With the more recent popularity in long-range shooting new shooters are looking to get the best setup to begin their long-range journey. Taking into consideration the cost associated with learning long-range shooting some other factors can impact which rifle cartridge will best suit your needs. Factors such as recoil and barrel life are considered when choosing a cartridge to learn long-range shooting.
The best rifle cartridges to learn long-range shooting are the cartridges that will allow the shooter to learn proper shooting mechanics at a moderate cost per shot. This means a cartridge with moderate recoil and long barrel life is the optimum choice.
Learning the skills required for long-range shooting is a painstaking process that takes thousands of rounds down range before beginning to master this skill. Between shooting mechanics and learning to adjust for atmospheric conditions the 3 main factors that should affect your cartridge choice will be cost-effective, access to components, and ergonomics of the cartridge.
1. 308 Winchester
The seemingly immortal 308 is a cartridge that surprisingly fits the role of a learner cartridge. This cartridge though not breaking speed records offers new long-range shooters the primary benefit of being extremely cost effective.
The primary cost in shooting is obviously the ammunition although a cost that is often overlooked is barrel life. This is where the 308 excels! The life expectancy out of a 308 barrel that is both kept cool and cleaned properly can be in excess of 10,000 rounds.
Access to components is a large factor in a cartridge. Components being factory ammunition or components to hand load your own ammunition, if you can’t get components you can shoot. Either buying factory ammunition or looking for brass the 308 has a large variety to choose from that nearly all sporting goods stores hold stock.
Cartridge ergonomics consist of things such as felt recoil and ballistic coefficients that determine how efficiently a bullet will cut through the atmosphere. The 308 is a modest felt recoil rifle that can be fired with or without a muzzle attachment to better control the recoil of the rifle. However, the biggest critique of the 308 cartridges is the fact that the bullets are not very efficient.
An overall look at the 308 for a leaning cartridge is exceptional. Primarily due to the fact of the cost savings in the thousands of rounds you will be firing while learning this skill. The largest downfall of the 308 is the fact that 30 caliber bullets in the lower weights are not efficient at all when compared to some of the newer offerings on the market today.
I would highly recommend this cartridge for shooters that are concerned about cost over time.
2. 7mm-08 Remington
Surprisingly enough the wildcat of the 308 is also a very good cartridge for those looking to learn long-range shooting.
The 7mm-08 is also very cost-effective both when looking at the cost per round and barrel longevity. Hand loaders will appreciate the powder saving when loading a short action cartridge such as the 7mm-08 instead of a large volume cartridge.
Components for the 7mm-08 are however harder to come by. This is where the division between the 308 and the 7mm-08 are most note-able. Brass in particular can be hard to find for hand loaders and factory-loaded ammunition will most likely need to be found at large sporting goods stores.
Cartridge ergonomics is where the 7mm-08 excels over the 308. With felt recoil being very similar when comparing them the biggest difference is the slimmer and more efficient 7mm bullets that pair better with the short action cartridge.
The greatest downfall of the 7mm-08 is the fact that components are not as common. For this reason, variety can be limited and often in terms of factory-loaded ammunition you will have to settle for what you can get. For this reason, I would only recommend the 7mm-08 to shooters that are expecting to hand load this cartridge.
If you are a hand loader this cartridge will be an exceptional choice that will be superb for training and also for hunting applications for those who also hunt.
3. 6.5 Creedmoor
The 6.5 Creedmoor has made waves in the shooting industry and for this reason precisely. The 6.5 Creedmoor is an exceptional cartridge for those looking to learn long-range shooting.
The 6.5 Creedmoor is a cost-effective cartridge that doesn’t require a large amount of powder when compared to long action cartridges. Though barrel life is not as good as the 308 or 7mm-08 shooters can expect to get on average around 3000 rounds through their 6.5 Creedmoor before noticing a reduction in accuracy.
With popularity comes selection. In recent years the 6.5 Creedmoor has been arguably one of the most popular cartridges on the market. For this reason, many stores stock 6.5 Creedmoor ammunition and handloading components although they can be sold out.
The ergonomics of the 6.5 Creedmoor is near specifically developed for target training. With extremely efficient bullets and low felt recoil this cartridge takes the cake on ergonomics.
Keep in mind, however, that if you’re looking to get multiple purposes out of a 6.5 Creedmoor you may find yourself in an uphill battle. The 6.5 Creedmoor has begun developing a poor reputation in the hunting world for being a “crippler” of big game.
I would highly recommend the 6.5 Creedmoor to shooters looking to use efficient bullets for target situations. If you want to use a 6.5 caliber rifle to both practice long-range shooting and harvest big game I would point you in the direction of the 6.5 PRC that performs better in hunting situations.
4. 7mm Remington Mag
Leaving the short actions and entering into the long action realm the 7mm Rem Mag has had a long standing of being a workhorse in the long-range hunting industry. The 7mm Rem Mag bridges the gap of learning and application in the hunting world.
The 7mm Remington Mag is definitely a more expensive cartridge to shoot when comparing this long action cartridge to some of the previously stated short action cartridges. However, when comparing the 7mm Rem Mag to other long action cartridges that are suitable for long-range shooting the cost is not egregious. Barrel life can be expected to be around 3000 rounds before accuracy begins to diminish.
The popularity of the 7mm Rem Mag has allowed for a rather abundant selection of components for both factory and hand-loaded ammunition. The majority of sporting goods stores should hold stock in the 7mm Rem Mag components due to its popularity over the years.
Obviously, recoil is going to be more noticeable when comparing most long actions to short actions. The 7mm Rem Mag is no exception to this and most shooters will need to use a recoil managing device such as a muzzle break in order to repeatedly fire this cartridge comfortably. The added velocity however will allow for longer distances to be more obtainable.
In summary, the 7mm Remington Mag is an excellent choice for shooters that have the building blocks of long-range shooting and are looking to expand the range. This cartridge also pairs very well with hunters pursuing big game.
A new cartridge in recent years the 300PRC has promise in both long range shooting and hunting applications. The introduction of more efficient bullets allows for this cartridge to reach some exceptional distances.
The 300PRC is an expensive cartridge to fire both in burnt powder and barrel life. The barrel life of a 300PRC though still relatively new is expected to be around the 2700 rounds before accuracy is diminished.
Components for the 300PRC is still relatively new though large sporting goods stores do have a selection of ammunition. Hand loaders will have to go online in order to obtain their desired components and tools. The ammunition brand is most commonly Hornady due to the fact that they developed the cartridge.
The 300PRC is a beast that will have to be tamed with a recoil dampening device such as a muzzle brake if shooters expect to fire multiple rounds. With the higher ballistic coefficient bullets available to shooters the 300PRC has exceptional long-range performance. Looking at the Hornady A-Tip bullets they have a G7 BC of .442 and .334 in their ELD-X line of bullets.
This cartridge is only going to be for long-range shooters that have the majority of the physical technique acquired and are looking to push extreme distances. Long-range hunters, in particular, can take advantage of the cartridge to harvest big game animals at staggering distances.
In conclusion, when suggesting these cartridges I would comment that the vast majority of shooters looking to learn the skills of long-range shooting will find the 308, 7mm-08, and 6.5 Creedmoor to be their best options. Cartridges such as the 7mm Remington Mag and 300PRC will take their spot when the fundamentals are understood and distances are pushed to the extreme.