Guns & Ammo Network

Collapse bottom bar
Gun Culture Ammo G&A Lists

Best Calibers for North American Big Game

by Craig Boddington   |  July 10th, 2013 14

North America holds some of the most varied hunting conditions on the planet, from mountains to deserts to swamps, plains and forests, with a significant variety of game. The good news is, under any given conditions—and for any given animal—there are lots of good choices and relatively few that are wildly unsuitable. What is perhaps most important is that your choice gives you confidence. One of the few curses of my occupation is it’s a rare blessing when I have a chance to actually use my own rifles, but I definitely have my favorites—or at least my “ideal choices.”

  • Jeff Hosea

    I didn’t agree very much at all with this guy. I know caliber choice is about like talking religion or politics (people like what they like and that’s that). I do believe he understands ammo and the reason for each choice. I also believe you can narrow down the number of calibers (guns), most folks can’t afford 10 different rifles.. Another statement I want to make is the importance of shooting open sights (no scope period). I have 36+ years hunting experience and have hunted many terrains under many circumstances (mountains, brush, with dogs, etc.). If you were ever picked to run the dogs in a Mississippi pine thicket you would think a heavy cave man type club would work(not really but the cover is so thick you would think it). Growing up I only hunted with 3 guns, a 20ga. with 30 inch barrel and full choke, a 22 rifle and a .35 Marlin lever action. These 3 guns covered everything (squirrels, rabbits, ducks, geese, deer, hogs etc. My father started me with a single shot .22. He said one shot is all you need and I’m truly thankful for it. I in turn started my son out with the same for the same reason. It’s a very rare occasion that you’ll miss once you have it instilled in your mind that you only get one shot at taking your target. That all being said I do have more guns then I need , it’s just that I like guns (all kinds, all calibers). If someone were to ask me to narrow it back down to 3 here are my choices and why. An 12 ga. pump with full choke and long barrel (say 30 inch), 3 inch magnum load capable (mostly for geese and ducks). I like a tight shot pattern so I can more control or limit the amount of pellets put into an animal (I don’t want any “shot up” game. That gun will cover all my small game. Next is my old favorite, the .35 marlin lever action. Up to 200 yards it’s a very powerful gun and that’s as far as I can shoot with open sights with confidence. Plenty of “knock down” but after 100 yds. that bullet is dropping like aunt wandas Christmas fruit cake. Once you’ve practiced a lot you learn to compensate for it. Last I like a Bolt action .308 with the best biggest most variable scope you can get. This will cover all North American big game and the key to all hunting is Shot Placement. It only takes one shot in the right place to bring home Supper..!!

    • HankBiner

      But if gun writers stuck with those 3 choices, they’d soon be unemployed. And ammo companies would be out of business.That’s why we need 500 different calibers and 5000 different bullets today. Just as importantly, a Marlin .35 Remington doesn’t look at all like an assault rifle.

      Besides, it’s no fun shooting game at less than 1000 yards anymore. It says so on YouTube.

    • David Marriott

      I basically like your choices with the exception of the .308, which lacks general performance requirements for large north american game (Elk) at at distances past 250 yds.! There are still camps out west that won’t allow you to hunt with them and there are no major ammo manufacturers that have hunting loads past 180grs.. Your .35 marlin is a great little knock down carbine and really will handle all north american game, just like the old .3006 would do. Noone can argue with a .22 cal. or a 12 gauge configuration that handles both 2 3/4″ and 3″ shells. …the .35 marlin is an interesting cartridge that will surprise you and I think is a nice choice!

      • Homer

        I agree,, and a 270 or 280 with 130-140 gran bullet IS the far reacher for me! I like them for antelope!

  • Ray Gerwitz

    I prefer a more versatile rifle capable of all these gaming options. One gun and done. With a 30-06 I can load a wide range of bullet weights and take any North American game I would be hunting.

    • Richard B

      I agree with the one and done mentality. I own a Remington 700 XCR in 7mm RemMag and I can hunt any big game animal in North America save maybe the Brown Bear. I can’t afford to have 5 – 10 different hunting rifles, let alone feed them all their exotic high priced ammo. K.I.S.S. = Keep It Simple Stupid. Focus more on your shooting and shot placement, than having all the “right” calibers that someone said you should have.

    • Confused

      If I could have only one hunting rifle it would be 375HH. Good for anything on the continent and great ballistics no matter what ammo or hand loads you use.
      Nearly the same trajectory over a wide range of loads and distances. Versatile, dependable and lots of energy at impact over a great range of distances too.

  • Steven

    a 30-06 Tikka Stainless with 165gr, 180gr, 200gr bonded bullets can do it all.

    It just plain works. Shot placement is more important than Magnum recoils.

    If it were a Magnum, it would be a compact one- a 300 WSM with 180gr to 200gr bullets.

    Recoil is very manageable and a 200gr Accubond is tough to beat in performance.

    Two words: Nosler and Barnes for bullets.

    • blucorsair

      The 30-06 is my favorite, because it is more versatile than any other cartridge out there and it can offer lite magnum performance as well as lighter recoil loads for beginners. The superformance 180 gr. SST @ 2820 fps. is excellent for longer range hunting and Norma’s oryx 200gr. @ 2625 fps. is great for power and penetration on on Moose and Bear. The ’06 can utilize fast, medium and slow powder burn rates efficiently too! really can’t improve upon perfection!

  • Jeff

    For caribou, a 270 Win or 7mm Mag is great. You may have to take a long shot across the tundra. My dad used a 375H&H with 2-7x scope and it was a bad match. Plus with -35 F temps, the bolt froze. Get a gun that is rust resistant and has a nice self-lubricating micro finish on the bolt and wipe the gun oil off it. Get a nice 4-14x or even a 3-18x scope to reach across the tundra. I like flat shooting boat tails for open range hunting.

  • CZ shooter

    I think the most practical rifle choice for the North American hunting conditions is the 30-06 and 375 H&H. As I am not always practical my choice for two rifles would be 7×57 and 350 Rigby. If only one would be allowed than I would go with 300H&H.

    • David Marriott

      Absolutely, the .3006 offers a 29% terminal ballistic advantage at 300 yds. over the .308 Winchester at relatively standard velocities. See: (ballistic tables for Winchesters .3006 180gr. Balistic Silver tip vs. .308 win. 180gr. Silver Partition) The .3006 has more available cartridge choices for hunting than any other cartridge made today and is the most popular hunting cartridge in the world with the exception of the .22 caliber long rifle.

  • jds98zj

    Craig Boddington is a total joke!! i really wish GUNS&AMMO would get rid of him. he is one of the main reason i no longer subscribe or but that magazine. just take a look at “HIS PERSONAL FAVORITE GUNS” everyone of the are full custom guns, that cost more money then a lot of people make in 2 months. just read his monthly article in G&A, 9.9 times out of ten it’s on some stupid African safari, and his beloved H&H .375 MAG. if and when he does write about some North American hunt, he will use some custom made .300 win mag that cost as much as a good second car. if that isn’t bad enough EVERY AND I MEAN EVERY SHOT is made at 380YRDS + some well over 450yrds. whoop dee friggin do!!!! he writes these same stories month after month year after year, it’s old boring and TOTALLY WORTHLESS. a couple of things he FAILS to realize is, 95% of the people who buy G&A have no interest in hunting in Africa (much less can afford it) anymore then they do in his 5-10 thousand custom made guns. every time he writes about making some 400yrd shot on a animal, all he is doing is putting the idea in some ones head if craig boddington can make that shot then so can i. they end up wounding the animal, never being able for a clean kill or loosing it altogether. just go talk to the warden or DNR in elk country and ask them how many dead ones they find each year after hunting season, then ask if they know how it died. i know i am far from the only one that feels this way about boddington’s articles. i have talked to more people then i can count that are sick of his same boring stories. craig you need to go write for a magazine that caters to your stories. he’s been rehashing the same old story ever since he joined petersen publishing co. in 1979. he retired from the military, now it’s time to retire from writing.

  • Homer

    Tis guy must have 20 different caliber rifles. Almost all southpaw bolts. That’s a lot of expense just because you love rifles. We all know better,, narrow down your selection to just 3 because calibers overlap one another in their spectrum of effectiveness.

back to top