Best .30 Caliber Rifles
There are many magnum hunting cartridges, but those which use .30 caliber bullets are by far the most popular. The “Fast Thirties,” as famed gun writer Craig Boddington calls them, have always captivated hunters. They combine flat trajectories with tremendous down-range power.
They will poleaxe anything they hit as long as the bullet is placed in the animal’s vitals, and they’ll do it at amazing ranges. The .30 cal. magnums make bigger holes in critters than their smaller bore rivals such as the 7mm Remington Magnum and punish the shooter with less recoil than the big bores such as the .338 Lapua. Add in the fact they use easy-to-find .308-inch diameter bullets and you have some real winners.
While .30 caliber bullets come in a wide variety, this vast selection presents some challenges when it comes to the Fast Thirties. They require a hunter to understand bullet construction and terminal performance in depth, especially with cartridges on the power scale’s upper end. Either a long-range bullet fired up close, or a close range one used too far away can cause ineffective wounds and result in a lost game. Always consult with the bullet or ammunition manufacturer as to your needs before you take it on a hunt.
The author analyzed six .30 caliber magnum cartridges (.300 H&H Magnum, .300 Winchester Magnum, .300 Weatherby, .300 Remington Ultra Mag., .30 Nosler, and .30-378 Weatherby) for trajectory, effective range, and recoil with modern ballistic software available free online from shooterscalculator.com. Calculations were corrected to standard temperature (59 degrees F/15 degrees Celsius) and pressure (29.92 inHg/1013 mbar) at sea level.
The short magnums, such as the .300 Winchester Short Magnum, were excluded from this test since they just duplicate their larger cased cousins’ performance but in short-action rifles. Likewise the standard length .308 Norma magnum. It is a great cartridge but a near twin to the .300 Winchester Magnum.
Trajectory in this test is defined as Maximum Point Blank Range (MPBR): the distance over which a bullet rises three inches above sight line and then drops three inches below to hit within a six-inch kill box. Imagine a bullet arcing through a six-inch diameter pipe for a certain distance.
The effective range in this test is the minimum impact energy recommended for a humane kill on the medium game (1200 ft-lbs.) and large game (1500 ft-lbs), and the minimum velocity most hunting bullets require for reliable expansion (1800 fps). If the minimum energy range exceeds the minimum expansion range, the minimum expansion range becomes the maximum effective range since unexpanded bullets are much less effective regardless of how much energy they possess.
Recoil calculations were based on a 9.5-pound rifle weight. As a general rule, more than 15 ft-lbsf is considered enough recoil to affect most shooters’ accuracy. The less recoil, the more accurate the shooter, and hence, the more effective the cartridge.
All calculations were based on the heaviest Nosler AccuBond™ bullet available in factory-loaded ammunition for each caliber unless otherwise noted. The AccuBond™ is a good all-around hunting bullet with high ballistic coefficients (BCs) and terminal performance similar to the time-tested Nosler Partition™. Both BC and sectional density (SD) are noted for each bullet tested. BC quantifies a bullet’s aerodynamic efficiency, and SD predicts the relative ability to penetrate into a game animal; the larger each number, the better.
Specialized long-range bullets were not used as they are unnecessary for most hunting situations. Muzzle velocities are the nominal industry standard for the tested bullet weight in each caliber.
Some cartridges were handicapped by the fact the ammunition companies don’t offer the heaviest bullet weights, rather they offer the most popular or common. This put some cartridges at a disadvantage since only factory advertised velocities were used. The author acknowledges hand loaders can achieve much better performance in many instances.
Points were awarded as follows:
- One point for every 25 yards beyond 200 yards for maximum effective range on medium and large game, respectively, and one point deducted for every 25 yards less than 200 yards.
- One point for every 25 yards beyond 200 yards for minimum expansion velocity, one point deducted for every 25 yards less.
- One point for every 10 yards MPBR beyond 200 yards and one point deducted for every 10 yards less.
- One point for each ft-lbsf recoil less than 15, and one point deducted for every ft-lbsf greater than 15.
Here’s how each cartridge ranked. Detailed performance figures are summarized in the table at the article’s end.
Sixth Place: .300 Holland & Holland Magnum, 54.5 Points
200 gr. AccuBond at 2750 fps. The original .30 caliber belted magnum. Based on its bigger brother, the .375 H&H’s case, and introduced in 1925, the .300 H&H set the standard for long-range rifle cartridges until the .300 Win. Mag.’s arrival in 1963. Renowned for its accuracy, it won many target competitions and has taken every game animal on the planet at one time or another.
.300 H&H in the Hunt
Fifth Place: .300 Winchester Magnum, 56.1 Points
200 gr. AccuBond at 2800 fps. Still the most popular Fast Thirty in the world. The .300 Win. Mag. shoots flat, hits hard, fits in standard length actions, has tolerable recoil, and is available even in remote areas. It is also used by military and police snipers.
Fourth Place: .300 Weatherby Magnum, 65.0 Points
200 gr. AccuBond at 2950 fps. The most powerful .30 caliber magnum until the .30-378 arrived, the .300 Weatherby has a cult-like following. When first introduced in 1944, this cartridge developed a reputation for “excessive” recoil and unpredictable results in the game. Bullet technology at the time could not match this Weatherby’s high velocities and many projectiles often failed when they hit large animals at close range. Modern bullets correct this problem when the right bullet is selected for the appropriate application.
Third Place: 30 Nosler, 66.6 Points
180 gr. AccuBond (.507 BC/.271 SD) at 3200 fps. The newest Fast Thirty, the 30 Nosler appeared in 2016. It is in essence the .300 RUM shortened to fit into a standard length bolt-action. Its efficient case produces near .300 Weatherby performance. No one yet offers this cartridge loaded with 200-grain AccuBonds. The 180 grain tested produced less recoil. With a 200 grain bullet, it likely would have scored equal to or below the .300 Weatherby.
Will the 30 Nosler become popular? Time will tell.
Second Place: .300 Remington Ultra Magnum, 71.0 Points
200 gr. AccuBond at 3100 fps. Introduced in 1999, the .300 RUM has become a favorite in the long range hunting subculture. It comes close to the .30-378’s performance and generates recoil almost equal to a .375 H&H Magnum.
.300 RUM for Long Range Hunting
First Place: .30-378 Weatherby Magnum, 72.6 Points
200 gr. AccuBond (.588 BC/.301 SD) at 3150 fps. The undisputed most powerful .30 caliber magnum in the world. Designed by Roy Weatherby in 1959 but not released to the market until 1996, the .30-378 is based on the .378 Weatherby’s enormous case necked down to accept .308 caliber bullets. However, the power and reach come at a price: vicious recoil.
.30-378 Weatherby: The Flinch Maker
The .30 caliber magnums are popular and for good reason, but bullet selection is vital to realize their full potential. If there is any possibility a hunter might make a shot at less than 100 yards, a tough, controlled expansion bullet is required to prevent bullet disintegration when it hits a large animal at close range.
These are the best choices for shots inside 500 yards: Barnes TSX/TTSX, Swift Scirocco, Swift A-Frame, Nosler Partition, Nosler AccuBond, Nosler E-Tip, Woodleigh Weldcore, PPU soft point, Hornady GMX, Hornady Interbond, and North Fork.
For shots well beyond 500 yards, consider the Nosler AccuBond LR, Swift Scirocco, Berger, Hornady ELD-X, Hornady SST, or Sierra Game King. The main factor is to know the maximum and minimum anticipated impact velocities and the intended game, then select a bullet which is reliable under those conditions.
These cartridges are also best when paired with the heaviest bullet weights. They have the powder capacity to launch them at impressive velocities and thus use those bullets’ high BC and SD advantages. While 180 grain projectiles are by far the most popular, 200 – 220 grain bullets are ideal for large animals such as elk, moose, and the big bears—if one can tolerate the recoil.
The .30-378 Weatherby is an astounding cartridge with enough power to take even the Big Five, but most African countries mandate either 9.3mm or .375 caliber as the minimum for dangerous game hunting. With the right bullet, the .30-378 approaches the .338 Lapua, and bullet choice is critical. Several noted gun writers have said this is the harshest recoiling cartridge they’ve ever fired. It is at its best when housed in a heavy (over 15 pounds) bench rest type long range rifle which will soak up its tremendous recoil forces.
The .300 RUM is a more realistic choice than the .30-378 in a standard weight sporter rifle if a hunter needs this much power. It is not an efficient cartridge, but it is perhaps the best choice for shots on tough animals such as elk and moose beyond 700 yards.
The 30 Nosler is still too new to predict if it will stay on the market for long. Its only real advantage; it provides .300 RUM power in a standard length action. It is not a good choice for light weight mountain rifles since the recoil would challenge even the most dedicated shooter.
While there are now more powerful .30 caliber magnums, the time-tested .300 Weatherby will likely outlast them. As long as it is fed an appropriate bullet, it will do anything a reasonable hunter could ask from a hunting cartridge, and with less powder and recoil.
Likewise the .300 Winchester Magnum. This is perhaps the closest to perfect any Fast Thirty gets. It will drop anything in North America, Europe, or Asia, and everything except the Big Five in Africa. Every rifle maker offers a model chambered in it and unlike the Weatherby, Nosler, and RUM, ammunition is available anywhere in the world.
By today’s standards, the venerable .300 H&H seems tame, even underpowered. Yet, ask anyone who owns one and you’ll get a big, knowing smile from them. It has the lowest recoil in this class, is pinpoint accurate, and has more than enough punch for any rational hunting situation. Besides, with its smooth, almost rocket-like contours and British Empire pedigree, who wouldn’t feel a warm, nostalgic glow taking one into the field with it housed in a pre-64 Winchester Model 70 or Rigby built Mauser?
My personal choice? They are all good, all have their special appeal, but there is often a quality to quantity and quantity is what the .300 Winchester Magnum has. It’s just a good, balanced cartridge which works, doesn’t hit the shooter like a ball peen hammer, and is available on any gun store shelf anywhere in the world. Then again, if I found a well-kept .300 H&H for reasonable money, I’d snatch it up and never once complain about scrounging for ammo.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2017 LJ Bonham
dennis taylor on January 07, 2020:
Strictly for a hunting rifle and nothing else I take a Weatherby mk 5 every time and I always have 24" light weight barrels no matter what caliber they are,Weatherby's have the strongest actions on earth tested well past 210,000 psi and held together,the stock design is such as to tame recoil and still be a natural pointer,lots of freebore makes seating bullets out where they need to be a snap,superior gas venting in case of a rupture.Ammo available everywhere,Smoothest push feed bolt action south of a Mannlicher Shoenaure. To top it off a high grade mk 5 in grade walnut is like artwork and a pleasure to behold.
Paul on July 17, 2019:
Good realistic article. Your maximum mpbr are just a bit off particularly for the 300 WBY. The recoil values are correct, however the 300 WBY properly and safely loaded in a 9.5 pounds rifle can go as high as 37 lbs. The average hovering between 33 and 35 pounds. The 300 Win Mag is right around where you put it but it can also safely climb to 30 and 31 pounds of recoil.
Your view of the 30 Nosler is correct, although it is definitely a superb cartridge, time will tell if it will take off as well as the others.
I've owned 6 Weatherbys over the years and many other rifles. Four of them being 300 WBY and I'm quite familiar with the cartridge. It is capable of phenomenal accuracy even with the traditional free bore. With today's support of available range finder, Kestrels and other instruments to calculate dope beyond standard ranges, any will do. It is no longer necessary to maximize flat trajectory to trump distance. A 300 Win Mag will do very well for almost all applications. The larger 300s, Rum and 30-378 will only provide more power at extreme long range. I personally don't consider extreme long range fair to the game. Too much can go wrong and the recovery of an animal shot at 100 yards can already be complicated at times. Unless one is accompanied by a good number of friends, or shooting in very open terrain where visibility is excellent...I am of the opinion that extreme shots at game are to be avoided.
Thank you for a well researched and well written article !
Eugene Pollitt on May 16, 2019:
MPBR for a 300 Weatherby is 340 yards (150 gr) and 320 yards with 180 grain bullets.
Vince F on April 30, 2019:
All great performing cartridges-all uncommon except the 300 win mag. I deviated from easily available calibers when I tried WSM. Figured more energy at greater distances would help for moose and elk out west. These high energy/high cost calibers will probably force you to take up reloading if you don't already. Not a bad thing unless one hates the thought of becoming a ballistic nerd. If you don't expect to shoot beyond 300 yards, stay with common .30 calibers. Then you can go to a store and buy a box of ammo starting at $17 or less and keep things simple.
LJ Bonham (author) on November 30, 2017:
The .308 is one of the five best cartridges out there in my experience. It punches way above its weight class, if, as you say, you use the right bullet and hit the right place. I still like magnums though, especially in the wide-open West. They give you extra range and power--if you can handle the recoil. I agree with your .375 H&H choice for bear (one of those top five I just mentioned). Thanks for your input and best of luck on future hunts!
Ed K on November 29, 2017:
I personally shoot a 308 win. The longest shot I've taken was 240yds. and dropped a 950lb. moose where it was. This was an up hill almost broad side shot that also took the spine out. The bullet was a 180gr. speer grand slam, and wasn't recovered. The outfitter said he would rather see a 308 in camp that a 7mm mag. (smaller caliber bullets have a tendency to deflect on bone, according to his 30yrs. of guiding). I've never lost a deer with a 308 win. Use good bullets (I like 180+gr.) and shoot strait. If I was going after big bears' give me a 375H+H (or 458win.) with 300gr. bullets.