Guest Post by John McAdams
Buying a new hunting rifle can be a very overwhelming experience if you’ve never done it before. A quick look around any sporting goods store will reveal an wide assortment of different rifles that are available in a staggering variety of cartridges. How do you pick the best one for you?
The good news is that many of the popular centerfire rifle cartridges that hunters use these days will work for a wide range of hunting situations. That being said, certain cartridges are better for some hunts than others. For that reason, it’s still important to carefully evaluate what and where you intend to hunt with that new rifle.
Here are a few caliber recommendations that will work extremely well for hunting many of the popular species of big game all over the world. Before we get started, take note that this article only covers a handful of good big game hunting cartridges. There are plenty of dependable rifle cartridges out there and the exclusion of a particular cartridge from this list doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad choice.
Though the 6.5 Creedmoor is a relatively new cartridge that first got started in the competitive shooting community, it’s becoming very popular with hunters as well. Firing a very aerodynamic .264” bullet at a moderate velocity, the 6.5 Creedmoor is easily powerful enough for hunting small to moderate-sized game at typical ranges for most hunters. It’s also capable of ethically taking down larger game as well under the right circumstances.
The Creedmoor has taken off among hunters in recent years because it is very resistant to wind drift, has a relatively flat trajectory, and has a pretty mild recoil. Since it first got started in the competitive shooting world, the 6.5 Creedmoor is also capable of incredible accuracy in the right hands. With those things in mind, the 6.5 Creedmoor is popular among hunters of all experience levels, but the light recoil of the cartridge helps make it an especially good choice for small framed and/or brand new hunters.
All things considered, the 6.5 Creedmoor is an excellent caliber for hunting whitetail deer, mule deer, feral hogs, and pronghorn at distances out to several hundred yards. As previously mentioned, it will also work for game like elk and moose, but it’s a little on the light side for hunting game that size.
The legendary .30-06 Springfield is well over a century old, but it remains one of the most popular centerfire rifle cartridges in the world. This is due in large part to the fact that the .30-06 is such a capable and versatile cartridge.
With proper shot placement and when using appropriate ammunition, the .30-06 is well suited for hunting a wide variety of big game ranging from whitetail deer all the way up to moose. This also includes North American game animals like black bear, feral hogs, pronghorn, and elk. Additionally, it’s a great choice for hunting animals like red stag, fallow deer, blue wildebeest, kudu, and eland that a hunter is likely to encounter on a New Zealand or Africa hunting safari.
While the 6.5 Creedmoor is an excellent long-range cartridge, the .30-06 Springfield is no slouch in that area either. On the other hand, it does have noticeably more recoil than the 6.5 Creedmoor, but most hunters don’t have too much trouble handling the additional recoil of the .30-06 Springfield.
Since it’s so popular among hunters, .30-06 rifles and ammunition are widely available and often very reasonably priced. When all of those things are taken into consideration, the .30-06 is an ideal choice if a hunter wanted to purchase a single rifle that would work for hunting the most game under the largest breadth of conditions.
As good as the .30-06 is, some hunters prefer to use something even more powerful for hunting especially large and/or dangerous species of game in North America. Hunters who fall into that group often gravitate towards the .338 Winchester Magnum.
Just like the case with the 6.5 Creedmoor and the .30-06 Springfield, there is quite a bit of overlap in the capabilities of the .30-06 and the .338 Winchester Magnum. In this case, the .338 Winchester Magnum provides an extra measure of power that can be really nice to have when hunting game like elk, moose, or Alaskan brown bear.
That extra power does come with more recoil though, and the .338 Win Mag does not really offer improved performance when compared to the .30-06 on smaller game like deer or pronghorn. For those reasons, the .338 is not nearly as popular overall as the .30-06, but it is still an excellent choice for hunters in places like Canada and Alaska who want or need the advantages it offers.
Last up is the .375 Holland & Holland Magnum. Many African countries have a legally established minimum caliber of .375” for hunting thick-skinned, dangerous game like cape buffalo. So, while cartridges like the .30-06 and the .338 Win Mag are great for hunting almost all species of plains game, the .375 H&H is generally considered the minimum acceptable cartridge for cape buffalo hunting.
It’s an outstanding choice for cape buffalo, but the .375 H&H is not limited to just buffalo hunting either. Like the .30-06, the .375 is another old cartridge that has a very well-deserved reputation for solid performance afield. Though it does have more recoil than the .30-06 or .338, the .375 H&H does not recoil as much as one might think. For these reasons, many hunters use the .375 H&H for hunting plains game in Africa as well as game like brown bear and moose in North America.
Appropriately preparing for a hunt or buying a new rifle does not end with selecting a cartridge. That’s merely a single step in the process. Selecting the right rifle, scope, and ammunition are all just as important as picking the right cartridge. Additionally, the marksmanship skills of the hunter are extremely important as well when it comes to ethical hunting. As the saying goes, a shot in the right place from a less powerful cartridge is much better than a shot in the wrong place from a more powerful cartridge.
Carefully select the right centerfire rifle cartridge for the hunting you plan on doing, purchase a high-quality rifle, sighting system, and ammunition, and then spend plenty of time at the range practicing before your hunt. If you do those things, you should be well prepared for an upcoming adventure.
John McAdams is a proficient blogger, long time hunter, experienced shooter, and veteran of combat deployments with the US Army to Iraq and Afghanistan. John started Big Game Hunting Adventures in order to help others fulfill their hunting dreams. John’s articles have been featured in outdoor publications like Bear Hunting Magazine, the Texas State Rifle Association, the Texas Wildlife Magazine, and Wide Open Spaces.