schromf

February 26, 2004, 09:09 PM

I see a fair amount of posts regarding suitability of different rifle cartridges for big game hunting. Many times it is phrased in posts as: What is the best? The simple answer is none, there is no truth here.

First I will assume that big game hunting for 90+% of hunters defines deer/hog/antelope/bear/sheep/goat/elk class of animals. Most USA hunters are concerned with one of the above class of animals. Alaska has a few variables thrown into the mix, but my assumptions are valid for a large portion of their game also. This does NOT include: varmint, fur hunters, small game, or large dangerous game.

Based on the above definition of big game hunting is there a single best? No, and there never will be the single best. First there is a wide variance in the size of the above game animals; an example here is a small Arizona Coues deer which is reasonable to expect a 100 lb game animal verses a large Bull Elk that can tip the scales in excess of 700 lbs. Second there exists a huge difference under the terrain conditions these species of game will typically be hunted.

As I approach this subject I want to preface this I am avid hunter, but I have some strong opinions on ethical fair chase hunts. I always hunt so that I humanely and quickly dispatch my quarry, which means I avoid chancy shots, and bring proper equipment for the job at hand. I owe this much respect to the game I hunt, and it is incumbent on me to abide by these rules.

So with the above preface what cartridge you ask? As I stated before there is no single truth, there are too many variables. I can define what I expect and has worked for me in my hunting life. It is a rule of thumb that has yet to disappoint my expectations of cartridge performance. I will again preface this "RULE OF THUMB" and deviations will occur.

OK my magic rule is my 26-28 three 1200 rule. It is pretty simple really, anytime I evaluate a cartridge for hunting I start out looking at published factory specifications, or reloading manuals. Breaking down my rule the first number is muzzle velocity and that translates to 2600-2800 fps. The second number is the sectional density which is .3. The third number is energy in foot lbs. remaining at target impact. I also want to emphasis that this really only applies to Spitzer or pointed bullets, pistol or rifle cartridges with flat nosed bullets and large frontal areas area a completely different subject.

The above is a rule of thumb or guideline I use, there are variables inside this formula and I will explain each below.

2nd Rule .3 section density, I have always found that if I can deliver enough energy with any quality bullet (which now days means just about every major manufacturer) I can expect reasonable performance. This doesn't mean I don't have bullet preferences, I do: but all of the quality bullets perform to a set minimum level of expectation on my part. Again this is a big blanket rule. And before you start screaming about my favorite doesn't fit inside this, it probably does in fact. A very simple example is a 30 cal, 180 gr. bullet with a SD of .271-.274 it is absolutely inside this rule, so is a 150 gr.270 cal: a 154 gr.. .277 cal: a 140 gr. .264 cal: 225gr .338 cal: 250gr .358 cal: 270gr .375 cal, all of this are in the fit. What differs and doesn't fit are the .25cal and 6mm on the small side, and the big stuff that goes way over .3 SD. They in fact do work with some modifiers. If your cartridge has a SD of .341 your trajectory will suffer but performance on game when adhering to rule three is more than adequate. If your SD falls under the .25 level a slight elevation in value of rule three compensates.

First rule is the 2600-2800 fps this is a fast and loose rule but it directly affects rule three. I feel that if I can propel any of the above bullets at this velocity range I can expect a reasonably flat trajectory with a Spitzer (not flat nosed) bullet. How this effects the last rule has a couple of variables but in essence to deliver the 1200 lbs of min energy, at what range does the cartridge fall below this energy level, if you want more range or a flatter trajectory you will either need to look at more velocity or increasing the ballistic coefficient of the bullet.

Third Rule is my 1200 foot lbs of energy rule. Again this is not set in concrete. Where I get this value is from comparisons of several cartridges starting with a 30-30 Winchester, few would disagree that the 30-30 with a 150 gr. bullet is effective on deer sized game to 175 yards. That is about 1000 lbs of energy, in comparison a 270 Winchester with a 130 gr. bullet at 400 yards has relatively similar levels 1285 ft lbs, and a 30-06 with a 180 gr. bullet delivers 1100 ft lbs at 500 yards. I am not suggesting shooting game that far but the cartridges if not the human are certainly capable. Yes ballistic coefficient changes these yardages all around but doesn't alter the energy on target factor. The area that this rule gets a little tricky is on small and large calibers. I would not question performance of a 300 gr. bullet in a 45-70 with 1000 lbs of energy on target, but it is a large flat nosed bullet and I already stated the above rule doesn’t apply to this type of cartridge. But conversely I doubt anyone would question a .416 caliber, 400 gr. bullet ( SD=.330 ) with 1000 lbs of energy on target would certainly be adequate for the class of game defined above. I wouldn’t suggest pushing this bullet to 2800 fps, and a fair assumption on my part would be 1600-1800 fps would provide the requisite energy levels with a loss in flat trajectory. Small calibers 6mm, 25 cal which don’t fit into the rule #2 above can be easily compensated for with this third rule. I think adhering to the strict 1200 ft lb rule or slightly increasing this number gets a good fit for all of the 243 winchester/25-06 cartridges. One big variable here is how big of game and how tough. I used the Coues deer and the elk comparison before so I will repeat that spectrum here. The elk is a much larger tougher animal than the small deer, with an elk I want a minimum of the 1200 ft lbs of energy, and would prefer 1400 ft lbs of energy especially in a 6mm or 25 cal bullet. In contrast to the small Coues deer, where I would feel comfortable with a 900-1000lbs of energy. In practical terms for the elk I would define a 243 Winchester with a 100 gr. bullet limited to around a 200 yards max shoot, whereas a 30-06 with a 180 gr. bullet would have an effective range of 400 yards. Contrast the same cartridges to the smaller deer and the 30-06 180 gr. bullet will deliver 900 lbs of energy out to 550 yards, and the 243 100 gr. bullet is a 350 yard combination. The .243 Winchester would not be my first choice or even close on the elk (in fact I usually use a 30 magnum), and the 30-06 would not be my first choice on the Coues deer. In reality my choice would be the 30-06 on the elk and the .243 Winchester on the deer, but both cartridges are certainly capable within the confines of definition posted above.

Most cartridges available today fall into the above categories with some common sense applied. So in summary to answer the original question of this thread, what is the best cartridge for big game hunting, I am not sure but I suspect you already own it.

First I will assume that big game hunting for 90+% of hunters defines deer/hog/antelope/bear/sheep/goat/elk class of animals. Most USA hunters are concerned with one of the above class of animals. Alaska has a few variables thrown into the mix, but my assumptions are valid for a large portion of their game also. This does NOT include: varmint, fur hunters, small game, or large dangerous game.

Based on the above definition of big game hunting is there a single best? No, and there never will be the single best. First there is a wide variance in the size of the above game animals; an example here is a small Arizona Coues deer which is reasonable to expect a 100 lb game animal verses a large Bull Elk that can tip the scales in excess of 700 lbs. Second there exists a huge difference under the terrain conditions these species of game will typically be hunted.

As I approach this subject I want to preface this I am avid hunter, but I have some strong opinions on ethical fair chase hunts. I always hunt so that I humanely and quickly dispatch my quarry, which means I avoid chancy shots, and bring proper equipment for the job at hand. I owe this much respect to the game I hunt, and it is incumbent on me to abide by these rules.

So with the above preface what cartridge you ask? As I stated before there is no single truth, there are too many variables. I can define what I expect and has worked for me in my hunting life. It is a rule of thumb that has yet to disappoint my expectations of cartridge performance. I will again preface this "RULE OF THUMB" and deviations will occur.

OK my magic rule is my 26-28 three 1200 rule. It is pretty simple really, anytime I evaluate a cartridge for hunting I start out looking at published factory specifications, or reloading manuals. Breaking down my rule the first number is muzzle velocity and that translates to 2600-2800 fps. The second number is the sectional density which is .3. The third number is energy in foot lbs. remaining at target impact. I also want to emphasis that this really only applies to Spitzer or pointed bullets, pistol or rifle cartridges with flat nosed bullets and large frontal areas area a completely different subject.

The above is a rule of thumb or guideline I use, there are variables inside this formula and I will explain each below.

2nd Rule .3 section density, I have always found that if I can deliver enough energy with any quality bullet (which now days means just about every major manufacturer) I can expect reasonable performance. This doesn't mean I don't have bullet preferences, I do: but all of the quality bullets perform to a set minimum level of expectation on my part. Again this is a big blanket rule. And before you start screaming about my favorite doesn't fit inside this, it probably does in fact. A very simple example is a 30 cal, 180 gr. bullet with a SD of .271-.274 it is absolutely inside this rule, so is a 150 gr.270 cal: a 154 gr.. .277 cal: a 140 gr. .264 cal: 225gr .338 cal: 250gr .358 cal: 270gr .375 cal, all of this are in the fit. What differs and doesn't fit are the .25cal and 6mm on the small side, and the big stuff that goes way over .3 SD. They in fact do work with some modifiers. If your cartridge has a SD of .341 your trajectory will suffer but performance on game when adhering to rule three is more than adequate. If your SD falls under the .25 level a slight elevation in value of rule three compensates.

First rule is the 2600-2800 fps this is a fast and loose rule but it directly affects rule three. I feel that if I can propel any of the above bullets at this velocity range I can expect a reasonably flat trajectory with a Spitzer (not flat nosed) bullet. How this effects the last rule has a couple of variables but in essence to deliver the 1200 lbs of min energy, at what range does the cartridge fall below this energy level, if you want more range or a flatter trajectory you will either need to look at more velocity or increasing the ballistic coefficient of the bullet.

Third Rule is my 1200 foot lbs of energy rule. Again this is not set in concrete. Where I get this value is from comparisons of several cartridges starting with a 30-30 Winchester, few would disagree that the 30-30 with a 150 gr. bullet is effective on deer sized game to 175 yards. That is about 1000 lbs of energy, in comparison a 270 Winchester with a 130 gr. bullet at 400 yards has relatively similar levels 1285 ft lbs, and a 30-06 with a 180 gr. bullet delivers 1100 ft lbs at 500 yards. I am not suggesting shooting game that far but the cartridges if not the human are certainly capable. Yes ballistic coefficient changes these yardages all around but doesn't alter the energy on target factor. The area that this rule gets a little tricky is on small and large calibers. I would not question performance of a 300 gr. bullet in a 45-70 with 1000 lbs of energy on target, but it is a large flat nosed bullet and I already stated the above rule doesn’t apply to this type of cartridge. But conversely I doubt anyone would question a .416 caliber, 400 gr. bullet ( SD=.330 ) with 1000 lbs of energy on target would certainly be adequate for the class of game defined above. I wouldn’t suggest pushing this bullet to 2800 fps, and a fair assumption on my part would be 1600-1800 fps would provide the requisite energy levels with a loss in flat trajectory. Small calibers 6mm, 25 cal which don’t fit into the rule #2 above can be easily compensated for with this third rule. I think adhering to the strict 1200 ft lb rule or slightly increasing this number gets a good fit for all of the 243 winchester/25-06 cartridges. One big variable here is how big of game and how tough. I used the Coues deer and the elk comparison before so I will repeat that spectrum here. The elk is a much larger tougher animal than the small deer, with an elk I want a minimum of the 1200 ft lbs of energy, and would prefer 1400 ft lbs of energy especially in a 6mm or 25 cal bullet. In contrast to the small Coues deer, where I would feel comfortable with a 900-1000lbs of energy. In practical terms for the elk I would define a 243 Winchester with a 100 gr. bullet limited to around a 200 yards max shoot, whereas a 30-06 with a 180 gr. bullet would have an effective range of 400 yards. Contrast the same cartridges to the smaller deer and the 30-06 180 gr. bullet will deliver 900 lbs of energy out to 550 yards, and the 243 100 gr. bullet is a 350 yard combination. The .243 Winchester would not be my first choice or even close on the elk (in fact I usually use a 30 magnum), and the 30-06 would not be my first choice on the Coues deer. In reality my choice would be the 30-06 on the elk and the .243 Winchester on the deer, but both cartridges are certainly capable within the confines of definition posted above.

Most cartridges available today fall into the above categories with some common sense applied. So in summary to answer the original question of this thread, what is the best cartridge for big game hunting, I am not sure but I suspect you already own it.