My Top Ten Rifle Cartridge Calibres in the World
1) .22 – The world’s favourite cartridge, the.22 rimfire must be one of the most underrated of all rounds, available in all sorts of versions – .22 short and long rifle being the primary modern variants. There are BB caps, the old long and .22 magnums too, not to mention, highly effective subsonics. The cartridge originated with Flobert and was first seen commercially as far as I am aware in the .22 rimfire pistol that was the first major product of messrs. Smith & Wesson in the US civil war (and became a popular hide-out pistol). The bullet is the same diameter as the case. Some say it is good in Long Rifle form for 150 yards, I would say 100 was a more sensible (less in subsonic), but it is one a great game getter and less sensitive to cleaning than the newer 17s. When zeroed at 100 yards a standard 40 grain bullet goes about a 3” high at 50.
2) .22-250 – My own experience is that this is one of the best varmint, small deer, and kangaroo cartridges of all time. The .222 is also brilliant, but I have never failed to be impressed with nearly all of the 22-250 rifles that I have shot. It is soft, flat shooting, and very accurate. It is capable of velocities over 4000fps and may be used in short actions. It is based on a necked down .250 Savage case. Typical bullet weight for the excellent .22-250 is 40-65 grains. Velocities can run as high as 4,200 fps, with the 55 grain running just under 3,800.
3) .223 – properly the .223 Remington is very similar but not identical to the 5.56x45mm NATO round (but do not assume interchangeability – there are potential safety issues as the peak pressures of the two cartridges are different). It was introduced in 1964 and designed for the then new M16 designed by Eugene Stoner. Bullet weights range from 30-90 grains with 55 grains being the most popular. The cartridge, like the .222 is excellent, where legal, for small to medium sized game.
4) .243 Winchester – One of the most popular cartridges in Britain, a necked down .308, it has never been a favourite of mine because of its muzzle blast, though potentially very accurate. I have shot several that managed ½ MOA or even 1/4 MOA in sporting configuration. For foxes try the 55 grain Winchester Silver Tips. [Perhaps, though, we should put the venerable and much loved .270 in this spot instead of the .243, it has never been a personal favourite in truth but Jack O’Connor amongst many others loved it. There was a time when a pre ’64 .270 Winchester was THE gun. For British deer the 130 grain is the flat shooting is the way to go and you can step up to a 150 grain Nosler Partition for Africa.]
5) .308 Winchester – If you are in the market for a stalking or survival rifle and are not sure what to get, you will not go far wrong with the .308 Winchester aka 7.62 NATO. An amazingly versatile round, I have shot more bigger game with this than any other, though I tend to prefer the .300 Win Mag for work abroad these days. Bullets range from 150 to 180 grain, though I prefer 150 and 168 grain, managing 2,800 fps, and 2,650 fps respectively. One world one rifle – this is probably going to be the cartridge for it.
6) .30-06 – The old US standard military round – or, 30-06 Springfield to give its full title – is tremendously versatile like the .308 (but more so) and available with a vast number of bullet options from 125 to 220 grain. What the .308 is in the UK the .30-06 is in the States. In Africa you will find it is about 50:50 .308./30-06. I have also noted the 30-06 is extremely popular with hunters in the Balkans. With heavy bullets, it is good for boar (though not my favourite). Like the .308 it is banned for hunting in France as a military cartridge. Folly, but, that’s barmy bureaucracy, we all suffer it.
7) .300 Win Mag – My favourite all round cartridge with a 180 grain bullet (although heavier options are available). I like the .300 for its knock down power. Once in Namibia I shot 6 beasts with a .308 and 6 with the .300 Win Mag. All the former walked on, none did when shot in the same place with the latter. It’s only disadvantage is a bit of recoil, but it’s a corker. 168 grain Barnes TSX copper bullet with polymer tip also works well, and, I have great results with Winchester and Rottweil rounds too.
8) .375 H&H – Many call it the do anything cartridge with bullets from 200 grains upwards. Introduced in 1912 by the illustrious London firm, I think it an amazing calibre but have never had much luck with the lighter bullets on the accuracy front. I stick to 270 and 300 grain pills will great results. The new .375 Ruger also warrants serious attention. As for rifle the standard Sako Model 85 Hunter in .375 is one of the best buys on the market.
9) .416 Rigby – 10.6x74mm – was designed by John Rigby & Co in 1911 (a year before the great .375 H&H, though no Rigby guns were actually made before 1912). I think it is the best killing cartridge of all for larger and dangerous game – it combines power with penetration. It is a cartridge and calibre that inspire confidence and no one who goes to Africa with a .416 Rigby has made the wrong choice. I have shot small antelope with it as well as buffalo. It is a decisive round that does the business consistently. A favourite of Harry Selby, John Pondoro Taylor, and, not least, my chum, Paul Roberts. I have had terrific results with Federal Trophy bonded Bear Claw 400 grain.
10) 500 Nitro Express – 470NE used to be the pro’s choice, and it is a great cartridge still, but the latest fashion, one re-invented, is for the 500. I have never shot a beast with it yet, but was so impressed with a 500 NE I tested at the Holland & Holland ground that I am now building one for myself. Unlike the .577 and .600, the recoil is manageable, even when launching a 570 grain bullet. This is serious medicine for serious, up close and personal, situations.
One come back kid that did not make it into my list was the 6.5 Swedish (6.5 x 55). It is very popular now and may shoot bullets from 100-160 (though I would go for the 120). I have found the recoil on the 6.5 a little greater than some of it fans may suggest, but 6.5s of all sorts are very fashionable. The 7x57 (aka .275 Rigby) is another great round that didn’t quite make it. 9.3x74R certainly deserved a place here if you are keen on boar shooting with a double rifle. But, heck, we said 10 so you got 10!