If you hunt and want to shoot at a longer range, you may be wondering what the effective range of a rifle cartridge is. In this post, we’ll look in depth into that question.
In general, a bullet’s maximum effective range is the distance at which it no longer travels fast enough to reliably expand when it hits a target. This is usually about 1,900fps with most bullet designs. In addition to expanding reliably, a bullet must carry sufficient energy to take down the animal.
The effective range of a bullet can be measured in different ways, because it depends on what the bullet needs to be “effective” at doing. For this experiment, we’ll look at three common ways to determine effectiveness.
- Distance Bullet Drops Under 1,900 FPS – As a bullet travels, it slows down. When a bullet slows down under approximately 1,900 FPS, bullets can enter a target and never expand. If the bullet expands, it is not very effective at causing damage and can result in an injured animal rather than effectively killing it. The number on the chart below is the distance in yards at which this standard is no longer met.
- Distance Bullet Carries Less Than 1,000 ft-lbs of Energy – The 1k ft-lbs number is widely considered the amount of energy needed to immediately and ethically kill a deer-sized animal. For law enforcement, a human target is approximately the same size as a deer. The number on the chart below is the distance in yards at which this standard is no longer met.
- Distance Bullet Carries Less Than 1,500 ft-lbs of Energy – This standard is used for elk-sized game such as kudu, moose, a waterbuck, a young eland, etc. The number on the chart below is the distance in yards at which this standard is no longer met.
- Max Travel Distance – This is the distance, in yards, at which a bullet will impact the ground when fired in the air at a perfect angle to maximize distance.
- Why Some Boxes On The Chart Are Marked “N/A” – This means that the bullet does not meet this standard at any distance. You may note some specialty bullets such as the .300 Blackout on are marked as N/A for all three standards because it uses very heavy, very soft bullets which travel very slow. It doesn’t fit neatly into these standards, but obviously is very lethal from short range.
The data in the following table contains averages for each cartridges. We analyzed 6 different loads for each cartridge (the proper way to read that sentence is “Jim sat at a computer for WEEKS putting data into very complicated Excel sheets) to come out with an average of what several common loads for each cartridge will accomplish.
|Cartridge||Distance Bullet Drops Under 1,900 FPS||Max Effective Range with 1,000 ft-lbs||Max Effective Range with 1,500 ft-lbs|
|.223 / 5.56||246||111||N/A|
|.240 Weatherby Magnum||471||374||182|
|.257 Weatherby Magnum||624||591||370|
|.264 Winchester Magnum||536||607||348|
|6.5 Weatherby RPM||674||757||501|
|6.5 x 55 Swedish Mauser||413||493||234|
|6.5-284 Norma Match||485||598||344|
|6.5-300 Weatherby Magnum||706||777||519|
|.270 Weatherby Magnum||692||811||543|
|6.8 Remington SPC||396||341||52|
|.280 Ackley Improved||472||680||393|
|7mm Rem Mag||606||821||535|
|7mm Weatherby Magnum||660||894||611|
|.30-378 Weatherby Magnum||882||1,294||1,006|
|.300 Ruger (RCM)||478||828||530|
|.300 Weatherby Magnum||688||1,102||812|
|.300 Winchester Magnum||700||1,113||823|
|7.62 x 39mm||161||304||N/A|
|.338 Lapua Magnum||565||1,128||853|
|.338 Win Mag||491||1,055||779|
|.338-378 Weatherby Magnum||742||1,302||1,028|
|.340 Weatherby Magnum||494||1,058||783|
|9.3 x 62mm Mauser||201||571||400|
|.375 H&H Magnum||300||687||518|
|.378 Weatherby Magnum||466||850||683|
|.416 Remington Magnum||190||601||472|
|.458 Win Mag||108||631||496|
Every effective range calculation will, by its nature, be only a broad approximation. Shot placement, bullet construction, and animal individuality will all dramatically impact the effectiveness of the bullet.
For example, having 1,500 ft-lbs of energy to kill a bull elk is a decent barometer, but elk have also been killed with far less energy when excellent shot placement and bullet construction are in play. However, hunters who choose to use gear that does not meet this standard are often forced to either make an unethical shot, or to pass up shot opportunities when the elk isn’t turned the right way.
Also, remember that the data in the table above is using averages of multiple loads per cartridge. You may be able to use a heavier bullet and achieve more energy or a longer range with more velocity.