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Check out more F&S long-range shooting coverage, including advice for getting started in long-range shooting competitions, the reason why rifle groups keep shrinking, how Heavey did at Gunsite Academy, and what makes long-distance shooting so difficult.
The best long-range cartridge in the world might be the .408 Chey-Tac. Its bullets will remain supersonic out past 2,000 yards. But you wouldn’t want to hunt with it. A good hunting cartridge has to fit in a rifle that’s comfortable to carry all day and won’t kick you so hard that you can’t shoot it well. If you’re after critters deer-size and up, the field is dominated by .30-caliber, 6.5mm, and 7mm cartridges, with the best long-range options remaining supersonic out to at least 1,400 yards. None of them will turn you into a trained sniper, but if you’ve put in the range time and have the skills to stretch it out, these 10 cartridges have the reach and the thump to put game on the ground from the next canyon over.
It’s not all hype. The reason why 6.5mm cartridges are exploding in popularity is because they are ultra-efficient. Bullets of this diameter are easily configured to have extremely high ballistic coefficients. That, combined with their relatively small size, means that compared to cartridges of similar powder capacity, the 6.5s will almost always do more, in terms of external and terminal ballistics, with less recoil.
1. 6.5 Creedmoor
If it makes you feel better to hate the 6.5 Creedmoor, go ahead. Just don’t try to enumerate its downsides to anyone who knows anything, because there aren’t any that matter. The Creedmoor carries more velocity and energy downrange with less recoil than any other factory cartridge. Shot from SAAMI-mandated 1-8 twist barrels, the 6.5′s long, slender bullets seem to almost defy wind and gravity and allow this cartridge to deliver clean kills at distance. And that light recoil not only makes you a better shot in the field; it also makes practicing more fun and productive. The 6.5 Creedmoor will remain supersonic out to 1,400 yards and is quickly becoming the most popular long-range, big-game cartridge in the world. For good reason.
Suggested 6.5 Creedmoor Load
The new Federal Premium, 130-grain Terminal Ascent load with a muzzle velocity of 2825 fps shoots flat and the bullet is tough enough to handle up close impacts while still delivering good expansion at distance.
- Ballistic Coefficient: 0.545
- 500-yard velocity: 2043 fps
- 500-yard energy: 1204 ft/lbs
- 500-yard drop: 50 (based on a 100-yard zero)
2. 6.5 PRC
When the .264 Winchester Magnum was introduced about 60 years ago, it became a sensation with shooters looking to extend their reach in the field. But a reputation for burning out barrels ultimately doomed the cartridge. With the 6.5 PRC, Hornady has created a better version of the old barrel-burner. It nearly matches the ballistics of the Winchester Magnum, but does so in rifles with faster-twist barrels and modern powders that extend barrel life. The 6.5 PRC can remain supersonic out beyond 1,600 yards or so, but ammunition options are limited.
Suggested 6.5 PRC Load
Hornady Precision Hunter 143-grain ELDX at 2,960 fps
- Ballistic Coefficient: 0.625
- 500-yard velocity: 2,252 fps
- 500-yard energy: 1,610 ft/lbs
- 500-yard drop: 44 (based on a 100-yard zero)
3. 26 Nosler
Nosler’s first proprietary cartridge is basically a steroid-monster 6.5 Creedmoor. It shoots as flat as a Kansas prairie and holds its velocity way out there. Based on the old .404 Jeffery case, it’s the same length as the .30/06, which means it works in standard-length actions. It may be a bit rough on barrels, but this cartridge shoots so flat you probably won’t care. With the highest BC bullets, the 26 Nosler remains supersonic beyond 1,750 yards. But as with the 6.5 PRC, there are not a lot of factory-ammo options to choose from.
Suggested 26 Nosler Load
Nosler Trophy Grade Long Range with a 129-grain AccuBond Long Range bullet at 3,400 fps
- Ballistic Coefficient: 0.530
- 500-yard velocity: 2,496 fps
- 500-yard energy: 1,785 ft/lbs
- 500-yard drop: 33 inches (based on a 100-yard zero)
With the exception of the 7mm Remington Magnum, cartridges of this diameter have never been as popular in America as they should be—maybe because this was the caliber of the Imperial German Army and the Nazis. Nonetheless, 7mm bullets can be extremely aerodynamic and, as legendary elephant hunter Karamojo Bell proved, effective on even the largest animals.
4. .280 Ackley Improved
If there was ever a cult cartridge, the .280 Ackley Improved is it. It outperforms the .280 Remington (also known as the 7mm-06 and the 7mm Express), and for years wildcatters and handloaders have been singing its praises. Now, the .280 AI is finally a SAAMI-approved cartridge, and while ammunition options are sparse, it’s performance is right there with the 7mm Remington Magnum. Like the 6.5 Creedmoor, the .280 Ackley Improved can remain supersonic out to 1,400 yards.
Suggested .280 Ackley Improved Load
Nosler Trophy Grade Long Range, 150-grain AccuBond Long Range at 2,930 fps
- Ballistic Coefficient: 0.546
- 500-yard velocity: 2,133 fps
- 500-yard energy: 1,516 ft/lbs
- 500-yard drop: 47 inches (based on a 100-yard zero)
5. 7mm Remington Magnum
Introduced by Remington in 1962 along with their Model 700 bolt-action rifle, Remington’s Seven-Mag was the beginning of the end of Winchester’s .264. It was also a resounding success and has remained popular with hunters looking to stretch their effective range. Surprisingly, even with all the extra recoil and muzzle blast, this cartridge will not shoot any flatter than most 6.5s. But the 7mm Remington Magnum will remain supersonic out to 1,400 yards or a bit more, making a good choice for cross-canyon hunting.
Suggested 7mm Rem. Mag. Load
Swift’s 150-grain Scirocco at 3,036 fps delivers outstanding terminal performance. If you’re after deeper penetration, look at the 139-grain Barnes VOR-TX Long Range load.
- Ballistic Coefficient: 0.515
- 500-yard velocity: 2,177 fps
- 500-yard energy: 1,578 ft/lbs
- 500-yard drop: 44 inches (based on a 100-yard zero)
6. 28 Nosler
Like the 26 Nosler, the 28 is based on the 404 Jeffery case and will remain supersonic out past 1,750 yards. But to do this, it must launch a heavy bullet and that means recoil can be stiff; from an 8-pound rifle, it generates more than 33 foot-pounds of recoil, which is more than twice that of the 6.5 Creedmoor. Still, if you’re goal is to push heavy projectiles to the outer reaches, Nosler’s 28 may be the best 7mm option out there. Besides recoil, the downside is the limited availability of factory ammunition and rifles.
Suggested 28 Nosler Load
Nosler Trophy Grade Long Range, 175-grain AccuBond Long Range at 3,125 fps
- Ballistic Coefficient: 0.648
- 500-yard velocity: 2,416 fps
- 500-yard energy: 2,267 ft/lbs
- 500-yard drop: 38 inches (based on a 100-yard zero)
This is the darling diameter for American big-game hunters. It started with the .30/30 and continued with the .30/06 and .308 and right up to today’s .300 Blackout. Even though high-BC .30-caliber bullets need to be heavy and pushed hard to shoot flat, many American hunters love them enough to tolerate the recoil.
7. .308 Winchester
The .308 Winchester will win no ballistic awards; it’s simply a shorter version of the time-tested and beloved .30/06. Yet it has proven again and again that it will deliver at distance. From an external ballistics standpoint, it cannot compete with any of the cartridges on this list, but in the field where it matters, it works wonders, and only the 6.5 Creedmoor has less recoil. Also, you’ll find more ammo options for the .308 Winchester than any of the others. A long-time favorite of snipers, the .308 Winchester will remain supersonic out to around 1,200 yards. (For anyone who gets worked up about the fact that the .30/06 isn’t on this list, feel free to swap it with this one, as long as you don’t mind the extra kick.)
Suggested .308 Load
- Ballistic Coefficient: 0.552
- 500-yard velocity: 1,867 fps
- 500-yard energy: 1,377 ft/lbs
- 500-yard drop: 62 inches (based on a 100-yard zero)
RELATED: 6.5 Creedmoor vs. .308 Winchester
8. 300 PRC
The 300 PRC will cruise above the speed of sound out to 1,650 yards. It’s like a shorter, beltless version of the .300 Winchester Magnum. As with Hornady’s two recent 6.5 caliber introductions, it has found favor with long-range competitors, but also with hunters who like to hit at distance with heavy bullets. Factory rifles and ammunition options are limited here, too, but based on the ballistic abilities of this cartridge, that’s likely to change sooner rather than later.
Suggested 300 PRC Load
Hornady Precision Hunter 212-grain ELD-X at 2,860 fps
- Ballistic Coefficient: 0.673
- 500-yard velocity: 2,204 fps
- 500-yard energy: 2,286 ft/lbs
- 500-yard drop: 47 inches (based on a 100-yard zero)
9. .300 Winchester Magnum
Considered by many to be the optimum long-range, large-game cartridge, the .300 Winchester Magnum has proven itself worldwide. It’s a top choice of military snipers and can launch heavy bullets with high speed and exceptional precision. Recoil is stiff and some find it hard to master. But if you can shoot this cartridge well, with its supersonic speed out beyond 1,650 yards, you’re just about unstoppable at distance, and there are lots of factory loads and rifles—affordable and expensive—to choose from.
Suggested .300 Win. Mag. Load
Norma’s 180-grain BondStrike Extreme at 3,084 fps is new and very flat-shooting. Also look at Federal Premium’s 180-grain Nosler AccuBond offering at 2,960 fps.
- Ballistic Coefficient: 0.615
- 500-yard velocity: 2,346 fps
- 500-yard energy: 2,200 ft/lbs
- 500-yard drop: 40 inches (based on a 100-yard zero)
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The .277 is an oddball bullet diameter, in that it doesn’t fall into the much more common 6.5mm, 7mm, or .30-caliber categories. Only a handful of .277-caliber cartridges are made today, but the .270 Winchester is still by far the most popular, given all the guns and loads out there for it.
10. .270 Winchester
When it came out in 1925, 300 yards was considered about the max distance for shots on game, and the .270 Winchester was quickly recognized as one of, if not the, best commercial option for that. With today’s ammunition, it’s even better. Yeah, 6.5s are all the rage, and their blinding popularity has taken some shine off the old .270, but the latter is still one of the very best long-range hunting cartridges. The .270 Winchester stays supersonic out to 1,400 yards, which is more than what 99 percent of hunters will ever need.
Suggested .270 Winchster Load
Ballistic Coefficient: 0.536
500-yard velocity: 2,153 fps
500-yard energy: 1,492 ft/lbs
500-yard drop: 45 inches (based on a 100-yard zero)
New Cartridges and Honorable Mentions
Since this article originally went live, several excellent long-range big-game cartridges have it the market. Another one or two probably should have made the original list. I also want to give credit to a couple of long-range AR cartridges that deserve honorable mention. All in all, here are six bonus cartridge, all highly capable of reaching way out there.
1. .224 Valkyrie
It seems a bit odd to consider a .22-caliber cartridge of any design suitable for long-range hunting of even smallish big game. However, the .220 Swift and the .22-250 have been used to take deer out to distances a lot of folks got no business shooting, for a long, long time. Both are of course bolt-action rifle cartridges. What about the guy who wants to go long with his AR-15? Well, there’s really only one option in .22-caliber and that’s the .224 Valkyrie. Based on the 7.62×39/220 Russian cartridge case, the Valkyrie changes the personality of the AR-15. It will push a 90-grain Fusion bullet to 500 yards—which is probably the limit for big game with this cartridge—while still retaining enough velocity to initiate expansion. Recoil is negligible, making it a great option for hunter with sensitive shoulders.
Suggested .224 Valkyrie Load
- Ballistic Coefficient: 0.424
- 500-Yard Velocity: 1749 fps
- 500-Yard Energy: 611 ft/lbs
- 500-Yard Drop: 61 inches (based on a 100-yard zero)
2. 6.5 Grendel
Another and even better option for reaching out to a big game animal with an AR15 is the 6.5 Grendel. It’s also based on the 220 Russian/7.62x39mm Russian cartridge, but unlike the Valkyrie—which uses a 0.223-caliber bullet—the Grendel is yet another 6.5. This cartridge existed in a cloak of obscurity for a long time; only recently have hunters began to see the potential it offers. With a recent elevated popularity, due in no small part to the rise of the six-fives, the Grendel is now getting the attention it deserves. Not only are new loads being offered, new ARs and even bolt action rifles for the Grendel are being introduced. For deer and lesser critters, it’s a solid 500-yard cartridge. No, it’s not a 6.5 Creedmoor, but few things are.
Suggested 6.5 Grendel Load
Hornady 123-grain SST at 2580 fps. Underwood Ammo’s 110-grain Lehigh Controlled Chaos bullet at 2800 fps is another great option.
- Ballistic Coefficient: 0.510
- 500-Yard Velocity: 1796 fps
- 500-Yard Energy: 881 ft/lbs
- 500-Yard Drop: 64 inches (based on a 100-yard zero)
3. 6.5-284 Norma
Based on the now almost-forgotten .284 Winchester, the 6.5-284 Norma was originally a wildcat cartridge and a very popular one, especially in bench-rest competitions. In 2019, Nosler submitted the cartridge to the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Institute (SAAMI) for approval, and in 2020, you can expect to see Nosler and other ammunition manufacturers offering factory loaded ammunition and even rifles for it. Ballistically, the cartridge is very similar to the 6.5 PRC, but unlike the PRC it uses a standard 0.473 rim diameter like the .308 Winchester. Loaded with a 130-grain bullet, it will carry more than 1000 foot-pounds of energy out past 600 yards. If you like the idea of a six-five for going long, but hate the Creed and want something a bit different, the 6.5-284 Norma is the way to go.
Suggested 6.5-284 Norma Load
Nosler Trophy Grade with a 130-grain Nosler AccuBond at 2900 fps. Norma offers a 156-grain Oryx load that won’t shoot as flat but provides great terminal performance.
- Ballistic Coefficient: 0.488
- 500-Yard Velocity: 2019 fps
- 500-Yard Energy: 1176 ft/lbs
- 500-Yard Drop: 49 inches (based on a 100-yard zero)
4. 6.5 Weatherby RPM
After Weatherby’s 6.5-300 Magnum did not win as many hearts and minds as they’d hoped, Weatherby rethought the 6.5mm cartridge and developed the 6.5 RPM (Rebated Precision Magnum). The RPM does not have a belt or the customary Weatherby radiused shoulder, and it was designed to go with an ultra-light hunting rifle. With its rebated rim and 1/2-inch diameter at the base, it is essentially a longer version of the 6.5×284 Norma; ballistically equivalent to the .264 Winchester Magnum. This newer Weatherby 6.5 combines plenty of gas with manageable recoil. But truth be told, every Weatherby cartridge is a long-range cartridge. Most often you just have to buy a Weatherby rifle to get one, and while that used to be an expensive proposition, it’s not anymore. With their Vanguard line you can do it for less than $900. Generally, traditional Weatherby Magnum cartridges perform slightly better than their Winchester or Remington magnum counterparts. For example, the 7mm Weatherby Magnum will shoot the same bullet as a 7mm Remington Magnum, but it will do it about 10 percent faster. Faster velocities mean flatter trajectories. That’s what makes a long-range hunter’s heart go pitter patter, and its what has kept Weatherby in business since 1945.
Suggested 6.5 Weatherby RPM Load
The Nosler AccuBond is one of the best all-round big-game bullets offered, and Weatherby has smarly offered the 140-grain version for their 6.5 RPM cartridge. With a muzzle velocity faster than 3000 fps, it offers great external and terminal ballistics.
- Ballistic Coefficient: 0.509
- 500-yard velocity: 2199 fps
- 500-yard energy: 1503 ft/lbs
- 500-yard drop: 42-inches (based on 100-yard zero)
5. 6.8 Western
Twenty years ago, Winchester introduced the .270 WSM (Winchester Short Magnum). Up until that time, there had only really been two .277-caliber hunting cartridges—the .270 Winchester and the .270 Weatherby—so the .270 WSM was almost immediately popular. However, it proved to be mostly a flash in the pan. By the time the 6.5 Creedmoor started gaining popularity, interest in the .270 WSM was fading. So, Winchester slightly modified the .270 WSM case so it was a bit shorter and then specified barrels with a faster twist. (This is essentially what Hornady did to the .260 Remington to make the 6.5 Creedmoor.) With the ability to handle more aerodynamic bullets than the .270 Winchester or the .270 WSM, the 6.8 Western and its 1-in-8 twist rate allows this cartridge to outperform both at distance.
Suggested 6.8 Western Load
While there are not a lot of ammunition choices for the 6.8 Western, there are some good ones. Browning’s 175-grain Sierra Tipped GameKing load has an advertised muzzle velocity of 2835 fps and a very high ballistic coefficient. The non-bonded bullet should deliver good terminal performance up close and at distance.
- Ballistic Coefficient: 0.617
- 500-yard velocity: 2137 fps
- 500-yard energy: 1774 ft/lbs
- 500-yard drop: 48-inches (based on 100-yard zero)
6. 27 Nosler
The newest addition to the Nosler line of proprietary cartridges is the 27 Nosler. Based on the antique .404 Jeffery cartridge case, the 27 Nosler is the first new .277-caliber rifle cartridge since the .270 Winchester Short Magnum, which was introduced almost 20 years ago. Lots of hunters consider the .270 Winchester one of the best all-purpose, short- and long-range cartridges of all time. The 27 Nosler bests the .270 Winchester by about 400 fps with 150-grain bullets. Now, you might think this cartridge is new and unproven. That’s true, but the bullets have been vetted. Nosler is loading the 27 with their famous AccuBond, which is one of the best big-game bullets ever crafted. At 500 yards, the 27 Nosler drops almost a foot less than Jack O’Connor’s sacred cartridge.
Suggested 27 Nosler Load
Nosler Trophy Grade with a 150-grain Nosler AccuBond Long Range at 3300 fps.
- Ballistic Coefficient: 0.591
- 500-Yard Velocity: 2529 fps
- 500-Yard Energy: 2129 ft/lbs
- 500-Yard Drop: 34 inches (based on a 100-yard zero)