Each time I go to the range, it seems I see a shooter with a caliber that is an overmatch for their age, physique or skill level.
An optimal chambering for older shooters is important, and this same reasoning may be used for beginners and the slightly built as well.
A 30-year-old with plenty of muscle that only shoots occasionally, probably doesn’t need a 7mm Remington Magnum either.
Recoil kills accuracy and accuracy is what is important for target shooting and hunting. Recoil induces flinch or involuntary muscle tremors.
I have endured enough blows in police work, no need to endure this any more than I have to.
Not to mention horses and motorcycles —less recoil means greater confidence, greater accuracy and the skill to deliver the shots into the vitals of a game animal.
In handguns, the choice is more difficult because the smallest calibers are famously ineffective.
Just the same, there are choices that will make for a good balance of recoil control and wound potential.
A word on rifle ammunition — today we have choices in ammunition selection that we did not have just a few years ago.
Modern bullets will drive deep and expand well.
Calibers such as the 7mm-08 have been improved and the .223 Remington greatly improved, moving it into the deer category for game taking, given good shot placement.
Accuracy of off-the-shelf rifles is better than ever and inexpensive optics are of a higher clarity than ever.
There are very good calibers that I have not chosen for several reasons. One of these reasons is that ammunition isn’t as widely available as other calibers.
I also did not consider handloading, although many seniors are master handloaders.
Some calibers really come alive with handloading. But we have to consider the default load and that is factory ammunition.
As an example, it isn’t difficult to look up a number of calibers such as the .223 Remington or .308 Winchester and find 50 or more separate choices in ammunition.
Rifle Calibers for Older Shooters
.22 Long Rifle
The .22 offers economy, no recoil, excellent accuracy in the right firearm and is a great small-game caliber.
Back to the wall, the .22 can be a lifesaver. Stock up on affordable .22 caliber ammunition and practice often.
More than one shooter owns only one rifle and it is a .22.
America’s favorite rifle cartridge is an accurate and affordable number. Bulk ammunition is available from our major makers and foreign sources as well.
Most choices are accurate enough for practice. Then there are affordable loads that exhibit excellent accuracy. The Winchester 62 grain is one of these.
Modern bonded-core loadings make for a minimal caliber for deer with good results predicted given good shot placement.
I like the .223 Remington for its economy and easy shooting. It is a fine centerfire target cartridge.
The .243 is suitable for varmints up to deer-size game. It was designed as a heavy-duty varmint rifle for longer-range use and for larger varmints such as coyote.
In this role, the low recoil .243 excels. It is available in affordable guns such as the Savage Axis, offering a lot of value for the money.
I think the .243 Winchester is an unsung champion in many ways and should get a hard look from anyone interested in hunting with a light-kicking but effective rifle.
I was slow to jump on the 6.5 Creedmoor bandwagon. I am glad I did. That is one thing about being a gun journalist, the job forces a lot of guns on you.
Sometimes the realization of the gun’s capabilities takes a while to sink in.
The 6.5 Creedmoor offers modest recoil, superb accuracy and good killing power on deer-sized game. The caliber is fascinating to an accuracy bug like myself.
The 6. 5 Creedmoor is offered in affordable package guns and is at its best in a slightly more expensive piece such as the Savage Apex Storm rifle.
The .30-30 WCF is a fine outdoors cartridge for hunting deer-sized game up to 150 yards. The .30-30 is affordable and ammunition is widely available.
The problem with the .30-30 isn’t power, it has enough power, the problem is shot placement.
Older rifles with buckhorn sights limit accuracy potential. Modern rifles have superior sights and in most cases, may be mounted with an optical sight.
Don’t discount this classic round. Recoil is modest and it offers a lot of versatility.
The .308 Winchester may represent the upper end in recoil for some shooters.
The advantages include gilt-edged accuracy in the right rifle, and that is most .308 bolt-action rifles, the ability to chamber the cartridge in bolt-action, pump-action, and self-loading rifles, and ability to take 200-pound game up to 200 yards or a bit beyond.
125 to 200 grain .30 bullets may be loaded successfully, with the best all-around results in the 168-grain class.
Pistol Calibers for Older Shooters
There are many advantages to this neat little light-recoiling caliber. In a decent handgun, the .32 H&R Magnum is accurate. Even the old H&R revolvers are reasonably precise.
The original .32 Smith and Wesson Long is a pretty weak loading. 98 grains at 700 fps isn’t going to impress the bad guys. This is, however, an accurate and useful small game load.
Moving to the .32 Magnum, you have a loading that breaks 1050 to 1100 fps in a three to four-inch barrel revolver.
This isn’t ideal, but it is low recoil and superior to the .22 and .25 calibers.
Buffalo Bore offers a 100-grain JHP at a solid 1190 fps. This gets the .32 Magnum off its knees into a more useful category.
The .380 ACP is over 110 years old and isn’t going away anytime soon!
Wound ballistics are limited compared to the .38 Special and 9mm Luger, but the .380 may be chambered in light, handy and useful handguns.
For most handguns, the Hornady Critical Defense is a good load, offering as good a balance of expansion and penetration as possible with this caliber.
A full-size .380 such as the Bersa Thunder is a joy to fire and use. It is also inexpensive, an important consideration for those on a budget.
The .38 Special is easily among the most versatile revolver cartridges.
The .38 is available with powder-puff loads that barely raise the barrel, to potent outdoor loads rivaling the .357 Magnum.
The .38 Special is among my favorite calibers. The .38 is a satisfying target cartridge and a fair small-game cartridge.
There are quite a few personal-defense loads that provide reasonable wound ballistics. The snub-nose .38 is a good defensive firearm.
In a worst-case scenario, the gun grabber doesn’t have much to grab onto, but the user has a full firing grip to maintain control.
The snub-nose .38 may be shoved into an assailant’s body and fired repeatably without jamming.
A four-inch barrel revolver may be fed heavy loads that offer excellent wound potential. This is not only a great handgun for older shooters, it is a good beginners cartridge.
The .38 Special is arguably the finest of all cartridges for a handloader to learn the ropes with.
The last caliber for older shooters is among the best suited for personal defense.
Not everyone needs a self-loading pistol. If not gripped properly, the pistol may short cycle.
That is an argument for the .38 Special. But for older shooters that have been using a self-loading handgun, particularly the .45 ACP, the 9mm is pleasant to use and fire.
Standard-pressure 9mm loads offer good wound potential. +P loads may increase this wound potential, but should probably be used only in full-size handguns.
A number of 9mm handguns are affordable and useful.
There is no reason not to enjoy shooting well into your eighties, and these calibers are among the easiest and most useful for older shooters or anyone interested in a high percentage of power for modest recoil.
Have you had to change calibers as you’ve aged? What do you prefer to shoot now? Let us know in the comments section!