When choosing the right cartridge for you, it’s important that you match both the caliber and cartridge type with the game you’ll be hunting. Failing to use the right caliber can increase the risk of harm to yourself, other hunters, as well as the game you’re hunting. It’s important to make sure that your round will have enough stopping power to take down your target in as few shots as possible, ideally one well-placed round.
With game type ranging from varmints such as squirrels or smaller rabbits up to more commonly hunted deer or the occasional bear. It’s easy to understand how a bullet constructed to hunt squirrels may not be terribly effective when hunting a black bear.
Let’s first start with one of the most common arguments.
Penetration Vs Expansion
This debate revolves around the 2 main types of ammunition available, Full Metal Jacket (FMJ) and Hollow-Point rounds. FMJ rounds are commonly lead core encased in copper allowing for the round to be fired at a greater speed with the intent of greater penetration into the animal, most preferably all the way through. This will result in an increased blood loss rate and if the animal is only wounded it will leave an easier to follow trail behind it. Hollow-Point rounds are expanding bullets, exactly as described. With pitted or hollowed tips the round mushrooms out on impact causing greater disruption to the target’s tissue. The aim of using hollow-points is to create a larger wound channel and greater vital organ damage to the game.
Whilst each hunter will have a personal preference when it comes to ammunition type as there are so many variations over the 2 primaries listed above, the majority of hunters typically use FMJ rounds as they offer greater versatility in regards to the distance of shot and availability as well as spoiling as little meat as possible.
The weight of the bullet, typically measured in grains, will be another factor that plays in your ammunition choice. Depending upon the game and shooting distance you may need a lower grain for a lighter and therefore higher velocity shot over a heavier hitting, slower traveling round. It’s important to get a feel for what feels right for you and is most commonly dictated by personal preference.
Below we’ve listed the most common game types alongside our favorite ammunition for the job. Hopefully, it’ll give you an indication of where to start but make sure you test out a variety of calibers with varying bullet weights to get a feel of what’s right for you and your rifle.
Also note, only use the caliber type specified on your rifle, failure to do so could result in serious bodily harm, even fatality.
Varmints – Recommended .22 Hornet
Varmints typically include prairie dogs and rats and thus don’t need much in terms of load power to efficiently subdue the creature. The .22 Hornet offers an effective range of around 150 yards with very little recoil and very cost-effective considering the number of rounds used in a typical varmint hunt.
Small Game – Recommended .22 LR
A small game commonly includes the likes of tree squirrels or rabbits and for those with a preference of rifle hunting, the .22 LR is among the most popular small game calibers around the globe. The .22 LR packs enough of a punch for a quick kill without ruining the carcass.
Small Predators Long-Range – Recommended .22-250 Remington
When hunting small predators such as foxes or coyotes it’s always best to be close enough to ensure a quick kill but also leave enough space where you can take multiple shots if needed. The .22-250 REM is a great high-velocity round capable of reaching 4,000 feet per second leading to great penetration power and allows the shooter to position themselves at a greater distance.
Deer Short Range – Recommended .243 Winchester
For those hunting for deer, such as whitetail or blacktail deer, at a shorter range, the .243 WIN offers great accuracy with little recoil also making it great for younger shooters. The .243 bullet weight ranges from 55 grains up to 115 grains allowing the hunter to also aim for some larger targets.
Deer & Caribou Medium To Long – Recommended .30-06 Springfield
When hunting deer or caribou it’s hard to find a better caliber than the .30-06 Springfield. This is an incredibly popular round that makes it easier to find in stores. When hunting at a longer range a 165 or 180 grain will provide the speed and accuracy needed to down a deer or caribou.
Elk – Recommended 7mm Remington Magnum
Elk is among the larger game that most hunters ever come across and are quite a sturdy animal requiring a bigger caliber to effectively and humanely subdue it. We typically shoot a 7mm Rem Mag 160 grain when at 200 – 300 yards with a very little drop. The recoil is definitely something you’ll recognize but it’s a very reassuring feeling that your shot will be effective.
Grizzly/Brown Bears, Moose – Recommended .338 Winchester Magnum
Hunting Grizzlies or Brown Bear, as well as Moose, most hunters will want a trustworthy round that’ll put the game down quickly and reliably. The .338 Win Mag has also done well by us, performing well on medium to large game it’s a great all-rounder with a hell of a kick. It’s a great long range round due to its higher velocity performance.
It’s important to test out a range of ammunition available for your caliber of rifle, narrowing down the weight and bullet type to match the game you most commonly hunt. Once you’ve been hunting for a while you’ll notice that your rifle collection will grow to accommodate this “need” for varying calibers. It’s important that you take all the factors of shooting into consideration, as the correct bullet type will ultimately decide the humaneness of the kill and the overall success of your hunt. When leaning towards larger calibres you’ll common stick to hunting medium to large game, newer hunters may want to get a rifle that offers less of a kick and can shoot a greater range of game such as .243 Winchester.