How to Determine Your Effective Range for a Hunting Shot

By Cameron Cool

With the growing interest in and popularity of long range shooting, both for targets and hunting purposes, there has also been an increase in the disapproval of such shots. This disapproval is not only coming from the anti-hunting crowd but also from our fellow hunters, and rightfully so. We have all heard horror stories about hunters taking unethical shots and wounding game. As responsible hunters and stewards of the land it is our duty to do our best to make ethical, clean kills. All hunters know that things don't always go according to plan, but to help minimize the chance of wounding game we must ask ourselves a very important question: "How far is too far?"


Above are two different rifles with very different effective ranges. The Winchester model 70 chambered in 7mm Remington Magnum (on top) has a much greater effective range than that of the Remington 700 chambered for the .300 Savage (below).

Anyone can look at a few ballistic tables and get an idea of how effective their load will be on game at different ranges. Although it is a good idea to study these tables and understand the numbers, these ranges should not necessarily be what you use as your maximum effective range for a hunting shot. For example, an individual who is new to hunting and who has little experience target shooting should probably not take a 500 yard shot at a big game animal even if he is equipped with a hard hitting, flat shooting magnum. However, someone with more experience hunting and more time on the range may be more than capable of taking such a shot, even with a less powerful round.

So how do you determine your effective range for a hunting shot? There are countless variables to consider when answering this question, so I will break them into three main categories: equipment, conditions, and experience.

First off, let's talk about equipment. This includes all of the fun and exciting stuff that we drool over at our local gun stores. First comes the rifle. There are more rifle and cartridge combinations in this world than one could ever fathom, and deciding on which combination is best could easily be the topic of a dictionary sized book. The important thing to keep in mind when it comes to the rifle itself is that you personally know its capabilities.

To determine your maximum range for a hunting shot you must know how accurate your rifle is. The accuracy of your rifle should only be determined by you. There are countless rifles in this world that are capable of outstanding accuracy. However, just because a rifle is capable of quarter minute groups out to 1000 yards doesn't mean the individual behind the gun is capable of shooting said groups. This is why it is important that you are the one who determines how accurate you are with your own rifle.

Another important factor that you must understand about your rifle is the capabilities of the cartridge it is chambered for. Some rounds are simply more capable of harvesting game at longer ranges. This doesn't mean that you need the latest and greatest super jumbo mega magnum but rather that you should be familiar with what you have. Looking over ballistics tables and charts can give you a good idea of impact velocity as well as impact energy. This information is easily found on the web if you are using factory ammunition. Most ammunition manufacturers have ballistics tables for their loaded rounds that can either be viewed or downloaded for free. Some manufacturers even print this information on their boxes of ammunition. Handloaders can also use this information, as well as information found in the various reloading manuals, to get a rough idea of the performance of their rounds.

If you are equipped with a chronograph you can use your velocity readings at different ranges to get an even better idea of how well your round will perform. These numbers will give you a good starting point, but you should also be sure to physically shoot at the ranges you intend to hunt at to get exact information on how far your bullet will drop.

Minimum impact energy is commonly debated and there are various theories floating around about the ideas of knockdown power. I'll leave this can of worms unopened and let the reader decide their own thoughts about these ideas. However, kinetic energy is another factor that you can use to help determine your effective range.

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