Pick the Right Rifle Caliber
- Bullet The construction of the projectile has a major influence on the success of the cartridge.
- Neck Holds the bullet in place and aligns it with the rifling.
- Shoulder Modern cases have sharper shoulders–30 degrees or more–than older ones. It’s thought that this gives a cleaner, more efficient burn to the powder.
- Case Always made of brass. There’s nothing better.
- Powder It can be either spherical (ball) or extruded (log) and ranges in burning rate from fast to slow, depending on the bullet weight, case capacity, and case shape.
- Taper Modern cases have very little body taper; older ones have a lot. Low taper makes room for more powder, but cases with high body taper feed more reliably.
- Rim Rimless cases have rims that barely extend beyond the extraction groove. Rimmed cases lack the groove and have wider rims.
- Base The base of the case carries the primer pocket and the headstamp, which designates caliber and make.
- Primer Composed of a cup, anvil, and a small charge of explosive compound. Primers come in several sizes, and there are some with longer-sustaining flames, for magnum charges of slow powder.
Most opinions about cartridges are formed by a combination of shuck, jive, ad copy, and friends’ ill-informed advice. On these pages you will find the truth, always unglamorous, sometimes downright ugly. And one of the ugliest facts is this: Choice of cartridge ranks fairly low in determining whether you will succeed as a hunter. If you’re a good shot, it doesn’t matter much what you use. On the other hand, choosing the wrong round can screw you up royally. With that contradiction firmly in mind, here are top choices in each category.
Light in the hands, easy on the wallet, these rimfire rounds are the perfect choice for hunting squirrels and rabbits. These are also used on short-range varmints.
- .22 Long Rifle
- .22 Winchester Magnum Rimfire
- .17 Hornady Magnum Rimfire
Long-range, flat-shooting, hyper-accurate calibers with light recoil.
- .223 Remington
- .220 Swift
- .22/250 Remington
VARMINTS AND BIG GAME
Heavier bullets than straight varmint rounds make these a choice for deer hunters as well.
- 6mm Remington
- .257 Roberts
- .243 Winchester
BIG GAME: THE LIGHT KICKERS
These calibers are powerful enough to drop deer in their tracks but light enough to shoot enough to make you accurate enough to do it.
- 7X57 Mauser
- 7mm/08 Remington
- .308 Winchester
- 6.5X55 Swede
BIG GAME: THE ALL-AROUND ROUNDS
For everything in between antelope and moose, these calibers excel.
- .30/06 Springfield
- .270 Winchester
- .280 Remington
BIG GAME AT LONG RANGE
These calibers are ballistically capable of killing elk and bear some four football fields away. They demand similar capabilities from whoever pulls the trigger.
- .300 Weatherby Magnum
- .270 Winchester Short Magnum
- 7mm Weatherby Magnum
HEAVY OR DANGEROUS NORTH AMERICAN GAME
These are large, tough calibers for large, tough game. Warning: They kick both ways.
- .338 Winchester Magnum
- .338 Remington Ultra Mag
- .340 Weatherby
- .325 Winchester Short Magnum