Some ideas, features and reports are more difficult than others. Coming up with five great rifles cartridges may seem easy, but there are many good choices, and there is a great deal of overlap in performance.
I am certain to offend fans of the .257 Roberts and perhaps someone will point out that the Canadian Rangers still find the .303 British a perfectly useful cartridge. I have my own experience. I find the following cartridges quite useful, reliable and accurate.
Best of all, they are readily available. I might mention that I am most interested in venison and other average animals ideal for protein, not trophies—although trophies are certainly a good thing and a reward for a great effort.
Trophy animals are above-average. The average animal is far more numerous. That is the animal that most of us bring home and make a meal of. When choosing a rifle and cartridge, the terrain and the game are important parts of the choice we make.
The following choices are widely used and the level of recoil and expense is not so great that they are not practical for most shooters.
(Prefer to watch? Here’s a YouTube video summarizing this article.)
1. .30-06 Springfield
The .30-06 Springfield was designed with a great deal of stretch. The cartridge features a rimless case head, making it useful in self-loading rifles.
The then-new military cartridge, adopted in 1906, was immediately embraced by hunters and popularized by none other than President Theodore Roosevelt.
The .308 Winchester is nearly comparable and may be chambered in a short action rifle, but the .30-06 will do anything the .308 will do. More importantly, the .30-06 Springfield will do most of what the .300 Winchester Magnum will do.
The .30-06 will take 110-grain bullets and perform as a varmint rifle or heavy 220-grain loads for the largest game animals in North America (and elsewhere). The .30-06 generates the heaviest recoil that the occasional shooter is likely to tolerate.
In a quality rifle, the cartridge shows gilt-edged accuracy.
2. .30-30 Winchester
The .30-30 was introduced in 1895 and featured a rimmed cartridge case. This makes it a contemporary of the 7.62x54R and .303 British cartridges. The .30-30 is chambered in relatively lightweight, reliable, flat, fast-handling rifles.
The .30-30 has plenty of power for deer-sized game. A 170-grain bullet at 2200 fps offers good wound potential for deer and boar and has certainly taken larger animals. The problem is shot placement.
The 7mm-08 is a .308 Winchester necked down to 7mm. Ballistics are impressive. A 120- to 140-grain bullet may be delivered at up to 2900 fps depending on barrel length and the exact loading. Recoil remains modest, even in lightweight rifles.
This is a thoroughly modern (but somewhat overlooked) cartridge with much to recommend. The cartridge shoots flat and offers excellent accuracy. It has been termed a 7x57mm Mauser but for short-action rifles. That isn’t a bad place to be.
4. 6.5 Creedmoor
The 6.5 Creedmoor may not offer anything new in ballistics, but it is a most efficient 6.5-caliber cartridge. The advantages in case shoulder design and the ability to chamber the 6. 5 Creedmoor in short-action rifles has made for a popular combination.
The cartridge is available in affordable combinations as well as high-end rifles. Accuracy is excellent. A 140-grain bullet with a high ballistic coefficient at 2700 fps is an impressive combination.
The 6.5 Creedmoor is a good cartridge, accurate, affordable and with modest recoil.
5. .308 Winchester
The .308 was intended to be a shorter version of the .30-06 with practically equal performance. The .308 owes some of its design parameters to the .300 Savage as well. The .308 is a fine all-around cartridge.
In good quality rifles, it will demonstrate excellent accuracy potential. The .308 is available in bolt-action, single-shot, lever-action, and self-loaders, including the Browning Automatic rifle, AR types and the M1A1.
The .308 is perhaps the most versatile all-around cartridge mentioned in this report.
Loads for the Big Five
The Hornady Superformance 150-grain SST breaks 3050 fps from a 24-inch barrel. Accuracy is excellent.
While Hornady’s tipped Leverevolution loads are groundbreaking, the more recent MonoFlex offers excellent performance. This 140-grain 2465 fps load is a first-class choice for hunting.
My favorite choice in this easy shooting and accurate caliber is the Hornady Superformance at 2950 fps with a 139-grain SST bullet. This is a first-class load for North American hunting.
This is a difficult choice, there are many good loads. I find the 143-grain ELD X Hornady the ideal choice for my needs. Breaking 2700 fps from a 24-inch barrel, the 6.5 Creedmoor doesn’t kick hard and offers excellent accuracy.
In the .308 Winchester, I looked for the maximum effort, the Hornady Superformance loading. This loading uses the 150-grain SST. Accuracy, performance and wound potential are excellent.
These five rifle calibers are proven and readily obtainable. There are other choices but these are my big five among rifle calibers.
What are your favorite rifle calibers? Let us know in the comments below.