What is long-range shooting?
Honestly, it’s relative to the shooter.
Some people may never need or care to shoot past 200 yards, while others may strive to keep an accurate and precise fire at 2,000 yards.
In this article, I aim to help you decide which cartridge may be best for you, your wallet, and what you may be able to expect out of these long-range capable cartridges.
Let’s look at some of the popular calibers.
Table of Contents
Best Long-Range Cartridges
1. .223 Remington/5.56 NATO – Old Faithful
While this may not be the first cartridge that comes to mind for long-range shooting, with an appropriate bullet, the compact .223 Remington or 5.56 NATO is more than capable of shooting over 500 yards with accuracy.
With the popularity of this cartridge due to America’s favorite rifle, the AR15, more and more people are stretching out its legs.
If you choose to shoot long-range with a .223 Remington, I highly suggest shooting longer, heavier bullets with a 1:7 rifle twist. To explain the nuances of rifle twist rates, you can read my previous article about AR-15 Twist Rates!
An added benefit with the .223 Remington is cheap, readily available ammo.
While precision match loads can be pricey, you can always run cheaper alternatives. I recommend a longer 20-inch barrel to gain as much velocity as possible for extended range. Some of the best loads I have shot through various .223 Wylde/5.56 NATO chambers have been:
- Federal Premium 69-grain Sierra Match King
- Hornady 73-grain ELD
- Fiocchi 77-grain Sierra Match Kings
- Barnes 85-grain Premier Match
2. .224 Valkyrie – The New Kid on the Block
The .224 Valkyrie was developed with long-range shooting in mind from its inception. It is hard to believe that a .224-inch caliber bullet with a C.O.A.L. (cartridge overall length) that fits inside an AR15 magazine well can be capable of 1,000+ yards.
I had my own doubts because I am a bit of a cynic.
After reaching out to 1,250 yards on a trip to the amazing High Bar Homestead in Gillette, WY, I am now a firm believer in the .224 Valkyrie. It is a screamer, and with increased velocity comes increased range. When coupled with bullets that have a high ballistic coefficient, the results are impressive.
It also has less wind drift and less bullet drop than the .223 Remington or the 6.5 Grendel. Ammo prices are a bit steeper than the previously mentioned cartridges, but the American Eagle 75-grain TMJs are relatively easy on the wallet.
Prices accurate at time of writing
Prices accurate at time of writing
While I was in Wyoming, I was able to test and evaluate the .224 Valkyrie with a rifle from Palmetto State Armory. It happened to shoot the Federal Premium 90-grain Sierra Match Kings very well and hitting a steel torso was fairly regular between myself and my shooting buddy, Kat Ainsworth.
3. 6.5 Grendel – The AR-15 Long-Range Savior
I’ll be honest; I may be a huge Grendel fanboy.
I am no expert, but scholars believe that the 6.5 Grendel was ordained during an ancient ritual in Bill Alexander’s secret Temple of Ballistics. I can not confirm this, but it seems completely legitimate.
All kidding aside, the 6.5 Grendel is an amazing cartridge. Originally established in 2003 for the AR15 platform, it is now available in bolt-action rifles as well.
While other cartridges have emerged and gained popularity, the 6.5 Grendel still has a permanent place in the conversation when talking about long-range shooting. Prices can be high for match-grade ammo, but Wolf offers extremely affordable plinking ammo with their 100-grain FMJ steel-case loads.
With a growing choice of ammo from 90-130 grain projectiles and the benefit of a great ballistic coefficient with the 6.5mm bullet, 500+ yard shooting can be almost boring. While at the High Bar Homestead with PSA, I was able to stretch their 6.5 Grendel out to 1,000 yards with Federal Premium 130 grain Bergers.
Once dialed in, I was able to put rounds on a steel silhouette with ease.
Of course, if you want to know a LOT more about the 6.5 Grendel – you need to read the 6.5 Grendel Shootout!
4. 6mm Creedmoor – The Speed Demon
The 6mm Creedmoor has gained a lot of traction with competitive shooters over the last couple of years.
Its parent case, the 6.5 Creedmoor, has an amazing pedigree for long-range shooting.
High ballistic coefficient bullets around 100 grains give this round excellent performance out to 1,000 yards.
Ammunition choices have increased lately, and Hornady has ammunition with the 87-grain VMAX and 103-grain ELD-X for long-range hunting. Barnes and Remington also have loads for hunting and long-range precision shooting.
However, none of these choices are necessarily easy on the pocketbook, with most loads over $1/round. But the velocity with a lighter grain bullet and the case capacity makes for a tremendous long-range round. Another downside is that the 6mm Creedmoor does not buck the wind as well as its bigger brother, the 6.5 Creedmoor.
Availability is not the best either, so online buying or reloading may be the best option for this cartridge.
5. 6.5 Creedmoor – The Hipster Round
Developed in 2007 by Hornady, the 6.5 Creedmoor has a parent case with the .30 TC, which was originally based on the .308 Winchester.
Where the .308 Winchester comes up short, the 6.5 Creedmoor turns on the afterburners primarily because of the 6.5mm bullet’s excellent sectional density and ballistic coefficient. For many, this is a round that you hate to love.
I understand why some hate the round, and it’s largely the .308 Winchester fanboys.
It honestly feels like cheating when you are behind a quality 6.5 Creedmoor. The 6.5 CM is superior to the .308 Win in just about any practical sense of the matter with better range, less effect with wind, and less bullet drop.
While they are relatively close within 500 yards, at 1,000 yards, the .308 Winchester has 4 feet more drop when you compare a 6.5 CM 140-grain ELD vs. a .308 Win 168-grain ELD.
This is mainly because the .308 Winchester is a heavier, slower bullet. Even with kinetic energy factored in, after 500 yards, the 6.5 CM pulls away as the leader due to its retained velocity.
Ammo availability has become extensive for the 6.5 Creedmoor. You can even pick it up at your local neighborhood Wal-Mart.
While there isn’t much of a cheap alternative for 6.5 CM ammunition, Lucky Gunner lists S&B 140-grain FMJs for $0.78/round. A personal favorite of mine is the Federal Premium 130-grain Bergers, which at the time of this writing costs $1.50/round.
What’s your take on the 6.5 Creedmoor? Rate it below.
.308 Winchester has been around for almost 70 years and has served militaries and police forces around the world as faithfully as it has served competition shooters.
While there are newer cartridges around, many of them are derived from the .308, and all are measured against it.
.416 Barrett, while a very new cartridge compared to most, is currently the ultimate boss king of extreme long-range shooting. Not long ago, Team Global Precision Group used the .416 Barrett to ring steel at a mind-blowing 6,012 yards (3.4 miles, 5497 meters, 18,036 feet). If you took the Statue of Liberty and laid it down, that’s almost 20 Statues of Liberty long. That’s a lot of freedom.
.300 Winchester Magnum is a favorite of hunters worldwide for big game at long range. Need to drop an Elk at 500 yards? .300 Win Mag is your ticket. While still a great long-range precision shooting cartridge, it is starting to lose ground to newer, softer shooting cartridges.
Like Alice in Wonderland, you can go down a very deep rabbit hole of different calibers and cartridges for long-range shooting.
Cartridges like the .338 Lapua Magnum, .375 Cheytac, and .50 BMG have shown incredible performance down range, but they can be prohibitively expensive. Prices vary greatly for rifles, but feeding them is a whole different story — even if you reload. If you take a left turn, you can go through an endless list of wildcat cartridges as well.
Covering all of them would practically be a novel, so I am going to stop short here. The sky is the limit depending on your budget and what kind of rifle you want.
What are some of your favorite long-range cartridges? Let us know in the comments below! And to reach out that far…you’ll need some quality glass, so check out our article on the Best Long Range Scopes.