9 Best Cartridges for Long Range Hunting

Long-range shooting and hunting have been getting more popular and it definitely has a “cool factor” to a lot of folks. The thing is, popular long-range shooting rifles are not always good for long-range hunting.

The 26 Nosler and 6.5 PRC are among the best options for long-range hunting. Both have enough energy and velocity to kill an elk at 1000-yards, and both have a recoil around that of a .308 or .30-06. If you want a little more power, go with the 28 Nosler.

A good long-range hunting rifle needs enough velocity for expansion, and enough energy to make a reliable wound channel. Usually, a long-range hunting rifle needs more beef than one used for target shooting.

9 Proven Calibers for Long Range Hunting

Cartridge750 Yard Drop (inches)750 Yard Wind Drift (inches)Recoil (ft/lbs)
28 Nosler1052828
300 Weatherby Mag1223333
26 Nosler1032821
7mm Rem Mag1251623
300 PRC1313132
300 RUM1273135
300 Mag1383630
300 WSM1414626
6.5 PRC1243216

I’ll have a complete description of each cartridge further down.

Long Range Rifle Recoil

Something that a lot of folks overlook when in the market for a long-range rifle is recoil. Recoil is what will likely make the difference in you being able to make a mediocre shot vs a great shot. Let’s be honest, if you know a really big punch is coming, you will be very distracted and probably flinch a bit.

How much recoil is too much? That varies from person to person. The US army decided in the 1920s that recoil over 17 ft/lbs. (a 308) had on average a net 20 percent or greater negative effect on accuracy in basic training. Though, that was with stiff stocks and steel butt plates.

With rifles, the recoil that seems to show a slight difference is somewhere between 20 and 30 pounds of felt recoil. The problem is that very few rifles have less than 30 pounds of recoil and an effective range of over 750-yards. Most long-range hunting rifles have a recoil that takes getting used to.

This is a big part of “not everybody can be a long-range hunter”. By long-range, I’m talking about 750 to 1000-yards. I know for me personally, I start flinching and having lesser accuracy with recoil much over 20 pounds. Not proud of that, but it is what it is.

All that being said, a good recoil pad can really take the edge off recoil. And, if you really want to make a difference, get a suppressor. They not only reduce the noise but also really make a big difference in recoil.

We have a great Rifle Recoil Chart on Backfire. Here’s a link to it

Best Bullets For Long Range Hunting

The best bullets for long-range hunting are Hornady’s ELD-X, Nosler’s Accubond Long-Range, and Barnes LRX. All three are extremely accurate, have a high Ballistic Coefficient, and will expand at lower than normal velocities, which makes them the perfect choice for use over 750-yards.

Ballistic Coefficient is the measurement of how well a bullet retains its energy. A higher ballistic coefficient means that a bullet takes longer to slow down. That makes it less affected by wind and gravity. It shoots straighter.

Of course, you need a bullet with world-class accuracy to shoot that far too. Anything less than a for-sure good hit is unethical, so only the best bullets will do. these bullets are definitely amazing in the accuracy and precision department.

Another important point, one that most people overlook, is the expansion threshold. That is, at what speed will a hunting bullet expand. for most bullets, it’s between 2000 and 1800 fps. Trouble is, cartridges like the infamous 300 Weatherby Magnum and 300 Remington Ultra Magnum aren’t going much over 1600 fps at 1000-yards.

Most bullets in those calibers won’t work much past 800-yards, but some will, and those are the ones you need if you want to make a long-range shot.

The bullet with the lowest expansion threshold is Nosler Accubond Long Range, which expands starting at 1300 fps. Hornady ELD-X and Barnes LRX both will expand at 1600 fps. All three are excellent choices for long-range hunting ammo.

The notable issue with long-range hunting ammo is that it sometimes doesn’t bode well at normal hunting distances. the bullets are designed to expand at lower velocities, It doesn’t hold together as firmly.

I’ve heard firsthand accounts of them failing at distances under 350-yards. The short-range velocity is so great with these fast cartridges, the softer bullets designed for long-range use may fall apart and fail to penetrate at close distances, particularly on big animals.

If I were hunting long-range, I would carry separate ammo (the normal stuff) in the case of a 200-yard shot. Consider that your hunt’s insurance policy.

Should You Make a 700+ Yard Shoot?

I will add that long-range hunting is not for everyone. It requires serious skill. Tracking a wounded animal is not fun, and is potentially dangerous. Alaska Fish and Game recommends most hunters keep shots within 200-yards to ensure a good hit on potentially dangerous animals.

They also recommend cartridges with around 20 pounds of recoil because most people shoot them quite well, whereas magnum rifles are often associated with tracking wounded animals. They figure many shooters can’t handle the heavy recoil too well and it caused poorer shots.

28 Nosler

162-grain Hornady ELD-X500-yards750-yards1000-yards
Energy2142 ft/lbs.1608 ft/lbs.1186 ft/lbs.
Velocity2440 fps2114 fps1816 fps
Drop36 in105 in223 in
Wind drift @10mph12 in28 in54 in

The 28 Nosler is perhaps the best cartridge for long-range hunting. It has a manageable amount of recoil, and absolutely amazing trajectory out to 1,000-yards. Paired with Hornady’s ELD-X ammo, it has an effective range well past 1,000-yards on elk-sized animals.

300 Weatherby Magnum

200-grain Hornady ELD-X500-yards750-yards1000-yards
Energy2258 ft/lbs.1648 ft/lbs1182 ft/lbs.
Velocity2254 fps1927 fps1681 fps
Drop43 in122 in261 in
Wind drift @10mph14 in33 in63 in

300 Weatherby Magnum is suitable for long-range hunting and is a powerful, strong cartridge. It is the most powerful 30 caliber hunting cartridge and has recoil to match. it has about 800 yards effective range with ELD-XE ammo and about 750-yards with some other ammo.

It’s an older designed cartridge that works great but doesn’t take full advantage of the latest design improvements in ballistic research. With good ammo, it’s still a 1000-yard hunting rifle.

26 Nosler

150-grain Nosler500-yards750-yards1000-yards
Energy2023 ft/lbs.1523 ft/lbs.1126 ft/lbs.
Velocity2464 in2138 fps1839 fps
Drop36 in103 in218 in
Wind drift @10mph12 in28 in53 in

26 Nosler is considered by many to be the best cartridge for long-range hunting. at 150-grains, the bullet is a bit light, but it still has enough energy at 1,000-yards for deer, bear, and elk. It is the flattest shooting option you can get.

It’s a very impressive cartridge, but it’s not common at all. The only company loading ammo for is it Nosler. There is probably some small-time custom loader who offers it too, but Nosler is the only regular ammo manufacturer to offer 26 Nosler ammo.

26 Nosler has about the same recoil as a 30-06, just over 20 pounds of force on average. It’s an amazing little cartridge really. It commonly uses bullets weighing between 120 and 150-grains. The 150-grain is best if you want to shoot past 500-yards or if you want to shoot animals bigger than deer.

26 Nosler is insane on deer and alright on elk, but not really good for moose or large grizzly. The BUllet lacks weight, which means it will really lack penetration at long range. At 1,000-yards, you’d have to shoot an elk in the lungs to be sure it’s a complete pass-through every time.

300 PRC

212-grain Hornady ELD-X500-yards750-yards1000-yards
Energy2285 ft/lbs.1718 ft/lbs.1274 ft/lbs.
Velocity2203 fps1910 fps1645 fps
Drop46 in131 in276 in
Wind Drift @10mph13 in31 in60 in

The 300 PRC was designed from the ground up as a good long-range rifle. It’s basically a magnum 30-caliber cartridge, performing just under the 300 RUM, but with a significantly smaller cartridge and much less gunpowder. By design, it also uses more aerodynamic bullets

The 300 PRC is everything we’ve learned about modern bullets and ballistics wrapped up in a nice 30-caliber option. It shoots slightly heavier bullets than most 30-caliber rifles. It’s the most modern option on the market.

300 Remington Ultra Magnum (300 RUM)

220-grain Hornady ELD-X500-yards750-yards1000-yards
Energy2438 ft/lbs.1826 ft/lbs.1346 ft/lbs.
Velocity2234 fps1933 fps1660 fps
Drop44 in127 in268 in
Wind drift @10mph13 in31 in69 in

The 300 Rum was designed to be the most powerful 30-caliber rifle on the market. And, it is. It’s a royal beast of a case, loaded with around 100 grains of gunpowder. Nosler’s bullets range from 125-grain to 220-grain so if you handload, there’s a lot of craziness you can do with it.

The 300 RUM is more powerful than I would ever care to shoot. My back aches just thinking about it. Some people don’t mind it.

300 Winchester Magnum

200-grain Hornady ELD-X500-yards750-yards1000-yards
Energy2011 ft/lbs.1457ft/lbs.1041 ft/lbs.
Velocity2128 fps1811 ft/lbs.1531 fps
Drop48 in138 in294 in
Wind drift @10mph15 in36 in96 in

The 300 Win Mag, or just 300 Mag, is the classic long-range rifle most people know about. It’s not the best by far, but it’s very popular and widely used for both hunting and shooting past 750-yards. It’s a fair compromise of recoil and bullet energy in a 30-caliber package.

The 300 mag is very fast at under 500-yards. It’s still a great option out to 100-yards give or take. You have to take into account your bullet’s velocity and what the expansion threshold of your bullet is. bullet velocity can easily vary 200 fps from what the ammo box says.

You can compare the drop of your bullet from your rifle with published ballistics data. You can play with the numbers on a ballistic calculator until you see ballistics that matches up with your drop. That will give you a fairly accurate idea of your velocity at specific distances.

300 Winchester Short Magnum (300 WSM)

200-grain Hornady ELD-X500-yards750-yards1000-yards
Energy1963 ft/lbs.1421 ft/lbs.1014 ft/lbs.
Velocity2002 fps1788 fps1511 fps
Drop49 in141 in301 in
Wind drift @10mph15 in36 in70 in

The 300 WSM has similar ballistics but lower recoil than the 300 Win Mag. It’s a great option for long-range hunting but isn’t as popular as the 300 Win Mag.

Winchester tried to redo the old Win Mag, and the 300 WSM was born. It’s a short, squatty cartridge that burns powder faster and gains bullet velocity faster. It worked, but it wasn’t as big a hit as they had hoped.

It really didn’t do anything the 300 Mag didn’t already do. All it really did was offer a slight step down in recoil, but that wasn’t enough to replace the 300 Mag.

7mm Remington Magnum

162-grain Hornady ELD-X500-yards750-yards1000-yards
Energy1806 ft/lbs.1341 ft/lbs.979 ft/lbs.
Velocity2240 fps1931 fps1650 fps
Drop44 in125 in266 in
Wind drift @10mph13 in16 in61 in

The 7mm Rem Mag is a great 700-yard deer rifle. It has more than enough energy at 1000-yards and with good bullets, it can reliably kill a deer at that distance. You have to keep an eye on the expansion threshold and know your bullet’s velocity under various conditions.

The 7mm Mag is more of an 800-yard hunting rifle than a 1000-yard rifle, but it does have the potential if you know what you are doing.

6.5 PRC

Hornady ELD-X500-yards750-yards1000-yards
Energy1610 ft/lbs.1192 ft/lbs.869 ft/lbs.
Velocity2251 fps1938 fps1654 fps
Drop43.5 in124 in263 in
Wind drift @10mph13 in32 in61 in

6.5 PRC is the newest one in its class. It fires a 26 caliber bullet weighing 120 to 150-grains. It has the trajectory of the 300 Weatherby Mag, but literally half the recoil. 6.5 PRC is a great option for elk at 750-yards, and deer at 1000+ with good ammo.

This one is my choice for long-range hunting. I tend to gravitate towards the lesser recoiling options because they are more fun to shoot. and honestly, at 17 pounds of recoil, less than most 308 loads, it’s really pretty impressive.

6.8 is the newest to join the long-range game.

Honorable mention 6.8 Western & 6.5 Creedmoor

Honorable mention goes to the 6.5 Creedmoor and 6.8 Western. I know the article says 9 cartridges, but here are numbers 10 and 11.

The 6.5 Creedmoor is a fine 700-yard rifle for deer and antelope. It’s pretty common, and low recoiling. The 6.8 Western, that’s only just coming out. Basically, it’s a 6.5 Creedmoor but with a .277′ bullet instead of a .264′ bullet, and about 30-grains more bullet weight.

It’s more suited for elk than the 6,5 Creedmoor. Consider it the slightly bigger brother to the Creedmoor. The Western has a trajectory more like the 6.5 PRC, but a bit more bullet energy because it has heavier bullets.

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10 Comments

  1. Matt Morris says:

    Wouldn’t the 6.8 Western be more comparable to the 6.5 prc than the creedmore, maybe the big brother to the prc? I’d personally add in the 280 ai to the list.
    Great article keep them coming!

    1. You know, it is. It seems I made a mis-type at 4:30 this morning. Thanks for catching that. The 6.8 Western is slightly heavier than the 6.5 PRC and has a small bit more bullet energy, but both have similar trajectory.

  2. Another great long range bullet to look into is federal premium terminal ascent. High BC, copper shank, bonded and extremely accurate groups.

    1. I’ll have to check it out. Federal usually does a good job with ammo.

  3. I’m getting my kids into hunting. This fall we are planing a hog hunt. And maybe an elk hunt. Would the 6.5 PRC be a good cartridge at a closer range also? I’m trying to find something that doesn’t have a huge recoil for the kids but yet will take down big game Thank you

    1. The 6.5 PRC is a lot like the 270 up to 300 or 400-yards. I wouldn’t have an issue using it myself.

  4. Joseph L Poe says:

    thanks so much for all the content you guys create, has really helped me in a variety of decisions as I’ve just gotten back into hunting. This article and other video stuff on Youtube from you guys (and a bunch of others) helped me make the decision on what cartridge to chose for my Christensen Arms Mesa. I picked the “do-it-all” cartridge of 6.5 PRC mainly because of not wanting to go full magnum (recoil, weight, sound) and that it’ll stretch the spectrum into being a decent varmiter/Antelope rifle better that say a 300 winmag but still stretch the other way of being capable of Elk at my ethical/capable range of 400 yards. All the analysis you guys did helped tremendously with that especially with different ammo. Thanks again

  5. Great article! Always a fun discussion. I have to question how the 6.5prc is “great” at 750-1000yds, and the 7mm RM is “great” at a slightly less 700-800yds. At 1000yds the (given) velocity, drop, and wind drift are nearly identical, with the 7mm carrying an extra 110ft/lbs of energy. Thanks for all the content!

    1. Great article! Thank you. I am confused on the 750y wind drift for the 7mm Rem Mag. Only 16”? I know it’s a nice cartridge but that seems awfully low. Given its speed, grain and BC I would have estimated double that closer to the same figures the 6.5 PRC puts up. Am I missing something? Thank you in advance!