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Perspectives on Long-Range Hunting: Speed Kills

Image of a rifle with scopeBeginning from about the time Winchester necked the .30/06 case down to .270, long-range-hunting ideology has proclaimed: “speed kills”. Speed is measured by a bullet’s velocity in feet-per-second. Theoretically, a rifle chambered in a cartridge that produces higher velocities than your last rifle increases your odds of a kill by extending your effective range. That’s simple enough, however, to maximize the full potential of super-velocity cartridges, specialized rifles, accessories and attachments must be used. Hunters showing up in the backcountry these days have rifles outfitted with large, lavish scopes, and modular stocks with attached bipods. Scope turrets adjust, as well as the stocks and the shooting rests. And, hunter’s pockets and daypacks are stuffed with related gear. Rifles tend to be long, heavy, and awkward to handle compared to standard, sporter-type rifles. The net gain of the extra weight and accessories is the ability to hit targets at extreme distances. The net loss is all the extra weight and accessories slow the shooter down at getting the shot off when the golden moment arrives. While hunters are occupied with ranging targets, adjusting turrets, extending bipods, raising cheek rests, or even looking down at a ballistic app on a smartphone—animals simply walk off and the opportunity is missed, not the shot.

Recent experience in the backcountry indicates that more opportunities to take big game are lost by hunters fiddling with gadgetry than by bullets striking low because of inadequate velocity. In the real world of steep mountains, dense forests, and wary game, “speed kills” when it is measured in milliseconds, from the time an animal presents a shot to the moment the trigger is pressed. The faster you can shoulder a rifle and get a well-placed shot off from a field position, the more likely your hunt will end in success. There’s nothing inherently wrong with using high-tech shooting accessories, as long as you don’t consume too much precious time using them.

Hunters are getting so accustomed to employing these shooting accessories that they still use them at short-to-medium ranges when there is no need to. They seem to have it ingrained in their heads that no shot can be attempted without first ranging the target and then supporting the rifle with some form of manufactured shooting rest. As a bull elk stood watching from 50 yards, I witnessed a hunter fold up his rifle’s bipod because he had to shoot from a standing position, and then extend a separate shooting stick to shoot from the standing position. The bull finally trotted off unscathed. When another hunter kicked up a mule buck at 200 yards, he turned and asked his guide to range it. The buck gained another 100+ yards before the hunter finally shot, wounding the buck and initiating a long chase.

Having been somewhat of a minimalist for most of my life, I cringed when a hunter showed up at camp with a rifle chambered in .30-378 Weatherby and all the latest shooting accessories imaginable. One day a bull bulged in front of him as he was descending a semi-forested spur. The hunter froze in mid-stride and stood searching for the bull. He then side-stepped one step to change his field of view slightly and the bull appeared at 180 yards. Without wasting any time and from a standing position, the hunter raised his rifle, aimed, and fired in one fluid motion. The bull nose-dived into the steep slope and never stood again. Perhaps the lesson gained is not a total rejection of modern shooting accessories, but to know when to use them and when not to. If you can clearly see a buck or a bull with your unaided eye—don’t bother with your rangefinder—aim right at him. And, if he’s already looking in your direction—change your shooting stance minimally. If you must shoot at ranges over 300 yards, take the time to get set up using all the necessary gear, but move quickly.

Good hunting,

Joe Cavanaugh

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