Long range shooting used to be second nature to me. I remember those days of my early twenties when I would spend whole weekends at various ranges ringing steel out past the horizon. Those days are past me now and I find that I don’t lament their loss. There’s been a change in the long-range culture in the last decade and it has many facets, not all of them are good.
This article is, of course, my opinion and I don’t expect you to agree, but I sincerely hope you’ll give it some thought before you call me crazy. I know that there are big fish to fry on the national scene, but I believe that this is one of those topics that’s akin to the problems surrounding the nuclear family today. Good basic ethics make for responsible hunters. Without those our culture degenerates in to immorality and depravity.
When I was younger I was very concerned with my ability to hit things at long-range and I was very good at it. I was able to hit game at almost any distance and I was proud of that fact. Hunting for me was something a young man just does without thinking about. My opinions began to change when I had a case of mistaken identity.
I was out hunting for fox and coyote one year and I had moderate success. I had permission from some local farmers to remove vermin that could tear up the ground and injure cows and horses, so I spent my lonely afternoons doing just that. I was familiar with all the yardages and holdovers.
I had been watching a fox for several weeks and he kept avoiding me. He was smart, but I was smarter, or so I thought. I saw his head pop up in a small washout along a stream one day and lined up on him at about 700 yards. I fired once and he instantly dropped.
When I got down there, I was surprised. What I had thought was the best shot of my life at the time had been robbed from me. In the washout lay a cat with black ear tips and a reddish-grey coat.
I would’ve bet my meager life savings that it was a fox when I pulled the trigger. Nobody in the area had a cat-like that as far as I knew and I never found the owner, if there was one.
The story was one of my favorite campfire tales for a while, but I eventually saw that the same people who were entertained by fox hunting weren’t as excited by shooting cats. That left me with the hollow feeling of having 700 yards be my best shot, but it proved I wasn’t nearly as good a hunter as I claimed to be. Some even said it was cruel.
The obsession with long-range began to bother me. I discovered that I was, in fact, a terrible hunter who had to move beyond the senses of my game to get a shot.
Another year I lined up on a coyote at over 800 yards and shot him. I didn’t find the body until the next day, but by then it had been partially eaten. I examined the body and saw that I had indeed hit him, but in the snout. He likely died in agony before being scavenged. I neither got a skull nor a pelt as a trophy, but I could say that I shot a coyote at 800 yards.
I repeated this process for a number of years until I became completely disgusted with myself and those around me who prized distance and not a clean kill.
My complete separation from the-long range community came when the 6.5 Creedmoor fad got into full swing. Everywhere I went and everyone I talked to became convinced that they were now snipers and badass long-range shooters and all I could do was stand by and listen to the stories.
“I shot a deer at 900 yards.” “I took a shot at 1,400 yards in Wyoming.” “The 6.5 is accurate to a mile. I want to shoot a deer that far.” I have even had names you’d recognize in the industry claim to have shot elk at long-range with a little 6.5 Grendel. It’s this type of thing that gives hunters a bad name, and, in these cases, it’s well deserved.
It is not good sportsmanship that people pursue when it comes to long-range hunting. To me it is some sort of mantle of superiority and it leaves me with the sensation that these people are all about the glory of the kill and not the responsibility of taking a life.
Glorifying the kill and not the tradition of the hunt is what drives people away from the outdoor sports. Who wants to be in the company of a bunch of traditionless bullet golfers who injure animals in their spare time?
I think the idea of shooting at long distances comes from some shooters believing that they’re inherently more skilled than the rest of the crowd. The yardage is sort of a trump card of skill, where the shooter who can make a hit further out is objectively “better” than the one who takes a shot closer in. It is a status marker to some, but to me it is the mark of a poor hunter or someone who is trying to prove something to others with an imaginary benchmark.
Because of the technological advances we have in guns, ammo, and optics, long-range hunting is actually easier than any kind of hunting out there today considering that you’re outside of an animal’s range of senses. I’ve seen deer just stand there and look around because they don’t even hear the source of the shot.
Compare that to bow hunting or using a cap-and-ball muzzleloader where the average shot is inside 50 yards. The former is long-range killing, the latter is fair chase hunting.
So should we force everyone to hunt at 50 yards with muskets? If that preserves the deer herd for the next ten generations, then I am all for it. But what if I never shoot a deer, Josh? Well, that’s life and hunting isn’t a guaranteed activity nor is it about the act of killing.
If we quantify hunting as a fair chase, one would reasonably assume that the animal has the ability to readily escape should it be alerted to the presence of the hunter. The hunt, by nature, is a gamble, not a surety.
By extending the distance between shooter and animal, you eliminate the ability of the animal to make a reasonable escape. Sure, you can kill animals from that far out, but that isn’t the goal. You may as well go to a farm and shoot a lamb point-blank if you want an unfair chase experience.
This brings me to a point in this where I have to address the continuing trends of the long-range world. I have predicted and watched as bores have gotten smaller in the competitive end of long-range shooting. The 6.5 was the first, now 6mm and .22 are the choice.
I now hear of people shooting at deer with a 6mm Creedmoor (the millennial re-branding of the common .243 Win) at 1,000 yards because it’s still supersonic or some other inane excuse. I see writers with a good following promoting this type of foolishness and it disgusts me.
A gun reviewer you all may recognize once said something to me to the tune of, ‘Josh is consistent with his all life is precious rants’ when I was discussing the taking of game at hunting ranches. Yes, all life is precious and we as hunters are responsible when it comes to preserving that life for future generations.
If the kill is all you want, you have already failed as a hunter and have no business in the woods. You must love your quarry or there won’t be any for our children to stand in awe of. It is the preservation of life that makes hunting enjoyable. Conservationists have done more to rebuild habitats and allow species to repopulate than any radical animal rights groups could ever manage because they truly love the animals, where the latter simply hate people.
So the big question is this: is long-range hunting a form of animal cruelty? I believe the answer is yes. As hunters, we have the responsibility to kill a game animal quickly and humanely. If we don’t kill quickly by intention, it is inhumane and simply cruel. Killing game quickly involves shooting the animal in a vital area so that it dies rapidly. Simply hitting the animal isn’t the same thing. There is no ‘D’ zone because animals aren’t IPSC targets.
To reduce the variables of the kill we need to reduce the ranges from which we shoot. The closer the animal, the greater the likelihood of making a fast, clean kill. By willingly extending the distance to an animal, you are intentionally increasing the likelihood of a hit on a non-vital area.
This can’t be argued as it’s a function of distance, environmental factors, and the potential accuracy of a given rifle. This extension of distance will, by simple math, result in avoidable suffering and is cruel.
So what distance constitutes long-range? Good question. I believe that long-range is any range that exceeds the senses of the animal. The maximum range I shoot deer at is about 200 yards, but prefer it to be inside of 75 yards if I can help it.
For coyote I look at 300 yards as a reasonable maximum with any distance shorter being ideal, preferably inside 50 yards. Those rules change a bit depending on terrain, but that is what I typically work with.
I hear often that we need more calibers and new guns to drive the industry forward. I do not believe that’s true. What we have is an idea being marketed because of the prestige culture we have developed around it.
The cult of long-range shooting has pushed the gamer mentality into the field with his playthings for shooting steel plates. This shooter isn’t a hunter, he’s a gamer little different from those on Fortnite or whatever games they play these days. Gone are the traits of patience and the attitude of perseverance. Replacing them is instant gratification, underpowered ammunition and low recoil.
For many, the hunt is about the kill, not the beauty of nature or the life of the quarry. It’s a sad day for sportsmen when the future of hunting is in the hands of the irreverent and impatient. I can say this as someone who’s from that generation and I was once one of those I criticize.
I was as guilty as any when it came right down it. Now I hope I’m in a position to change some minds on the subject. Put away that gaudy 6.5 Creedmoor and pick up your granddad’s old .30-30 before you head out into the field. I’m sure he could teach you a thing or two about what hunting is really about.