If you have been on Google or on any of the forums in the past 2 hours you know this is a hot and very touchy subject. There are no shortage of opinions – from the super-awesome-know-it-all shooter that says you must have the same caliber he shoots to Joe Hunter who swears he killed a MONSTER deer at a mile away with granddaddy’s old 270 a green and yellow box of ammunition. I am going to do my best to tread this subject and give you some advice you can use. So here it is the answer to all caliber debates …
The answer is … it depends on what you want to do.
Just like everything in life, it’s a game of choices. You give in some areas to gain in others, and in the end if you know your limitations to the system you choose and it works for your style of hunting and shooting it’s a win.
That being said, there are inherently some things you should know and consider when going into selecting a caliber. Yes, it’s true you can shoot distance with many calibers. But it’s also true that, by nature of design and bullet selection, you may be adjusting for 30 inches of wind drift and the guy next to you with a different caliber is only adjusting for 5 inches. So for me long distance hunting and/or shooting is a game of reducing margin of error. You do that by shooting a gun that shoots a tighter group and limiting the elemental factors by selecting a bullet and caliber with superior bullet selection.
Here are the three key factors to consider when selecting a caliber for long range shooting:
Bullet Ballistic Coefficient (BC) and Velocity.
Personally, I think you have to talk about these two factors together. You have to think about them as the sum of what is going on with the bullet from the time you pull the trigger to the time you strike the target. As a general rule of thumb, you would like a bullet that is traveling at 3,000 fps and a bullet that has a BC of .500. If you give in one area, you want to gain in another. For example: if your speed is only 2,800 fps, you would want a bullet with a BC higher than .5.
[Side Note About BC: Ballistic Coefficient, in layman terms, is essentially just the drag of the bullet. BC is affected not only by the weight of the bullet but the profile of the bullet as well. Some calibers by nature have higher BCs, like the 6.5mm and 7mm. Some, like the .25 and .277, have low BC. BC will be your ticket in minimizing wind drift.]
This subject gets sticky because of terminal ballistics and bullet construction, but as a general rule of thumb, the distance for where you think you may take the game you need enough delivered energy to make an ethical kill. For me personally, I use 1,000 foot pounds for elk and about 350-400 for deer.
Questions to think about include: How long does the barrel have to be to get the speeds you want? How heavy does the rifle need to be based on the caliber to be accurate? Does the stock feel good and balanced when you hold it? What’s the twist rate of the bullet?
I will leave you with this without starting a war, my personal favorites are the 6.5 Creedmoor and the 28 Nosler.