Which hunting calibre is best?

Byron Pace puts the most common calibres head-to-head to determine which really is the best

There are a few questions in rifle shooting that incite swarms of responses, polarise opinions, and likely end up in some form of argument.

Asking “Which cartridge is the best for deer?” on online shooting forums is a bit like asking Land Rover Defender owners what the best engine is. 

I would never ask such a divisive question on an online forum – but it got me thinking. It may be a worthwhile exercise to collate a bit of data on a number of the major cartridges, and put them side by side to add a bit of science to the opinions spouted by cartridge die-hards.

How often have I heard that a .308 Win is a useless deer cartridge, or that a .270 Win is the one-stop calibre for just about anything?

What I cannot do in this  limited space is provide an in depth analysis, but I can look at energy and trajectory. Keep in mind that the type of bullet employed will make a massive difference to down-range terminal performance, and is often the reason for unsatisfactory results.

The awards for greatest energy delivered at muzzle and 300m ranges went to the .300 Win Mag. You will also note the smallest down-range drop at 200 and 300 metres, accounted for by the .22-250 Rem.

There are a couple of interesting observations. The first is the vast superiority of the .22-250 Rem over the .223 Rem, for the same bullet type and weight.

The second is the down-range delivery of the .270 Win with factory loads other than the improved and faster Superformance ammo from Hornady. In this case, when compared to the fastest 150gn .308 Win ammo, you get zero trajectory advantage and a considerable energy disadvantage at 300m.

The ‘energy to drop trade-off’ column is a crude measurement but shows the compromise between flatter trajectories and available down range energy. The higher the number the better this trade-off is achieved.

Unsurprisingly the magnums come out on top, but the old-school .30-06 also features favourably. The Superformance .270 Win shows an excellent trade-off, but other ammo shows a less-than-stellar comparison to other cartridges.

All data taken from available factory loads and will vary depending on the rifle and environmental conditions.

Ballistic comparison

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