Making a Case for Moderate Cartridges

By Rick Ryals

Moderate cartridges are those based on standard size cases, typically falling between .243 and .308 caliber, and having velocities of from 2000 to 3000 feet-per-second. The defining characteristic of these cartridges is their efficiency. They get the most from the least, so to speak. They provide sufficient caliber size, sectional density, and velocity to get the job done. However, they do not go to excess in case capacity or velocity, which keeps their recoil reasonable.

Many of these are found in the .308 Win. and 30-06 families of cartridges. In addition to the parent cartridges, these include the .243 Win., .260 Rem., 7mm-08 Rem., .270 Win., and .280 Rem. Other examples include such classics as the .257 Roberts, 6.5x55, 7x57, 30-30 Win., and.300 Savage. Medium bore fans might also want to toss in the .338 Fed. and .358 Win. There are other cartridges that could be mentioned, but you get the idea.

They are also much more suitable for adaptation to lighter, shorter rifles than are the magnum, super high-velocity cartridges. High velocity and large powder charges are the bane of lightweight rifles. Note in the table below that recoil increases more than 4 times the rate of increase in maximum point blank range, assuming identical bullet and rifle weights. The .300 Ultra Magnum in an 8.5 pound rifle recoils 52.6% more than a .308 Win. in a 6.5 pound rifle, and 100% more than a .308 of equivalent 8.5 pound weight. You decide if a 57 yard increase in MPBR is worth it.

Caliber (Wt. Bullet at Velocity)

Rifle Wt.

Recoil (Ft-Lbs)

Increase in Recoil


Increase in MPBR

.308 Win. (180 at 2610)



31.1 %


0.0 *

.308 Win. (180 at 2610)



13.4 %


0.0 *

.308 Win. (180 at 2610)



0.0 **


0.0 *

.300 Win. Mag. (180 at 2960)



57.9 %


14.1 %

.300 Ultra Mag. (180 at 3230)



100.0 %


22.9 %

* .308 Win., 180 grain at 2610 fps, +/- 3" at 249 yards used as MPBR baseline.
** .308 Win., 180 grain at 2610 fps, 8.5 pound rifle used as recoil baseline.

A comparison of efficiency shows that the .308 Win. provides 80% of the velocity of the .300 Rem. Ultra Magnum using only 55% of the powder. Even comparing the .300 Win. Magnum, a relatively "moderate" magnum, the .308 Win. provides 88% of that cartridge's velocity using 59% of the powder.

Another example of efficiency is the.338 Fed. cartridge. Federal advertisements for the new cartridge compare its energy to the 7mm Rem. Magnum The small cased .338 Fed. wins. Although there is a certain amount of advertising hype here, the fact remains that the .308 based case is much more efficient than the large belted magnum case.

Much of the recoil increase of magnum cartridges is due, not to the increased bullet velocity, but to the extra mass of powder gas ejected from the muzzle. This is wasted energy, extra recoil for nothing. There may be a small handful of hunters that can shoot accurately enough to utilize the extra range of a magnum cartridge, but for most of us they are simply wasted money, wasted powder, and abused shoulders.

This is not to say there is not a place or purpose for large cased magnum cartridges. But the point I would like to make is that large cases are much more suitable for medium to large bore calibers. When you are dealing with very large and dangerous animals you need to be able to drop them as quickly as possible and may need to stop or turn a charge. This requires a large enough bullet of high sectional density at a velocity that will yield good penetration. This is why .375 H&H is often considered the minimum caliber for certain species in Africa.

For North American hunting the magnum cartridges really come into their own for polar, brown or grizzly bears and bison. And medium bore cartridges of .338 and up are by far the best choice for these critters. The 7mm and .300 magnums are not really much better for dangerous animals than the 30-06, and the latter has bagged more big bears than any other caliber.

So, unless you are hunting big bear, there is no real reason to use a magnum cased cartridge here in North America. Enough elk and moose have been taken with .270's, .308's, and 30-06's to dispel the myth that they are not adequate cartridges for this task. That, of course, assumes that one is using an adequate bullet for the game hunted and puts it in a vital area. Except for those who insist on using centerfire .22's on big game animals, wounded and lost animals are typically caused by poor shot placement or improper bullets rather than by "inadequate" cartridges.

Based on all this, the primary reason for getting a 7mm or .300 magnum rifle would be for the extra range "just in case" you need to make, say, a 400 yard shot. As we have seen above, even the .300 Rem. Ultra Mag. only gives you a bit over 300 yards of MPBR. But, for the sake of argument, let's agree that it might give you an edge for the long shots. For that to be of any use, of course, you must be able to hit a target 400 yards away.

Let me tell you a story about the first time I saw how far 400 yards really was. I went to a 500 yard range with my son a while back. He likes shooting his Remington LTR in .308 at 400 to 500 yards. It is equipped with a heavy barrel, a bipod, and a Leupold 4-14 power tactical scope. It is a specialized rifle for long range, pin point shooting by police marksmen.

We walked down range to put our targets up, mine at 100 yards and his at 400 yards. When we got back to the firing line I asked where his target was. He pointed and said, "Right there." I looked again and finally saw it. It looked like the head of a pin. It would be quite an accomplishment to see a deer in the field that far away, much less hit it. I acquired a whole new cynicism about the 400 yard one-shot kills the magazine writers like to tell us about.

Please understand that I am not saying it is wrong to hunt with a magnum cartridge if it gives you confidence. I am simply tired of the Magnum Maniacs in the gun magazines telling me that if I don't have the latest super magnum I am under-gunned. I recently read an article that stated that when hunting the 300 pound deer of Canada, you better leave your 7mm-08 at home and get yourself a good .300 magnum. This is blatant nonsense.

The more I compare the moderate cartridges to the magnum cartridges, the more I am impressed with the former. These cartridges can do the job needed by the great majority of American hunters for most of the hunting they do. They can do it in a lighter, shorter rifle with significantly less recoil. This will help us walk farther and shoot better. And that's an advantage to any hunter.

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Copyright 2007 by Rick Ryals and/or All rights reserved.