Magnum Hunting Cartridges Need Not Apply

Updated on March 5, 2019
LJ Bonham profile image

LJ Bonham is a semi-subsistence hunter, hunting magazine editor, and firearms enthusiast who lives in the Rocky Mountains.


.30-06: More Than Enough

The Magnum's Siren Song

Magnum hunting cartridges are seductive. Gun writers and cartridge makers shout the magnum’s virtue at every opportunity—they slay mighty beasts at incredible ranges and no hunter can do without them. While powerful, they also offer vicious recoil and muzzle blast, consume powder like a Marine consumes beer, and are expensive.

Availability is another problem with many magnums. Gun stores in faraway places like Darby, Montana; Barrow, Alaska; or Mahinga, Tanzania often only carry ammunition in a few calibers. Many hunters have had a lifetime hunt cut short because they couldn’t get ammunition for their super-duper, mega magnum after an airline lost their precious few boxes.

So, are magnums really necessary? Short answer, no.

.308 Winchester
.308 Winchester | Source

Placement, Not Power

Game animals are often taken inside three hundred yards, and less than two hundred is the norm. A hunter just doesn’t need all the magnum’s problems to get the basic job done. A deer or elk shot at one hundred yards with a .308 Winchester and .300 Weatherby Magnum would be hard pressed to tell the difference. Assuming the shot is well placed, it will die right then, right there. So why get slammed with a sledge hammer in the shoulder each shot?


The Price You Pay

Recoil does matter. Many shooters develop a significant flinch response to cartridges which slap them around. This interferes with accurate shooting, and accurate shooting, in the end, kills game animals. Heavy recoil, applied to a human body year after year, causes permanent nerve damage in the shoulder, neck, and possibly the brain. So a shooter with long term recoil exposure can develop small tremors in the hands and arms which degrade accuracy and cut a hunting career short before its time.

Okay, I Don't Need a Magnum, Now What?

If magnums are not necessary for most hunting, what are some good standard cartridges? It depends on the game; small, medium, large, or dangerous.


Small Game

For small game such as rabbits and squirrels, the .22 or .17 rimfires are tough to beat. Expand the list to vermin and smaller predators such as fox and coyote and these work well:

  • .204 Ruger
  • .223 Remington
  • .243 Winchester
  • .25-06 Remington

Pronghorn Antelope
Pronghorn Antelope | Source
American Elk
American Elk | Source
6.5x55mm bullet recovered from moose
6.5x55mm bullet recovered from moose | Source

Medium and Large Game

Medium game includes antelope, deer, caribou, and numerous African plains species. These animals need more power and sometimes the shots are a bit longer.

A hunter can't go wrong with these:

  • .243 Winchester
  • .25-06 Remington
  • 6.5x55mm Swedish
  • .270 Winchester
  • 7x57mm Mauser
  • .30-30 Winchester
  • .308 Winchester (7.62x51mm)
  • .30-06 Springfield (7.62x63mm)
  • 8x57mm Mauser
  • 9.3x62mm Mauser.

Large animals such as elk and moose require another step up.

Here area few good choices:

  • 6.5x55mm
  • .270
  • .308
  • .30-06
  • 8x57mm
  • 338-06 A-square
  • .35 Whelen
  • 9.3x62mm
  • .45-70 Government.

Grizzly Bear
Grizzly Bear | Source
Lion | Source

Big, Bad, and Beligerent

Animals which can bite, trample, or gore the hunter are considered dangerous game, they deserve respect and enough power placed in the right spot. Examples include bears, lion, cougar, bison, Cape buffalo, hippopotamus, and crocodile.

While some African countries mandate minimum calibers such as .375, elsewhere dangerous beasts have been successfully taken with standard cartridges and hunters have seldom complained about insufficient power.

Loaded with the right bullets, these rounds have done the job for decades:

  • .30-06
  • 8x57mm
  • .338-06
  • .338 Federal
  • .358 Winchester
  • .35 Whelen
  • 9.3x62mm
  • .376 Steyr
  • .45-70

L-R 9.3x62, .30-06, 8x57, 6.5x55, .308
L-R 9.3x62, .30-06, 8x57, 6.5x55, .308 | Source

If You Had Only One Gun

Many standard cartridges are versatile and can be loaded up or down for many different game classes. This is an advantage for hunters who either don’t want many different rifles, or are constrained by budget or local laws to only a few guns.

These rounds can take everything from marmots to bears:

  • .25-06
  • 6.5x55
  • 7x57mm
  • .308 Winchester
  • .30-06
  • 8x57mm
  • .35 Whelen
  • 9.3x62mm

Bottom Line

Hunting is more about field craft and marksmanship, and much less about raw power. A good hunter, who shoots well, is best served by a time tested, affordable, and available standard rifle cartridge. Magnums need not apply, thank you.

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.

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