To begin with, you have to specify whether you’re talking about the best rifle caliber, best handgun cartridge or best shotgun shell. For today, let’s just consider what might be the best rifle cartridge. We’ll worry about handgun calibers and shotgun gauges another day.
Since the beginning of modern rifle cartridges in the late 19th century, there have been numerous cartridges that have been used and loved by riflemen around the world. All have pros and cons. It’s been claimed that the venerable 30-30 Winchester has taken more deer than any caliber in the world. I suspect that’s probably true, and if you’re a whitetail hunter in the woods of the eastern U.S., then you’d probably swear that the 30-30 is the world’s best cartridge.
However, if you’re a fan of hunting Rocky Mountain elk, you’d probably laugh at the puny 30-30 and be much more inclined to favor a 7mm Magnum or a 308 Winchester. Hunters seeking mule deer on the open reaches of the Great Basin might turn to the 270 Winchester as their choice for the best rifle.
While antelope hunters in the same range may depend upon a 243, professional guides in Alaska swear by a lever-action in 45-70 that will deliver massive stopping power on a charging grizzly at 20 yards.
In short, your definition of the best cartridge will be influenced by the kind of game you hunt, as well as the terrain you hunt in.
Varmint hunters prefer a cartridge that shoots a fairly light bullet at amazingly fast speeds. They’ll choose cartridges like a 223 Remington, 25-06, 22 Hornet or something more esoteric, like a 257 Roberts. Varmint hunters need a cartridge that can carry a long distance in a very short time, and thus the slower, heavy bullets needed for bear, elk or moose are almost useless to them. By contrast, a varmint caliber would just make a bear or moose angry and could get you killed.
If I had to pick just one caliber to hunt the broadest array of North American game, I have no doubt that I’d choose the 30-06. As its name suggests, it’s been around for more than 100 years, and it’s available everywhere. You can find 30-06 ammo in outfits from fancy gun shops to small-town hardware stores all over America. You can get light bullets in 06 for varmints and antelope, medium bullets for deer and black bear, and heavy-duty bullets for wild boar, grizzlies, and elk. The 30-06 is, in my opinion, the best rifle cartridge in the North America.
If you disagree, tell me why. It might be an interesting discussion.
Until next week, tight lines.
• Don Moyer is president and CEO of a consulting firm and has more than 20 years’ experience working with the outdoor recreation community, including anglers, hunters, backpackers, environmental groups and the public. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.