Ask The Guides: What's the Perfect Hunting Cartridge?
May 16, 2014
One of the most popular discussions around any hunting camp is which cartridge is the best for a particular type of hunt. The decision can be difficult with so many factory cartridges on the market today. Typically, there are several good options for each type of animal.
Guides and professional hunters see a lot of different rifles chambered for different calibers, so they generally have a wealth of information regarding a particular cartridge's effectiveness on game.
For this piece, I polled several of the top guides and PHs around the world to determine which cartridge — if they could only choose one — they would recommend for their clients to hunt one animal in one area.
I asked each professional to recommend their favorite cartridge based on their own hunting area, which varies from the flat, open country of New Mexico to the peaks of the Alaskan Range and the muddy banks of the Lower Zambeze River.
Based on their past experiences, here's what each hunting professional recommended to their clients for the perfect hunting cartridge.
7mm Remington Magnum
Andy Savage, Heaven's Gate Outfitters.
Andy Savage guides hunters on 1,200 square miles of remote and rugged land in western Idaho, and the areas he hunts are home to some really good bull elk. Having hunted with Andy, I can attest to the fact that the steep terrain often requires a long shot if you want to punch your tag, so you need a rifle that shoots flat and hits hard enough to stop a big bull. For Savage, the answer is the 7mm Remington Magnum.
Savage's own 7mm Remington Magnum is a Gunwerks rifle with a Nightforce scope, a combo that he relies on exclusively when hunting in Idaho.
'œI call her Louise, just put the crosshairs on and give her a squeeze. I have one guy that has taken 8 animals over 640yds the longest was 820. He hunts with me every year and has now bought his own Gunwerks rifle in 7 Mag.' In addition to elk, Savage has taken five brown bears in Alaska with his 7 Mag and says it's a very effective cartridge capable of extreme accuracy.
.375 H&H Magnum
Jason van Aarde, Game Frontiers of Tanzania.
Although the venerable old .375 H&H has been with us for over a century, guides and PHs still swear by it. You can add Jason van Aarde, professional hunter with Game Frontiers of Tanzania, to that list. As a young professional, Jason couldn't understand why his mentor, Tony Tomkinson, recommended clients bring a scoped .375 H&H shooting 300 grain bullets, which seemed light to Jason. After years as a professional hunter, he now sees the value in Tomkinson's advice.
'œThe bigger the caliber the less accurate the hunter will be because he will concentrate less on his first shot,' van Aarde says. 'œWhen you give a hunter a .458 Lott, he will shoot when he thinks he is on target. But give him a .375 and he will only shoot when he is sure he is on target.' Van Aarde recommends that his hunters bring scoped rifles, as he has found that hunters under pressure tend to shoot high with iron sights, especially on follow-up shots.
The .375 H&H Magnum is considered marginal by some, but Jason and other PHs have pointed out that a 300 grain .375 H&H bullet in the vitals will kill a buffalo; unlike a 500 grain .470 slug in the wrong place that will leave the bull injured and angry. For the most part, hunters can shoot the .375 H&H well and place their shots where they need to be.
.375 H&H Magnum
Jofie Lamprecht, Jofie Lamprecht Safaris.
Jofie Lamprecht conducts dangerous game hunts in some of the finest big game country in northern Namibia, a region that produces monster elephant bulls. But Jofie doesn't think that hunters need to come on safari with a cannon in their hands; he recommends the .375 H&H.
'œThe biggest problem we have as professional hunters in Africa is poor shooting ability due to clients using rifles that they have not practiced with and/or using a caliber that is too large to try and overcompensate for their poor shooting,' says Lamprecht.
'œNo hunter would ever admit firstly to be a poor shot and secondly that the recoil of large caliber they are using is '˜too much gun' for them. For dangerous game and specifically elephant I would choose a .375 H&H in a double. The .375 has fantastic penetration even on the skulls of the biggest elephant bulls. It is using '˜enough gun' that the hunter can shoot accurately and is the legal minimum for most African countries that you can still export elephant to the U.S. As for the double, it is a fantastic advantage to have the second barrel ready if the first does not have the desired effect.'
.300 Winchester Magnum
Mark Haldane, Zambeze Delta Safaris.
Mark Haldane's Zambeze Delta Safaris in Mozambique conducts about 30 crocodile hunts a year, and many of the crocs they hunt are classified as 'œproblem' (read: man-eating) monsters that can reach fifteen feet or more in length.
Of all the hunts in Africa, the pursuit of a big croc is probably the most specialized; you'll spend time waiting along the riverbank for the reptile to appear, and when it does, you have to make an absolutely perfect shot. Screw up and that saurian monster will slip right back into the churning black water and will be lost forever.
Mark Haldane recommends that his clients carry a .300 Winchester Magnum that they shoot well with good, quality bullets.
'œSuccessful croc hunting requires precision bullet placement,' Haldane says. 'œThe .300 has enough knock-down power and it is a highly accurate cartridge.' In addition, Haldane says that shots on the Zambeze River where he hunts are often fairly long, and the .300 Win Mag has a flat trajectory and retains croc-killing energy at long distances.
A chance at a big croc is truly a once-in-a-lifetime shot because if you don't kill the animal on the first shot it will probably reach the safety of the water and be lost for good. A good .300 with quality bullets and a powerful scope can stop a big croc in its tracks.
7mm Remington Magnum
Tony Grimmett, Pronghorn Guide Service.
Pronghorns love open country, and very few guides know antelope hunting better than Tony Grimmett. In his 30 year career he has led hunters to some of the largest pronghorns in history, including the SCI world record buck that Grimmett took in 1986 and the Boone and Crockett world record taken by Dr. David Meyer in 2002. For the serious pronghorn hunter, Grimmett recommends one cartridge above all others.
'œNo question,' Grimmett says. 'œ7mm Remington Magnum.'
The 7mm Remington Magnum debuted in 1962 and is still popular with hunters today. The 7mm mag drives a 150 grain bullet well over 3,000 feet per second, and it hits with plenty of authority to knock down any pronghorn. In open country, where shots are often long, the 7mm's flat trajectory and good downrange ballistics make it a natural choice. In addition, there are a variety of bullets and loads available, and most sporting goods stores that carry rifle ammo will have at least a box or two of 7mm Remington Mags on the shelf.
.338 Winchester Magnum
Thierry Labat, Zambezi Hunters.
Kudos to the .338 Winchester Magnum, which earned two recommendations in this survey. Lance Kronberger says it's a great brown bear cartridge, and PH Thierry Labat of Zambezi Hunters considers the .338 Winchester Magnum to be the very best all-around plains game rifle for your next African safari.
The .338 Winchester Magnum delivers energy levels that rival the .375 H&H Magnum, yet with light bullets it shoots as flat as the .300 magnums. With everything from tiny steenbok to zebra and roan on the game list you need a versatile cartridge. The .338 fits the bill.
'œ(The .338 Winchester Magnum) offers a variety of bullet weights, it's flat shooting, and it packs more than enough '˜punch '˜ for the larger antelopes like eland,' says Labat. The .338 isn't ideal and, in most cases, not legal for hunting thick-skinned dangerous game like buffalo and elephant, but for just about everything else on the continent (or the world, for that matter) the .338 Win Mag will work just fine.
Recoil levels are high (somewhere between the .300 magnums and the .375 H&H with average weight rifles) but not intolerable and most experienced shooters can learn to handle the punch. If you're hunting plains game and you've got a .338 in your hands you're set.
.300 Remington Ultra Magnum
Chet Benson, Bearfoot Adventures.
Getting in range of a big Dall ram is often a difficult and demanding task. So when the opportunity arises, you need a rifle that shoots flat. Chet Benson of Bearfoot Adventures in Alaska recommends the hard-hitting .300 Remington Ultra Magnum, which drives a 180 grain bullet at over 3,200 feet per second.
'œIf I were going to recommend the perfect rifle for a sheep hunt I would recommend the .300 Ultra Mag,' says Benson, who guides backpack hunts in the Alaska Range. 'œIt is super flat shooting and hits like a ton of bricks way down range. You can use a heavy bullet to help deal with wind.'
The .300 Ultra Mag's versatility makes it capable of taking a variety of game at any reasonable range. Oftentimes sheep hunters have to take the shot that is offered, and making a stalk to get closer might be out of the question, so the .300 RUM's flat trajectory makes it a great long-range rifle for rams.
.338 Winchester Magnum
Lance Kronberger, Freelance Outdoor Adventures.
Pursuing coastal brown bears is a very specialized hunt, requiring a versatile rifle. The shot may be a long one, so you need a flat-shooting cartridge with plenty of knockdown power that produces manageable levels of recoil. Guide Lance Kronberger of Freelance Outdoor Adventures has seen a lot of bears taken with a lot of different calibers, but he believes that the .338 Winchester Magnum is the best choice for most hunters.
'œMy go-to caliber for big coastal brown bears is .338 Winchester Magnum,' Kronberher says. 'œI have carried a .338 for 18 years and have used it to help bring down a few rough and tough bears. One of the best things about a .338 is that you can find shells in most of Alaska\'s remote villages and there are always a few laying around in every hunting camp.'
Sure, there are harder-hitting, flatter-shooting cartridges than the .338 Winchester Magnum, but they come at a substantial price; recoil increases dramatically with faster .338 and .375 caliber rifles, as does rifle weight. Kronberger bets his life on his rifle, and he bets on the .338 Winchester Magnum.
Photo courtesy of KUIU Ultralight Hunting.