Jeff Cooper’s book, To Ride, Shoot Straight and Speak the Truth, contained a chapter titled: The Role of the Five. The focus of this chapter was to offer insight into the five categories of small arms. These included the pistol, rifle, carbine, shotgun and machine pistol. (Cooper noted that a machine gun took a full-size rifle cartridge and was a crew-served weapon.) Here, we sort of play on that essay, but focus on the role of the five most prevalent cartridges in use today. A man equipped with a battery consisting of firearms chambered for these is equipped for just about anything.

There has never been a better small game or fun to shoot cartridge than the .22 LR.

.22 LR: For 130 years, the .22 Long Rifle has been the most popular cartridge. It has no recoil, it’s not very loud, it kills way out of proportion to its size, and you can get handguns and long guns of all sorts of configurations chambered for it. The .22 LR is ideal for small game, for teaching new shooters, and for plinking fun. The only thing worse than not having gun chambered for the .22 LR might be having never had parents.

Those who believe the .223 Remington is nothing but a varmint cartridge are mistaken. With good bullets, it can be used on smallish big game in North America and Africa.

.223 Remington: Now possibly the most prevalent centerfire rifle cartridge in the world, the .223 Rem. is misunderstood and underrated. Some consider it suited only for law enforcement and military use against human adversaries. Others think should be used on nothing but varmints. Truth is, the .223 Rem. will cleanly take deer and even black bear at moderate range, and it’s ideal for predators, including those of the two-legged variety. It’s also quite possibly the best all-around cartridge for the rifle it was originally intended for, the AR-15.

For North America, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better big game cartridge than the .308 Winchester.

.308 Winchester: You could argue the American rifle started with the .30-30 Winchester, and after the Great War became the .30-06. For most patriots, either of these will do most anything needing done, but the .308 Win. has become more popular, you could argue, because it is better. It hits harder and shoots flatter than a .30-30, with very little increase in recoil. It will kill anything a .30-06 will, but will fit in a smaller and lighter rifle. With the right bullet, placed in the right spot, it will handle anything in North America.

Available in almost any handgun configuration you can imagine, when stoked with modern ammunition the 9mm Luger is a great choice for self defense.

9mm Luger: Cooper was not a fan of the 9mm cartridge, but today it is the self defense, law enforcement, and military pistol cartridge of choice. Bullet engineers have figured out how to maximize the moderate linear and high rotation velocity the 9mm delivers to its projectiles, to create wickedly performing ammunition, fully capable of meeting FBI requirements. You can get a 9mm in just about any size and style handgun you like.

Highly versatile, the 12 gauge shotgun can be used for a host of chores.

12 Gauge: Yes, there are other gauges, but for all-round versatility they cannot compare to the 12. With light loads, you can shoot trap, skeet and sporting clays. With field loads, you can take small game, upland birds (turkeys included) and waterfowl. With buckshot, you can defend your home, fight felons, and even kill a deer. And, with a slug, you can pound to the ground or at least change the mind of just about any critter. There’s a reason the 12 gauge has been the No. 1 – behind the kitchen door – gun for more than a century.

With these five cartridges, you can do just about any shooting that needs done.

Images by Richard Mann

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13 thoughts on “Top 5 Hunting Cartridges

      1. Sure, you can kill critters with it, but do you do that often enough to really consider it a cartridge for hunting?

      2. Believe it or not, here in WA State the 9mm is legal for elk! I sure like the 5 mentioned, but would like to add 3 more to make it 8. First the 243 Winchester because many places the 223 is not legal for big game. Then the 270 Winchester or 7 Rem Mag for ethical longer ranges and lastly the 338 Winchester Magnum for anything big and scary out there!

      3. Speaking from experience 9mm is mediocre at best against “two legged game”. Even the 147gr JHP needs a head (center if nadal/optic box) hit or lucky torso hit to the heart directly, spine, or great vessel to guarantee a kill. Thats why you need 15 or more in your magazine. Saw many a mag dump and rapid fire in combat NOT stop a bad guy until too late, and now see too many bad guys still alive and saved in my Operating Room, even ones with multiple lung, liver, kidney spleen or mixture there of. 9mm just doesn’t make big enough holes in flesh. In fleshy targets go big or go home. This from seeing thousands of “two legged game” shot in the past 30 years.

  1. .308 is better than a 30-30 but what about the 30.06? All the specs show the 30.06 is better. Why did this not make the list?

  2. The 9mm Luger? Sure. But don’t forget the .38 Special either. Especially the 148 grain lead target wad-cutter for hunting small game: rabbit, squirrel, grouse, etc. Also for dispatching vermin: raccoon, skunk, possum.. Even
    for butchering livestock. CCI’s classic .38 Special shot or “snake load”: No. 9
    shot can shred the head of a rattlesnake up close. And remember .357 Magnum revolvers will likewise chamber and fire .38 Special ammo. The reason I bring this up is that both the .38 Special and .357 Magnum have a
    viable place in the outdoors: camping, hiking, as a secondary firearm to a rifle during deer/elk season, and also as a companion while fishing, bird watching, taking in nature, etc. Self defense/house protection/concealed carry is only half the reason for owning a .38 caliber revolver. Perhaps the Smith and Wesson (K-Frame) Model 10 .38 Special Military and Police revolver, and it’s variants, have been ignored by gun writers, sporting goods, and outdoor writers for too long. That is ashamed as the .38 Special was formerly the quintessential police service handgun caliber of the 20th century.
    James A. “Jim” Farmer
    Merrill, Oregon (Klamath County)

  3. I just read an article a couple weeks ago on another popular gun website that the author said the 30-30 is a “mediocre” deer hunting caliber. I had to laugh, because everyone else I talk to says you should have no problem taking a small to medium sized deer with a 223 at out to 200 yards with the right ammo selection. Maybe 50 years ago that was true, when bullet design was not where it is today.

  4. You blew it…the .300 Win Mag is beyond question the MOST successful iteration of 30 caliber. And, please- don’t take my word for it. READ…before you publish next time.

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