Fact or enduring myth? what is the all-around rifle cartridge continues to stir debate.

Author:Barsness, John

Ever since the invention of self-contained ammunition the debate about the best all-around rifle cartridge has regularly cropped up in hunting camps, sporting goods stores, and gun magazines. The argument now appears regularly on Internet websites such as 24hourcampfire.com, demonstrating just how far we've come since the invention of the actual (not virtual) campfire.

These cyberspace debates are interesting in some ways, and not so much in others. Anybody who can type can express their opinion. Many hunters jump right in without reading any other posts, often stating exactly the same thing as 17 other posts. It's kind of like a New England town meeting with several thousand people wearing earmuffs.

"Threads" on more concrete questions such as "What's a reasonable price for a used Marlin 336?" end pretty quickly, but all-around cartridge threads come close to defining infinity, especially when somebody actually reads all the posts. In fact one general rule of Internet forums is the more trivial the question, the longer the debate. A seemingly innocent question such as "Should I buy a .270 or .280?" can generate more heat and repetition than any presidential debate.

When discussing the ideal all-around North American big-game cartridge quite a few hunters split their answer, suggesting one cartridge for all North American game except "the big bears," and another including those bears. ("The big bears" means grizzly, brown and polar bears, even though many black bears are bigger than the average grizzly.) Many of the answers begin with some disclaimer, such as, "I've only hunted whitetails ..." or, "While I can't afford to hunt the big bears, from what I've heard. ..."

Hunters who haven't hunted (or even seen) a brown bear, elk or any other game bigger than deer, often suggest much larger cartridges than most local hunters use for the same game. This is particularly true of elk. Many hunters from east of the Rockies apparently think elk wear armor, so feel anything less than a .300 Magnum bullet might bounce off, while most residents of elk states use the same cartridges used for whitetail hunting back east, such as the .270 Winchester or .30-06.


I've only taken one of the big bears, an average mature grizzly, but my friend Alaskan Master Guide Phil Shoemaker has, for several decades, produced some of the biggest brown bears in the state for his clients. He's not only guided hunters to a bunch of really big bears, but finished off many after his clients annoyed the bears with poorly placed shots.

Despite those experiences, Phil's comfortable with clients using a .30-06 with deep-penetrating bullets. In fact he sometimes uses a .30-06 as his backup rifle with 200- or 220-grain Nosler...

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