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10 MORE Underrated Hunting Cartridges

Recently we listed 10 classic cartridges that still deserve a place in big-game hunting camps. You, our audience, pointed out that we'd missed a few. We agree. Here are 10 more underrated centerfire rifle cartridges that can still get it done.

10 MORE Underrated Hunting Cartridges

Listening to our readers, we've gone back to the well for 10 more cartridge classics that warrant another look! (Author Photo)

Not long ago I wrote an article on 10 classic cartridges that still deserved the attention of hunters and shooters, and truthfully it was one of the most difficult articles I’ve written. It wasn’t that there weren’t ten cartridges worth mentioning — quite the opposite, in fact. I felt that there was simply no way to call out 10 of our best classic hunting and shooting rounds without missing a few.

Readers agreed. There are some loads that deserve a spot on the list that didn’t make the first round of cuts, and we’ve read your responses. A few of the rounds you suggested surprised me, but there were many responses that I read and nodded in agreement, there were plenty of viable cartridges that didn’t get their time in the sun.

.25-06 Aoudad
Petersen's Hunting editor David Draper proves classic cartridges like the .25-06 Remington can still get it done. (Author Photo)

So, here’s round two. A few cartridges aren’t listed on here that are indeed classics, the two most obvious being .308 Winchester and .300 Winchester Magnum. But there is a reason they weren’t listed — they still remain popular. When I examined the list of new rifle offerings for last year, the .308 Win. and .300 Win. Mag. were both so well-represented that calling them “underrated” was plain wrong. Gunmakers still churn out a lot of rifles chambered for these two rounds.

Other cartridges didn’t make the cut because they’re relatively new. The .338 Federal is one of them. It’s a hard-hitting cartridge that fits in a short-action rifle, and it’s suitable for most big game, but it’s just not old enough to be a classic. Ditto for the .300 Ham’r, the criminally underappreciated cartridge that Bill Wilson designed not long ago. I’m hoping that Wilson Combat’s recent purchase of New Ultra Light Arms draws attention back to the mild-mannered but highly effective .300 Ham’r.

7x64 Kudu
Despite waning popularity in the States, some of these cartridges still enjoy popularity abroad, such as the 7x64 Brenneke (.280 Remington) favored by Namibian professional hunter Jacques Strauss for plains game, including kudu. (Author Photo)

I also flat-out cheated on this list, adding two rounds in one position that are so close in performance that their game-getting capability is essentially identical. Is this list complete? No. There are still hunters felling game with .30-40 Krags and .405 Winchesters, but neither made the cut. However, the rounds listed here all deserve attention, and they all still work well on game.

.257 Roberts

Nosler .257 Roberts
.257 Roberts: Nosler 110-gr. AccuBond (Photo courtesy of Nosler)

The beloved “Bob” maintains a substantial fan base, and they weren’t happy to see the .257 Roberts get snubbed on the first edition of this list. They have a legitimate complaint because the .257 Roberts is a versatile and effective hunting cartridge. In the years leading up the Great Depression, Major Ned Roberts was toying with a necked-down version of the 7x57 Mauser, and years later when Remington standardized the cartridge Roberts’ name stuck. Oddly, the .257 Roberts is the only common centerfire rifle cartridge to receive a +P designation from SAAMI. Normally reserved for pistol loads, the Roberts +P designation was introduced in 1974 and indicated a boost in pressure from 54,000 to 58,000 PSI. The result was a faster cartridge that was even more capable and versatile. Most current factory loads for the .257 Roberts push a 117-grain bullet between 2,650 and 2,800 feet per second (fps), but Hornady’s Superformance load edges closer to the 3,000-fps mark while Nosler’s 110-grain Accubond exceeds that velocity slightly. With the Nosler Accubond load the .257 Roberts drops just 6.6 inches at 300 yards when zeroed at 200 yards, which means its shoots flatter than some magnums. That round also retains north of 1,000 foot-pounds of energy to nearly 500 yards. The .257 Roberts in an impressive cartridge, and when you couple this performance with very mild recoil you can see why the Bob still has so many believers.

.25-06 Remington

Hornady .25-06
.25-06 Remington: Hornady 117-gr. Interlock (Photo courtesy of Hornady)

There were two cartridges that I deeply regretted not including on the first edition of this list, and the .25-06 was one of them. Like the .257 Roberts, it began life as a wildcat cartridge and was developed and tested by A.O. Niedner among others. The concept was simple: neck down a .30-06 Springfield case to accept .257-caliber bullets and viola, the .25-06 was born. There was one problem, though — existing powders in the 1930s couldn’t make the most of the .25-06’s case design and velocities weren’t enough to impress .257 Roberts owners to switch. When slower burning powders arrived on the scene in the mid-twentieth century, though, the .25-06 came into its own. Remington legitimized the round in 1969.

Federal .25-06
.25-06 Remington: Federal 100-gr. TSX (Photo courtesy Federal)

The .25-06 pretty much picks up where the .257 Roberts leaves off in terms of velocity. Expect factory .25-06 loads to push 117-grain bullets at or just over 3,100 fps while 120-grain bullets travel around 3,000 fps. There are lighter factory loads for the .25-06 available too, down to 85-grain varmint loads with a velocity of 3,500 fps. Not surprisingly, the .25-06 is a favorite of western hunters including the late outdoor writer Bob Milek who championed the .25-06 as the best open plains deer and antelope cartridge because of its laser-flat trajectory and minimal recoil. Most loads carry well over 1,000 foot-pounds of energy at 500 yards, making the .25-06 an ideal round for mid-size game at extended ranges. My friend David Draper dropped a huge aoudad ram at a couple hundred yards with a .25-06 firing 90-grain monolithic Hornady bullets, and aoudad are notoriously tough. I’ve heard good things from those who used it on elk, and I know one man who drew an Idaho moose tag and killed his bull at 120 yards with a single shot from — you guessed it — the .25-06. That’s a lighter round than I’d use on moose, but it worked just fine for him.

6.5x55 Swedish Mauser

Federal 6.5x55
6.5x55 Swedish: Federal 140-gr. Fusion (Photo courtesy of Federal)

When fans of modern cartridges describe “discovering” the 6.5s in recent years, 6.5x55 loyalists are quick to point out that their favorite 6.5 cartridge has been around since the late 1800s. The 6.5x55 Swedish Mauser, 6.5 Swede, or simply 6.5x55, has served as a military chambering in Scandinavian countries and was once considered a premier target round thanks to its many competition wins (including Olympic biathlons before contestants switched to .22s). It’s also the go-to hunting round in countries like Sweden and Norway for deer and moose, making it Scandinavia’s answer to the .30-06 Springfield. Factory loads range from 100- to 155-grains, with 120- and 140-grain loads being most popular. The 6.5x55 Swede was well ahead of its time because it used heavy-for-caliber bullets with a fairly fast (1:8.6 inches) twist rate to stabilize those projectiles. However, it’s a product of an era when not all rifle actions were as strong as modern designs, so most factory loads do not represent the true top-end performance capabilities of the 6.5x55. If you want to get the most from this round in modern rifles, you’ll need to handload.

It's illustrative to compare Hornady’s 140-grain factory 6.5x55 SST Superformance load against the company’s 143-grain 6.5 Creedmoor ELD-X load. Muzzle velocity for 6.5x55 load is slightly faster than the 6.5 Creedmoor (2,735 and 2,700 fps, respectively) and both loads drop 7.9-inches at 300 yards when zeroed at 200 yards. The variation in drop at 500 yards is less than an inch, and energy levels are within 100 foot-pounds to 400 yards. Stretch things out a bit and the Creedmoor starts to pull ahead of the 6.5x55, but within most practical hunting ranges the two cartridges deliver almost identical performance, and a careful handloader can beat the Creedmoor’s numbers at those distances. The 6.5x55 was a great hunting cartridge 100 years ago, and it’s still a great option even in the face of more modern competitors.

7x57 Mauser

Nosler 7x57
7x57 Mauser: Nosler 140-gr. Expansion Tip (Photo courtesy of Nosler)

Paul Mauser’s 7x57 cartridge first came to the attention of Americans in the aftermath of the Spanish-American war where U.S. soldiers and their .30-40 Krag rifles were seriously outclassed by 1893 Mauser 7x57 rifles firing 173-grain bullets. The Krag’s 220-grain load plugged along at or just below 2,000 fps while the Mauser’s bullet was traveling about 700 fps faster. That was enough to make the world powers sit up and take a close look at what Mauser had done with his new round, and in many ways the 7x57’s success prompted a revolution in centerfire cartridge design. It also made the 7x57 Mauser a popular sporting cartridge, and anyone who owns a 7x57 rifle is very likely to tell you about the exploits of W.D.M. “Karamojo” Bell, who made quite a living selling the ivory from elephants he’d harvested with his 7x57 rifle firing 173-grain FMJ bullets.

I’ll not proclaim the 7x57 Mauser (or .275 Rigby, as it’s known in England) as a suitable or sensible elephant cartridge, but it’s an outstanding hunting round for medium-sized game. You can still purchase factory 7x57 ammo loaded with bullets at or exceeding 170 grains, but most modern factory hunting loads are in the 140-grain range with velocities around 2,700 fps. The 7x57 is capable of more velocity than that, but factory loads are watered down to account for older rifles of unknown origin and quality. Even with factory loads, the 7x57 is an effective hunting round for deer-sized game at moderate ranges. My own 7x57 is a Ruger No. 1, purchased ostensibly for my wife who shoots left-handed and needed a low-recoiling hunting rifle. I’ve admittedly shot that rifle far more than I expected to when I promised her a new rifle, and I’ve come to love that mild-recoiling single-shot. It’s a capable deer and hog rifle, and it is suitable for a variety of African plains game.


.280 Remington/7x64 Brenneke

Remington .280 Remington
.280 Remington: Remington 140-gr. Core-Lokt Tipped (Photo courtesy of Remington)

The .280 Remington was another cartridge that I intended to add to my first iteration of this list, but after final edits I axed it. Understandably, readers weren’t happy, and I deserved all those wagging fingers. I guess that’s par for the course for the .280 Remington, though, which seems to have been cursed from the outset. Remington initially released the cartridge in 1957 but chambered it in their Model 740 autoloading rifle in the assumption that all hunters would be carrying autoloaders, which proved a marketing misstep.  Five years later, along came the 7mm Remington Magnum, and that should have been the death knell for the .280. It survived long enough to endure Remington’s bizarre 1979 decision to rename it to, of all things, 7mm Remington Express. This unfortunately resulted in some hunters loading that round formerly known as .280 Rem. in their 7mm Rem. Mags. The lawyers at Remington HQ hastened a reversal of this marketing blunder, and we were soon back to the .280 Remington. The following year Remington released the 7mm-08, which was a slap to the already bruised face of the poor .280.

Hornady .280 Remington
.280 Remington: Hornady 150-gr. ELD-X (Author Photo)

Despite the company’s marketing mistakes, the .280 Remington remains one of the best all-purpose hunting rounds on the planet. The most common bullet weights for factory loads are 140- and 165-grains, with velocities ranging from 2,800 fps to about 3,000 fps. That means the .280 will shoot flatter than the .30-06 (from which it is derived) and carries more than 1,500 foot-pounds of energy past 500 yards with most loads. It doesn’t have the muzzle blast or recoil of its cousin the 7mm Remington Magnum, but terminal performance is very similar at moderate ranges. The .280 shoots flat enough for deer and antelope and isn’t grossly overpowered for either. It’s also suitable for elk, moose, mountain goat, and other tough game. In short, if you own a good .280, you’re prepared for everything but dangerous game.

I also want to give credit to the 7x64 Brenneke here because it’s Europe’s version of the .280 Remington, and ballistics are nearly identical. Though not very popular in the States, this round has a loyal following in other parts of the world. My friend Jacques Strauss is a Namibian professional hunter (PH) with Kowas Safaris and one of his pet rifles is a 7x64 that he has used successfully on an array of plains game, up to and including kudu. Like the .280, the 7x64 is a versatile round that deserves more attention.  

.303 British

Hornady .303 British
.303 British: Hornady 174-gr. BTHP (Photo courtesy of Hornady)

The .303 British first appeared in 1888 in the Lee-Metford rifle, and it straddled the development of smokeless powders. The .303 served in countless conflicts and was imported to all the Victorian British colonies which helped popularize the cartridge the world over. When I absentmindedly forgot to bring ammunition for my rifle during a day of hunting in Africa, my PH Bijorn Leroux offered me the use of his .303 British rifle. When I asked if he thought it would kill a kudu bull, he assured me that rifle had accounted for many large plains game animals.

The .303 British’s ballistics aren’t awe-inspiring by modern standards. It will push a 180-grain bullet around 2,400 fps, which is slower than either a .308 Winchester or .30-06. Hornady’s 150-grain InterLock ammo is a bit livelier, launching that bullet at 2,685 fps with a ballistic curve that approaches most off-the-shelf 180-grain .30-06 loads. At 200 yards, the InterLock bullet carries over 1,600 foot-pounds of energy, but it’s barely clinging to 1,000 foot-pounds at 400 yards. Like so many other cartridges on this list, the .303 is loaded down with factory ammo because there are so many old rifles of questionable metallurgical integrity floating around. In truth, a .303 rifle with the above ballistics makes a very fine deer/antelope/hog rifle, so long as shots are kept to moderate distances. The .303 also produces very manageable recoil.

Uberti Stalking Rifle
Uberti Courteney Stalking Rifle in .303 British (Photo courtesy of Uberti)

Interest in the .303 had just about dropped off when Uberti launched their 1885 “Courteney” Stalking rifle (Read Craig Boddington's full review, here), an elegant single shot with a case-hardened receiver, and a Prince of Wales buttstock with red recoil pad. That was a fun gun to shoot, and I’ve regretted that I didn’t buy it when I had the chance. 

.300 Weatherby Magnum

300 Weatherby Mag
.300 Weatherby Magnum: Weatherby 180-gr. Swift Scirocco (Photo courtesy of Weatherby)

Roy Weatherby was the king of big belted magnums, and nothing speaks more to his “faster is better” philosophy than the .300 Weatherby Magnum. Launched in 1945, the .300 Weatherby Magnum was based on an improved version of the.300 H&H Magnum and featured a rounded Venturi shoulder and prodigious case capacity that made it capable of driving a 180-grain bullet to more than 3,200 fps. That equates to 4,175 foot-pounds of muzzle energy, which is about 100 foot-pounds less than my .375 H&H Magnum firing 300-grain bonded bullets. At 400 yards, the .300 Weatherby bests the H&H in terms of retained energy by more than 1,000 foot-pounds. The .300 Weatherby Magnum shoots very flat, too: a 200-grain Hornady ELD-X bullet fired from a .300 Weatherby Magnum at 2,960 fps beats the trajectory of a 145-grain ELD-X fired at 2,970. Weatherby trajectory figures state the 180-grain TTSX load at 3,232 fps will be zeroed at 300 yards when it impacts 3-inches high at 100 yards, and at a range of 400 yards that load, so sighted, will drop just 8.7-inches. Yeesh.

Those are the types of numbers that make Weatherby rifles legendary. The ying to the Weatherby’s ballistic yang, though, is very stiff recoil and lots of muzzle blast. The recoil from a 9-pound .300 Weatherby Magnum rifle is only slightly less than the .375 H&H Magnum, though recoil velocity and muzzle blast (both of which weigh into perceived recoil) is higher than the .375. A muzzle brake will help mitigate the setback but will accentuate muzzle blast, so you’ll have to decide whether adding a brake is worthwhile.

My grandfather owned a Winchester Model 70 in .300 Weatherby Magnum for elk hunting and that happened to be the first centerfire rifle I ever fired. It was not an experience I’d soon forget, but in a proper weight rifle (I think 9 pounds should be minimum for comfort, sans brake) the .300 Weatherby is manageable. Incidentally, the great hunter and writer Craig Boddington is a fan of the .300 Weatherby Magnum, and so are many elk and moose hunters who operate in grizzly bear country.

.348 Winchester

Hornady .348 Win.
.348 Winchester: Hornady 200-gr. FTX (Photo courtesy of Hornady)

The .348 Winchester arrived on the scene in 1935 alongside Winchester’s Model 71 lever action, a gun that was designed to serve as a replacement to the company’s aging Model 1886. Winchester envisioned the rifle as a modern take on the lever gun, but it had some foibles. First, it was a top-eject rifle. You can mount a scope on a Model 71, but it’s not a straightforward process because the optic must be positioned so that it doesn’t interfere with ejection. The .348 cartridge itself was also something of an oddball. It was based on the .50-110 case, which has a rim diameter larger than a .416 Rigby. The bullet diameter was also a strange choice. There’s only one cartridge that uses a .348-inch bullet, and it’s the .348 Winchester.

The .348 was a one-of-a-kind cartridge, but it’s a fine hunting round. Bullets from 150- to 250-grains have been available for the .348, but 200-grain options seem to be the sweet spot. Hornady’s .348 LeverEvolution round makes 2,560 fps at the muzzle and generates 2,910 foot-pounds of energy, far eclipsing the .35 Remington’s muzzle energy of 2,198 foot-pounds with the same weight bullet. The .45-70 hits harder at the muzzle than the .348 Winchester, but by 100 yards the .348 packs more punch. The .348 also shoots considerably flatter than the .45-70. Zero a .348 Winchester at 200 yards and it drops 10.9-inches at 300 yards while a .45-70 zeroed at 200 yards drops 23-inches at 300 yards.

Pedersoli Model 71
Davide Pedersoli Model 86/71 Lever-Action Rifle, available in .348 Winchester. (Photo courtesy Pedersoli)

Winchester offered the Model 71 from 1935 to 1958, and Browning later offered some Model 71s made by Miroku in Japan. Pedersoli of Italy currently offers a Model 71 clone in .348 Winchester which is available in the States through Italian Firearms Group. I’ve seen the Pedersoli Model 71s in person and can attest that they are indeed beautiful guns. If you’re looking for a slick-handling lever action that offers a relatively flat trajectory and ample power for deer, elk, black bear, and moose at moderate ranges the .348 is worth a look.

.35 Whelen

Nosler .35 Whelen
.35 Whelen: Nosler 300-gr. AccuBond (Photo courtesy of Nosler)

The .35 Whelen was developed by necking up the .30-06 case to accept .358-inch bullets and is named in honor of the great ballistician Colonel Townsend Whelen who helped develop the cartridge. When the Whelen first arrived, it offered an affordable and widely available alternative to big-bore magnum cartridges. After decades as a wildcat cartridge, Remington lent its seal of approval to the .35 Whelen and the round was standardized in 1988. Since the Whelen was based on the .30-06, brass was widely available and ’06 rifles could be easily rebarreled for .35 Whelen. This made the .35 Whelen an alternative to the classic, but costly, .375 H&H Magnum.

The Whelen won’t match the H&H’s energy levels, but it’s darn close. Modern .35 Whelen loads stick with bullets ranging from 200- to 250-grains, and that’s a sensible spread. Heavy loads like Norma’s 250-grain Oryx factory ammo with a velocity of 2,428 fps produce almost 3,300 foot-pounds of energy at the muzzle. Hornady’s 200-grain Superformance SP load, at an astounding 2,910 fps, is more suitable for hunting at extended ranges and offers a trajectory curve that closely mimic’s Hornady’s 180-grain InterLock American Whitetail load. Nosler’s 225-grain Accubond load at 2,700 lies somewhere in the middle and makes a versatile choice for all-purpose hunting.

Federal .35 Whelen
.35 Whelen: Federal 200-gr. Fusion (Photo courtesy of Federal)

The Whelen’s punch and added frontal area make it a suitable bear stopper, and it carries enough energy to effectively kill big, tough animals like elk, moose, and nilgai at moderate ranges. Modest velocities also mean that the Whelen doesn’t destroy as much meat as smaller, faster chambering with explosively expanding bullets, so the cartridge is perfectly suitable for whitetails. Recoil is stiff but not overly abusive. I’d rank it more than the .30-06 but certainly less than the .338 Win. Mag. and .375 H&H Magnum. Recent legislation in some southern states allows the use of .35-caliber centerfire cartridges in single-shot rifles during primitive season for whitetails. Understandable, this has sparked a renewed interest in the .35 Whelen, and suddenly ammunition is in high demand, giving the Whelen a much-deserved boost.


Hornady 9.3x62
9.3x62: Hornady 286-gr. SP-RP DGX (Photo courtesy of Hornady)

Like most American hunters, I’d never seen a 9.3x62 before my first trip to Africa. I was in Namibia at the time, which used to be known as Suid-Wes Afrika during its German colonial days, and that German influence led to the popularity of the 9.3x62 cartridge. The 9.3x62 (or 9.3x62 Mauser, if you prefer) was designed by Germany’s Otto Bock in 1905, making the 9.3x62 a year older than our own .30-06 Springfield. Bock designed the 9.3x62 from scratch to match the general dimensions of the popular new cartridges of the era like the .30-03 and 7x57, and many Mauser rifles in 9.3x62 made their way to Africa. In German colonies like Namibia, the 9.3x62 was a popular all-around hunting cartridge that wasn’t grossly overpowered for plains game, yet offered enough punch to stop dangerous animals like lion and buffalo. Remember that the 9.3x62 predates the .375 H&H Magnum and .416 Rigby, so the 9.3 filled a serious power gap in the available cartridge lineup at the time. You’ll still see 9.3x62s in use in southern Africa, particularly in Namibia, where the cartridge stands up well against modern competitors. Lately the cartridge has also won over some fans on this side of the Atlantic, and I’ve never met anyone who owned a 9.3x62 rifle that didn’t sing the round’s praises.

Unlike the .375 H&H, the 9.3x62 can fit in a standard-length action, allowing rifles to be built more affordably and lighter. One shouldn’t go too light, though, for the 9.3 still thumps the shooter with authority. Depending upon gun weight and load, the 9.3x62 produces about 20 percent less recoil than a .375 H&H but substantially more recoil than a .30-06. The most popular bullet weights are 250- and 286-grains. Federal’s 286-grain Swift A-Frame load at 2,360 fps offers modest recoil compared to a .375 H&H and produces almost 3,600 foot-pounds of muzzle energy. The trajectory curve won’t impress magnum cartridge fans: Sight it in 3 inches high at 100 yards and A-Frame strikes dead-on at 200, before dropping a full 12 inches at 300. But, for hunting at moderate ranges where added energy is needed, the 9.3 will do the job, and it’s the only cartridge on the list that is currently in common use for hunting dangerous African game like cape buffalo. If you want to flatten the trajectory curve a bit, you can switch to Nosler’s 250-grain Accubond load at 2,550 fps, but the 9.3 was never envisioned as a flat-shooting, open-country cartridge. Instead, it’s a hard-hitting round for the largest game at moderate distances, and in that role it works exceedingly well.

Sound Off

Well, what say you? Have we hit the major players, or are we just scratching the surface? Let us know what you think of this classic cartridge ensemble by emailing and using "Sound Off" in the subject line.

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