The Most Prolific Rifle Cartridges by the Number of Available Factory Loads, 2019: A Closer Look


by Gary Zinn


.308 Winchester ammunition. Illustration courtesy of MidwayUSA.


Recently, I posted a list of the twenty Most Prolific Rifle Cartridges. https://www.chuckhawks.com/prolific_rifle_cartridges_2019.html That article included a brief explanation of the data sources and methods I used to compile the list, a simple rank order of the cartridges, by number of different factory loads produced, and brief comments on the cartridges, individually or by groups of similar type. This article provides a closer look at these popular cartridges.


Here is the list, with additional information on the most prevalent weight of bullets and the range of bullet weights generally used in commercial loads of each cartridge.


  1. .223 Remington — 55 grain (35 - 85 grain)

  2. .308 Winchester — 150 grain (100 - 220 grain)

  3. .30-06 Springfield — 180 grain (55 - 220 grain)

  4. .300 Winchester Magnum — 180 grain (130 - 220 grain)

  5. 7mm Remington Magnum — 150 grain (139 - 180 grain)

  6. .270 Winchester — 130 grain (100 - 156 grain)

  7. .300 ACC Blackout (BLK) — 110 grain (75 - 240 grain)

  8. .243 Winchester — 100 grain (50 - 105 grain)

  9. 6.5 Creedmoor — 140 grain (95 - 147 grain)

  10. .300 Winchester Short Magnum (WSM) — 180 grain (130 - 210 grain)

  11. .22-250 Remington — 55 grain (35 - 64 grain)

  12. .30-30 Winchester — 150 grain (125 - 190 grain)

  13. 7.62x39mm Soviet — 123 grain (50 - 154 grain)

  14. .45-70 Government — 300 grain (250 - 500 grain)

  15. 7mm-08 Remington — 140 grain (120 - 160 grain)

  16. .338 Lapua Magnum — 300 grain (210 - 300 grain)

  17. .25-06 Remington — 117 grain (85 - 120 grain)

  18. .338 Winchester Magnum — 225 grain (180 - 300 grain)

.300 Weatherby Magnum — 180 grain (150 - 220 grain)

20. .270 Winchester Short Magnum (WSM) — 130 grain (120 - 150 grain)


This closer look will begin with a typical commercial load, in the prevalent bullet weight, for each cartridge; these loads are identified by maker, bullet weight and type, rated muzzle velocity (MV), ballistic coefficient (BC), and sectional density (SD). Using that information, I used Shooters Calculator online ballistics programs to calculate the maximum point blank range (MPBR), far zero, trajectory, downrange energy, and estimated recoil of each load.


I also calculated the killing power, the variable of ultimate interest in hunting loads, using the G&S Online Rifle Cartridge Killing Power Formula. https://www.chuckhawks.com/g-s_formula_implications.html This formula can be used to compare loads at any range using the factors of energy at impact (which includes velocity), sectional density, and cross-sectional area to arrive at a Killing Power Score (KPS) for a given load, via the equation:


KPS at y yards = (impact energy at y yards) x (sectional density) x (cross-section area), or simply KPS @ y = E @ y x SD x A


Note that this is a comparative system. We estimate that a rifle cartridge should generate a KPS of at least 12.5 at the range the bullet impacts to be a viable hunting cartridge for common Class 2 game, up to roughly 150 pounds (e.g., deer), while a KPS of 15.0 gives a margin of killing power for larger Class 2 game (up to 300 pounds). A KPS of 30 to 32 is judged the minimum killing power level for Class 3 game (300 - 1000 pounds, except dangerous game).


In general, trajectory, energy, and killing power numbers for each load are displayed at 100 and 200 yards, and at the five yard increment closest to the MPBR of the load. The cartridges mostly fall into loose groupings, with cartridges that fall into the same groups compared side by side. Here are the results.


.223 Remington (#1), .22-250 Remington (#11)

.223 Rem. — Hornady 55 grain V-Max, MV 3240 fps, BC .255, SD .157

.22-250 Rem. — Hornady 55 grain V-Max, MV 3680 fps, BC .255, SD .157


+/- 1.5” MPBR and Far Zero, in yards

.223 Rem.: 230 / 199

.22.250 Rem.: 258 / 224


Trajectory, inches at (yards)

.223 Rem.: +1.4” (100), 0.0” (200); -7.0” (300), -13.2” (350)

.22-250 Rem.: +1.3” (100), +0.7” (200), -4.1” (300), -8.4” (350)


Recoil (ft. lbs.) in 8 pound rifle

.223 Rem.: 3.5

.22.250 Rem.: 5.9


I calculated only the +/- 1.5” MPBRs and trajectories for these cartridges because downrange energy and “killing power” are not particularly meaningful for varmint bullets. Good varmint bullets will upset violently on impact at any reasonable range, so it is only range and trajectory that really matter for varmint loads. The data show that the .223 Remington has a reasonable range of about 300 yards before bullet drop becomes severe, while the .22-250 Remington will reach about 50 yards further.


.308 Winchester (#2), 30-06 Springfield (#3), 7mm Remington Magnum (#5) .270 Winchester (#6)

.308 Win. — Hornady 150 grain SST, MV 2820 fps, BC .415, SD .226

.30-06 — Federal 180 grain Nosler Partition, MV 2700 fps, BC . 474, SD .271

7mm Rem. Mag. — Nosler 150 grain Partition, MV 3100 fps, BC .456, SD .266

.270 Win. — Hornady 130 grain ILSP, MV 3060 fps, BC .409, SD .242


+/- 3” MPBR and Far Zero, in yards

.308 Win.: 275 / 235

.30-06: 268 / 228

7mm Rem. Mag.: 304 / 259

.270 Win.: 297 / 253


Trajectory, inches at (yards)

.308 Win.: +2.7” (100), +1.7” (200), -2.9” (275)

.30-06: +2.8” (100), +1.5” (200), -3.2” (270)

7mm Rem. Mag.: +2.5” (100), +2.3” (200), -3.0” (305)

.270 Win.: +2.6” (100), + 2.2” (200), -2.8” (295)


Energy, ft. lbs. at (yards)

.308 Win.: 2254 (100), 1907 (200), 1675 (275)

.30-06: 2524 (100), 2176 (200), 1955 (270)

7mm Rem. Mag.: 2777 (100), 2401 (200), 2052 (305)

.270 Win.: 2305 (100), 1957 (200), 1666 (295)


Killing Power Score (KPS) at (yards)

.308 Win.: KPS 37.9 (100), KPS 32.1 (200), KPS 28.2 (275)

.30-06: KPS 51.0 (100), KPS 43.9 (200), KPS 39.5 (270)

7mm Rem. Mag.: KPS 46.7 (100), KPS 40.4 (200), KPS 34.4 (305)

.270 Win.: KPS 33.6 (100), KPS 28.5 (200), KPS 24.3 (295)


Recoil (ft. lbs.) in 8.5 pound rifle

.308 Win.: 16.4

.30-06: 23.0

7mm Rem. Mag.: 25.5

.270 Win.: 19.6


These four workhorse, all-around cartridges are as much as a hunter needs for taking Class 2 and Class 3 game anywhere in the world. The .30-06, with 180 grain or heavier bullet loads, is adequate for most Class 3 game (KPS greater than 30 to 32), as is the highly versatile 7mm Rem. Mag. with 150 grain or heavier bullets. The 150 grain .308 Win. load is marginal for Class 3 game; heavier bullets —165 to 180 grains — would be better, for they will have higher SDs and KPS values. The .270 Win. is a devastating Class 2 cartridge with 130 grain loads and is adequate for most Class 3 game with 150 grain loads.


.243 Winchester (#8), 6.5 Creedmoor (#9), 7mm-08 Remington (#15), .25-06 Remington (#17)

.243 Win. — Hornady 100 grain ILSP, MV 2940 fps, BC .405, Sd. .242

6.5 Creedmoor — Nosler 140 grain BT, MV 2650 fps, BC .509, SD .287

7mm-08 Rem. — Nosler 140 grain BT, MV 2825 fps, BC .485, SD .248

.25-06 Rem. — Hornady 117 ILSP, MV 2990 fps, BC .391, SD .253


+/- 3” MPBR and Far Zero, in yards

.243 Win.: 286 / 244

6.5 Creedmoor: 265 / 225

7mm-08 Rem: 280 / 239

.25-06 Rem.: 289 / 247


Trajectory, inches at (yards)

.243 Win.: +2.6” (100), + 2.0” (200), -2.9” (285)

6.5 Creedmoor: +2.8” (100), +1.3” (200), -3.0” (265)

7mm-08 Rem.: +2.7” (100), +1.8” (200), -2.9” (280)

.25-06 Rem.: +2.6” (100), + 2.1” (200), -3.0” (290)


Energy, ft. lbs. at (yards)

.243 Win.: 1631 (100), 1378 (200), 1188 (285)

6.5 Creedmoor: 1908 (100), 1661 (200), 1514 (265)

7mm-08 Rem.: 2162 (100), 1876 (200), 1669 (280)

.25-06 Rem.: 1963 (100), 1651 (200), 1404 (290)

Killing Power Score (KPS) at (yards)

.243 Win.: KPS 18.3 (100), KPS 15.5 (200), KPS 13.3 (285)

6.5 Creedmoor: KPS 30.0 (100), KPS 26.1 (200), KPS 23.8 (265)

7mm-08 Rem.: KPS 34.0 (100), KPS 29.5 (200), KPS 26.2 (280)

.25-06 Rem.: KPS 25.8 (100), KPS 21.7 (200), KPS 18.4 (290)


Recoil (ft. lbs.) in 8 pound rifle

.243 Win.: 10.3

6.5 Creedmoor: 12.9

7mm-08 Rem: 14.7

.25-06 Rem.: 15.5


These cartridges are favored by those who prefer to pursue Class 2 game with something that kicks less than the all-around cartridges mentioned above. The .243 Winchester has been the leading hybrid Class 1 / Class 2 game cartridge for over a half-century. The .25-06 Remington firing 117 or 120 grain bullets, 6.5 Creedmoor firing 140 grain bullets and the 7mm-08 firing 140 grain bullets fall only slightly short of typical 130-grain .270 Winchester loads in range and terminal power.


The 7mm-08, though its natural bullet weight is 140 grains, has sufficient killing power with 150 to 160 grain bullets to be effective on common Class 3 game, at reasonable ranges. The other three cartridges are not well suited for use on Class 3 game in general.


.300 Winchester Magnum (#4), .300 WSM (#10), .300 Weatherby Magnum (#18), .270 WSM (#20)

.300 Win. Mag. — Federal 180 grain TBT, MV 2960 fps, BC .500, SD .271

.300 WSM — Federal 180 grain Nosler Partition, MV 2975 fps, BC .474, SD .271

.300 Weatherby Mag. — Norma 180 grain Oryx, MV 3250 fps, BC .354, SD .271

.270 WSM — Winchester 130 grain BST, MV 3275, BC .432, SD .242


+/- 3” MPBR and Far Zero, in yards

.300 Win. Mag.: 293 / 250

.300 WSM: 293 / 250

.300 Weatherby Mag.: 308 / 263

.270 WSM: 318 / 271


Trajectory, inches at (yards)

.300 Win. Mag.: +2.6” (100), +2.1” (200), -3.1” (295)

.300 WSM: +2.6” (100), +2.1” (200), -3.1” (295)

.300 Weatherby Mag.: +2.4” (100), +2.4” (200), -3.2” (310)

.270 WSM: +2.4” (100), + 2.5” (200), -3.2” (320)


Energy, ft. lbs. at (yards)

.300 Win. Mag.: 3071 (100), 2684 (200), 2354 (295)

.300 WSM: 3080 (100), 2673 (200), 2326 (295)

.300 Weatherby Mag.: 3522 (100), 2924 (200), 2363 (310)

.270 WSM: 2670 (100), 2296 (200), 1906 (320)


Killing Power Score (KPS) at (yards)

.300 Win. Mag.: KPS 62.0 (100), KPS 54.2 (200), KPS 47.5 (295)

.300 WSM: KPS 62.2 (100), KPS 54.0 (200), KPS 47.0 (295)

.300 Weatherby Mag.: KPS 71.1 (100), KPS 59.0 (200), KPS 47.7 (310)

.270 WSM: KPS 38.9 (100), KPS 33.5 (200), KPS 27.8 (320)


Recoil (ft. lbs.) in 9 pound rifle

.300 Win. Mag.: 29.2

.300 WSM: 26.5

.300 Weatherby Mag.: 33.2

.270 WSM: 20.6


Realistically, only a small minority of hunting situations require a small bore magnum rifle. Nevertheless, the .300 Winchester and .300 WSM (along with the 7mm Remington Mag.) have been very popular virtually since their introduction. The .30 caliber magnums are best suited for hunting Class 3 game, while the .270 WSM is useful for hunting both Class 2 and Class 3 animals. (120 - 130 grain .277” bullets are for Class 2 game, heavier bullets are suitable for Class 3 animals.)


.300 BLK (#7), .30-30 Winchester (#12), 7.62x39mm Soviet (#13)

.300 BLK — Barnes 110 grain TAC-TX, MV 2350 fps (16” barrel), BC .295, SD .166

7.62x39mm — Federal 123 grain JSP, MV 2310 fps (16” barrel), BC .274, SD .185

.30-30 Win. — Winchester 150 grain PP, MV 2350 fps (20” barrel), BC .218, SD .226

[ .30-30 Win. — Hornady 160 grain FTX, MV 2360 fps (20* barrel), BC .330, SD .241 ]


Two notes about these data are in order. First, the .300 BLK and 7.62x39mm data are from 16-inch barrels, while the .30-30 data are from 20-inch barrels. This reflects the most common barrel lengths of rifles chambered in each caliber. The .300 BLK and 7.62x39mm cartridges are already underpowered for their caliber, due to limited case capacity, and the short barrels that are the norm for AR-15 type rifles further work against these cartridges generating useful game stopping power.


Second, although the most common .30-30 Winchester loads are with 150 grain bullets, I included the Hornady LEVERevolution load with 160 grain FTX bullet in this analysis. This unique load gives a definite boost to .30-30 performance, compared to the traditional 150 grain bullet loads. I suspect that most serious hunters who use .30-30s shoot this load.


+/- 3” MPBR and Far Zero, in yards

.300 BLK: 223 / 191

7.62x39mm: 217 / 186

.30-30 (150 grain PP): 213 / 183

[ .30-30 (160 grain FTX): 227 / 194 ]


Trajectory, inches at (yards)

.300 BLK: +3.0” (100), -0.7” (200), -3/2” (225)

7.62x39mm: +3.0” (100), -1.2” (200), -2.7” (215)

.30-30 (150 grain PP): +3.0” (100), -1.5” (200), -3.2” (215)

[ .30-30 (160 grain FTX): +2.9” (100), -0.4” (200), -2.8” (225) ]


Energy, ft. lbs. at (yards)

.300 BLK — 1052 (100), 810 (200), 757 (225)

7.62x39mm: 1112 (100), 836 (200), 800 (215)

.30-30 (150 grain PP): 1310 (100), 912 (200), 862 (215)

[ .30-30 (160 grain FTX): 1586 (100), 1258 (200), 1185 (225) ]


Killing Power Score (KPS) at (yards)

.300 BLK: KPS 13.0 (100), 10.0 (200), 9.4 (225)

7.62x39mm: KPS 15.5 (100), KPS 11.7 (200), KPS 11.4 (215)

.30-30 (150 grain PP): KPS 22.0 (100), KPS 15.4 (200), KPS 14.5 (215)

[ .30-30 (160 grain FTX): KPS 28.5 (100), KPS 22.6 (200), KPS 21.3 (225) ]

Recoil (ft. lbs.) in 8 pound rifle

.300 BLK: 5.7

7.62x39mm: 7.3

.30-30 (150 grain PP): 10.8

[ .30-30 (160 grain FTX): 12.2 ]


These three cartridges are often lumped together because they are .30 caliber, medium velocity cartridges that generate similar trajectories with typical loads, leading to the superficial conclusion that if the .30-30 is a good hunting cartridge (which it clearly is), then the .300 BLK and 7.62x39mm must also be good hunters, which they are not.


The values of three variables document the differences between the .300 BLK and 7.62x39 and the .30-30. First, consider the sectional densities of the bullets most used in the loads for the three cartridges. Using the rule of thumb that a bullet with a SD of .200 is a practical minimum for good penetration on Class 2 game animals, the 110 grain .300 BLK and 123 grain 7.62x39 bullets are clearly below standard. The 150- and 160-grain .30-30 bullets, conversely, have SD values comfortably above the .200 baseline.


Next, study the downrange energy and KPS numbers for the various loads. Taking a KPS value of 12.5 as a minimum dependable KPS for deer size game, the .300 BLK and 7.62x39 loads become marginal (KPS falling below 12.5) at 120 and 175 yards, respectively, while the .30-30 loads have full Class 2 game killing power (KPS greater than 15) to 200 yards or beyond. I would have no trouble choosing among rifles in these three calibers for a deer hunt.


.45-70 Government (#14)

Speer 300 grain FNHP, MV 2000 fps, BC .206, SD .204

(Hand load from Speer Reloading Manual #14, safe to use in modern lever action and single shot rifles built to handle a pressure limit of 28,000 CUP.)


+/- 3” MPBR and Far Zero, in yards: 183 / 157


Trajectory, inches at (yards): +2.9” (100), +0.6” (150), -3.3” (185)


Energy, ft. lbs. at (yards): 1809 (100), 1483 (150), 1291 (185)


Killing Power Score (KPS) at (yards): KPS 60.8 (100), KPS 49.8 (150), KPS 43.4 (185)


Recoil (ft. lbs.) in 8.5 pound rifle: 26.0


At some 150 years of age, the cartridge that refuses to die is still surprisingly popular. The 45-70 is a favorite at buffalo rifle shooting matches, in rifles that replicate big bore single shot rifles of the late 1800s. The cartridge is also useful to modern hunters, as a potent short to moderate range round in fast cycling lever guns. (Within its MPBR range, the 300 grain .45-70 load generates KPS values very close to those of 200- and 220-grain .30-06 handloads. I consider those to be “light magnum” loads in the .30-06, so I am impressed by the power of the

.45-70.)


.338 Lapua Magnum (#16), .338 Winchester Magnum (#18)

.338 Lapua Mag. — Winchester 300 grain Nosler AB, MV 2650 fps, BC .720, SD .375

.338 Win. Mag. — Federal 225 Nosler AB, MV 2800 fps, BC .550, SD .281



+/- 3” MPBR and Far Zero, in yards

.338 Lapua Mag.: 272 / 230

.338 Win. Mag.: 281 / 238


Trajectory, inches at (yards)

.338 Lapua Mag.: +2.8” (100), +1.5” (200), -2.9” (270)

.338 Win. Mag.: +2.7” (100), +1.8” (200), -3.0” (280)


Energy, ft. lbs. at (yards)

.338 Lapua Mag.: 4255 (100), 3862 (200), 3605 (270)

.338 Win. Mag.: 3468 (100), 3061 (200), 2763 (280)


Killing Power Score (KPS) at (yards)

.338 Lapua Mag.: KPS 143.2 (100), KPS 129.9 (200), KPS 121.3 (270)

.338 Win. Mag.: KPS 87.4 (100), KPS 77.2 (200), KPS 69.7 (280)


Recoil (ft. lbs.) in 10 pound rifle

.338 Lapua Mag.: 50.8

.338 Win. Mag.: 30.2


These potent medium bore magnums can be loaded to handle all Class 3 and most Class 4 game. The .338 Win. Mag. is a heavy game cartridge that is overkill on Class 2 animals. However, it is about the perfect cartridge for North American elk, moose and the great bears and very popular for such hunting in Alaska and the western states.


The .338 Lapua Magnum, originally designed for long range sniping, makes the top 20 list by virtue of being the dominant medium bore cartridge for long range target match shooting. This is reflected in over one-half of .338 Lapua Mag. commercial loads being tipped with match bullets.


The Lapua Mag. is a beast! The KPS values generated by the 300 grain load exceed those of a .375 Ruger cartridge, loaded with the same weight bullet. I am impressed. (This .338 Lapua load is a beast at both ends of the gun, as the recoil energy number shows. I do not consider myself a wimp, but that is more recoil than I would choose to bear frequently.)


Conclusion


It is no surprise that these are the most popular centerfire rifle cartridges. Among them, there is a cartridge suitable for hunting everything from small varmints to all but the very largest or truly dangerous game animals. Most of the cartridges on this list will likely continue to appear on similar “top 20” lists for the foreseeable future, with only an occasional new cartridge appearing and climbing the ranks. (The 6.5 Creedmoor is the latest cartridge to do so.)


Detailed articles on the specific cartridges mentioned here may be found on the Rifle Cartridges page of this website.


Copyright 2020 by Gary Zinn and/or chuckhawks.com. All rights reserved.




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Copyright 2017 by Gary Zinn and/or chuckhawks.com. All rights reserved.


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