Picking A Rifle Cartridge? Let’s
Narrow The Playing Field First.
When discussions around the campfire turn to “favorite cartridges” I usually go take a walk. My own hierarchy of importance goes about like this: (1) shooting ability, (2) bullet selection, (3) rifle selection, (4) cartridge selection.
Still, a rifle has to be chambered for something. Telling a new shooter any one of 50 cartridges would work isn’t always being helpful. Here are a few caliber-by-caliber suggestions in three categories:
Sentimental Favorites (SF). These are generally associated with a favorite rifle and/or a lot of use.
Practical Reality (PR). Real-world cartridges, which are widely distributed, with a good selection of loaded ammunition, bullets and rifles.
Overlooked Gems (OG). Here are cartridges, which, in my opinion, should be more popular than they are.
SF: .222 Remington. I keep a good stockpile of Remington brass on hand so I never worry about ammunition being hard to find. Light 36 to 40-grain bullets really put spring in the old gal’s step.
PR: .223 Remington. Why? It’s a no-brainer—tons of high quality brass, dozens of rifle choices, excellent performance, long barrel life and outstanding accuracy.
OG: .220 Swift. The Swift has an illustrious history (4,000+ fps prior to WWII) and remains the ultimate .22 factory speedster.
Good rifles and good cartridges include (left to right) the
Ed Brown Damara 7mm-08 with a Leupold 2.5-8×36, Remington 700
Ti .30-06, with a Leupold 2.5-6×36, Remington 600 Mohawk .308
with a Kollmorgen 2.5X, Ruger M77 Compact Magnum .300 RCM
with a Redfield 3-9×40.
SF/PR: .243 Winchester. I bought my first .243, a Remington 700, in 1975 and have owned quite a few since.
OG: .240 Weatherby. If speed is what you want, the .240 WM provides it, and now it’s chambered in the “best buy” Weatherby Vanguard S2.
SF: (tie) .250 Savage, .257 Roberts, .257 Weatherby. I like all my quarter-bore rifles (though they are seldom twisted right), even though the .25-caliber bullet selection is a bit slim.
PR: .25-06 Remington. In wildcat form it preceded the .270, and in factory form is the most popular of the .25’s.
SF: .264 Winchester Magnum. Like its near-twin, the .257 Weatherby, the .264 is loud, inefficient and hard on barrels. But I love them both. Sometimes even the most hardheaded realist likes to put the pedal to the metal.
PR: Can’t think of one, which is a shame. Closest is the .260 Remington. If only rifles and ammo were more widely available. . .
OG: .260 Remington, 6.5×55 Swede. Load either up with super-slick, high BC bullets for great downrange performance combined with long barrel life and moderate recoil.
SF/PR: .270 Winchester. I’ve used the .270 for more than 40 years, and shot more game with it than any other cartridge. One of the all-time greats, it’s both a sentimental and practical favorite.
PR/SF: 7mm-08 Remington. I didn’t start using the 7mm-08 until the late 1980’s, and then only after I started borrowing my wife Simone’s little Browning Micro Medallion. A very practical cartridge, it has become one of my “sentimental favorites” as well.
OG: (tie) .280 Remington, .284 Winchester, 7mm Mauser. All are outstanding—the only negatives are limited rifle selection. If I had only one big-game rifle, I could get along with any one of the five cartridges listed in this category.
Looking for a combo to reach out a long ways, and hit hard when it arrives? This Weatherby Mk V (above, left) in .340 Wby, with a Nightforce 2.5-10×32 will do it, if you don’t mind the sharp recoil. Dave likes all quarter bores, but the king of them all is the .257 Weatherby (above, right), here chambered in a Vanguard Sub-MOA with a Zeiss Victory scope. An 80-grain Barnes TSX at 3,800 fps makes it a superior pronghorn proposition.
SF/PR: 7mm Remington Magnum. I’ve shot a fair bit of game with this cartridge in two fine rifles, an older Sako L-61 Finnbear and a Remington 700. If I have an objection to it, it’s because the rifles for it are a bit heavy.
OG: .270 Weatherby. This one I’ve never owned or even fired, but I like the
ballistics. It’s a favorite of Ed Weatherby, who knows a bit about the performance of his various proprietary cartridges.
SF: .30-06. Duh. Guy likes the ’06. How original can you get? Even when hunting with another rifle, one of my pre-’64 Model 70’s in .30-06 generally goes along as a spare.
PR: .308 Winchester. It’s available in just about any rifle configuration you can imagine, and with a wide array of ammunition choices.
OG: .300 Ruger Compact Magnum. The Ruger RCM is actually closer to ’06 capacity than .30 magnum capacity. The Ruger Compact Magnum rifles—no longer listed—are absolutely superb hunting rifles; compact, perfectly balanced, fast-handling, with just a bit more zip than factory ’06 loads and with mild recoil. Someday the rifle world will realize what they missed.
SF/PR: .300 Winchester Magnum. I think I’ve shot more game with the .300 Win Mag than with any other cartridge except for the .270 Win. With it, a tough 180-grain bullet such as the Barnes TSX at 3,000 fps, is a wicked performer.
OG: .300 Weatherby Magnum. This one is considered by many to the best of the .30 magnums. The only negative about it is limited rifle/ammunition choices.
The .222 has lost a lot of popularity, but not its accuracy and pleasant shooting qualities. This BSA Hunter (above, left) was made in the early 1950’s on a short Brno action and wears an older Leupold 6X. Dave can be a sentimental old coot! He’s still fond of the .250-3000, whether it’s chambered in a 1946-vintage Savage 99 or a Ruger M77 (above, right).
SF: .340 Weatherby. As I get older, the fast, hard recoil of my fairly light .340 is becoming more than I want to manage, though a shift to tough bullets under 200 grains helps.
PR: .338 Winchester Magnum. This is not only a great cartridge, its success really established the .33 as a popular bore size.
OG: .338 Ruger Compact Magnum. The same comments apply to the .338 RCM as to the .300 RCM.
SF/PR: .375H&H. It’s tough to say something new about the .375 H&H. It’s only been the best all-around, “hunt anything, anywhere” cartridge for the last century. Apparently there is some law against criticizing it, at least no one ever does.
OG: .375 Ruger. This short .375 has virtually identical ballistics to the H&H in a rimless case designed to fit most bolt actions. Rifle and ammunition choices seem to be increasing, a nice sign.
By Dave Anderson