Want to test the outer limits of your shooting skill? There's more to successful long-range shooting than slapping a bipod and a big scope on your rifle. You'll need a cartridge that lives up to the high expectations demanded at ranges up to and beyond 500, 600 or even 1,000 yards.
Choosing a long-range cartridge is more complicated than selecting a round with the flattest trajectory or fastest velocity, although those do play a role. Ballistic coefficient (the measurement of how easily the bullet passes through air) is a critical part of the equation, as well. So are barrel twist and length. In fact, all the various factors work together (or against each other) to affect long-range accuracy.
Try these different loads until you find the one that thumps steel at long ranges consistently in your favorite rifle. And then stick with it.
Hornady | Remington 6mm
The 6mm uses the same bullet as the .243, but since the 6mm is made from a necked-down .257 Roberts, the case has a little more powder capacity. That results in faster speeds with the same .24 caliber bullet. Hornady' 100-grain InterLock BTSP has a muzzle velocity of 3,100 fps in 6mm, while the .243 leaves the barrel at 2,960 feet per second. Recoil is slight, but the light bullets are sensitive to wind.
Factory loads are not very common, either, at least not in loads designed for long-range accuracy, so you'll likely have to rely on hand loads for best results.
Lapua | Bench Rest Norma 6mm
The 6mm Bench Rest is quite possibly the best long-range cartridge you've never heard of.
It is, however, gaining a large following among hardcore target shooters, although it has been quite popular in Europe for some time where it has been used to win numerous target competitions.
The 6mm BR is available in a limited number of factory-loaded options, including Lapua's 90- and 105-grain bullets, both excellent long-range loads.
The drawback is that a little-known cartridge translates to a limited selection of rifles. Most are custom-made, although Savage offers three target-grade models.
Hornady | 6.5 Creedmoor
Introduced by Hornady in 2007, the 6.5 Creedmoor quickly became a favorite among a legion of shooters looking for a cartridge that could outperform other match-grade cartridges at long ranges.
Because it's relatively new, and thanks in part to the long list of more popular shooter- and hunter-tested cartridges, the 6.5 hasn't quite caught on among the masses. Yet. It's a superb long-range cartridge and a top-notch hunting round.
It's only available in a handful of rifles, including the Ruger Hawkeye, and factory-loaded ammo is limited, although more choices are becoming available every year. Hand-loaders have lots of options in .264 bullets, including Sierra's 140-grain SBT, which has a BC of .495 above 2,800 fps.
Nosler | 7mm Remington Magnum
A popular western big-game cartridge, the 7mm Magnum doubles as an excellent tool for long-range target shooting. It was introduced in 1962 and essentially knocked the .264 Winchester Magnum several notches down on the popularity list after hunters and shooters put the 7mm Mag to the test.
The belted cartridge can be loaded for velocities up to 3,500 fps with lighter bullets, but the best long-range loads use a heavier bullet with a higher BC and velocities between 2,800 and 3,000 fps.
High-quality factory ammo is readily available in sporting goods stores and there are numerous bullet selections for reloading enthusiasts.
Hornady | .308 Winchester
Although many long-range shooters have their own favorite caliber, no other caliber is as popular as the venerable .308.
It's the number one choice for military and law enforcement snipers alike and it's a great all-purpose hunting round. High-quality match-grade ammo and various bullets are readily available, making the .308 a great round for those who want to test their favorite hunting rifle at a long-distance range. It's also a proven caliber among serious long-range shooting enthusiasts.
Barnes Vortex | .30-06 Springfield
The "aught-six" doesn't get a lot of respect at the long-range bench, but it should. It's certainly not as accurate as the .308 at extreme ranges, but at distances of 400, 500 or even 600 yards, it's accurate enough in the right hands with the right gun and load.
The .30-06 has stood the test of time as a capable military cartridge during World War II and as a highly effective big game cartridge after the war. It deserves long-range respect. And just as .308 shooters have a wide selection of top-shelf match-grade ammo, .30-06 enthusiasts have plenty of factory load options to choose from as well as hand-loading components.
Barnes Vortex | .300 Winchester Magnum
A powerful cartridge that shoots fast, flat and far, the .300 Win Mag is a powerful long-range caliber. It's not as popular among match shooters as the .308 or a number of other lesser-known cartridges, but it's effective, nonetheless.
Because it uses the same bullet as a .308 and .30-06, there is a large variety of bullet sizes and configurations available to handloaders in addition to plenty of high-quality factory options. Barnes' VOR-TX 180-grain TTXS load, for example, has a BC of .484 and a muzzle velocity of 2,960 fps.
Developed in 1944 as an exclusive cartridge for Weatherby's own guns, the .300 Weatherby Magnum has been a staple among big game hunters around the world. It's also serves as a great long-range cartridge.
The Weatherby is a bit faster than the .300 Win Mag and carries a little more energy downrange. The only drawback to Weatherby's high-quality ammo is its price. The company's 180-grain Accubond load has an MSRP of $90. Luckily, a number of manufacturers offer similar loads for lower prices. Hand-loaders can also save on cost by making their own loads tailored to specialized specifications.
Winchester | .338 Lapua Magnum
The origin of the .338 Lapua ought to be enough to convince you that this is a damn fine long-range cartridge for both hunting and target shooting.
Developed in 1983 for military snipers, the .338 Lapua underwent extensive testing before it ever saw action, but it quickly became a favorite among American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. Dozens of other militaries and law enforcement agencies now use the .338 Lapua.
A word to the wise: the better long-range cartridges are in the neighborhood of 250 grains. Yes, they can wallop your shoulder, but many of the match-grade rifles are heavy enough to significantly dampen recoil. Winchester's 250-grain Match bullets have a BC of .587 and a muzzle velocity of 2,900 fps.
Hornady | .375 Ruger Magnum
"Big-bore" and "long-range" may not necessarily belong in the same sentence, but the Ruger .375 Magnum is arguably the best choice for long-range accuracy when talking about big-bore cartridges. 375-Ruger-250-Gr.-GMX-Superformance/ lead-free, 250-grain GMX Superformance has a reasonably strong BC of .430 and a muzzle velocity of 2,900 fps while still producing an impressively flat long-range trajectory for such a heavy bullet.