Favorite Elk Hunting Cartridge
By Matt Miller
The never ending debate of "What's the best cartridge" is undoubtedly a hot topic. There's an endless amount of magazine articles, blog posts and even manufacturers' suggestions to sift through, all with different ideas and opinions on which is the "best." While this won't be a definitive answer to that ongoing question, it will be one man's opinion to help you find something better: the best round for your needs. Warning on free advice: you get what you pay for!
Some quick notes: I spend a lot of time behind a gun, almost all year 'round. I enjoy long range target shooting and sniper matches, and practice a lot shooting hand-loads and factory rounds out to 1500+ yards. However, hunting is a different deal. We are all bound by fair chase and ethical hunting standards. For myself and most long range shooters I know, our hunting goals are to make the closest range shot possible, and never to take a long shot unless we are supremely confident of a clean one shot kill. That yardage varies from hunter to hunter and depends a lot on the terrain, weather, density altitude and, most importantly, wind.
This discussion and associated issues can go on and on, and go in many different directions. For now, let's keep it simple. A question we get a lot: "what's the best round for elk?"
First, My Golden Rule: The first question I always ask myself when choosing a new hunting rifle/cartridge: Can you buy a box of ammo at a gas station, at 10pm, in the middle of nowhere Montana? Sure, these new wildcat rounds are great, travel at crazy speeds, have godly amounts of energy, etc.. but if you forget your ammo, which happens all of the time, then your rifle is basically useless.
The answer to that question is difficult to say the least. Ask 100 good, experienced hunters what their choice is and the answers vary widely! I know a very accomplished, experienced hunter who chooses .22-250 (legal in Montana) More often, the choices range from .308, 7mm-08 or .25-06 on the low end, to .338 and even .375 on the high end. Lots of people like .30-06 and .300 win mag, and some favor .300 rem ultra mag. But this isn’t about finding the most popular round from a sample group of elk hunters, this is about my personal favorite. Believe it or not, the 7mm mag is by far and away my favorite. Let me explain.
With all of the new high BC bullets on the market, the old 7mm is now capable of some serious down range energy. For Example, my go-to round is the HSM trophy gold, loaded with the fantastic Berger 180gr bullet. Not only is this round lethal at extended ranges, but it is very consistent. Out of my rifle, which is a custom build off of a Remington action, I am seeing SD’s of 9 fps with an extreme spread of only 18fps. For factory ammo, that is outstanding. On the velocity side, these things are moving! Our of my 26in Benchmark 1:8 twist barrel, I am averaging 2930fps. Is it RUM speed, no. But at that velocity, the 180gr bullet packs a punch. Let’s look at the ballistics.
The ballistics don’t lie. Looking over that table, you can see that this round is staying supersonic past 1500 yards and packing 1000+ ft-lbs of energy past 1100 yards. Pretty incredible performance for a round that is easy to find, relatively inexpensive and has very mild recoil.