Realistic shooting distances

peterk1234

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Oct 9, 2019
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269
The Stolen Opportunities thread got me thinking about shooting distances and realistic expectations. I realize most folks that hang around here on this site are probably more "practiced", if there is such a term, than the average person that goes out two days before the season, takes a practice shot and decides, "yup I'm good".

This is my first year hunting out west. I am a late onset hunter, 56 years old and been hunting for a bit over twenty years. Up until this year, 100% of my harvests have been with a bow. Before this year, there was no opportunity to hunt with a rifle, it was either shotgun or an inline. I used an inline and practiced throughout the the year with it. I found it fun, but more importantly I needed to have that thing give me better than 2 MOA at 100 yards. I would test it shooting clean, I would test it dirty. I would keep the powder and jacketed bullet in it for weeks during the offseason to see how it would shoot. I just needed to be sure that it would perform the way I needed based on any situation I would find myself in during the season.

This year was my first year with a rifle in my hand during hunting season. A 308. I did not get a chance to shoot it all year long because I was busy renovating my house. But I started to work on my skills, or lack thereof, a few months before the season started. It took a bit to find the ammo that would work the best for me. I had it figured out two years earlier, but given the lack of reliable reloading supplies, I decided to go with one of the name brand loads. I settled on 165 grain nosler. I think the load is close to what I had worked up. I initially started with a box of 175 grain bullets, since that is all I could get my hands on, but the gun did not love it. 165 was the sweet spot. ,

I started shooting off the bench at first. Was doing quite well at 200 yards. 300 yards was working too, until I went to the range one day and had to deal with a 25 knot crosswinds, and practicing shooting off my pack while on the ground. Ya, I know; 300 yards is easy and wind really has no effect. Well, I must be using faulty bullets then because I could be off as far as ten inches on some of my shots. Certainly that ten inch variance has some user error built in but the wind was certainly not helping. And, I am shooting under a controlled non stress situation.

I hit the range several more times after that, but I focused on shooting at 200 yards or so. I shot prone, I shot sitting. I used my pack. I tried other various sundry items that would provide minimal support. 200 yards was good.

So I set a limit for myself this year. Deer or elk, the limit is 220 yards. I was just not practiced enough at this point to shoot further. I stuck to it. My first deer ever with a rifle was taken at 180-190 yards.

I know a lot of folks are quite comfortable shooting at 400 yards or more. I can't even imagine taking that shot today. I may never because at least for now I believe that I should be able to get to within at least 300 yards of an animal. That is my definition of fair chase with a gun. But, I will admit that it could change over time as I get more proficient.

My question to you all is what is your comfort zone and why. How often are you practicing at these distances and are you using realistic positions and the same rifle support that you would use in the field? I shoot at very busy range. I saw a lot of shooters three weeks prior to rifle season. One out of fifty shooters (maybe) were not shooting off the bench. Also, very few ever were practicing past 200 yards, maybe 20%. I'd say most shoot at 100. I think it is a very limited number of hunters that can safely and consistently take a deer at 400 yards or further. I am also willing to bet a large percentage of hunters way over estimate their abilities.

The gear at our disposal today is incredible. But as the saying goes, it's the arrow, not the Indian.
 

BuzzH

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Jan 9, 2001
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Laramie, WY
Equipment, muscle memory, conditions, experience, practice, and knowing when and when not to shoot.

Elk hunting this year was a classic. I shot a bull at 349 yards, with a rest, over my pack, no wind, calm elk...was 100% confident. One shot dead bull.

The cow I shot was a totally different deal, no way I would have shot even close to that distance. Wind was really honking, 40+MPH sustained. I snuck in to 70 yards, shot off my pack with a good rest, wind was a non-issue.

A few years back I "thought" I had the wind pretty well figured out as I practice a bunch in the wind (easy to do in Wyoming). Stalked a herd of elk to 238 yards, picked a bedded cow facing with her butt to the wind. Again, wind was really honking, 40MPH plus. Figured worse case, if I didn't allow for enough wind, I would just shoot in front of her. Calculated 18 inches of drift, took the shot resting on my pack. Barely gave it enough wind, hit the cow in the front of the shoulder/lungs, but also caught the neck where it joins the body.

That's why on this years cow in similar conditions, there was NO way I was going to shoot past about 150 yards. I would rather risk spooking them off by getting closer than spending all day chasing a wounded animal from stretching my limits.

For me, it comes down to worse case scenario's...worse that happens by trying to get closer is the animal gets away and I get to hunt more. Worse case stretching limits is a wounded animal, long day, and feeling bad about shooting. I would just rather not shoot versus wounding something.

Knowing when and when not to shoot and being honest with your abilities is the key.
 

peterk1234

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Joined
Oct 9, 2019
Messages
269
Equipment, muscle memory, conditions, experience, practice, and knowing when and when not to shoot.

Elk hunting this year was a classic. I shot a bull at 349 yards, with a rest, over my pack, no wind, calm elk...was 100% confident. One shot dead bull.

The cow I shot was a totally different deal, no way I would have shot even close to that distance. Wind was really honking, 40+MPH sustained. I snuck in to 70 yards, shot off my pack with a good rest, wind was a non-issue.

A few years back I "thought" I had the wind pretty well figured out as I practice a bunch in the wind (easy to do in Wyoming). Stalked a herd of elk to 238 yards, picked a bedded cow facing with her butt to the wind. Again, wind was really honking, 40MPH plus. Figured worse case, if I didn't allow for enough wind, I would just shoot in front of her. Calculated 18 inches of drift, took the shot resting on my pack. Barely gave it enough wind, hit the cow in the front of the shoulder/lungs, but also caught the neck where it joins the body.

That's why on this years cow in similar conditions, there was NO way I was going to shoot past about 150 yards. I would rather risk spooking them off by getting closer than spending all day chasing a wounded animal from stretching my limits.

For me, it comes down to worse case scenario's...worse that happens by trying to get closer is the animal gets away and I get to hunt more. Worse case stretching limits is a wounded animal, long day, and feeling bad about shooting. I would just rather not shoot versus wounding something.

Knowing when and when not to shoot and being honest with your abilities is the key.
What a great post! Thank you.
 

nrpate05

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Jan 5, 2015
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1,478
As PeterK said it can be very situational. I personally practice out to 400 yards and feel comfortable when at the range. I'd like to practice further but haven't found a place to do it. I have never shot an animal at that distance, however. I have had the opportunity, just haven't felt comfortable (good enough rest, shot angle, etc.). Realistically most of my shots have been inside 250 yards. I think I'm fairly picky with my shots.
 

rjthehunter

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Oct 23, 2019
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Minnesota
Depends on the weather. I've always had the thought, that the shooter should practice out to the furthest possible distance. This refines your skills and demands precision. Example. I'll shoot out to 800 yards occasionally. I'm not going to shoot an animal that far though. I seem to like the 60% number. So I would feel comfortable shooting an animal out to about 500 yards under perfect conditions.

In a hunting scenario, you should only shoot to 60% of the range you are comfortable practicing at. Real world, with a real animal is harder than a target. For me, 60% is a good number to use.

I'll practice with my bow out to 80-90 yards. It just requires you to hold steadier, use perfect form, and really focus to make it work. In a perfect situation, I would shoot something out to 60 yards with my bow. But the scenario has to be perfect, and a jumpy whitetail is rarely if ever included in a perfect scenario. My realistic limit is 50 yards due to animals being animals and reacting.

The idea is to make the shot feel easier and make the shooter feel more confident because you've shot further and are comfortable shooting further consistently.

The most important part of a successful hunt is the shot. Whether it be with a bow or rifle, this is the point you've worked hard to get to. A little practice goes a long ways when you steady the crosshairs/pin on an animal. Do the animal some justice, and practice!
 

OntarioHunter

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Sep 11, 2020
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My WWII Springfield 30-06 can put up an adequate group at 300 meters and I actually tried a shot at a buck at that distance this year ... but in a serious crosswind. Thankfully I missed. Pretty sure I shot the same buck the next day at about 70 yards in half the wind. Dropped him on the spot. Typically I limit myself to 200 yards or less. I have shot animals much further ... but not with this gun. My African PH's 270 WSM was a very special rifle/scope combination. Ordinarily I wouldn't think of taking 440 yard shot but he assured me I could do it with that gun. And I did do it. However, shooting into the next zipcode is not nearly as fulfilling as sneaking up on a sleeping bull moose in heavy tag alders and shooting him in his bed less than twenty yards away.
 

Dan O

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Oct 28, 2014
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Seeley Lake, Mt
The wind will kick your butt worse than you can imagine. Everyone should read and re read Buzz's post. He understands the effects the wind will have on your bullet AND gives a great real-world example.

For the last 9 years I have been shooting BPCR and some BPTR. This involves using lead bullets and Black Powder using 40-65, 45-70 & 45-100 Shiloh Sharps rifles. Distances involved start at 200 meters and extend to 1000 yards.

Learning to read the wind is a challenge to say the least. Granted the bullets we shoot are heavy and slow but the effects of the wind are huge. I've heard many shooters say my ear splitting louden boomer is fast and the wind doesn't effect it. Well at one range we shoot silhouette at a number of guys shoot beside us with their 6.5 CM and 7-08's. Many times the wind will kick their butt and the old guns will beat them because they didn't read the wind right.

What I'm saying if you ignore the wind or miss read it, it will kick your butt and you will miss or worse you will wound an animal and have a mess on your hands. Buzz is 100% correct get closer or pass on the shot it's the right thing to do.
 
Last edited:

Lefty315

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Dec 27, 2010
Messages
263
Location
Pacific NW
Equipment, muscle memory, conditions, experience, practice, and knowing when and when not to shoot.

Elk hunting this year was a classic. I shot a bull at 349 yards, with a rest, over my pack, no wind, calm elk...was 100% confident. One shot dead bull.

The cow I shot was a totally different deal, no way I would have shot even close to that distance. Wind was really honking, 40+MPH sustained. I snuck in to 70 yards, shot off my pack with a good rest, wind was a non-issue.

A few years back I "thought" I had the wind pretty well figured out as I practice a bunch in the wind (easy to do in Wyoming). Stalked a herd of elk to 238 yards, picked a bedded cow facing with her butt to the wind. Again, wind was really honking, 40MPH plus. Figured worse case, if I didn't allow for enough wind, I would just shoot in front of her. Calculated 18 inches of drift, took the shot resting on my pack. Barely gave it enough wind, hit the cow in the front of the shoulder/lungs, but also caught the neck where it joins the body.

That's why on this years cow in similar conditions, there was NO way I was going to shoot past about 150 yards. I would rather risk spooking them off by getting closer than spending all day chasing a wounded animal from stretching my limits.

For me, it comes down to worse case scenario's...worse that happens by trying to get closer is the animal gets away and I get to hunt more. Worse case stretching limits is a wounded animal, long day, and feeling bad about shooting. I would just rather not shoot versus wounding something.

Knowing when and when not to shoot and being honest with your abilities is the key.
I’ve never met Buzz, but that’s about the most sound advice you'll get. This year I shot an elk right at 350, no wind, lying prone over my pack. I’ve also passed on much, much closer shots because I couldn’t get a steady rest. Keep practicing under those field conditions and it’ll improve your abilities and your confidence. Maybe take up predator hunting in the off season to add some of that realism to it.
 

NR_Hunter

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Jul 17, 2016
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706
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MN
I can absolutely smoke a softball sized target at 400 yards and I can absolutely whiff on a live deer at 200. Seems like every year or so I get a reminder I'm not the same person at the range as I am in the field. Hurts me in my male ego to admit, but its true.
 

Bsquad

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Sep 22, 2021
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If you're new, 200 is a good starting point. The trajectory from 100-300 aren't terrible, maybe 8-9".

I saw this video a long time ago on spike/tnn something something hunting. Anyway, 550yds standing shot on a moving target. I'm envious of that skill and confidence.

 

rideold

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Oct 28, 2015
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Front Range of Colorado
I've probably spent too much time thinking this through in the off season. I limit myself to 250 yards in perfect conditions/situation/animal. Under 200 is pretty comfortable but if the conditions suck or I can't get a good relaxed shooting position then 150 is the limit. I shot a buck at 185ish yards this fall right in the first few minutes of legal shooting. It was almost a level shot, animal was as close to perfectly broadside as possible and he had no idea we were there. I was able to sit on one foot, rest my elbow on my other knee and had my rifle in shooting sticks. I felt pretty stable and was just above all the brush for a clear shot. I took one shot while he was head down and eating and he went a few steps. I shoot a mid-90's Remington 700 30-06 with 168gr Barnes TTSX factory ammunition. No CDS dials or fancy scope (a Burris Fullfield) and I have it sighted in for a MPBR of 288 yards for a 6" vital zone.

Now, that said....I don't get to practice past 100 yards. I'm still searching for some public lands close enough to my house to get regular practice at 200 and 300 yards because all the ranges within a couple of hours are 100 yards only. I might revise my personal rules if I was practicing out farther every month but I can't imagine taking a shot over 300 yards. Just too many things in play for me to be comfortable.....oh, I've been shooting a rifle for 7 years....another late onset hunter!
 

Movi

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Sep 10, 2022
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Bow - less than 150 yd any condition send it! Gots to keep the ‘gram pics flowing

Rifle- situational based on everything mentioned in the above posts. Last couple animals with a rifle have been and less than 75 yards.
 

Wind Gypsy

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Bow - less than 150 yd any condition send it! Gots to keep the ‘gram pics flowing
Also- Make sure that your gram post or YouTube video has title/caption focused on how long your fling and pray shot was.
 

2rocky

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Jul 23, 2010
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Buzz hunts much more open country than I do. I just went back through my successful kills and saw my AVERAGE shot distance on Elk, deer, coyote, pronghorn was 136 yards. 50% were under 101 yards and my longest was 344 yards.

I've never had to shoot in a stiff Wyoming wind.
I've never shot an animal from Prone position
I've also never spent as long setting up a shot as I see TV hunters doing.
When I do have a rest, I rest on shooting sticks, and tree branches and rocks most often.

My poorest hits were when I had to holdover above the animal without a clear idea of what my aiming point was.
Most of my misses were shooting down hill, and I shot high

I think dialing distance can help and a hunter should know their MPBR for their rifle. As well as how much leeway they have if they do dial up their zeros for long distance and the animal moves just 25 yds. 5 inches difference in drop alone could mean a broken leg instead of a heart shot.

Hope this helps you practice. good luck in the field.
 

rjthehunter

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Oct 23, 2019
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Minnesota
Bow - less than 150 yd any condition send it! Gots to keep the ‘gram pics flowing

Rifle- situational based on everything mentioned in the above posts. Last couple animals with a rifle have been and less than 75 yards.
You truly are a broken record.

Might as well just come out and say you're a horrible with archery equipment so you hate it!
 

Jwill

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Nov 7, 2011
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Virginia
I think a lot of folks don't realize just how much time elapses from when your brain says pull the trigger until the bullet makes it to the target. Same for wind drift and how variable the wind can be as you get over a quarter mile. Or how much a MOA adds up to over distance. Plenty more, but I'll stop there...

When you do the math on it, shooting at live animals at "long range" gets sketchy pretty quick.
 

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