Good question, but hard to answer because of all the variables that exist in the field (wind and my weariness, etc.).
My longer shots would be from the prone postion or a ground blind that would have a table-like steadiness.
I rarely hunt out of a tree blind but longer shot could be made if the rest system was solid.
Cartridges I use for deer: 250 Sav. AI, 260 Rem., 6mm-284, 6.5x57R, 284 Winchester and the 6.5-284. For elk: 284 Winchester, 7mm WSM and 7.82 Patriot.
I would not hesitate to shoot out to 350 yards with any of these cartridges, given good conditions, good rest, and myself being not winded and calm.
With some of these cartridges (My SP's are not chambered in an Encore or Contender. All of these with the exception of the Patriot & the WSM will work great in the Encore though) I would go further "IF" all the conditions were right.
Only 50-100 yards for me in the New Hampshire woods. That is why I lean toward the medium and big bore rounds. While I have a 7-30 Waters for example, I have more confidence in the take down power of a 35 Rem or heavy 45 Colt at those ranges and the ballistic handicap is a non-issue.
Several things really help me, in making longer shots in the field on big game. One is the use of a Chrongraph (Oehler) and ballistic software (Exbal). Another is the Burris LER handgun scopes (3-12 for me) with the Ballistic Plex Reticle on all of my scopes. Another new twist that has just been made available for Burris scopes is the replacement turret caps by Kenton Industries http://www.kentonindustries.com/pics/picbytype/
This allows you to just simply turn to the distance you are shooting game at and you are dead on (still have to dope the wind). You have to send them your true MV, bullet, BC, Elev. and approx temp. I have one on my 7.82 Patriot XP-100 and it works great in conjuntion with my BP reticle. A rangefinder is a must, to accurately know distances. You do need a scope with a target turret (Or have Burris put one on for you) on at least the elevation for this to work. I think that is a $50.00 to do that.
When shooting at steel this past May, using a Harris Bi-Pod I made single-shot hits from 400 yards all the way to 700 yards on steel using this system. The 700 yard piece of steel wasn't very big either. Last year I shot my buck @ 260 yards with my 6.5-284 and a cow elk @ 385 yards with my Patriot. Yes, I have made further shots, but the point I want to make is that today with what you have available it is easy now to know your vertical drop accurately. The issues are a bullet that performs well at a wide velocity span with a decent BC, accurately doping the wind, solid field rests, state mind (calm) when shooting, understanding the impact of your bullet when shooting uphill or downhill (Angle Cosign Indicator), and practising at the actual distances you will hunt from field positions proving to yourself you can hit what you shoot at.
This may take some of the fun out of just guessing and winging away at a critter, but it is a nessecity for me when shooting at big game at the further distances.
One other thing I might add about LR hunting is finding the right bullet that performs over a wide range of velocities, that also has a good Ballistic Coefficient. Richard Graves (Wildcat Bullets) makes hunting and target bullets with higher BC's than the store purchased bullets. He is out of Canada and is a great guy to work with.
I have to agree with ernie, wholeheartedly. I have several rest systems i take to field and use whatever the style or situation dictates. But, I practice on gongs of various sizes at varying ranges. The gongs are 1/2 the size of of the intended game's kill zone. The range at which I can no longer put 3 for 3 rounds on (consistantly), deterimines my range limit with the various rest/shooting styles.
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