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Ethics of Long-Range Hunting

June 2020
Author: Jack Peterson, President of Best of the West

I have noticed that over the years there has been a constant stream of articles and opinions on the ethics of long-range hunting. Ass a pioneer of long-range hunting and after 17 years of producing over 300 long-range television episodes, Best of the West has been the focal point for many of these articles. I was recently asked by an outdoor writer from a media company based out of California if they could go on a hunt with us to gather information and learn more about long-range hunting. They wanted to actually experience the equipment and process before giving an opinion on the subject. To my knowledge, this is the first time an outdoor writer actually wanted to learn about our BOTW approach to longer range shooting and hunting to include the ethics that we as a company project. I recently came across an article that was written a couple years ago that gave “7 reasons as to why long-range hunting was a horrible idea.” I found this article to be very thought provoking. The author did a good job laying out the foundation for some of the reasons that we as ethical hunters should be concerned with when taking longer than normal shots at big game animals. In this article, I want to point out the areas where the author and I agree and where we might disagree. I would also like to address and share our BOTW approach on each one of his seven topics to assure you that BOTW is taking the high road on
this subject.

First, let’s try and define what long-range means. In the article, the author suggests that long-range begins between 300 and 500 yards, “where bullet drop and wind must be calculated.” I would agree with this conclusion and add by saying long-range starts just beyond point blank range. That means as soon as you start raising the barrel to compensate for bullet drop. If your .22 caliber is zeroed at 100 yards and you are raising the barrel at 200 yards, that would be considered long-range. With your .308, it may not make a considerable difference between a 200-yard zero and a 300-yard target. However, at 400 yards, bullet drop is significant enough that holding over starts to become inconsistent while guessing the bullet drop.

In the second part of his opener, he refers to wind being a factor starting at 300 yards. He also states that beyond 600 yards there are too many factors and variables for most hunters to be able to make a first-shot hit. Again, I agree with this author under the scenario he gives; no hunter should be taking shots on animals without the proper equipment and training.

Now, let’s get to the seven reasons this author gives for why taking longer range shots are “horrible” and how BOTW thinks most hunters can overcome these concerns.

“Animals are not expendable targets.” I would agree that big game animals, including females, should not be used as target practice. Wounding animals unnecessarily is unethical, and it should be embedded in every responsible hunter’s code of ethics. BOTW believes you should “never take a shot at a live animal that you haven’t proven you can make on inanimate targets in the same field-like conditions.”

“Hunters do not have the luxury of the perfect bench rest.” The shooting platform you carry in the field is one of the defining factors as to how far you are capable of shooting consistently and accurately. All of the companies I am aware of that promote long-range shooting/hunting provide, promote, and stress the importance of using a shooting platform. Our BOTW platform consists of using a bipod or tripod with a rear bag to stabilize the backend of the rifle, just like at the bench. Shooting in the prone position should produce results similar to bench rest accuracy. The sitting position is not as effective as prone and standing shooting off a tripod limits the accuracy even more. In my opinion, bipods should only be used if attached to the rifle and in the prone position. Practice from all three of these positions to determine what your effective range is for each position. “The bench should only be used to sight in a rife, check for accuracy, or used for competitive matches.”

“Shooting game raises adrenaline levels and the heart rate of most hunters.” If this isn’t true for you, then it’s time to take up golf or at least check to see if you even have a pulse. BOTW’s John Porter, an experienced outfitter and competitive shooter, has stated that, “Some of the best competitive shooters I know fall all apart when the target has hair on it.” Our BOTW approach to this is to dry fire, dry fire, and then dry fire more! One of the luxuries of taking longer range shots is having more time to get set up for the shot. When heart rates are amped up from hiking or because you have just spotted the new world record, you have to take time to get yourself and your shooting system under control. When dry firing, the spotter should always ask the shooter where the crosshairs were when the trigger broke. The first answer is always, “I am not sure.” Three or four shots later, they start calming down and concentrating on their wobble zone. They should be confident that they know where their crosshairs were when the trigger snaps. If your wobble zone is bigger than the kill zone, then you have to get closer to make an ethical shot.

“Hunting conditions and wind.” The writer brings up some very good points considering the environments you will be challenged with in the field. He goes on to mention the wind differences at the rifle, halfway between, and at the target. It is very easy to determine what the wind is doing at the rifle. This can be accomplished by pointing your wind meter in the direction of your target to get the crosswind component in mph. What the wind is doing at the target is too little, too late. The area 1/2 to 2/3 of the way to the target is the most important. Even if the wind is blowing from the opposite direction at the target, there is not enough flight time left to deflect the bullet in the opposite direction. The moment the bullet leaves the barrel, the direction of the wind and its speed is what determines its flight path. At 800 yards, my .679BC, 156gr EOL at 3000fps bullet still has over 2100 fps velocity and 1575ft-lb of energy. It takes the bullet .785 of 1 second to get from my barrel to the 800-yard target. In the split second the bullet has left to get from the halfway point to the target, there is not enough time left for the wind to deviate it from its flight path.

BOTW is known for its ballistic BDC turrets that are windage-enabled. This means that our custom turrets are built by collecting drop data at long and mid-ranges in order to build an accurate custom BDC yardage turret. Above the row of yardage numbers is a second row of smaller numbers that indicates the wind values for a given yardage. These are MOA values that are based on a 10mph full value wind. If my turret tells me I need to hold 2MOA at 500 yards, I would push my center crosshair into the direction of the wind and hold two hashmarks over. By doing this, I am dead-on up and down and dead-on sideways. If the wind was blowing 5 miles per hour, I would hold one hashmark, 3 marks over for a 15 mph wind, and 4 for a 20 mph wind. Having a way to determine how much wind I am dealing with and a way to hold for it in the reticle is the only accurate and ethical way to shoot in windy situations. If the wind is too gusty to be confident in determining a hold value, you should never shoot at a live animal.

The writer also mentions obstacles like canyons and other challenging subjects. I do not have the space to address all of them in this particular article. However, his concern about shooting across a canyon is a realistic challenge that those of us who hunt the high country face quite often. Let me try to address our BOTW approach to this. If the wind is blowing and you are not sure what kind of updrafts or increases in wind speed you are dealing with, sometimes we take a shot across the canyon, maybe 50 yards to the side of your target on a similar elevation plane and angle. We have found that this may alert, but rarely scares off, the animal. This can give you a very good reference for what the wind effect on the bullet is when shooting across the canyon. If you don’t like this idea or you do not like the results you receive after taking a shot, get up and change real estate.

“What separates true snipers from long-range enthusiasts is that the former can read the wind, make the corrections, and hit the target on their first shot or from a Cold Bore.”

“Read the wind.” Many people think that “snipers” have some kind of mystical skills or abilities that are beyond the grasp of the average guy. This is not true in today’s world. Many of the military, special forces, and military contractors are given the ability and funding to reach outside the military’s historic shooting system platforms to seek out and utilize equipment being developed in the civilian market. This is where most of the R&D and many of the new and innovative products are derived from, at least in the small arms category.

As far as reading and doping the wind, there is no advanced technology snipers are privy to that civilians are not. We can use the same rangefinders and wind meters as well. Learning how to read mirage and vegetation is a skill available to anyone willing to learn and practice. We do not have the time in this article for a lesson on how to dope the wind, but let me assure you that if you are not mentally or physically handicapped, you and most other hunters can learn to become proficient at reading the wind.

“Cold Bore” is a term that gets misused a lot in the shooting industry. Many times, it gets confused with clean bore. Most folks notice a change in their point of impact after cleaning their rifle. Most shooters and gunsmiths realize that it may be necessary to shoot one to three rounds to remove the wet residues left from cleaning the bore. When the term “Cold Bore” is used, I think this can be attributed to the POI change after cleaning the barrel or they have another issue with the rifle itself. What I am saying is that if there is a POI difference from the first shot to the second or third shot out of a cold barrel, it is not because the bore is cold. In most cases, we find that it is a bedding issue involving the area of the recoil lug. We always take multiple rifle systems to our shooting schools and long-range competitions where we fully expect first shot accuracy every time. We clean the rifles at noon, shoot two to three fouling rounds, and when we start up again an hour or so later or the next day, there is no POI change on the first shot. When we build new rifles that have an issue with a first-shot POI change, we clean the bedding or re-bed the area of the recoil lug. In my opinion, there is no such thing as a cold bore POI change. It can be attributed to a problem with the rifle that can be fixed.

“Hunting isn’t war. In a battle, miscalculations or shooting errors often lead to a wounded enemy”. Our writer goes on to say that this is a good thing because the objective is “to get the enemy off from the battlefield.” To this, I agree and would add that the ethical kill zone for an animal is a smaller target zone than military snipers consider when using the “chest” as their aim point when engaging the enemy. The military considers an acceptable area ranging from the crotch to the top of the head, which allows an impact zone of about three feet for elevation and one and a half feet for horizontal. To reframe this, we might say that our ethical standards for taking animals for sport is higher than our military standards for taking the enemy off from the battlefield.

Finally, the author brings up the fact of the necessity to make sure the bullet and terminal performance is adequate for the distance. BOTW has always insisted that caliber and bullet selection is critical when considering taking longer than normal shots. In addition to caliber and bullet weight, we make sure we are using temperature insensitive powder and matching the correct twist rate of the barrel to the high BC bullet. The author goes on to say a hunter has the responsibility to “‘know’ not just ‘think’ they can kill the animal on the first shot.” To this, I also agree. Taking longer shots because you want to see if you can hit the animal is just not ethical. Our BOTW staff always strive for a one-shot, one-kill capability. That means doing everything right. People either have ethics or they don’t. Who is qualified to determine the standard of ethics for others? This is highly debatable. I think those of us who promote the equipment and teach the techniques that are required for hunters to extend their effective range should do just that. Anyone who promotes taking shots at 1,000 yards and beyond at animals is being irresponsible. Ask yourself these questions: Does my bullet have enough velocity and energy to penetrate and expand the bullet at this distance? Will this result in a one-shot kill?

In a no-wind situation with the right equipment, it is amazing how accurate today’s shooting systems can perform. When the wind starts to blow, this quickly becomes a limiting factor. It’s all about practice and confidence in knowing where the bullet is going to land in each scenario.

In closing, I would say that all of us as hunters face a multiplicity of challenges. For some, it’s how close they need to get. For others, it might be accessing a muddy road trying to get to their favorite spot. For me, sometimes it is packing up the horses and mules, forging the streams and rivers, and climbing up the steep mountain trails to set up a tent camp. We should not be trying to make the shot itself the challenge, we should be making the hunt the challenge and the animals we hunt should be a bonus to our experiences and adventures in the amazing outdoors.