The Best Centerfire Rifle Cartridges, 1900-1999

Chosen by the Guns and Shooting Online Staff

As the title of this article suggests, the members of the Guns and Shooting Online headquarters staff were asked to name the most significant centerfire rifle cartridge of the Twentieth Century. There were no restrictions regarding caliber or purpose, from varmint hunting to blasting elephants and everything in-between, including target shooting. The only restriction being that the cartridge nominated had to have been introduced between 1900 and 1999. This eliminated such staff favorites as the .30-30, 6.5x55 and 7x57, all of which were introduced at the end of the Nineteenth Century.

It turned out that the three top choices were tied in the vote count and all were "in-between" cartridges, meaning all-around big game hunting cartridges. To end the suspense, the best cartridges of the Twentieth Century as chosen by our staff are (in order of caliber):

  • .270 Winchester (1925)
  • 7mm Remington Magnum (1962)
  • .30-06 Springfield (1906)
  • Honorable Mention: .308 Winchester

Perhaps not coincidentally, these are the cartridges that proved the top all-around (CXP2-CXP3) big game hunting cartridges in our article on that subject. (See the Rifle Information page for details.) It is hard to argue with these choices.

The .270 has been the standard of comparison for long range "western" cartridges since 1925, the .30-06 is the world's most popular all-around cartridge and the 7mm Rem. Mag. is deservedly described as shooting, "as flat as a .270 and hitting as hard an a .30-06."

All three of our winners are excellent all-around cartridges for North American and European hunting and equally appropriate for shooting African plains game. They are all top sellers worldwide and ammunition is widely available wherever big game is hunted.

All have a maximum point blank range (+/- 3") in excess of 260 yards with popular bullet weights, which is as far as any of us should be shooting at live animals. None falls into the light recoil category, but all are within the capability of the majority of experienced hunters.

None is a particularly new cartridge, but all have been widely imitated. The recent .30 T/C, for example, is supposed to offer .30-06 ballistics (with 150 and 165 grain bullets), the 7mm WSM is a ballistic clone of the 7mm Rem. Mag. and the .284 Winchester was supposed to duplicate .270 ballistics in a short action cartridge. None of the pretenders has ever come close to replacing the originals, they are not nearly as popular, nor are they as versatile in terms of reloading or handling a variety of bullet weights.

The designers of the .30-06, .270 Win. and 7mm Rem. Mag. got it right the first time and no one has done it better since, or even as well. We think that they really are the best rifle cartridges of the Twentieth Century!

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