To follow up on my last post about the new game of Rifle Golf, it seems appropriate to address the growing acceptance of taking long-range shots when hunting big game. There’s no doubt the equipment we use—rifles, optics, ammunition, ballistics calculators and rests—have advanced to the point where they absolutely can produce long-range, one-shot kills. As one of the competitors in the Vortex Extreme Invitational told me, “With the gear we have now, the math behind these shots is easy.”
There are two parts to the long-range equation. The gear is the hardware, but the hunter/shooter who powers the rig must be considered the software. Both are equally important to the formula that produces clean, one-shot kills. I can’t think there’s any disagreement that instant, one-shot kills are the ultimate shooting goal of every ethical hunter.
The first question we must answer is, “What is long range?” From the hardware side of things, that answer is definitely somewhere well beyond 500 yards, but from the software side, the answer is highly variable depending on the shooter. Big parts of the answer depend on geography and hunting experience.
Eastern United States hunters know that in the vast majority of their big game hunting, 200 yards will be a long shot. Decades of data reveal the vast majority of whitetails east of the Mississippi are taken at 100 yards or less. Sure, there are exceptions like bean fields in the Carolinas or power line cuts in the Upper Midwest, etc. Some zones in this region are limited to slug guns and muzzleloaders, which are hardware restrictions that limit long-range shots. But where rifles can be used, the hardware selected can be capable of shooting well beyond 500 yards.
On the prairies and in the mountains, it’s a different ball game all together. There, you can spot game literally from miles away, and with good optics you can often get a good, unobstructed view of your game at 1,000 yards or more. If you’re shooting a cartridge, bullet, rifle and optics combo from a reliable rest that allows you to deliver the bullet accurately and with sufficient energy to make a clean, one-shot kill, then why shouldn’t you take it?
Only you can determine whether the software part of the equation has been programmed to make the shot, but the hard and fast rule is this: If you haven’t practiced the shot in similar conditions—a bunch—then you have no business taking the shot in the field.
This poses the biggest problem for Eastern hunters who go to the West. Places to shoot out to 1,000 yards in the East are very limited. And the ranges that do have 1,000-yard facilities in the East are usually behind the gates of private clubs. There just aren’t enough places to practice those shots with any frequency.
In the West, 1,000-yard ranges are much more common and accessible, but even then it can be tough to duplicate “field conditions” in a traditional range setting. That’s why I’m excited about Spirit Ridge Rifle Golf. It allows the opportunity to practice true long-range shooting under conditions as close as possible to what will actually happen in the field. And it’s in an environment where the stakes aren’t nearly as high because there's no risk of wounding and losing a magnificent big game animal.
For hunters who will truly dedicate themselves to pairing the right hardware and software to make long-range shots, I’m not against it. It’s another form of hunting excitement, just as is getting within spitting distance. On the other hand, my own rule is that if I have even the slightest doubt about making the shot, then I’ll opt to pass and find a way to get closer.