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The New Long Range: Shooting at 400 yards


Photo by Vic Schendel

Ever since there was a Kaiser-Frazer dealer around the corner or down the street (Google this to see the time frame), the long-range limit for hunters has been 300 yards. This is the maximum distance at which a competent marksman can reliably hit a big-game-size critter with a more or less ordinary rifle. However, there is now equipment—lots of it—that enables you to hit well beyond 300 yards. And so if you're wondering if 400 yards is the new 300, I can answer "Yes, with qualifications."

But first, let's put this in perspective. I asked a range officer who gets to see the general public shoot what percentage can hit a deer-size target reliably at 300 yards, never mind 400. He smiled, and held up his thumb and middle finger joined to form a zero. You might want to think about that.

Double Trouble
When you add a football field to the predictable world of 300 yards, everything goes to hell; beyond that point, velocity decreases dramatically, and your bullet drops like a stone. Wind, which is a problem at 300 yards, becomes a nightmare at 400. Let's look at some dismal figures.

As our example we'll use 140-grain .270 Winchester bullets at 2950 fps. Sighted dead on at 100 yards, they drop 12 inches below the line of sight at 300; at 400, they drop 28. With a 10-mph crosswind, they're pushed 7 inches left or right at 300, but 13.4 inches at 400. Whatever problems you have at 300 yards double at 400.

To make things worse, very few people can estimate range accurately past 300 yards, and beyond that point even small errors become critical because your bullet is dropping so fast. If you don't have an accurate rifle, lack the wits to select an aerodynamic bullet, or can't shoot very well to begin with, you're sunk before you start.

Essential Ingredient
On the other hand, if you want to be a 400-yard shooter, you have a lot going for you. There are economy-priced rifles that shoot better than minute of angle, bullets that are aerodynamic marvels, laser rangefinders that take all the guesswork out of figuring yardage, and scopes and binoculars with all sorts of range-compensating aiming systems, many of which work. And there is no end of information on long-range shooting on the Internet.

All of this is a huge help. But the essential ingredient to shooting accurately at 400 yards is having a place where you can shoot at 400 yards. You'll have to learn to dope the wind, insofar as that can be done, and the only way to do it is to shoot a lot, observe the conditions carefully, and keep good notes on what happens.

You also need to find out where your bullets actually go, as opposed to where all the ballistic calculators, drop tables, and range-compensating reticles say they will. In real life bullets go where they damn well please, not where computations say they should. I've been fooled badly, many times, going by the book.

Bison Ballistics puts the case with heartrending eloquence on its online calculator: "Do not rely on results generated by this software for any purpose whatsoever. It is a demonstration of ballistic theory, not a predictive tool for real-world use." Amen.

Skill Set
I know a number of extremely skilled long-range riflemen, some of whom can shoot better at 600 yards than I can at 300. What they have in common is years of hard work—30 to 40 years or so each, shooting anywhere between 2,500 and 5,000 rounds of rifle ammo a year. How do I know? I asked. I bring this up lest you expend a whole box of ammo in practice and think you have done your homework.

So, is 400 yards the new 300? If you have the equipment, a place to practice, and the willingness to work at it, the answer is yes.

Comments (15)

Top Rated
All Comments
from wittsec wrote 12 weeks 2 days ago

I sincerely dislike the gun companies coming out with all of this long range hunting equipment. To many people take it to mean that they can make these long shots that end up being way out of their skill level. This causes spoked deer in the best case scenario and maimed deer in the worst case.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from jcmesq wrote 12 weeks 2 days ago

Amen. The only reason I became competent shooting at longer ranges is that I invested in the proper equipment, I handload high B.C. Ammunition, and I have practiced for years. And it's true about surprises and a learning curve along the way, regardless. Unless you are going to take long range shooting seriously with the proper investment of time and money, don't do it. Most game is not taken at longer ranges, and your skill as a hunter should make up for closing the gap, at most distances.
You really have to have an appreciation for this type of marksmanship, to do it right!

+3 Good Comment? | | Report
from RS08 wrote 12 weeks 2 days ago

and don't forget some serious coin even if you handload. 5000 rounds @$35 box is $8750.(the barnes x factory loads for my 7mm are $50 box) can you say unhappy spouse.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Happy Myles wrote 12 weeks 2 days ago

Just a few short years ago, I happened to share an African camp and later a U.S. elk camp with two different inexperienced hunters both of whom shared a similar affliction. They both thought high quality modern technology, in rifles, in optics, and in ammunition trumped range practice and field experience. They both carried 30-378s mounted with complex cumbersome scopes. Neither had taken into consideration that insidious, ubiquitous, imp "Buck Fever" , who so often appears in moments o excitement. They could not remember how to use their scopes or cope with huge recoil. The African hunter required plastic surgery on returning to the States.The elk hunters guide refused to take him out after the hunter. wounded a few animals.

I guess the point I am trying to make is keep it simple in the beginning, and practice at the range and spend time in the field with your equipment.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from 1uglymutha wrote 12 weeks 1 day ago

Always use the same rangefinder for hunting AND practice. Rangefinders are like rifles. Every one is different. Even rangefinders of the same brand and model number give different readings. If you intend to shoot much past 300 yards then you need to practice with your rangefinder at those distances. It has been stated here many times before but it can not be overstated. PRACTICE,PRACTICE and MORE PRACTICE is the key to marksmanship and ethical hunting at any range.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Rgw3 wrote 12 weeks 19 hours ago

So normally I agree with D.E.P., but not this time. If you are doing them correctly, the calculations are not the problem, you are. Ballistics is a science that is proven accurate. Having been a qualified as an expert many times over in the military by Marine instructors, I can tell you that the worlds best shooters understand and use the math. If you are doing the math and you are still missing, you need to practice your shooting ability and quit blaming the laws of nature.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Rgw3 wrote 12 weeks 19 hours ago

So normally I agree with D.E.P., but not this time. If you are doing them correctly, the calculations are not the problem, you are. Ballistics is a science that is proven accurate. Having been a qualified as an expert many times over in the military by Marine instructors, I can tell you that the worlds best shooters understand and use the math. If you are doing the math and you are still missing, you need to practice your shooting ability and quit blaming the laws of nature.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from RockySquirrel wrote 12 weeks 19 hours ago

Do you notice this guy is in camo right down to his back pack and yet has bright yellow gloves with red stripes? Is this an ad and they are the only gloves the ad agency could find???

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Eye M. Bobojed wrote 12 weeks 18 hours ago

Good Narrative bad picture for shooting look at the hay baler gloves, bad cheek weld, empty backpack,and no hearing protection. Uncle Sam taught me the "right way" to shoot back in 72 when we were using M16s on M14 ranges to qualify good you had to shoot long and required good knowledge of drop and drift of that itty bitty bullet. No way in hell can you squeeze any trigger dressed like that

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from fordman155 wrote 12 weeks 1 hour ago

Call me a creature of my environment. I live and hunt in western Kansas, where the wind is blowing hard most of the day, everyday. Learning to dope the wind is the hardest part about hunting animals with rifles. Let's just say some days I'm better and getting the wind speed and direction right than other days.
As for getting the range right, the laser rangefinders with the high-speed angle compensation are great things, but here most of the shots are over flat. If you're good at estimating range without a rangefinder, it's probably because you've been doing it a long time.
There is simply no better teacher than experience. If you want to get better at shooting long distances, then you must practice practice practice, as DEP correctly indicated. Not having a place where you can practice those 300 - 400 yard shots makes it hard to learn things about long range shooting.
Finally, I consider myself to be very lucky. My dad taught me a lot about shooting and he's still teaching me things. The pasture is a great place to practice long shots---and I mean up to 600 yards. I know the deer I'm going to encounter during rifle season are going to be a long way from me, so I practice long shots with bullets that have a high BC. In case anyone is wondering, the 308 Win with a 200 yard zero needs 58 clicks @ 600 yards to make a 4" shot group. Practice is a great thing.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from George Lee Hilbish wrote 11 weeks 6 days ago

I think you need practice shooting at 300!!! I shoot a 300 mag out a browning A-bolt and have a Zeiss Duralyt 3x12x50 scope. At 300 yards everything has to be right. The key is, knowing your limitations.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from George Lee Hilbish wrote 11 weeks 6 days ago

I'd like to also say that hunting and range shooting are 2 completely different things. Others have mentioned an element of the hunt that has HUGE impact on your success or not. Buck fever. I'm in the Carolina's so my shots are rarely over 300 and usually under 200 or even 100 but that fever can fly all over you. And of course there's only one fix. Experience. No amount of "practice" at the range will fix it. It's just the way it is.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Doug Leichliter wrote 11 weeks 5 days ago

The best field practice I know of for long distance big game hunting is found in the groundhog fields of summer. Targets are plentiful, access can usually be had for the asking and the weather is great. Whether you are shooting with a traditional varmint caliber or your regular hi power,, it's the perfect opportunity to practice range estimation, hold over and hold off for wind doping and misses are not cause for tears. Another "trophy" is usually in the next hayfield over.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from jasmac wrote 11 weeks 7 hours ago

This long range shooting is becoming a trend where I live in New Zealand. This has created a lot of controversy and heated arguments amongst hunting groups, mainly due to the amount of animals that get wounded by inexperienced hunters and not recovered. Hunting is hunting, not target shooting at an animal at a distance to brag about at the pub. Hunting is a skill that is developed with time and lots of practice. We have a lot of alpine hunting where long range shots are required (over 400 yards) but this is for the skilled and practiced hunter/ shooter. Most New Zealand hunting is performed under the bush canopy and rarely a shot over 100 yards is ever required.
I agree with pretty much all comments that practice, knowing the performance and limitations of your individual rifle and most of important your personal skill level, before attempting any shots at a live animal over 300 yards. And even the best of us still get that good old buck fever.
I have shot many deer between over the 300 yards using my 7mm Rem mag, but over 400 yard mark even with a good scope would generally let them walk if I cannot stalk in any closer. There is always another day.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from sendero72 wrote 11 weeks 7 hours ago

I find the comments funny. Technology has come a long way, much further the sports writers. For those of us who work very hard at perfecting the craft on long range, it's somewhat of a slap in the face. We invest in top notch equipment and spend countless hours shooting. I shoot a 7mag load with the 162gr A-max. I'm also shooting from a two man ladder here in the south east. We are bean field shooter. Our target is placed at 1100 yds and we consistently shoot 4-6 inch groups. We do limit are kill shots to 1/2 mile. Our rifles are zeroed for "300" yards! The problem I see is that the sport writers are to busy to practice, deadlines for stories are more important than practice, so they advise all hunters to do the same. Writers make a living hawking equipment that they rarely use. Writers are in the game of run and gun. Shoot an animal, and drive or fly to the next hunt. For those who are interested in the long range game, a 600 yd shot is a piece of cake if you invest in the correct equipment and most of all the correct knowledge needed.

0 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment

from jcmesq wrote 12 weeks 2 days ago

Amen. The only reason I became competent shooting at longer ranges is that I invested in the proper equipment, I handload high B.C. Ammunition, and I have practiced for years. And it's true about surprises and a learning curve along the way, regardless. Unless you are going to take long range shooting seriously with the proper investment of time and money, don't do it. Most game is not taken at longer ranges, and your skill as a hunter should make up for closing the gap, at most distances.
You really have to have an appreciation for this type of marksmanship, to do it right!

+3 Good Comment? | | Report
from Happy Myles wrote 12 weeks 2 days ago

Just a few short years ago, I happened to share an African camp and later a U.S. elk camp with two different inexperienced hunters both of whom shared a similar affliction. They both thought high quality modern technology, in rifles, in optics, and in ammunition trumped range practice and field experience. They both carried 30-378s mounted with complex cumbersome scopes. Neither had taken into consideration that insidious, ubiquitous, imp "Buck Fever" , who so often appears in moments o excitement. They could not remember how to use their scopes or cope with huge recoil. The African hunter required plastic surgery on returning to the States.The elk hunters guide refused to take him out after the hunter. wounded a few animals.

I guess the point I am trying to make is keep it simple in the beginning, and practice at the range and spend time in the field with your equipment.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from wittsec wrote 12 weeks 2 days ago

I sincerely dislike the gun companies coming out with all of this long range hunting equipment. To many people take it to mean that they can make these long shots that end up being way out of their skill level. This causes spoked deer in the best case scenario and maimed deer in the worst case.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Eye M. Bobojed wrote 12 weeks 18 hours ago

Good Narrative bad picture for shooting look at the hay baler gloves, bad cheek weld, empty backpack,and no hearing protection. Uncle Sam taught me the "right way" to shoot back in 72 when we were using M16s on M14 ranges to qualify good you had to shoot long and required good knowledge of drop and drift of that itty bitty bullet. No way in hell can you squeeze any trigger dressed like that

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from RS08 wrote 12 weeks 2 days ago

and don't forget some serious coin even if you handload. 5000 rounds @$35 box is $8750.(the barnes x factory loads for my 7mm are $50 box) can you say unhappy spouse.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from 1uglymutha wrote 12 weeks 1 day ago

Always use the same rangefinder for hunting AND practice. Rangefinders are like rifles. Every one is different. Even rangefinders of the same brand and model number give different readings. If you intend to shoot much past 300 yards then you need to practice with your rangefinder at those distances. It has been stated here many times before but it can not be overstated. PRACTICE,PRACTICE and MORE PRACTICE is the key to marksmanship and ethical hunting at any range.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Rgw3 wrote 12 weeks 19 hours ago

So normally I agree with D.E.P., but not this time. If you are doing them correctly, the calculations are not the problem, you are. Ballistics is a science that is proven accurate. Having been a qualified as an expert many times over in the military by Marine instructors, I can tell you that the worlds best shooters understand and use the math. If you are doing the math and you are still missing, you need to practice your shooting ability and quit blaming the laws of nature.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Rgw3 wrote 12 weeks 19 hours ago

So normally I agree with D.E.P., but not this time. If you are doing them correctly, the calculations are not the problem, you are. Ballistics is a science that is proven accurate. Having been a qualified as an expert many times over in the military by Marine instructors, I can tell you that the worlds best shooters understand and use the math. If you are doing the math and you are still missing, you need to practice your shooting ability and quit blaming the laws of nature.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from RockySquirrel wrote 12 weeks 19 hours ago

Do you notice this guy is in camo right down to his back pack and yet has bright yellow gloves with red stripes? Is this an ad and they are the only gloves the ad agency could find???

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from fordman155 wrote 12 weeks 1 hour ago

Call me a creature of my environment. I live and hunt in western Kansas, where the wind is blowing hard most of the day, everyday. Learning to dope the wind is the hardest part about hunting animals with rifles. Let's just say some days I'm better and getting the wind speed and direction right than other days.
As for getting the range right, the laser rangefinders with the high-speed angle compensation are great things, but here most of the shots are over flat. If you're good at estimating range without a rangefinder, it's probably because you've been doing it a long time.
There is simply no better teacher than experience. If you want to get better at shooting long distances, then you must practice practice practice, as DEP correctly indicated. Not having a place where you can practice those 300 - 400 yard shots makes it hard to learn things about long range shooting.
Finally, I consider myself to be very lucky. My dad taught me a lot about shooting and he's still teaching me things. The pasture is a great place to practice long shots---and I mean up to 600 yards. I know the deer I'm going to encounter during rifle season are going to be a long way from me, so I practice long shots with bullets that have a high BC. In case anyone is wondering, the 308 Win with a 200 yard zero needs 58 clicks @ 600 yards to make a 4" shot group. Practice is a great thing.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from George Lee Hilbish wrote 11 weeks 6 days ago

I think you need practice shooting at 300!!! I shoot a 300 mag out a browning A-bolt and have a Zeiss Duralyt 3x12x50 scope. At 300 yards everything has to be right. The key is, knowing your limitations.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from George Lee Hilbish wrote 11 weeks 6 days ago

I'd like to also say that hunting and range shooting are 2 completely different things. Others have mentioned an element of the hunt that has HUGE impact on your success or not. Buck fever. I'm in the Carolina's so my shots are rarely over 300 and usually under 200 or even 100 but that fever can fly all over you. And of course there's only one fix. Experience. No amount of "practice" at the range will fix it. It's just the way it is.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Doug Leichliter wrote 11 weeks 5 days ago

The best field practice I know of for long distance big game hunting is found in the groundhog fields of summer. Targets are plentiful, access can usually be had for the asking and the weather is great. Whether you are shooting with a traditional varmint caliber or your regular hi power,, it's the perfect opportunity to practice range estimation, hold over and hold off for wind doping and misses are not cause for tears. Another "trophy" is usually in the next hayfield over.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from jasmac wrote 11 weeks 7 hours ago

This long range shooting is becoming a trend where I live in New Zealand. This has created a lot of controversy and heated arguments amongst hunting groups, mainly due to the amount of animals that get wounded by inexperienced hunters and not recovered. Hunting is hunting, not target shooting at an animal at a distance to brag about at the pub. Hunting is a skill that is developed with time and lots of practice. We have a lot of alpine hunting where long range shots are required (over 400 yards) but this is for the skilled and practiced hunter/ shooter. Most New Zealand hunting is performed under the bush canopy and rarely a shot over 100 yards is ever required.
I agree with pretty much all comments that practice, knowing the performance and limitations of your individual rifle and most of important your personal skill level, before attempting any shots at a live animal over 300 yards. And even the best of us still get that good old buck fever.
I have shot many deer between over the 300 yards using my 7mm Rem mag, but over 400 yard mark even with a good scope would generally let them walk if I cannot stalk in any closer. There is always another day.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from sendero72 wrote 11 weeks 7 hours ago

I find the comments funny. Technology has come a long way, much further the sports writers. For those of us who work very hard at perfecting the craft on long range, it's somewhat of a slap in the face. We invest in top notch equipment and spend countless hours shooting. I shoot a 7mag load with the 162gr A-max. I'm also shooting from a two man ladder here in the south east. We are bean field shooter. Our target is placed at 1100 yds and we consistently shoot 4-6 inch groups. We do limit are kill shots to 1/2 mile. Our rifles are zeroed for "300" yards! The problem I see is that the sport writers are to busy to practice, deadlines for stories are more important than practice, so they advise all hunters to do the same. Writers make a living hawking equipment that they rarely use. Writers are in the game of run and gun. Shoot an animal, and drive or fly to the next hunt. For those who are interested in the long range game, a 600 yd shot is a piece of cake if you invest in the correct equipment and most of all the correct knowledge needed.

0 Good Comment? | | Report

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