Rifle hunters are part adventurers, part students, and part research scientists.
You’re always prepared and never stop asking, is there something better and more effective I could be using?
Your range time is valued and non-negotiable.
You spend time talking to friends and employees at your favorite gun counter, as well as sifting through online forums and YouTube videos to answer the question – which is the best caliber for me and what I’m hunting?
Without trying to stir up a hornet’s nest about which caliber is best overall – we’ll cover our list of the best rifle hunting calibers by species to help you decide what gun and caliber is right for you and your pursuits.
Best Deer Hunting Calibers
.270 – It’s been said by many rifle hunters that the .270 will take any big game animal in North America.
That’s certainly debatable, but the .270’s track record of success is hard to deny.
When looking for an easily accessible and accurate cartridge that you can use on deer in Pennsylvania, Kansas, and Montana – you could hardly be laughed out of camp when you use this storied cartridge.
.30-06 – A classic that has been argued as “overkill” for deer hunting, the .30-06 is yet another cartridge that has been successful for hundreds of deer seasons.
So many rifle hunters have been handed down a rifle with this heirloom caliber which will work as a perfect across-the-board big game cartridge. So, if you have one and like it, by all means, be proud to use it.
30-30 – The image of so many hunters’ first few rifle seasons can usually find a cold, snowy morning, in a tree stand bundled up like an arctic explorer with a lever action 30-30 laid across their lap.
This short shooting cartridge has been labeled as a “scrub brush” or as a “saddle gun.”
Many a tag has been filled though from the business end of a 30-30 and if you’re getting started, or inherited one, don’t be so quick to trade it in.
Popular Deer Hunting Calibers:
Best Bear Hunting Calibers
.308 Winchester – Black bear hunting leaves hunters to prepare for long-range shots, and oftentimes, quick short-range shots.
The .308 Winchester delivers in both scenarios if the bear just came out of the mountain laurel 30 yards away on a drive, or if it pops out in a clearing around 200 yards away.
In both cases, you still have the knockdown power to give you the confidence to take the safety off and settle into the scope.
7mm Remington Magnum – Some could call this cartridge “too much gun,” others could call it necessary, either way, you would never be blamed for going with some extra power in the bear woods.
Also, a good choice for those chasing the “all-around best cartridge,” there are a variety of designs for closer shots in the east and longer shots should you find yourself heading out west.
.300 Winchester Magnum – If you’ve ever been at the range when someone is sighting in their rifle with this cartridge, you know it quickly. The sound and kick are the physical examples of power out of a rifle cartridge.
The long-time choice for hunters from bear up to moose, the .300 Win Mag has knockdown power in spades when you need to be sure your well-placed shot will put a trip to the check station as your next stop for the day.
By all means, include the previously listed deer hunting cartridges, these are just a few more options to consider.
Popular Bear Hunting Calibers:
7mm Remington Magnum
.300 Winchester Magnum
Best Predator Hunting Calibers
.223 – The noticeable rise of coyote populations has forced residents from farm country to downtown apartment buildings to ask the question “what to do?”
Most of us today grew up never even hearing about a coyote, much less seen one.
Enter the .223 as the overall choice by most looking to cull some of those packs and accept a new hunting challenge.
It’s an available, accurate, light-carrying cartridge that will succeed in most predator-hunting situations.
If a predator problem has found its way onto your property, this is a great cartridge to go to.
.17 HMR – A fantastic and versatile lighter cartridge is the .17 HMR.
For the predator hunter looking for the least amount of pelt damage for display or selling, this cartridge delivers knock-down power without destroying the hide.
If you’re worried about only using it a small part of the year, the .17 HMR works great as a squirrel and fall turkey cartridge where rifle-hunting turkeys are legal.
.22-250 – So many shots on predators, coyotes especially, are in large open areas like cut agriculture fields.
Hunters can find themselves with game ranging from 20 yards to 250 yards away.
The .22-250 has delivered on that need with a proven accurate and flat shooting cartridge season after season.
It’s a widely available cartridge that has become a favorite of home re-loaders as well.
Ask predator hunting pros, and most will tell you this is the cartridge to have for your coyote control.
Popular Predator Hunting Calibers:
Best Elk Hunting Calibers
If you’re lucky enough to win a tag lottery to chase elk in the east, or out west, you don’t want to come up short.
Falling in the same category of needs for accuracy and knock-down power as large deer or bear, here are our choices for cartridges with their attributes listed in the species above.
Popular Elk Hunting Calibers:
.308 Winchester Magnum
7mm Remington Magnum
Best Small Game Hunting Calibers
Have you got a youngster running around just getting started with their hunting career?
Welcome them with the time-honored tradition of small game hunting.
It has just the right amount of excitement and availability of game to chase as the perfect gateway into a lifetime of hunting enjoyment.
Species like rabbits, squirrels, and even grouse can be a challenging chase for hunters of any age.
Look to these suggestions for a place to start, or step up, your small game hunting cartridge.
Popular Small Game Calibers:
.22 Long Rifle
Honorable Mention: 6.5 Creedmoor
A word on the 6.5 Creedmoor. The recent popularity and subsequent cross-examination of 6.5 Creedmoor enthusiasts probably need their own post.
Hailed as light and accurate, checking all of the boxes sought after by rifle hunters, it’s been celebrated and condemned.
The truth is, not enough generations have used it to cure it into the rifle hunting culture.
A lot of power with little recoil from what started as a target load has gotten high marks from the field in recent years.
We hope you’ve found this post helpful in deciding what calibers to choose!
At the end of the day, what works best for you and your hunt may differ from the next hunter and that’s fine.
If it’s ethically effective, accurate, and comfortable then by all means let us know so we can share it with the large community of BlackHeart members.
If you didn’t see your favorite caliber, let us know!
For more content related to trigger sports and shooting sports, visit the rest of our BlackHeart blog archive here.