Deer are the most sought after game in the United States by a wide margin. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, over 8 million Americans hunt deer annually, more than four times the number who hunt wild turkey, the second most common game. While some deer hunters use shotguns loaded with slugs or buckshot, most carry a rifle – and for good reason.
The primary advantage rifles hold over shotguns is range. Even a slug-gun with a rifled barrel has a maximum range of only about 150 yards. Meanwhile, many rifles are effective and accurate out to more than three times that distance.
In some parts of the country, hunting with a shotgun is the only legal option. But in places where rifle hunting is allowed, sportsmen and sportswomen who may need to take long-range shots, or who are pursuing larger game than deer, there is no substitute for a rifle. (Here is a look at the states where hunters get the most deer.)
Using ballistics data on 92 rifle different calibers, compiled by outdoor gear retailer Sportsman’s Warehouse, 24/7 Wall St. identified the most powerful long-range hunting rifles. The 30 rifles on this list are ranked by estimated foot-pounds of energy delivered at a range of 500 yards. For each caliber, we selected the bullet weight, or grain, that delivers the most force at 500 yards. This ranking does not account for variations in barrel length and is based on a limited, and not necessarily comprehensive, list of available bullet weights.
The 30 different rifle calibers on this list can deliver anywhere from 1,364 to over 9,500 foot-pounds of energy at 500 yards. Each of these rifles is powerful enough for deer hunting at 500 yards, and some of the most powerful are appropriate for the largest game in North America, including moose and grizzly bear. Some are also well suited for hunting or protection from even larger African mammals.
The most powerful rifle on this list, the 50 caliber BMG, is a military-grade weapon accurate out to 2,000 yards and capable of penetrating structures and destroying lightly-armored vehicles. Though too powerful to be a practical hunting weapon, rifles chambered for 50 caliber ammunition are available to civilians in much of the United States. (Here is a look at the 16 sniper rifles used by the U.S. military.)
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