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.
Flattest-Shooting Rifle Cartridges
|Cartridge||500 Yard Drop (inches)||1000 Yard Drop (inches)|
|.223 / 5.56||-57||-534.6|
|.240 Weatherby Magnum||-45||-303.0|
|.257 Weatherby Magnum||-38||-270.9|
|.264 Winchester Magnum||-41||-250.5|
|6.5 Weatherby RPM||-38||-233.0|
|6.5 x 55 Swedish Mauser||-65||-397.6|
|6.5-284 Norma Match||-50||-303.7|
|6.5-300 Weatherby Magnum||-32||-200.8|
|.270 Weatherby Magnum||-39||-261.5|
|6.8 Remington SPC||-74||-575.7|
|.280 Ackley Improved||-46||-282.9|
|7mm Rem Mag||-44||-272.4|
|7mm Weatherby Magnum||-40||-250.1|
|.30-378 Weatherby Magnum||-39||-255.7|
|.300 Ruger (RCM)||-61||-401.3|
|.300 Weatherby Magnum||-42||-270.6|
|.300 Winchester Magnum||-50||-330.3|
|7.62 x 39mm||-96||-702.2|
|.338 Lapua Magnum||-55||-420.7|
|.338 Win Mag||-68||-509.2|
|.338-378 Weatherby Magnum||-54||-412.6|
|.340 Weatherby Magnum||-57||-433.1|
|9.3 x 62mm Mauser||-76||-554.4|
|.375 H&H Magnum||-73||-547.8|
|.378 Weatherby Magnum||-56||-460.9|
|.416 Remington Magnum||-91||-680.1|
|.458 Win Mag||-125||-890.9|
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.