Going Point Blank

Man shooting rifle off a large rock

In the days before rangefinders with angle compensation and high-powered scopes with dial-in windage and elevation turrets, hunters relied on a concept known as point-blank range to notch tags.

In laymen’s terms, point-blank range is the maximum distance at which a rifle-ammunition combo can be held dead center on a target of a given size and have the bullet hit within that area without the shooter compensating by holding high or low. Why is knowing and understanding this concept important in the woods? Simple. We don’t always have time, especially when hunting elk in deep, dark timber and whitetails in the big woods, to dial-in windage and elevation. We need to be able to simply point and shoot quickly and accurately.

Beyond The Old Standard

Many hunters passively play the point-blank range game when they sight-in their rifle 2 inches high at 100 yards. This at least ensures the shooter can hold on the center of the vitals and hit them from the muzzle to beyond 100 yards. But there’s much more you can do, and many hunters never fully realize the full implications and benefits.

Consider deer hunting with the Federal Premium 30-06 Sprg. with Sierra GameKing 165-grain. On most deer, we can assume a vital zone of 5 inches. To maximize the distance at which you can place a bullet within that 5-inch circle, you must first determine the proper zero, where the midrange trajectory doesn’t rise any more than 2.5 inches (half the vital zone distance) above the line of sight. After that, we can look at the detailed trajectory curve to find out at what distance our bullet is no more than 2.5 inches below our line of sight. This indicates that a hold on the center of a deer’s vital zone will put in a bullet in the proper spot.

man looking down rifle scope at outdoor range

With a 200-yard zero, the 30-06 Sprg. load mentioned earlier rises a maximum of 1.7 inch above the line of sight. However, assuming that 5-inch vital zone, we can push the envelope a bit, and use a bit more midrange rise.

The Federal Premium Ballistics Calculator reveals that a zero of 220 yards lets the bullet rise exactly 2.5 inches at 140 yards, and then drop to 2.5 inches below the line of sight at 255 yards. This means that any for deer between the muzzle and 255 yards, you would simply hold the crosshairs on the center of the vitals and squeeze the trigger.

This is just one example, and the numbers would change significantly if you were hunting an animal with a larger vital zone. Still, you can use the same tools to define your ideal zero and maximize point-blank range for your chosen rifle-ammunition combination.

Portable Precision

With a rifle’s point-blank range well defined, the shooter can spend time at the bench and do some experimentation to determine where the crosshairs need to settle to hit a target at longer ranges. When that whitetail is cutting across an open field and the rangefinder reads 296, you need to be able to throw down quickly, stop him and settle your crosshairs—without twisting turrets.

Every year we get inundated with stories about how this guy or that gal killed a whopper buck while walking to or from a tree stand or blind. Don’t miss your chance to be one of them. Take advantage of your point-blank range and turn the power of your scope down when walking through thicker terrain where shots are likely to be close. When slipping through the timber an opportunity can happen quick and be over even quicker. If your scope is set on a high magnification, your field-of-view shrinks, making it difficult to find the animal, and should you get the animal in your crosshairs, it will be blurred.