834-Yard Shot on an Elk: How Far is Too Far?

Could you shoot an elk from half a mile away?

It’s a challenge, but I’m betting a good percentage of you could hit the target, dropping a bullet into a vital area the size of a stop sign.

A better question is: Would you shoot an elk a half-mile away?

It’s a question I ask myself a lot, as my gear and my ability keep stretching what I consider my effective lethal range, and I have fresh evidence that the answer is complicated. Check out this video clip of a hunter making a sweet 834-yard one-shot kill on a bull elk.

Before we get into the heart of the argument about whether these guys should have, or shouldn’t have, made the shot, let me point out a few salient details from the video:

The Wind – did you notice how the grass near the shooter was bending in the crosswind? Was it blowing equally strong across the canyon? Was it swirling? Wind drift is one of the great problems of long-distance shooting. It was hard to tell how much these guys doped the wind, but at their distance, that's a make-or-break detail.

The Time of Flight – I'm pretty sure these guys are shooting a .30/378 Weatherby, a venerable long-range rig. Depending on altitude, humidity, temperature, their bullet's specific muzzle velocity and ballistic coefficient, the time of flight for their bullet, from the muzzle to the target, could be anywhere between .7 and 1 second. An elk can easily walk a stride — call it 5 feet — in a second, moving the vital area either into, our out of, the bullet's path. How many video clips do they have of bulls being wounded before they made this one-shot kill?

The Incline – It's not a crazy-steep angle, but these guys aren't shooting straight across the canyon, either. How much time did they put into reckoning how the angle of the shot would affect the bullet drop?

The Approach – They discuss the specific problem this bull presented, that they couldn't get closer and so had to take the half-mile shot. Really? Judging by the terrain and the timber, it looked like they could have made a pretty effective stalk, turning an elk shoot into an elk hunt. But it's hard to tell how steep the canyon rim is, patterns of property ownership and all the other unknowable details that go into another hunter's decision.

That last point is important. I don’t feel qualified to judge other hunter’s actions, especially when I’m given relatively little information about their decision process. But I do know 830 yards is a long damn way to shoot at iron or paper, targets that don’t move and don’t have a beating heart.

Here’s my question to you: Should these guys have taken this shot at this bull? And, while we’re on the topic, is there any difference–besides the size of the target—shooting this far at an elk versus a prairie dog?

Maybe more to the point, should these guys be publicizing their achievement so that the rest of us can debate what’s an ethically complicated action?