Until you’re fortunate enough to shoot at an elk, the cartridge in your rifle matters no more than the size of your boots. As elk can be devilishly hard to find, you’ll want to make good on every chance. But the fact of the matter is a clean kill depends more on your marksmanship than the cartridge. The elk has a hand in the results too.

Many moons ago in a Douglas fir thicket, I got the drop on a spike bull and sent him a softpoint from my .375 H&H. Overgunned, you say? At 30 steps even iron sights afforded true aim. The 300-gr. RN got both lungs but rather than drop obligingly, this elk simply loped off through the timber.

Some seasons later I closed on another spike in the aspens. At the snap of my .30-30 carbine, the animal wilted.

Okay, the elk I laced with 4,300 ft.-lbs. of .375 mayhem didn’t go far, while the other one took the 170-gr. SP from my lever carbine high in its neck where even 1,800 ft.-lbs. weren’t needed. Nothing proven. Besides, those elk were in cover. No one shoots elk in cover anymore. Hunters belly down behind a bipod on a butte, tap their smart-phone for dope, then dial the scope to arc a bullet as long as a ballpoint pen into the next county.