How to Determine Your Effective Range for a Hunting Shot

Bullet selection goes hand in hand with ballistics when determining your effective range for a hunting shot, and is arguably more important than numbers on a chart. Different bullets will greatly affect your maximum effective range. For example, someone shooting a magnum class cartridge loaded with a bullet designed for long range shooting will have a much longer maximum effective range then if they were to use the exact same rifle loaded with a round nose bullet. This is why it is important that you spend time at the range determining exactly how far your bullet will drop at the ranges you intend to take hunting shots at.

Bullet choice will not only affect maximum effective range by how far the bullet drops but also by the bullets terminal performance. Be sure that the bullet you are using is designed to expand properly at the impact velocities and distances you intend to shoot. This information can usually be found in reloading manuals or on bullet manufacturer’s websites. The hunter who is serious about load development and performance may even want to complete their own tests on bullets to see if they expand adequately at the intended ranges. There are many ways to do this but one cheap and simple method is to shoot into stacks of wet newspaper. The newspaper will simulate the animal you are hunting and can give you an idea of how well the bullet will penetrate as well as how well the bullet will expand.

The last major piece of equipment that will play a big role in determining your maximum effective range is your scope. Remember that you can’t hit what you can’t see. A low power scope has the potential to limit your maximum effective range due to this simple fact. Advances in reticle and turret designs have helped to increase the ranges at which shooters can accurately hit their targets. If your scope is equipped with these features, familiarizing yourself with how they work can help to increase the range at which you can effectively take game.

The next major variable when trying to determine your maximum effective range for a hunting shot is the conditions that you will be taking the shot under. Keep in mind that taking shots at game usually happens under much different conditions than when we practice at the target range. It is very likely that someone who is familiar with their equipment and comfortable taking shots at targets at 800 yards may struggle to keep the reticle on the vitals of an animal at 500 yards after a long hard day of hunting in rough terrain under adverse weather conditions.

The weather is always changing in the field and has a major influence on how far one can effectively take game. Wind is just as good at pushing a bullet out of the vital area on an animal as it is at pushing the bullet out of the 10 ring on a target. Oftentimes in a hunting situation it will be more difficult to read the wind than it is while on the target range. If you plan on taking shots at longer ranges you should practice reading the wind and shooting in unfavorable conditions.

Weather can also limit your sight distance, which in turn will limit how far you can effectively shoot. Rain, snow, and fog will all decrease visibility and will distort your sight picture. Time of day can also reduce visibility. Oftentimes hunters find themselves shooting game within the first or last half hour of hunting light. Even using a high quality scope may not be enough to clearly see your target at long distances under low light conditions.

Although it is unlikely you will know the exact weather conditions you’ll be hunting under, you usually can familiarize yourself with the terrain you will be hunting in. Is the land steep and mountainous or flat and open? Is there thick vegetation and heavy underbrush or will you be hunting along the edge of a field? All of these factors will influence how far you can effectively shoot at game.