Dialing vs. Holdover for Long Range Hunting

By James McClellan Jr.

In our world of long range hunting and shooting there is an ongoing debate: Should I dial or should I hold? The answer depends on the situation. Each method has advantages and disadvantages depending on the circumstances. For very fast shot opportunities at close to medium range, holding is quick and may be accurate enough for big game. For very long shots, there is usually more time to set up, and dialing provides much greater precision in our firing solution.

Let us examine the closer shot situation first. I use a base zero of 200 yards for my 280AI, and my scope, a Vortex Viper HSLR FFP, has an MOA reticle with hashmarks spaced at 2moa intervals vertically. The load is 168 grain Berger at 3015 fps. The drop data that follows is based on 1000 feet above sea level and 55 degrees, generated on my Applied Ballistics phone app. For any shot from fistfight to 225 yards, the center of the reticle will land the bullet in a good spot. For 250 yards, I ought to hold halfway between center and the first mark. For 300 yards, the first mark is almost dead on. 350 yards is halfway between the second and third mark, 400 is almost exactly the third mark.

Absent a hard wind, these aiming points will give me decent hits on deer size targets IF I can remember where to aim in the heat of the moment. I don’t mind admitting that I am the weak link in this system. How well I can settle my eye on the correct point of the reticle is another variable, and looking at a nice sized buck isn’t going to help my concentration. Having a diagram of the reticle marked with the holdovers can help, but it is actually easier for me to remember a number to dial the moa than to memorize a whole pictorial representation- especially if the hold is supposed to fall between marks instead of on one.

As a practical matter, if we think of the kill zone of a deer as a circle of approximately 10 inches diameter, at 400 yards or less we can be a little imprecise with the hold and still get an ok hit. If the wind is up, 10mph is 2.1 moa full value, so shading into the wind to the first hash (the horizontals are at 1moa intervals) will keep the bullet on target. I have used reticle holds on steel at the local range out to 700 yards, but I am not comfortable with the holdover method past 400 if the target has hair.


440 yards, wind 10mph /5moa up/2moa wind, both holding


Same shot, dialed up, holding wind.


Same shot, all dialed.
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