The Best Long-range Rifle Cartridges For Hunting and Competition

The Best Long-range Rifle Cartridges For Hunting and Competition

Long-range rifle shooting started almost as soon as the rifle was invented. Man tends to push the envelope of performance with any technology. By the Revolutionary War, American snipers could hit their targets at over 300 yards—with muzzle-loading, iron-sighted, flintlock rifles.

In the American Civil War, one Southern sniper made a confirmed kill at 1,390 yards, likely with a Whitworth rifle. Long-range rifle shooting became extremely popular in the latter quarter of the 19th century. Top shooters were hailed as heroes, won awards and accolades from royalty, and were featured in newspapers of the day.

Civil War Soldiers

Image Courtest of We Are the Mighty

Several shooters recorded up to 43 consecutive bull’s-eyes at 800, 900, and 1000 yards at the famed Creedmoor rifle range in Long Island, New York, from 1878 to 1881. This feat is impressive even by today’s standards.

Image Below: The New York Daily Herald of 7 October 1878 published a report and target diagrams of Partello's shooting at 800, 900 and 1000 yards. Courtesy of Research Press.

New York Daily Herald of 7 October 1878

In our modern culture, long-range rifle shooters may not be hailed as national heroes or celebrated in the news (with the rare exception of people like Chris Kyle), but there has been a lot of renewed interest in long-range rifle shooting over the past few years. Long-range rifle competitions run by the Precision Rifle Series and the National Rifle League have exploded in popularity.

Chris Kyle American Sniper

Many places offer long-range shooting classes to help people who are new to the sport. Nearly every rifle manufacturer offers a range of precision or long-range rifles capable of sub-MOA (minute of angle) accuracy to facilitate long-range target shooting or hunting.

Long-range hunting has also grown in popularity over the past couple of decades, with improvements in bullet technology and cartridge design enabling ethical kills at distances considered impossible in the last century.

This article will discuss some of our top recommendations for long-range cartridges for competition and hunting. So, let’s get started!

Top 5 best cartridges for PRS-type long-range competition or target shooting

Like any sport, PRS or NRL-type rifle competition is a testbed for the most effective gear and technology. The pressure and fun of competing drive people to perform at their best, and finding the exact right tool for the job can often make the difference between a top-five finish and being an also-ran.

Over the past decade, since the Precision Rifle Series began, there has been a noticeable trend away from traditional bolt-action rifle calibers (like .308 Winchester) and toward the various 6mm cartridges. Examples include 6mm Bench Rest (6mm BR), 6mm BRA (also known as 6mm BR Ackley Improved), 6mm BRX, 6mm Dasher, 6mm GT, 6mmx47 Lapua (6x47L), 6mm BRBS, 6mm BR-DX, 6mm XC, and 6mm Creedmoor, among several others.

There are two primary reasons why 6mm cartridges have taken over the sport. First, recoil with these cartridges is much lighter than with .308-class cartridges due to their smaller powder capacity and lighter bullets. In PRS competition, it’s vitally important to be able to spot your hits and misses. If your rifle/cartridge combination thumps you so hard you can’t see where your bullets hit through your scope, you won’t be able to adjust your hold for your next shot.

Secondly, today’s high-BC (ballistic coefficient), long 6mm bullets are highly accurate and resistant to wind drift compared to the .308 bullets of yesteryear. 6mm bullets excel at ranges over 400 yards, retaining more velocity and bucking the wind far better than a typical .308 while keeping recoil low. This means a well-built rifle firing match-quality ammunition can often produce half-MOA groups or better, even with a hot barrel during a long string of fire during competition. A more accurate bullet/cartridge means your potential cone of bullet dispersion will be smaller, and your probability of first-shot hits at longer distances will be much greater.

Video: Shooting Basics: What Is Ballistic Coefficient?

An additional factor to consider is barrel wear. High-pressure, high-velocity rifle cartridges wear out barrel throats relatively quickly, to the point where a top shooter might notice a degradation in accuracy from the start of a 2-day competition to the finish. Match barrels are expensive, and getting them installed by a qualified builder is also costly. If your cartridge is burning up your barrel within a few hundred shots, costs can start to add up, to say nothing of the hassle of replacing barrels so often. Today’s 6mm competition cartridges have settled into the sweet spot for recoil, accuracy, and acceptable barrel life.

Also, both the NRL and PRS have a .308-inch maximum bullet diameter and a 3,200 fps (foot per second) velocity cap to prevent excess damage to the steel targets that are commonly used. So super-fast barnburner cartridges need not apply. This is good, as it keeps recoil levels reasonable and prevents needless barrel deterioration from hot-rodded loads.

So, for PRS-style competition, the 6mm/6.5mm Creedmoor can be considered the maximum case size. As you increase case capacity, recoil grows, and barrel life deteriorates (generally). Some people shoot .243 Winchester and .308 Winchester (or even larger) cartridges in informal competitions or to try it out, but they are the exception. You won’t find many top-5 finishers using anything besides one of the 6mms mentioned above.

So, which are the best cartridges for PRS-type competition, and why?

Popular 6mm Cartridges of the PRS

6mm BR (Bench Rest): The OG of long-distance target accuracy

The 6mm Bench Rest gets its name from benchrest rifle competitions during the 1960s. Based on the .308 Winchester parent case and the related .308x1.5 inch Barnes cartridge, several wildcat 6mm cartridges became popular in bench rest target shooting by 1962-1963. The accuracy and efficiency of this new family of ultra-accurate cartridges spawned multiple variants. Remington began producing rifles chambered in its version of 6mm BR in the late 1970s and began loading factory 6mm BR Remington ammunition in 1988.


However, Remington’s version of the 6mm BR had a relatively short throat, optimized for bullets up to around 70 grains. This limited its performance with longer, heavier bullets. In 1996, Norma of Sweden introduced their 6mm Norma BR cartridge, with chamber dimensions optimized for 100-plus grain bullets. This became the standard, and today, if you say 6mm BR in the PRS community, you mean a cartridge/rifle with the longer Norma chamber/throat dimensions.

6mm BR makes our list of top-5 best PRS competition cartridges because it has been so good for so long, and its case is the basis for most of the other top contenders. Roughly half of the field at a typical PRS event will be using some variant of the 6 BR cartridge family. Additionally, reloading dies and brass are easy to find and relatively inexpensive, if that’s a consideration. Although the majority of shooters load their own ammunition, both Lapua and Norma sell match-quality 6mm BR ammunition.

Video: 6MM BR Build - 23' PRS Rifle

The 6 BR is known to be easy to load for, with extreme accuracy potential and good velocity with commonly used powders such as H4895 and Varget. It’s not the fastest of the popular competition 6mms, since it’s shorter than most of the others and has a lower case capacity. However, the 6 BR will easily drive the popular 105-108 grain, high-BC 6mm bullets to 2,800 fps without signs of overpressure. At some matches, other 6mm BR-based cartridges are more popular, but the original is still a real contender with a lot of fans.

Pro tip: If you’re having a gun built for 6 BR, it’s a good idea to ask your gunsmith to use Lapua’s latest dimensions. Lapua brass is much more common than Norma’s 6mm BR brass, and some lots of the Lapua brass can be very slightly larger in dimensions at the base/web than the more expensive Norma brass. So cutting your chamber using Lapua’s numbers should work well for both.

6mm BRA: Extra speed with few downsides

The 6mm BRA takes the 6 BR case and blows the shoulder angle out to 40 degrees, while retaining the same neck length and position. The A in BRA stands for Ackley, as it follows the same philosophy as P.O. Ackley’s other wildcat cartridges (though the famous gunsmith and researcher had died before the 6 BRA came about).

The advantage of the 6 BRA over its parent cartridge is around 100 fps of extra velocity due to the increase in case volume and powder capacity. 2,900 fps with 105/108 grain bullets is common. This extra oomph can come in really handy when you’re nearing 1,000 yards.

Video: Showing Off the 6mm BRA

The 6 BRA has earned a devoted following in the PRS community, as it shares most of the attributes of the 6 BR, but is faster. Other benefits include easy loading/accuracy nodes with common powders (including H4895 and Varget) and reduced trimming. Depending on the attendance of a particular match, typically 6mm BRA will be in the top 4-5 most popular cartridges among the better shooters.

6mm BRA dies are available from several sources, including Wilson, and cases may easily be fire- or hydro-formed from commonly available Lapua 6mm BR brass. If you prefer to buy factory-made (and head-stamped) brass, excellent 6mm BRA cases are available from Alpha Munitions.

6mm Dasher: The new hotness

The 6mm Dasher is the brainchild of well-known long-range rifle gunsmith Dan Dowling. He and his friend Al Ashton came up with the improved cartridge, based on the 6mm BR parent case, around 1999. (The name Dasher is a convenient, rapid-sounding combination of the names Dan and Ashton.) However it wasn’t until the popularity of the PRS and NRL competition leagues that the 6 Dasher really came into its own.

Video: 6 Dasher - Hype or Real Deal?

Dan and Al started with a 6mm BR case and blew the neck forward 0.10 inches. They also increased the neck angle to 40 degrees (similar to that of the 6 BRA). Since case length remains the same, this results in a shorter neck, but it is still sufficient for excellent accuracy when loaded correctly. The resulting 6mm Dasher case provides roughly ten percent more case capacity than the standard 6mm BR, which provides an extra 130-150 feet per second velocity with a 105 grain bullet. Some competitors load their 6 Dashers close to 3,000 fps, but many prefer to extend case and barrel life by loading to around 2,850-2,900 fps.

6mm Dasher reloading dies are available from several sources, including Whidden, RCBS, and Forster. Many shooters fire-form 6mm BR cases into 6 Dasher, but factory brass is available from Peterson Cartridge as well as Alpha Munitions.

6mm Creedmoor: The fast, factory option

Despite its somewhat controversial nature, we couldn’t make a top-five list without including the 6 Creed. Based on the 6.5 Creedmoor case but necked down to 6mm, the 6 Creed is at the top end of what we’d call acceptable regarding recoil and barrel wear characteristics. However, it can’t be denied that this is a trendy cartridge in the PRS competition. At a typical PRS or NRL match, one-third of the top shooters likely be shooting the 6mm Creedmoor.

6.5 Creedmoor vs. 6 Creedmoor vs. 6.5 PRC

The 6mm Creedmoor was the brainchild of Outdoor Life columnist John Snow, who, 2007-2009, developed the concept of a wildcat 6mm cartridge based on the new 6.5mm Creedmoor. He asked George Gardner of GA Precision to build him a rifle in the custom caliber. It performed well, and later Gardner made an AR-10 chambered in the new cartridge for the PRS gas gun (semi-auto) division. He did so well that he started getting orders for rifles, and it took off from there. Hornady began selling factory 6mm Creedmoor ammunition in 2017, and SAAMI accepted the cartridge that same year.

Video: 6.5 Creedmoor vs. 6 Creedmoor vs. 6.5 PRC

With its longer case and greater powder capacity, the 6 Creed easily pushes the preferred 105-108 grain bullets to the 3,200 fps legal competition limit, with the downside of reduced barrel life and more significant recoil. Most serious competitors find their 6mm Creedmoor barrels to be toast by 1,400 rounds, or about half the life of its shorter 6 BR-based cousins. But it feeds smoothly from standard magazines, has multiple factory ammunition/rifle options, and reloading components/tools are readily available. Additionally, factory brass is available from various sources in both large and small primer options.

If an off-the-rack rifle, factory ammunition, and maximum legal bullet speed are priorities for you, the 6mm Creedmoor makes an awful lot of sense.

6mm GT: the Gay Tiger is the Goldilock's choice

The 6 GT has become a top PRS competition cartridge and results from the expertise of George Gardner, president of GA Precision, and Tom Jacobs of Vapor Trail bullets. They are the G and T in 6mm GT, but the internet being what it is, a rumor started around introducing this new cartridge that stood for Gay Tiger, and Alpha Munitions even made some 6mm Gay Tiger head-stamped brass. This only made the new cartridge more popular and with good reason.

Video: 6MM GT VS 6MM Dasher

Gardiner and Jacobs designed the 6 GT to produce the maximum velocity possible from Varget powder (which is somewhat fast) and 105-110 grain bullets. The 1.772” 6 GT case is longer by .160” than the 6mm BR but not as long as the 6mm XC or 6mm Creedmoor. The shoulder angle is 35 degrees, which allows smooth and reliable feeding of the longer case from AICS pattern .308-sized magazines. The very efficient case design results in velocities over 3,000 fps with commonly used bullets without pushing pressures too high. Case life is excellent, recoil remains manageable, and barrel life is awe-inspiring (in this context) at 2,500-3,000 rounds or more. As Goldilocks said, this one is just right.

But it gets better. SAAMI has accepted the 6 GT, so factory ammunition is available, and components are relatively easy to find and inexpensive (comparatively). Factory rifles are now being chambered in 6 GT, and it may not be long before the Gay Tiger approaches or surpasses the 6mm Creedmoor in popularity due to its easy-recoiling nature and exceptional barrel life.

Top 5 best cartridges for long-range hunting

The above cartridges are excellent performers for target shooting and PRS-type competition, but they can also flex into effective, accurate hunting use in some cases. After all, an average-sized white-tailed deer can’t tell the difference between a 108-grain 6mm bullet impacting at 2,700 fps fired from a 6mm BRA competition rifle and a 108-grain 6mm bullet impacting at 2,700 fps fired from a 6mm Creedmoor hunting rifle.

Man Hunting Elk with Rifle

However, many hunters prefer that their hunting cartridges use heavier, larger-diameter bullets while maintaining high velocities. This becomes more important when hunting larger game like mule deer, elk, caribou, moose, and brown bear. As distances increase, the velocity and ballistic coefficient of the bullet become even more critical. Higher velocities at the muzzle help ensure the bullet carries enough speed upon impact at longer ranges to kill the game animal ethically. Longer, heavier, higher-BC bullets are less affected by wind over the flight of the bullet, and this results in a more accurate shot, which is also crucial to an ethical kill.

So what do we mean by long-range hunting? Like many things in the shooting world, long-range is a relative term. In decades past, shooting at any game animal over about 300 yards away was considered irresponsible. After all, multiple variables determine a hunter’s maximum effective range for an ethical kill. These include, but are not limited to, the mechanical accuracy of the rifle, the quality of the ammunition and projectile, the clarity and accuracy of the scope or optic, and the stalking/shooting skills of the hunter. While one well-practiced hunter might be completely confident in his or her ability to hit the vitals of a large deer at 500-plus yards, another hunter might set that maximum limit at 200 yards or less.

Today’s bullet technology has improved drastically compared to 20th-century standards. Thanks to improved materials and bullet construction, the effective range of the majority of modern 6.5mm, 7mm, .308-caliber, or 8mm hunting bullets is more dependent upon the skill of the shooter and the accuracy of the rifle than it is dependent upon the bullet itself. Many of today’s high-performance bullets will reliably expand enough to be effective beyond 800 yards on deer-sized game.

However, in our experience, very few hunters exhibit the skill to take game ethically at those longer distances. For most hunters under field conditions, their maximum effective range is best limited to around 300 yards, and 400 would be pushing it.

If you can take advantage of longer ranges for your hunt, the cartridges below can help you shoot more accurately at longer distances than some old standby calibers.

.300 PRC: Not the magnum you deserve, but the magnum you need

The .30 PRC was built from the start for long-range shooters. Introduced by Hornady in late 2018, the .300 Precision Rifle Cartridge is based on the .375 Ruger cartridge but necked down for .308 bullets. The cartridge was designed from the beginning with a very long head height, meaning the space in front of the case mouth. This allows loading very long, heavy, high-BC bullets while retaining near-full case capacity. Most .300 PRC rifle barrels use a 1:8 or 1:9 twist to stabilize these monsters, which is faster than many other .30-caliber magnums. Though the PRC’s case is shorter than the .300 Winchester Magnum’s (2.58” vs. 2.62”), its longer overall cartridge length (3.7” vs 3.34”) requires a magnum-length action and magazine.

Video: HEAD-TO-HEAD: 6.5 PRC / 7mm PRC / 300 PRC

The .300 PRC is frequently compared against the venerable and popular .300 Winchester Magnum. As far as ballistic performance, it’s no contest. Shooting Times has published a handy chart comparing the velocity, drop, and wind drift of the .300 Win. Mag. shooting a 200-grain ELD-X bullet, and the .300 PRC shooting a 225-grain ELD Match. Initial velocity is a tad higher with the .300 Win. Mag., but after 200 yards, the PRC takes over, retaining more speed with less drop and wind drift. It just gets better the further you go.

.300 Winchester Mag. Versus .300 PRC Ballistics

Adopted by SAAMI in 2018, .300 PRC factory ammunition is available from several makers, typically in 212 or 225-grain bullet weights. Handloaders have seen excellent results with bullets up to 250 grains. Lest you think the .300 PRC is a niche cartridge with zero industry support, Many rifle makers are now listing the .300 PRC in their top-five most popular calibers.

.300 Winchester Magnum: Your granddaddy’s win-mag is as good as ever

This addition to our list is almost a no-brainer. The .300 Winchester Magnum has been putting elk in the freezer and terrorists in the ground for 60 years. Based on the .375 H&H Magnum case, in 1963 Winchester designed the .300 Win. Mag. to fit in a standard long (.30-06 length) rifle action and use American-diameter bullets (.308 inches, rather than the upstart 7mm Remington Magnum of 1962).

The new .30 magnum sent a 180-grain bullet speeding downrange at nearly 3,000 fps, producing a whopping 3,600 foot-pounds of energy at the muzzle. If you favor flatter shooting over heavy bullets, a 150-grain spitzer at 3,400 fps produces point blank range (no hold-over) for a six-inch target out to 330 yards. Easy mode. Hunters (and military snipers) soon found they could extend their effective kill range beyond what was previously thought possible.

Video: .300 Winchester Magnum Roars Again!

The .300 Win. Mag. is available pretty much everywhere around the globe, and is often considered the minimum for African plains game by professional hunters and guides. Since it utilizes a non-magnum length action, rifle costs can be lower than some larger calibers, and lightweight hunting rifles are offered by many top builders in this chambering.

As noted above, modern, long-range-specific cartridge designs can outperform the .300 Win. Mag. with longer, heavier bullets at extended ranges. But the .300 Win. Mag. still gets the job done, and with careful bullet selection it can stretch its legs just fine. Just be ready for some recoil if you choose a super-light hunting rig, at 26 ft-pounds of recoil energy or more, the win-mag can rattle your teeth, and potentially induce an accuracy-destroying flinch.

6.5 Creedmoor: A troll caliber that delivers

What would a Top-5 list be without a controversial pick? The 6.5 Creedmoor (or 6.5 CM) has likely been the cause of more internet gun forum arguments than anything other than maybe 9mm Parabellum versus .45 ACP. Introduced by Hornady in 2007 in partnership with Dennis DeMille of Creedmoor Sports, the 6.5 Creed is a necked-down variant of the .30 Thompson Center cartridge.

We’ve included this cartridge in our list because it performs significantly better at longer ranges than the .308 Winchester, which, traditionally, many hunters considered the gold standard for medium to big game hunting. Why is the 6.5 better? By now, you know the formula: The 6.5 CM can benefit from longer, higher-BC bullets that are less affected by wind and carry their speed more efficiently over longer distances.

Video: 6.5 Creedmoor vs .308 Win – BALLISTIC GEL TEST

The farther you shoot, the more significant the discrepancy between the two cartridges becomes. Most military sniper school instructors would place the practical accuracy limit of the .308 Winchester at around 700-800 yards, and it goes transonic at under 1,000 yards. But the 6.5 Creedmoor is an accurate 1000-yard-capable cartridge, remaining supersonic until 1,200+ yards.

Don’t get us wrong: If we had to drop a huge bull elk at 800 yards (assuming we had the skill to do so ethically), the 6.5 Creed wouldn’t be our first choice. But on the other hand, if we had a choice between a .308 Winchester and a 6.5 Creedmoor for hunting medium-sized game out beyond 500 yards? We’d go with the 6.5 Creed every time.

.338 Lapua: Go big or go home

If you need a .338 Lapua for long-range hunting, we're guessing you have a Velociraptor infestation. The oversized .338 is no joke, producing around 37 pounds of free recoil energy and enough muzzle blast to deafen your future grandchildren. However, the .338 has been a go-to for snipers (and some hunters) since the mid-1980s for long-range accuracy and delivering energy to the target.

.338 Lapua

Around 1983, at the request of the US military, Research Armament Industries began developing a new, long-range sniper cartridge capable of firing a 250-grain, .338” diameter bullet at 3,000 feet per second. Requirements included penetrating five layers of military body armor at over 1,000 yards and retaining lethal energy. Eventually, the British .416 Rigby case was necked down to accept a .338” bullet. However, the old case design proved inadequate for the high pressures required, so eventually, Lapua redesigned the .338/416 case, thickening and metallurgically strengthening the case’s web and sidewall. The resulting .338 Lapua Magnum cartridge was accepted by the European CIP in 1989, and was put into service with the Dutch army/NATO.

Video: 338 Lapua Magnum at 1 Mile!

However, the .338 Lapua isn’t just for snipers anymore. Many long-range competitors and hunters have adopted the oversized .338 due to its excellent ballistics at extended ranges and its resistance to wind drift. The .338 Lapua was designed to stabilize long, heavy, high-BC bullets. With multiple factory-hunting bullet loads available from 250 to 300 grains, nothing on the North American continent won’t quickly fall to the .338 Lapua.

It’s not an ideal caliber for lightweight mountain rifles since you need a good amount of heft to help tame the punishing recoil. But if you use a good muzzle brake or suppressor (where legal), and your hunting style is heavy on the spotting and light on the stalking, the .338 can reach out and touch the largest game at the longest ethical ranges while still not dislocating your shoulder.

.280 Ackley Improved: Weird but awesome

P.O. Ackley, the famous cartridge wildcatter we mentioned earlier, took the 1958 .280 Remington case and moved the shoulder to a 40-degree angle, increasing the case capacity. This raised initial velocity by around 100 feet per second, resulting in a versatile hunting cartridge capable of accurately and ethically taking game at over 500 yards. Unlike the 7mm Remington Magnum, the .280 Ackley doesn’t have a belted case so it may feed better from box magazines. And unlike the (also excellent) .270 Winchester, the .280 can shoot heavier, longer bullets for improved long-range ballistics.

Video: The .280 Ackley Improved

The .280 AI can produce velocities close to the 7mm Remington Magnum but with much less recoil (around 16 ft-pounds compared to 20 ft-lb for the 7mm mag).

Over the decades, the .280 Ackley Improved has earned a growing number of dedicated fans in the hunting community. While some calibers have come and gone, the .280 Ackley continues growing in popularity. By 2008, Nosler standardized the cartridge dimensions, and SAAMI accepted it. Since then, multiple manufacturers have started chambering hunting rifles in the caliber, and good-performing factory ammunition is available from most suppliers. For example, Federal’s 155-grain Terminal Ascent load retains 1,637 ft-lbs of energy at 500 yards. Federal’s 140-Grain Trophy Copper load keeps 2,165 fps of velocity and 1,457 ft-lbs of energy at 500 yards. And your shoulder will thank you.

Keep your hunting and target rifles secure in a Liberty Safe

Whether you’re after the trophy at a PRS competition or a trophy Dall sheep, remember to keep all your firearms safe and secure from theft, fire, and unauthorized access in a US-made gun safe from Liberty. We have a wide variety of sizes, configurations, styles, and prices to suit any budget or taste. Have a look at our interactive online catalog, or visit a Liberty Safe showroom near you.

*Made in the U.S.A. from U.S. and Global Parts.


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