What Is the Flattest Shooting Caliber?

Long Range shooting is the rage these days.  Being able to hit a target at 1000 yards seems easy.  It seems like every Hunting  TV show has hunters shooting deer and elk at 800 to 1000 yards.  The truth is that shooting 1000 yards is not easy.   It takes serious practice and work to be able to shoot that far.  Very few hunters have ever shot a game animal at much over 200 yards.  The new thing is not shooting 1000 yards but shooting a mile (1760 yards) or 3000 meters.  I have shot in 1000 yard matches with a Freshour 50 caliber rifle, and I have shot out to 1700 yards playing around at FTW Ranch with a 338 Lapua.  It is not easy to shoot that far but with a good spotter who knows the wind and knows the ballistics of the caliber and is telling you how to adjust your scope can make it almost easy.   Shooting long distance has become easier in the last ten years.  Scopes are much better and easier to use.  Bullets have become better and have a much higher ballistic coefficient, so they shoot flatter and more accurate.  Guns have improved during the last decade with great triggers, better barrels, and ergonomically designed stocks.  Last, there are some great new calibers and some old calibers that shoot accurate and very flat. I’ll give you some ideas on what it will take to shoot 1500 yards and what type of scope and caliber you will need to make that happen.

Scopes have come a long way.  Fifty years ago the best target scope was the Leopold 12X or the Shepard 20X.  They were great scopes and still are but you had a lot of guesswork with them and the 12 power at long-range just isn’t enough.   It was in 2000 when TD Smith came out with the new TDS reticle for scopes and Swarovski started installing it in their new PH line of scopes.  Huskemaw came out with a simple turret scope which made adjusting for long-range shooting easy, but the best scopes and the ones winning all the long-range matches were the Leupold 24X target scope and the Nightforce 5-25 target scope with custom long-range turrets.  Today there are some amazing scopes on the market.  Two of my favorites are the Nightforce NXS 5.5-22 and the Swarovski X5 5-25.  These scopes have turrets that will adjust as much as 200 MOA and also have internal cross-hairs that will give you another 50 MOA (minutes of angles) adjustment.  In other words, you can adjust these scopes for making shots well beyond 1000 yards. 

CaliberBullet weightMuzzle velocity500 yd1000 yd1500yd
6.5-300 Wby143 ELDX3300fps-28.4 in-194.5 in -613 in
28 Nosler162 ELDX3300 fps-28.3 in-193.4 in -607 in
30-378 Wby200 hpbtmk3150 fps-32.4 in-228.5 in -751 in
338 Lapua300 hpbtmk2750 fps-40.3 in-264.5 in-797 in
50 BMG750 Amax2850 fps-35.0 in-218.0 in-612 in

Bullets have changed so much in the last 10 years, I have had to re-educate myself on how to load ammo.  One major change is that the bullets have gotten longer, heavier, slicker, and made from different metals.  Fifty years ago the best hunting bullets were Nosler Partitions or Grand Slams.  They were great hunting bullets but never grouped consistently if you made 3 shots in 1” you had a great gun and load.  Sierra was building the best target bullets; the ballistic coefficient on a 30 caliber 200-grain Match King was just over .400.  Now you can get a Berger VLD Match bullet in 30 caliber 220-grain bullet with a ballistic coefficient over .650. Wow, that is a big difference!  There are some 22 caliber and 6.5 caliber bullets with a BC over .700 – that is extremely flat shooting! 

The quality of our firearms has drastically improved over the past few decades with better machining techniques and stock designs are superior to how they were made 50 years ago.  Aluminum pillars and bedding blocks are commonplace now.  Cutting much faster rates of twist in barrels means we can stabilize heavier and longer bullets.  Lapping and polishing of barrels has improved to the point that you get almost no copper build-up inside the barrel.  Stress relieving and cryogenic freezing have helped to make barrels shoot much more consistently. Trigger designs have improved to the point that a 2-pound trigger is heavy.  Many target rifles will have a 4 or 8 oz. trigger in them.

New calibers have come out which burn powder more efficiently which leads to better groups.  Velocity has increased to the point that bullets will stay supersonic well beyond 1000 or even 2000 yards.  The new 28 Nosler or 6.5- 300 Weatherby are just two new long-range calibers.  The old 257 Weatherby and 338 Lapua still work for long-range shooting and of course, nothing beats a 50 BMG for ultra-long-range shooting.  The military uses a 308 Winchester for sniping to 600 yards. From 600 to 1000 yards they use a 300 Winchester. Beyond 1000 yards they use either the 338 Lapua or the 50 BMG.  A Canadian sniper had a record kill at over 3500 yards last year in Afghanistan. 

Shooters have no real idea how much drop a bullet has at long ranges like 1500 yards.  I have people tell me about shooting targets at 1000 plus yards with a 6.5 Creedmoor while holding a few feet above the target and all I can do is smile when I know better.  I ran some drop numbers on some of the flattest shooting calibers in the world and how much drop they have at 1500 yards will amaze you.  A 338 Lapua will have 40 inches of drop at 500 yards, 265 inches of drop at 1000 yards and 780 inches of drop at 1500 yards.  That is 65 feet of drop and we are not shooting a mile yet. 

Go out to American Shooting Center and shoot on their 300-yard range then try your luck at their 600-yard range.  It is fun and very hard to do.  Better yet take one of the long-range shooting schools like the SAAM course that FTW Ranch puts on in the Hill Country of Texas.  You will learn more about long-range shooting by doing this than you ever will from watching how it is done on television.