Advice for the Traveling Hunter: Pick a Common Caliber!

By Chuck Hawks

I've done a fair amount of hunting and a good deal of traveling, both domestic and international. In fact, one of Guns and Shooting Online's sister web sites is the Travel and Fishing Information Guide. That doesn't make me an expert about all things foreign and domestic, but over the years I have learned a few things about both travel and hunting, one of which is the subject of this article: 1) your traveling rifles should be in common calibers, 2) Take-down travel rifles are much easier to handle in airports.

Take-down rifles are not common, but they are available. The Merkel K3 single shot is exceptionally well made and available in useful calibers for almost any hunting purpose. More common in North America is the widely distributed Browning BLR, a modern lever action rifle available in calibers from .223 Rem. to .450 Marlin. Both the Merkel and the BLR are drilled and tapped for mounting telescopic sights. Either of these rifles carried in a fitted hard case will make your journey much easier.

By "common calibers" I mean calibers for which factory loaded ammunition can be purchased wherever your journey by commercial carrier ends. Perhaps you are flying to Barrow, Alaska. Barrow is not a big city, or even a city at all, by lower 48 standards. It is a small town. If the airline loses the bag containing the ammunition for your hunt somewhere along the way, you can buy more ammo in Barrow, if it's a common caliber.

Common calibers in Alaska are the same as in the lower 48 states. They include such stalwarts as the .243 Winchester, .270 Winchester, 7mm Rem. Mag., .308 Winchester, .30-06, .300 Win. Mag, .300 Wby. Mag., and .338 Win. Mag. The remoter areas of Canada are similar, with the addition of the .303 British. In fact, those are good calibers to take most places in the world that big game is hunted, including Australia, although "down under," except for shooting water buffalo, there is little need for the magnum cartridges.

It's a good idea to do a little research to discover what are the common calibers in the area you intend to hunt. If you were invited to hunt in Germany, the list of common calibers would be different from Alaska. I have not hunted in Germany, but Stephan, one of my correspondents, tells me that the most popular deer hunting calibers in Germany are the .30-06 and the 7x64 Brenneke. Also popular are the 6.5x57, 6.5x65, 6.5x68, and 8x57.

For a Scandinavian hunt an American hunter might choose to bring a .30-06 or 6.5x55 caliber rifle. .270 Winchester ammo is also well distributed across Europe. Ditto the .308 Winchester, except in places that prohibit civilian ownership of "military" calibers (France and Italy come to mind). The 7x57 is also well distributed in most of Western Europe.

For a South African hunt (and most other areas of Africa), the .243 Winchester, .270 Winchester, 7x57, 7mm Rem. Mag, .30-06, .300 Win. Mag., .300 Wby. Mag., .303 British, .375 H&H Mag., and .458 Win. Mag. would all be good choices in terms of ammunition availability. The .375 H&H is a particularly good choice for hunting heavy game, as it has been around since 1912 and is loaded by practically all major ammunition manufacturers. It is widely distributed and is available and legal virtually everywhere in Africa that heavy or dangerous game is hunted.

The .30-06 is another old cartridge (1906) that is loaded everywhere and is usually available in remote outposts. It has become the most popular "all around" big game hunting cartridge in the world and it is a very good choice for hunting CXP2 and CXP3 game practically anywhere.

What I would not recommend taking to any far off place is a rifle chambered for a wildcat cartridge. Nor would I suggest a rifle in a relatively obscure commercially loaded caliber. As much as I respect the 6.5mm Remington Magnum cartridge, for example, I'll bet that you couldn't find a single box of 6.5mm Mag. ammunition in any of the places mentioned above. If an airline lost your ammo, you'd be out of luck. Much better to take a .270 so that, in a pinch, you could purchase ammo locally.

The bottom line is when traveling by commercial carrier, especially internationally, it is best to stick with widely distributed cartridges. If you travel often enough and far enough, at some point an airline will lose one or more pieces of your checked luggage, you can count on it.

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Copyright 2007, 2013 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.