Guide to Choosing the Right Bullet Caliber for Hunting and Target Shooting
- 12 Aug, 2017
Choosing the right bullet caliber is easier than you may think.
As hunters we have lots of gear decisions to make. From packs and stands, to clothing and optics, your choice of gear becomes reflective of your personality. Gear decisions shouldn’t be random swings at the pinata, rather they should be well thought out and tailored to your specific endeavors. Choosing the right bullet caliber is no different. If you decide to hunt with a firearm, it is perhaps the biggest gear decision you will have to make.
Fortunately the process of choosing the right bullet caliber is actually pretty straightforward with general consensus in the hunting community. The first thing you will need to do actually has nothing to do with the gun. Rather, the first step to choosing a firearm for hunting is to determine animals what you want to hunt. The species you will pursue should be the determining factor in the caliber you choose to buy. If your caliber of choice is too small, you won’t have effective hitting power to kill your target. On the other hand if your rifle is too big, not only will you be wasting the energy of your bullet, but you may wind up ruining the hide or meat of the animal as well.
If you are just getting into shooting sports and are trying to decide what caliber to go with, here are some general guidelines to consider.
Hunting small game is a great way to spend the weekend and shouldn’t be overlooked as an enjoyable hunting opportunity. These hunts are so enjoyable because they are low stress and generally very family friendly as well. If you decide to pursue animals like squirrels, rabbits, prairie dogs, or other similarly small animals, you will want a well matched caliber for the job.
By far the most historically popular caliber for hunting small game is the .22 LR. The .22 is a light load that is fun and very inexpensive to shoot. Under supervision it can be used by young children for their first shooting experience, and is still a blast to shoot as you get older.
Another caliber that is catching on quickly is the .17 HMR. The .17 was created in 2002 and has a few advantages over the .22. Those advantages include shooting faster, and generally being viewed as slightly more accurate at further distances. On the downside, .17 ammunition generally costs a bit more than .22 ammo and accuracy issues don’t tend to show up until after 100 yards.
These days lots of folks are getting interested in predator hunting. Animals like fox, coyote, and bobcat can all be called and provide for some exciting hunting action. Hunting these animals requires a bit more wallop than a small game rifle provides, and there are a wide variety of calibers to hunt them with.
One of the most popular calibers for predators is the .22-250. This caliber has proven itself over to be a great choice for shooting predators slinking into a stand. Another choice that is probably more popular than the .22-250 is the .223. Likely the biggest reason for the .223’s demand is the fact it is commonly used in popular AR rifles. This popularity does make .223 ammunition a bit more expensive than .22-250 ammunition, but if you like the AR platform, and want to do some predator hunting, the .223 may be the way to go.
In addition to these popular choices, many predator enthusiasts tote along a .243 on their predator forays. It is a little larger than the other two calibers and can give you some extra range. However, the larger bullet will cause more damage to the hide, so if you plan on selling the fur this should be taken into consideration.
Once you start discussing the best caliber for hunting deer, you are bound to create some enemies. Everyone out there has their favorite deer hunting rifle that has taken a trailer load of deer over the years. The truth is deer are an animal that a wide variety of calibers can be used to harvest. Over time a hunter who has been successful with a certain caliber will eventually come to believe their caliber is the most superior. The biggest concern is to pair a rifle that is capable of taking the animal, and suits your hunting style, ability, and budget.
On the small end, the .243, .270, and .30-30 have all proven to be excellent deer hunting rifles over time. As they are smaller, these calibers are better suited for close range shots. Out of these particular calibers, the .270 seems to have earned the reputation as the one most capable of stretching the distance of the shot.
Larger deer hunting calibers include the famous .30-06, 7mm, .308 Win Mag, and .300 Win Mag. These are heavy duty calibers and you are starting to talk about some seriously high powered rifles. The bullets are big and they hold a good deal of powder, so they have a tremendous amount of power. On the other hand, these rifles can beat the tar out of you and some view them as a bit excessive for animals like deer.
In addition to being good rifle caliber for deer, many of these same calibers are good for hunting animals like black bear, caribou, and bighorn sheep. Again, taking shot distance and ability into consideration is important. If you are not experienced at taking long shots, or your hunting ranges don’t allow for them, the smaller calibers should be acceptable. If you have the ability to shoot long distances and want that capability, the larger calibers are probably a better option. You should also choose the larger calibers if you choose to hunt elk. Elk are tough creatures that require a large bullet to get the job done.
If you want to take on large game such as moose and grizzly bear, you will want some of the biggest firepower you can get your hands on. Popular calibers for these species include the .300 Win Mag, .300 WBY, .338 Win Mag, and .375 H&H. All of these calibers have the potential to be hard hitting enough to bring down the biggest prey North America has to offer. Odds are, you won’t want to shoot these calibers for fun and you may never be in a situation where you need that much power. On the other hand, if that is what you need, they can certainly get the job done.
While choosing the right bullet caliber for hunting may be fairly straightforward, target shooting does not have nearly as much consensus. Many of the calibers lists above are more than adequate for shooting targets, depending mostly on the distance you wish to shoot at. Generally speaking, the smaller caliber guns for shooting small game, predators, and close range deer shots are good for short range shooting, with the larger calibers, such as the .270 good for ranges out to 300 yards. On the other hand, if you decide to pursue long distance shooting the larger calibers are better choices. The .308 and .338 are some of the most popular choices for long distance shooting. One caliber catching fire with the long distance shooting community is the 6.5 Creedmoor. This cartridge was introduced in 2008, but is already being touted as the best choice for shooting at 1,200 yards or further. If this type of shooting sounds appealing, it might be the gun for you.
If you are new to shooting sports, all of this might be a little overwhelming but it really doesn’t have to be. The first thing you need to decide is what animal you will most likely hunt. After that you can likely find a range of rifles capable of handling the duties. By pairing the animal to the rifle, rather than the other way around, you can making choosing the right bullet caliber much easier.
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