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Aiming at a target with a handgun

Knowing your firearm’s “maximum projectile range” is critical to being a safe and responsible hunter. The maximum projectile range tells you at what distances your firearm’s projectile could cause injury or damage to persons, animals, or objects. When hunting, knowing the “effective killing range” lets you immediately assess when a shot will give a clean kill. The effective killing range will always be less than the maximum projectile range. Learning to estimate distances and knowing your firearm’s projectile range and your effective killing range are important parts of hunting.

Understanding Ballistics

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Video Transcript
Haley

Whether you’re hunting or practicing with a firearm, there are several things you can see and control, like where your muzzle’s pointing, if the safety is on, and if the gun is loaded.

Rob

But there’s some very important things happening that you just can’t see, like the speed and angle at which the bullet travels and the distance that it will go. And these factors make up the science of ballistics.

Ballistics: The science of the motion of projectiles, such as bullets or pellets.

Haley’s bullet strikes the target.

Rob

Nice shot. So we saw where the bullet hit. But what’s really happening as the bullet is rocketed toward the target? Once it leaves the gun, the bullet of a 0.22-caliber will not travel in a straight line. Instead, it slowly drops due to gravity. At 100 yards, it will have dropped about four inches. So in order to hit the bull’s-eye, we have to aim four inches higher at the get-go. Now, Haley made that bull’s-eye because she knows her gun, and she practices with it.

Haley hands the gun to Rob.

Haley

Here you go.

Rob

Thank you. So it’s our responsibility as hunters to know the ballistics of our firearm and ammunition before we pull the trigger.

Haley

Another important thing to know is how far your bullet will travel. How far do you think a 0.22-caliber rifle bullet can go? 100 yards? 500 yards? Over 1,700 yards? If you guessed over 1,000 yards, you’re correct. A 0.22-caliber bullet can travel over a mile.

Rob takes aim and shoots.

Rob

Wow. Over a mile. So it’s obviously important to only shoot at game or targets when you have a backstop.

Haley

Now that you’ve seen what a 0.22 can do, let’s consider some other popular calibers. You should know how far a bullet could go before you pull the trigger. This 0.243 bullet can travel two and a half to three and a half miles. This 0.270 bullet can travel two and a half to three and a half miles. This 30-30 bullet can travel two to two and a half miles. This 0.308 bullet can travel two and a half to three and a half miles.

Rob

So, as you can see, these bullets can travel a very long distance. Just be sure that you’re shooting against a backstop.

Haley

All right. Let’s go get the shotguns. The pellets from a shotgun travel very differently than a bullet from a rifle.

Rob fires his shotgun at a target.

Rob

They most certainly do. You see, unlike the single rifle bullet, the pellets or shot from a shotgun create a shot pattern. And that’s affected by a lot of things, such as the gauge of the shotgun shell, the length of the shell, the choke in the barrel, and, of course, the distance to the target.

Haley

Let’s start with the gauge. Gauge: Measure related to the diameter of the smooth shotgun bore and the size of the shot shell designed for that bore. Shotguns come in different gauges, from the little .410 all the way up to the 10-gauge, the most popular being the 20-gauge and the 12-gauge.

Rob

The length of the shells differs as well. The longer the shell, the more pellets it can potentially contain. And the number of pellets can affect your shot pattern.

Haley

Another thing to consider is the choke. The choke in my barrel affects the spread of my pellet pattern.

Rob

So there are three main choke types: full, modified, and improved. With a full choke, I have a smaller, denser pattern of pellets. With an improved choke, I have a wider, less dense pattern of pellets. The third choke type is a modified choke, which is in between the full and improved. The effective range is different for all three choke types. And the type of game you are hunting will help determine the type of choke you use. No matter the choke or gauge, shotgun pellets can travel a long way—anywhere from 150 yards to over 400 yards. So you should be aware of where your shotgun pellets will fall.

Haley

Whether you’re hunting or practicing, think firearm safety before you pull that trigger. Know what your gun is capable of and your abilities as a shooter.

Rob

Practice may make perfect. But being smart will keep everyone safe.