Last week I spent some time running the .224 Valkyrie out to 1250 yards on a known distance range. The targets were the usual steel Frankensteins – torsos – and between the constantly-shifting crosswinds and major heat mirage, it took some finesse.
Long-range shooting is something of an addiction of mine; any moment spent beyond 1000 yards makes me happy. I mention this because an old Boone and Crockett position statement was recently resurrected regarding long-range shooting versus long-range hunting. Do I love nailing steel at truly long distances? Absolutely. Would I shoot a deer at those same distances? Well, no. But here’s the catch: I love long-range hunting and take issue with the old Boone and Crockett statement from 2014, which is as follows:
The Boone and Crockett Club maintains that hunting, at its fundamental level, is defined by a tenuous and unpredictable relationship between predator and prey. This is an intrinsic, irrefutable and intimate connection that cannot be compromised if the hunter is to maintain the sanctity of this relationship and any credibly claim that hunting is challenging, respectful of wild creatures, and in service to wildlife conservation. This connection is built upon many complex components that differentiate hunting from simply shooting or killing.
The Club finds that long-range shooting takes unfair advantage of game animal, effectively eliminates the natural capacity of an animal to use its senses and instincts to detect danger and demeans the hunter/prey relationship in a way that diminishes the importance and relevance of the animal and the hunt. The Club urges all hunters to think carefully of the consequences of long-range shooting, whether hunting with a rifle, bow, muzzleloader, crossbow, or handgun, and not confuse the purposes and intent of long-range shooting with fair-chase hunting.”
Dragging fair-chase into this as though anything beyond “X” number of yards becomes a Dukes-of-Hazzard-style undertaking lacks logic. What is a long distance for you may not be long for me, and vice versa. The average Whitetail deer hunter shoots inside 100 yards – invest in rangefinders, people – meaning long-range has quite a broad definition. This brings us to point one: the distance believed to be “long” is quite subjective.
Fair chase is something else altogether. As has been demonstrated in the recent past, many hunters feel high fence properties are fair. It isn’t the commonly-held opinion, but it’s certainly out there. By Boone and Crockett’s own definition, fair chase is “the ethical, sportsmanlike, and lawful pursuit and taking of any free-ranging wild, native North American big game animal in a manner that does not give the hunter an improper advantage over such animals.”
They have me agreeing – mostly.
When it comes to the need for the animals we hunt to be free-ranging, I’m right there with B and C. For my taste, an animal needs to have the ability to leave the area. If they’re confined it doesn’t seem fair. If you’re thinking this blurs the lines since a long-range shot means the animal doesn’t even see you coming, let me ask you this: do you find it more ethical to shoot a frightened animal or one that doesn’t see it coming? Would you prefer to shoot an animal that is wild and free or one so accustomed to people and food it’s practically a pet?
Brian McCombie, a longtime outdoor writer and seasoned hunter, had this to say regarding the long-range hunting debate:
If you were 20 feet up in a deer stand and a Whitetail deer steps out at 50 yards, the odds of that deer having any clue you are even in the area are very remote. So right there, at 50 yards, you’ve effectively eliminated the animal’s natural capacity to use its senses and instincts to detect Danger. (Unless you’re hunting with a knife.) I think Boone and Crockett needs to get into the 21st century, admit that the technology to make long-range hunting shots is here and is going to stay. They would do a greater service to game animals, in my opinion, by stressing the importance of marksmanship and practice to the ethical hunter.
Ethics. There’s that word again. They are – should be – a key point for any hunter. Getting a clean shot and kill is your ethical responsibility as a hunter. There are hunters among us who are capable of making an ethical, single-shot kill on a deer at 400 yards or a feral hog at 1000 yards (yes, really). This hinges on experience, skill, and working within your limitations.
Hunting is not the time to pop off a shot “just to see if you can.” Do that on paper or steel. When you hunt, know your distances – again, get a rangefinder – and stick to them. Long-range hunting is absolutely not ethical when it is undertaken without the ability to back it up with the utmost confidence.
As for respecting the animal, that’s tied up in ethics as well. Respect involves a clean kill which circles back to only shooting within your abilities.
Claiming the “sanctity” of the hunter-game relationship is somehow sullied by a long-range shot is insulting to the intelligence and morals of the hunter in question. The majority of long-range hunters have worked hard to master their skillset and don’t take it lightly. They honor the animals and respect the process. Being a long-range hunter does not automatically turn you into an unethical hack.
Bottom line? If you can make that long shot on the animal knowing it will be a one-shot kill in good conscience, go for it. Keep in mind issues like the power factor of your gun; remember how a bullet drifts, drops, and loses energy with distance. Successful, ethical long-range hunting is all about knowing your gear’s capabilities and being honest with yourself about your own.
If your current skillset means you shoot all your animals under 100 yards, that’s fine. If your hard work and training means you can and do hunt at longer ranges, that’s fine, too. Make your hunting actions fit your abilities with respect to ethics. Done right, long-range hunting is fun. Maybe Boone and Crockett should try it.