Long range hunting rifles
How good are they?
Long range hunting rifles have come a long way but how good are they really out of the box? How much do you need to spend to actually own one of these capable tools? In this article we shall go into the detail of two factory long range hunting rifles in 6.5 Creedmoor and 30-06. At face value, the Browning Maral is not your quintessential long range hunting rifle but we put it to the test and were impressed!
When two shooting buddies and long time friends asked me for some help with long their long range factory hunting rifles, I was thrilled to get on board. My good friend Mario told me they wanted to prepare themselves for a hunt which may involve longer shots than what they were accustomed to stalking in Scotland or wild boar hunting in Italy. They said this would be more like open plains game or mountain hunts on steep rocky peaks. Distances could be 250m-500m.
I was most thrilled about the fact that they acknowledged the need to prepare for this, transitioning from the typical hunting approach of zeroing your rifle and setting off, to actually investing time to understand your rifle/scope and ammunition. Knowing what your rifle shoots like at these distances and understanding if you can make the shot under field conditions is very important. Rifles have been able to shoot long range for over a century. Today’s equipment has facilitated it however it’s the shooter that must hone his skill through preparation and work.
What makes a long range factory hunting rifle?
As a matter of fact, I’de like to water down the notion of long range hunting rifles, most rifles that are well built, well setup and fed quality ammunition can be made to shoot long range if the shooter knows how to. Some rifles are better suited than others but given the right setup, most rifles can reliably hit a 2MOA (10 inch) target at 500yds/m. This can also be achieved with some 100 year old hunting rifles built during inter-war periods. Can you call them long range hunting rifles? If it’s light enough to carry them in the field, can shoot accurately and handled by a competent shooter, most rifles can do that.
The hunting rifles
I wanted to know which long range factory hunting rifles they would be shooting, the optics as well as the ranging equipment they had. They had already purchased the rifles for some time and hunted with them. These are stock factory rifles shooting high quality factory hunting rounds with high Ballistic coefficient bullets (Hornady ELDX bullets). Both rifles have typical hunting length barrels as well as barrel profile (thickness) Both would be mounted with suppressors to reduce ear hearing damage as well as not disturbing the wildlife as much as possible.
Rifle 1: Sauer 100 in 6.5creedmoor stock rifle everything standard
Scope: March 5-50×56 MTR2 MOA/MOA clicks for elevation/windage/Reticle
Ammo: Hornady Precision Hunter ammunition 6.5 Creedmoor 143grain ELDx at 2572ft/s
Rangefinder: Leica Geovid HD-B 3000 binoculars/rangefinder/weather/ballistic calculator
I had originally suggested the shorter March 2.5-25×42/52 model as it is shorter and weights just under 700grams! You can see it below on my surgeon rifles 308 Winchester.
Browning Maral rifle 30-06
Rifle 2: Browning Maral 30-06 principally thought of as a driven game rifle… we turned it into a long range hunting rifle and man did it perform! I must admit, I loved the fast follow up shots with it’s straight pull loading mechanism. 30-06 packs plenty of punch. Remember for many years the 30-06 rifle cartridge was standard sniping cartridge for the USMC fired from their Springfield M1903. It fired Match M72, 175.5grain bullets. We were using 178grain ELDx bullets from hornady.
Shooting the Browning Maral is pleasant, fast follow up shots assured and if you keep the barrel cool, the rifle can shoot amazingly well. Keep both eyes open, watch the winds. Shoot as you would in the field. Here I used a backpack to simulate field conditions during zeroing. It holds 0.7inch groups at 100m.
We then checked the velocity of the ammunition, with/ without suppressor together with Zeroing corrections with/without suppressor. Without suppressor, it hits 0.7mrad high at 100m(7cm) This data goes in our ammo notebook. If we need to hunt without suppressor, we have to rezero our elevation turret going 7 clicks down.
Scope: Swarovski z8i 3.5-28x50P with 4WI reticle 0.1mrad clicks (1cm/100m) with browning Nomad mount, BTF Elevation and Windage knob installed. They don’t come with the scope as standard.
Ammo: Hornady Precision Hunter 30-06, 178Gr ELDX at 2618ft/s
Mark had originally bought the Swarovski without the elevation and windage turrets. Both turrets had to be acquired after market for about £500 total. If you want to make long shots properly, you need to be dialling in your elevation and ideally windage. **Short Note on this, you can hold windage but there is a limitation. The Swarovski Z8I is a 2fp reticle which means the reticle is TRUE MOA on the highest magnification only. Should you need to dial down the magnification to say 14x for a 380m shot, your reticle hashmarks would not be True MOA anymore. That means that if your ballistic app told you to hold 1.8MOA at 380m for a 10mph wind from 3 o’clock, and you were on 14x magnification, you would not be able to use the hashmarks on the reticle. When you dial in, you don’t have this issue.
Last but not least, this stunning Rangefinder: Leica Geovid HD-B 3000 binoculars/rangefinder/weather/ballistic calculator. Below it returns the range as well as elevation correction of 7.6Mrad
If the Leica HD-B is a little outside your budget not surprising given it’s steep price tag, any of the Leica CRF monocular rangefinders will do for hunting and you can get these from as low as £300 for older models that range to 1200m. The Leica CRF 2800 is a fantastic model with all the features of the binocular and retails around the £700 mark – amazing value!
Ballistic apps for hunting
There are numerous exterior ballistic apps out that that work very well assuming you input data correctly. For desktop use and fiddling with charts, you can go with JBM ballistics. Shooter app, Strelok, Lapua app and others are also very good. However for field use, I love Kestrel applied ballistics 4500 or the newer 5700 elite. It’s well thought out to be used in the field by professionals in all weather. Learn how to use it well. The newer 5700 Kestrel can connect to the Leica 2800 so when you range a target, it populates the distance into kestrel and you get the exact dope instantly.
Get to know your Kit
I can’t emphasize strongly enough how important it is to know your equipment well, knowing your rifle, when it is on safe, how it operates, ensuring working parts are lubed up etc. Moreover it is very important to know your rifle scope like the back of your hand.
If it is a 2nd focal plain reticle, know at what magnification range your reticle is true MOA. Know the value of the hashmarks on your reticle, keep a note on the flip up caps if you don’t remember.
Know which way your turrets count up/down, Left/Right. Practice it. You should be proficient to make these changes with your eyes closed.
Long range hunting ammunition
Get to know your ammunition
Once we chronographed a 15 round string using Labradar and our magneto speed, we got a very good idea of the average velocity in a box of ammo as well as the extreme spread. Remember, higher velocity means higher impacts, lower velocity means lower impact from your point of aim which stretches the vertical of your groups. Ideally you want ammo that has very consistent velocities and when you test them far out, they group “waterline.” I typically like to test my ammo at 600 m in 10 round groups. What I am after here is finding out how much vertical spread I get. Anything under 6inch at this distance is good. Better rifles and ammo combinations will hold 2-4 inches of vertical at 600m.
Objectives set for the weekend range trip
I spent sometime before our range sessions going through some principles making sure we get the fundamentals right, rifles setup correctly, scopes properly setup, mounts torqued and barrels cleaned.
Once we got on the ranges, I had a full 2-day programme to run with these fellow shooters. Most important for me was to:
- Show them what their rifles/ammo can do at distance
- Ensure we validated our ballistics with real world firing
- Get a grip on wind reading for field use and how we shall be applying that dope/correction
- Go through the basics of spotter/shooter dialogue
- Get them to exchange wind dope both on their rifle as well as other rifle systems
- Making shots under field conditions in a specific time frame emphasizing first round impact
- Fast follow up shots using reticle hold
- Fun exercise for them to qualify with their own equipment
On day 1, we got both shooters zeroed and scopes turrets reset. I had already given each one of them a ballistic card to work in MOA or mrad according to their equipment.
Live firing at longer distances
After that we had a few sessions of firing rounds at extended distance from 200-600m to validate the trajectory with real world firings. Here we took note of the actual recorded dope so that we would be able to validate our trajectory on the ballistic apps/kestrel. Below you can see 3 groups shot with the Browning Maral at 600m. The first group at 600m was high. We came down 0.3mrad here and took note. Those groups have a nice vertical showing the ammo and rifle combination are shooting well. Remember, the Browning Maral is marketed for fast follow up shots during driven hunts and bling shooting. Yet it shoots beautifully at long range! What do you think?
The beauty of this exercise was that I could show both shooters replay of their rounds in flight impacting the target using our Swarovski spotting scope and purpose made adapter. This ensured that when the spotter missed the impact, we could go back and check. This saves you expensive rounds while also acting as a learning exercise. For most hunters, watching the bullets arching their way to their target and seeing the effects of their wind call in flight is truly an awesome experience.
The idea at these distances is not that we just make a hit but that we can get the precise elevation from real world firings. Although this 800m group is a nice clover leaf, it needs to come down 1.25 MOA to be centered/ trajectory validated. Once you get that done properly, we will true our ballistics to match this data.
We had a blast watching our shots. The idea here was to also get these shooters to feel the effect of the wind on their shots without having been shown how to adjust for it. Naturally, as the winds picked up, rounds started hitting a target’s width left/ right which brings me to part II.
Learn the wind – workshop
This is my favourite part of the precision hunter class. Showing shooters how to give a value to the wind and dialing it in the scope and pushing the limits on their long range hunting rifles. I am thankful to three competitive shooters in particular for having taught me much of what I know about wind reading – Russell Simmonds, Tim Stuart and Asad Wahid from the North London Rifle Club. Watching them shoot and observing how they shoot has been some of my best training.
I also spend a few hours myself doing wind classes off the range with 2 of my shooting mates. I find these very useful in working out the dope fast and watching the effects of the wind through the spotter. Unless you get accustomed to what it is you are looking for, it’s harder to understand. We typically have a walker down range who carries a radio and a kestrel wind meter. We ask him to stand in specific points and we give him an estimate of what we think the wind is doing and he will confirm. It’s great training and it’s fun.
Pic taken during one of the wind reading classes I ran this year in preparation for Ko1Mile.
The difference here was that these ranges unlike gallery and F-class ranges do not have tens of wind flags. You have no wind flags, only a few natural indicators, your kestrel and your spotting scope/rifle scope. You must also shoot with your both eyes open, you’re watching for every bit of movement before you squeeze off that shot.
Applying Wind lessons in the field
Making a wind call and dialing it in on your long range hunting rifle takes time to master.
You must find out i) Your bullet drift for 10mph full value from your ballistics card ii) direction of wind (clock format) ii) wind speed then work out a simple formula for your shot based on the drift values on your ballistics card. Let’s work out a quick one. You have all seen a ballistics chart like the one below.
Let’s say we’re taking a shot at 500m. We have a 5mph wind from 2oclock.
Wind value in MOA for 10mph wind X windspeed (in decimal format) X Wind direction factor
Therefore 3.7 MOA x 0.5 (half 10mph) x 0.8 = 1.5 MOA into the wind Right or Left.
Both were handed a quick cheat sheet how to do it in the training material. They alternated shooting a few rounds each. They knew they had their elevation right from the trajectory validation exercise, now it was a matter of getting the wind right. It is surprising how fast shooters can start to identify wind changes once their focus is on that and it’s fantastic to watch first round hits to 600 m from shooters who typically don’t stretch it out further than 200m😊 It is also great to see novice shooters make use of their rifle scopes in the way they were devised to be used, cranking on their turrets and pushing their limits.
Windage turret options
Here the spotter on the right is giving the shooter corrections for elevation and windage before engaging the target. Turret: Swarovski Z8i BTF
This is the Swarovski BTF turret close up, easy and clear to read, simple to adjust, 4 mrad each way. The turret will stop turning once you reach the far end of your windage so you cannot go a full turn out!
Long range factory hunting rifles at work: After working out the wind correction/dope, the shooter adjusts his windage knob into the wind. The Sauer 100 entry rifle in 6.5 Creedmoor performed beautifully producing some stunning groups.
The windage knob of the March scope is easy to read showing R and L to facilitate wind direction adjustments.
What do the perfect turrets look like?
Live fire with long range hunting rifles
Here are some of the shots they made during the class both during the trajectory validation stages as well as during the wind reading class.
We started out at 200m on paper and worked our way out to 700m. We typically shoot one round on the plate to ensure we have our elevation, then a group on paper for the record and trajectory validation. Here I want to ensure that our real world shooting bullet drop is what is predicted by the ballistic calculator so when we are in the field, hitting it not something that happens by surprise. We have tried it out before. Most of the shots impacted a little higher than predicted.
Below: 300m plate… first shot little high, let’s start taking note of our real world Point of Impact with out initial dope chart and record the actual correction needed.
390m – we sprayed a rock and got our elevation dialled in on that… our shot in the field during the hunt was a little further than this…
405m, 7 degree angle, slightly high about 1 MOA. Near misses are important, we must get the rifles properly dialed. Replaying the shots also gives us the opportunity to see exactly what happened.
Below: 515m with 6.5 Creedmoor.
Below 515m with 300 Norma Magnum – notice the difference in energy impact.
Below: This was the qualifying stage shot with a 300 Norma Mag to give the shooters the opportunity to experience cartridges that are significantly flatter shooting windage wise. Notice how visible the bullet trace is.
600m shot, perfect elevation, almost perfect windage.
This group was shot with the Sauer 100 XT Classic in 6.5 Creedmoor at 600m whilst doing trajectory validation groups. we initially thought we were missing the paper and ending up in the black board. we could just make out the impacts with our Swarovski ATS 25-50×65 Spotting scope.
Below: 710m target, hit about 1.5MOA high
This weekend gave these rifle shooters another perspective into long range hunting rifles, what constitutes long range, on which days you can make a long range shot and on which days you cannot make that shot, understanding that fine line is key. Are you wondering how far you can engage with your hunting rifle sitting there in the gun cabinet? Send us an email and we may be able to help you out.
Remember, over a century ago, shooters used long range factory hunting rifles like the one below to make shots at 1000 yards in the Wimbledon cup to great effect using the venerable 30-06. Would you be able to make a long range shot with this? Checkout a fine example of the Wimbledon cup rifle.
Interested to read how the hunt with these rifles went? Take a look at the next post Hunting European Mouflon
Above, putting the skills learnt during a hunt in the mountains for mouflon