Long range shooting is all the rage these days, whether it is target/gong shooting, varmint or big game hunting. Thirty years ago the list of cartridges suitable for this kind of shooting looked a lot different than today, especially for big game hunting—and that's largely been due to the advent of sophisticated rangefinders, which transformed the art of range estimation into a science that can be bought over the counter. But wind is still a four-letter word in the world of shooting, and the best way to combat wind is to shoot a bullet with a high ballistic coefficient (BC) as fast as possible. High ballistic coefficients not only drift less in the wind, but are less affected by changes in environmental conditions. But recoil and cost do matter, so considering all four variables, what are the best long range cartridges today for our favorite shooting disciplines? Let's take a look.
.220 Swift The .220 Swift shooting 80-grain bullets is probably the ideal long-range varmint/predator rifle. The Hornady 80-gr. AMAX has a BC of .453, which doesn’t sound great until you realize most .224 bullets have BCs in the 2’s. Launched at 3250 fps, the 80-grain AMAX drifts 5.7 MOA at 800 yards versus 12.8 MOA for a 55-grain VMAX launched at 3800 fps. You read that right: the 80-grain AMAX drifts less than half as much as the lighter pill. At 400 yards the difference is exactly half: 2.4 vs 4.8 MOA.
6XC The 6XC is the creation of David Tubb, a renowned rifle shooter. The F class and position shooters I shoot with every week love this cartridge. It can launch a 105-grain Berger Match Hybrid Target (BC .545) at 3000 fps. Wind drift at 400 yards is 2.1 MOA; at 800 4.8 MOA (10 mph wind). While there are some factory rifles available, this is at best a custom rifle proposition.
.308 Win A tough call, because anything the .308 Win can do, the .260 Rem. or 6.5 Creedmoor can do better, with one exception: hunting. My Browning X-Bolt Varmint Stalker shoots Hornady 180 SSTs (BC .480) at 2600 fps. Wind drift is 4.1 MOA and 7.3 MOA at 400 and 800 yards, respectively. Obviously, I could do better with target bullets, but this is a hunting rifle. Still, when I shoot at metal gongs at 500 yards shooting sitting with a Harris bipod and shooting sling, it is rare for me to miss a target the size of a deer’s vitals even in moderate winds. The real beauty of the .308: easy on barrels, allowing you to gets lots of practice calling the wind.
.300 RUM You won’t find the RUM winning many long range shooting contests, but for general big game hunting, this cartridge is tough to beat. A Nosler AccuBond 200-grain bullet has a BC of .588; launched at 2975 fps the wind drift is 2.0 MOA at 400 and 4.6 at 800. The recoil and cost, of course, are excessive, but the accuracy of this case is stunning.
.338 Lapua When you absolutely have to hit a target at long range in windy conditions, there is only one way to beat a 300-grain .338 bullet: shoot a CheyTac. The 300-grain Berger Elite Hunter has a BC of .818—I don’t know of any bullet of .338 or less that has a BC that high. Launched at 2700 fps, drift is only 1.6 MOA at 400 yards and 3.4 MOA at 800! My Lapua is Savage 110 FCP—an exceptionally accurate rifle at a very reasonable cost. The .338 Edge is a wildcat that matches the Lapua but uses a standard magnum action. My Stiller Edge with a Lilja barrel is a death ray.