5 Most Underrated Rifle Calibers

Various types and sizes of rifle Ammunition calibers of arranged in triangle formation

There are some calibers that just go unnoticed or lose popularity to more modern cartridges.

However, this does not mean that they are worthless.

Here are some of the most underrated rifle calibers that deliver amazing performance.

1. 6.5×55 Swede

At roughly 130 years old (developed in 1891), this caliber has fallen out of favor for “better” performing 6.5 rounds like the 6.5 Creedmoor, the 6.5 PRC, or if you like ARs, the 6.5 Grendel.

With all except the 6.5 Grendel, there is a performance drop. The 6.5×55 Swede is capable of pushing a 140-grain projectile traveling at 2,650 fps.

This is roughly 50 fps slower than the average factory 6.5 CM pushes the same projectile at 2,700 fps.

The 6.5 PRC ups this into the 2,900 fps range, but moves the felt recoil from the 11 to 12-pound range up to around 16 to 18 pounds on a similar weight rifle.

Certainly, that is not huge recoil, but it is a significant increase and inside 200 yards (most people’s deer range) there is minimal advantage to the higher velocity and recoil.

At distances past 400 yards, it may well be worth it from a drop and retained energy perspective.

This round does have a MPBR of roughly 270 yards despite the relatively slow velocity.

In truth, how many of us are comfortable/capable or willing to extend our hunting ranges out to the distances where these advantages actually matter.

Not to mention, how much more awesome is it to harvest deer with a Pre-WWII “battle” rifle as opposed to a cookie-cutter, generic modern rifle. 

6.5x55 Swede ammo box and cartridges

2. 7mm-08 Remington

This cartridge is a necked-down variant of the .308 Winchester cartridge.

This round uses the casing capacity to push a thinner bullet harder, with decreased recoil.

Depending on the projectile weight chosen, it could be as much as 20% lower than a comparable weight from a .308.

The 7mm-08 Remington is also more efficient in shorter barrels than its larger parent.

This allows both the use of carbine and standard-length barrels with a much smaller penalty in the shorter barrels.

Ballistically, a 139-grain 7mm-08 projectile travels at 2,860 fps and provides 2,520 ft/lbs of muzzle energy and close to a 300-yard MPBR.

Other heavier options may be better suited for longer distances, but to keep the numbers comparable, I chose to highlight the +/- 140-grain option.

The .308 Win numbers on that projectile weight are 2,950 fps and 2,710 ft/lbs energy, but has a 20% higher recoil.

7mm-08 Ammo Box Rifle Calibers

 3. .243 Winchester       

I know many of you who are close to my age (50ish) are rolling your eyes.

Who doesn’t already know about the potential associated with the .243 Winchester caliber?

To be perfectly honest, many who are younger than us have been indoctrinated into believing all the hype associated with the need for everything to be big-bore and magnum or ultra magnum.  

This caliber is also a necked-down .308 Winchester. It also reduces the felt recoil, even below that of the 7mm-08 by as much as another 20%.

It also provides a MPBR of 270 yards with a 105-grain bullet at 3,025 fps and 2,130 ft/lbs of muzzle energy.

At the other end of the spectrum, varmint hunting is easily handled with a 55-grain projectile at 4,000 fps and 2,010 ft/lbs of energy.

Please understand the varmint round will bleed energy a lot faster than the heavier bullet.

The more important factor for many shooters, it can do the job comfortably in a package that can easily weigh in at less than seven pounds.

This makes it possible for my mother to hunt deer without being burdened with a heavy rifle on her way to the stand, or paying any significant recoil penalty in practice sessions or when harvesting deer.

.243 Winchester Ammo

4. .280 Rem/.280 Ackley Improved     

I would say the .280 Remington, but if you are going that way, the step up to .280 AI is a no-cost improvement of 200 fps.

The simplest way to work this caliber is to buy factory .280 Remington and shoot it in the AI chamber.

The spent brass will now be .280 AI and provide the increased horsepower and accuracy for future reloading.

This round provides performance nearly identical to 7mm Magnum with a much lower recoil penalty. This is a function of efficient use of powder.

A similar performing round of .280 AI uses 10% less powder.

This goes a long way towards reducing felt recoil and a small way towards cost savings in saved powder.  

In comparison to the 7mm Mag, it also does not use a belted case, which helps to improve accuracy and ease of reloading.

Using a 140-grain projectile, this cartridge pushes at 3,200 fps and 2,800 ft/lbs of muzzle energy and a MPBR of roughly 310 yards.

.280 AI ammo

5. .338 Federal

The .308 Win is a parent case for many calibers, including two listed above. Most often, the choice is to neck-down the case for smaller faster projectiles.

In the case of the .338 Federal, the case has been necked-up. In this instance, it allows the use of a heavier .338 diameter bullet.

The 210-grain bullet produces 2,630 fps and 3,225 ft/lbs of muzzle energy and roughly 23 ft/lbs of recoil in an eight-pound gun.

This round does not exactly produce .375 H&H levels of energy (270-grain projectile, 2,650 fps and 4,100 ft/lbs muzzle energy), but it produces all the energy needed for any game animal or deadly predator in the United States.  

Despite the slower velocity and heavy bullet, the MPBR is 220 yards.

This makes it a very handy choice for close or distant encounters with anything from large deer, to caribou or even bear. It does so without having to endure almost double (38-40 pounds) of recoil found in the African game round.

.338 Federal Ammo

Conclusion: Most Underrated Rifle Calibers

The cartridges on this list have been serving shooters for years, but for one reason or another, have dropped in popularity.

But this does not mean they aren’t amazing choices that will serve you well.

If you choose any of the rifle calibers on this list, you are sure to love it.

What are your favorite underrated rifle calibers? Let us know in the comments section below!

About the Author:

John Bibby

John Bibby is an American gun writer who had the misfortune of being born in the occupied territory of New Jersey. His parents moved to the much freer state of Florida when he was 3. This allowed his father start teaching him about shooting prior to age 6. By age 8, he was regularly shooting with his father and parents of his friends. At age 12, despite the strong suggestions that he shouldn’t, he shot a neighbor’s “elephant rifle."

The rifle was a .375 H&H Magnum and, as such, precautions were taken. He had to shoot from prone. The recoil-induced, grass-stained shirt was a badge of honor. Shooting has been a constant in his life, as has cooking.

He is an (early) retired Executive Chef. Food is his other great passion. Currently, he is a semi-frequent 3-Gun competitor, with a solid weak spot on shotgun stages. When his business and travel schedule allow, you will often find him, ringing steel out well past 600 yards. In order to be consistent while going long, reloading is fairly mandatory. The 3-Gun matches work his progressive presses with volume work. Precision loading for long-range shooting and whitetail hunting keeps the single-stage presses from getting dusty.
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (42)

  1. The .338 Federal is the best short to mid range black bear cartridge ever made. Usable on the bigger critters as well; I wouldn’t hesitate to use it for moose or grizzly.

    As far as magnums go, the only good reason to use a magnum (African dangerous game aside) is for distance, not power. John’s list is on the money.

  2. Love my underrated 6.5 swede. It is chambered in a Winchester model 70. The people on the 6.5 cm bandwagon have never heard of the 6.5 swede. It has been around for over a hundred plus years longer than the 6.5 cm. I have had no trouble finding ammo. I’m stocked up on reloading components also. The swede has a 10 percent more powder capacity than the 6.5cm so it has the capability of a longer range of loads in modern firearms. I have taken many deer with the legendary 30-06. The 6.5×55 swede gets the same one shot kills without the recoil. My wife shoots a .243. It’s a great all around caliber that you can find ammo everywhere.

  3. Underrated from an East Coast perspective where a 200-yard poke is “long”:
    222 Remington the one that spawned many. Frugal with powder.
    22 Hornet way more thump than a rimfire, really frugal with powder. Ask the Inuit.
    .25-20 WCF sadly Winchester no longer loads the 60 gr RNHP that made it awesome.
    .257 Roberts and .250 Savage.
    Agreement on the 6.5 Swede and 7×57 Mauser mentioned above, particularly with heavy bullets.
    300 Savage. “The” Maine Woods Gun of the last Century.
    Agreement on the .280 Remington, one of the nicest cartridges ever.
    Agreement on the .35 Remington, I’ve seen it be the “Finger of God” on many a whitetail and black bear. Dead before their knees hit the ground.
    .357 Remington Maximum in a T/C or custom bolt rifle. Hodgon’s Lil Gun + Hornady’s obsolete 180 gr SSP bullets. Not for the recoil shy, great for those who need a light rifle with 1-and-done performance.

  4. New to guns love reading articles like this, only have 5 basic protection guns right now but I do enjoy the range and the sport of it. Would love to add to my collection.

  5. .338 Federal is potent medicine on even the largest and toughest hogs!
    So too, with the right bullets, is .303 British!

  6. LOL

    If HAROLD W. HAY stopped a grizzly at two hundred yards with a 32 Special it died of cardiac arrest from the muzzle blast.

  7. Very nice list of great calibers. I have been teaching pistol craft as a martial art and rifle for the past 35 years. I have several AR15’s set up for fighting. I could never understand going to the the .223 when we already have the .243. An AR with a .243 upper, given a 16 inch barrel would be the ideal battle rifle for me. Hunting would be ideal, given some good training and experience, to keep distances within 300 yards.

  8. Thumbs sown on 35 Rem.Using Hornady Leverevolution projectile projectiles,one can load 358Win in a tubular magazine.

  9. For the 6.5mm fans,wouldn’t the 260Rem these days be a cheaper choice: either factory or [made from 308Win/7.62×51 NATO]brass?
    Yes I have heard good reports about the 6.5×55 Swede but ammo or brass availability…

  10. Harvested my first whitetail and many others in my youth with my beloved 300 Savage lever action, with the brass shell counter. Best rifle made in my opinion. Great caliber.

  11. I love my 300 Savage 99F manufactured in 1957. I hand load 150gr. Nosler Partitions. IMR 4895. Nice and light and fast. Excellent for deer, bear and Moose.

  12. Although it’s fallen off off the radar .338-06 is a formidible cartridge. It does not offer any reduced recoil which seemed to be a theme with a lot of the offerings in this piece. I’m not a small man so it’ much less of an issue for me and I have access to reloading so that option adds to the appeal. Plus it will dumpster ANY sized whitetail deer leading to greatly reduced tracking/loss of an animal.

  13. I really wish that someone would print an article on softer recoiling rifle rounds for us shooters that have damaged shoulders. I cant shoot my .338 win mag and had to switch from 12 gauge to a rather heavy 20 gauge to be able to shoot at all. I haven’t been able to find many articles on lighter recoil factory rounds as of today, but I will continue to look.

  14. My all time favorite underrated caliber is 35 Whelen. In a rifle with a barrel having the correct twist rate which it was otinghally designed to have, 1 in 12″, it is exceptionally versatile. It can handle bullets up to 280 grains (the max currently available), making it equal to the 9.3 x 62 Mauser except for the .008″ bullet diameter difference and being African legal for large game without a special permit.

    I also agree with the 6.5×55 Swede and .280 Remington.

    In the Swede’s case, you have to be careful that the ammo and chamber match. Again, US commercial rifles have a tendency to use chamber dimensions based on the 30-06 cartridge which is a mistake. The Swede’s dimensions are slightly different. For a real treat, use the 156-160 gr. RN bullet with which it was originally designed. You will understand why it has killed moose and other large game worldwide. It’s esp[ecially good if you have an older rifle that has a chamber designed for it and not the140 gr spitzer.

  15. I have been a fan of the 6.5 x 55 Swedish Mauser for the last 40 years. I have loaded it for a modern M98 type action rifle (Husquarna) and with a 140 grain Nosler partition traveling in the 2800 fps range have take several deer. One was a a 100+ yard distance and I was able to see the devastating energy unleashed upon that animal. It was literally slammed to the ground. Never more than one shot needed. An outstanding deer cartridge.
    What about the 7.5 x 55 Swiss cartridge in a K31 rifle? That is also a fun and accurate cartridge.

  16. This is actually a list that is well thought out with useful ballistics information. Maybe rifles on here that would be useful in ammo shortage if you had some of the components.

  17. I agree with the author’s opinions on most of these choices. I have a 7-08 in a fairly light 22” barrel. After working up reloads, it easily shoots under 1 moa, and a couple loads are capable of less than half that. One of those less than 0.5moa loads in my gun is a 150gr Nosler ballistic tip ahead of a near max charge of 760, clocking in at 2750fps. That’s significantly higher energy than the author’s stated 139gr load.

  18. Like all your picks, as my friend hunts whitetail and elk with his 280 and has been successful for years. I would add the .35 Remington to your list.although an older cartridge, my family and friends have used this cartridge (standard and Hornady load) for whitetail and feral hogs in Alabama for years.

  19. My favorite white tail rifle is my Remington 700BDL in 257 Ackley Improved talk about a hot round.
    All the deer taken with this rifle have been one shot one kill.

  20. I’ve hunted with the .243 and .280 and they were one shot kills every time. I’ve hunted with a lot of calibers but these are my favorite. I’m more into handgun hunting now. I’ve purchased a .243 handgun and looking forward hunting with it.

  21. The Swedish model 96 is one of the best military rifle I ever fired. Accurate, exceptionally well made and a great trigger. The 6.5X55 is a true classic round, very underrated!

  22. This is a great article for those looking for reasonably priced rifles. As time goes by you might have difficulty finding ammo, unless you reload. Of course we are all finding ammo scarce for any caliber today.

  23. I haven’t shot any of the rifles mentioned here with the exception of the 243. my wife shoots one and so does one of my daughter’s in law. they both love shooting them and I know that at about 453 yards, one of my friends (an avid hunter, gun store owner and gunsmith) shot his big horn sheep a number of years ago.

  24. I once had a Winchester 32 special. Best gun I’ve ever had. Stopped a grizzly at two hundred yards. My alcoholic father stole it.Sold it for fifty dollars.Never spoke to him again. I wish I had it now.

  25. I have an ar15 chambered in 6x45mm/223 I built. Great shooting round. Easy to handload for, accuracy is great with the 70 gr bullet i use. Recoil is less than a 223 with the setup i have.

  26. Liked reading this article. There are so many great cartridges that are forgotten in the quest for the newest wiz bang, think you could have at lest a dozen more to add to your list. With modern ammo and rifles, the cartridges mentioned are more than a match for almost anything most hunters would want to shoot. Only wish that the 30/30 was on the list. Think what could be done with the current powders and bullets.

  27. How about the 6 MM? It is a good alternative to the 243. Ammo is a little hard to find at times though. Current factory ammo specs showing the 6mm Rem. 100-grain load exiting at 3,100 fps, and the .243 Win. at 2,960 fps. My wife, youngest son and now my 9 year old grandson downed their first deer and many more with this cartridge. Low recoil too.

  28. I have another underrated caliber rifle, a pre-81 Belgium made Browning .358 lever action. I shoot 200 grain bullets and it has great knockdown power for large game but only about a 200-250 yd range. I mostly hunt thickets so no problem but ammo can be hard to find. Can’t buy it at big box stores. CTD has the best prices I’ve found and usually in stock.

  29. Amen to this list! I grew up in Germany and my dad was one of the most avid hunters I met in my life. The .243 Win. was and is hugely popular caliber there for the common roe deer that is ever present across Europe. It can even be hunted with the .222 Rem (which is popular in EU vs the .223 Rem. which is not; strange huh). Moving up to big game the red elk or razorback hogs 30-06 and several big mm calibers are common there. My dad hunted moose with his .300 Weatherby Magnum. THe hardest hammer is 9.3×64 a high power round with brutal recoil.

  30. 6 MM Remington. Fifty-five years ago got a Remington 40BD Spotter a factory custom.
    27″ barrel and a 2x7x Redfield scope. One shot at 425 yards. The died and the bullet entered at the heart and exited just behind the left leg.
    Accuracy is more important than brute force.

  31. 25 yrs ago I needed a rifle for the hunt and had sold the one I had for marriage. I picked up a m96 Swede for around 90 dollars. I never imagined a caliber could thump that hard for such little recoil. I had to sell my nice military Swedes, I’d bought a couple more when they were still cheap, when times were hard. But I still have one that someone had sporterized so wasn’t worth much to sell but is an honest tack driver worth keeping.

    Funny, my other main hunting rifle is a 280.

  32. I agree about the 7mm08 but thumbs down on the 7mmSAUM,338Feederaql and 243 Winchester: better the 358Winchester or 9.3×61 Mauser and 259 Savage or 25/06,Bad as the profiteering/gouging is these days,358Win is easily made from 308Win/7.62x51NATO,the 30-06 makes 8.3×62 Mauser,,the 30-06 makes 25/06.The 250 Savage is fun in a Savage 99.

  33. Of all of the calibers the author mentioned, I happen to own a rifle chambered in just one of those he mentioned. It is the 6.5×55 Swedish Mauser. My particular rifle is a Model 96 Carl Gustaf dated 1901. It is a very pleasant shooting rifle that was given to me quite a number of years ago by my sister after her husband died. He had been a gun collector and had a large number of guns that most of his children had their eyes on. There was no interest for this particular gun, so she asked me about it.

    When she asked me if I was interested in this gun, I said yes very quickly. My grandparents came from Sweden, making my father a first generation American; consequently I grew up in a Swedish speaking family, so for me this was a gun that I was pleased to add to my collection. And I was happy to tell her, “Tack så mycket!” or “Thanks so much!”

    When I got the gun, I put it away until I had more time. I got it out a couple of times to take to the range, and found it to be accurate and very pleasant to shoot, but that was the extent of it for several years. It was a number of years before I really took the time to do some research on its capabilities. One of the things that I found interesting is this caliber is preferred by many in Scandinavia for hunting moose in Norway, Finland, and Sweden. One source I found said that more moose have been killed by this round than any other caliber in Europe. I am thinking, if it is has taken moose in Scandinavia and Northern Europe, it should be a very good deer rifle for the rather small whitetails that live in south central Oklahoma.

    This last deer gun season, this was the rifle that I carried every time I went out. Where I am hunting now, there are few places where we have stands that allow for shots more than 75 yards. There are only a couple where, if I chose those spots, we might have a 100-125 yard shot. As luck would have it, neither my best friend nor I saw any deer during the entire gun season. The only deer I saw during archery were small bucks during the first couple of weeks of October that we passed on, only to not see any deer at all after late October.

    Anyway, I will be taking my Swedish Mauser out as my primary gun this next fall. I cannot wait to see how it does on any deer that passes through my chosen hunting spot.

  34. The 6.5 x 55 Swede is perfectly capable of outperforming its later brethren, and in European loads it often does. The American factory loading community’s reticence to match or exceed the competitors is grounded in the fear that someone may fire a hot load in an elderly rifle not up to the task of containing the pressure. Given our sue-happy culture, this is not an unreasonable precaution. It is the same logic used for downloading most 45-70 factory offerings, despite the far greater potential of this cartridge in strong actions.

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