With increased participation in long-range shooting matches like NRL Hunter and PRS there has been growing interest in the subset of our sport referred to as “long-range hunting.” I’m careful around that phrase because I don’t believe in or advocate the shooting of game beyond practical, effective limits. I know there are shooters for whom a 500-yard shot under field conditions is not unethical provided the situation warrants it and the conditions allow it. I also know hunters for whom no 150-yard shot is ethical because they don’t practice with their firearm.
When we consider a long-range hunting system—a rifle, optic and ammunition—it’s generally the rifle that consider first. Choosing a rifle and chambering is the first step toward building a hunting setup that will allow you to extend your maximum effective range and shoot more accurately at all distances. Many shooters are passionate about their favorite caliber, rifle manufacturer, or optics brand. Fewer, though, are truly passionate about their bullet of choice.
That’s a mistake. Let’s not forget that it’s the bullet—not the optic or the rifle—that ultimately impacts the target. Buy a great rifle and optic and make the perfect shot on an animal and you’ll likely be disappointed if your bullet isn’t up to the task. What’s more, by extending your maximum range you’re asking a bullet to perform at a wider range of velocities, and not all bullets are up to the task.
If you’re serious about long-range hunting (or extending your effective range) then you’d better be serious about bullet selection. Here are 10 great options that will work in a variety of circumstances.
1. Hornady ELD-X
The Hornady ELD-X (Extremely Low Drag eXpanding) has become one of the most popular long-range hunting bullets. They feature a secant ogive and resulting high ballistic coefficient so these streamlined bullets buck wind well and carry energy efficiently. The Heat Shield tip resists deformation at high velocities and initiates expansion down to velocities around 1600 feet per second (fps). Though the ELD-X is not a bonded bullet it does have an InterLock ring and progressively thickening jacket that helps retain 50 to 60 percent of the original weight at high impact velocities, making this a versatile hunting bullet for a range of game animals. I’ve used it on whitetails and pronghorn at extended distances as well as tougher game like aoudad and red stag and have been thoroughly impressed with this bullet’s accuracy and terminal performance.
2. Nosler AccuBond Long Range
Nosler’s AccuBond has been one of the top-selling hunting bullets for decades, and that’s because it’s one of the top-performing hunting bullets available today. Nosler has taken all that is good about the AccuBond and made it more streamlined for better BCs and improved long-range performance with the AccuBond Long Range, or ABLR. Characterized by signature grey tips, ABLR bullets feature a tangent ogive which makes them less sensitive to seating depth. The jacket around the nose of the jacket is relatively thin and this helps the polymer tip initiate expansion as low as 1300 fps, an ideal feature in a long-range bullet. The bonded core eliminates the risk of jacket/core separation for close range shots when velocities are high.
3. Federal Terminal Ascent
Terminal Ascent bullets are the latest evolution of the Federal Trophy Bonded Bear Claw, a bullet that was originally designed by Jack Carter for hunting large and dangerous game. Traditionally, bullets designed for heavy game had thick jackets, bonded designs and high retained weights, which aren’t ideal for extended range shooting where velocities are low and bullets can fail to open. Terminal Ascent solves that problem with the addition of the Slipstream tip that initiates expansion at lower velocities than similar bonded bullets. The result is a sleek, aerodynamic bullet with high BCs and excellent long-range performance that holds together at close ranges and high velocities. That’s also what makes Terminal Ascent a great all-around bullet for hunting a wide variety of game, everything from light-skinned antelope at long ranges to bear and moose in timber.
4. Swift Scirocco II
Swift’s A-Frame is a great heavy game bullet that has earned an enviable reputation on tough game like moose, bear, and cape buffalo. However, the A-Frame is not a long-range bullet, so if you’re extending your shots you’ll need a sleek, aerodynamic bullet like the company’s excellent Scirocco II. Like so many of the other top hunting bullets the Scirocco II utilizes a secant ogive and a polymer tip for high ballistic coefficients. The tip initiates expansion down to relatively low velocities, but the progressively thickening jacket and bonded core mean that this bullet will hold up well. I used a Scirocco II bullet while hunting mule deer in Utah a few years ago and found the performance was outstanding. Not only were the bullets printing small groups at the range the performance on game was excellent, dropping a big buck down a snowy rockslide just before he topped the ridge and disappeared into the next draw. I’ve been a fan of the versatile Scirocco II ever since.
5. Speer Impact
I was very excited to see Speer’s Impact bullet arrive on the scene, in part because I’m a fan of the company’s Gold Dot G2 pistol bullets. Like their legendary Gold Dot, Speer’s Impact utilizes a pressure-formed lead core with a molecularly fused copper jacket. The resulting bullet is extremely tough and expands reliably at high velocities on heavy game. But the Impact bullet is also capable of making accurate long-range shots thanks to its high ballistic coefficients (a G1 BC of .526 for the 140-grain .264 bullet) and Slipstream polymer tip, a technology borrowed from the outstanding Federal terminal Ascent bullet. Speer is currently offering .308 (172 or 190-grain) and .264 (140 grain) Impact bullets for handloaders, but if you don’t roll your own and want to see what these bullets are made of they are loaded in Remington Premier Long Range factory ammo.
6. Berger Hybrid Hunter
Berger is probably best known for its ultra-accurate match bullets, but its Hybrid Hunter bullet is a great option for many long-range hunters. By combining the features of a secant and tangent ogive, Berger bullets offer excellent BCs and great ballistic performance without being as picky about seating depth as traditional secant ogive bullets. The aerodynamic profile is combined with a thin jacket that was engineered to travel 2 to 3 inches into the target and expand fully, creating massive hydrostatic shock and transferring all of the bullet’s energy into the game animal. For medium-sized game like elk and antelope at extended ranges it’s simply hard to beat this bullet, and it has become one of my favorite for true long-range hunting. The 6.5mm 130-grain load worked well on my Wyoming antelope, dropping the buck in its tracks. Additionally, you can expect match bullet accuracy from many Hybrid Hunter loads.
7. Norma BondStrike
Norma is one of the oldest and most respected names in the ammunition business, and its BondStrike bullet should be on your short list if you’re looking for an outstanding all-around big game projectile that performs consistently at varying distances and velocities. The boat tail profile, polymer tip, and heavy-for-caliber design give the BondStrike a high BC, and the signature blue tip helps to initiate expansion by moving rearward into the core of the bullet. If you’re hunting large, heavy game the BondStrike won’t fail you, either. The bonded jacket and core hold together at high velocities and produce great straight-line penetration even at close range and high velocities. BondStrike is a great choice for a wide range of game at varying distances, and it’s also very accurate thanks to Norma’s excellent components.
8. Barnes LRX
Long-range match bullets have traditionally used cup-and-core designs, but Barnes is claiming that their LRX monometal bullet can perform as well or better at extended distances than traditional lead core projectiles. Instead of the traditional soft lead core, Barnes LRX bullets feature a deep channel. A polymer tip is inserted in the channel, and when the bullet strikes the tip is driven back into the core to initiate expansion. This eliminates the risk that the bullet will “pencil through” the target without expanding or shedding kinetic energy and inducing hydrostatic shock. Of course, at close range and high velocities the monometal design does a great job holding together and clinging to bullet weight. The 6.5 Creedmoor load comes with a 127-grain bullet with a respectable BC of .468. That load is suitable for long-range hunting at great distances, even in areas that have banned lead ammo.
9. Sierra Tipped GameKing
Sierra is anything but new to the bullet business, and the company’s MatchKing bullet has been a hit with long range shooters for decades. Later came their GameKing bullet, which built of the success of the MatchKing, and the latest addition to the hunting line at Sierra is the Tipped GameKing bullet that is loaded in their GameChanger ammunition. As the name indicates, there’s a polymer tip that initiates low-velocity expansion and the sleek boattail profile with high BCs (.563 for the 140-grain TGK 6.5mm 140-grain) make this a suitable long-range bullet that will expand reliably even out where the daisies grow so long as the hunter does their part. Sierra is currently offerings their TGK bullets in factory GameChanger ammunition from .243 Winchester to .300 Winchester Magnum.
10. Remington Core-Lokt Tipped
Remington’s Core-Lokt bullet has been a favorite of hunters for years, and it’s still a great option for most hunters. The Core-Lokt was not originally designed as a long-range bullet, though, and BCs were low. Remington has changed that by adding a polymer tip (green, naturally) to their Core-Lokt design, creating a bullet that offers the same consistent performance on game that we expect from the original with the added advantage of better BCs and improved long-range lethality. The 129-grain 6.5 Creedmoor load pushes a 129-grain bullet at 2945 and the bullet sports a BC of .485, making it a legitimate extended range hunting bullet that is both accurate and deadly. Core-Lokt Tipped is everything we love about the original Core-Lokt in a more accurate and versatile package.