They say that the true test of another person’s intelligence is how much they agree with you. I was at a high school reunion the other day and ran into a classmate who is a fanatical hunter. I asked him what he considered the world’s best all-around rifle cartridge. Sure enough, old Butch’s answer concurred with mine. Old Butch is a pretty sharp old codger.

Trying to name the best rifle cartridge is sort of like asking, “How high is up?”. The answer depends on your perspective. Since the beginning of modern smokeless rifle cartridges in the late 19th century, there have been numerous cartridges that have been used and loved by riflemen around the world. All have pros and cons. It’s been claimed that the venerable .30-30 Winchester has taken more deer than any caliber in the world. I suspect that’s probably true, and if you’re a whitetail hunter in the woods of the eastern U.S. than you’d probably swear that the .30-30 is the world’s best cartridge.

However, if you’re a fan of hunting Rocky Mountain elk, you’d probably laugh at the puny .30-30 and be much more inclined to favor a 7mm Magnum or a .308 Winchester. Hunters seeking mule deer on the open reaches of the Great Basin may turn to the .270 Winchester as their choice for the best rifle, while antelope hunters in the same range may depend upon a .243. Professional guides in Alaska swear by a lever-action in .45-70 that will deliver massive stopping power on a charging Grizzly at 20 yards.

In short, your definition of the best cartridge will be influenced by the kind of game you hunt, as well as the terrain you hunt in. Varmint hunters prefer a cartridge that shoots a fairly light bullet at amazingly fast speeds. They’ll choose cartridges like .223 Remington, .25-06, .22 Hornet or something more esoteric like .257 Roberts. Varmint hunters need a cartridge that can cover a long distance in a very short time, and thus the slower, heavy bullets needed for bear, elk or moose are almost useless to them. By contrast, a varmint caliber might just make a bear or moose angry and could get you killed.

If I had to pick just one caliber to hunt the broadest array of North American game, I have no doubt that I’d choose the .30-06. As its name suggests, it’s been around for over 100 years and it’s available everywhere. You can find .30-06 ammo anywhere from fancy gun shops to small town hardware stores all over America. The .30-06 was born out of Teddy Roosevelt’s experiences in the Spanish-American War. While most folks have heard of the Battle of San Juan Hill, very few are aware that a small contingent of Spanish troops armed with the new Mauser rifles almost kicked our butts.

It took 19,000 troops to dislodge 800 Spaniards from San Juan Hill. The combined U.S. and Cuban forces suffered six times the casualty rate as the Spaniards. There were 1,385 U.S./Cuban casualties and only 228 Spanish casualties. In his memoirs, Roosevelt talks repeatedly about the clear superiority of the 7mm Mauser used by the Spaniards.

A few years later when he became President, Teddy Roosevelt ordered the U.S. Military to design a rifle that would out-perform the 7mm Mauser. After trying different designs, the U.S. Army adopted the .30 caliber cartridge of 1906 and the famous .30-06 was born. It was designed to be used in a Mauser-type bolt-action rifle with 3 locking lugs, the storied M1903 Springfield, an exceptionally resilient design that remains widely popular amongst collectors, hunters and target shooters to this day. Almost all modern bolt-actions are still based on the same 1898 Mauser action the M1903 Springfield used.

Millions of American G.I.s carried small arms chambered in .30-06 into the trenches of World War I and through the jungles and hedgerows of World War II. After they got home from their wars, American boys began getting the .30-06 for hunting as well. The .30-06 rifle cartridge can be found on almost every continent, including North and South America, Africa, Europe and Asia. While it is no longer issued for most armies of the world, the .30-06 is still used by sportsmen and women everywhere because of its versatility. You can get light bullets of 110 to 120 grains that travel at almost 4,000 feet per second. They are ideal in big open country for varmints and antelope. The medium weight 140 grain bullets still achieve speeds of over 2,500 feet per second and carry a lethal punch at several hundred yards for deer and black bear. The heavy duty 230 grain bullets are dynamite for tough critters like boar, grizzlies, and elk.

All of the other cartridges out there can be excellent for their intended purpose, but in my opinion, the .30-06 is the best all around rifle cartridge in the North America, if not all the world. If you disagree, contact me and tell me why. It might be an interesting discussion.

Image copyright Don Moyer

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42 thoughts on “The World’s Best Rifle Cartridge

  1. Amen to the ’06. From 100gr dum-dums through 250gr behemoths with the 150, 165 & 180s being the tools for collecting all North American big game species.

    To Mr. Moyers, what powder/load/ammo source is offering 4000fps in 110-125gr? The “Accelerator” from Remington at 55grs stuffed into a sabot will hit that mark, but I don’t know how you’re gonna get that level of MV with anything bigger unless your shooting a one of a kind custom built bolt/action/chamber/barrel to handle the extreme pressures that would result from attempting to push a 125gr projectile as such high speeds. Even then, he results could be a catastrophic failure due to the headspace required to contain the lower end of the case and the rim.

    Statistic show right around 3500fps for a 110fr and 3330 for a 125gr bullet is tops. I’ve got about 150 rounds of 125gr Sierras that clock 3200 avg out of one of my ’06s. Even at this speed, there isn’t usually an exit wound on a deer, but the trauma and shock is awesome! I subscribe to the school of thought that “speed kills” and I don’t care if I’ve got an exit when the insides are scrambled. Less meat damage since only one shoulder/side is decimated.

    Try it…and let us know how your .308 caliber cannon shoots!

  2. Although I do not disagree with your pick of the 30-06, and own several rifles in that caliber myself and love it, in more recent years I have become quite a big fan of the 7mm-08. I find it outstanding and am highly impressed with the cartridge performance, including up to taking Elk. If anybody out there has never used it, you should consider it in your next rifle… I don’t think you will be disappointed.

  3. The ignorance of the author is only matched by the incompetence of the editor that let the story get by. Massive stopping power of a 45-70, 22 Hornet for western varmits, 308 a preferred cartridge for elk. Sounds like the author is a go to deer camp once a year for a weekend type of expert. He sure doesn’t need to be spreading his wisdom in print.

    1. The Author is sharing the choices that many hunters all over the U.S. have chosen and shared with him. As he said, there are many choices for different types of game combined with many different terrain types. His choice of the 30/06 as the best all-around caliber is spot on, when you consider all the different applications, cartridge choices and the ease of obtaining ammo just about anywhere. When someone questions the stopping power of the 45/70 and it’s use to defend against big bears, I know right away that they probably do not hand load or use some of the choices today, such as Garrett ammo. When hand loading the 45/70, the loader can duplicate the ballistics of the .458 Winchester Magnum, which has enough anchoring power for the biggest and baddest bears.

  4. I whole heartedly agree with the 30/06 being the top rifle cartridge mainly because of it’s availibility and wide range of bullet weights and designs. I hunt with a 45/70 Marlin lever action in the Upper Peninsula of Michgan and carry a .44 magnum revolver only because of the proliferation of bears. The revolver idea came from a game warden up there who said he wouldn’t be caught dead out in the woods without one.

  5. My father taught me that God put game here for us to eat or look at with pleasure. You have an obligation to it to make sure your bullet kills quickly and humanly as possible. The ’06 I bought back in 1967 with my first paycheck from the local paper mill has taken 117 deer for me since then with awesome performance from the old Super X silver tip ammo. Kind of hard to beat performance like that from such an old caliber.

  6. All around? yup 30.06 is tough to beat. For deer and teaching the boys the next step up from .22, I’ll take 30-30. 16″ lever has good intimidation value on burglers too, lol.

  7. Still the 6.5 was the first caliber to make a complete pass through in a mature African bull elephants head.
    Has the high rated sectional density and bullet co-efficiency, esp in the Swedes with its fast twist.

    My respect and reverence for that cartridge is that it is the one centered in the midst of calibers able to function well for multi-purposes at both ends of a large spectrum 70-160 gr bullet weights. Super accurate!
    Varmints to Moose; in Scandinavian countries they’ve used the Swede for over a 100-yrs on Moose and even Polar bear. Being such a flat shooting caliber it doesn’t need huge cartridge and powder, with huge blasts and short lived barrels. That qualifies it as a one caliber gun, and it’s hard to beat a one gun man rather than ooddles of calibers to keep straight with various loads each. Just my thinking on the subject ~!

    1. Notice that one of the attributes of the 30-06 is the ubiquity of its availability. From the largest sporting goods store to the Mom and Pop bait and tackle shop, from Florida to Alaska you can find 30-06 ammo. I dare say that is not true of the 6.5 Swede. Admittedly the Swede is a good cartridge as are many other cartridges but in this case we are talking the best all around cartridge. We are not discussing a stellar cartridge that is not generally available, that fits a rifle that is in limited supply from only a few manufacturers or some custom gunsmith, but a cartridge that is widely available in a great variety of configurations made by a myriad of manufacturers AND custom gunsmiths. On the North American continent, that is the 30-06. I would venture to say that there are more 30-06 rifles in the hands of civilians in this country than any other cartridge. Remember, riflemen in the U.S. have been acquiring 30-06 rifles for almost 100 years. They not only acquired rifles originally bored in 30-06, they converted lots and lots of other calibers from cheap military surplus to 30-06. While the Winchester 94 has been made longer than the 30-06, not as many riflemen first learned to shoot with it. How many men did the U.S. Army train to shoot with the 30-06 in WWI and WWII and Korea? How many veterans of WWII agree with George S Patton that the M-1 Garand was the finest battle rifle ever devised?

    2. My Dad has a 6.5×55 by Carl Gustov. It was cut down or “sporterized” and is an awesome weapon, clean actio, and a good arguement for the best all around. I chose the .308 Winchester. Just have always loved the lever action of the Savage and I do love my 99E.

      1. Well there’s the.260 Remington, it’s a 6.5 in a .308 cartridge.
        The .308 +6.5×55 cases hold the same amount of H2O.
        Only the “Swede” has the fastest twist of any rifle(1 to 7.9).
        The AR was designed after the Swedish Lungman semi battle rifle.

        The Swede cartridge allows for lower pressures with good velocities that won’t burn up barrels and sound like a cannon going off.
        Yet at 150,000 rpm coming out of the barrel- equals tragectory and penetration of bigger cartridges at higher velocities. Why it is my choice. Tho I had a 99 in .300, beautiful gun ~!

    3. The bullet used for a complete pass through was armor piercing. These are now illegal. Many cite Karamojo Bell as having shot 2000 elephants with a 7mm. His ammo was also armor piercing but most don’t mention it, instead choosing magic as the answer. There is no such thing. These bullets are illegal. I’ve seen a culling of elephants with wardens shooting 308s. Legally using armor piercing bullets for that purpose. It’s all about bullet construction, not caliber.

      1. Waltet Dalrymple Bell- an amazing life- professional hunter, war pilot, gold prospector, artist and sailor.

        He killed 1,100 elephants in his ivory career- all bulls but 28 cows.
        Used a M98 in .275 for 800.
        His favorite gun was the 6.5×54 Mannlichet-Schoenaur- but was hard to get ammo for.
        Also used an Enfield in .318 Wesley-Richards and a 5.6x52R for camp meat.

        However the bull elephant I called the first was just a solid(fmj).
        I can shoot thru 2ft of green oak with fmj with my 6.5.
        Armor piercing became popular after WWI this was in 09- if I remember correctly.
        Fact is Paul- the sectional density of that round in quite a few cartridges has such ballistic co-efficiency as to surpass the 300Win Mag in trajectory at 1,000+yds.
        Just a sweet bullet at 140gr to slip thru the wind better and drift less too- with super penetration ability. So it is about caliber- tho of course any harder bullet will penetrate further.
        They were experimenting with all that in WWI going into WWII ~!

  8. I swear by my .270 Winchester. Flat shooting, ample knock down power. I have killed many large mule deer and 6×6 rocky mountain elk with single shot, 130 grain.

    1. I have nothing against any guns your all talking about. I’m a 7mm rem mag fan. Killed moose,elk,bear,deer,coyotes, wolves and the odd gopher. I reload my own and use different bullets for different purposes. To me it’s more proper bullet and proper bullet placement that makes the best out of your rifle.

  9. Good job on the picks. My personal list would drop the 270 and add the 375 H&H. The 375 H&H has probably killed more big and dangerous game than any other caliber. IMHO the 270 is a mediocre cartridge at best

  10. If I were limited to only two calibers the ones I’d pick would be 270 Winchester for small to medium size game, and 375 H&H, or more likely the modern equivalent – 375 Ruger, for large and/or dangerous game.

  11. The bullet does the work. If the velocity is from 2400 fps to 2800 fps and has an appropriate sectional density for the game, it works. A .308 diameter 150 grain for antalope and deer, 165 Brian for elk size game and 180 grain for bigger stuff works. In a 308 Win, 30-06 or 300 Win Mag, they all work. Tougher bullets can be pushed faster but too close and too fast can cause problems. The 30-06 is balanced in most factory offerings, its virtue. I like the 308 Win and 165 grain Barnes X bullets, or 9.3×62 with 286 grain Nosler Partitions but the different drummer has always been my marching choice.

  12. This is oh, so very close, but no cigar. The answer is the .280 Remington (arguably). Does everything the .30-06 can do, but with better BC and more velocity. .30-’06 or .260 Rem would be second. Then .243 and .375 HH mag third.

  13. I own several rifles in various calibers, .22,30-30,30-06,338,44mag, 45-70. Which do I inevitably reach for, which is by far the most reliable one shot meat producer. Which two haC. R.
    Avon By The Sea, NJ
    June 07, 2015
    Signature # 61,540ve I found in the most remote hole in the wall backwaters, 30-30,30-06,there is no beast on four feet that has faced the 06, and not blinked twice and dropped almost before the report dies away. Shot an M14 in service to my country, nice round, but my 06 just has not failed me yet.

  14. Heading says World’s Best Cartridge, but author is limited to his knowledge of use of cartridges in the USA, not the world.
    The 30-06 is not even a legal cartridge for many big game animals. Many countries put the legal minimum at .375 for Big Game.
    So how can the 30-06 be the best all around cartridge when it is not even big enough to be legal in many cases!
    This article needs a re-write or change the heading to the USA and not the World.
    Even in the USA, the 30-06 is not a desired caliber for the Big Bears.
    The 30-06 is popular due to availability and that most hunters in the USA hunt deer in the Eastern USA.
    There are much better all arond cartridges than the 30-06 for hunters traveling the world. I don’t know any worldwide mountain hunters that use a 30-06, and if it was the best cartridge, then why are they not using it? Most worldwide mountain hunters use a cartridge that will reach out and shoot much flatter than a 30-06.

  15. each caliber cartriges has its own quality, that said, some are a bit too old, then everything depends on the use we want to do !

  16. 308 it’s every where (7.62X51 nato)
    & there’s many difrent lodes
    The best has to be a globally popular round not just North America

    1. I grew up on .308, and other than .22lr, that is the only rifle cartridge that I have ever used. My game was not usually deer or elk, though.

  17. Well I have to say, 8mm mausser and a K98, 35 REM. on a Marlin Lever action and 45acp on a 1911. That is my “Tri-fecta” when I go hunting. Like you said, it is all about the terrain and what are you hunting for and having Fun!!

  18. Well I used 7mm Reg. Mag. …
    I lost to much meat. No to much balistic.
    But … 30-06 The Best To hunt all the fauna animal in Canada from Coyote to Moose Grizzly or Bufalo.
    Now you want any shot under 250 mts to Deer or Black Bear in the close forest
    30 30 … You want middle for all
    this rifles … 270 or 308 …
    I’m hunter in Canada

  19. As usual the discussion on who or what is the best rifle will never be settled either on paper or animals. It is the shooters choice. But I recommend a rifle that the shooter can handle safely shoot with accuracy and kill cleanly with one shot.That covers a lot of ground and still no winner. So here is my pick for the top rifle cartridge. The 243 Winchester. If you will keep a running record of the animals in the Texas Trophy Hunter Magazine you will find out that the lowly 243 really out shines all the others. My only other choice is the 17 Ackely Bee Improved. This little size pill popper does some amazing things. With a velocity of over 4000 fps the 20 grain bullet actually explodes inside of a animals and make one shot per kill easy.Over 70 kills with this little monster will change your mind on who is the best.

  20. I agree with the 30-06 I have hunted in Alaska and all over the south. Deer in the south do not normally need a cannon. I prefer the 308 win. altho I have taken some with a .243. The 06 comes in so many bullet weights and different configurations. Even the exclerator sabot bullet with a.223 in the 30-06 rd The .270 is a necked down 06. Fast or slow the 06 does it well.

  21. I only hunt moose, one a year and use a 300 win mag flatter then a 30 06 even a little better then a 7 mm and it hits harder then either of them with a 180 grain bullet , most times the moose are down and dead by the time I walk up to them ..nuf said

  22. If I had to leave civilization and be out in the cold cruel world all alone I’d want a model 1894 Win.carbine chambered in 38-55,loaded with my hand loads of course.Second choice would be the same rifle in 32 Win.spl.

  23. When you’re hunting in bushveld and there’s a pride of lion near by, it’s a nice comfort to carry a rifle where you can push your finger into the barrel… That being said, you can’t use a 450 Rigby on springbok in the kalahari (well, I can’t). Also, the best cartridge is usually the one you have in the gun on hand and the one you know best, so it needs to be easy to get ammo.

    With those points in mind, I will have to be completely boring and go with the .375 H&H. Enough gun for the big stuff and when loaded properly, more than useful out at range. Not too much recoil and big magazines can take 5.

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