10 Best Long-Range Hunting Cartridges

These rounds have the reach and the power to put down big-game animals way out there

long range hunting
Long-range open-country shots at game require a flat-shooting cartridge with plenty of downrange energy.Richard Mann

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 6.5mm, 7mm, and .30-caliber 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.

The 6.5s

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.

6.5 Creedmoor Winchester

6.5 Creedmoor

Love it or hate it, the 6.5 Creedmoor offers the perfect balance of long-range reach and light recoil.Winchester

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 Load: The Winchester Expedition Long Range, 142-grain Nosler AccuBond Long Range at 2,700 fps pushes a fantastically tough bullet very flat.

Ballistic Coefficient: 0.625 500-yard velocity: 2,030 fps 500-yard energy: 1,309 ft/lbs 500-yard drop: 54 inches (based on a 100-yard zero)

6.5 PRC

6.5 PRC

Hornady’s 6.5 PRC is basically a better version of the old .264 Win Mag.Hornady

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 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)

26 Nosler

26 Nosler

The 26 Nosler is a 6.5 Creedmoor on steroids.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 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)

The 7s

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.

.280 Ackley Improved

.280 Ackley Improved

Long a wildcat cartridge, the .280 Ackley Improved is now factory loaded.Nosler

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 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)

7mm Remington Magnum

7mm Remington Magnum

Remington’s Seven-Mag doesn’t shoot any flatter than 6.5 Creedmoor, but remains extremely popular.Swift

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 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)

28 Nosler

28 Nosler

The 28 Nosler keeps heavy bullets supersonic all the way out past 1,700 yards.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 of 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 down side is limited availability of factory ammunition and rifles.

Suggested Load: Nosler Trophy Grade Long Range, 175-grain AccuBond Long Range at 3,125 fps

Ballistic Coefficient: 0.648500-yard velocity: 2,416 fps500-yard energy: 2,267 ft/lbs500-yard drop: 38 inches (based on a 100-yard zero)

The 30s

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.

.308 Winchester

.308 Winchester

Despite underwhelming ballistics, the .308 has proven itself at long range many times over.Richard Mann

The .308 Winchester will win no ballistic awards; it’s simply a shorter version of the time-test 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 Load: Hornady’s Precision Hunter 178-grain ELD-X at 2,600 fps is probably the best long-range option, but look also at the new 168-grain Berger Hybrid Hunter load from Federal

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)

300 PRC

300 PRC

The 300 PRC is like a short, beltless version of the .300 Win Mag.Hornady

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 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)

.300 Winchester Magnum

.300 Winchester Magnum

Favored by military snipers, the .300 Win Mag pushes heavy bullets fast and with uncanny precision.Federal Premium

Considered by many to be the optimum long-range, large-game cartridge, the .300 Winchester Magnum has proven itself world-wide. 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 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)

The .277

The .277 is an oddball bullet diameter, in that it doesn’t fall into the 6.5mm, 7mm, or .30-caliber categories. Besides the .270 Weatherby Magnum and 6.8 SPC, the .270 Winchester is the only .277-caliber cartridge made—and the only one that matters to most hunters, given all the guns and loads out there for it.

.270 Winchester

.270 Winchester

The plain, old .270 Winchester is still one of the best long-range hunting cartridges out there.Hornady

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 Load: Hornady’s Precision Hunter 145-grain ELD-X at 2,950 fps is the flattest-shooting .270 Winchester load. Federal’s EDGE TLR .270 Winchester is another outstanding option.

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)