I am often asked what are the essential hunting calibers. It is an interesting question and after much thought I have narrowed it down to six different calibers and specific types of weapons that will cover just about every hunting possibility you could imagine. The following are my choices based on both extensive personal experience and queries of some very serious shooters and hunters. They are listed by the lowest-to-highest caliber.
1. A 22-caliber rifle with scope.
There are many reasons why every shooter should own a .22 – the number one being they are cheap to use for practice, and practice, as we all know, increases shooting proficiency. They are great guns to start kids on, and they can be used for a variety of small game hunting. Squirrels, rabbits, and even varmints up to the size of coyotes have fallen to this diminutive little caliber. There are a lot of great .22 rifles out there, and some really nice ones for not a lot of money. If you want to help your shooting tremendously, buy a bolt-action that is closest to the size and weight of your hunting rifle.
2. A bolt-action .223 rifle.
This caliber effectively “spans the gap” between small and large rifles. I chose this caliber over the .22-250 because .223-ammunition tends to be more widely available, and is also a lot more reasonably priced. For around 100 fps difference, you can save about 75 percent buying off-the-shelf ammo. Plus, if you upgrade to one of the AR platforms later on, you’ll already have an ammo supply. Top this with a high-quality scope from Leupold, preferably in a varmint-style reticle, and you’ll have a serious varmint rifle for up to 400+yards.
3. A .30-06-caliber rifle.
If you have read any of my previous columns, you know my affinity for this caliber. There is darned little that you cannot do with it, and if you do not travel beyond the continent, you will never need another rifle. My advice here – spend a little more than you can afford on both the rifle and scope. Amortize that over the next 30 years and you’ll realize it’s really not that much money- plus you’ll be happier with your purchase!
4. A bolt-action .375 H&H magnum rifle.
If you ever decide to travel beyond the continental U.S. borders, you will need a larger caliber for big and dangerous game, quite often as a result of local law. .375 is the minimum requirement for all dangerous game in Africa. The new .375 Ruger is a fantastic caliber and Ruger makes some great rifles, but I’m an advocate of shooting guns that have readily available ammo. Maybe someday Ruger will match the Holland & Holland, but that day is a long way off. It just so happens that the .375 is also excellent medicine for grizzlies and larger game such as elk or moose in North America as well.
5. A 12-gauge 3.5 inch magnum.
This choice is all about versatility.
You can shoot any size load for 12 gauge in this chambering, from light target loads to the heaviest waterfowl loads. My recommendation? Spend a little extra and buy a semiautomatic shotgun. Your shoulder and face will thank you if you ever have to do some serious shooting. If that’s not possible, make sure to install a gel-type recoil pad made by Sims or Pachmayr. Trust me, they help a lot.
6. A .50 caliber, in-line muzzleloader.
Today’s muzzleloaders are clean, easy to shoot, and deadly accurate. You can extend your season by several months in many states. Most shotgun-only areas (like Illinois and Iowa) will allow a muzzleloader during that season. With today’s optics and powders, these are legitimate 200+yard weapons.
There you have it. If there are some holes in your collection, start saving and fill accordingly!
I welcome your additional caliber suggestions in the comments area below.