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In Hunting, What Calibers Work Best For Which Species, & Why?

by Oscar Taylor

Man with a hunting rifle in the prone position
Choosing the right caliber for your hunting needs ensures you deliver a clean kill.

The first time I joined my friends for a hunting expedition, one of them stated I didn't have the right caliber. When I asked why, I was told we were hunting big game, and my caliber was best suited for small game.

I'm sure most of us have been in this position. To help you avoid that mistake, I’ve highlighted what calibers work best for which species and why.

Key Takeaways

● Choosing the right caliber for your hunting needs ensures you deliver a clean kill.

● When choosing hunting calibers, factor in a few things like the rifle's caliber, bullet style, ammunition grade, flexibility, power, and reach.

● A versatile rifle that accommodates different cartridges is essential for hunting various game sizes.

Hunting Caliber Chart

Caliber  Range  Recommended Use
  30-06               Mid-range  Large game
 .308  Long range   Small to Medium-sized game
 270  Long range  Medium to Large game
 7mm  Long range  Large game
 .280  Long range  Large game
 .338  Long range   Large game
 .300  Long range  Medium to Large game
 6.5 Creedmoor   Long range  Medium to Large game
 .270  Long range
 Medium to Large game
 .375  Long range  Large game
 .22  Short and Medium range   Small game
 .17   Short and Medium range   Varmints

What Is Each Caliber Best For?

Let's look at several calibers and what species they're best for.


This is probably the most popular hunting cartridge in the world. Despite being over 100 years old, the .30-06 has proven a caliber for big game animals like whitetail deer, elk, and black bear.


Coyote in a grass field

A .308 caliber is ideal for small to medium-sized game.

This is another very capable cartridge and ideal for small to medium-sized game like coyote, goat, cougar, pronghorn, and deer. While it's quite accurate with smaller targets, if you're a great hunter, you can successfully take down medium-sized game.


The .270 Winchester is popular for its high velocity, accuracy, and long-range reach. It's mostly used for hunting whitetail deer and mule deer.


The 7mm Remington Magnum is a powerhouse and has become very popular since it was introduced in 1962. This caliber is ideal for big game like moose and elk while offering the hunter manageable recoil.


Elk in the woods

You can use a .280 caliber for elk hunting.

The .280 Ackley improved caliber is ideal for all big game species. Since it's also effective when shooting at a distance, you can use it for elk hunting.


The .338 Winchester Magnum is considered a big game caliber. It's perfect for taking down moose, elk, and bison-size game. The caliber has enough velocity to drive a bullet through the target, delivering a clean kill.


The .330 Winchester Magnum, also called the 300 WSM, is a heavy round ideal for big game like moose and bears. Even at longer distances, this caliber can still take down a mountain goat, hog, or deer.

6.5 Creedmoor

The 6.5 Creedmoor is ideal for medium to large game like feral hogs, mule deer, whitetails, pronghorn, elk, and moose. This caliber has less recoil than most deer hunting cartridges and is also ideal for long-range shooting.


Elk in a forest

A .270 Winchester cartridge is popular for elk and deer hunting.

The .270 Winchester cartridge is known for flat shooting, producing high muzzle velocity and great potential for accuracy, which makes it popular for deer hunting. If you use heavy-weight bullets like 150 gr, you can use this caliber for hunting elk and moose too.


The .375 H&H has a reputation of being an effective cartridge for hunting big game. It has enough power and velocity to penetrate even the toughest skin without destroying the hide.


The .22 magnum caliber is popular among beginners because it's easy to shoot, has no recoil, and hits targets fast and hard. Use it to hunt small to medium game like foxes, rabbits, squirrels, woodchucks, and prairie dogs.


Lastly, we have the accurate .17 Winchester cartridge, which is also fast and delivers a heavy blow to short to medium-range games. Some of the species you can hunt with this caliber include bobcats, woodchucks, and coyotes.

Considerations When Choosing Hunting Calibers

When choosing the right hunting caliber, you must consider many things to ensure you can take down your game. Below are some factors to keep in mind:

Your Rifle's Caliber

Caliber is the measurement of a bullet's diameter. Generally, a higher caliber translates to a bigger bullet, which can be used to take down a larger game.

You must use the same cartridge as the one stamped on your rifle's barrel or a rifle that can accommodate the caliber. Otherwise, you’ll see poor performance and may even injure yourself.

Style of Bullet

Cartridges inside and outside a magazine

When choosing the right hunting caliber, you must consider many things to ensure you can take down your game.

Another thing to factor in is the bullet type. One common type of bullet is the soft point ammunition. It’s been designed to make a large diameter hole when it comes into contact with a target.

A ballistic tip bullet, known as polymer tip ammunition, is also great for hunting. The inserted tip helps keep the bullet intact as it travels and expands once it comes into contact with the target.

Ammunition Grade

You need to consider ammunition grade as it affects the caliber's performance. Quality ammunition will give you the desired ballistics while ensuring a humane and ethical kill.

Specialty Loads

Specialty loads refer to cartridges designed for specific purposes. For instance, there are manufacturers producing reduced recoil loads, which are ideal for younger shooters. There are also hyper-velocity loads, ideal for people who aren't sensitive to recoil and want maximum performance.


Man holding a hunting rifle in the forest

If you hunt species of different sizes, you want a versatile rifle that can fire cartridges of different sizes.

When someone says caliber flexibility, they refer to a rifle's ability to accommodate different cartridges. This matters since different cartridges have been designed to take down different animals. If you hunt species of different sizes, you want a versatile rifle that can fire cartridges of different sizes.


When you fire a bullet, it travels with a lot of energy, which is dispersed to the target. Too much energy can tear apart the animal, and too little can fail to kill the animal successfully.

It's important to get a versatile rifle that can shoot different types of cartridges so that you can switch it up based on the size of the game you're hunting.


Reach is the range or distance your firearm can successfully hit a target from, this can be greatly extended with the use of a rifle scope. Depending on the game, you may need to fire from different distances. So, ensure you have a rifle you can comfortably fire from different ranges.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the most used hunting caliber?

The most used hunting caliber is the .30-06 Springfield, which can take down different types of game, including deer and elk.

What caliber is best for first time deer hunting?

The caliber that is best for first time deer hunting is the .243 Winchester. It has mild recoil and great performance, especially when hunting deer and antelope.


Oscar Taylor portrait

Oscar Taylor is the owner of BarrettRifles.com, a world-leading blog for all things scopes and firearms. He has been an avid outdoorsman all his life. He’s hunted and fished most of the Eastern United States for over three decades. During his tenure as a hunter, he has hunted almost every North American game animal with either a rifle or a bow. He’s taken down more smaller game animals than you can count. He hunts, ducks, rabbits, birds, squirrels, and the occasional coyote.