Long-Range Shooting for the Eastern Whitetail Hunter

long range shooting
Photograph by John Hafner

Long-range shooting is a hot debate topic in the hunting world. For some western hunters, “long” means 800 yards or more. But most of us eastern whitetail hunters would consider a 300-yard shot to be long enough. So for the purpose of this post, let’s all agree that “long range” on an eastern deer property is about 300 yards or so.

Lots of folks have opinions about long-range shooting, but I never hear much about how it can help deer hunting and property management in the whitetail woods of the East and Midwest. So, bear with me…

The deer you are hunting today are not the same deer your grandfather hunted. Today, generation after generation have been hunted over food plots, feeders, and other hunter enhanced food sources. Over the years, they have learned a few things, like how to eat at these locations and stay alive. In short, they have learned how to avoid danger in the woods.

Food often means two things to today’s deer: survival and danger. Older deer in high-pressure areas avoid hunter setups (blinds, shooting boxes, treestands) almost instinctively. Ever wonder why the best bucks and old does use man-made food sources mainly at night? Today’s deer have figured out how to stay out of the reach of hunters; they have figured out “how to have their food and eat it, too” so-to-speak.

The scenario goes something like this. You build a food plot, hang a stand and start hunting it. The trouble is, you are perched right on top of where the deer want to be. Generations of deer have been exposed to set-ups like this; they know to look for you. One trip through the area (usually at night) and the set-up is done for the year. Your presence serves to reinforce the learned avoidance behavior and most likely ruins the site for the season (at least with mature bucks). We see this each and every year when we walk the woods immediately after hunting season. We walk the trails and other areas the deer used to avoid being shot. They almost always beat us at our own game by avoiding our hunting set-ups.

Going Long
My grandfather shot a .32 Remington pump with buckhorn sights. He could shoot a 3-inch group at 50 yards and not much better than that.

Modern hunters don’t have the same excuses as grandpa did. Modern shooting equipment will let us shoot the eye out of a fly at 100 yards. With good ammo, the right rifle and optic, a good shooter can easily shoot MoA at 300 yards (3 inch groups).

A 300 yard shot is a chip shot for a guy like Jim Sessions of Best of the West TV fame. He and his guests regularly make long distance kills at twice that range. “We specialize in taking the guesswork out of the shot,” Sessions says. “We make equipment designed to make you a world class shooter. We run schools to teach you the best shooting positions, use your equipment and when to walk away from the shot. We teach wind reading and ballistics and dozens of other thing that will turn a trigger jerker into a world-class shooter. Give a graduate of our shooting program one of our rifles and a relaxed animal and the rest is history.”

Savvy deer hunters try to keep property impact to a minimum. So, there is no reason in the world why a hunter should camp out on the edge of a one-acre food plot and turn it into a danger zone to be avoided by deer. A 300-yard shooting lane cut back through the woods with a blind at the end will let you rifle hunt the plot without alerting even the wisest buck.

My son Neil is a wildlife property consultant who sets up dozens of deer properties each year for his clients.

“I mostly work on properties of less than 500 acres. That means you have to keep the deer calm through the season,” he says. “You don’t want them to turn nocturnal or head for the next mountain. Most hunters still want to camp out on food sources. They want to shoot 50 yards; that can be a huge mistake, especially when hunting older deer. I want my clients back from the plots. This keeps the plots fresh and keeps the good deer using them. If I have a hunter who is a good shooter, I set up the property with lots of long range shooting opportunities. I like to set up food plots that can be hunted from a few hundred yards out, that way the property won’t shut down after a few hunts. You can get in and out without getting caught and keep your scent from polluting the feeding area. It really makes a difference with smaller eastern properties and big deer. They don’t know they are being hunted and that makes all the difference.”

Neil frequently works properties that have gone cold. Most of the time he changes the way the property is being hunted. The first year after the re-do is usually the best, especially with big deer. From year one on, the hunting often deteriorates. The deer are there but they are learning the new danger areas. The goal is to make it tough for the deer to figure it out. Setting up a property so it can be hunted from longer ranges, keeps the learning curve steep.

So, should we all take out our rifles and start blasting away at 300 yards? Of course not. But the resources are out there to help you be a 300-yard shooter. There is some terrific equipment on the market and shooting instruction to boot. If your hunting has gone sour over the years, you might take a good hard look at how you hunt. Some long-range work could be the answer.