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Max ethical range for .30-06 on elk?

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Max ethical range for .30-06 on elk?

Old 02-09-2017, 07:37 AM
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Default Max ethical range for .30-06 on elk?

I have looked on-line with this question and not seen too much consistency. The question is, for the average case, what is the maximum ethical range of shooting a 180 grain bullet on a medium sized bull elk (say a 5 X 5 bull, hence not a "monster" bull). I would also add to consideration that the shot would be a broadside shot, understanding that if the shot is a quartering away shot that the maximum range might be less. I would further add that it is assumed the shooter will put the bullet in the 10" diameter area of the vitals (if the shooter can't put the bullet in the vitals, even a 50 yard shot might not be ethical, right?).

I don't think this is a theoretical or abstract question but a very practical question. At what range do you pull the trigger; at what range do you NOT pull the trigger -- given a broadside, mediocre elk? I would hope there would be some sort of consensus that would emerge -- unlike discussions that involve whether a .270 is or is not a good elk cartridge; or whether one can hunt elk with a .243; or whether the .30-06 is a marginally better elk cartridge than the .308.


This is an aside to this question. It seems that for a shooter evaluating a shot there are two questions involved. (1) How far can I shoot and put the bullet in the vitals? and (2) How far is my cartridge capable of making an effective kill shot? If I can only shoot accurately to 100 yards, then clearly the .30-06 cartridge is not the limiting factor on ethical hunting range for me. On the other hand, if I can accurately shoot to 600 yards, very possibly the .30-06 cartridge WOULD be the limiting factor on ethical hunting range.


I passed on a shot at an elk last October because I didn't know if I could make the shot. It looked a long ways out there -- maybe 300 yards, maybe 400 yards. But maybe my distance evaluating skills are poor and it was only 200 yards out there? I got a laser range finder for Christmas, so in the future I'll know the range (I'll range objects in my shooting lane at a given hunting spot to find the "border" of MY ethical shooting range and shoot elk inside that border and pass shots on elk outside that border). I'm now going to follow up and find out at what range I can put 4 out of 5 shots in a 9" diameter target when shooting from a sitting position -- elbows on knees. But do I need to test my ability to shoot to 400 yards if my cartridge is only effective to 250 yards? You get the focus of my interest.


Just as an aside. I have had shooting opportunities 4 times on elk. Two were broadside, including the opportunity that I passed on last October. One was head-on. One was quartering towards me. Probably the worst of these positions is head-on. Other than the shot I passed on last October, the other three elk I shot and killed. Also as an aside, the ranges for these elk was not very long: the broadside that I shot on was about 60 yards away; the head-on was about 160 yards away; the quartering towards me was maybe 70 yards (a cow elk running about 1/2 speed). I never got into the position where the range looked like it was questionable to me before -- the elk were either clearly in range or were a mile away.

Last edited by Alsatian; 02-09-2017 at 07:55 AM.
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Old 02-09-2017, 08:16 AM
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30-06 has plenty of power to make shots that 95% of the shooters have no business taking. I'm of the opinion that there is no reason for taking a shot at anything at over 400 yards. If you can't get closer than a quarter of a mile then you need to work on your stalking skills or learn to use terrain.

Now, there are a few shooters that have the skills and the eqpt to take the really long shots but they do so because they choose to and are not forced to. I grew up in elk country and I've always been able to get within 300 yards with 2 exceptions and both of those were within 400 yards. But it comes down to the experience of the guy/gal pulling the trigger and nothing else.
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Old 02-09-2017, 08:39 AM
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Originally Posted by flags
30-06 has plenty of power to make shots that 95% of the shooters have no business taking. I'm of the opinion that there is no reason for taking a shot at anything at over 400 yards. If you can't get closer than a quarter of a mile then you need to work on your stalking skills or learn to use terrain.

Now, there are a few shooters that have the skills and the eqpt to take the really long shots but they do so because they choose to and are not forced to. I grew up in elk country and I've always been able to get within 300 yards with 2 exceptions and both of those were within 400 yards. But it comes down to the experience of the guy/gal pulling the trigger and nothing else.

So am I to understand that you think a 180 grain bullet from a commercial .30-06 load (e.g., not a souped up, super load), placed anywhere in the vitals, can reliably do the job on a broadside medium size bull elk out to 400 yards? The bullet doesn't loose too much energy by that point?
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Old 02-09-2017, 08:40 AM
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This post will answer your question! First off, I will certainly echo what flags has just posted, but will put out a little more on ballistics for the 30-06. As an example of a good elk bullet I picked the 180 grain Remington using a Swift Scirocco bonded bullet with a ballistic coefficient of .500 out of their chart. That bullet starts out at 2700 fps and is still traveling at 1878 fps at 500 yards with 1409 ft/lbs of energy. With a 200 yard zero that bullet has dropped 8.3" at 300 yards, 23.9" at 400 yards, and 47.9" at 500 yards. Conventional wisdom from the old time experts has essentially stated that a bullet should carry 1500 ft/lbs of energy at POI for a humane kill on an elk and down around 1000 ft/lbs for deer. Some now say it takes less than those numbers, but let's go with the 1500 ft/lb figure. Thus, using that number your max distance with that bullet would be 400+ yards IF you have the equipment and expertise to put that bullet in the kill zone EVERY time at that distance. Obviously that is why flags made his opening comment regarding the power of a 30-06 and that 95% of people have no business shooting at an animal at the distance where it is still quite effective. You mentioned in your post about not knowing the distance to the elk you passed on. That is the main reason you need to know precise distances when you start getting out to the 300 yard and longer distances, as you can see the huge drop of this bullet in my post when it goes from 300 to the 400 and then to the 500 yard distance. IMHO a person should never shoot at any distance that is much beyond what they have been practicing at on the range and at which every bullet will go into the vital of an animal. Every elk that has been taken with the people I normally hunt with in Wyoming has been from around 200 to 350 yards and the closer we can get for a good shot the better!

Last edited by Topgun 3006; 02-09-2017 at 08:43 AM. Reason: Add On
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Old 02-09-2017, 09:07 AM
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Originally Posted by Alsatian
So am I to understand that you think a 180 grain bullet from a commercial .30-06 load (e.g., not a souped up, super load), placed anywhere in the vitals, can reliably do the job on a broadside medium size bull elk out to 400 yards? The bullet doesn't loose too much energy by that point?
The bullet will have enough punch to do the job at that range. The question is whether the shooter can place the bullet in the right spot. At distances approaching a quarter of a mile there are a lot of things that can happen. For instance there may not be any wind where you are but there may be wind where the elk is and wind can make a difference. Also at that range the flight time of the bullet will be long enough that the elk can take a step which means the bullet won't hit where you want it. Like I said, the cartridge is capable. the question is: Are you?

I grew up shooting a 7mm Mag and I've taken and seen taken more than 120 elk and in my experience there really isn't any reason to push the envelope and take shots at over 400 yards. Too easy to blow it and it isn't too hard to get closer unless you're shooting across a canyon in which case I direct your attention to my comment on wind.
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Old 02-09-2017, 10:21 AM
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I'm with you all. I have a healthy appreciation for my limitations as a marksman. From what has been said so far, it sounds likely that the limitation in my situation will be my marksmanship capabilities and not the ethical maximum shooting range of the .30-06. Thus, the job now is to find out -- from shooting my hunting rifle from field position, not a concrete bench -- what my limits are.


Just as an aside, it seems one of the on-line sites I consulted was hosted by the Colorado Department of Wildlife and proposed 250 yards as the maximum ethical range for the .30-06. I would have thought that was maybe fixed a bit by their apprehension for the quality of average marksmanship, but they had no problem saying the .338 Win Mag was good out to 400 yards. Still, I suppose it is still possible they are building in skepticism about average marksmanship: maybe the idea is even a bad shot at 400 yards with a .338 Win Mag may effectively anchor an elk and allow for a killing follow-up shot.
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Old 02-09-2017, 10:31 AM
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Originally Posted by flags
The bullet will have enough punch to do the job at that range. The question is whether the shooter can place the bullet in the right spot. At distances approaching a quarter of a mile there are a lot of things that can happen. For instance there may not be any wind where you are but there may be wind where the elk is and wind can make a difference. Also at that range the flight time of the bullet will be long enough that the elk can take a step which means the bullet won't hit where you want it. Like I said, the cartridge is capable. the question is: Are you?

I grew up shooting a 7mm Mag and I've taken and seen taken more than 120 elk and in my experience there really isn't any reason to push the envelope and take shots at over 400 yards. Too easy to blow it and it isn't too hard to get closer unless you're shooting across a canyon in which case I direct your attention to my comment on wind.

I'm with you. I do appreciate my limitations and certainly intend to hunt within them. I do not want to chase a wounded elk; even less do I want to lose a wounded elk.


Yes, many things can go wrong. An odd variation in the load of one cartridge (probably unlikely, but possible). An odd variation in the shape of the tip of the bullet, maybe from being bumped sometime and misshaped slightly by the impact (this seems more plausible to me, but maybe not). Sweat in the eyes or condensation on the inside of eye glasses from hustling over 1/2 mile, with a lot of warm clothes on, to get in place for a shot before shooting light is gone at the end of the day (been there, done that -- but I did make the shot in this case). Wind. At longer ranges, possibly an offset in elevation between the target and the gun (uphill shot or downhill shot) can change the expectations of vertical bullet drop. Plain old limits of marksmanship when cold, excited, tired, shooting from an improvised field position.


I would also acknowledge a point made that it isn't enough, at long range, just to know what your marksmanship is. It may not be enough to know the elk is within my maximum range, it may be necessary to range the elk at 380 yards instead of 350 yards, because the bullet drop may be significant and may need to be factored into the shot.
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Old 02-09-2017, 10:38 AM
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I have no idea what was said in that online site you mentioned, but using a big caliber can stretch the POI for the energy needed to kill an animal humanely IF the person behind the rifle does his job, but a bigger caliber will wound just like the smaller one if the bullet isn't put exactly where it's supposed to be. If whoever mentioned the two calibers and those distances as the maximum range for them was speaking just about the calibers, then they have no idea about ballistics. As was seen in my other post the 30-06 is good well beyond 250 yards and the .338 Win Mag makes a 30-06 look like a 22LR, LOL! Your job is just as you stated and that is to find out your limitations and to do that after you know your rifle is properly sighted in at the bench (a 200 yard zero is best for out west) you should use shooting sticks or a bipod/tripod attached to your rifle so you're as steady as you can be to place the bullet where it needs to go EVERY time. You may find that is 300 yards or you may not want to go over the 200 yard zero of your gun. What scope do you have on your rifle, as that is a big part of what we're talking about to do the job properly?
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Old 02-09-2017, 11:26 AM
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I know for a fact that 300 yards is no problem for an 06 using a 180 gr Barnes TSX bullet. I was spotting for my friend while he shot a nice bull at 290 yards. I wouldn't hesitate for a minute to shoot one at 400 yards. But only under ideal conditions. But like the other posters stated, the average Joe has no business shooting at that range, even 300 is pushing it for some folks.
Practice at the farthest distance you are comfortable with and DON'T shoot at any game beyond that distance. As sportsmen we owe the animals that much respect for a quick ethical kill.
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Old 02-09-2017, 11:31 AM
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I have a Leupold VariX-III 3.5-10x 40 mm objective lens scope with a duplex reticle: virtually the same scope is on all my hunting rifles (my second .30-06 has a VX-III 3.5-10x 40 mm: a later generation of the VariX-III, I understand). The scope is perfectly suited to what and how I hunt. The limiting factor is going to be my marksmanship. Again, I rarely have long shots where I hunt elk. I'm not interested in training to be a marksman. I am a hunter not a target shooter. Also, I am not a trophy hunter but a hunter for meat and for the rich rewards of hunting in a beautiful place high in the mountains sleeping in a wall tent with a woodburning stove with good friends behaving as good hunters. I can and have passed on dubious shots in the past. I am a competent hunting marksman. I just don't know what the range limit on my competent hunting marksmanship is, because I have never probed that limit. I plan to establish that limit this year before returning to elk hunting.

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