Our third installment on a series involves selecting the proper bullet diameter and weight for the intended prey. My order of importance is; 1) shot placement, 2) bullet construction/impact velocity, 3) caliber/bullet weight.
No conversation about hunting bullets can be complete without talking about bullet caliber and bullet weight. The bullet is doing the actual work, but they are not all the same. The waters are awfully muddy these days with all the advancements in bullet construction that have taken place over the decades. Longer ranges and smaller cartridges today can be used with greater success than was previously thought possible.
With a proper bullet construction matched to the game and distance you are hunting, caliber and weight are less of a concern, but still matter. Bigger bullets, all else being the same, destroy more tissue and will kill quicker. Killing the animal requires dropping the blood pressure to the brain or destroying the brain. Dropping blood pressure usually involves destroying vital organs. Big animals simply have more plumbing to destroy, so larger bullets make sense. I am a firm believer that overkill is not a thing, but going big all the time has its drawbacks.
For the bigger is better crowd, the major drawback is recoil. Everyone shoots better with less recoil. As much as I don't want to admit it, my shooting improves with lighter recoiling cartridges and rifles that have had recoil reduction done to them like brakes and suppressors.
Another drawback to heavy caliber rounds is rifle ergonomics. Big rounds are housed in longer, larger, heavier rifles. This in turn reduces their handiness. The ergonomics of the rifle matter for many hunts. Hunting in brush country a short, quick handling rifles can make a difference in close range, fast shots. Likewise, in the open country of Wyoming grasslands the long, heavy magnum with massive reach can be a big bonus.
I am not advocating for small rounds all the time, just pointing out some draw backs to larger rounds. The small rounds have their limitations as well. Smaller, lighter projectiles lack the BC of the longer, heavier bullets, thus get blown more in the wind. Once they get to target, they will have less energy to do the work needed, which will limit their range. Guys are not winning King of Two Mile with 6mms. Bigger simply matters sometimes.
If I were to chase elk again in any of the mountain states, I want a round that delivers an adequate payload as far as I intend to shoot. I also have to decide which rifle I want to tote around. My personal cartridge choice will differ depending on where and how I am hunting. On public land, it is even more important an animal doesn't flee to private property or go over a hill and get finished by another hunter. If I were on a guided hunt with thousands of acres available, a smaller round might be considered if the worries about the neighbors were gone. Generally speaking, a 7mm with a good 150 or 160 or larger fits the bill most of the time. 30 cal with some 165s, but generally 180s and larger work well. In 338, about anything 210 and larger works really well.
While chasing deer and antelope, I have given favor to the 6.5s for a couple reasons. First and foremost, in field performance is very good. Second, one of my 6.5 rifles happens to be my most accurate rifle. The extra level of confidence goes a long way. The 6.5 PRC exceeds my abilities out west, and the 6.5 Creedmoor is light and handy with enough reach for most situations around home.
If I had to pick one caliber for all of North America, I would pick a 7mm of some sort. The combination of frontal diameter, bullet weight, BC for long range performance, tough bullets available for closer range work combine to make the 7mms very versatile. The only situations I would feel under gunned would be in the face of the coastal brown bears or polar bears, and in both situations I would be required to have a guide and they would have something bigger.
I like the 6.5s and the 30s and 338s. Each one has its specialty. The 7mm family seem to cover the most bases for the most situations for me. I have used a 338 RUM for piles of critters and it still gets the nod, but I cannot complain about the 6.5 PRC and what it has accomplished for me in a short few years.
In the end, we each need to make an informed, personal choice on what to use for each species we hunt. A case can be made for many different calibers and bullet weights for each species. If you can shoot the rifle well, choose an appropriate bullet for the range and species you are hunting, there is quite a bit of grey area on caliber choice. Rifle specs play a larger role in what I carry, than the actual chambering. The only logical answer is to have a rifle for each type of hunt you do!
Let us know what you think and how you decide what to use.