The Flattest-Shooting Rifle Cartridges: A handy table

Right now, shooters are obsessed with flat-shooting rifle cartridges. The advent of precision rifle competitions and the laser rangefinder have increased the public’s desire to go long. But what are the flattest shooting rifle cartridges?

The flattest-shooting popular rifle cartridge at 1,000 yards is the 6.5-300 Weatherby Magnum, followed by the .26 Nosler, the .28 Nosler, the .22 Creedmoor, and the 6.5 Weatherby RPM. These cartridges all drop less than 255″ at 1,000 yards.

The following table averages multiple loads for each cartridge and shows an average amount of drop at 500 yards and 1,000 yards for each cartridge.

The flattest shooting cartridges usually have Nosler or Weatherby in their name, and the top three flat-shooting cartridges were created by those respected companies. As much talk as there is about the .270 Winchester’s ability to shoot flatly, it does not compare with these three flat-shooting options.

6.5mm and 7mm projectiles offer very high ballistic coefficients, meaning they offer excellent ability to overcome drag and wind deflection over longer distances. When considering cartridges for their ability to shoot flat, overcoming drag is critical.

When a bullet is fired, many forces are immediately working against it: gravity, wind and atmospheric drag.

As soon as a projectile leaves the muzzle, earth’s gravity instantly begins to affect the trajectory of the round. Equally, cutting through the air slows the projectile down, eating away at its energy. Wind also affects bullets differently, and a cartridge’s ability to overcome these three forces make it better or worse for shooting flat and far.

Spinning high B.C. bullets at faster speeds allows the projectile to get to the target sooner, minimizing the amount of time all three forces have to affect the bullet’s trajectory.

The way in which cartridge manufacturers develop rounds to overcome these forces is the twist rates of the barrels in the rifles the cartridge’s are chambered in, developing longer, more aerodynamic bullets with narrower ogives, and case capacity.

Barrel twist rates spin the bullet out of the muzzle in a spiral much akin to a quarterback throwing a football. The spin rate helps to stabilize the projectile along its path, cut through drag and higher case capacities give the projectile more velocity thus delivering the bullet to the target more quickly.

The 26 and 28 Nosler as well as the 6.5×300 Weatherby Magnum all utilize heavy for caliber bullets with high ballistic coefficients that are stabilized by barrels with fast twist rates. All three cartridges also offer ample case capacity, allowing enough powder to send bullets at drag defying velocities.

Below is a chart indicating the three best flat-shooting cartridges and their muzzle velocity, drop, energy levels and felt recoil. Recoil statistics are offered for reference.

Cartridge26 Nosler28 Nosler6.5×300 Wby Mag
Muzzle Velocity3272 FPS3079 FPS3249 FPS
500 Yard Drop34″37″32″
1000 Yard Drop210″225″200.8″
500 Yard Energy1764 ft/lbs2087 ft/lbs1919 ft/lbs
1000 Yard Energy920 ft/lbs1094 ft/lbs1002 ft/lbs
Recoil21 ft/lbs27 ft/lbs23.6 ft/lbs
The three best flat shooting cartridges all drop less than 40″ at 500 yards

You can compare these numbers with your favorite cartridge using Backfire’s own table of flat shooting cartridges and you will see that the numbers indicated are in the absolute upper tiers. But let’s take a quick look at a historically popular “flat-shooting” cartridge, the .270 Winchester.

Cartridge.270 Winchester
Muzzle Velocity2829
500 Yard Drop46″
1000 Yard Drop314″
500 Yard Energy1407 ft/lbs
1000 Yard Energy625 ft/lbs
Recoil16.3 ft/lbs
At nearly 100 years old, the .270 Win cannot compete with today’s flat shooting stars.

As you can see, one of our gold standard flat-shooting cartridges (.270 Winchester) does not compare favorably with either of the Noslers or the Weatherby Magnum. Of course, the .270 Win was developed in 1925 when 1000 yard shots were effectively unheard of.

This is not just a product of the .27 caliber bullet and its ballistic coefficient numbers. Case capacity is literally and figuratively the driving force here:

Both Nosler offerings are based off of the 300 Remington Ultra Magnum and both boast case capacities of 93.5 grains of water. The 6.5×300 Weatherby magnum, as its name suggests, is based off of the 300 Weatherby mag and has a case capacity of 98 grains of water. By way of comparison, the .270 Winchester (based off of the .30-06 Springfield) offers a case capacity of 67 grains.

Deciding on the three best flat-shooting cartridges does not come down simply to one statistic, but a combination of all the factors inherent to a cartridge. Velocity, drop, energy and the use of bullets with their own factors which create their ballistic coefficients all should be considered.

Any cartridge that drops less than 40 inches at 500 yards or close to 200 inches at 1000 yards should be considered a flat shooting cartridge. Amount of drop is directly influenced by velocity, energy, rifle barrel and bullet design.

With those thoughts in mind, it is easy to see why the 26 Nosler, 28 Nosler and the 6.5×300 Weatherby Magnums are the best flat-shooting cartridges offered to rifle shooters today.

Flattest-Shooting Rifle Cartridges

wdt_ID Cartridge 500 Yard Drop (inches) 1000 Yard Drop (inches)
1 6.5-300 Weatherby Magnum -32.00 -200.80
2 .26 Nosler -34.00 -210.70
3 .28 Nosler -37.00 -225.10
4 .22 Creedmoor -34.00 -231.70
5 6.5 Weatherby RPM -38.00 -233.00
6 7mm Weatherby Magnum -40.00 -250.10
7 .264 Winchester Magnum -41.00 -250.50
8 6.5 PRC -41.00 -253.70
9 7 STW -41.00 -254.40
10 .30-378 Weatherby Magnum -39.00 -255.70

Does Flat Shooting Even Matter?

Since nearly all long-distance shooters today use a laser rangefinder, does it even matter which cartridges shoot the flattest? Does it matter if there are -30″ of drop or -40″ of drop if the answer is simply to spin the turret a few extra clicks?

One argument for a flat-shooting cartridge is that it covers mistakes. I was once hunting plains game in Africa when my PH told me, holding a rangefinder, that the wildebeest was 155 yards away. I took the shot prone and then stood up after the wildebeest tipped over after a perfect shot.

I was surprised at the distance, so I asked my PH “That’s just 155 yards?” He got a stunned look on his face and said, “No, TWO hundred fifty-five yards!” Our miscommunication during the shot sequence didn’t matter a bit, because I was shooting a .28 Nosler, which put the shot only 3″ low at that distance.

However, I fully admit that that a flat shooting cartridge is not nearly as important as a cartridge which is resistant to wind deflection. Still, a flat-shooting cartridge will often perform well with wind as well, because it is in the air for less time between the shot and hitting the target.

The Elements That Impact How Flat a Bullet’s Trajectory Is

Gravity impacts all objects the same. The longer the bullet is in the air, the longer gravity can pull on the object. Time of flight impacts bullet drop more than anything else. In fact, we may say that it’s the only thing that matters; however, factors that lead to time of flight changes are important to consider.

The ballistics coefficient of the bullet (a formula which considers the mass, diameter, and aerodynamic drag of a bullet to understand its ability to fight wind and continue on its path) greatly impacts time of flight because it keeps the bullet from slowing down due to inefficiency of flight.

Muzzle velocity certainly makes a difference in how fast the bullet reaches the target, but it is by no means the only factor to consider. For example, the .50BMG and the 6.5 Creedmoor both launch bullets at approximately the same muzzle velocity of 2,700fps.

However, the .50BMG bullet will reach the target with 143″ less drop than the 6.5 Creedmoor, because it has more mass which leads to a higher BC, and that higher BC given the same velocity, makes it slow down less during flight. Thus, the .50BMG drops less at 1,000 yards than the 6.5 Creedmoor.

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15 Comments

  1. Channing Applegarth says:

    Hi Jim,

    What a great tool that you have built. I too share your endorsement of Ron, his videos are a treat each week. I love that you have gone above and beyond here and I see tremendous value in this knowledge. Thanks for your hard work and entertaining videos, your passion shines through!

    1. Danny Reichel says:

      Just wondering where the 300 win mag ends up? Always amazing to me it’s not even on those lists.

  2. Charles Shirley says:

    Great information!
    How can I get all the data in a spread sheet form like you showed in your video?
    Again great job !!!!!

  3. Oregon boy says:

    I would think this data is slightly skewed unless the bullets are shot out of the same length of barrels and the same practices of reloading.

    You can’t pull data from different sources with different lengths of barrels and different loading methods and expect to get true results.

    Now if you pulled all of your data from Nosler and they shot their bullets out of the same length of barrel then I would trust the ballistics you’re speaking of.

    Not to mention the different variations in grains in each individual caliber,Ogive and BC.

    Do you have any of the data on the weight of the bullets, the brand of the bullets, the BC, any of the information related to the data you’re posting?

    Thanks

    1. Jim Harmer says:

      Good points, which are all things I’ve considered. The multiple loads for each cartridge are not at all pulled at random. They are normalized within caliber. For example, A 7 SAUM, 280 AI and 7 Rem Mag. I took multiple loads from each, but identical sources. 1 Normal load using the most popular factory ammo, one heavy load for each, one light load. All same bullets for each of the numbers that are then averaged. So it ends up being a very fair comparison.

  4. Pete Henry says:

    Hey there from Melbourne, Australia. I just want to quickly thank you for the great videos and for producing this table of bullet drop data. It makes for easy reading in an \”all in one place\” comparison, rather than spending time trying to find this data all over the internet. Enjoying many of your video\’s whilst stuck in lockdown. Good work mate. Cheers.

    p.s. I\’m also a huge fan of Ron Spomer so well done for the recognition of his great work too.

  5. Ian McIver (UK) says:

    Love it Jim ! Great work mate including .22LR what a hoot (Incoming!) = 3002 inches = 250 foot = 76m above target at 1000 yds now thats a challenge ! great to see bullet drops and equate them in inches of drop brings home the reality of how much impact good old gravity has on ballistics…….even with the flattest cartridges still aiming the height of a house above the target @1000 yds 🙂
    So it I’m guessing to summarise it doesn’t really matter what you shoot as long as you know distance to target & your maths 🙂
    Once again great effort appreciated…………………

  6. For the Top 5 you have listed, what manufacturers offer a complete rifle in those calibers?
    Obviously Weatherby and Nosler, but are there other manufacturers, vendors, builders to consider?
    I\’d be curious to know what the minimum cost is for just the rifle or a quality budget build.

    Links or names greatly appreciated, Thanks!

  7. Tim Viering says:

    Great information you have come up with. How hard would it be to add a 223wssm to the mix. I am curious to see how it does for a 22 that can push any bullet weight made for it.

  8. Great chart and thanks for what must have been an incredible amount of work. I noticed in your video that your chart also listed energy and recoil. Is it possible to show those on your web site list? It would help one decide on if a cartilage was up to a specific task and if one would be willing to take the kick.

    1. Jim Harmer says:

      Good idea. I’ll work on that.

  9. Jeff Zepnick says:

    Hi Jim,

    It’s very clear that you went through a huge amount of work to pull all of this info together. Outstanding job!! I realize that you looked at several different loads for each cartridge to figure out which one was the flattest shooting. I wonder if you could possibly make that load available to me, so I can compare which loads are the best?

    Thank you sir! Much appreciated!

  10. Good video! Was sad to not see the .300 H&H Magnum, though I doubt it would measure much different than the .300 Win Mag.

  11. Pierre Kerbage says:

    Jim,

    Impeccable analysis here. I too am a huge fan of Ron Spomer. What a gentleman. But you did such an awesome job with this data. Thank you.

  12. Danny. The 300 Win Mag is definitely on the list. Take another look. It’s drop at 1,000 yards is 330.30” and at 500 yards it’s drop is 50.00”.