The calibre hunter

Looking at the calibre debate as a whole, Byron Pace wonders if the time we spend obsessing over the ‘best’ hunting cartridge is really merited

What is it about debating cartridges that draws so much passion from hunters and shooters? The great calibre debate has raged for more than a hundred years, and is often the subject of camp fire discussion.

In years gone by, with dubious propellents and bullet construction, there was probably quite a lot of merit in this. Especially when it came to dangerous game. It wasn’t just a case of a missed opportunity if things didn’t pan out. It could mean your life. Today it seems a little more trivial.

The irony of this statement doesn’t escape me, since I have been running this series in Sporting Rifle for longer than any series since it first came to print. The reality is that we as hunters are still interested, even if it’s only for interest’s sake.
Still, I ask the question, does calibre choice merit our time? I think this is multifaceted. For a start, calibre choice yes, but that is not the same as cartridge choice. The commonly used phrase ‘calibre debate’ means every iteration, even cartridge options pushing the same calibre projectile.

It seems sensible to understand that a .17 projectile is not as suitable for stalking red deer as a .243, or better still, 6.5mm and above. Add to this that we also need to talk about projectile weight and construction, and it becomes a bit more complex than just saying one cartridge is better than another. Sure, .270 Win is more suitable for red deer than .243 Win pushing 69gn varmint bullets, but is that still true if we are shooting with 150gn heavily bonded projectiles. Maybe not. I have been there before. I once loaded very strong bonded bullets in my old 7×57, which function fantastically on bigger game in SA, but performed horribly on hinds in Scotland. The simple fact was that they were too hard for the quarry. It could be argued that pushing them faster would have compensated for this, but in the constraints I had, that wasn’t possible.

We often get the calibre advice question posed to us on social media, and this can be a hard one to try and answer properly without going into masses of detail. Time I don’t usually have. Many of these questions come from hunters in the UK looking for a rifle to hunt deer, and would like the opportunity to hunt all species at some point. So that counts out a number of options merely due to legislation restrictions. So my first question is do you reload? If you don’t, find out what ammo you can get locally and consistently. So then you’re looking for an off-the-shelf chambering, and the reality is, that probably half a dozen cartridges are suitable and available. From .243 Win through to .270 Win, and whatever falls in between and just beyond, with the European 6.5s, new Creedmoor, and non-magnum 7mms. In reality it doesn’t really matter what you choose if you are looking at only UK species. What is more important is picking a suitable ammo load, and to know your rifle and set up. Be comfortable and practice. If you tend to hunt more of the small species, maybe stick to the smaller calibre end, but then you can load 120-grain .308 Win ammo which is very nippy and flat, and does the job fantastically well on small deer. Don’t get hung up on the cartridge too much. Find a rifle you like, the right ammo, and get out there.

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