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The Best Rifle Calibers for Hunting Elk

by Buddy Shay
Elk grazing in a forest.

Elk grazing in a forest.

The elk-hunting debate continues. A variety of rifle calibers -- beginning with the .270 -- are effective for elk, but experts recommend a .30 caliber. To kill an elk, Colorado Parks and Wildlife says 1,500 ft.-lbs. of energy should be dumped into your prey, enough force to ensure the bullet fully expands inside the animal for a large wound and a clean kill. Smaller calibers often cannot expend that much energy at range. Based on data from American Hunter, Live Outdoors and Outdoor Life, the best calibers for an elk hunt are the ever popular .30-06 and the .338 Winchester Magnum.

The .30-06

The .30-06 is a versatile round used for almost any game on the continent. Elk are large, and so a heavier bullet, like the 180 grain Winchester Super-X, is required. According to Winchester, at 100 yards this round delivers 2,433 ft.-lbs. of energy to the target at a velocity of 2,468 feet per second. At 300 yards, the round still travels 2,038 feet per second to smack the animal with 1,659 ft.-lbs. of energy — more than enough for a clean kill. Plus, rifles of this caliber do not have much recoil and are ubiquitous.

The .338 Winchester Mag

Considered the uppermost limit of an elk gun, the .338 has plenty of stopping power, even at longer ranges. Consider the 200 grain Winchester Super-X round. At 100 yards, 3,137 ft.-lbs. of energy will hit the animal at 2,658 feet per second, and even at 400 yards, 1,539 ft.-lbs. of energy strike at a slower 1,863 feet per second. Although it has more kick, it also does more damage down range, and is still easy to find in gun stores.

About the Author

Residing in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., Buddy Shay has been in higher education since 2003 with experience in the classroom and in academic support. He holds a Master of Arts in English. Shay is also a certified practitioner of the MBTI personality instrument and has previous experience working with secondary students.

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