Matching the Cartridge to the Hunt

This post isn’t intended to declare that one cartridge is better than another. Rather it’s to walk through my cartridge selection process with the hopes that somebody will find it useful, and maybe somebody will suggest improvements to my selection process.

First things first. I am going to compare centerfire rifle cartridges that I have regular access to, which I am comfortable and proficient with. I suggest everyone does the same.

Next I am going to look at the cartridges capabilities which surpass my own capabilities. Knowing the limits of my own capabilities will inform my decision to actually take a shot or not out in the field. This is another thing everyone should keep in mind to ensure safe and ethical hunting practices.

Finally, I’m going to compare similar advertised ballistics of the a couple product lines marketed for the specific hunting applications I will be exploring. It’s a good idea to be aware of and have knowledge of the actual ballistic performance of a cartridge when fired from one’s own rifle. This takes range time and specialized equipment that not everyone has access to. But when that data is available it should be used instead during the cartridge selection process.

Let’s get started.

The first step is to gather a list of cartridges available to select from. In my case, I’m going to look at:

  • .223 Remington
  • 6.5mm Creedmoor
  • .308 Winchester
  • .30-06 Springfield
  • .338 Lapua Magnum

Next it is important to identify the hunting application. I’m going to explore medium and big game hunting applications as that is what I am most likely to participate in. For each of those applications, it’s important to define the acceptable terminal energy and sectional density minimums in order to achieve an ethical and lethal kill shot.

Let’s make a note of what I have defined so far.

ApplicationClassWeightMinimum Energy
Medium gameCPX251 to 300 lbs800 ft-lbs
Large gameCPX3301 to 1000 lbs1,200 ft-lbs

With those definitions, I’m ready to look at advertised velocities and use a ballistic calculator to determine the maximum range at which my available cartridges can still deliver sufficient energy for the hunting application (also known as the maximum effective range). I’m going to collect advertised ballistic information from Hornady’s Precision Hunter and Superformance lines. I’ll also use Hornady’s online ballistic calculator to find the maximum effective ranges of those cartridges.

I’ll start with Hornady’s Precision Hunter product line, which doesn’t offer a load in .223 Remington:

CartridgeBullet1,200 ft-lb Range800 ft-lb Range
6.5mm Creedmoor143 gr ELD-X550 yards875 yards
.308 Winchester178 gr ELD-X575 yards850 yards
.30-06 Springfield178 gr ELD-X675 yards950 yards
.338 Lapua Magnum270 gr ELD-X1375 yards1775 yards

Next up is Honrnady’s Superformance product line, which doesn’t offer a load in .338 Lapua Magnum:

CartridgeBullet1,200 ft-lb Range800 ft-lb Range
.223 Remington55 gr GMX25 yards175 yards
6.5mm Creedmoor120 gr GMX450 yards700 yards
.308 Winchester165 gr GMX500 yards725 yards
.30-06 Springfield165 gr GMX600 yards825 yards

I can know take this information and combine it with the hunting application specifics along with my preferences to determine the most appropriate cartridge for me.

For example, let’s say I’m going to go deer hunting (that’s medium game) where the terrain will be limited to short range shots (under 175 yards). While any of the above cartridges will deliver more than the 800 ft-lbs minimum energy at those ranges, .223 Remington is probably my best option as it’s the cartridge I’m most proficient with. Although if I’m being honest, I’d end up going with the 6.5mm Creedmoor anyway because I’d rather hunt with a bolt action rifle and I don’t have a bolt action rifle chambered for .223 Remington.

On the other hand, let’s say I’m going to go big game hunting in terrain where shots beyond 675 yards are likely. Then in this case, .338 Lapua Magnum is my only viable choice. This is because it is the only cartridge on my list that can still deliver over 1,200 ft-lbs of energy beyond that distance.

In summary, combing the capabilities of the cartridges available with the application specifics without forgetting the jurisdictional regulations and one will end up with a smaller list of applicable cartridges to choose from. The last step is to simply apply one’s own preferences, proficiency, and capability to find the most suitable cartridge.

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Author: Uncle Zo

Just an average Joe who loves to geek out on firearm mechanics and ballistics.

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