The Best All-Around Rifle Cartridges?

By Patrick Keeler

Although the idea of someone reading Guns and Shooting Online, or any firearms website or magazine and only owning one gun is problematic, the debate over the best all around rifle cartridge remains lively. If someone really only wanted one gun for all hunting, the most useful choice would probably be a 12 gauge shotgun, especially if various chokes and barrels were used. However, this article is about rifles.

A well known gun writer recently blogged that the best all around rifle cartridge was the .338 Winchester Magnum. Many shooters probably flinched just reading that.

That is why we are drawn to Guns and Shooting Online, for independent analysis. Chuck Hawks has published a series of articles taking a bottom up approach to rifle cartridge selection. For each North American game species he listed adequate cartridges for hunting that animal. (The articles in question were not intended to be an exhaustive list of cartridges, only examples of suitable numbers. -Ed.)

Using those lists, I took the 18 best selling rifle cartridges of 2006 (which were found on Google) and then read each game animal article. If a cartridge was recommended, I awarded it four points, if it was satisfactory at a reduced range I gave it two points and if it was not listed it received zero points. After tabulating the articles for black bear, caribou, cougar, deer, elk, hog, brown bear, moose, goat, predator, antelope, sheep and varmints for the 18 calibers, the following rankings emerged:

  1. .30-06 Springfield = 46
  2. (tie) .308 Win., .270 Win. = 44
  3. 7mm Rem. Magnum = 42
  4. 7mm-08 Rem. = 38
  5. .25-06 = 34
  6. .270 WSM = 32
  7. .25 WSSM = 28
  8. (tie) .300 Win. Magnum, .300 WSM = 24
  9. .243 Win. = 20
  10. .30-30 WCF = 18
  11. (tie) .45-70 Government, .243 WSSM = 16
  12. (tie) .204 Ruger, .223 Rem., .22-250 Rem. = 8

The top four cartridges (.30-06, .308, .270 and 7mm Rem. Mag.) are not surprising. What I found interesting were numbers four and five on the list above. The 7mm-08 and .25-06 are hardly ever mentioned as all-around calibers, yet here they are. The only thing separating these calibers from the four top calibers is use on moose and elk. These two calibers offer significantly less recoil than the top four. However, recoil is already factored in by Mr. Hawks. That is why the .300 Magnums are less useful, as they are unnecessarily powerful for many of the animals and thus were not recommended.

While I maintain that the one gun owner is largely a myth, the idea of having a rifle that is useful for a wide range of game animals as a back up makes sense. If you chose a .338 as your primary rifle for a grizzly hunt, bringing a .30-06 along for back-up makes sense. That .30-06 could also be brought to deer camp, but not used unless something happened to your .25-06.

A battery of two guns on either side of the .30-06 would be probably be versatile and effective. A 7mm-08 and a .300 Magnum might be an example of such a two rifle battery. The .300 Magnum would be better on the biggest game than the top four and the 7mm-08 would be just about ideal for the smaller big game with less recoil than the top four. However, why stop at two guns when you could buy three? Add a .308 or .30-06 to the aforementioned 7mm-08 and .300 Win. Mag. rifle battery and you have three guns of which you could bring two to any non-varmint hunt in North America and feel pretty confident.

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Copyright 2007, 2016 by Patrick Keeler and/or All rights reserved.