.223 Remington for Elk Hunting? Best Ammo (Round, Load, Cartridge) for – Foundry Outdoors
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.223 Remington for Elk Hunting? Best Ammo (Round, Load, Cartridge) for a Successful Elk Hunt

Is the .223 Remington a viable caliber/load/round/cartridge for elk hunting? The accurate answer is “it depends”. However, the goal of this article is simply to address the question of whether the .223 Remington is within the ideal range of suitable calibers to harvest elk.

As with anything, the devil is in the details. To answer the question completely, we would need to evaluate the downrange distance to the elk, the bullet type, the grain weight of the bullet, the physical condition of the firearm, the size of the elk in question, the shot placement, the local wind conditions, the expected accuracy of the shooter, the ethics of the ideal maximum number of shots – the list goes on.

What we can do is provide a framework to understand what average conditions might look like, and whether those are reasonably viable for a shot from the average shooter to harvest a elk in the fewest number of shots possible, i.e., ethically.

Let’s dive right in. In the question of “Is the .223 Remington within the ideal range of suitable calibers for elk hunting?” our answer is:

No, the .223 Remington is UNDERKILL for elk hunting, under average conditions, from a mid-range distance, with a medium grain expanding bullet, and with correct shot placement.

Let’s look at those assumptions a bit closer in the following table.

Assumption Value
Caliber .223 Remington
Animal Species Elk
Muzzle Energy 1250 foot-pounds
Animal Weight 720 lbs
Shot Distance 200 yards

What is the average muzzle energy for a .223 Remington? In this case, we have assumed the average muzzle energy for a .223 Remington round is approximately 1250 foot-pounds.

What is the average weight of an adult male elk? Here we have leaned conservative by taking the average weight of a male individual of the species, since females generally weigh less and require less stopping power. In this case, the average weight of an adult male elk is approximately 720 lbs.

What is the distance this species is typically hunted from? Distance, of course, plays an important role in the viability of a given caliber in elk hunting. The kinetic energy of the projectile drops dramatically the further downrange it travels primarily due to energy lost in the form of heat generated by friction against the air itself. This phenonemon is known as drag or air resistance. Thus, a caliber that is effective from 50 yards may not have enough stopping power from 200 yards. With that said, we have assumed the average hunting distance for elk to be approximately 200 yards.

What about the other assumptions? We have three other primary assumptions being made here. First, the average bullet weight is encapsulated in the average muzzle energy for the .223 Remington. The second important assumption is ‘slightly-suboptimal’ to ‘optimal’ shot placement. That is to say, we assume the elk being harvested is shot directly or nearly directly in the vitals (heart and/or lungs). The third assumption is that a projectile with appropriate terminal ballistics is being used, which for hunting usually means an expanding bullet.

Various calibers

A common thread you may encounter in online forums is anecdote after anecdote of large animals being brought down by small caliber bullets, or small animals surviving large caliber bullets. Of course those stories exist, and they are not disputed here. A 22LR cartridge can fell a bull elephant under the right conditions, and a newborn squirrel can survive a 50 BMG round under other specific conditions.

Again, the goal of this article is simply to address the question of whether .223 Remington is within the ideal range of suitable calibers to harvest elk - and to this question, the response again is no, the .223 Remington is UNDERKILL for elk hunting.

This article does not serve as the final say, but simply as a starting point for beginner hunters, as well as a venue for further discussion. Please feel free to agree, disagree, and share stories from your own experience in the comments section below.

Disclaimer: the information above is purely for illustrative purposes and should not be taken as permission to use a particular caliber, a statement of the legality or safety of using certain calibers, or legal advice in any way. You must read and understand your own local laws before hunting elk to know whether your caliber of choice is a legal option.

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John Takacs - Jun 02, 2022

Optimizing every aspect of the equation still leaves the 223 as underkill for the category of elk listed:
Utilizing a 21” to 24” barrel with the best 55-62 grain copper controlled expanding bullet within 100 yards does increase velocity hence energy, likelihood of greater kill zone accuracy due to closer proximity, and therefore greater likelihood of success, and substantial decrease in the underkill handicap of the 223. However, any larger caliber more powerful round would be statistically superior in all aspects, especially in having greater killing potential with a less accurate bullet placement. Perhaps the only valid argument against this would be large caliber lower velocity rounds like the 45-70, certainly elk medicine at very close range, would have a poorer trajectory placement disadvantage compared to the 223.
The adequacy of the 223 argument endlessly rages on, mainly because of two driving factors:
1) We all know the 223 would be among our most likely “only one rifle choice,” which we could make do with in any situation, coupled with confidence and accuracy acquired from extensive cost effective and comfortable 223 practice and competition.
2) Some people push that envelope motivated by belief in their skill, personal experience, hearsay
or lower level of concern for losing a wounded animal, or rarely the lack of a larger caliber rifle.
The 223 can do the job if all aspects of the hunting scenario unfold without the inevitable unforeseen occurrences obstructing success. The various states have taken the parameters unique to their geography and fauna under consideration to regulate this issue legaly.

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