03 Sep How To Pick The Best Cartridge
6.5 Creedmoor! 6.5 PRC! 28 Nosler! 300 PRC! What is the best hunting rifle cartridge for your next rifle?
It’s easy to get confused with all the recent cartridge introductions.
Most information we get comes from biased sources. Some are paid by the manufacturer to say how great a cartridge is, and some drink the Kool-aid and want the rest of us to agree with them.
At Hill Country Rifles, we have talked with thousands of individual customers to help them figure out what caliber is going to best suit their individual needs and work best for them. This is what we do and we are very proficient at it.
Of course, I want you to buy your next rifle from us. However, this little write up is more about what to think about before you get a new rifle, regardless of whom you get it from.
Before you work with any custom rifle builder or buy a factory rifle off the rack, ask yourself a few questions.
Some of these will seem pretty obvious and some may not. You best know how and what you will hunt in the coming years so it is important to give each of these points the proper weight as they relate to you.
With a proper custom rifle, you should be able to get just about everything you want within the constraints of physics. With a factory rifle, you just want to find the one that most closely fits the bill.
A) What game will I hunt now and in the near future? This will help you choose the cartridge.
Deer-sized game only? Rounds like 6.5 Creedmoor, 6.5 PRC, 7mm-08, 308, 270 Win., 257 Wby, or 270 Wby might be good choices. If most of your deer hunting is on management deer or in areas where the deer are not very big, we even like the 224 Valkyrie and 6mm Creedmoor.
Mostly deer-sized game but occasional Elk? No matter what you read or see on social media, once you put Bull Elk in the mix, you need heavier bullets and more energy. Otherwise you seriously risk wounding and losing your animal. This is even more true when shooting longer distances as is more common today than in the past. These choices are perfect for Whitetail and Mule Deer, but are also very legitimate Elk cartridges. 280 Remington, 280 Ackley, 30-06, 7mm Rem Mag, 300 Win. Mag, 28 Nosler all give you a 7mm or larger bullet diameter and allow for 160 grain or heavier bullets for better penetration of bigger game.
Dedicated Elk or African plains game? First, while more than you need, all of these cartridges will kill deer. As you consider the magnum family of cartridges, consider what barrel length is needed to burn most of the gunpowder so you get the advertised velocity and energy. If you don’t like long barrels, you won’t want the ones that require a 26” barrel with the additional length of a muzzle brake. This is even more important if you plan to use a suppressor and don’t want a 26” barrel plus the suppressor. How for you plan to shoot is a big factor in all of this as you can use a cartridge that works well out of a short barrel but may not deliver much energy at ranges past, say, 400 yards. Our short list of dedicated Elk cartridges includes 30-06, 35 Whelen, 7mm Rem. Mag., 28 Nosler, 300 Win. Mag, 300 Wby Mag, 300 PRC, 338 Win. Mag., and 338 Lapua. Which of these is best for you will depend on how far you plan to shoot (energy requirements), how long a barrel you want (powder burn), and how recoil sensitive you are (muzzle brakes and suppressors).
Don’t forget to think about ammo availability. For an African rifle we recommend you stay away from cartridges that are not easily found in your African hunting camp. I guarantee you they will have 300 Win. Mag. but will not likely have 28 Nosler for instance and it is not uncommon for the bag with your ammo in it to show up days after you arrive.
How do I hunt? Most of us don’t just do one thing. If it is a dedicated mountain rifle for Sheep or Mule Deer, you want a light, well balanced rifle, that is not cumbersome to deal with. If you mostly stand hunt, but will also occasionally do an overland hunt that requires a lot of walking, you want to consider that in the rifle design. If you want to use the same rifle on an open country Western hunt that you will use on a timber Elk or Bear hunt, or denser parts of Africa, you need to make sure the rifle does not lean too far in one direction.
- What Optic size do I plan to use? This one is the most often overlooked and it can really cause trouble.
- Based on the barrel dimensions, type of mounts, scope tube diameter, and scope objective AND eyepiece diameter, how high will the scope be mounted and will this generate a good cheek-weld with the stock the rifle has? This goes to basic shooting fundamentals. If you have to lift your face off the stock to see through your scope, you do not have a good set up.
So, in the beginning I said this would be about picking the best cartridge for your next hunting rifle. Well, I can’t answer that question until I know the answer to these other questions, and neither can you.
When we design a custom rifle for you, we take all of these considerations into account. If you are choosing from the wide array of factory rifles, you should still go through these questions and find the one that gives you the most of what you need.
If you are ready to talk about building a custom rifle, or altering a rifle you already have, just give us a call at 830-609-3139 or send me an email at email@example.com.
PS: I left out some great cartridges as there are too many to list so don’t be offended if your personal favorite is not among them. People are so sensitive these days!