7 Top Modern Long-Range Cartridges

7 Top Modern Long-Range Cartridges

Today’s top seven long-range cartridges get the job done on big game and targets at great distances.

Love it or hate it, the 6.5 Creedmoor was a game-changer. Released by Hornady in 2007, the Creedmoor didn’t initially set the shooting world on fire, but a decade later it was the hottest hunting and shooting cartridge in the world. Now virtually every new centerfire rifle offered in chambered for the round, and it single-handedly accomplished something that many firearms experts believed couldn’t be accomplished: it made 6.5s mainstream. Despite modest early acceptance the shooting world eventually went crazy for the Creedmoor.

There have been several other new cartridges released since Hornady launched the 6.5 Creedmoor that have also done well. Some rely on characteristics that helped make the Creedmoor popular, but other popular new rounds strayed from the Creedmoor’s recipe and still managed to carve out a niche in the rifle market. Here’s a look at the top seven long-range cartridges to arrive since 2007.

1. 6mm Creedmoor

The 6mm Creedmoor shoots flat and has low recoil, permitting shooters to spot their shots.

The 6mm Creedmoor appeared in 2009 and is simply a necked-down version of the 6.5. That means that it’s very close to the .243 Winchester in terms of performance on game at most ranges. However, while the .243 is a catch-all round that’s capable of shooting everything from light varmint loads to 100+ grain bullets for deer or distance shooting it wasn’t designed specifically as a long-range round.

The Creedmoor was. Chamber specifications are precise and most Creedmoor rifles come with slow-twist barrels that are designed to utilize bullets from 103 grains and up with ballistic coefficients of .500 or better. It’s accurate and recoil is mild, which is an important consideration when calling shots in a shooting match.

A 100-grain .243 bullet with a G1 ballistic coefficient around .400 at a muzzle velocity of 2,960 carries just over 800 foot-pounds of energy at 500 yards. A 108-grain 6mm Creedmoor bullet with a ballistic coefficient of .536 fired at the same velocity carries 300 more foot-pounds of energy at that distance, and the difference in wind drift is pronounced: the .243 bullet drifts 22 inches at 500 yards in a 10 mph crosswind while the Creedmoor drifts just 15.7 inches. At greater distances the variation in wind drift is even more pronounced. It functions well in bolt guns and AR-10 rifles, so if you’re looking for a long-range 6mm the Creedmoor is an obvious choice.

2. 6.5 Creedmoor

7 Top Modern Long-Range Cartridges
The 6.5 Creedmoor is an accurate round that can handle high BC bullets, and rifles available from pretty much every manufacturer.

The Creedmoor’s detractors will say that it won’t do anything that existing cartridges wouldn’t do as well or better, but that’s not exactly true. It functioned with heavy-for-caliber, high ballistic coefficient bullets that, because of the neck design, didn’t rob case capacity and were well-suited for long-range hunting and shooting. Cartridge and chamber specifications helped improve accuracy, and recoil was manageable.

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Like the 6mm, the 6.5 Creedmoor with high ballistic coefficient bullets has less wind drift than other 6.5s that shoot lighter bullets, and it’s no secret that the 6.5 Creedmoor is very accurate. And if you want an affordable hunting or target rifle the Creedmoor is a good option. There are countless rifle models from which to choose and a wide selection of ammunition, and the Creedmoor outcompetes stalwart target rounds like the .308 Winchester at long range.

Hornady’s 147-grain 6.5 Creedmoor Match load shoots flatter that their .308 168-grain Match load and carries more energy at long range. Wind drift is less pronounced than the .308, and the Creedmoor generates less recoil. The round also functions in bolt guns, lever guns like the Browning BLR, and AR-10 rifles. It’s no accident this round became so popular.

3. 6.5 PRC

7 Top Modern Long-Range Cartridges
The 6.5 PRC will fit in short-action rifles and has become popular with mountain hunters because of its energy and flat trajectory.

The 6.5 PRC (Precision Rifle Cartridge) is another Hornady creation, and like the Creedmoor it is loaded with 103-grain ELD-X bullets and 108-grain ELD Match bullets. But the PRC uses a larger case that’s based on the .300 Ruger Compact Magnum instead of the .30 TC case that spawned the 6.5 Creedmoor, and the PRC therefore has a higher powder capacity. The result is that the 6.5 PRC drives those same bullets about 250 feet-per-second faster than the Creedmoor, and that equates to more energy and a flatter trajectory. At 500 yards the 6.5 PRC drops about three feet when zeroed at 200 yards, eight inches less than the Creedmoor. It also carries 300 additional foot-pounds of punch at that distance.

But the PRC also competes well against older .30 caliber rounds, too. At 300 yards the .30-06 with 178-grain bullets carries slightly more energy than the 6.5 PRC, but beyond that the 6.5 PRC carries more punch and it shoots flatter than the harder-recoiling ’06. The PRC will fit in short-action rifles and has become popular with mountain hunters, and there are those who swear by its merits as an elk and moose cartridge, too. I’ve seen the cartridge flatten whitetails and caribou, and tight tolerances make it capable of excellent accuracy. It’s well-suited for long-range target shooting, especially since there are numerous 140+ grain bullet options and plenty of factory rifles available.

4. 6.5-300 Weatherby Magnum

7 Top Modern Long-Range Cartridges
Though it’s primarily a hunting round, the 6.5-300 Weatherby Magnum will also work for shooting long-range targets.

Roy Weatherby was one of the pioneering cartridge designers of the 20th century, and his line of ultra-fast cartridges have been popular with long-range hunters for decades. The new 6.5-300 Weatherby is the sole belted magnum on this list, and as the name implies it’s a .300 Weatherby case necked down to hold 6.5 bullets.

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Its recipe for success is raw speed: it’s the fastest of the factory 6.5s, driving a 156-grain Berger Elite Hunter bullet at 3,050 fps from the muzzle and generating over 3,200 foot-pounds of energy. When sighted in 3.9 inches high at 200 yards with that load the 6.5-300 is dead-on at 300 yards and drops just under nine inches at 400 yards. It also clings to energy. At 500 yards most Weatherby factory loads carry roughly 1,500 to 2,000 foot-pounds of energy, which is slightly less than most .300 Win. Mag. at the same distance. That makes this a potent elk and moose cartridge.

Muzzle blast is fearsome, but recoil is manageable and less than the various .300 magnums. Though it’s primarily a hunting round, the 6.5-300 Weatherby Magnum will also work for shooting long range targets, and its laser-flat trajectory offers more margin for error than cartridges with a more arching trajectory. Weatherby currently offers six loads for the 6.5-300 ranging from 127 to 156 grains.

5. 6.8 Western

The 6.8 Western is a legitimate elk and moose cartridge and suitable for a wide range of smaller big game as well.

The .270 Winchester created the .277-inch cartridge market, and it’s been a popular choice among hunters since 1925. Almost 80 years later the company introduced the .270 WSM, which has also been successful, but recently the company unveiled the newest member of its .277-lineup, the 6.8 Western.

The name undoubtedly plays in part on the success of the 6.5s, but this cartridge is an exceptional long-range and hunting round. It fires .277-inch bullets in the 165- to 175-grain weight class which means, you guessed it, higher ballistic coefficients. The current 6.8 Western cartridge offerings from Winchester and Browning have BCs over .600, and when you combine that with velocities of 2,835 for the 175-grain Sierra Tipped GameKing load and 2,960 for the 165-grain AccuBond LR load you can see why this cartridge has the potential to take even the largest game at extended distances.

At 500 yards the 165-grain load carries 1,856 foot-pounds of energy, more than Winchester .300 WSM or .300 Win. Mag. loads. It does this from short-action rifles and while producing recoil that is on par with a 7mm Rem. Mag., a cartridge that the Western also outperforms ballistically. That makes the 6.8 Western a legitimate elk and moose cartridge and also makes it suitable for hunting sheep at long range without being so abusive that it’s overkill for whitetails and antelope.

6. .28 Nosler

7 Top Modern Long-Range Cartridges
The .28 Nosler is an ideal choice for those who want to hunt large game like elk at extended ranges.

There are several Nosler cartridges now ranging from .22 to .33 caliber, but the .28 has been a standout in terms of popularity. There are production rifles available from Nosler, Browning, Seekins Precision and other companies, and a custom rifle builder with whom I spoke said they build as many .28 Nosler guns as anything else.

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The .28 Nosler is a refined cartridge, but it’s also very fast, and that is one reason that it performs so well at long distances. Nosler’s 175-grain AccuBond LR ammunition at a muzzle velocity of 3,125 fps carries 3,794 foot-pounds of muzzle energy and retains more than 2,000 foot-pounds of energy at 600 yards. The bullet has a BC of .648, and when sighted in 1.2-inches high at 100 yards it’s dead-on at 200 yards and strikes just 5.6 inches low at 300 yards.

That makes it an ideal choice for those who want to hunt large game like elk at extended ranges, but it also makes this a more forgiving cartridge than slower rounds. Should you range and animal and accidentally strike and object just ahead of or behind the target with your laser rangefinder, the Nosler’s laser-flat trajectory means there won’t be as much variation in elevation as you’ll get with a slower bullet.

Plus, this round is very accurate. If you want to shoot targets out to 1,000 yards or more the Nosler has the goods to get you there. Recoil is stiff but not at all unmanageable or even unpleasant for experienced shooters.

7. .300 PRC

7 Top Modern Long-Range Cartridges
A great all-around choice for larger game around the world, the .300 PRC is super accurate, powerful and flat-shooting.

There are lots of .30-caliber rounds on the market, and some are faster than the .300 PRC. So what makes this round a real standout? For starters, it’s another cartridge that’s built for high-BC bullets. Hornady offers it with 190-grain CX bullets, 212-grain ELD-X bullets, and 225-grain ELD Match bullets. It can also handle Hornady’s low drag 250-grain A-Tip .308 bullet with a G1 BC of .878, which bucks the wind extremely well.

The .300 PRC is based on the .375 Ruger, and the neck design allows for the use of these heavy bullets. The cartridge headspaces off its 30-degree shoulder, and since Hornady has designed cartridge drawing with tight tolerances accuracy is extremely good. I’ve hunting in Africa with the 212-grain ELD-X load and found that it performed well on game from 100-pound bushbuck to 400-pound nyala, but the .300 PRC can handle much larger game.

It’s a great choice for those who like to hunt elk and moose and must shoot great distances, and when you’re in big bear country the .300 PRC has ample stopping power to anchor a bruin should the need arise. With a muzzle velocity of 2,860 fps the .300 PRC 212-grain ELD-X load generates 3,850 foot-pounds of energy at the muzzle and carries over 2,200 foot-pounds of punch at 500 yards. The accurate, potent .300 PRC also makes a great long-range target round. On the same African trip we set up a shooting mat and were punching stumps on a cutover hillside over 1,400 yards away.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>