Choosing a hunting cartridge to fit you

October 14, 2020.

Choosing a hunting cartridge to fit you

Let’s talk about hunting cartridges for this blog. This topic seems to always come up and argued back and forth at hunting camps and family backyard barbeques around the world for decades. In this modern age of instant social-interacting we constantly see new posts almost every day in various social media groups and forums from new hunters asking a lot of questions about what caliber they should get for their first hunting rifle.

Before I get started, I need to clarify a few things. This blog is expressed with my own opinions and experiences. I know not everyone will agree with this article as we all have different opinions about this topic.  The main intent of this blog is to assist new hunters from every corner of the world reading this with an unbiased opinion. I’m not favoring any cartridge over another because it’s what I shoot, or want you to shoot.  Just to be fair, I won’t mention too many cartridges or key in on any particular cartridges in this blog as it is a general expression of my opinion on this topic.


Take into consideration the species of games you’ll be hunting, any regulations defining a legal cartridge and the local terrain to help you narrow down your choice of caliber for your hunting situation.


I won’t go into the specific details about bullet design, ballistic, rifles or every equipment used that is needed for hunting as that isn’t the point of this topic. I also want to mention that this particular blog isn’t focused on one particular country, so do read this article with an open mind as every country will differ when it comes to legal hunting cartridges.

With the small introduction out of the way, let’s assumed you have taken a hunting course and you’re the first member within your family that decided to take this step in providing meat for yourself, friends, and family members. The decision to find an ideal caliber for your need can either be easy, confusing or a bit hard, especially in countries that have more restrictions and regulations to follow.

You may have noticed in the title that I didn’t mention the word “perfect” nor “ the best” hunting cartridge as there is no wrong or right, nor even a perfect hunting cartridge in my opinion. Every form of hunting has its own deviation or advantages that will make one cartridge worst or better than others base off my four deciding factors that I’m going to categorize to help you determine what might be ideal for you.

Let’s go into detail on these four deciding factors in choosing a hunting cartridge that might not have been discussed or brought up during the search for your first hunting cartridge.

1: Terrain

Let’s be honest, I don’t think too many take this into consideration when recommending a hunting cartridge. Most calibers out there are quite capable and versatile enough to handle most of the hunting situations we find ourselves in.

If you’re going to be hunting deer species in thick areas where shots are normally 150 yards or less, I don’t think a magnum is necessary. Flat open terrain where games will normally spot you before you spot them you don’t want a cartridge that under-performs at longer range.

Whether you practice long-range hunting or detest those that do, it doesn’t matter for the sake of this blog. The terrain and environment you hunt on should be considered as a factor in helping you decide on your choice of cartridge during your search for an ideal cartridge for you.


The terrain and the type of environment you hunt on can play a part in deciding what to look for when choosing a cartridge.


2: Cartridge/Caliber

A lot of new hunters might get confused about these two words due to some manufacturers defining their products as a cartridge and others will label it as caliber; just remember that a caliber is the inside bore diameter of the barrel. A cartridge is the complete components consisting of the bullet, brass casing, powder and primer of that specific caliber.

A cartridge doesn’t necessarily give you the exact diameter of that specific caliber. Prime example; the 30-06 and .300 Win Mag cartridge both use a .308 diameter bullet and aren’t specifically define as a .308 cartridge. The .308 Winchester or the .308 Norma mag can be better defined as a caliber specific cartridge. I won’t get into specifics on this topic as it can be confusing with a lot of details, especially when we talk about the European cartridges. So we’ll save that discussion for another blog.

Finding what you want for a cartridge/caliber depends on a lot of things that you need to really take into consideration. The type of game you’ll be hunting, the ballistic, availability of ammo and reloading components as well as any regulations in your country defining a legal game cartridge. All these things I’ve mentioned will either give you a lot of options to choose from, or limit your choice based on restrictions or regulations.

A lot of new hunters make the mistake of thinking bigger is better, or they get influenced base off the most talked-about calibers and its popularity. Keep in mind, what works for other hunters doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to work for you and the type of hunting you’ll be doing. Don’t rush into making a decision too quickly to find out later that it isn’t right for you or didn’t meet legal requirements.




Do your own research and decide what caliber is right for you. What works for others might not work for you.

An ideal caliber should be versatile and powerful enough for you to hunt larger games without interfering in your shooting discipline and meet the requirements as a legal hunting cartridge should you wish to travel or hunt abroad for certain types of games.

Know the rules and regulations defining a legal hunting cartridge in your country and it can help you narrow down the calibers to choose from.

3: The Hunter

Know yourself and your limitations. A common mistake is when a new hunter makes a decision on a large caliber that they can’t handle and it dramatically affects their shooting discipline.

Try to attend a local shooting event. The opportunity of shooting different rifles in various calibers will give you a better understanding on its performance and your tolerance level before you make any hasty decision. Shooting events will also offer a new shooter an opportunity to talk to other hunters and provide some valuable insight before deciding on which caliber is right for them through their own experience.

Whether you decide to pick a caliber based on its popularity or for other various reason, don’t be too quick to jump on it because your circle of friends shoot them. What works for them might not be ideal for you.

4: Game Species

This has to be one of the most talked-about topics for many hunters. The back and forth debate on what can be considered the best or perfect cartridge for deer or any other games will always be the hot topic of around campfires. To be fair, everyone will have a favorite cartridge and it will get praised as the near-perfect cartridge for them.

Large games or small, there’s a lot of consensus that bigger is better.  For some species, bigger may be better. Just don’t overlook the intermediate and medium-size cartridges that will also be adequate enough for a lot less recoil and more comfortable to shoot.


The .308 Winchester took care of business on this Waterbuck in Africa. Considered one of the most versatile cartridges out there, it shouldn’t be overlooked in your choice of cartridge selection.

Know the game you’ll be hunting and the regulations defining a legal hunting cartridge for those games. Most new hunters can’t tolerate shooting a larger caliber, whether they like to admit it or not. You should be able to shoot your rifle comfortably and accurately without fearing your choice of caliber. Respect the game you hunt by choosing a caliber that you can shoot accurately and will do the job as quickly as possible.

There are a lot of people that will tell you a .22 will kill anything. Given the right circumstances, I’m pretty sure it will, but in the end, it is up to every hunter to make the right decision in order to preserve our heritage, rights and privileges by not adding any unnecessary risk to give those that don’t agree with what do another excuse to push their agenda. Respect the game you hunt by ensuring you do your part as a responsible hunter and an ambassador to wildlife and conservation.

In closing, there is really no right or wrong choice. Stay within the legal parameter for your respective country or state, do the research and find out what is right for you.

I would love to hear your opinion on hunting cartridges for most of the game you hunt in the comment section of this post. Let’s get a discussion going as I’m sure I forgot to mention a few things that could help a new hunter make his or her decision a little easier. Shoot straight and hope to see you out on a hunt.


About the author:

Dr. Al Louangketh is the International Bergara blog editor. He holds a Ph.D. in Wildlife Science at Oregon State University conducting independent research for international programs and organizations dealing with the environment and conservation of aquatic mammals.

Email: [email protected]