Shooting Myths Busted: Flat-Shooting Magnums
How many times have you been in a discussion of how flat-shooting a magnum is compared to a standard caliber load and had magnum fans make claims such as “a magnum shoots dead flat out to 500 yards.”
When broached with the idea, shooting and hunting expert Ron Spomer says, “Yah, glue feathers on a pig and he’ll fly, too. Gimme a break. This old myth must be older than magnums themselves.”
Spomer goes on to explain: “For one thing, there is no standard definition of a magnum. If you think a .458 Win. Mag. is going to shoot as flat as a .338 Win. Mag., you need to get out of the house more. How about a 17 Winchester Super Magnum? A 12 gauge 3-inch magnum?”
“Obviously, the word ‘magnum’ sheds little light on bullet trajectory. Shooting flat is a matter of high initial velocity, an extremely high ballistic coefficient, thin air and a lot of wishful thinking.” All firearms, even your flattest shooting, leave a barrel and achieve some arc in flight before striking its target at distance.”
“If you were shooting in a vacuum without gravity, even your .30-30 would shoot flat past 500 yards” Spomer writes. “But in the world in which you’re breathing, that same life-giving air is affecting your bullet—even the fastest, sleekest one. Gravity begins pulling it down at 32 feet per second (fps) every second. Air friction begins dragging on it even before it leaves the barrel.”
“There’s only one option: You either throw it well above your 500-yard target or miss low. How low? A 180-grain Ballistic Silvertip pointing dead-on a target at 500 yards and set adrift at 2,950 fps will plummet more than 5 FEET before it gets there.”
So basically, it won’t ever get there! Spomer goes on to explain, “if you angle your barrel upward enough that the bullet shoots 2.6 inches high at 100 yards, it’ll reach peak trajectory of 3 inches at 150 yards, fall 3.5 inches low at 300 yards, 15 inches low at 400 yards and 34 inches low at 500 yards.”
That’s ‘magnum flat’ to be sure and still carrying enough energy at that range to do some serious damage, but as the veteran shooter points out, it is far from “dead flat.”
Certainly some loads are best suited for long range shooting, including some magnum loads such as the .300 Win. Mag., .338 Win. Mag., 7mm Rem. Mag. and a long-range favorite, the .338 Lapua Mag. However, nonmagnum loads like the favorite .308 Win., .270 Win. and 6.5×55 remain popular. Ultimately, the shooter, whether his goal is to punch holes in paper or distant game, must understand the performance capabilities of his load, rifle and optics working together and must practice and practice often at the ranges and in various conditions in which they’ll be shooting when it really matters.
To compare potential long-range loads, check out Winchester’s online Ballistics Calculator. It’s fun and easy to use and you’ll learn a lot about individual performance characteristics of different loads.
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