Hunt Around the World with these Cartridges

By Chuck Hawks

Winchester Model 70 Jack O'Connor Tribute Rifle
The Winchester Model 70 JOC commemorative, a reproduction of Jack O'Connors favorite .270 rifle, with which he travelled extensively.
Illustration courtesy of Winchester Repeating Arms.

Every so often questions arise about hunting exotic game in far off lands. Of course, far off lands could be Texas for a hunter from New Zealand, or Sweden for a hunter from South Africa. Regardless, the small bore cartridges (.32 caliber and smaller) featured in this article should be at home practically anywhere and are appropriate for the traveling hunter.

One important consideration for anyone hunting away from home is the availability of ammunition. In case the airline loses the bag containing your ammunition, it is a pious idea to travel overseas with a rifle for which ammunition can be purchased locally. The cartridges below are generally available where big game is hunted.

Versatility is another important consideration, as today almost all hunters travel by air and can take only one, or at most two, rifles. This is a significant change from the first half of the 20th Century, when travel overseas was predominately by steamship and hunters could take a battery of rifles.

In addition, the hunter will carry his or her own rifle in the field, so it must not be too heavy. This mitigates against very powerful calibers that necessarily require heavy rifles to keep recoil at tolerable levels. For both comfort and convenience, an all-around travel rifle should not be overly burdensome.

Nor should the rifle be so light that it is not steady from the offhand position, or have a short barrel that causes excessive muzzle blast and velocity loss. Bear in mind that factory ammunition specifications are typically derived in 24 inch test barrels. A field weight (meaning with a full magazine, scope and sling) between eight and nine pounds with a 22 or 24 inch barrel is a reasonable compromise.

A suitable general purpose cartridge for the traveling hunter should permit shots at reasonably extended ranges, although long range shooting should be avoided whenever possible. A maximum point blank range (MPBR) +/- 3 inches of at least 250 yards seems like a reasonable requirement. Shots at big game animals should never be attempted beyond the MPBR of the cartridge/load.

Following are specific cartridge suggestions for the traveling hunter, listed in increasing order of power and recoil with typical loads. All of these can be used in rifles that meet the basic requirements mentioned above.

6.5x55mm SE

Adopted by Sweden and Norway in 1894 as their standard military cartridge, the 6.5x55 was originally loaded with a 156 grain RN bullet at a muzzle velocity (MV) of 2379 fps. When the major powers adopted spitzer (pointed) bullets at higher velocity in the early years of the 20th Century, the Swedes followed suit, going to a 140 grain spitzer bullet at a MV of 2625 fps.

Like other successful military cartridges, the 6.5x55 was quickly adopted by hunters, initially in Scandinavia and later around the world. It has been used to take everything from polar bears (the world's largest predators) and moose on down. For the very largest animals at medium range, a 156-160 grain RN bullet (SD ~.328) at 2300-2400 fps is probably the best choice, but the all-around money load is a 140 grain bullet (SD .287) at around 2700 fps, which provides a MPBR (+/- 3 inches) of about 265 yards.

The 6.5x55 was specifically designed for reliable feeding in extreme conditions and this, along with its slightly greater case capacity, gives it an advantage over the later and ballistically very similar .260 Remington and 6.5mm Creedmoor. Of these three cartridges, only the 6.5x55 qualifies as a worldwide hunting cartridge.

7x57mm Mauser

Like the 6.5x55 and .30-06, the 7x57 was upgraded to a spitzer bullet early in the 20th Century and went on to greatness as a hunting cartridge. For the very largest animals, a 175 grain RN bullet (SD .310) at 2440 fps is still available. This is the bullet weight, in FMJ form, made famous by ivory hunter W.D.M. Bell as an elephant load.

Today, however, the most popular load for Class 2 game is a 139-140 grain spitzer bullet (SD .246) at around 2660-2700 fps. This provides a MPBR (+/- 3 inches) of 264-268 yards.

Alternatively, if Class 3 game are on the menu, 150-160 grain bullets can be loaded to about 2600 fps. Eleanor O'Connor famously used a 160 grain bullet (SD .283) to harvest the vast majority of her Class 2 and Class 3 big game in North America, India and Africa. A 160 grain Nosler Partition bullet at 2600 fps provides a MPBR of 257 yards.

The 7x57 is noticeably milder to shoot than the .270 Winchester and nearly identical to the 6.5x55 SE. Like the 6.5x55, it is more effective in the field than its paper ballistics might suggest. For many years my personal "go-to" hunting rifle has been a custom built 7x57 on a Husqvarna action.

.270 Winchester

Why Winchester chose an unusual .270 bore diameter and .277 inch bullet diameter for their premier long range hunting cartridge is a matter of speculation, but whatever the reason the result was a spectacular success. The .270 is one of the great all-around hunting cartridges and it can be found wherever big game is hunted.

Compared to 7mm cartridges, a .270 bullet of a given weight sacrifices a little cross-sectional area to gain a little sectional density. From the animal's standpoint, it is about a toss-up; dead is dead and nothing can live on the difference.

The load that made the .270's reputation is a 130 grain spitzer bullet (SD .242) at a MV about 3100 fps for a MPBR (+/- 3 inches) around 300 yards. This load has been used to take everything from the smallest Class 2 animals to Alaskan moose. Later, for the largest game, a 150 grain bullet (SD .279) at around 2850 fps was introduced. More recently, a 140 grain bullet (SD .261) at about 3000 fps has become a popular all-around choice.

To this day the .270 remains the standard of comparison for long range hunting cartridges. It shoots as flat as a 7mm or .300 Magnum and hits almost as hard, but kicks noticeably less. Less recoil and muzzle blast means the average hunter can shoot more accurately and achieve a higher percentage of one shot kills.

.308 Winchester

Winchester and the US Army collaborated in the design of this cartridge, the goal being to duplicate the velocity of the 150 grain .30-06 service round in a short action cartridge more suitable for use in semi-automatic rifles and machine guns. Winchester introduced the .308 as a hunting cartridge for civilian use in 1952, two years before it was adopted as the 7.62x51mm NATO service cartridge.

Today, the .308 is used around the world and it has become the most popular big game hunting cartridge in the USA, available in an incredible variety of hunting rifles of all types. The selection of ammunition and rifles is exceptional and the .308 has proven to be an unusually accurate and versatile hunting cartridge, with tolerable recoil in medium weight rifles.

The most popular load for Class 2 game remains a 150 grain spitzer bullet (SD .226) at a MV of 2820 fps. However, for all-around use a 165 grain bullet (SD .248) at about 2700 fps is perhaps a better choice. The MPBR (+/- 3 inches) of this load is about 264 yards. For the largest Class 3 animals a 180 grain bullet (SD .271) at 2620 fps remains popular. Depending on the destination and the animals to be hunted, one of these loads should suffice.

.30-06 Springfield

In 1903, the US Army adopted the Model 1903 Springfield service rifle and a new .30 caliber service cartridge based on a lengthened 7x57mm Mauser case. The initial 1903 (.30-03) load used a 220 grain RN bullet at around 2400 fps.

Shortly thereafter, in 1905, Germany replaced the 227 grain RN bullet used in their 7.92mm Mauser M/88 service cartridge with a 154 grain spitzer bullet at much higher velocity (around 2800 fps). This greatly extended the practical killing range of their Mauser Model 98 service rifle and created the 8x57mm JS Mauser cartridge we know today.

The militaries of the other industrialized nations, naturally, scrambled to catch up. In the US, a 150 grain spitzer bullet at a MV of 2700 fps was adopted in 1906 for the '03 Springfield service rifle, creating the cartridge known ever since as the .30-06. (Later, the velocity of the 150 grain bullet was increased to about 2800 fps.)

The .30-06 was quickly adopted for hunting big game and, probably because it has the longest case and the most powder capacity of the popular smokeless powder service cartridges of the 20th Century (6.5x55, 7x57, .308 Win., .303 British, 8x57, etc.), it became the premier all-around hunting cartridge. Factory loaded hunting ammunition is available with bullets weighing from 125 grains for the smaller species of Class 2 game to 220 grains for the largest Class 3 animals.

However, a 180 grain bullet (SD .271) at about 2700 fps has been the all-around load of choice for decades, suitable for all Class 2 and Class 3 game with a MPBR (+/- 3 inches) around 263 yards. This is also the hardest kicking load most experienced hunters can tolerate in a medium weight rifle.

7mm Remington Magnum

Remington's Big 7 was an instant commercial success when it was introduced in 1962 and its popularity quickly spread around the world. It is the most popular of all magnum rifle cartridges and probably the most useful. The legend is it shoots as flat as a .270 and kills as well as a .30-06 and there is a lot of truth in that assertion.

It offers an optimum blend of flat trajectory and killing power with tolerable recoil and muzzle blast in rifles of reasonable weight. The 7mm Rem. Mag. shooting a 154 grain bullet (SD .273) at a MV of 3035 fps in an 8.5 pound rifle kicks like a .30-06 shooting a 180 grain bullet (SD .271) at 2700 fps in an 8.0 pound rifle.

The most common 7mm (.284 inch) bullet weights are 139-140 grains, 150-154 grains, 160 grains and 175 grains. Like all 7mm Magnum calibers, the money load is a 150-154 grain spitzer bullet. Bullets of this weight will do for all Class 2 and Class 3 game and their MPBR (+/- 3 inches) is about 300 yards.

.300 Winchester Magnum

I was initially hesitant to include the .300 Win. Mag. in this article, as it simply kicks too hard in medium weight rifles for the average hunter to do his or her best shooting. As any experienced hunter knows, it is accurate bullet placement, not raw power, that achieves humane one shot kills. In addition, many guides and outfitters dislike the muzzle blast of the magnum .30s and question the skill of hunters who arrive in camp with a .300 Magnum rifle. (Sadly, often for good reason.)

Nevertheless, .300 Win. Mag. is popular everywhere and it is the most widely distributed of the .300 Magnums. It has the advantage of fitting in standard length rifle actions, unlike the .300 H&H, .300 Weatherby and .300 RUM.

The money load for any .300 Magnum is a 180 grain bullet (SD .271), which the .300 Win. Mag. typically launches at about 3000 fps. This will do for all Class 2 and Class 3 animals to beyond the approximately 295 yard MPBR (+/- 3 inches) of the cartridge.

In terms of killing power, whatever the 180 grain .30-06 load will do at 100 yards the .300 Win. Mag. will do at 200 yards, and whatever the .30-06 will do at 200 yards the .300 Win. Mag. will do at 300 yards, assuming identical bullet placement. Whether this 100 yard increase in effective range is worth the pain is up to the individual shooter and the accuracy he or she can achieve with a hard kicking .300 Magnum rifle.

Concluding Comments

The cartridges listed above have proven adequate for all Class 2 critters and most Class 3 animals. If the largest Class 3 types, for example Alaskan Moose and African Eland, are on the menu, the most powerful cartridges on this list, the .30-06 Springfield and the two magnums, would be the most appropriate choices. They are also reasonable choices if a chance encounter with a Class 4 predator (grizzly bear, lion, etc.) is possible.

Many outfitters, professional hunters and guides look askance at sports who arrive with a magnum rifle, especially a .300 Magnum. They fear they are indifferent shots trying to substitute power for accurate shooting, which is always a mistake. In addition, the extra muzzle blast causes increased damage to the hearing of those near the shooter, such as the unfortunate guide. Verify in advance that your outfitter/guide approves before deplaning with a .300 Magnum.

Muzzle brakes make this problem worse and many guides will not allow their use. Leave rifles so equipped at home.

Increased recoil makes precise shot placement more difficult for even the most experienced shooter. This is not to say fine shooting cannot be accomplished with hard kicking rifles, but long experience has conclusively demonstrated that anyone can shoot better with a rifle that kicks less, particularly as the number of shots increases. Make sure that whatever rifle/cartridge/load combination you choose, you can do your best shooting with it.

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Copyright 2018 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.