How far is too far?. Your hunting ground often determines the number of opportunities you have at varying distances to take a shot at your animal. It’s fair to say that the bush clad Urewera will offer more close range shots than the tussocklands of the Kaimanawas or Kawekas. However I’ve had very close shots in the tussock and very long shots in the Urewera. If a high proportion of your opportunities are at long range it makes sense to have a rifle capable of handling these chances.
I can think of a number of factors which could limit your ability to make a vital hit on an animal at long range. Correct zero of your rifle is an important basic. I’ve found that a 200 metre zero works best for me. Trajectory of the bullet needs proper calculation. Fortunately, pocket rangefinders have greatly simplified sorting out this problem. Knowing the correct range you can apply corrections to compensate for bullet drop. Adjusting your scope, using a range graduated reticle, or calculating the required drop compensation then holding over the right amount are all valid techniques. Then there is the big stumbling block - wind drift. Experienced NRA shooters are magicians at evaluating wind drift out to very long ranges but they have factors which help them. Generally, their terrain is flat and level and they place wind flags along the range to help them sort out wind speed and direction. They will use tables to calculate wind drift. The hunter doesn’t have these aids.
In conversation with an American soldier one day it turned out he was an instructor assisting NZ forces on long range shooting. I said that as a working hunter I tried not to shoot from too far away. If I was in a situation where it was appropriate and there was no other sensible option, I would select a rock face or a clay bank at the same distance as the animals and take shots until I could see how far the bullets were falling and wind was drifting them. I would then apply these compensations when trying for my targets. He said why did I think there were so many bullet holes in the walls of buildings in Afghanistan. Funny how riflemen with completely different purposes would come up with the same answers.
Stability of the firing platform is important. It is no wonder that the military shooters use a bipod for most of their shooting. I find it much more convenient to use my backpack as a rest for long attempts. I like to cover a lot of country while hunting so I don’t enjoy carrying excess weight so the bipod is out for me. This eliminates the under recognised problem of inconsistent zeros when shooting off a bipod.
In fairness to the animal it is sensible to wait till you can see a significant amount of vital area before you attempt a shot. If you can’t see the whole shoulder, heart and lung area from the side on position you should seriously ask yourself is it worth it.
Bullet performance at the target is often under considered. Conventional wisdom is that when bullets don’t expand they become useless. The first time I encountered this was when shooting at a clay bank a long way away in the Kaimais. My 308 was hand loaded with killer-diller bullets. Checked the target zone and found the bullet strikes. Being curious I excavated the bullets from the hard clay bank. They were completely undeformed, just the rifling marks on them. I have examined the bullet recovered from a fallow shot at normal range. The bullet struck the front end and was located in the hind leg. The 243 100 grain bullet was un deformed. The deer still died. I have used solid projectiles , 250 grain 35 Whelens, on wild sheep and cattle on the Chathams. They worked fine. I note that some of the old African hunters would use nothing but solids for all their game so I take the tales of failure to expand with a grain of salt.
All this long-winded discussion done with, what is long range? I think that most animals within 100 metres of most hunters are in real trouble. Good numbers of riflemen are capable of hitting animals at 200 metres. 300 is getting to be a really long shot and few marksmen have the skills to hit them consistently and vitally much further than that. At about 500 metres, bullets from most hunting rifles are marginal in expansion (and energy – ed). I know that there will be plenty of tales about the long shots the story teller has made. These stories often don’t reflect humane consideration for the animal. While it is a real buzz to be successful in a long attempt, the chance of wounding rather than killing goes up as the range increases. The north island deer guides I have hunted with used tracking dogs to recover deer wounded at long range. I would prefer to make every effort to avoid wounding animals.