“What is the best all-around cartridge for hunting big game in North America?” is one of the most common questions I get.
There are many good things to choose from. We have been successful because hunting methods have changed over time, optics have gotten better, and more advanced ammunition has been made.
Still, “all-around” may be a word that is open to interpretation, and it could lead to a debate.
There is a lot of overlap in how well our many cartridges work, so just because I talk about five that I think are especially good doesn’t mean the others are useless.
Some of the cartridges I use are useful, but others are just for fun or because they are special to me.
Lastly, I think it’s important for an all-purpose cartridge to work well both close up and far away, and on both big and small animals.
Here are my top five suggestions for hunting big game in North America, like pigs, deer, antelope, moose, elk, and bears, with an eye toward both ammo availability (remember when the shelves were full?) and general performance.
1. .30-06 Springfield
I guess you knew that was coming, though. This cartridge was made to replace the.30-03 Springfield in the military, but its 1906 design has worked well on hunting grounds for more than a century.
Most bullets weigh between 150 and 200 grains, but you can get bullets that weigh as little as 110 grains (mostly reserved for the.30 M1 carbine).
The.30-06 Springfield is a true utility player because it works well at a wide range of distances and has a recoil that is easy to handle. I’ve used it to kill axis deer, black bears, and whitetails, and I wouldn’t think twice about grabbing one to kill a moose or elk.
Even though there are other cartridges like the.308 Winchester that can do similar things, the.30-06 is a great all-around choice because it is easy to find both ammunition and rifles for it. Ask Dr. J.Y. Jones or read about Grancel Fitz’s adventures to find out that all you need in North America is a.30-06.
2. 7mm Remington Magnum
Only.30 calibers are more popular for hunting big game, but the 7mm bore diameter is a close second.
There are also a few other solid cartridges that can fire 7mm bullets, but none of them are as popular or easy to get as the 7mm Remington Magnum.
The 7mm Rem. Mag. can reliably shoot 175-grain bullets. It has a shorter Holland & Holland belted case.
Even though I like the.280 Ackley best, the 7mm Remington Magnum is a better choice because it is more effective and more people have access to it.
The 7mm Remington Magnum can be loaded with a wide range of bullet weights, from 140-grain deer bullets to 160- and 175-grain bonded-core bullets for larger animals.
This makes it a very versatile cartridge, even though it may take some time to get used to the recoil.
3. .338 Winchester Magnum
The.338 Winchester Magnum is popular in Alaska because it is a versatile cartridge that shoots flat trajectories and has enough power to kill large coastal brown bears with ease when used with heavy 250-grain slugs.
When loaded with lighter bullets, it shoots like a.300 Magnum, and it’s a better all-around choice than most people realize. The Barnes 160-grain TTSX flat base is my go-to bullet for deer and other animals about the same size.
Alaskan guides need to be flexible because their daily tasks can range from getting close to big bears to following animals like caribou, sheep, and mountain goats that are 400 to 500 yards away.
The.338 Win. Mag., which is based on a shorter H&H belted case, can be put in a regular long-action cartridge. This means that the rifles can stay on the lighter side, keeping a great balance when moving through the mountains or willow thickets.
It may be overkill for smaller species like pronghorn antelope or Coues’ deer, but if you plan on focusing on hunting the larger animals that inhabit our continent, this is the best option.
4. 6.8 Western
After trying out the WSM idea for more than a year, I haven’t found a single flaw in the way it’s being used now. Even though I can already hear the.270 Winchester fans crying, I’ve decided to go with the 6.8 Western.
This isn’t because the.270 Winchester isn’t enough, but because the 6.8 Western is more than enough. Because the twist rate of the 6.8 Western has been changed to fit bullets that are too long and heavy for standard.270 cartridges, it can shoot bullets that weigh between 165 and 175 grains at reasonable speeds (the 165-grain AccuBond load travels at a muzzle velocity of 2,970 feet per second).
Higher sectional density guarantees better penetration, especially on big animals like elk and moose, and the increased ballistic coefficient (BC) of these longer rounds helps them keep more energy at all distances.
The 6.8 Western is based on the.270 WSM, but it has been shortened to fit longer bullets like the Nosler AccuBond and the Sierra GameKing. I haven’t seen any problems with feeding with this cartridge. It comes in a short-action rifle that is easy to carry and works well.
It seems to be on enough shelves to keep the rifles fed, and I think hunters will continue to choose it for years to come, especially if you like the.277-inch bore diameter.
5. .300 Winchester Magnum
Americans love.300 Magnums, and while the.30-06 Springfield will always be the most popular, the.300 Winchester Magnum has quickly moved to the top of the list.
The.300 Winchester was released in 1963. It is based on the H&H belted design, but the case opening and shoulder have been moved forward to hold more powder.
A.300 Winchester never let me down when I was hunting black bear in the thick forests of the Catskill Mountains, pronghorn in Wyoming, or beautiful aoudad on the mesas of West Texas.
This cartridge, which can shoot a 180-grain bullet at 2960 feet per second, has some advantages over the.30-06 in terms of trajectory and power.
It’s not as fast as the.300 Weatherby Magnum or the.300 Remington Ultra Magnum, but it’s much easier on the shoulder.
Before you criticize my whole life because I didn’t pick your favorite cartridge, ask yourself if you would turn down any hunt in North America if you had to use one of the ones I listed above.
They may not be your first picks and they may not have much sexual appeal, but they are reliable and effective in a variety of hunting situations.