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.
There are good rifle calibers I have found useful, including the .300 Savage and the .35 Whelen, but they are not universally available and they are not for everyone.
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.
If you have a good set of sights for the rifle ( or scope), then the rifle’s efficiency is increased. The .30-30 is a light kicker and the rifles are relatively inexpensive.
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.
22 Long Rifle can be used in a rifle. Its economy, shootability, usefulness on a multitude of small game, value for teaching new shooters, and recreational value should put it on any list of “must have” rifle rounds.
Good list of venerable cartridges, with the exception of the 6.5 Creedmore. All of the others have been time, field, and fad tested. Not so with the 6.5 Creedmore. I would agree that it is a great long-range target round. Out to 500 yards, however, it offers far less in power and nothing significantly better in terms of its ability to shoot flatter than the 7mm-08 or 308. Beyond 500 yards, the Creedmore’s power drops to the point that it should not be used to take deer-sized or larger game. Yes, Hornady has done an amazing job marketing the 6.5 Creedmore, but performing well on long-range metal targets does not equate to being a venerable cartridge, and it certainly does not make it a time-tested cartridge (or deer hunting round) on par with any of the other cartridges you listed.
A lot of good choices given the parameters of availability and for hunting mid-sized game. I’ve never owned a 30-06, but it is a great caliber. What I’ve used for years is the 270 that is based off of the 30-06. I’ve also have a 25-06, but have not used it as much. I put together a 7mm-08 using a Mauser action (long action using a short action cartridge) that is a tack driver. However, lately I’ve been using a 308 because it is an all around great caliber and I’m running it suppressed. In my AR platforms I have the 5.56/223, 300 Blackout, and 6.5 Grendel. I have several other caliber rifles such as a 6mm Remington, a 30-30, a 444, but these rarely get used. In all, I prefer the 308 for hunting.
Where I live the 7mm-08 and 6.5 Creedmoor are not so readily available. The 6.5 Swedish and 7.62×39 are just as easy to find and in the case of the 7.62×39 probably more so.
It is hard to beat 50 BMG for extreme long range. A few calibers like 375 Cheytech, 416 Barrett, and others are more accurate but far more expensive for both the rifle and ammo. I have moved up to the 50 after spending a year or two with 338 Lapua magnum. The latter would have to be my favorite alternative. The big 50 can be shot for almost the same cost ($2.00/rd.) if one is willing to spend the time to prepare once-fired military brass and to use projectiles that are on sale or sold as blems. Surplus military powder WC-860 works quite well in my Barrett M99. Many decisions are simplified for loading the 50 because the brass is excellent quality and there is only one primer CCI-35 available.
Downsides are the rifle is heavy and the ammo certainly fills your range bag. Recoil is not bad owing to an efficient muzzle brake. One upside is that the recoil makes other larger magnum calibers easier by comparison. Brass is a lot easier to police than .223 or even ’06.
I enjoyed your observations! While it’s common for those who comment to take issue with the writer, I have to agree that you made some practical selections. True, there are many good calibers, and each have their fan base. I stick to popular calibers, even though I am often beckoned by some of the more obscure calibers. I am at a point in life where energy and bullet speed mean less, and shoot-ability means more. I shoot a .30-06, .270, and .243. I am looking at adding either a .308 or a 7mm-08 to the lineup. It’s been a tough decision. But it may be settled by caliber availability in whichever rifle I choose. Either way, I know I can’t go wrong.
Love the versatility of my .243 with 50grain bullets for coyote and 100grain for whitetail! Very accurate out of my Thompson Center Pro-hunter using hornady bullets! I also picked up a ruger American ranch in 450bushmaster that has proven to be nothing but impressive so far!
I own 300 Weatherby Magnum I will not put it up against my 7.82 warbird!
I hunt with a Remington260 is Dropped every elk I shot at. It’s almost identical to the 6.5 Creedmoor. It’s a light rifle doesn’t kick I wouldn’t hunt a brown bear with it. Like the author said 30-06 is the best all around rifle unless you’re going to hunt a elephant.
REALLY??? 7mm-08 , 6.5 Creedmoor on the list while leaving out some of the greatest. 45-70 govt belongs there as well as 22-250 and .243 win. how about .223 rem/5.56×45 should have 30-06 sprg. OR .308 win not both. 300 win mag or 375 H&H should be there. 6.5 Creedmoor is just an inferior 260 rem 7mm-08 is an inferior 7mm mauser. 30-30 win definitely deserves seat at the table
What is your opinion on the 270wsm?
While the .30-06 Hornady Superformance 150-grain SST may be recommended for long range accuracy, I prefer the .30-06 Hornady ELD-X 178-grain for hunting due to both its accuracy to 300 yards (and beyond, depending on the shooter) and its controlled expansion.
I am no expert, but I will stick with my .270 Win.
30-30’s a good practical lever action round. Although the 30-06 is a good round, I still prefer the flatter shooting and farther reaching, especially for Pronghorns where 500 yard shots are usually as close as you can get around here. .300 Win Mag. Load data exists for taming it to handle 110/120 gr bullets, even if commercial ammo doesn’t support that bullet weight. In my AR’s I keep a 5.56 x 45 and a .300 Blackout so far. The .300 Blackout does well with Whitetails. Just finished a .350 Legend, but haven’t had the opportunity to use it to comment about its performance. Thinking about an AR 10 build in 6.5 Creedmore, but haven’t really decided yet.
in his blog he stated “The 6.5 Creedmoor may not offer anything new in ballistics” this i believe is not true, if you check all the blogs and specs out there you will find the 6.5 Creed is equal to the 308 win until you pass 100 yards, at this point while the 308 starts to drop off the Creedmoor continues to carry a flatter trajectory making it a more accurate round for long range hunting.
I have a 30-06, 308 and 30-30. I was raised an ’06 fan from the first time I can remember holding a rifle. I now have a 308 and consider it roughly equivalent to the 30-06 for my purposes (deer, elk and bear). The advantage for me is being able to use the 308 in an AR frame. Where I grew up we call the 30-30 a brush popping hunter. It is short, nimble and can take down most of what you will find out there, albeit at short range. So, depending on what I am hunting or where I am going will decide what rifle I will take. I also like that you can find loads for each of these almost anywhere.
But I believe one caliber was overlooked that is both plentiful and useful. I speak of the 270 Winchester. Flat shooting and with a variety of loads. If you’re going to mention the 6.5 Creedmoor you’re going to have to mention the 270 Winchester. It’s available in a wide range of configurations and bullet grade weights. So it is a long action bullet, it is still quite useful and recoil is very tolerable.
Thanks for the article.
In WW2 Dad nearly executed as 30.06 ammo’s side effect of heat melted barrel of his BAR. At Remagen, a bridge still standing, rest of 1st Army went to town, but Dad and ammo carrier violated orders & went for stroll on East bank of Rhine. Started w/2000+ rounds & 12 grenades so had to use drag bag to haul going quite nicely until Enemy ahole shot ammo carrier thru chest from far tower. Dad shot their machine gun to later visit them for a “meet and greet”. Dad jammed ammo carrier against beam giving him couple of bandages and continued attack until bridge exploded jumping up in air, but landing successfully, so Dad hoped he had not been injured too bad from debris continuing the attack. After liquidating or wounding all defenders, he couped up stragglers in RR tunnel at East end. BAR’s barrrel bent like banana from excessive heat w/entire weapon so hot Dad glad to drop it! He hid near entrance to tunnel and repulsed 3 counterattacks himself using the grenades and his twice liberated Russian Tokarev Pistol. 25 min after reaching tunnel, our brave GIs came up behind Dad while he was yelling at the other German soldiers and civilians to stay in the tunnel. He didn’t want them to know he was alone as one more counterattack may have done him in. The other GIs and their Officer finally showed up, so Officer asked “Who are you?”. Dad replied “Erwin Schmidt PFC, 1st Army Sir”, to which Officer replied “What are you doing here?”. Dad replied “Killing other Germans Sir”, to which Officer replied “Where is your weapon soldier?”. Dad replied “My BAR melted and it’s over there”! Officer ordered one of his GIs to “Arrest this man!” to which Dad assumed to be charged with AWOL being on the wrong side of the river and all. SURPRISE!!!! Officer had captured enemy infiltrator in U.S. uniform, with foreign weapon, shouting warning to other Germans in the tunnel to stay put. Officer then had men prepare to slaughter those in the tunnel when Dad said “Sir, there’s a lot of civilians in there too, so shouldn’t we just ask them to come out?” Officer replied “We could….if we spoke German” to which Dad just cupped hands and yelled for tunnel dwellers to throw down their weapons, come out now and you will not be harmed….I will guarantee your safety. The soldiers and civilians all came out with no more loss of life. Officer pissed as entire trip across they had lost no men, hadn’t been able to kill anyone, and Dad knew he was screwed when Officer complimented him his English was excellent. DAD HAD BEEN BUSTED AS POW FOUND AS INFILTRATOR IN U.S. UNIFORM. These brave GIs needed go ahead from General of 1st Army Hoge to execute, but he was busy forcing as many men, equipment, and armor across bridge as possible so it was next day Dad dragged in front of General and his Aide said it’s the General on the line Sir. Hoge thought that meant Bradly so made him wait a minute then answered AND IT WAS IKE HIMSELF. Ike asked Hoge about this infiltrator he had captured to which he replied was preparing the order to execute and have him front and center this minute. Hoge started answering Ike’s questions with “No not a new uniform, but a well used one General……Yes Sir, very good English……the kind you would learn in Detroit?” Hoge asked Dad if he was from Detroit to which he replied he was. Hoge then addreseds Ike saying “General Sir….he may not be an infiltraitor after all and is from Detroit as you suspected…..No no execution General…..Distinguished Service Cross…Yes Sir tomorrow morning…….Dinner at The Officers’ Mess…Yes Sir…..return his affects…..find him a new weapon……apologize to him on behalf of U.S. Army……get him back on Point so we can continue advance…..Yes Sir, I’ll have this all taken care of in a matter of minutes General Sir…..Thanks very much for your call General. (Ike later stated capturing the bridge at Remagen at that time shortened the war for him by at least 6 months) With that out of the way Hoge reached in his drawer, returned his latest war trophy Dad’s Tokarev Pistol and 7 mags to him, so they and the two MPs headed for the Officers’ Mess. So the upshot of this is shooting your 30.06 can easy get you killed if you shoot it too much!! They’re fun to shoot, but don’t melt your weapon!
I can attest to accuracy of 30.06 furnished by Cadillac Gun Club in 1993. Never shot Garand, so shooting National Match Course, had to attend Familiarization Day, and given 5 precious cartridges. At 200 yds we had 2 sighters plus 3 for effect from 3 different positions. I was on range officer Tom’s sht list as passed on sling entirely as rules stated shooter MAY use a sling on a couple, so Tom had trainer Gary look it up, and sure enough no sling required. Tom had noticed I was sighting w/both eyes open and gigged me on that, so Gary looked it up and I guess you could use 6 eyes if you had ’em. After sighters, took shot prone & put it exactly thru center of bullseye. Tom dam near came apart but Gary calmed him down. Took 2nd shot sitting, and shattered spotter glass out of center of bullseye. Tom may have needed one of those Depends, but Gary calmed him down. Last shot was offhand, and shattered new spotter glass. Tom spittin’ mad marching over to his trunk and replaced my Rifle #6 with Rifle #7. I had to use that piece of junk with rear sight bouncing around barrel every week AND ONLY THE CLUB ARMORER COULD ADJUST RIFLE, but I then resorted to Plan B using rt thumb to park sight assy to far right and visually compensate for bullet to find bullseye. Qualified Expert for entire course, Tom so pissed off wouldn’t hand me my certificate at monthly meeting, so Gary walked up and retrieved certificate for me TO A STANDING OVATION. So to make this long story short, the original 3 shots for effect all dead center in bull with rifle and ammo not capable of that kind of accuracy so it was the design of the 30.06 cartridge design that had won the day.
I’ll put my Weatherby .300 Magnum against anything.
“Jamison International” of Sturgis, South Dakota specializes in hard to find .303 British and 7.92×57 Mauser ammunition using “Cordite” propellant. Worth considering for those that own older Battle Rifles…