Every good hunter knows the importance of the correct hunting cartridge for different game types. We all know you don’t want to go out there gunning for elk with a varmint round, that’s for sure. 

But what round will make the kill as effortless and as ethical as possible? That’s the question at hand. 

There are many factors to consider when you’re out there. Not only do you have to worry about getting the shot, but you also want to ensure you only have to take one shot. This is doubly true if you plan on eating the animal. 

You’ll need a good round that can cover the distance quickly, penetrate fat and bone, and efficiently impact the heart or lungs. If you’re just starting out, you also want to ensure the round doesn’t ruin your pockets. 

We’ll discuss all of this and recommend the best round for every game size, from birds to giant game like brown bears.

best caliber for hunt

A simple chart to help understand which caliber is best. Source: TPAW

Considerations To Take 


I’m sure you’ve guessed that the bigger the game, the bigger the caliber. And you would be on point there. While it would take all day to go over the best caliber for each animal, it’s safe to say that there are some excellent all-rounders in each category. 

Before you go out there, though, it’s good to understand that each caliber has its place. You should also know what to expect from the round itself in terms of performance. This way, you know how far out you can go and how the round will impact the target at said distance. 


Speaking of distance, how far do you plan on shooting? Remember, you must ensure the round travels and delivers enough impact to successfully and ethically put your target down. 

Most hunting is done within 100 yards. At that distance, any .308 Winchester will get you by for deer or other mid-size game, mainly if you aim for the lungs or heart. 

If you’re shooting further, you need a round that stays flatter for longer before suffering from science. 

That’s why 6.5 Creedmoor is loved by hunters who shoot from further distances.

S&B 6.5 Creedmor 140gr FMJ Ammo
S&B 6.5 Creedmoor 140gr FMJ Ammo
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good scope for hunt

A good scope is critical as well. Source: swarovskioptik

Cost Per Round

Ammo is expensive. And it isn’t getting any cheaper with all this war brewing. If you want to hunt often, take more than one animal, or are just starting, you want to ensure the cost per round is as low as possible. 

The easiest way to do that is to check the current prices or find the ammo in bulk. Then, determine if you can afford to spend that much every time you need more. 

You must also factor in target practice and zeroing your scope after taking it out of storage. 

Best Hunting Loads/Calibers

Birds – 12 Gauge Birdshot

Birds are some of the more complex animals to hunt. Once they catch wind of you, they take flight, and sometimes you have to get them mid-takeoff, so a round that can scatter is necessary. 

12-gauge birdshot can reach further than other gauges, delivering a more devastating impact on the bird when it’s trying to get away from you. 

Depending on whether or not you plan on eating the bird, you want to ensure that you go with a non-toxic load so there is no lead here. Steel shot is the way to go. 

Varmint – .22 WMR 

The .22 is a nifty little round with more versatility than any other on the market. It can be used for hunting multiple types of small game, but if you want to get the job done quickly and easily, you should go with the more powerful .22 WMR or .22 Magnum. 

What is the difference? 

The .22 WMR is projected faster, keeping its energy over a greater distance and hitting the target with greater force. 

Don’t get me wrong; you can get away with using .22LR on most small game. However, the .22 Magnum gives you more room for error since it causes greater damage to the varmint’s vital organs, making it easier for the beginner hunter. 

Best of all, it won’t cost you as much as other varmint rounds. 

Medium-Sized Game – .308 Winchester 

Now, we’re entering the bigger and more powerful calibers. 

.308 Winchester needs no introduction. When you’re taking a shot at medium-sized game like deer and black bear, the high-flying, hard-hitting .30 caliber round rarely has to ask twice. 

Depending on the load, the .308 Winchester can deliver up to 3,000 ft-lbs of energy at the muzzle, making it a legendary pick for many medium—and larger-sized game hunters for decades. 

fiocchi 308 ammo
Fiocchi .308 Winchester 150gr FMJ Ammo
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Best of all, you don’t have to worry about ammo scarcity—.308 Winchester isn’t going anywhere. It is a bit expensive, especially when you get into specialty hunting rounds, but there will always be .308 on tap somewhere.

clean shot from a .308 Winchester

A clean shot from a .308 Winchester. Source: Reddit

Giant-Sized Game – .300 Winchester Magnum

Big game hunters know the importance of a decisive round and a well-placed shot, and it’s not only for getting an ethical kill. Let’s just say these big beasts don’t take too kindly to being shot at, and they might have a backup. 

You’ll need a round that maintains its energy over a long distance and still delivers enough impact to kill the target quickly. 

The .300 Winchester Magnum is just the round to do so. It is a heavy and aerodynamic round that shoots flat and can easily reach 700 yards. When it comes to hunting big game, no round competes with the .300 Win Mag. 

Be careful, though. They can be expensive, and the recoil bucks like a bull. Fair warning. 


There you have it. If you’re a new hunter and want to get shooting but don’t want to do all the guesswork, this list can get you started and have you in the trees as soon as possible. 

Make sure you buy some ammo to zero in your rifle and get it up to snuff before the big shooting day, and remember to think of the considerations we mentioned before diving in. 

Be good and take care.

Brian Zerbian
Brian is a USMC Veteran and avid gun enthusiast from New Jersey who loves to spend his time shooting, writing, listening to classic rock, and learning new things.
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