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Chris Fortenberry Jan 25 2023 15 min read

Best Long-Range Cartridges: Hunting, Precision, and More [2023]

ImageProductPrice
6.5 CREEDMOORBest Overall – 6.5 CreedmoorCheck Price
.308 WinchesterBest Hunting Cartridge – .308 WinchesterCheck Price
300 Winchester MagnumBest Cartridge for Big Game – .300 Winchester MagnumCheck Price
.223 RemingtonBest Light Rifle Cartridge- .223 RemingtonCheck Price
6mm Creedmoor6mm CreedmoorCheck Price

Introduction

Long-range shooting is an incredibly rich activity whose complexities reward those who put forth the time and effort to master it. Choosing the best long-range cartridge to be a successful long-range shooter is important to having success in the activity.

We are here to help you decide which cartridge is right for your needs. If you are new to shooting, make sure you head over to our excellent guide that covers bullet sizes, calibers, and types. Then come back here to help guide your cartridge selection to become a long-range shooter.

How To Choose A Long Range Cartridge

When selecting your long-range cartridge, there are several factors you need to consider.

Purpose

The first factor to consider when selecting a cartridge for long-range shooting is the type of shooting you plan to do.

Many cartridges are capable of both target shooting and hunting, but not all cartridges are.

Knowing what you plan to do with the cartridge you select will help you determine what cartridge to select.

Performance

When selecting a cartridge for long-range shooting, it is important to understand the performance of the bullet.

Muzzle Velocity

Muzzle velocity is the velocity with which a bullet leaves the muzzle of a gun. A higher muzzle velocity will result in a flatter trajectory of the bullet. This means there is less bullet drop over a given distance when shooting.

muzzle velocity and trajectory graph
Photo Credit: 8541 Tactical

Muzzle Energy

Muzzle energy is the kinetic energy of the bullet as it leaves the muzzle of a firearm.

Both the mass of the bullet/projectile and the velocity of the bullet contribute to the muzzle energy of a cartridge.

The ability of a cartridge to maintain this energy the further it gets away from the firearm’s muzzle is important in determining the effectiveness of the cartridge.

6-5-creedmoor-vs-308-energy
Photo Credit: CamoCrew.com

Ballistic Coefficient

Ballistic coefficient measures a bullet’s ability to overcome air resistance in flight. Modern bullets frequently have been designed using advances in ballistic technology over the last 70 years and have much better ballistic coefficients than older cartridges.

Cost

Not all ammo is created equal. This means that the cost of all ammo is not equal either. Comparing the price per round of high quality .308 Winchester to the price per round of high quality .300 Winchester Magnum gives us a good idea of the differences.

There is plenty of cheap, high-quality .308 Winchester ammo available and much of it is very accurate past mid-range distances, 600 yards, and up to long-range distances, 1000 yards.

Hornady Superformance in .308 runs around $1.80 per shot, while Hornady Superformance in .300 Win Mag will cost you at least $2.40 per shot. Both of these cartridges are excellent choices, but the price per round will always be greater for .300 Win Mag than for .308 Winchester.

Recoil

Recoil matters. The more rounds sent down range, the more recoil matters. Enjoying your day at the range is important; shooting as much as you desire is easier with a lighter recoiling rifle. Your shoulder will thank you.

Some say recoil doesn’t affect accuracy, but once you have put enough rounds down range, the recoil will affect your shooting. This is especially true for recoil-averse shooters, like children.

Best Overall – 6.5 Creedmoor

6.5 CREEDMOOR

Specifications

Year of Introduction2007
Bullet Diameter.264 inches
Parent Cartridge.30 Thompson Center
Action LengthShort

Pros & Cons

Pros
  • Excellent ballistic coefficient
  • Light to moderate recoil
  • Good for both beginners and experienced shooters
  • Good for both target shooting and hunting
  • Readily available ammo
Cons
  • Lots of haters

6.5 Creedmoor is our top overall choice for long-range cartridges. Designed for long-distance target shooting, 6.5 Creedmoor has also become a popular hunting cartridge.

One of the most popular calibers for long-range shooters in recent years, 6.5 Creedmoor’s ability to accurately and precisely shoot long distances and humanly harvest game makes this the top overall choice.

Shoot-suppressed-with-deadly-6.5-creedmoor
Photo Credit: Hunting Life

There are several distinct reasons we selected 6.5 Creedmoor as our best overall cartridge. The 6.5 Creedmoor was introduced in 2007. This relatively recent introduction means the cartridge could take advantage of the advances in ballistics since the 1950s.

A modern cartridge, 6.5 Creedmoor’s ballistics have improved upon some of the issues of older cartridges like .308 Winchester.

The 6.5 Creedmoor has several advantages over its competition. .308 Winchester, the granddaddy of 6.5 Creedmoor, is the round 6.5 Creedmoor is most often pitted against.

6.5 Creedmoor stays supersonic past 1,000 yards, the distance which the NRA lists as long-distance shooting. For comparison, .308 Winchester drops to subsonic speeds just short of 1,000 yards.

6.5 bullets (.264”) are long bullets with high twist rates. This leads to higher ballistic coefficients than larger cartridges like .308, 30-06, and 300 Winchester Magnum.

Shooting precisely is another important factor in long-range shooting. The recoil reduction from .308 Winchester to 6.5 Creedmoor is also significant. This advantage is another important way that 6.5 Creedmoor is a good choice for new shooters and those who are recoil shy. This can also help shooters be more precise over long distances.

Another reason we selected 6.5 Creedmoor as our best overall cartridge is the availability of the cartridge. 6.5 Creedmoor can be found on the shelves of most gun stores, sporting goods stores, and anywhere that sells ammunition. Additionally, incredibly accurate off-the-shelf ammo is readily available with options from all major ammunition manufacturers.

Reloading components are readily available for 6.5 Creedmoor. Shooters can select from a large number of bullets and powders when reloading. This allows the shooter to turn their ammo to their rifle and achieve the best possible accuracy.

6.5 Creedmoor isn’t a perfect round, but no cartridge is. In terms of bullet selection, the .308 holds the advantage. 6MM Creedmoor, a necked-down 6.5 Creedmoor, is faster. These issues are just quibbling, looking for something to dislike.

The benefits of 6.5 Creedmoor are hard to deny. It is effective for both target shooting and hunting. It is a cartridge that both beginner and experienced long-range shooters can shoot and be successful. It is objectively the top overall choice for long-range cartridges.

Check out our list of the best 6.5 Creedmoor rifles if you need something to shoot the best long-range ammo out of.

Best Hunting Cartridge – .308 Winchester

.308 Winchester

Specifications

Year of Introduction1952
Bullet Diameter.308 inches
Parent Cartridge.300 Savage/30-06
Action LengthShort

Pros & Cons

Pros
  • Proven track record
  • Readily available and affordable
  • Good for hunting and target shooting
Cons
  • Jack of all trades, master of none

Our choice for the best hunting cartridge is the .308 Winchester. Since its introduction in 1952, hunters have used .308 to harvest game around the world. It has the “skins on the wall,” so to speak, for harvesting game animals and performing well enough to ensure its users accomplish what they wish.

federal premium 308 win mag ammo
Photo Credit: Ron Spomer Outdoors

The granddaddy of many modern cartridges, .308 Winchester’s family tree includes .243 Winchester, 7mm-08, and .260 Remington. In addition to these rounds, many other cartridges could be considered the .308 Winchester’s grandchildren. All of these cartridges have one thing in common; they are all trying to top the .308.

The .308 sits at a nice intersection point between velocity, muzzle energy, recoil, and price. The .308 doesn’t pack the same punch as some cartridges on this list but does not have as much recoil and has a better price per round.

Other cartridges have a better price per round but don’t provide the same level of long-range performance. The intersection of the .308s virtues really makes for an excellent cartridge for both hunting and target shooting.

The myriad of hunting bullets available, both factory loaded and available for reloading, makes .308 very versatile. It should be noted that .308 Winchester is not an ideal cartridge for the longest shots when hunting. More modern cartridges maintain their energy at longer ranges. Most, and maybe all, hunters should not be taking a shot at distances where .308 is less than ideal.

The .308 Winchester is an all-around great cartridge. It has a proven track record for both hunting and target shooting. Check out our list of best .308 compatible rifles if you need a rifle.

Best Cartridge for Big Game – .300 Winchester Magnum

300 Winchester Magnum

Specifications

Year of introduction1963
Bullet Diameter.308 inches
Parent Cartridge.375 H&H Magnum
Action LengthLong

Pros & Cons

Pros
  • Exceptional long-range performance
  • Capable of bringing down all types of North American game animals
  • Outstanding accuracy
Cons
  • Stout recoil
  • Short barrel life
  • Expensive price per shot

Our choice for the best big game cartridge is .300 Winchester Magnum. 300 Win Mag has a reputation as one of the best cartridges for bringing down big game animals. Able to hit like a ton of bricks at ranges other cartridges only dream about, the .300 Win Mag can ensure a humane kill out 800 or even 900 yards.

hornady precision hunter ammo with bolt action rifle
Photo Credit: Midway USA

.300 Win Mag, when paired with the appropriate rifle, is an incredibly accurate cartridge. Sub .5 MOA groups are possible with this cartridge which is a must. .5 MOA will translate to a 4-5” group at 800 yards. For most hunters, 600 yards is the limit of their ability to perform an ethical shot on a game animal, even though .300 Win Mag is capable of achieving further.

.300 Win Mag is not a one-trick pony. While many newer cartridges can be found at target shooting competitions, the .300 Win Mag also has a place there. The ballistics and accuracy of the cartridge make it more than capable of competing with these newer cartridges and winning.

There are some drawbacks to the .300 Winchester Magnum. The recoil on the cartridge is very stout. Many shooters will be hard-pressed to put one hundred rounds down range on a single trip to the range with .300 Win Mag.

The hot nature of the round means that barrel life is not as long for .300 Win Mag rifles. Optimal performance can be expected to fall off by 2000 rounds. Each of those shots will also cost you more, whether you are buying factory loads or reloading. Expect to spend more shooting your .300 Win Mag than 6.5 Creedmoor or .308 Winchester.

The ability of .300 Winchester Magnum to be an effective cartridge at both mid-range, 600 yards, and long-range, 1,000 yards, shoots make it an excellent rifle for those looking for a top end long-range cartridge.

If you’re in need of a rifle, check our list of the best 300 Win mag rifles.

Best Light Rifle Cartridge- .223 Remington

.223 Remington

Specifications

Year of introduction1962
Bullet Diameter.224 inches
Parent Cartridge.222 Remington
Action LengthShort

Pros & Cons

Pros
  • Versatile
  • Affordable price per round
  • Light recoil
Cons
  • Not a true long-range cartridge

Our choice for the best light rifle cartridge is the .223 Remington. One of the most versatile cartridges around, .223 Remington, or its twin 5.56, is also one of the world’s most well-known and widely used cartridges.

223 remington ammo american eagle
Photo Credit: AmericanHunter.org

.223 Remington is not a true long-range cartridge. The 1000-yard mark is outside the optimal effective range envelope of .223. But its ability to shoot well at 600 yards and below makes .223 stand out.

Similar to .308 Winchester on our list, .223 Remington is a military cartridge that civilian shooters have adapted to their needs. The versatility of .223 Remington can be seen through its usage. It is used in target shooting, hunting, 3-gun competitions, and any other place a light-recoiling, high-precision cartridge is useful.

One aspect where .223 Remington shows its versatility is the selection of bullets available for .223. You can use light bullets in the 35-40 grain range all the way up through bullets that weigh in at 85 grains or more. These heavier bullets have high ballistic coefficients and are better for long-range shooting.

The bullet selection and price for .223 Remington is excellent. Whether relying on factory loads or reloading your own ammo, .223 Remington can be done for less than every other cartridge on this list. This is an important consideration as practice is a necessity for high-level shooting.

One last attribute for .223 that needs mentioning is the recoil impulse. .223 Remington is a very light recoiling cartridge which makes it a great choice for children and other recoil-averse shooters.

There is a place for .223 Remington in every shooter’s repertoire. Whether you use it for hunting, use it to participate in shooting competitions, or just spend a Saturday afternoon plinking, it is an excellent choice.

6mm Creedmoor

6mm Creedmoor

Specifications

Year of introduction2009
Bullet Diameter.243
Parent Cartridge6.5 Creedmoor
Action LengthShort

Pros & Cons

Pros
  • Excellent ballistic coefficient
  • Light recoil
  • Good for both beginners and experienced shooters
  • Good for both target shooting and hunting
Cons
  • Susceptible to wind
  • Less availability that other cartridges on this list

The 6MM Creedmoor is another excellent long-range shooting cartridge. An alternative to our top overall choice, 6.5 Creedmoor, many of the reasons we chose the 6.5MM Creedmoor as our top choice are true with the 6MM Creedmoor as well.

hornady precision hunter 6mm creedmoor
Photo Credit: The Big Game Hunting Blog

6MM Creedmoor was created by John Snow, a columnist for Outdoor Life, by reducing the neck of a 6.5 Creedmoor case. The idea was to create a cartridge with less recoil than 6.5 Creedmoor while maintaining the cartridge’s accuracy past 1,000 yards.

The new creation was a hit in Precision Rifle Series competitions. In 2017, factory rifles and ammunition in 6MM Creedmoor began to be sold, and now it is growing in popularity.

.243 Winchester is a common comparison for the 6MM Creedmoor since both cartridges use .243 diameter bullets. The recent development of the 6MM Creedmoor, using the 6.5 Creedmoor case, means that the 6MM Creedmoor is designed to use bullets with higher ballistic coefficients than .243 Winchester.

The 6MM Creedmoor is a modern round with the benefit of being designed to take advantage of the firearm, powder, and projectile development over the last 50 years. A 103-grain Hornady ELD-X will leave the barrel at 3,100 feet per second and maintain supersonic speeds past 1,350 yards. A comparative .243 Winchester load will drop below supersonic around 1,150 yards and experience more bullet drop.

Designed specifically for long-range target shooting, the 6MM Creedmoor excels at its intended purpose. Its flat trajectory enables it to achieve high levels of accuracy and precision. 6MM Creedmoor is also a very light recoiling cartridge. This makes it an outstanding cartridge for recoil-sensitive shooters.

6MM Creedmoor is also an excellent hunting round. It can be used in the same circumstance you would use .243 Winchester. It is great for hunting predators and medium-sized game animals. Younger hunters can use 6MM Creedmoor and not fear the recoil.

As a newer cartridge, 6MM Creedmoor is not as readily available as some of the other cartridges on this list. This is changing as more shooters and manufacturers adopt the cartridge. Reloading components are also available and allow shooters to achieve the best accuracy.

6MM Creedmoor is a solid choice for long-range shooting. It is effective for both target shooting and hunting. It is a cartridge that both beginner and experienced long-range shooters can shoot and be successful. If you are looking for a modern replacement for your trusty .243 Winchester or are just looking to shoot long-range but reduce the recoil, the 6MM Creedmoor is the cartridge for you.

How We Chose our Top Picks

When selecting our top picks, we considered the following criteria: the purpose of the cartridge, long-range performance, performance at other distances, price per round, and recoil.

Long-Range Performance

Whether the cartridge was capable of accurately and precisely hitting the shooter’s target at long-range and doing so with enough energy to accomplish its task.

Performance at Other Distances

Some cartridges perform very well at mid-range shooting while struggling at longer ranges; see .223 Remington. Outstanding performance at 600 yards and below is also important.

Price Per Round

It is important to understand that not all shooters come from the same situation financially. Some shooters can afford cartridges that cost $2, $5, or even $10 per shot. Other shooters need to find options at less than $1 per shot.

Recoil

Practice is essential to becoming competent at long-range shooting. If you compare a range session where you shoot 100 rounds of 6.5 Creedmoor to a range session where you shoot 100 rounds of .300 Win Mag you will see a difference in how your body feels by the end.

FAQs

What is a good all-purpose rifle cartridge?

6.5 Creedmoor and .308 Winchester are both great all-purpose cartridges. You will not go wrong with either option. That being said, 6.5 Creedmoor is superior if you plan to shoot over 1,000 yards.

What is the world record for the longest rifle shot?

The world record for the longest rifle shot occurred on September 13, 2022, in Wyoming. The shot was 4.4 miles or 7,744 yards. A custom bolt action rifle was chambered in .416 Barrett. It took 24.5 seconds for the bullet to reach the target.

What is the fastest commercial cartridge?

The fastest commercial cartridge is the .220 Swift. The original factory load used a 48-grain bullet that traveled at 4,100 feet per second. Reloads have achieved higher velocities, with the highest being a muzzle velocity of 4,665 feet per second.

Last Words

Deciding which long-range cartridge you should commit to is a good problem to have. The large number of excellent cartridges to choose from makes deciding on a specific one a challenge. After looking at the available options, one cartridge stands above the rest as the best overall. That cartridge is the 6.5 Creedmoor.

The 6.5 Creedmoor sits in a sweet spot of being able to fulfill the purpose of various shooting types. It performs extremely well when both target shooting and hunting. The price per round is not prohibitive, and its felt recoil is not so great as to drive recoil-averse shooters away.

Our suggestion would be to grab multiple of these cartridges and rifles to shoot them and get out and participate in the sport of shooting. If that is not possible for you, get 6.5 Creedmoor and know you have an outstanding cartridge for whatever shooting you participate in.

Comment below and let us know your favorite long-range rifle cartridge and why.

Chris is a firearms enthusiast and collector located in Texas. Chris’ passion for firearms started at a young age and was fueled by his passion for history. Chris used that passion to become a historian and feels that spreading the understanding of firearms functionally, socially, and politically is one of the paramount jobs of the 2nd Amendment community. He seeks to share his knowledge with those around him.

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