I clearly remember the first time I brought an AR-15 on a hunting trip. I was hunting coyotes in Texas with the legendary Gerald Stewart, then owner of Johnny Stewart Game calls. As a guest I had to pretend to be good natured and endure all the Rambo references and the not-funny “jokes” about my choice of rifles. By week’s end it was a struggle.
Today, AR rifles are common in hunting camps around the country. The AR-15 has some excellent big game cartridges such as the .450 Bushmaster, .458 Socom and .50 Beowulf. The trouble with these cartridges is they are not suitable for extended ranges—the rounds are powerful, but they’re pushing big, heavy bullets that run out of gas at around 150 yards and experience significant drop. With a few exceptions (the .30 RAR comes to mind,) the AR-15 cartridges with trajectories flat enough for long range shooting lack the power for ethical big game hunting.
For that pursuit, the larger AR-10 or ARL platform is a better choice. This rifle was designed around the 7.62X51mm NATO cartridge. We know that in the civilian world as the .308 Winchester.
By necking the cartridge up or down to take a smaller or larger diameter bullet, the .308 Winchester has spawned a family of hunting cartridges. With this family the AR-10 rifle platform is capable of ethically taking most North American big game, even at longer ranges.
The strength of the .243 Winchester is in its versatility. It will perform equally well on deer size game and varmints. The .243 Winchester is an excellent coyote cartridge and is much more predictable than the smaller cartridges in the wind that seems to haunt every prairie dog town. I have a DPMS ARL in .243 Winchester that, with a Hornady 58 grain V-Max bullet, is the wrath of God on coyotes.
With heavier 100 grain bullets, the .243 Winchester is a fine deer and antelope cartridge. I shot my first whitetail with a .243 Winchester in 1968 and have lost count of how many have gone to my freezer since.
When it comes to hunting big game these two cartridges are so close in ballistics that we can easily lump them together. With 120 to 140 grain bullets the cartridges are excellent for hunting deer and similar game. My daughter Erin used a .260 Remington to hunt over a large portion of North America as she was growing up and she took a lot of the deer and antelope with that cartridge.
In recent years the 6.5 Creedmoor has taken the shooting world by storm. It was designed as a long range target cartridge, but with proper bullets it is well suited for big game hunting. It’s technically not a descendant of the .308 Winchester, but the differences are so subtle that only a hard-core, gun nerd would care.
The keyboard experts would have you believing the 6.5 Creedmoor is somehow magic and capable of slaying large dragons far off in the next kingdom. That’s not true, but with proper bullets it is a fine cartridge for hunting deer size game. In fact, I recently shot a blacktail deer using a 6.5 Creedmoor with a Barnes 127 grain LRX bullet and was pleased with the performance.
The 7mm-08 became a favorite with whitetail hunters, particularly those in the northeast, although to this day nobody has really figured out what to call it. Some say “seven ‘O eight.” Others, “seven millimeter ‘O eight” and often “seven M-M ‘O eight.” Or for a variation they change the “O” to “aught.” By my count that’s at least six different pronunciations of the name. It seems like every deer camp I visit says it differently.
Sure, it can take coyotes and more than one hunter has used the 7mm-08 for elk or moose, but it shines brightest in the deer woods. Dick Dietz, who was Remington’s PR guru for decades, often said it was the perfect whitetail cartridge.
The 7mm-08 is a mild mannered cartridge with easily managed recoil. That makes it an excellent choice for a young or small statured hunter, but even we grizzled old recoil-addled gun guys love this cartridge. My pick for most big game is a 140 grain bullet.
Although it was nearly half an inch shorter than the .30-06 Springfield, when it was introduced in 1952 the .308 Winchester almost duplicated the larger cartridge’s performance. This is often attributed to the new ball powder that was developed for the cartridge; but it’s notable that the .308 Winchester is loaded to slightly higher pressures than the .30-06 Springfield, which is always a factor in performance.
The .308 Winchester is extremely popular with hunters and it’s a good cartridge for all but the largest North American big game. The .308 Winchester can handle elk and even moose, although shot placement is extremely important as it’s on the back side of the curve for acceptable cartridges. When it comes to deer, hogs and even black bear, the .308 Winchester with a 150 or 165 grain bullet is an excellent choice.
The 338 Federal is the latest in a long line of cartridges based on the .308 Winchester. Shortly after it was introduced, I was lucky enough to hunt with it in Northern British Columbia where I shot a very large black bear. He was so big that we broke an army surplus litter carrying him out.
Since then I have seen the cartridge work in moose, mountain goat, caribou, elk, whitetails, hogs and several other critters. I have come to believe that it is perhaps the best big game cartridge in the .308 based, short-action cartridge line up, which is bordering on blasphemy considering how much I like the .358 Winchester.
The .338 Federal is a star in the ARL world, it brings true big game hunting performance to this rifle platform. For deer, hogs, bears, elk, moose and even bigger game, this cartridge gets it done. Randy Luth, the man who started DPMS Rifle Company and currently owns LUTH AR took a big Alaskan brown bear with the .338 Federal in an ARL rifle.
The .338 Federal can push a 185 grain Barnes TTSX bullet to nearly 2,800 ft/s, which means the trajectory is similar to that of a .30-06, 180 grain load or a 165 grain .308 load. With a 200 yard zero all three bullet’s paths are only separated by just over three quarters of an inch at 400 yards. The .338 Federal has a bigger bullet, which means a bigger hole in the critter you are shooting.
American hunters view 35-caliber cartridges like Hollywood celebrities view marriage. We sort of like them, but we aren’t fanatics about it.
I don’t understand why. The .358 Winchester can drive a 200 grain bullet out the muzzle at 2,500 ft/s. That makes it suitable for almost any big game in North America. What’s not to like?
Bill Wilson from Wilson Combat shares my views on this cartridge and he chambers it in his ARL rifles. For deer, black bear, hogs, elk or moose this cartridge is a great choice. It can even handle the big bears with the right bullets.
.500 Auto Max
As mentioned earlier the AR-15 is chambered for some big bore thumper cartridges. But big bores are not just for the AR15, and Big Horn Amory has taken the same approach with the AR500 rifle. Their .500 Auto Max cartridge is a rimless version of the .500 S&W handgun cartridge. When chambered in one of their rifles with a much longer barrel, this cartridge is a bludgeon.
Bullet weights run from 350 grains to 440 grains. With a 350 grain, the MV is 2,200 ft/s. The 400 grain bullet has a muzzle velocity of 2,050 ft/s and the 440 grain is at 1950 ft/s. Depending on the bullet, the muzzle energy is one side or the other of 4,000 foot-pounds. Those energy levels are similar to the .375 H&H, a cartridge that has a lot of history with the world’s largest game. If you want to hunt brown bear, bison or even Cape buffalo with an AR-type rifle, this is the cartridge and gun that will do the job.
It will take whitetails, moose, elk, hogs, and black bears pretty well too!