Long-Range Caliber, How to Choose the Best for You

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If you ever had a school teacher that swore that you would use and even appreciate math one day, then that promise is finally about to come true while picking a long-range caliber.

Step one is to define exactly what "long range" means for you. It might be anywhere from a few hundred yards to this.
Step one is to define exactly what “long range” means for you. It might be anywhere from a few hundred yards to this.

USA –-(Ammoland.com)- So, you want to shoot long-range. Excellent! I can offer a 100% money-back guarantee that you’re going to have lots of fun while learning all sorts of cool stuff.

If you ever had a school teacher that swore that you would use and even appreciate math one day, then that promise is finally about to come true. Yes, you’ll need to embrace a bit of math to master the long-range game, but it’s practical and even borders on enjoyable.

Yes, I know. I used “math” and “enjoyable” in the same sentence. On purpose. Just trust me, OK? The first time you press the trigger to nail a distance target, you’ll get a big kick out of hearing that “clang” several seconds later.

Step one is figuring out which caliber is best for you. Notice that I didn’t say “best” but rather “best for you.” There are a lot of great long-range cartridges available, and it’s pointless to try to figure out which is “best” because the answer is always… it depends. The correct question is this: Which ones are good for your intended use?

Here are a few factors to ponder before making your caliber decision

How long is the “long” in Long-Range Caliber?

Depending on where you live and plan to shoot, “long-range” might be anywhere from 200 to 2,000 yards.

Contrary to widespread assumption, bullet drop doesn’t matter all that much because it’s very predictable. That’s because gravity is reliable. Today, tomorrow, and until the world ends from some future Supreme Court pick, gravity will work exactly the same. Whether your bullet drops eight or 18 feet doesn’t matter all that much. With a good rifle, scope, and ammo, you can still make a precise hit every time, regardless of the amount of bullet drop. What does matter is the point down range at which your projectile transitions from supersonic to subsonic speeds. Up to that point on the velocity curve, bullet flight is amazingly predictable. During the subsonic transition and after, the math gets much harder and the results less precise.

The safe bet for caliber selection is to determine your realistic shooting distances and choose a caliber that remains supersonic past the distance of your longest anticipated shots.

Here's a quick example. While 77-grain .223 Remington bullets are far better for longer range shooting than 55-grain ones, they only remain supersonic for about 750 yards here where I live. Your mileage may vary depending on your altitude and weather conditions. On the other hand, the new .224 Valkyrie, which uses the same bullet diameter, will remain supersonic past 1,000 yards here and out to 1,300 or so yards at higher altitudes.

Where will you be shooting?

Depending on where you shoot, the trajectory changes significantly. This solution is for sea level.
Depending on where you shoot, the trajectory changes significantly. This solution is for sea level.

When shooting at 50 or 100 yards, elevation and local atmospheric conditions don’t make a whole lot of difference.

When shooting at 1,000 yards, your location means everything. To illustrate the point, let’s consider an example using the 6.5mm Creedmoor cartridge.

One load I’ve been using flings a Hornady 140-grain ELD Match bullet at 2,780.3 feet per second.

Where I shoot, elevation is about 30 feet above sea level. At 1,000 yards, this bullet will have dropped 305.39 inches and still be moving at 1,444 feet per second. If I were to travel to Denver with the same rifle and ammo, the bullet drop at 1,000 yards would be significantly less – 244.25 inches.

Also, the velocity would be much faster with the bullet sailing at 1,882 feet per second as it passes the 1,000-yard mark.

Are you hunting or target shooting?

As you can see from the previous example, velocity can vary – a lot – depending on where you will be shooting. In a hunting scenario, it’s up to you to make sure that you’re using a bullet of sufficient weight and velocity, not at the muzzle, but at the anticipated distance down range where it will strike the target. While the Hornady ELD Match in the previous example isn’t a hunting projectile, we can still use it as an example. In South Carolina, it’s carrying 648 foot-pounds of energy at 1,000 yards. In Denver, that bullet delivers 1,100 foot-pounds on the same 1,000-yard target. Don’t get hung up on the illustrations here as realistic hunting distances, we’re just illustrating the point that energy varies not only with distance, but location. It’s up to you to make sure you keep your shots ethical and within your capabilities.

As for target shooting, as long as your bullets don’t miss the safety berm, the energy delivered down range doesn’t matter so much. It doesn’t take much kinetic energy or momentum to perforate paper or ding a steel target. For these uses, you'll be more concerned with factors like wind drift.

Are you going to buy or reload your long-range caliber ammo?

Depending on the caliber you choose, your costs can vary widely, at least for factory-loaded ammunition. If you decided that you just have to shoot .338 Lapua Magnum, plan on spending five to seven bucks per round for quality pre-loaded ammo. Unless your day job title is Shady Hedge Fund Manager, that can put a severe dent in your wallet. On the other hand, reloading specialty rounds like this can save you a ton if you’re willing to invest some time in the process. We’ll get into details on that in a later article in the long-range shooting series.

Not all long-range caliber rounds are expensive. The .224 Valkyrie fits in standard AR-15 lower receivers and is affordable to buy from the factory.
Not all long-range caliber rounds are expensive. The .224 Valkyrie fits in standard AR-15 lower receivers and is affordable to buy from the factory.

If you’re not ready to take a bite from the long-range caliber reloading foot-long sub, no worries. You can find great long-range calibers with excellent factory loads that are available for reasonable prices. For example, the hot new .224 Valkyrie cartridge lists for $.50 to $1.25 per round. Even the larger 6.5mm Creedmoor round comes in around $1.25 a shot for match-grade ammo.

Semi-auto or bolt-action?

If you have strong desires on the type of rifle action, that will help narrow the universe of possible calibers too. In the semi-automatic area, most long-range rifles are members of either the AR-15 or AR-10 family. Those two lower receiver types tend to limit the numbers of choices because the magazine wells are only so big, so if you plan to fire more than one shot, cartridges will need to fit in either the AR-15 or AR-10 lower receivers. In the bolt action world, things are more flexible.

If you go the semi-automatic route, you may be deciding between the AR-10 and AR-15 platforms to fit your desired cartridges. These two rifles from Palmetto State Armory reflect one of each for the 6.5mm Creedmoor and new .224 Valkyrie.
If you go the semi-automatic route, you may be deciding between the AR-10 and AR-15 platforms to fit your desired cartridges. These two rifles from Palmetto State Armory reflect one of each for the 6.5mm Creedmoor and new .224 Valkyrie.

Ballistic Coefficient

Here comes the dreaded math, but we’re going to keep it simple. We’re going to drill into Ballistic Coefficient in a different article, so for now, think of it this way. This numerical value assigned to every unique bullet defines how “slippery” it is while flying through the air. Stated differently, it corresponds to a bullet’s ability to retain velocity as it flies. If you could fire a Yeti cooler (with the door open) that would have a very low ballistic coefficient number. Of course, it would have the added benefit of bringing joy to Second Amendment advocates everywhere when it self-destructed on impact.  On the other hand, an oversized sewing needle launched from a high-tech magnetic rail gun would have a very high ballistic coefficient.

To get practical, the new .224 Valkyrie 90-grain Sierra Matchking bullet has a ballistic coefficient of 0.563. A .308 caliber flat nose, 150-grain bullet for a .30-30 lever-action has a ballistic coefficient of just 0.185. So, yes, the ballistic coefficient number is (almost) always between zero and one, although the Yeti probably carries a BC of negative 113.9.

So, long-range caliber bullets with higher ballistic coefficients tend to carry their velocity better and as a result, act more predictably at longer ranges. That may or may not be relevant to your scenario. For example, if your goal is to knock over steel silhouette targets at 500 yards, you might be better off using a big, heavy, and fat bullet that doesn’t top the coefficient charts. Like the other factors mentioned here, the ballistic coefficient is one of many things to consider depending on what you want to do.

So, these are a few things to consider when choosing your long-range caliber. Most importantly, think about your typical use case and work backward from that.


Tom McHale
Tom McHale

About Tom McHale

Tom McHale is the author of the Practical Guides book series that guides new and experienced shooters alike in a fun, approachable, and practical way. His books are available in print and eBook format on Amazon. You can also find him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.

  • 33 thoughts on “Long-Range Caliber, How to Choose the Best for You

    1. Old School- Whats your thoughts on 45-70 in a single shot Buffalo rifle (30” barrel) or a good lever action (26” octagon barrel).

    2. I was once headed back from a river trip and all I took with me was my Savage 24T , for those that aren’t familiar with this short barreled,. Over/Under break open rifle it came in several Caliber options, mine was a 30-30 / 20 guage.
      I would use it primarily for upland game birds while floating & fishing on the River.
      As we were driving back on a long twisty dirt road in the Wilderness , my buddy said hey, look up there it’s a Bear so he stopped the truck as I put a shell in the rifle ,. the Bear was looking down at us and I took a shot,. the Bear came tumbling down the hill and didn’t move.
      I had always liked the 30-30 but in this little single shot it proved to be an amazingly effective Cartridge and gained my repect for it from then on.

    3. where i hunt, i have opportunities from 0 yds to 1,000+ yds. my rifles are capable that far and more, but i am not. the .260 rem is the American grandaddy of all of now popular 6.5 cartridges. 6mm rem is a great cartridge. have hunted with one since it came out. the point is, find a gun/cartridge combo with which you can consistently hit the target and take shots within reasonable distances, and u have the “best for you” cartridge.

      1. I agree with how you said “your rifle is capable at that far and more, but I am not”
        If most of us were to be honest about our long range capabilities we would have to say the same.
        As I have been striving to achieve long range distances I have found myself learning more about the optics than the rifle itself,. hence the saying ” you can’t hit the target if you can’t see it” in my research of this I have concluded the larger the tube diameter on the sight the more capable I will be at hitting the target with my 300 R.U.M. Long Range Rifle. So far I have matched my Rifle with a 6-25 x 56 with a larger tube diameter.

      2. Is 1000 yards even considered hunting? LMAO. The challenge of hunting is to get as close as you can. This long range stuff is all math. I do not bash it but is is not really hunting. Never see anyone shoot off hand any more either.All this fancy schmancy expensive equipment and they can’t hit a 4″ target off hand at 100 yards.LMAO. Bipods,rear rests- is that even real shooting? Once you master the math and account for the conditions of your environment the gun does the shooting-LOL. I love when I’m in the zone at the range and start shooting 2″ groups offhand at 200 yards(Not always may I add). Or I’m shooting 1″ groups at 25 yards with my handgun at will. The range officers tell me they won’t shoot when I offer them my gun. I say why not? -they say -I don’t want to embarrass myself after your shots. I’m not bragging, I’m trying to make the point that when the range officers are intimidated next to offhand shooters, what is this sport coming too? Stop wounding game at these long ranges-cause that is the reality with many of these 1000 yard plus shots-not some staged youtube video. And don’t forget how to really shoot all you Stevie Sniper wannabees-lol

    4. You want a powerhouse check out Finn Agard and the 8mm-06 in Africa . Killed a second water buffalo after a killing pass through of the first water buffalo . That would be approximately a .32-06 . You ask about whitetail deer, around here I will keep my .243 , sorry my longest witnessed one shot kill was only 420 yd. (Handloads of course)

    5. 308 was designed for millatary and 6.5c was designed for comp long range shooting. Sure both can hit targets at 1000m but 6.5c with do it better since it is still supersonic. Also has better balllistics at 1000+m.

    6. What about the 25/06 and the 270 plus the 300 mag.or the 7mm mag.really hot,and heavy hitters when it comes down to long range shooting right.

      1. I have a Remington 750 Semi-Auto chambered for a 30-06, your right it’s a great hunting Rifle and very versatile with 165gr. and 180gr. bullets.

          1. Yep, regardless of what Calibers might be the current trend,
            the tried and true Calibers that have been so successful out hunting and target shooting will always stand the test of time.

      1. not if you can stuff a sierra matchking 200+ grain bullet in it ….i have decided to bypass 300 black as the bullet selection is not up to par now if you step up to .338 you could use a 300 grain matchking with a very good b.c. to hold onto every of energy and velocity possible…………….or you can step up to the ar10 and shoot 45 raptor and just not mod the mags for shorter bullets …..order a custom bullet mould and cast your own…..there is nothing like a nice long bullet to up the b.c. to give you more range……………………………………………………………………………………………

    7. Purchased a RPR in 6.5C, found out it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Print tighter groups with Mossbergs MVP LC in 7.62x51mm. The 6.5 keeps its velocity at longer ranges than the 7.62 but at ranges from 3-800 yards, both are great. A long shot in my area is usually not more than 1,500 yards. Haven’t had the chance to shoot the 6.5 farther than 1,000 which the 7.62 can reach as well. My opinion leans toward the .300 WinMag. Semper Fi.

      1. Yes. Whitetail are not hard to bring down and do not require the energy of say an elk. With good marksmanship even the 55gr 22-250 has brought down many, as well as the 117gr 25-06 and 110 gr 30-06. If you’re going to ever hunt elk with the rifle it’s best to get a caliber that will launch larger bullets such as the 30-06, 7mm rem mag, 300 win mag, even the 270. But for whitetail and under 224 90gr will get it done easily.

    8. I use a Remington Model 700 Long Range with a 26″ heavy contour barrel chambered for a 300 Remington Ultra Magnum cartridge. I have shot high grade Ammunition with 150gr., 165gr., and 180 gr. Bullets with outstanding results, excellent Ballistics and incredible muzzle velocities and energy ft.lbs. at point of impact.
      When comparing Cartridges and Loads you need to compare apples with apples and oranges with oranges , otherwise your data is useless.
      Cpl. Austin

    9. what about the 6.5 sweadish mauser, the 6.5 grendal,7mm08 the list goes on. Everybody has gone crazy over the creedmoor. advertisement like the 17 hornet ha ha ha. Wild bill kartah

      1. The 300 Blackout is an extremely fun round if you ever get the chance to shoot it, especially surpressed, but is not viable for long range use. Depending on your load, you are typically going to be limited to somewhere from 100 to 200 yards that you can expect some pretty decent accuracy. Beyond that range, most loads start to struggle in my experience.

      2. Out to 300 yards small bores(starting from .224) will shoot within a couple of inches of each other. Ft.lbs of energy have more disparity. It isn’t till 400 yards there are more noticeable differences in trajectory(even more in ft. lbs). 30-06
        has stood the test of time and is still one of the best all around small bore cartridges. WSM’s(Winchester Short Magnums) certainly have flatter trajectories and maintain ft.lbs of energy. Lots of apples and oranges amongst those small bores-lol

      3. The only advantage I see in that caliber is that you can carry a few more rounds than other .30 calibers if you have to, it shoots out of a semi auto,and fine for close quarters and short distances. Other than that I am still trying to understand why they came out with it-lol. .308 is much more capable overall. Heck I’ll take a 30-30 before a Blackout-lol. But I’d imagine it could be fun to shoot and effective within it’s limitations.

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