Ideal General Purpose Deer and Antelope Rifles

By Chuck Hawks


Choosing a perfect general purpose hunting rifle for all CXP2 class game under all normal conditions can be a daunting task, particularly for less experienced shooters. There are a lot of rifles in a lot of calibers available for consideration.

First of all we ought to define CXP2 class game. It is thin-skinned, usually non-dangerous game weighing, on average, less than about 350 pounds. The most common examples are the various deer and antelope species, but the classification also includes goats, sheep, wart hog, feral hog, caribou, black bear and similar size animals world-wide.

Larger thin-skinned animals, such elk, alg, moose, eland, kudu, and zebra are examples of CXP3 class game. These will not be considered in this article, although many rifles and calibers suitable for CXP2 game are also suitable for CXP3 game.

It is in pursuit of CXP2 class game that sportsmen spend the greatest amount of both time and money. Fortunate individuals can afford to own several rifles suitable for CXP2 class game. This allows a certain amount of specialization; such a person might own a woods rifle, mountain rifle and plains rifle, for example.

But many avid hunters and shooters are forced by circumstances to make do with just one rifle. I can understand that situation well, as it applied to me for most of my adult life.

So this article is written for those who want an excellent general purpose CXP2 game rifle. A rifle that is suitable for all CXP2 class game, regardless of the habitat it favors. A rifle that is not too heavy for the mountains, or too light for the plains, or too long for the deep woods. Such a rifle must handle well and swing smoothly on running game. And because custom and other extremely expensive rifles are probably beyond the means of most shooters, I will limit the discussion to rifles commonly seen in the new and used racks of gun shops across North America. Further, since most hunters can do their best shooting with rifles that deliver less than 15 ft. lbs. of recoil energy, I will limit the cartridges considered to those that deliver no more than that amount of recoil in rifles of average weight.

6.5x55

Illustration courtesy of Hornady Mfg. Co.


The Cartridges

Let's start with a look at the reasonably common cartridges that are suitable for our purpose. Starting with the .24 calibers we have the .243 Winchester, 6mm Remington, .243 WSSM, and 6x62 Freres. The .240 Weatherby Magnum will qualify (in terms of recoil) in rifles weighing about 9 pounds or more, but not in the lighter weight rifles in which it is currently offered. With the exception of the powerful European 6x62 Freres (which is rare in North America), these are the minimum acceptable calibers, best for the person who is typically hunting the smaller species of CXP2 game or someone who is recoil sensitive. But they are easy to shoot accurately and will do the job with careful shot placement, and are favored by many expert hunters for that reason.

The next step up are the .25 caliber cartridges. Common examples include the .250 Savage, .257 Roberts, .25 WSSM, and .25-06 Remington. The .250 Savage and .257 Roberts are in the same general category (in terms of killing power) as the standard .24 caliber cartridges, while the .25 WSSM, and .25-06 are satisfactory for the entire range of CXP2 class animals, including black bear.

Like the .240 Weatherby, the outstanding .257 Weatherby Magnum is outside of our recoil limit in rifles of average weight, but acceptable in heavier rifles. Unfortunately, those heavier rifles are outside of our rifle length and weight parameters. The Weatherby cartridges are ultra-long range numbers, especially suitable for hunting in wide open spaces, but because of their rifle's weight and barrel length (24"-26"), not so satisfactory as brush or woods rifles.

The 6.5mm (.264 caliber) cartridges are extremely versatile. With appropriate bullets they can do it all, from the mountains to the woods to the plains. Those that fall within our general guidelines include the .260 Remington, 6.5x55 SE, and 6.5mm Rem. Mag. Several others, such as the 6.5x57, are usually seen only in Europe but are similar ballistically. Among the 6.5's the .260 and 6.5x55 are reasonably common and are available in the greatest number of rifles.

7mm cartridges that fall within our purview include the famous 7x57 Mauser, 7mm-08 Remington, and 7-30 Waters. The latter was designed for use in the Winchester Model 94, but is no longer offered in that rifle. The other two are popular and widely distributed. Along with the 6.5mm cartridges, the 7x57 and 7mm-08 are perhaps the most versatile of the CXP2 class cartridges.

At to top of our caliber list are the .30's. Most of the best known .30's kick too hard to be included here, but the .30-30 Winchester and .300 Savage can be considered. Of these, the Savage is the more versatile, but it is no longer offered in new rifles. The .30-30 is the most popular cartridge on this list, and the standard by which other medium range cartridges are judged. It is not, however, a long range cartridge by modern standards.

From that master list I am going to delete the 6x62 Freres because it is seldom seen outside of Europe and is available in few new factory produced rifles, at least in North America. If you have a suitable rifle in 6x62, treasure it, but for the American hunter looking to buy a new rifle it is too obscure.

The fine old .250 Savage is an orphan and no longer available in factory produced rifles. The same fate has also befallen the 7-30 Waters and excellent .300 Savage. All are obsolescent and will not be considered further. If you find a rifle so chambered on the used market, remember that they are viable choices.

Here is a list of our remaining cartridges and their typical bullet weights and muzzle velocities, followed by their maximum optimum range for killing 200 pound animals (OGW value), and Maximum Point Blank Range (+/- 3"). For more information about Optimum Game Weight and Rifle Trajectory (MPBR), see the tables in the "Expanded Rifle Data" section of the Tables, Charts and Lists Page.

  • .243 Win, 95 grain @ 3100 fps - 275 yards OGW; 300 yards MPBR
  • .243 Win, 100 grain @ 2960 fps - 240 yards OGW; 283 yards MPBR
  • 6mm Rem, 100 grain @ 3100 fps - 295 yards OGW; 296 yards MPBR
  • .243 WSSM, 100 grain @ 3100 fps - 295 yards OGW; 296 yards MPBR
  • .257 Roberts, 120 grain @ 2700 fps - 290 yards OGW; 271 yards MPBR
  • .25 WSSM, 120 grain @ 2990 fps - 405 yards OGW; 291 yards MPBR
  • .25-06 Rem, 100 grain @ 3230 fps - 275 yards OGW; 299 yards MPBR
  • .25-06 Rem, 120 grain @ 2990 fps - 405 yards OGW; 291 yards MPBR
  • .260 Rem, 120 grain @ 2890 fps - 400 yards OGW; 284 yards MPBR
  • .260 Rem, 140 grain @ 2750 fps - 455 yards OGW; 271 yards MPBR
  • 6.5x55 SE, 129 grain @ 2770 fps - 410 yards OGW; 274 yards MPBR
  • 6.5x55 SE, 140 grain @ 2645 fps - 415 yards OGW; 260 yards MPBR
  • 6.5 Rem Mag, 120 grain @ 3210 fps - 545 yards OGW; 312 yards MPBR
  • 7x57 Mauser, 145 grain @ 2790 fps - 575 Yards OGW; 279 yards MPBR
  • 7mm-08, 120 grain @ 3000 fps - 365 yards OGW; 286 yards MPBR
  • 7mm-08, 140 grain @ 2860 fps - 565 yards OGW; 285 yards MPBR
  • .30-30 Win, 150 grain @ 2390 fps - 205 yards OGW; 225 yards MPBR
  • .30-30 Win, 170 grain @ 2200 fps - 230 yards OGW; 211 yards MPBR

As can be seen from the figures in the list, all of our potential cartridges qualify as reasonably long range cartridges except the .30-30 Winchester. The good old .30-30 is a very well balanced cartridge, as the OGW and MPBR ranges are a close match. (There is not much point to a load for CXP2 class game that will kill efficiently at 500 yards, but cannot hit past 300 yards.) And the lever action Marlin and Winchester rifles in which it is most popular are compact, easy to carry, fast handling, and smooth swinging firearms indeed. For anyone who limits his or her shots to a range of around 200 yards (a good idea in any case), the .30-30 is an excellent choice for CXP2 class game. But for the hunter looking for maximum versatility, the .30-30 cartridge leaves something to be desired as a plains rifle cartridge, and it is probably marginal for a mountain rifle.

The .243/95 grain, 6mm/100 grain, .243 WSSM/100 grain, .25-06 100 grain and 6.5mm Rem. Mag./120 grain are the top long range cartridges and loads on our list. These are the cartridges to consider if long range shooting is of particular importance.

The standout is the 6.5mm Remington Magnum, in both trajectory and killing power. In terms of ballistics, it is the premier cartridge on our list. Unfortunately, at the time of this writing, the 6.5mm Mag. is available only in the Remington Model 673 rifle. This is a good rifle, moderate in length and weight, accurate, and entirely suitable for all of our intended purposes. However, if it doesn't happen to strike your fancy, you are out of choices as regards the 6.5mm Remington Magnum cartridge. Factory loaded ammunition is similarly limited in availability and bullet weight. This is not a problem for reloaders, but it is for everyone else.

The 6mm Rem. and .243 WSSM are also limited in terms of available rifles. The 6mm Remington is usually found in certain Remington or Ruger rifles; the .243 WSSM in Browning or Winchester rifles. Factory loads for both calibers are readily available, but not thick on the ground. In addition, the .243 WSSM is haunted by a reputation for unreliability. The 6mm Remington offers equal performance and has no such problems, so if you find a rifle in 6mm that you like, you are in luck.

The .243 Winchester is available in more makes and models of rifles than any other CXP2 cartridge. Of our long range cartridges, it is by far the most popular; in fact, it is the most popular cartridge on our list (except for the .30-30). It also kicks the least. These outstanding attributes must be balanced against its relatively modest killing power. This latter factor is what prevents the .243 from being the standout general purpose CXP2 game cartridge.

The .257 Roberts offers similar killing power to the 6mm Remington, but does not shoot as flat. It is also limited in the selection of available rifles. The .25 WSSM and .25-06 Remington offer plenty of killing power and flat trajectory. The former suffers from the same reliability problems and limited availability as the other WSSM cartridges, but the .25-06 does not. Its ammunition is plentiful and there are a good number of rifles chambered for it. The .25-06 is one of the better choices on our list.

Which brings us to the 6.5mm and 7mm cartridges, specifically the .260 Remington, 6.5x55 SE, 7mm-08 Remington, and 7x57 Mauser. These four cartridges are similar in killing power and trajectory, depending on the specific load compared. There are a number of factory loads and bullet weights for all four, and an even greater number of choices for the reloader.

Along with the 6.5mm Rem. Mag., these are the most versatile cartridges on our list They shoot flat enough to be excellent mountain rifle cartridges and they are better woods cartridges than the smaller calibers. Indeed, they qualify as all-around (CXP2 and CXP3) calibers as well as general purpose CXP2 game cartridges.

On the negative side, they also kick harder than most of the other cartridges on our list. This is particularly true of the 7mm calibers and the 6.5mm Magnum. For the person concerned about recoil but who still wants maximum versatility, I suggest either the .260 Remington or 6.5x55 SE.

On the other hand, the 7mm-08 is available in more new rifles than the other four calibers, an important consideration. The 6.5x55 is probably second in that regard. Consider all of these factors carefully before choosing a general purpose CXP2 game cartridge.

I am going to suggest that the .260 Remington, 6.5x55 SE, 6.5mm Remington Magnum, 7mm-08 Remington, and 7x57 Mauser are the best of the general purpose CXP2 game cartridges. The available rifles and the preferences of the individual will determine the final selection.

Winchester Model 70 Classic Featherweight

Illustration courtesy of U.S. Repeating Arms Co., Inc.


The Rifles

Having established a list of cartridges suitable for our needs, and narrowed it down to five preferred calibers, what kind of rifle is most appropriate? Since, by definition, a general purpose rifle must be acceptable for woods, plains, and mountain hunting, certain general characteristics can be outlined as follows:

  • Barrel length - No shorter than 20" (to maintain ballistic performance) or longer than 24" (for handiness in the woods or mountains). A 22" barrel would be a good compromise.
  • Weight - Not less than 7.5 pounds or more than 8.5 pounds (including scope). The rifle must weigh enough to control recoil without becoming a burden to carry in rough country.
  • Accuracy - Should be able to shoot 2 MOA 3-shot groups from a cold barrel at 100 yards (or 100 meters).
  • Sights - A telescopic sight is required. A 4x fixed power scope will do nicely, as will a variable power scope in the 2-7x or 3-9x range. The objective lens should be no larger than 40mm, maximum. A wide field of view at minimum power is necessary; high magnification is not.
  • Sling swivels or bases - A practical necessity. If not supplied by the manufacturer, they must be added.
  • Action type - Not a critical factor as long as the rifle operates reliably. Most hunters will prefer a repeater of some type, although a good single shot rifle will suffice. It is usually the first shot that counts.

Here is a list, by action type, of some specific rifles that are available in at least one of the five preferred calibers (.260, 6.5x55, 6.5 Rem. Mag., 7mm-08, 7x57) and fulfill the requirements listed above. This list is representative of new rifles available at the time of this writing, not all-inclusive, so if I've omitted your favorite, cut me a little slack.

  • Lever action - Browning BLR (7mm-08).
  • Single shot - NEF Handi-Rifle (7mm-08), Ruger No. 1 (7x57), T/C Encore (7mm-08).
  • Bolt action - Blaser R93 (6.5x55, 7mm-08, 7x57), Browning A-Bolt II (7mm-08), CZ 550 (6.5x55, 7x57), Howa 1500 (6.5x55), Remington Model Seven (.260, 7mm-08), Remington Model 673 (6.5mm Mag.), Remington Model 700 (.260, 7mm-08), Ruger M77 Mk. II (.260, 7mm-08, 7x57), Sako 75 (6.5x55, 7mm-08), Sauer 202 (6.5x55), Savage 110-action (7mm-08), Steyr Mannlicher (6.5x55, 7mm-08), Tikka T3 (6.5x55, 7mm-08), Weatherby Mark V (7mm-08), Winchester Model 70 (6.5x55, 7mm-08).

That is a reasonably wide choice of rifles from which to choose. Each hunter should investigate the models available in the caliber(s) of choice and go from there. I described the process in some detail in my article "Choosing a 6.5mm Hunting Rifle," so I will not repeat it all here.

For those who are curious about the outcome of my personal quest, I decided that I wanted either a .260 Rem. or 6.5x55 SE caliber rifle. The final choice came down to the Remington Model 700 LSS Mountain Rifle in .260 or the Winchester Model 70 Classic Featherweight in 6.5x55. I ultimately purchased the Model 70, and I have never regretted that choice. I wish you the same success in your search for the ideal general purpose CXP2 rifle!




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Copyright 2004 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.



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