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Written By
Ron Spomer

Up to date Aug 8, 2023 4:23 PM

Elk are a giant deal as a result of they’re a giant deer, and thus require large elk calibers. Elk carry sufficient venison on the hoof to counsel a giant cartridge and large bullet. Use sufficient gun, sufficient caliber, and sufficient cartridge and bullet to ask them to dinner. However not a lot that you just’re afraid to shoot it. 

That is the unlucky commerce off. Any cartridge in a caliber large enough to hit an elk laborious hits you laborious, too. Worry of recoil ruins the perfect laid plans of mice and males, and that’s why selecting the perfect elk cartridge requires thorough analysis and sincere evaluation. This evaluate might help with that. Let me confess that I, too, think about these “greatest caliber” articles overdone and fairly subjective, however by hashing them again and again, we achieve insights. 

Earlier than we start, you need to perceive that it is a spherical up of the perfect calibers and cartridges for elk, not essentially the preferred ones. And I write “calibers and cartridges” as a result of “caliber” means the diameter of the bore. “Cartridge” means the case that holds the powder that drives the bullet. The .30/30, .300 Savage, .30/06, .300 Win. Magazine., and .300 RUM are all 30 calibers, however considerably completely different 30-caliber cartridges. Hunters usually however incorrectly use the perfect elk “calibers” to imply cartridge, however I’ll use calibers for the sake of this evaluate. 

The ultimate arbiters of the Finest elk calibers are you and the elk, however listed below are my prime 5 that I selected for his or her steadiness of energy, attain, recoil, trajectory (drop and drift,) availability, affordability in fairly compact, mild, “mountain prepared” rifles.  

  • 7mm Rem. Magazine. (Go .280 AI within the lightest rifles)
  • .300 Win. Magazine. (With the appropriate 200-grain bullet, each bit as efficient because the .338 Win. Magazine.)
  • .338 Win. Magazine. 
  • .30/06 Springfield (You possibly can’t not acknowledge the plain functionality of this outdated struggle horse.) 
  • .270 Winchester (Simply too profitable a observe report to disregard. Substitute with the 6.8 Western or 6.5 PRC in the event you should go fashionable.)

Finest Elk Looking Calibers: Evaluations and Suggestions

Finest Balanced: .338 Winchester Magnum

338 Win Mag

The final consensus is that this outdated, belted magnum is the perfect caliber for elk looking. That’s, the perfect of the perfect for terminating elk with out beating up shooters. It has a close to excellent steadiness of size, width, energy, and recoil. With the appropriate bullets, it may well truly hit tougher than the 375 H&H Magnum at longer ranges. 

The .338 Win. Magazine. arrived in 1958 as a brief magnum derived from the .375 H&H belted magnum case. “Quick” within the Elvis period meant customary or 30/06 size: 3.340-inches general cartridge size, down from the three.6-inches of the guardian cartridge. This meant the .338 Win. Magazine. could possibly be chambered in the usual Mannequin 70 rifles of the day and finally most different customary size bolt motion rifles. Suppose Remington M700s, Savage M110s, Ruger M77s, and even the Browning Autoloading Rifle. Any rifle robust sufficient to comprise the 7mm Rem. Magazine. or .264 Win. Magazine. will deal with the .338 Win. Magazine. as a result of most common chamber stress is 64,000 psi. That’s 1,000 psi lower than the little .22/250 Remington.  

Winchester’s authentic loadings included a 200-grain bullet rated 3,000 fps, a 250-grain at 2,700 fps, and a heavy 300-grain at 2,450 fps from 24-inch barrels. At this time most ammo makers additionally provide 225-grain bullets in a wide range of managed enlargement configurations that retain mass effectively sufficient to penetrate higher than the unique 250-grain cup/core types whereas delivering equal, typically extra muzzle power because of increased muzzle velocity. Most 225-grain manufacturing unit masses are rated 2,750 to 2,800 fps, sufficient velocity to place about 3,900 ft-lb of power into that little bullet. As compared a 250-grain slug at 2,600 fps will churn up simply 3,750 ft-lb.

With good kind, a ship tail 225-grain .338 slug ought to charge a B.C. within the mid .4s to low .5s, adequate to offer most level clean vary of 320 to 340 yards on a 10-inch goal zone. At 300 yards that bullet ought to nonetheless carry almost 2,700 ft-lb power, which is near what a 180-grain .308 Winchester coughs up on the muzzle. Elk don’t like several of this. 

However elk stopping efficiency usually comes with a worth: recoil. The 225-grain load in an eight-pound rifle ought to generate about 40.8 ft-lb of recoil power. Heft as much as a 10-pound rifle and kick will calm to simply 32.7 ft-lb. 

Handloaders report optimum efficiency with a smooth, excessive B.C., 225-grain bullet pushed to a powerful 2,882 fps from a 24-inch barrel. Zeroed 3.3 inches excessive at 100 yards, that projectile will drop simply two inches at 300 yards, deflect simply 5 inches in a ten mph proper angle wind, and cling to 2,866 ft-lb power. You’ll recognize that form of efficiency in the event you can deal with the recoil. 

Different .338 Choices

The 33-caliber has grow to be a crowded household, and all members are greater than appropriate for elk. Some shoot quicker and hit tougher than the .338 Win. Magazine., some much less. Throw the wonderful 32 calibers into the combination, the .325 WSM and 8mm Rem. Magazine., and elk hardly know the distinction. On the mild finish is the .338 Federal, the .308 Winchester case necked up. It’ll solely hit 2,400 fps or so with a 225-grain bullet, so the 200- and 210-grain slugs is perhaps the higher selection. At 2,500 fps and a B.C. of .414 or so, the 210-gr. from a .338 Federal ought to ship 1,711 f-p power at 300 yards and drop simply 9 inches. 

Those who know the performance of the 338 Federal shouldn't hesitate to go up against even the biggest bull elk.
Those that know the efficiency of the .338 Federal shouldn’t hesitate to go up towards even the most important bull elk. Ron Spomer

The .338/06 provides about 200 fps muzzle velocity for about two inches much less drop at 300 yards and roughly 300 ft-lb extra punch. Recoil is about 30-percent lower than the .338 Win. Magazine. 

If recoil isn’t a priority, you may slide up the facility charts by way of the 33 Nosler, .340 Wby. Magazine., .338 RUM, .338 Lapua Magazine., and big .338-378 Wby. Magazine. I warned you it is a large household. However the .338 Win. Magazine. retains the title of greatest balanced elk caliber in it. Ammo is simpler to search out in a better number of bullet weights and types, too. 

Finest All Round: .300 Winchester Magnum

300 win mag cartridge

This little brother to the .338 Win. Magazine. hatched 5 years later and gave large brother an actual run for his cash. Weatherby’s .300 magnum had been dazzling magnum followers because the mid Forties, however it was a full-length magnum caliber obtainable solely in costly customized or Weatherby Rifles. Winchester borrowed the identical primary belted magnum case, blew out the partitions, pushed the 25-degree shoulder ahead, shortened general size to .30/06 customary, and created a powder reservoir holding about 90 grains of water. It’s a 3.34-inch magnum cartridge that matches the identical standard-length motion rifles because the .338 Win. Magazine. however doesn’t kick as laborious. Gross sales bloomed instantly when it launched. 

In 1963, everybody knew the all-American .30/06, so they’d a benchmark towards which to evaluate this belted magnum throwing the identical acquainted bullets 200 fps quicker. No rough-and-tough manly man within the Nineteen Sixties was going to confess he couldn’t deal with that. And he might get it in reasonably priced rifles from a number of producers. 

This was and is one key to the .300 Win. Magazine’s. worldwide reputation. As a result of Winchester didn’t insist on the caliber being proprietary, anybody might load and chamber for it. It was and nonetheless is Everyman’s (and lady’s) 30 magnum. It hits tougher than the .30/06 and even the outdated .300 H&H Magnum with out as a lot recoil because the .338. What’s to not like? Effectively, bullet weight, maybe? 

Many an elk hunter has urged the .300 Win. Magazine. can’t measure as much as the .338 Win. Magazine. as a result of the latter rolls out these extensive, .338-inch diameter 250-grain bullets. True. However .300 Win. Magazine. bullets, weight to weight, have a better SD for probably higher penetration. And whereas most heavy .300 Win. Magazine. masses prime out with 200-grain bullets, 210-, 220-, and 230-grain choices can be found. Up to now, you needed to handload to get these, however long-range shooters have created enough demand that many ammo makers now provide manufacturing unit ammo that includes bullets heavier than 200-grains. Nonetheless, the 180-grain has lengthy been the usual with elk hunters. Most manufacturing unit masses from a 24-inch barrel are rated 2,960 fps. That’s adequate for 3,500 ft-lb muzzle punch. A excessive B.C. bullet just like the Swift Scirocco will retain 2,350 ft-lb at 400 yards, 1,500 ft-lb filter out at 600 yards. If zeroed three inches excessive at 100 yards, that slug ought to drop simply 1.7 inches at 300 yards and deflect simply 5.7 inches in a ten mph proper angle wind. 

30 Caliber bullets
Elk efficiency relies upon not a lot on the cartridge that throws it, because it does the bullet thrown. Ron Spomer

Slide as much as among the new 190-gr. bullets with B.C. numbers hitting .590 or so, hold velocities at 3,000 fps with fastidiously constructed handloads, and 300-yard drop is just 2.3 inches, wind deflection 4.7 inches, retained power 2,700 ft-lb. These are higher trajectory numbers than many .338 Win. Magazine. masses. Add within the lighter recoil of the .300 Win. Magazine., and also you perceive why it’s not simply the preferred .300 magnum of all time, however probably the greatest all-round elk calibers of all time. 

Different .30-caliber Choices

There are many different .30-calibers for rent. Begin with the .30/30 Winchester and climb till your nostril bleeds. Thirty-calibers have been sending elk to the desk for greater than 125 years. As with every caliber, the lighter the bullet and decrease the muzzle velocity, the better the rifle is to deal with and the nearer you need to get earlier than taking your shot. With the appropriate bullet and .308 looking rifle, the ever present .308 Winchester is greater than sufficient out to 300 yards the place a excessive B.C. 180-gr. launched 2,600 fps will nonetheless be churning some 1,800 ft-lb power. The best .30/06 load ought to add 100 fps velocity and 100 ft-lb power. 

After these stalwarts comes a blizzard of .30-calibers that claw their manner up the facility scale. Selecting one in all them comes down to non-public desire and the sorts of rifles one likes to hold. Some .30-calibers work greatest in lever actions, some in brief actions, some in full magnum actions. Some are available ultralight rifles for simple mountain looking, some in additional heavy platforms for stand looking or longer vary capturing. Just a few extra calibers throwing these well-known .308 bullets embody the .300 Ruger Compact Magnum, .300 SAUM, .300 WSM, .30/308 Norma Magazine., .300 H&H, 30 Nosler, .300 Wby. Magazine., .300 RUM, and .30-378 Wby. Magazine. Your style in rifle weight, mass, and recoil will shade your decisions. Elk received’t care someway as long as you employ an acceptable bullet and park it correctly. 

The Subsequent Finest: 7mm Remington Magnum

7mm Rem Magnum

If the .338s are the perfect caliber on the higher finish for elk, the 7mms are the perfect on the decrease finish. Definitely the .270s and 6.5mms can and do take elk yearly, however one can be laborious pressed to suggest them as optimum. The smaller the bullet, the upper its high quality and the extra exact its deposit should be. Many argue this concerning the .28-calibers, too, however the outdated 7mm Remington Magnum stays, since its inception in 1962, the preferred and efficient 7mm elk caliber within the mountains. Consider it or not, with the appropriate bullet, it may well grasp proper with the .300 Win Magazine with out the recoil. For instance:

Fireplace a Nosler 168-gr. AccuBond Lengthy Vary or a comparable bullet with its excessive B.C. of .616 from a 24-inch barrel 3,000 fps and a 190-gr. excessive B.C. slug from the .300 Win. Magazine. at 3,000 fps. Zero each three inches excessive at 100 yards and at 400 yards they each drop 11.3 inches and deflect about 8.5 inches in that 10 mph breeze. The 190-gr. bullet will carry about 250 ft-lb extra power. By 600 yards that power benefit could have dropped to simply 180 ft-lb. On condition that 1,500 ft-lb is taken into account “elk energy,” each projectiles are golden. This takes us again to the launch. In eight-pound rifles, the 7mm Rem. Magazine. will kick with 29.3 ft-lb, and the 300 will slap you with 37 ft-lb. 

7mm ammo
There are many choices within the 7mm household. Ron Spomer

Lighter recoil matched to .300 Win. Magazine. trajectory could clarify how the 7mm Rem. Magazine. buried one Winchester magnum and created one other. When it first got here out  in 1962, it despatched the then four-year-old .264 Winchester Magnum right into a tailspin. Right here was the identical primary belted magnum case, however the 7mm threw bullets as heavy as 175 grains. The .264 topped out at 140-grains. It labored high quality for lengthy vary deer looking, however elk hunters needed extra bullet. The speedy success of the 7mm Rem. Magazine. could have impressed Winchester to carry out its marvelous .300 magnum the very subsequent 12 months.

There’s a persistent fable flying about that the 7mm Rem Magazine shoots “too quick.” Many declare its bullets don’t have time to open. Nonsense. I’ve simply proven that it’s no quicker than the .300 Win. Magazine., and nobody howls about that being too quick. Any actual or perceived failure of the 7mm Rem. Magazine. might be laid on the ft of the shooter or the bullet used. Bullets engineered to develop at 7mm terminal velocities are the ticket, and there are many them. Hit an elk with a 175-gr. .284-inch bullet or a 180-gr. .308-inch diameter bullet carrying 1,500 ft-lb power and I doubt they’ll discover any distinction. 

Different 7mms

The 7mm household hatched round 1892 with the 7x57mm Mauser and has since grown to fifteen or extra. The outdated 7×57 is itself a confirmed elk getter. In spite of everything, this was the spherical Bell used to gather 800 elephants and untold numbers of Cape buffalo. The best bullet in the appropriate place. So match your 7mm elk goals to your recoil tolerance and choose amongst this large household. The .280 Ackley Improved is sizzling today, flying about 100 fps behind the 7mm Rem. Magazine. The 28 Nosler and Remington Extremely Magnum provides about 250 fps to the Rem. Magazine. The 7 WSM and seven SAUM nearly match it in handier brief motion rifles. We now have a humiliation of decisions in 7mms, and elk don’t like several. 

Ron Spomer with a New Mexico Bull Elk
Shot placement and a very good bullet had been essential to the creator harvesting this New Mexico bull along with his 7mm Rem. Magazine. Ron Spomer

The 6.5 Calibers

The 6.5 PRC is the best 6.5 for elk.

Regardless of the age and repute of the 6.5×55 Swede cartridge throughout Europe, the 26-calibers have by no means been a go to for elk in North America. Nevertheless, because the 2007 creation of the 6.5 Creedmoor, they’ve taken the goal and looking world by storm. However I nonetheless don’t think about them a prime decide for elk simply because, effectively, bigger calibers present a slight edge. That stated, dozens, nay a whole bunch of elk are layed low every fall by cautious utility of the 6.5 Creedmoor, a close to ballistic twin of the Swede. However in the event you’re going to this slim caliber, select one with extra velocity than the Creedmoor. Effective choices embody the outdated .264 Win. Magazine., 6.5 Weatherby RPM, 6.5-300 Wby. Magnum, 26 Nosler, and my selection for all-round steadiness in a brief motion rifle, the 6.5 PRC. This short-fat, trying remarkably just like the 6.8 Western, provides round 200 fps to the perfect Creedmoor speeds, and that allows you to shoot the identical bullets with much less drop, much less wind deflection, and extra power on course. A 140- to 150-grain .264 pushed to the identical speeds as a .270 Win. throwing related weight projectiles means you’re packing elk medication.

Extra or Much less

Calibers lighter and heavier than the 7mms by means of .338s might be thought-about glorious for elk. The outdated .270 Winchester has been hotly debated since 1925, but it has been a favourite amongst hundreds of elk execs. Sooner fashions like .270 Wby. Magazine., .270 WSM, and 27 Nosler step it up a number of notches, and the 6.8 Western with its quick twist barrels nudges bullet weights to the higher finish of the 7mm line up. 

Today sure 6.5mms have been rising in reputation regardless of comparatively mild bullets and muzzle velocities effectively below 3,000 fps. However that doesn’t appear to matter. Good bullet design and placement appear to work simply high quality. Simply remember that shot angles and placement do grow to be essential as bullet mass and power decline. 

On the opposite aspect of the caliber scale are the .35 Whelen (.30/06 necked up) and varied .375s. Many elk hunters think about the outdated .375 H&H the final word elk medication, however not everybody cares to deal with their recoil or the form of rifle mass that tames it. Nonetheless, any .37-caliber pushing 250- to 300-grain bullets quicker than about 2,500 fps goes to result in copious quantities of skinning and packing. Ditto the .416s, 44s, and 45s. 

The way to Select the Finest Elk Looking Caliber

Bull Elk being processed in a barn.
The best bullet and shot placement can result in extra processing within the barn. Ron Spomer

Deciding on your excellent elk caliber hinges on you in addition to the elk and the landscapes and habitat during which you’ll hunt them. Simply as there’s a major distinction between a 22-year-old, 6-foot 4-inch athlete and a 50-year-old, 5-foot 7-inch accountant, there’s an enormous distinction between rolling prairies and 11,000-foot peaks poking above doghair stands of pine and spruce.

If you happen to’re searching for the proper elk caliber/rifle, decide how a lot recoil you may tolerate with out flinching and the way a lot rifle weight you would possibly take pleasure in packing. This will likely be influenced considerably by the terrain you’ll hunt. The simpler the terrain, the heavier the looking rifle you’ll be capable of tolerate. The harder the terrain, the lighter. Ditto rifle measurement. The tighter the quilt, the shorter the rifle. A protracted barrel is perhaps extra helpful in open habitats the place photographs are prone to be longer. Simply ensure you have the perfect rifle for the terrain you propose to hunt.

These rifle weight/measurement concerns will affect cartridge measurement, particularly size. Quick motion chamberings are prone to be in shorter, lighter rifles, so as an alternative of a .338 Win. Magazine., have a look at a .338 Federal, .358 Win., and even 7mm-08 Win. in a 22-inch barrel. If recoil doesn’t trouble you, I’d look laborious on the .300 WSM, .325 WSM, even the brand new 6.8 Western, agonize over a 24-inch barrel, and possibly compromise with a 23-inch barrel.

If you happen to anticipate looking large, open nation or canyonlands the place photographs might go lengthy, the .300 and .338 magnums ought to be in your listing. If it is advisable steadiness attain and punch with minimal weight, I’d look to the 7mm magnums pushing 150- to 175-grain bullets.

Clearly, there’s loads of leeway in all of this, and private biases can play a giant function. I do know small-framed hunters who fortunately pay the gravitational worth for packing Granddad’s M1886 Winchester lever-action in .45/70. However I even have a 6-foot 2-inch 20-something pal who climbs with a little bit 6.5 Creedmoor and lays out 6×6 bulls with single photographs at 400 yards.

A last consideration today is availability of weapons and ammo. It is perhaps inconceivable to search out the rifle you need and darn powerful to search out manufacturing unit masses to feed it. Except you’re employed with a customized gun builder and handload, research manufacturing unit choices earlier than selecting.

Clearly there is no such thing as a one proper reply. And even ten. Suppose all of it by means of fastidiously earlier than selecting. And understand that after a hunt or selection you would possibly wish to select otherwise. That’s okay. “Reside and be taught” is a typical aphorism for a cause.

Remaining Ideas on the Finest Elk Looking Calibers

My picks for the perfect elk looking calibers are what I think about the perfect, not the preferred. They’re all confirmed to kill elk with correct shot placement and can be found in rifles you received’t thoughts carrying within the mountains.



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