A Shot Too Far

“If there is a sacred moment in the ethical pursuit of game, it is the moment you release the arrow or touch off the fatal shot.”―Jim Posewitz

Long-range shooting, extreme long-range shooting, sniper hunting—call it what you will, but there is no denying this trend is pushing the limits of ethical hunting and fair chase, leaving us with more questions than answers. The first is, why should we care?

The simple and obvious answer is, as sportsmen, we have a responsibility to hunt ethically and that includes quick, assured, humane kills. Extreme shot distance bends this probability curve exponentially.

Our firearms have long had the capability of sending bullets downrange to distances over a mile. Technology has improved to more reliably know where these bullets will hit. Neither of these things are in question. What is in question is where does hunting end and shooting begin?

Any study of this question leads to the fact that the answer cannot be measured in yards. What’s too far for one person is within the comfort range of someone else. This is to say each of us have our own comfort zone, or our maximum effective range. But there are other variables: prevailing conditions such as wind, elevation, barometer, shot angle and the body size of the game we’re hunting. Then there is the degree of skill, experience and practice each of us has. There is also what each of us seeks from our hunting experiences. Some like the chase, the chess match; engaging the animal and getting in close, even if well within their maximum effective range.

Increasingly, more people—regardless of their skills—who choose to test their marksmanship on game animals are posing unforeseen issues: shooting over the heads of unseen hunters who are downrange, for example, and the undetected wounding of distant animals. Back to our question: Where does hunting end and shooting begin when everyone involved believes they are hunting in the first place?

If we know this can’t be answered in yards, then the answer lies in intent. If your intent is to hunt the animal, get as close as possible for a sure shot within your maximum-effective range, with a concern for a high-probability, safe shot, you’re hunting. If your intent is to see how far you can hit a live target and/or best your last performance, you’re shooting. There is nothing illegal about extreme long-range shooting. There’s nothing in the hunting regulations about maximum allowable distance, but this is a website on hunting ethics.