Best caliber for elk

Year in and year our hunters ask us which caliber rifle they should bring or buy for their upcoming elk hunt. After hunting for over 40 years and guiding for some 500 plus hunts you can imagine I have developed some opinions. We have had hunters show up with 30-30′s and some with .375 H & H’s.  We had a few .375 Weatherbys necked down to .30 or .338 calibers. My basic philosophy is that any high power caliber can do the job if the shot placement is correct and a premium bullet is used. I personally have been involved in culling operations and have taken over 100 deer or elk with my favorite .22-250. I also have used it several times as a backup gun. Only twice can I remember having to take a second shot. For most applications it is simply too small but in my opinion the next step up is not. We had a 60 pound, eight year old girl on her first big game hunt that used a .243. She shot a cow through the heart at 80 yards. No other caliber could have made a more humane kill. A Minnesota woodsman brought his 6mm. He dropped a bull in his tracks with one well placed neck shot.

Sure calibers with more horsepower allow for more options because they will go through bone more effectively. They deliver more energy and extend the range, but they do not compensate for poor shot placement. I see far too many hunters show up with too much gun and very few that have too little. Heavy calibers produce excessive recoil and muzzle blast and cause many hunters to flinch and make poor shots.

I believe that speed kills. I like fast cartridges in smaller calibers with less recoil. My .22-250 loads are Barnes 53 grain TTSX going over 3800 fps. For years I used a .257 Weatherby until I shot out the barrel. I used that gun for everything from prairie dogs to grizzlies. It was a very effective stopper. My load was a 100 grain Nosler Partition going over 3500 fps for big game. Sharla and I now shoot .270 WSM’s with 130 grain Barnes tipped triple shocks going over 3200 fps for most everything. The hydroastatic shock that is delivered from a fast bullet is an important factor. I believe that fast muzzle velocities cause very fast rotational spins that is mostly retained until the target is hit. It makes sense to me that this rotation spin adds to tissue damage.

Most of all, over the years I have develop confidence in certain rifles and others I have not. I always reach for an old reliable favorite. The one that shoots the same every time I get it out of the safe, the one that I have had good luck with, the one that feels like my old hunting buddy. I am a lot less likely to worry about precisely matching the caliber to the species I am hunting, but instead to make sure I take a shot that is appropriate for the caliber I am using.

Mostly I see hunters using .270′s, 30-06′s, 7mm Rem Mags, and 300 Win Mags. In my opinion, all are good elk calibers if good bullets are used in weights that are appropriate for the caliber and the shot placement is good. The caliber is a lot less important than the wisdom and skill behind the gun.

Please post your thoughts on this blog for others to learn about your opinions and share your experiences.



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