Long Range Target Rifles for Hunting

By Jim, Mary and Susannah Clary

F-Class Open Target Rifle with 12-42x56mm Nightforce Scope.
F-Class Open Target Rifle with 12-42x56mm Nightforce Scope.

F-Class long range target shooting is among the Clary family hobbies and Susannah is the one woman Guns and Shooting Online Competition Department, so periodically we get questions about using long range target rifles for big game hunting. The short answer is NO. The long answer follows.

First (and foremost): Hunters should never attempt a shot beyond the MPBR of whatever cartridge you are using. F-Class and Benchrest rifles/cartridges may reach out to 1,000 yards, but their MPBR is considerably less. In fact, their MPBR is comparable to most �standard� hunting cartridges when they are loaded with hunting bullets.

Second: The scopes used in long range target shooting have variable optics, from 6-32x, 8-32x up to the 12-42x Nightforce, which we use. The low power settings are useless for brush hunting scenarios and the full power provides such a small field of view as to be impractical for hunting. Most of our hunting scopes are 3-9x and we rarely use a setting above 6x or 7x. Too much of a �good thing� is not always good for hunting.

Third: Long range target bullets are essentially FMJ and will not provide the necessary expansion or energy on target to yield a quick, clean kill. They are not called �match bullets� for nothing. Standard hunting bullets are designed to deliver the necessary expansion and energy to take down game at the MPBR. They are not designed for accuracy at long range. Ballistically, you just can�t have it both ways.

Fourth: Long range target rifles must be heavy in order to provide stability for the distances being shot. They weigh between18 lb 2 oz (F-TR) to 22 lbs (F-Open). They are equipped with heavy stocks, bull barrels and custom actions, with the average price starting at $2,000 and going up from there (sans scope). I don�t know of any hunter that would attempt to lug a twenty-pound rifle around the mountains.

Fifth: There is no commercial ammunition on the market that is adequate for long range competitive shooting. All competitive long range shooters reload their own ammunition, period! Hornady did come out with the 6.5mm Creedmoor round that was supposed to be competitive at 600 yards with Benchrest shooters. It might be at local matches in small clubs, but not even close for larger venues. The 6mm BR Norma is still one of the most accurate cartridges for 500 - 600 yard competition, despite it�s susceptibility to the wind.

Susannah Clary & Andy McCourt on the firing line with the 6mmBR rifle.
Susannah Clary & Andy McCourt on the firing line.

For several years, the standard for F-Open shooting has been the 6.5mm-284, loaded above the maximum recommended in any manual. It is very accurate, but a barrel-burner, losing its competitive accuracy after about 600 rounds. In recent years, several competitors have switched to 7mm WSM and 300 WSMs in an attempt to gain an advantage in �shooting through the wind,� with some degree of success.

The key to successful long range shooting (in addition to precise reloads) is reading the conditions, wind, boil from heat, etc. and being able to adjust for it with each shot. Very few hunters are capable of doing that or know how and even experienced target shooters have problems on a regular basis. We are reminded of a local 1,000 yard competition where Mary held on the center of the target next to her (that is 12 feet to the right) in order to hit the X-ring of her target; such is the effect of a 10 mph cross-wind.

The British F-Open team used 7mm�s (.284 bore size) to win the F-Open World Championship in 2010, but burned through more than a dozen barrels to do it. At $600 a pop for each barrel, that is pretty pricey for a gold cup. Derek Rodgers of Albuquerque, NM, used a custom built Charley Robertson rifle (Score High Gunsmithing, Albuquerque, NM) chambered for the .300 WSM to win the 2010 F-Open US Nationals. Larry Bartholome just won the 2011 F-Open Creedmoor in Ireland with an Alan Warner rifle (Warner Tool Co., Keene, NH) chambered in .284 Win., using expanded 6.5x284 cases. Larry is an incredible shooter who can read the wind like a meteorologist and he is only 70 years old.

Only time will tell whether the .300 WSM, 7mm�s (multiple case options) or straight .284�s will ultimately supplant the 6.5mm-284. The 2013 F-Class World Championships at the NRA�s Whittington Center in Raton, New Mexico should be very interesting and provide some indication as to whether the 6.5mm-284 will remain the cartridge of choice in F-Open competition. It won�t surprise these writers if the 7mm (.284) �wins� out, as there are a half dozen superior bullets for it, including the superb Berger 180 grain VLD with an amazing 0.684 BC.

The 6.5mm-284 (a wildcat) when loaded with an appropriate bullet is a good hunting cartridge, but presents no advantage over more readily available cartridges. As Chuck Hawks has pointed out: �With the SAAMI standardized .260 Remington, 6.5mm Rem. Mag. and immensely popular .270 Winchester all being factory loaded in the U.S., it is a little hard to see just where the 6.5mm-284 . . . fits into the modern scheme of things (for hunting) in North America.� If you are looking for a magnum caliber for hunting, the .257 Weatherby and .270 Weatherby are hard to beat in the Vanguard rifle.

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Copyright 2011 by Dr. Jim, Mary, Susannah Clary and/or chuckhawks.com. All rights reserved.