There are several different types of ammo and rifle calibers for hunting, some more popular than others. Finding the one you prefer comes down to a matter of personal taste, taking into consideration the kind of hunting you plan to do.
If you are a new shooter, it's not recommended that you shoot with too heavy a caliber. These are not used for target practice but only for hunting by those with more experience.
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As for rifle sizing, remember that the different sizes also depend on what kind of game you plan to hunt. A smaller game does not require heavy caliber like the ones used for larger game.
Here is some more information about rifle calibers to help you choose which suits the kind of hunting or activity you will be doing.
Hunting Rifle Calibers Explained – 204 Ruger to 45-70 Govt
Short Action vs. Long Action
There are two families of non-magnum rifle calibers. Short action such as the .308 Winchester. This is the parent to a lot of different cartridges. There is also the .223 as a short action.
For a long action, there is a 25-06, based off of the 30-06 parent case but with a 25 caliber bullet. If you have a long action cartridge you will have a longer throw when you move the bolt because it has a longer case. The longer, bigger case also means more powder, recoil, and noise, the opposite of the short action.
Magnum vs. Non-Magnum
An example of a non-magnum would be the 30-30, a 30 caliber bullet There is no 30-30 magnum but if you used a 300 win mag you will see how much larger it is and how much more powder, recoil, and velocity it has.
These both have a 30 rifle caliber bullet. Just because something is 30 caliber does not mean that they are equal, there are magnums and non-magnums (standards).
There's a chance you might not have heard of these calibers because they are not the most popular or common. Here we have the 204 Ruger, 204 is the actual diameter of the bullet invented by Hornady and Ruger.
This is the fastest bullet on the planet, it travels at 4,250 ft per second at 32 grain. The grain refers to the weight of the bullet portion. Its a really small bullet and is not legal in all 50 states for big game such as deer and elk.
Even though its the fastest bullet on the planet, it super light which means it's not the most powerful.
The most common rifle caliber here is the .223. This probably comes in more loads than any other round ever made. These guys usually run 40 to 70 grain with 55 being the standard.
These are in the 3,200 ft per second range and around 1200-1600 ft lbs of energy and are definitely high power.
Next up is the .22-250, this has a much bigger case because it has a lot of powder. It flies at a speed of 4,000 ft per second and is legal to use to shoot a deer in certain states such as Texas. However, though it has speed on its side, you aren't going to get the best penetration.
This is what most people think of as the beginning of deer hunting rifle calibers. This has been around for 60 years and is a favorite among most deer hunters. This is a .24 caliber, a long bullet based on the .308 Winchester. This moves at about 3,000 ft per second on a 100-grain bullet.
This is the Gold standard beginning deer hunting caliber. White-tailed deer are the number one hunted game species in North America. In the .24 caliber family, there is the 6mm. It is now very difficult to find as there are only a couple guns chambered in 6mm a year. The .243 and the 6mm are basically cousins in the caliber world.
Long action and non-magnum are the 25-06. A lot of people like this caliber and it runs a 100 to 140-grain bullet with the 120 grain being the common load. Overall, it's pretty flat, running 2,800-3,000 ft per second and the energy at around 2,400 ft lbs.
The top dog in the .25 caliber series is going to be the .257 Weatherby. This is the same .25 caliber bullet but in the Weatherby magnum case. Any of the Weatherby rifle calibers generally are going to be the fastest version of that caliber.
With that said, Remington now has the Ultra Mags which sometimes beats the Weatherby. Both of those, the Weatherby and the Ultra Mags, are technically considered overbore. This means they use so much powder that you are actually losing performance based on the powder-performance ratio. They do pack a punch but it's not always worth it.
Now we have .26 caliber, which is one that we don't see around much anymore. Some examples of this are the .264 win mag and the 6.5mm rem mag which Remington no longer supplies ammunition for. The .264 magnum is a very ballistically efficient bullet. It runs in the 120 to a 140-grain range and is actually a very long skinny bullet. It's very aerodynamic and has little drag. As I said before, the heavier the grain the bigger the kick.
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This is an American standard when it comes to hunting. The .270 Winchester is a non-magnum at 130-grain load. It is one of the most popular and standard rifle calibers made today with great performance. It is a long action and is quite affordable, going for about 20-25 dollars a box.
The most popular and best-selling caliber in the deer world could well be the 7mm mag. Also known as the 7mm rem mag or as the .284 caliber. Its most often referred to as just the 7 mags. The 7 mag is a long action magnum, packs a big punch and is not uncomfortable to shoot. The ballistics for this at a 150-grain load, at the muzzle, is 3,110 ft. per second and 3,220 ft-lbs of energy. It has great ballistic performance and tons of different grain weights. It does have a twin called the .284 win mag but most people don't know about it as it isn't very easy to find.
The most popular.30 caliber round is by far the .308. Created by Winchester, this is the most popular, short action case. It being short action doesn't have a huge boom and no heavy recoil. Another very popular .30 caliber is the 30-30 Winchester seen in lever action rifles. The special part of this round is that they do not have a round tip, they have a polymer tip also known as a flex tip.
.30 caliber is probably the most popular diameter of any bullet made. Some examples being,
- .300 win mag
- .300 WSM
- .300 Weatherby
- .30-06 – one of the most popular of all time
Very ballistically efficient, very accurate that it became a basis for others. So with the .308 being the short action standard, the .300 win mag is the long action standard. This normally shoots 150 or 180 grain if you are buying off the shelf. If you are a reloader you can change it up to fit whatever your needs are.
This round does have some good kick and gives you great distance. The .300 win mag from the muzzle is producing 3,150 ft. per second and 3,305 ft-lbs of energy which packs a good punch.
The .35 caliber is also not a super popular caliber anymore. This is basically a lever action with a .35 caliber instead of the .30-30. This will shoot a 200-grain bullet that supposedly penetrates brush better to hit a deer.
Not sure if that's true but this can definitely put down hogs or pigs very well. Now I want to talk about the .350 rem mag. This is a pretty awesome caliber since it is a magnum length .35. This is much like the 6.5 rem mag that has already stopped production.
This round will provide a big punch and is also in a 200 grain but doesn't kick too bad. The ammo is really scarce and expensive if you do find it.
This is the last caliber that is a standard caliber for hunting. This is an old caliber created during the civil war and named the .45-70 due to the .45 caliber bullet and the 70 grains of black powder.
It kept the name but is of course now a standard powder load. Made with a flex tip bullet, it is a 325-grain bullet which is basically like shooting softballs. The ballistics at the muzzle is 2,060 ft per second and will drop very quickly.
You can also check out this full video on Hunting Rifle Calibers Explained – 204 Ruger to 45-70 Govt:
Now you know which is the best rifle caliber for you with this rifle caliber comparison. As we've pointed out earlier, it all really depends on your taste and the hunting activity you plan on doing. Consider your experience, too, when choosing the right rifle caliber for yourself.
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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on December 27, 2017, and has been updated for quality and relevancy.