Long-range hunting

November 14, 2018

I have always been interested in dangerous big game rifles and cartridges ever since I started reading accounts of African hunting and watching the weekly “Jungle Jim” episodes at the Crest movie theater in the 1950s. I have even fired the .375 H&H Magnum, which I feel is a great all-around big game cartridge out to 300 yards, and some of the .40 caliber magnums. I like the .375 H&H Mag and most of the other calibers used for hunting African game, although I haven’t personally fired all of them, namely the .416 Rigby and .460 WBY Magnums.

When asked, why, if I like them, I don’t hunt with them, I generally respond that most of those cannons are dangerous big game stoppers at ranges of one hundred yards or less, while my hunting usually requires shots at ranges of 300 yards or more at deer, elk or pronghorn. For that kind of hunting, I don’t need several thousand foot-pounds of energy at 100 yards or gut-wrenching recoil, but I do need a flat trajectory and at least 1,500 foot-pounds of retained energy if I have to shoot out to 600 yards.

Recently, a friend considered my answer and then asked, “OK, so why do you do your long-range hunting with a .300 WBY Magnum instead of a .340 WBY, or .338 Winchester Magnum.”

That was actually, a pretty good question, and I had considered the .340 WBY at one time, but decided to stick with the .300 WBY.

The first issue I will discuss is cost of ammunition. If you don’t load your own ammunition, a box of 20 180-grain Spire Point .300 WBY Magnum cartridges will cost you about $67. .340 WBY 225-or 250-grain cartridges will cost about $78, and a box of 20 Federal Vital-Shok, 210 grain .338 Win. Mag. cartridges cost about $56.

So, the .338 Win Mag. wins in the cost of ammo category, but as all salesmen would say, “Wait, there’s more.”

The .338 Win Mag. 210-grain bullet leaves the muzzle at 2,950 feet per second and has 3,866 foot-pounds of energy and retains 1,900 foot-pounds of energy at 500 yards and drops 34 inches at 500 yards. The .340 WBY 225-grain Spire Point bullet leaves the muzzle at 3,066 feet per second and has 4696 foot-pounds of energy while dropping 29.6 inches at 500 yards and retaining 2,150 foot-pounds of energy. The .300 WBY Mag. fires a 180-grain Spire Point bullet out the muzzle at 3,200 feet per second with 4,195 foot-pounds of energy, drops 24 inches at 500 yards with 1,987 foot-pounds of retained energy.

So, the .300 WBY has a little more retained energy at 500 yards than the .338 Win. Mag and drops less than either the .338Win, Mag or the .340 WBY Mag. while only giving up 163 foot-pounds of energy to the .340 WBY at 500 yards.

Another advantage the .300 WBY has over the .338 Win Mag is a longer neck for seating the bullet, which gives the .300 WBY the edge when it come to seating the bullet deeper without impinging on the powder which translates into better accuracy when reloading. The .338 Win Mag and 300 Win. Mag. are designed to operate in standard length actions, whereas, the Weatherby cartridges require longer actions to accommodate the longer Weatherby cartridges. The higher capacity Weatherby cartridges with their longer necks require magnum length actions to function properly.

Now, let’s get to the issue I think will concern most people. Recoil or good old-fashioned kick. Starting with the .30-06, recoil is an issue shooters have to deal with. Most adults can get comfortable shooting a .30-06, but more recoil than about 20 foot-pounds makes many develop an anticipation flinch that ruins any attempt at accuracy. The .300 WBY Magnum using a 180-grain bullet recoils at about 35 foot-pounds of energy, coming back into the shooters shoulder at 15 feet per second. It is a sharp hard recoil if the shooter doesn’t use proper shooting form. The .338 Win. Mag. using a 225-grain bullet recoils at about the same 35 foot-pounds of energy, coming back at the shooter at about 16 feet per second. The larger bore diameter of the .338 Win Mag. keeps recoil energy about the same As the .300 WBY, but the heavier bullet drives the rifle back slightly faster making felt recoil a little harder. The .340 WBY with a 225-grain bullet has a harder punch to the shoulder at 43.4 foot-pounds of energy and comes back at the shooter at 17 feet per second.

Admittedly, all the 30 caliber magnums and up have substantial recoil with which the shooter has to learn to be comfortable. Some kick harder than others, and the shooter must decide if the game being hunted and the distance to target are worth the felt recoil of the rifle being used.

My decision is based on retained energy at several hundred yards, cost of ammo whether I am reloading or using factory ammo, flatness of the caliber’s trajectory over distance, and felt recoil in relation to the optimum distance I can expect retained energy of 1,500 foot-pounds.

If I ever decide I want a heavier bullet than 220 grains for hunting at 200 yards or less, I will use a larger-bore, harder-hitting rifle with 43 foot-pounds of recoil or more. For any North American game, the .300 Weatherby will do any job I need done out to 500 yards or more.

However, if I am only hunting deer as I did this past season, I usually opt for my father’s old Remington model 721, in .30-06. With that rifle, a 165-grain bullet leaves the muzzle at 2,800 feet per second, with 2,872 foot-pounds of energy. It drops about 30 inches at 400 yards and has 1,526 foot-pounds of retained energy. It recoils at close to 18 foot-pounds and comes back at the shooter at 12.5 feet per second and has been my choice for deer for most of my life.

Smokey Merkley was raised in Idaho and has been hunting since he was 10 years old. He can be contacted at mokeydo41245@hotmail.com.

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