Top Five Long Range Cartridges – The Best of the Best

The Long Range Cartridge Line up
The Long Range Cartridge Line Up:

L.P. Brezny

United States -(AmmoLand.com)- First off, a number of you won't like what I have to say on the subject of long range cartridges .

Prior to starting this material I interviewed several hard nosed long range shooters and asked each of them the same question. “Name five of the very best long range cartridges please”.

In each case I got a totally different answer, except for a possible single round of ammunition, and that was the tried and true 300 Win Mag of which I own several rifles and totally agree. You see this is the problem here. Everyone out there in AmmoLand has their idea of the best of the best, and in most cases it starts with what they own in a rifle, and shoot themselves. With that in mind I turned to an old saying that I have hung my hat on for many years. The saying goes like this.

There are the three “P's” when it comes to the best of the best long range rifle rounds, and as you already know, I am about to tell you about each of them : Performance, Practicality and Price.

When evaluating a cartridge that adapts well for a very long shooting down range I like to look at the rounds performance ability, practicality in the field, and finally the price per round.

Somehow the idea has been floating around that shooters are made of money now-a-days. The fact is nothing could be further from the truth. Making a more modest round have some staying power is the key to success, but in so far as my task, it is to select each round based on a number of factors that center around the best of the best long range cartridges, so here is the whole deal in an ammo can.

50 BMG Long Range Cartridges

M-2 Ball 750 gr 50 BMG in links. These make great rat lodge destroyers in a prairie dog town at long range.
M-2 Ball 750 gr 50 BMG in links

Say what you like, but nothing fired from a human shoulder can touch the big bad 50 cal cartridge. The fuel cell is so outstanding that the bench mark 30-06 cartridge was the basis for it by the developer John Browning in his search for an anti-aircraft round. The big 50 will send a 750 grain bullet down range at 2700 f.p.s., then destroy almost anything in its path that ranges from barricades to warm targets. In terms of ranging ability the massive bullet will stay awake (above the speed of sound ) and clear out to 2,500 yards before someone puts a pillow under its head. Shooting the 50 cal requires a whole lot of rifle, and in this case I have owned several, but today shoot a very straight forward Steyr H.S. 50 with cut rifling, and it is so accurate that it has held world long range titles for back to back years across the board.

Practical? No, but a great deal of fun when shooting off the tops of bad lands mud butts at a mile away.

Price per round? Very high but through outfits like Century Arms, and Federal Cartridge ( American Eagle ) case lots are half that of much smaller long range rounds. In terms of performance. Well, nothing was feared more then an American sniper and his 50 Barrett in the sand box.

On that note I rest my case.

408 Chey-Tac Long Range Cartridges

408 CheyTac Long Range Cartridges
408 CheyTac Long Range Cartridge

The 408 CheyTac has a mixed history of both success and failure, but in the area of pure ballistics it is a very deadly gunning system. As a total long range wildcat round with no parent case at all, the round is unique, and the time I have spent behind a custom McMillan turn bolt shooting this cartridge can be considered memorable at the least. Some will say the 416 Barrett commands more respect then the 408, but being a bit old school, and liking the added velocity of the big “8” over the 416, it still takes top billing in my book.

The 408 Chey-Tac sends a 419 grain solid copper ultra high BC bullet down range at 2900 f.p.s., or a somewhat light weight pill being 305 grains at a blistering big bore 3450 f.p.s. That's hot in terms of a big round, and I have a close neighbor in the mountains that shoots over a mile off his back deck at a lime stone bolder on the next mountain over for kicks on any given Saturday afternoon when the wind is right.

338 Lapua Long Range Cartridges

338 Lapua Ammunition
338 Lapua Ammunition

Viewing the whole best long range cartridges subject as you care to, in most cases the real heavy weights in cartridge selection will boil down currently to the 338 Lapua. From grain weight options, price point per round, practical applications and performance at long range, this cartridge is just about the best of the very best as a long distance shooting choice. Like the previous offerings just covered, the 338 Lapua is a military generated round that has been developed by the Fins to replace the 50 BMG, 416 Barrett, and the 408 Chey Tac as a long range snipers tool.

As 338 Lapua ammunition has built an outstanding track record among military snipers and sportsmen alike this option is here to stay.

300 Winchester Magnum or just Win-Mag

300 Winchester Magnum
300 Winchester Magnum

The short form here is this 300 Winchester Magnum cartridge is a massively popular go-to round due to cost per round down range, options in rifle available as chambered in the 300 Win, and its performance even at ranges well beyond 1000 yards.

Currently the US Army has gone to this cartridge when chambering their turn bolt Remington 700 action sniper rifle, ( M-24's, ) and when applying a new round to chassis rifles like the Remington 2010 sniper platform, among others.

Snipers needed to get past 1000 yards, and that meant turning to more cartridge and more bullet to do the deal.

Now the 300 Winchester Magnum can hold off mortar crews and small unit snipers to ranges beyond 1500 yards all day long in the mountain of Afghanistan. As a long range big game round or hard steel target cartridge this is a top contender to say the least.

Hornady's 6.5 Creedmoor

Hornady 6.5 Creedmoor
Hornady 6.5 Creedmoor

Hornady's Dave Emery ballistic expert broke the mold on this one, and now after almost two full years of testing by way of four different rifles at, and beyond 1000 yards here in western South Dakota, I can say for a fact that we are seeing the next rising star in long range shooting.

Why the best of the very best?

Because the 6.5 Creedmoor will stay with and exceed a pile of cartridges, not break the household bank account, and is quickly growing in terms of cartridge brand options and bullet types. Sierra has just released the 130 grain TMK in 6.5 caliber, and Hornady offers the brand new cold tip ELD-X in a 140 grain Match bullet this summer. With the new Federal American Eagle offering in a 140 grain “hollow tip” pill, and Winchester's 140 grain Match ammunition, factory loads are everywhere. Black Hills ammunition is considering very seriously offering the new round, because I believe due to the Sierra bullet options now available to this high quality cartridge company.

In just handloaded bullets, Berger has now built a new 130 grain VLD that will drill prairie rats to 800 yards all day long. By the time this copy goes to press I would not be surprised to see still additional bullets and loads coming to volition.

I believe that the 6.5 Creedmoor could be the 21st century 30-30 in terms of general popularity down the line.

Brezny with Browning X Bolt 6.5 Creedmoor, Cartridge 120 grain A-Max Hornady

About the Author L.P. Brezny:

With more than 50 years experience in the field and the testing lab, author L.P. Brezny is one of today’s most recognized shotgun experts and authors. He is a contributor to dozens of firearms publications, such as Wildfowl, Shotgun Sports, and Varmint Hunters, and he is a regular columnist in the Gun Digest annual.

  • 59 thoughts on “Top Five Long Range Cartridges – The Best of the Best

      1. Norma and Lapua make inexpensive match cartridges for 6.5×55 with high quality bullets with b.c.. 540 @130 grs. May reach 200 yds shorter than a 300 winmag but it sure is more fun to shoot 100 rds in a day with a 6.5. Both for wallet and shoulder.

      2. 6.5mm anything makes me smile, and the .260 Remington makes me happy because it’s part of the .308 family. But if I ever come into money, a Grendel and a Swede will come to live in my gun safe.

    1. Check the fifth picture down of the “.300 Win Mag”.
      Where’s the belt?
      What exactly does “short form” mean?

    2. You may want to recheck the image you have for the .300 Win Mag. It looks like someone used an image of a .308 cartridge.

    3. For prairie dog hunting the .50 Browning round fired just under their noses causes enough vacuum to suck their lungs empty for a few seconds so they collapse from lack of oxygen. Then we take them prisoner and interrogate them to locate their main town and their leaders.

      1. The bullet will not do any damage near the target. It has to hit the target. You can shoot right next to a lightly stacked playing cards and they won’t move, unless you are so close for muzzle blast

        1. You forgot to point out prairie dogs do not speak any of the languages of men , so how can the prairie dog be interrogated.
          Sorry folks I just couldn’t help myself.

    4. What is correct? People, use your words to make clear that of which you are writing.
      If you are referring to the “.300 Win Mag” picture, I just did a Google search for HSM Trophy Gold .300 Win Mag, which took me to Midway, and the picture they have shown is a cartridge WITH A BELT!
      OK, someone at Ammoland is just jerking everyone’s chain for the fun of it, or, they have some serious “lack of ability to use Google” issues!

    5. For the budget conscious (mama keeps the checkbook), just about anything 6.5mm does nicely. 6.5×55 Swedish Mauser, 260 Remington, 6.5×47 Lapua, or that young punk, the 6.5 Creedmoor.

      The Swede and the 260 run at more forgiving chamber pressures, and (along with the 6.5×47) are good for reloading. I’m particularly fond of the 260 because it’s based on the 308 case so I can always make brass if needed. A Swede has slightly more case capacity, some really attractive mil-surp rifles, and room for unusually heavy bullets.

      Shooting the 6.5×47 requires dedication, since there are still no factory rifles that I know of chambered for it, and – while it’s based on the 308 case – it uses a small rifle primer. Because of chamber pressure, you’ll want a custom action or a fully supported firing pin. It’s a great cartridge that I shy away from.

      For whatever reason the 6.5 Creedmoor is the cartridge that really seems to have caught on with target shooters and hunters alike, though. I probably need to sample one in the near future, but not just yet – see, I have this really great idea for another 260…

      1. @Smedley54, I just love my 6.5×47 Lapua cheap easy reload, long barrel life, very little recoil and every bit as accurate at any distance as the Creedmoor. I just think that the 6.5 Lapua doesn’t get as much advertising as the Creedmore as a function of business and sales. I love my 6.5 Swede, too, kind of a heritage thing!

        1. Yah – In general, I found the 6.5mm family and never went back. They’re a sweet spot with great ballistics and enough bullet weight variety to satisfy most target shooting or hunting needs, especially as an intermediate cartridge for a rifle safe with a 5.56/.223 and a .308 or 30-06. I might wish the 260 had caught on instead of the 6.5 Creedmoor, but I am glad that something 6.5 has achieved some popularity.

    6. “What is this Google you speak of?”

      Do you mean “What is this Google of which you speak?”?

      Dontchya know a preposition is an improper word to end a sentence with? This is grammar up with which we shall not put. (quote from a very well respected military man of yore)

      Sorry guys, could not resist.

    7. This is all fine and dandy, and some god information.

      What would be very practical and useful would be some hard comparisons with some of the other slightly less popular rounds that have been mainstays in our collections and have been around for years. .300 Weatherby, .338 Win Mag, 7mm Rem Mag, the already mentioned twice 6.5 Swede, even some handloaded hot .30/06. Sure the $/rnd might be “reasonable” on some of these big boys, but particularly those of recent development, for many of us using them would also involve getting some new iron. Not an option.

      A new article dealing with some of the long-enduring long range options might be a great followup.

      1. @Tionico, good point. Let our side by side comparison start with recoil. I’d like to see a side by side comparison of the 6.5s first (Creedmore, Grendel, Lapua, Swede, Carcano),

      1. It’s funny you bring this up. Many of the long-range target shooters want great BC with low recoil. I like both but the 7mm you can really hunt and shoot for targets. I’m a bigger guy so I like a round with more oomph down range. According to the Berger reloading manual the largest round the offer currently is a 140 grain. It looks like the best one for ballistics is the 140gr. match hybrid target G1 BC .618, G7 .317 excellent! I know Berger has a new 195 gr bullet, but I don’t have the data in this manual. However, the 180 gr. match hybrid target has a G1 BC .674 and a G7 BC of .345. The new 195 gr. is even better if you have the right twist. I didn’t look at all of my manuals for other bullet manufacturers due to time. Berger is generally known as a leader in high BC bullets. Both have really good BC characteristics. The 7mm edges out the 6.5 Creedmoor by a bit. I’ll take both please!

    8. Ammoland says the 300 Win Mag photo is correct???, but NO explanation on the absence of the missing STD. 300 Mag Case Rim Belt.?? We call BS and call for correction on that photo, otherwise your credibility is in question. No one should shoot that ammo in a real 300 Min Mag!!!

    9. Didn’t the military use the .308 as a sniper weapon for many years? I really like it, as well as the 7 mag, and 30-06.

    10. Sir;s If a belt is needed there is one on my photo of the ” silver ” 300 Win pictured. Also ” short form is just that” A less then long answer.
      Also Belted Seven Mag? read both book number one of Gun digest and second edition. The big seven is all over that work. Have one and love it in a Ruger #1.

      Cheers
      The Mgm’t.

      L.P.

    11. Roadrunner says;
      338 would be my next rifle if I get one in browning x or savage , Remington action all top weapons.
      308 is very good universal weapon for average person hunting long range game.prairre (military proven sniper weapon)
      280 or 7mm mag is great weapon for next size game such as elk or white tail hills open,mountain range pastures

      But as author pointed out importance of affordability to Ammo makers and Gun makers save solid low cost guns and Ammo is key to keeping a strong plublic supporting gun rights, hobby, ranges, and home owner and hunters in numbers that will out way the minority liberals trying to take them away.
      It’s gonna take manufacturers teaming with owners and public to keep them affordable and in place this next century.

    12. Where would you put the 300 WSM? I know it seems to be loosing popularity of any kind, but it is my favorite for elk.

      Also, I have been a little confused about the 6.5 Creedmore. Seems like a good long range round but a bit short on weight. The largest I have seen is 143 gr. I do not think it would be very effective on an animal with heavy bones and hide like an elk at anything past 300 yds. I will admit to ballistic ignorance here. Can you get me straight.

      1. There are 6.5×55 (Swede) loads up to 156 grains, but for rounds like the .260, 6.5 Creedmoor, and the 6.5×47 Lapua, 140 grains is about the heaviest you’ll find. The Swede is throated for longer, heavier bullets the other 6.5’s can’t handle.

      2. 156 grain bullets are common in 6.5, Norma make Oryx which is a lot like Nosler Accubond, only with a RN. For 300 yds, I would choose a ~140 grain VLD like Lapua Scenar og Accubond over a RN any day of the week. That said, at that range, I think the man behind the rifle is more of a limitation than the bullet weight 🙂

    13. Can some of you astute practitioners of the Ballistic Black Arts please explain where the Grendel fits in relative to its 6.5 brethren?
      It seems like the Creedmore has seen a surge in popularity and some hard data as to why this may be would be most helpful.
      I think the 6.5 family dart like BCs and decent bullet masses will eventually make one of them THE “go to” all around round round with the only with the only potential caveat being FTFs during intense ignition sequences….?

      1. I’ve burned out a few barrels in 6.5×55 for both match and field/long range shooting, so I think I can speak for that cartridge. With slow powders and in low temperatures, typically below 25 F, magnum primers are a plus. I use Federal 215 when I can get my hands on them, and I know for a fact that Norma uses RWS magnum primers in their factory loads. It may sound excessive to ignite 50 grains of powder, but it does give more consistent velocity and better precision beyond 400 yards.

        1. Can I get the same performance (velocity and accuracy) out of my 6.5 x 55 Swedish cartridge as I can get from my 6.5 x 47 Lapua, if I use the same powder charge (probably 40-41 gr H4350), same primer, and same exact bullet (Burger 140 gr VLD)? Anyone (but not gil)! If not why not.

          1. First, the 6.5×47 Lapua uses a small rifle primer while the Swede uses a large rifle primer, so you can’t use the same the primer.

            Second, since the Swede has more case capacity than the 6.5×47, for the same volume of powder the Swede will have excess capacity that lets the powder move some, and that will result in variable ignition. By contrast, when loading 6.5×47 I was often compressing the powder slightly (and gently) so those rounds would have performed very similarly.

            In reality, how much difference this makes will depend on the variable trigger nut; bench rest shooters and world class target shooters fret over these things, while I just go practice more.

          2. Even if you were able to use brass of identical quality, the 6.5X47 Lapua will be more inherently accurate. Why? Because of internal ballistics. The ratio of the case diameter, case length, neck diameter, etc. is important. That’s why the most precise calibers used in competition look squatty compared to the more mainstream cartridges, with relatively short powder chambers with relatively larger diameter cases relative to the bullet diameter. 6mm BR is probably the best example.

            6.5 X 55 Swedish – Acurate
            6.5 Creedmoor – Accurater
            6.5 X 47 Lapua – Acuratest

          3. As Smedley said, the Swede has more volume so you can use more and slower powder. This winter I am shooting long range matches with 50.8 grains of Vithavouri N560 and 130 grs Norma Diamond Line VLD bullets with a b.c. of .548, which gives about 2850 ft/s from a 29 in barrel. This is not a hot load in my rifle, but I’d rather save brass, barrel and powder than to squeeze out the last 80-110 ft/s. I don’t know how that compares to a 6.5×47, but loaded to the same pressure there’s no replacement for displacement.

    14. OK. I get that you like killing prairie dogs, but I like technical information. I’m not a fan of chatty authoritative articles that make flowery prose assertions without data to support them. What do I mean by “flowery prose”? I refer to the type of folksy too-clever-by-half jargon commonly found in gun magazines. Example: “In terms of ranging ability the massive bullet will stay awake (above the speed of sound) and clear out to 2,500 yards before someone puts a pillow under its head.” Sadly, the few bits of useful info must be teased out of this cringe inducing gun mag speak.

    15. Just order a 6.5 300 Weatherby mag rife. I own many Weatherby rifles and like the flat, hard hit and not much recoil. I have read reviews about wearing out the barrels. I’m sure they sell more barrels. I’ve owned and used a 300 Weatherby since 1967 and that same gun goes with me every time I need the power and dead on hit. Now neck it down, can’t wait to get it. If I need more power I also own a 460 mag Weatherby for those special times. Yes there are times, I had a 1400# steer that went wild and I took him at 300yds between the eyes and it lifted him up and flip him over on him back.

    16. I’d like to hear opinions (or facts) on the difference between the 300 Weatherby Mag and the 300 Winchester Magnum. How well do they compare? How much do they differ?

      Also I’m about to buy a Browning X-Bolt Long Range Hunter Stainless 6.5 Creedmore for my first long range shooting gun. Any alternatives, suggestions for a newbie investing in the right gun.

      1. Are you going to hunt or shoot paper. Thin profile barrels heat up faster but are lighter for hunting. Heavier (thicker profile) barrel will be better for 5 shot groups at the shooting range. Browning makes a rifle for target shooting.

        1. The gun will be used for both. I want a gun I can shoot targets 500 yds or more and I want a gun for my girls to hunt with. I have a 30-06 but I’m looking for something with less kick.

    17. What makes the 6.5 creedmore better than the 243 win? From what I have read, they are about the same as far as long range bullet drop and wind drift. If anything the 243 might be a little better at maintaining trajectory.

    18. The 7mm mag shoots a little flatter, the 300 hits a little harder. My elk dropped in his tracks from a shoulder shot from a factory 180 fusion from my 300 em Hawkeye. Range was a little over 300 yds (not truly long range but hit exactly where I aimed, as the gun was sighted in at that range. Seeing him hit the deck so fast made me a believer. I am sure that a 7mm mag would have worked about as well in this instance but I just cant help having a soft spot for that round.

    19. Bought a Tikka T 3 rifle in 260 Remongton, loaded it with 140 SST’s , 129 H- inter bonds, and Berger 140 VLD bullets using various loads od 4350 or 4831 powders. After two years of fiddlefarting around, still have not got this gun to outshot my Remington 700 BDL in 270 Winchester. In conclusion, long range accuracy seems to border on some sort of personal Black Magic. As far as going hunting, if it’s a serious trip I grab the 270. If it’s. doddle I take the 260 because it weighs less. If there are big bears around then it’s my 9.3×62…its personal, like I say.

      1. Try a 123 or 120 grain in your 260 – Sierra Matchking or Lapua Scenar – or even a Nosler 130. Those have been lasers for me.

    20. I do not doubt the author’s findings. These are not practical in terms of commonality henceforth price. 6.5 and 300 not too bad a cost. This long range hype is a joke. It is done to sell expensive scopes and rifles. All these Stevie Sniper wannabes
      Are enriching gun,ammo and scope manufacturers. I would like to see all these guys when an adversary is shooting back at them. If that were the case all this fancy equipment and gadgetry won’t mean squat except for the people who can think and perform under deadly pressure. Chris Kyle bought a 308 when the military wasn’t paying for his equipment! How much you getting paid under the table to write these articles?

    21. So after all that i still am not sure witch is the best gun for long range target shooting there is no consistencies in all the literature and comments so something is wrong is it down to personal option and/or is there not a over all best gun for the job of long range shooting

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