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How to Choose the Best Long-Range Cartridge

How to Choose the Best Long-Range Cartridge

Of all the current long-range-capable cartridges, out to 1,500 yards the 6.5 PRC probably offers the best balance.

Selecting a long-range rifle cartridge requires serious thought. As opposed to following the advice of internet “experts” mouth-breathing on their keyboards, the best advice is to balance ballistics with your needs. There are several important things to consider, and when comparisons are done pragmatically, the choice is much simpler.

Time of Flight
The primary consideration for long-range shooting is time of flight (TOF). The faster a bullet gets to the target, the less time gravity and wind have to act upon it. The best long-range .308 Win. loads will get to 500 yards slightly faster than the best 6.5 Creedmoor loads. However, the Creedmoor reaches 1,000 yards sooner, and at 1,500 yards, the 6.5 PRC outpaces them both.

Recoil matters to long-distance shooters. It’s a point of fact that the harder a rifle kicks, the more difficult it is to shoot with precision. You might shoot two to four boxes of ammo between breakfast and lunch, and recoil has a cumulative effect. The new Hornady .300 PRC gets to 1,500 yards quite fast, but every time you pull the trigger, you’ll have to endure about 29 ft.-lbs. of recoil. The 6.5 PRC is only 1/100th of a second behind the .300 PRC at 1,500 yards, and it gets to 1,000 and 500 yards sooner. It does this with half the recoil.

Rifle & Ammo Availability
Once considered an excellent 1,000-yard cartridge, the .260 Rem. is inferior to the 6.5 Creedmoor because factory rifles and ammunition are built to work with a 1:9-inch twist; the 1:8-inch 6.5 Creedmoor can shoot bullets with a higher ballistic coefficient (BC). However, with custom rifles and handloaded ammunition it’s a different story; the .260 gains a slight edge. With purpose-built, long-range rifles, handloaders have lots of options and a variety of cartridges become serious shooters at distance. For instance, with the right bullet, at 1,500 yards the 7 mm Rem. Mag. is a force to be reckoned with.

However, most shooters—especially those new to the long-range game—are trying it with factory equipment. With regards to rifles and ammunition properly configured for reaching way out there, you’ll find more options for the 6.5 Creedmoor and .308 Win. than any other cartridge.

Other Things
Bullet weight, energy and BC are other things often considered when selecting a long-range cartridge. Bullet weight and energy on target are of no consequence unless you want to shoot through things or you’re hunting; it’s not hard to punch a hole in paper or ring steel at distance. The BC of bullets available in a specific caliber matter, but what really matters is the triad of BC, twist rate and velocity. A .308 Win. cannot launch a 225-grain bullet with a G7 BC of .391 at a velocity high enough to take advantage of its sleekness.   

Short of semi-artillery pieces like the .338 Lapua, .408 CheyTac, .416 Barrett and the like, which cartridge should you choose? Based on things that matter, here’s a beginner’s guide to selecting a cartridge for successful shooting at long distance.

Beginners will be using factory rifles and factory ammunition, and likely shooting inside 1,000 yards. Because of the wide array of products offered across the counter, and due to their mild recoil, the two best choices are, without question, the .308 Win. and 6.5 Creedmoor.

500 Yards and Closer
At this distance don’t worry so much about time of flight; there’s really not enough difference to matter. What does matter is recoil because it will allow you to place your shots with more precision. The 6.5 Creedmoor, 6.5 PRC, .260 Rem. and .308 Win. are clearly the best options at this range.

1,000 Yards
This is where time of flight really becomes important. Not just because of wind and gravity, but because it reduces POI errors associated with range and wind estimations that are not exact. For best results, choose a cartridge with a 1,000-yard TOF of less than 1.5 seconds. Considering their milder recoil, the 6.5 Creedmoor and 6.5 PRC are the undeniable top choices at this distance.

1,500 Yards and Beyond
To be really effective here, you need a high BC bullet, combined with a muzzle velocity of 2,800 fps or faster. The 6.5 and .300 PRC dominate this distance, but a properly handloaded 7 mm Rem. Mag. can out-pace both of them. Regardless, when you consider recoil in the equation, the 6.5 PRC really shines. In fact, all things considered—and as you can see in the included table—the 6.5 PRC is very likely the best, all-round, long-range cartridge currently available.

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