Choosing the Right Cartridge
Often when teaching new hunters, it seems inevitable that I get the question " What is the best gun/cartridge for hunting"? My common sense gut response is: "A gun that you can shoot well" and "What do you intend to hunt"? Are you hunting bunnies or bear? I will argue all day long that accuracy and bullet placement is far more important than power when killing animals. Poorly shot is poorly shot regardless of caliber or bullet weight. One should not rely on power to compensate for poor marksmanship. In fact, it is probably power that often results in poor marksmanship. Therefore, hunters should choose a cartridge that does not have excessive recoil and one that can be shot accurately. The next question I ask the new hunter is where do you intend to hunt and how far do you intend to be shooting? Are you going to be hunting brush country for white-tails, heavy timber for elk- where the majority of shots will be inside of 100 yards, or are you hunting big open prairie country for antelope and mule deer? This should greatly influence your cartridge selection. As a new hunter, choosing and deciding what cartridge you are going to settle on is confusing at best. In part because understanding cartridge designation can be very confusing in and of itself due to the lack of a nomenclature standard for describing cartridges and caliber. If one is not familiar with calibers(bullet diameter) and cartridge designations; (30-30, 300 Savage, 30-06, 308, 7mm, 280 Rem and 7-08) probably does not mean much nor does it give you any indication of its size(power), recoil or effective range. In addition, if you ask half a dozen people what is their favorite cartridge you are likely to get half a dozen answers. This topic is not a new one and has been debated and argued by hunters, manufactures and sports writers for as long as competing cartridges have existed. In general I believe it's safe to say that any of the standard mid-sized cartridges are more than adequate for deer and antelope and elk at reasonable distances. I would also recommend a standard caliber as ammunition is more likely to be readily available and often times cheaper than proprietary or less common calibers. I personally like the 30-06, 308, 7-08 and 280 Rem. I tend to hunt big open country for antelope and mule deer and my gun of choice is a 280 Remington. These landscapes can be very windy and as a result I don't like to shoot bullets that weigh less than 140 grains. I feel that mid-weight bullets, (140-180) grains depending on caliber, drift less in heavy wind, retain energy better at distance, and consequently are more accurate when hunting in the windy conditions of eastern Montana and Wyoming. Heavier bullets also retain more energy downrange, resulting in more energy upon impact. This can also be important when shooting at longer ranges or when your shot was not as surgical as planned. Now back to my answers from the original question" What is the best Caliber" There is no black and white absolute answer here. But in an attempt to keep my answer simple without nerding out on a detailed discussion into ballistics, I would recommend the following: 7-08 and 280 Rem. with bullets in the 140-160g range. 308 or 30-06 shooting bullets in the 150-180g range. The 308 and 7-08 are good selections for kids, beginners and hunters of smaller stature due to less recoil. The 30-06 and 280 Rem is more than adequate for any North American game as long as shooting distances stay realistic and reasonable. Magnums, while they do have their place, in my opinion are overrated and over powered for your average big game hunting. Any and all cartridges are easily researched via google where you can compare the pros and cons between calibers and bullet weights. I've always enjoyed articles by Chuck Hawks. He always seems to take a straight forward no-nonsense approach that is concise and easy to understand. Most importantly once you have settled on a particular cartridge, the next step as with any sport is practice, practice, practice.