First off, I would like opinions on cartridge selection for long range hunting. It will be used for medium to large game, the largest being moose/brown bear. Should I go with the 50 bmg, 338 lapua, or ??
Second, How much magnification do I really need? I am looking at a Nightforce 32x now.
Third, what is the best( within reason under $1500) range finder for this type of hunting?
For long range deer size game to moose I prefer to use a 338 caliber, such as the 338 Lapua, 338-300 Ultra Mag, 338 - 416 Rigby and 338 - 408 Chey-Tac. Although smaller calibers will work 338's have tremendous knock down power out to a mile or more. Magnification is dependent on how far your shooting ranges will be. 22x - 25x is fine for just about anything but as you get out towards 1500 yards or more it's nice to have just a little more to verify your holding right where you want to be, you can always back it down in power if the conditions aren't favorable for 32x. I've used the Swarovski 1500 for 7 years now it has worked perfectly for me. On a good overcast day that's cold and clear and a dark target like a pine tree I've gotten readings to 1900 yards, but have had no problem getting consistent reading out to 1200 - 1500 on an any condition day. That and it only weighs 1 lbs.
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Ranger is an easy choice, agreed with Kevin. The swaro will do all you need 99% of the time. You will be paying exponentialy more for any performance over the swaro.
For calibers, 50bmg generally only come in huge rifles, and good quality brass is hard to get. Assuming you have the skill, knowledge, and experience nessasry to shoot 1200-1500yards, any of the calibers Kevin mentioned will work. Personaly, i like .375s. There are numerous bullets out there now and a 375 allen mag or another 375-408 cheytec variant seriously caries a whallop. Equal or better ballistics and longer barrel life than the 338s are what sold me on a 375. Predator, Rocky Mtn, and GS Custom, to name a few who make 350-400gr hunting bullets for .375. All with bcs in the .85+ range, most much higher. Then there is also the 350gr SMK with a .78 BC that will also work. All the bullets mentioned are ones that work in a standard 1-10 twist, not solids that require wild fast twist rates.
Any big 338, or 375 made with quality components and by a quality smith, will get the job done.
"Out of range" is a theoretical concept as far as I'm concerned. Send it!
My advice, being barely above the newbie stage is go with one of the solid 338 choices like the 338 Lapua, 338 Edge or 338 RUM. All will offer good barrel life and all seem to be fairly easy to load for and very accurate and forgiving. Learn to reload high quality ammo and learn solid LRH shooting skills with a rifle like this so when you step up to the big dogs you are ready to load and shoot at that level.
Find a load and buy a ton of components then shoot heck out of it and let the rifle teach you, this is hard to do when your shooting a hotter round as things are changing and then you burn the barrel out just when your getting dialed in.
If your less newb than your letting on, rock the 338-408 CheyTac variant
As far as the LRF get the Leica 1600, smaller beam divergence gives you more accurate reading over the Swaro or bump it up to the Vectronix and never have to buy another range finder.
High Fence, Low Fence, Stuck in the Fence, if I can Tag it and Eat it, it's Hunting!