Top 5 Rifle Calibers for Hunting North American Big Game

Your Guide to the Market’s Best Hunting Rifles

If you’re reading this article hoping to find the magic rifle caliber that will help you pursue every North American big game animal, then you might be disappointed. Why? There really is no single best hunting gun, model, or cartridge out there that would be the golden ticket for all styles of rifle hunting, although some of them come pretty close. There is just too much variability in environmental conditions from place to place, wild game species, and personal style and preference. One hunter’s best all-around hunting rifle is another hunter’s strictly varmint gun.

However, if you’re looking for some highly recommended rifle calibers to add to your collection that will help you quickly take down anything from the smaller to the largest big game species, then we’ve got the top five for you. We have listed the caliber of guns in order, which should also help to narrow down which species you should use each rifle for. If you’re looking for hunting rifles for sale, this guide should inform you, and includes some specific rifle recommendations to get you out in the field soon.

.243 Winchester

Starting off at the lower end of the spectrum, the .243 Winchester is a very versatile lower-power caliber that is equally well suited for predator and varmint hunting as it is for taking down whitetails, mule deer, pronghorn antelope, or even black bear. It is probably the best deer rifle caliber for beginners due to very low recoil, and many of us probably started out with one of these in our hands while sitting in the tree stand for the first time. They are typically lighter guns that are easy to stalk with all day long and short enough to not cause a fuss in brushy or overgrown areas. Generally, the .243 is a fairly flat shooting cartridge that is perfect for close- to mid-range shooting opportunities.

The Remington Model 700 .243 Winchester is a classic choice to get you started on smaller to mid-size animals. It is an extremely accurate, bolt action rifle with a beautiful laminated stock and vibration-dampening 26-inch barrel.

Best Hunting Rifles | Whittaker Guns

5 Big Game Hunting Rifle Calibers | Whittaker Guns.270 Winchester

So much has already been said of the .270 Winchester that it’s difficult to not sound repetitive. But it easily stakes the claim among all rifle calibers at being the best whitetail deer rifle for a few reasons. First, it is laughably capable of short shots in thick timbered areas like northern Minnesota, but also proficient at long-range shots in more open prairie terrain like Kansas. The .270 cartridge can easily deliver a lethal dose of knock down power in most situations without being excessively powerful to the point of ruining a lot of your hard-earned meat. The recoil is fairly mild even after a long day of practice at the shooting range. These qualities make it an exceptional hunting rifle not only for whitetails, but also for a range of other species (e.g., mule deer, pronghorns, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, caribou, black bear, and elk). Although for long shots at sheep, goats, or elk, you may need to switch to a .270 Winchester Short Magnum cartridge,which has a little more power and speed. Just be forewarned that the ammunition will be a little more expensive and there will be a bigger kick upon firing for the .270 WSM versus the standard .270 cartridge.

The Remington Model 700 SPS .270 Winchester is an excellent bargain hunting rifle. The Model 700 Special Purpose Synthetic is a bolt action beauty that comes with receivers drilled and tapped for scope mounts. It will quickly become your go-to deer rifle.

.308 Winchester

Moving on in the list of rifle calibers, one of the next popular steps up from a .270 is the .308 Winchester. Many view it to be the best elk hunting rifle because it has a fairly light recoil for its power, and the .308 cartridges are more than capable of taking down a trophy bull at a distance. However, the .308 Winchester is also deadly on whitetails and mule deer, caribou, sheep, goats, black bear, and wild boar.

The Kimber .308 Winchester is classic bolt action rifle that combines power with a sleek design. Its innovative design results in a surprisingly lightweight gun that would be perfect for backcountry trips up to a remote mountain meadow where the elk are bugling.

.30-06 Springfield

The .30-06 Springfield is another of the greats when it comes to hunting guns for deer. But not only that, it is a staple among almost all hunters’ gun racks for a very good reason: it just works. The .30-06 is one of the most versatile rifle calibers on the market, and no big game hunter’s collection would be complete without one. It has a moderate recoil, and .30-06 cartridges will produce enough power to take down all but the largest of North America’s big game species, such as moose or grizzly/brown bear; although a .30-06 magnum cartridge would get you close to even these species.

The Kimber .30-06 is an attractive rifle with a French walnut stock and ebony forend tip. It is a great option to add to your gun collection to round out your big game hunting opportunities.

Best Big Game Hunting Rifles | Whittaker Guns

.338 Winchester Magnum

When you’re going to pursue North America’s largest wild game mammals, you need a rifle caliber that has the backbone to stand up to the challenge with you. That’s where the .338 Winchester Magnum steps in. Sure, there are more powerful rifle calibers around. But the .338 is a good option that’s still not terrible to lug around through the brush, and it packs a powerful punch to quickly take game animals down. A .338 Winchester Magnum cartridge can stop a charging grizzly bear or bull moose in short order, which is exactly the way you want it. That all being said, the recoil is obviously on the heavy side compared to the rest of the hunting guns on this list, and the ammunition is fairly expensive. But that’s the price you pay for one of the best hunting rifles on the market.

The CZ 550 Safari Classic .338 Lapua is a solid firearm for one of your biggest hunting adventures. Its hammer forged barrels can withstand a long and rich life full of epic hunting stories, and its beautiful walnut stock will draw admiration from you and your hunting companions alike.

No matter which big game species you plan to pursue in the great and diverse North American continent, these top 5 rifle calibers should help you tackle any of them with ease. Of course there are plenty of other options available to you, but the rifle calibers on this list are some of the most tried and true, consistently performing, and popular options. They are quite simply the best rifle calibers that have proved themselves over and over again. And that does a lot for your confidence when you’re staring down the barrel at a trophy brown bear. Especially when it’s staring right back at you.

1 reply
  1. Rachel
    Rachel says:

    The .338 Winchester Magnum sounds like it would be the best choice for me considering that it isn’t too much trouble to carry. I’ll have to watch out for that recoil though. Thanks for sharing this list and weighing the pros and cons of each, it definitely helped make my decision easier.


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