter ranges. If you’ll be hunting in the mountains, be sure to include elevation considerations into your calculations.
With these factors in mind, you’re now ready to consider some of the best calibers for long-range hunting currently available.
.300 Winchester Magnum
Many hunters consider this to be the best caliber for big game hunting at long ranges. It has a lower recoil than larger .30 caliber cartridges, but the recoil can still be intense for a new shooter. If you’ll be hunting, make sure that you can do a full day with this caliber without sacrificing your shoulder.
The .300 Win Mag remains supersonic past 1,650 yards even with heavy bullets. It comes in a variety of weights, so there are bullet options for long-range small game such as pronghorn or larger species such as black bear. Long-range hunters typically use the 200-300 grain options for this bullet; lighter bullets are not as well suited to long ranges, and heavier options might do better in a larger case.
The speed and accuracy of the .300 Win Mag have made this caliber a favorite of military snipers. Its ballistic coefficient is specifically intended for long range. This caliber can take down any game in North America, has greater stopping power than comparable calibers like the .30-06 Springfield, and is considered affordable especially for a magnum cartridge.
.300 Win Mag 195 gr ballistics:
|0 yds||2,930 ft/s||3,717 ft⋅lbs||-1.5 inches|
|100 yds||2,760 ft/s||3,297 ft⋅lb||1.5 inches|
|200 yds||2,596 ft/s||2,918 ft⋅lb||0 inches|
|300 yds||2,438 ft/s||2,574 ft⋅lb||-6.7 inches|
|400 yds||2,286 ft/s||2,262 ft⋅lb||-19.3 inches|
|500 yds||2,138 ft/s||1,980 ft⋅lb||-38.5 inches|
The 6.5 Creedmoor has made quite a splash since its appearance on the market, and is likely to start a heated debate on many an online forum. These are small bullets with high ballistics, meaning they have a higher impact on the target and a lower impact on your shoulder. These are long, slim bullets that remain supersonic to 1,400 yards.
Because of the bullet size, they will not tear up your barrel like a magnum cartridge will, and they are also less sensitive to wind. It has less drop and drift than many similar cartridges. It is a short-action cartridge, and many short-action rifles are more accurate than long-actions because they are stiffer. Short-action rifles are also smaller, which can save you precious ounces on longer trips through the backcountry.
The 6.5 Creedmoor was designed for precision target shooting, and has received a lot of attention and an increasing popularity among hunters. It has the perfect bullet weight for game the size of deer, but it has less recoil than many deer cartridges without costing more. If you’ll be hunting game larger than deer at very long distances, you might need a caliber that packs more of a punch.
6.5 Creedmoor 143 gr ballistics:
|0 yds||2,700 ft/s||2,315 ft⋅lb||-1.5 inches|
|100 yds||2,556 ft/s||2,075 ft⋅lb||1.9 inches|
|200 yds||2,417 ft/s||1,855 ft⋅lb||0 inches|
|300 yds||2,282 ft/s||1,654 ft⋅lb||-7.9 inches|
|400 yds||2,151 ft/s||1,470 ft⋅lb||-22.4 inches|
|500 yds||2,025 ft/s||1,302 ft⋅lb||-44.5 inches|
There are plenty of 6.5mm bullets that will give you high ballistics, fast speeds, flat shooting, and light recoil – everything you want for long range hunting. The .26 Nosler is intense even among its 6.5 family. The recoil is comparable to the .30-06 Springfield.
The .26 Nosler works in both long-range and shorter distances, and is a remarkably flat shot remaining supersonic past an incredible 1,750 yards. Bullets can typically be found from 120-150 grains, though 150 is generally preferred by hunters targeting larger game or shooting past 500 yards.
This cartridge is a recent development from Nosler, and was designed to fit in a .30-06 Springfield-length action. The only downside is that this ammunition is not as readily available as other cartridges on this list. If you can reliably find it, the .26 Nosler has enough power for deer, bear, elk, and just about anything in North America.
26 Nosler 129 gr ballistics:
|0 yds||3300 ft/s||3385 ft⋅lbs||-1.5 inches|
|100 yds||3094 ft/s||2976 ft⋅lbs||+3.81 inches|
|200 yds||2902 ft/s||2618 ft⋅lbs||+5.47 inches|
|300 yds||2718 ft/s||2297 ft⋅lbs||+2.98 inches|
|400 yds||2542 ft/s||2009 ft⋅lbs||-4.24 inches|
|500 yds||2374 ft/s||1752 ft⋅lbs||-16.87 inches|
This caliber is a response to the initially sensational .264 Winchester Magnum. The .264 WinMag was enormously popular with hunters who wanted to shoot longer distances, but fell out of favor as it burned out barrels. The 6.5 PRC almost reaches the excellent ballistics of its predecessor, but with technological developments that help the barrels last longer.
The PRC is now considered the best overall caliber in the .264 class. It has a flat trajectory with a decent recoil, both important for hunting at long ranges. It’s designed for 120-150 grain bullets and the type of precision that could be used for competition shooting or hunting. Ammunition can be harder to find, but if you stock up, this caliber will stay supersonic past 1,600 yards.
Many hunters advise using the 6.5 PRC for elk out to 750 yards, and deer and similar game past 1,000 yards. This caliber will fit in a long-action rifle, and its growing popularity means more and more manufacturers are releasing ammunition and rifles in this caliber over time.
6.5 PRC 147 gr ballistics:
|0 yds||2,910 ft/s||2,764 ft⋅lb||-1.5 inches|
|100 yds||2,775 ft/s||2,514 ft⋅lb||1.5 inches|
|200 yds||2,645 ft/s||2,283 ft⋅lb||0 inches|
|300 yds||2,518 ft/s||2,069 ft⋅lb||-6.5 inches|
|400 yds||2,395 ft/s||1,871 ft⋅lb||-18.4 inches|
|500 yds||2,275 ft/s||1,689 ft⋅lb||-36.5 inches|
7mm Remington Magnum
If you want a caliber with many options for weights and styles, this is the one for you. The 7mm Remington Magnum will give you plenty of options in rifles and ammunition, with cheap and accessible ammunition as well. It also works with shorter, lighter rifles, which may be a priority if you are backcountry hunting.
The 7mm Rem Mag has a lighter recoil but comparable ballistics to the .300 Winchester Magnum. It will not eat up your barrel as quickly as other magnum cartridges. However, we do see more drop with the 7mm Rem Mag than with some of the other options on this list, such as the .28 Nosler. This can be a concern at long ranges.
Many hunters consider the 7mm Rem Mag an excellent deer caliber from 700-800 yards. It certainly can take deer up to 1,000 yards, but this depends on bullet quality. Be sure to understand how your bullet is impacted by your shooting conditions if you intend to shoot out to this distance.
7mm Rem Mag 162 gr ballistics:
|0 yds||3,030 ft/s||3,302 ft⋅lb||-1.5 inches|
|100 yds||2,856 ft/s||2,933 ft⋅lb||1.3 inches|
|200 yds||2,689 ft/s||2,600 ft⋅lb||0 inches|
|300 yds||2,527 ft/s||2,298 ft⋅lb||-6.1 inches|
|400 yds||2,372 ft/s||2,023 ft⋅lb||-17.6 inches|
|500 yds||2,222 ft/s||1,775 ft⋅lb||-34.5 inches|
Think of the .28 Nosler as a heavier version of the .26 Nosler. It also stays supersonic past 1,750 yards, but in order to power a heavier bullet at this range, it comes with a significant recoil. The .28 Nosler might also require a longer barrel than the 7mm Rem Mag, which can lead to more felt recoil and of course, more gun to wield. If you can shoot this caliber well, it’s a top choice for 7mm.
Nosler’s goal was to improve on the 7mm Rem Mag without creating a full magnum length cartridge. It has a nice flat trajectory, with 5 inches of drop at 400 yards, and it stays remarkably flat out to 1,000 yards. It packs a serious punch with high ballistics as well.
If you’ll be shooting big game such as elk out to 1,000 yards, the .28 Nosler certainly packs the punch you’ll need even for large game at these distances. However, many hunters see this caliber as being too strong for deer – even at 800 yards, it may be overkill for deer-sized game. This caliber is really intended for large game, and you may need a more versatile cartridge if you don’t want to blow a smaller target to pieces.
28 Nosler 162 gr ballistics:
|0 yds||3,175 ft/s||3,626 ft⋅lb||-1.5inches|
|100 yds||3,017 ft/s||3,275 ft⋅lb||1.2 inches|
|200 yds||2,866 ft/s||2,954 ft⋅lb||0 inches|
|300 yds||2,719 ft/s||2,660 ft⋅lb||-5.4 inches|
|400 yds||2,578 ft/s||2,390 ft⋅lb||-15.5 inches|
|500 yds||2,440 ft/s||2,142 ft⋅lb||-30.9 inches|
The .308 Winchester has a low recoil, and remains supersonic to about 1,200 yards. It has lower ballistics than one would like, but it has proven itself time and time again. It’s been a favorite cartridge for many years and one of the most successful military cartridges since its development in the 1950s, and is made with high quality components.
The .308 is a highly accurate round. It has been used to hunt everything from prairie dogs to elephants. There are many options for bullet weights, from 125 to 180 grains, so you can target your specific species. Heavier bullets help long-range hunters to meet their targets.
The .308 also promotes long barrel life, with an expected 5,000 rounds with competition-grade accuracy before your barrel will need to be replaced. If you want a caliber that works well at shorter and longer distances and on a variety of game, the .308 Winchester might be right for you – as long as you’re comfortable staying within 1,000 yards, and potentially even within 500 yards if you’re concerned at all about your marksmanship with this caliber.
.308 Win 168 gr ballistics:
|0 yds||2,700 ft/s||2,719 ft⋅lb||-1.5 inches|
|100 yds||2,530 ft/s||2,388 ft⋅lb||2 inches|
|200 yds||2,367 ft/s||2,089 ft⋅lb||0 inches|
|300 yds||2,210 ft/s||1,821 ft⋅lb||-8.5 inches|
|400 yds||2,058 ft/s||1,580 ft⋅lb||-24.7 inches|
|500 yds||1,913 ft/s||1,364 ft⋅lb||-50.0 inches|
The heavy bullets of the 300 PRC can stay supersonic out to 1,650 yards. They have excellent ballistics, and function very much like the .300 Winchester Magnum, only shorter. They shoot flat, and their heaviness make them less susceptible to wind drift.
The heavier bullet is the main attraction of the 300 PRC over other 300 cartridges. It has a similar muzzle velocity to the 300 WinMag, but the PRC’s heaviness gives it a flatter trajectory. Of course, with more weight comes greater recoil, so make sure your shoulder is prepared to deal with that and keep your shooting sharp over a long day of hunting.
The high velocity and heavy bullets give this caliber the stopping power to take down large game at long distances. If you’re looking for a heavy, high-performance option in a .30 caliber cartridge, this is an excellent choice.
300 PRC 225 gr ballistics:
|0 yds||2,810 ft/s||3,945 ft⋅lb||-1.5 inches|
|100 yds||2,692 ft/s||3,620 ft⋅lb||0 inches|
|200 yds||2,577 ft/s||3,318 ft⋅lb||-3 inches|
|300 yds||2,465 ft/s||3,036 ft⋅lb||-11.1 inches|
|400 yds||2,356 ft/s||2,773 ft⋅lb||24.5 inches|
|500 yds||2,250 ft/s||2,528 ft⋅lb||-43.8 inches|
This simple caliber is still one of the best for long-range hunting. It has a light recoil and stays supersonic past 1,400 yards. If you’re a long-time fan of the .270 Winchester, just keep on using it – don’t let anyone tell you that you have to switch to the 6.5’s if this is working for you!
These are lighter bullets, with options between 90-150 grains. This does mean that it is less versatile than some other calibers, but it still has stopping power and has been chambered for every type of rifle action. Its status as a classic cartridge makes ammunition readily available. Smaller grains are useful for coyote and other varmint hunting, while 130 and 150-grain bullets are more popular for medium and larger game.
While there are a lot of advantages to the .270 Winchester, it does not retain stopping power needed for as long as some of the other calibers on this list. Many hunters see the .270 Winchester as being most reliable within 350 yards for deer sized game, though this can certainly be pushed by experienced hunters.
.270 Win 145 gr ballistics:
|0 yds||2,970 ft/s||2,840 ft⋅lb||-1.5inches|
|100 yds||2,796 ft/s||2,516 ft⋅lb||1.5 inches|
|200 yds||2,627 ft/s||2,222 ft⋅lb||0 inches|
|300 yds||2,465 ft/s||1,955 ft⋅lb||-6.5 inches|
|400 yds||2,308 ft/s||1,714 ft⋅lb||-18.8 inches|
|500 yds||2,157 ft/s||1,497 ft⋅lb||-37.6 inches|
This is a bolt-action rifle cartridge best for hunting mid-sized animals like deer at long distances. The bullets have a flat trajectory, and maintain accuracy over many yards thanks to their excellent speed. It has lower ballistics than some other options, but it will take care of small to medium game.
Some hunters see it specifically as a wildcat cartridge, and is generally best for game smaller than a deer. If you’ll be using it for deer, it’s safest to stay within 200-300 yards, though this can be pushed depending on your skill. You may be able to shoot coyotes and other predators out to 600-700 yards with this caliber.
This caliber uses lighter bullets, and will release a 55-grain bullet at over 3,600 fps. It has a low recoil, especially compared to others on this list. When you don’t need the full power of a heavier bullet, it’s best to give your shoulder a break so you can enjoy a longer day of hunting. Many rifles chambered for .22-250 Remington will shoot sub-MOA.
.22-250 55 gr ballistics:
|0 yds||3,680 ft/s||1,654 ft⋅lb||-1.5 inches|
|100 yds||3,253 ft/s||1,293 ft⋅lb||0.9 inches|
|200 yds||2,868 ft/s||1004 ft⋅lb||0 inches|
|300 yds||2,514 ft/s||772 ft⋅lb||-5.1 inches|
|400 yds||2,186 ft/s||583 ft⋅lb||-15.8 inches|
|500 yds||1,884 ft/s||433 ft⋅lb||-33.9 inches|