Rifle Calibers [Ultimate Guide]

It’s just about time for firearms deer season here at home. This year, as in years past, one of my sons and I will head to the deer blind armed with (him) a .308 and (me) a .243. This is saying something, because it’s only been a couple of years that rifle calibers were legal for deer in my state. You could use a carbine or rifle before, but it had to be chambered for a pistol cartridge. Now, anything .243/6mm or above is legal (6mm Creedmoor vs .243). That opens the door for a lot of different cartridges, to be sure.

But, what defines a rifle cartridge? How is one put together? Why is a .243 bullet the same diameter as one fired from a 6mm rifle? Let’s look at some specifics about cartridge construction and naming conventions, then we’ll look at the specific rounds (a “round” is another word for cartridge).

Naming Conventions

Why is a 6mm called a 6mm but a .243 is called a .243? They both fire a .243-caliber bullet. There are two main ways that a cartridge is named: caliber and metric.

American and British cartridges tend to named after their bullet diameter: .223, .308, .243 etc.
European (or other countries) tend to use the metric system: 5.56×45 (NATO), where the bullet diameter is 5.56mm and the case length is 45 mm, 7.62×51, etc.

There are exceptions…the American-designed 6mms are metric-named, while the .338 Lapua Magnum (which was designed by the Finnish ammunition company named Lapua, among others) uses a caliber designator.

There are other anomalies in cartridge names that are explained in the descriptions…example, .30-06 is a .30-caliber bullet fired from a cartridge developed in 1906.

A modern centerfire cartridge consists of the following components:

A cartridge case

Cartdige Cases
.22-250 Remington

This is the “container”, usually made of brass or steel, that holds all the other components of the round. When one hears about the “case head”, the area referred to is the bottom, or the part of the case that sits against the breech. It can either have a rim, to aid headspace and extraction, or be rimless. We need to digress for a moment and discuss headspace. This concept needs to be fully understood, especially if you are going to reload for your rifle.

What is “Headspace”?
“Headspace” simply means that part of the case that stops its forward movement into the chamber, against which it is held in place against the breech. A rimmed cartridge headspaces on its extended rim, and a rimless one headspaces on the shoulder of the case. (One exception is a belted magnum case. This case has a “belt”, a metal band, at its bottom that it headspaces on). If headspace is off, the rifle probably won’t chamber or fire the round or could even be dangerous.
.308 Winchester Headspace

Primer

The second component of a cartridge case is the primer. The primer consists of three parts:

  • The metallic cup that contains the other two components;
  • The priming compound that is the catalyst that ignites the powder;
  • An “anvil”, or a hard piece of arched metal that the compound is crushed against in order to ignite the powder.

There are two types of primers: Boxer and Berdan..

Centerfire and Rimfire Primer

The Boxer primer is totally self-contained, with all three components enclosed within its metal cup. The priming compound is crushed, by the firing pin, against the rounded anvil which creates the spark that ignites the powder. There is one central hole in the bottom of the cartridge case for the primer to travel through. The Boxer primer is by far the most popular.

The Berdan primer is different in two ways: Berdan-primed cases have two tangential (to the center of the case) holes for the spark to travel through and the anvil is not contained in the primer cup but is built into the case as a raised “bump” in the center of the case against which the priming compound is crushed.

NOTE: The Berdan primer is found mostly in European ammunition for older military surplus rifles. Most of the priming compounds used for these older rounds are corrosive, which means that they will pit the rifle barrel if it’s left uncleaned. It’s a simple, extra step to clean out corrosive compound. In addition to your normal cleaning routine, before you oil the barrel bore, squirt a little Windex into the muzzle. This will deactivate the corrosive compound. Just BE SURE to: run a clean patch down the bore after the Windex; and then run a patch or three soaked with oil down, after you do this. Oil the action as well and don’t forget the bolt face. Most “modern” mil-surp Berdan primed ammunition is not corrosive, but I never believe what it says on the box. Two extra minutes cleaning the bore will help keep it pristine.

Bullet

Cartridge and bullet
5.56×45mm NATO

The third component of a cartridge is the bullet. There are so many choices of bullets loaded into factory ammunition that choosing one would be an article unto itself. Suffice it to say, just choose the right bullet for the job at hand. We discuss bullet weights and styles in a little more detail when we look at specific cartridges.

Powder

Gun Powder

Finally, the fourth component of a metallic cartridge is the powder. There is a modern smokeless powder for just about any specialized task. The rule of thumb is that you will use a “faster” (burn rate) powder for non-magnum rounds or cartridges that emulate pistol cartridges and a “slower” powder for magnum rounds or other cartridges that you wish to get maximum velocity from. As with bullets, a complete article could be written just about powder.

Now that we know how a rifle cartridge is put together, let’s look at some specific cartridges, roughly in diameter order.

Rifle Caliber Comparison
You can click this image for a large version

A Quick Explanation…
We will look at, among other things, these items:
Rep. Bullet Weight (grains)
Muzzle Velocity (fps)
Muzzle Energy (ft./lbs)
Recoil Energy (ft./lbs.)
Notice that the bullet weight is in grains, the velocity is in feet-per-second and both energy figures are in foot/pounds. If that’s data you are interested in I highly recommend checking out our ammo comparison tool, allowing you to compare more than 300 rounds in 40 different aspects.

Pistol Caliber Comparison

BONUS: This image is from our Handgun Caliber Guide. I highly recommend reading it, if you want to learn more about pistol and revolver cartridges.

Let’s get started…

.22 Long Rifle

.22 Long Rifle

Description: The .22 LR is the only rimfire on our list. It is a small-caliber round that uses a heeled bullet (the bullet base is enclosed in the case with the bore-riding portion of the bullet exposed, unlike centerfire cartridges) and a rimmed case.
History: Introduced in 1887 when the Stevens Arms & Tool Co. combined the 40-grain bullet from the .22 Extra Long with the case of the .22 Long, it has grown to be the most prolific cartridge manufactured. The National Shooting Sports Federation estimated that, of the 10 billion rounds produced annually, the .22 LR accounts for about half of that output.
Applications: target shooting, plinking (informal shooting at improvised targets), training, hunting, entry-level round for those new to shooting. I’m sure there are uses for this popular round that I have not seen – its popularity, availability, low cost, low recoil/noise factor and the plethora of long guns and handguns chambered for it keep it in the top spot where ammo sales are concerned. There are even shotshell variants available.
Typical Rife Type: bolt action, semiautomatic, single shot
Rep. Bullet Weight: 40
Muzzle Velocity: 1120-1140 (standard velocity); 1200-1300 (high velocity); over 1400 (hyper velocity). All number are feet per second.
Muzzle Energy: 115 (standard velocity); 150 (high velocity); 157 (hyper velocity, 36-grain bullet). All number are foot-pounds of energy.
Recoil Energy: 0.2, standard velocity; 0.24, high velocity; 0.23, hyper velocity (36 grain bullet). All numbers are foot-pounds of energy.
Comments: Being the most popular cartridge has its advantages. The availability (which was extremely low around five years ago but has come back full-force) of this inexpensive round, added to the hundreds of guns chambered for it guarantees that it will be the go-to cartridge for years to come for those wanting to get into shooting without a lot ox expense and recoil. It will also continue as king of the small-game rounds in the woods and fields. Lastly, many governmental agencies use it for training, a task for which it is well suited. The “lowly” .22LR is one of the most useful rounds out there.

.223 Remington / 5.56X45 NATO

.223 Remington

Description: A .22-caliber bottleneck-case cartridge derived from the .222 cartridge. Currently used as our military’s service round in small arms and some machine guns.
History: In 1957, a project to create a small caliber high velocity firearm was initiated. Eugene Stoner’s scaled-down AR-10 design won the rifle contract while the 5.56X45 (.223) round was selected as the cartridge to be fired in the rifle. The commercial .223 had been introduced in 1963, while the 5.56×45 military M193 version was adopted the next year.
Applications: Varmint hunting, target, self-defense, military uses
Typical Rife Type: Early rifles were bolt action, with the AR-15 platform following. Probably best known in the AR-15 semiautomatic platform, with thousands of AR-style rifles sold yearly.
Rep. Bullet Weight: 55 grains
Muzzle Velocity: 3240
Muzzle Energy: 1282
Recoil Energy: 3.2
Comments: This round is great in several roles. If you are looking for a way to get into centerfire rifle shooting, this is a good choice. It is also popular in the self-defense/survival role. Little felt recoil, flat trajectory and decent ballistics make this round a best-seller.

.22-250 Remington

.22-250 Remington

Description: A high-velocity, 224-caliber round designed for varmint hunting
History: The .22-250 started out as a wildcat round. The .250-3000 Savage case was necked down to take .224 bullets around 1937. Its popularity as a wildcat was cemented when Browning introduced their Browning High Power rifle for it in 1963. It was adopted by Remington in 1965 as the .22-250 Remington and added to their lineup. It is still popular, as it is a great varmint round that offers decent barrel life when cared for properly and is easy to reload.
Applications: varmint hunting, medium-sized predators, long-range smallbore shooting and competition
Typical Rife Type: bolt action
Rep. Bullet Weight: 55
Muzzle Velocity: 3680
Muzzle Energy: 1654
Recoil Energy: 8.3
Comments: The .22-250 is considered “king” of American .22-caliber varmint rounds. The .220 Swift technically has greater ballistics but in terms of available ammunition and rifles, stick with the .22-250 if you are looking for a round that will drive a 55-grain bullet to just under 4,000 fps and a 45-grain bullet to over 4,000 fps.

.243 Winchester

.243 Winchester

Description: A 6mm/.243 caliber round that is good for varmints or deer-sized game out to 300 yards or so.
History: Introduced in 1955, the .243 was designed at the outset to be good with both lighter and heavier bullet weights. Based on a necked-down .308 case, the .243 has stood the test of time and, with more states designating the .243/6mm as deer-legal, has gained some ground in the past few years in terms of popularity.
Applications: hunting both varmints and deer, long-range competition, target shooting
Typical Rife Type: bolt action
Rep. Bullet Weight: 95
Muzzle Velocity: 3100
Muzzle Energy: 2027
Recoil Energy: 11.3
Comments: I have a .243, a Savage Axis II rifle and have taken deer with it. This cartridge is very versatile – heavier bullets will take deer while lighter ones will connect with varmints at over 400 yards. This is as close to an economical do-it-all sub-.30-caliber rifle as I’ve seen. Its popularity has suffered a little with the advent of the Creedmoors (below) but it is still a solid seller with ammo readily available.

6mm Creedmoor

6mm Creedmoor

Description: A necked-down 6.5 Creedmoor case is the basis for a cartridge that fires a .264-inch bullet. The 6.5 Creedmoor excels at long-range competitive shooting and hunting.
History: Developed for long-range target shooting, the 6mm Creedmoor has made its name as a hunting round as well. The high ballistic coefficients and sectional densities that .264 bullets are known for have helped make this a very popular cartridge.
Applications: long range shooting; hunting
Typical Rife Type: bolt action
Rep. Bullet Weight: 103
Muzzle Velocity: 3050
Muzzle Energy: 2127
Recoil Energy: 12.5
Comments: If you are into shooting at 500-yards-plus or are looking for a great deer rifle out to 400 yards or so, the 6mm Creedmoor is worth a look. Easy to reload, it’s a winner.

6.5 Creedmoor

6.5 Creedmoor

Description: Long range mid-caliber hunting and competition round.
History: The 6.5 Creedmoor was introduced by Hornady in 2007 and is based on the .30 T/C case. Developed to have less recoil than a .308 but still having the velocity to enable ballistic properties that make it accurate at 1000 yards or more, this cartridge has, from its inception, been one of the best long range competitors out there.
Applications: extreme long range competitions; hunting
Typical Rife Type: bolt action
Rep. Bullet Weight: 120
Muzzle Velocity: 3020
Muzzle Energy: 2430
Recoil Energy: 15.7
Comments: For the extreme long-range competitor or the hunter who wants something more than a .243 but wants to avoid the recoil of a .308, here is your cartridge. It has been used around the world to take game of all types, not to mention winning long-range competitions.

.270 Winchester

.270 Winchester

Description: An old reliable. The .270 has been around for over 90 years but still delivers, with bullets weighing from 90 – 150 grains.
History: The .270 was introduced in 1925, but really gained prominence in the 1940s and 1950s when writers such as Jack O’Conner and Townsend Whelen sang its praises. Its popularity hasn’t dipped – it is still in demand.
Applications: Hunting deer- or antelope-sized game or varmints with lighter bullets
Typical Rife Type: bolt action
Rep. Bullet Weight: 130
Muzzle Velocity: 3060
Muzzle Energy: 2595
Recoil Energy: 17.3
Comments: Since 1925, the .270 has been dropping game animals ranging from coyote- to antelope-sized or larger. The abundance of reloading supplies and factory loads will keep this round with us for years to come.

7mm-08 Remington

7mm-08 Remington

Description: A .284-caliber rifle round that is equally at home ringing metal targets or taking game from deer to non-dangerous plains animals.
History: The 7mm-08 Remington was based on a necked-down, slightly lengthened .308 case that started out originally as the wildcat 7mm/308. Remington legitimized it in 1980 when they chambered two rifles for it. It is popular among gunwriters and others for its versatility, flat trajectory and decent recoil.
Applications: Hunting deer-sized game and larger, non-dangerous plains animals; metallic silhouette and long range shooting
Typical Rife Type: bolt action
Rep. Bullet Weight: 140
Muzzle Velocity: 2800
Muzzle Energy: 2437
Recoil Energy: 16.7
Comments: For those who are looking for a wind-bucking cartridge with plenty of knockdown power, give the 7mm-08 Remington a look. Whether you’re ringing metal targets at 500 yards or hunting thin-skinned African game, this cartridge does it all.

7mm Remington Magnum

7mm Remington Magnum

Description: A belted magnum cartridge for big game animals.
History: With its introduction in 1962, the 7mm Rem. Magnum has stayed popular among those who hunt large animals. Its belted case is derived from the famous .375 H&H Magnum; it headspaces on the belt, as do most belted cartridges.
Applications: hunting, sniping, long-distance shooting
Typical Rife Type: bolt action
Rep. Bullet Weight: 154
Muzzle Velocity: 3100
Muzzle Energy: 3286
Recoil Energy: 26.2
Comments: Considering that this round has been used by the U.S. Secret Service Counter-Sniper Team, the fact that it is used on large game here in the U.S. and in Africa just reinforces its versatility. Flat-shooting with recoil that is manageable makes this a great all-around cartridge.

.300 BLK (.300 AAC Blackout)

.300 BLK (.300 AAC Blackout)

Description: A short, .30-caliber round designed to imitate the ballistics of the 7.62×39 in an AR-platform rifle.
History: Certain military special units were wanting a round with more knockdown power than the 5.56 delivered. They turned to Advanced Armament Corporation, who then developed the .330 BLK which duplicates ballistics of the 7.62×39 in a subsonic platform.
Applications: military, hunting, short-range metallic or other competitions
Typical Rife Type: semiauto (AR)
Rep. Bullet Weight: 125
Muzzle Velocity: 2215
Muzzle Energy: 1360
Recoil Energy: 6.6
Comments: This round performs well in suppressed ARs, as it is subsonic. It took a bit of experimentation on the platform to refine an AR to function with this low-pressure round but it is very popular today. Hunters after medium-sized game (up to deer) tend to use it as they have the advantage of a semiauto platform with several rounds at their disposal. It is especially popular with hog hunters.

.300 Winchester Short Magnum

.300 Winchester Short Magnum

Description: A rebated rim, short magnum-cased .308-caliber cartridge with a case length of only 2.10 inch.
History: This round was developed in the early 2000s by the Winchester company in an effort to duplicate the ballistics of the .300 Winchester Magnum in a shorter, lighter rifle platform.
Applications: hunting large game
Typical Rife Type: bolt action
Rep. Bullet Weight: 165
Muzzle Velocity: 3223
Muzzle Energy: 3807
Recoil Energy: 28.3
Comments: This round is part of a family of short magnums produced by Winchester among others. If you are looking for magnum-level ballistics in a shorter, lighter more-easily-carried rifle, give it a look.

.300 Winchester Magnum

.300 Winchester Magnum

Description: A belted, bottleneck magnum rifle cartridge designed to fit in a standard rifle action.
History: This round was introduced by Winchester in 1963 for use in its Model 70 rifle. It uses the same case head dimensions as its parent cartridge, the .375 H&H. It is still popular, while other .30-caliber magnums introduced around the time this one came out have faded away.
Applications: hunting large game
Typical Rife Type: bolt action
Rep. Bullet Weight: 180
Muzzle Velocity: 3146
Muzzle Energy: 3972
Recoil Energy: 33.9
Comments: If you are looking for a major player in the .30-caliber-magnum wars, take a look at the .300 Win Mag. With muzzle energy of almost two tons, there are few game animals around that this rifle couldn’t handle.

.30-30 Winchester

.30-30 Winchester

Description: A medium-level .30-caliber round that uses a rimmed cartridge and is usually found in lever action rifles.
History: Derived from the old (1898) black powder .30 Smokeless round, the .30-30 was renamed to designate the caliber and the original loading of smokeless powder. The dominant rifle action for hunters at that time was the lever action, hence its continued popularity as those rifles are still to be found in abundance at good prices.
Applications: hunting medium- to big-game (North America); probably the most popular deer rifle cartridge in use today.
Typical Rife Type: lever action
Rep. Bullet Weight: 150
Muzzle Velocity: 2390
Muzzle Energy: 1903
Recoil Energy: 11.2
Comments: With is light recoil, .30-caliber expanding bullet and fairly inexpensive lightweight lever-action rifles, the .30-30 is the most popular deer round out there for that action type. It is considered the entry-level caliber for big game hunting and, out to 200 yards or so, is very effective on deer-size game.

.30-06 Springfield

.30-06 Springfield

Description: The .30-06 is the most popular .30-caliber all-around hunting round in the U.S. according to articles by the N.R.A. and Outdoor Life. This .30-caliber round has been proven in wartime and in the hunting field. It is a rimless, bottlenecked cartridge with a case length of 2.94 inches.
History: The round was introduced as the new military rifle cartridge in 1906. With its .30-caliber bullet, the naming convention of the time called it the .30-06. That name has stuck to this day. First chambered in the 1903 Springfield bolt action, it earned its reputation as the round that the M1 Garand rifle fired, not to mention the 1919 air-cooled machine gun and other weapons. It is valued as a hunting round now, one that will take most any game animal you’re likely to run across in the U.S.
Applications: military (service round until the 7.62×51 .308 replaced it in 1954), hunting, target shooting, long-range competition
Typical Rife Type: bolt action
Rep. Bullet Weight: 150
Muzzle Velocity: 2910
Muzzle Energy: 2820
Recoil Energy: 16
Comments: Even though it is no longer in service by the military, civilian shooters keep buying rifles chambered in .30-06. Because the recoil of the .30-06 is at the upper limits of what most shooters will tolerate, you tend to see a lot of people shooting this round. Whether you are a paper target competitor, military match shooter, hunter or other type of gun person, the .30-06 is still around and better than ever with its wide variety of bullet weights and easy reloading tendencies.

.308 / 7.62X51 NATO

.308 Winchester

Description: A rimless, bottlenecked cartridge that shoots a .308-caliber bullet.
History: The .308 round (in its civilian incarnation) appeared in 1952, with the military version coming along two years later. It has become the most popular short-action big game hunting round worldwide. Its case is .92 inch shorter than the .30-06’s.
Applications: hunting, military, law enforcement (sniping), target shooting, bench rest matches, other shooting sports.
Typical Rife Type: bolt action
Rep. Bullet Weight: 150
Muzzle Velocity: 2820
Muzzle Energy: 2648
Recoil Energy: 14.4
Comments: If ever there was a .30-caliber round able to unseat the .30-06 as the king of the non-magnum 30-calibers, the .308 would be that round. With its short case length fitting into shorter, lighter rifles and its great terminal ballistics, the .308 is one of the most versatile cartridges out there. Use light bullets for varmints or heavier ones for medium- to big-game – they will both work on their respective intended targets. Add in the law enforcement and military usage and a rifle chambered in .308 is popular, indeed.

7.62.X39mm

7.62×39mm

Description: A short-cased, mid-level .30-caliber round used mostly in semiauto rifles for self-defense or hunting
History: In 1943, Russia needed a new intermediate cartridge that could be fired in rifles, carbines and automatic/selective-fire weapons. They came up with the 7.62 (caliber) x 39 (case length in mm). The round was extremely successful, in no small part to the weapons designed to fire it. They were reliable in all kinds of harsh conditions. After the war, the AK-47 was chambered for this round which only added to its reputation. Available now in semiauto or bolt guns, this round is deer-legal in many states with proper ammunition.
Applications: informal shooting, short-to-medium range hunting, self-defense
Typical Rife Type: semiauto (i.e., SKS/AK47)
Rep. Bullet Weight: 123
Muzzle Velocity: 2309
Muzzle Energy: 1547
Recoil Energy: 8.1
Comments: If you are looking for a rifle that’s cheap to shoot with a lot of steel-cased military- surplus ammo available, this is the round for you. With the right ammo, it is a decent woods deer gun at closer ranges. Low recoil and the great reliability of the rifles and carbines that fire it only adds to its desirability.

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.338 Lapua Magnum

.338 Lapua Magnum

Description: A heavy-caliber, high-energy .338 round designed for military sniping.
History: The .338 was developed as a long-range sniper round to be used in Afghanistan and Iraq in the 1980s. A specialized British version of the .338 was used to set the longest distance sniper kill record in 2009 with a verified hit at 2,707 yards. The round is still in use as a hunting round for all types of game.
Applications: military (sniping); hunting; long-distance shooting
Typical Rife Type: bolt action
Rep. Bullet Weight: 250
Muzzle Velocity: 3000
Muzzle Energy: 4893
Recoil Energy: 43.1
Comments: The .338 Lapua Magnum is the king of sniping rounds (well, if you don’t count the .50 BMG). Its enormous muzzle energy, close to 2 ½ tons in ft/lbs., helps get the bullet downrange with a flat trajectory and ensures that whatever it hits goes down. Capable of penetrating body armor at 1,000 meters, the round’s hunting applications are numerous. It would be just the thing for thick-skinned African game (although if hunting elephant, rhinoceros or other dangerous game a back-up rifle of larger caliber is suggested), If you are able to afford to feed it ($2.30 – $3.00 per round), it makes one great rifle to shoot, hunt with or otherwise really impress your shooting buddies! Interesting notes: “Lapua” comes from the Finnish ammunition company that helped develop it. Also, the round is being groomed to replace the .300 Winchester Magnum and the .50 BMG rounds in their anti-personnel sniping roles.

.458 SOCOM

.458 SOCOM

Description: Large-caliber, heavy-bullet load designed to improve stopping power over the 5.56 round when fired from an AR-pattern rifle
History: Introduced officially in 2001, the round was brought about because of discussions among Special Operations Command (SOCOM) forces that a new cartridge was needed due to the multiple shots needed to stop opponents in Mogadishu. The case was based on the .50 AE, except it was lengthened and the rim trimmed to .473 in. which allows it to be fired in the AR-15/M16.
Applications: Hunting, self defense,military, alternate caliber for an AR-15 lower
Typical Rife Type: semiauto (AR)
Rep. Bullet Weight: 300
Muzzle Velocity: 1900
Muzzle Energy: 2405
Recoil Energy: 30.5
Comments: This round is designed to feed from standard G.I. magazines (a 20-round magazine will hold 7 .458 SOCOM rounds), so no modification to the magazine is needed. This cartridge and the next one, the .50 Beowulf, are good at close to medium range on all types of targets. It is totally compatible with the M4 carbine, given the proper upper in this caliber. This cartridge would be dynamite on medium to large game out to 150 yards or so, or great protection in bear country.

.50 Beowulf

.50 Beowulf

Description: A heavy-bullet, .500-caliber bullet/cartridge designed to improve stopping power over the 5.56 round when fired from an AR-15.
History: Introduced by Alexander Arms, the round was built around a rebated-rim case that will fit a 7.62×39 bolt face. Alexander Arms based its tapered case on a .50 AE cartridge case so that it will function in a semiautomatic rifle. There is not a lot of additional information available for this round.
Applications: Stopping vehicles that attempt to go through checkpoints, hunting all North American game, other defensive applications
Typical Rife Type: semiauto (AR)
Rep. Bullet Weight: 400
Muzzle Velocity: 1875
Muzzle Energy: 3123
Recoil Energy: 43.1
Comments: If you are looking for an AR-15-based major-league critter thumper, here it is. A 400-grain, .50-caliber bullet dealing out over a ton and a half of muzzle energy should be enough to take any animal on the continent, within reasonable range. What provides that thump, however, makes a trajectory that looks like a rainbow much past 150 yards or so with its massive bullets fired at basically .45-70 velocities. Where it shines is that that massive bullet comes out of an AR-15 which means there are plenty more behind it.

Conclusions

No matter what you want or need a rifle to do, there is a cartridge here that will do it. From 55-grain varmint rounds to the massive magnums, you are covered. Some of these rounds are not inexpensive, but if you find one you shoot really well and performs a function well for you, there is always reloading. There is nothing at all wrong with factory ammo…it just can get a bit pricey. Reloading is one way to get more shooting in per dollar spent.

Let’s look at some specific recommendations…

For deer hunting, any of the calibers above .22 will work. (For those of you who live in states where the .22 caliber is deer-legal, I apologize. It isn’t where I live). The magnums are normally not needed for deer-size animals and tend to be overkill. Around here, the most popular deer calibers are the .243/6mms, .30-30, .308 and .30-06. I’m sure you deer hunters have your favorites.

Varmints (small game coyote-size or smaller) are easily taken with the .22-caliber rifles discussed here (plus some of the other larger calibers). The trick to putting smaller varmints down (unless you want the hide or skin in one piece) is to use light, fast bullets that “explode” when they hit the target. This is usually done at fairly long range, so decent optics are called for when hunting “way out there.”

Paper Target (Bullseye/Military Rifle) Competition – the king of the long-standard bullseye competitions still seems to be that grand old caliber, the .30-06. With open sights on a military-surplus M1 Garand, for example, the onus is on the shooter to perform at 100 yards and beyond. Some shooters use a .308 or other rifle; it is totally a personal call. You use what you shoot best.

Metallic Silhouette Competition – Really, like the deer calibers mentioned above, anything over a .22-caliber should work, especially at distance. Some ranges limit the calibers allowed due to the possibility of target damage by using a rifle that is capable of perforating the steel targets. Extreme long range metallic target shooting is usually done with calibers similar to the .338 Lapua Magnum, but we’re talking steel that’s WAY out there. Again, target damage can be a concern so each match has the right to dictate which calibers are allowed.

Self-Defense – Here, we are wide open as to suitable calibers. The .223 is extremely popular in this role as is the .308. The thing to be aware of when keeping a house or truck rifle for self-defense is overpenetration. If, heaven forbid, you have to use your rifle in a life-or-death situation, you want to stop those intent on doing you or your family harm. You do not want the bullet that you just sent downrange to either miss your target completely or go through it and hit an innocent bystander. That’s why a lot of .223s and 7.62x39s get carried in a vehicle or are parked by beds in people’s homes. They will do the job without over-penetration, for the most part.

We have looked at a few popular rifle calibers and have examined some possible usage scenarios. The final thought that I want to leave you with is that everything written above is based or colored by my experiences. You may see other calibers as viable and might be asking “why wasn’t ___ included?”. As stated, this article is based on personal experiences and is written through my perspective. There are many fine rifle calibers out there – you may have others that you shoot regularly that fill a need for you. That’s great – I had to choose just a few to write about. If you have a favorite I didn’t mention or if you’ve had a really cool hunting or other type of adventure with your rifle(s), leave a comment below. Now…get out there, be safe, and go shooting!

Author Mike

Mike has been a shooter, bullet caster and reloader for over 40 years. Never one to be satisfied with the status quo, he is often found at his reloading bench concocting yet another load. With a target range in his backyard and after 40 years of shooting, his knowledge of firearms and reloading is fairly extensive. He is married, with four sons and daughters-law and 7-and-counting grandkids.

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Michael Wood
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Michael Wood

Wow, thanks for this article 🙂 I’m going to print it and have it laminated for a resource. Great information and easy to understand.