Selecting a Field Rifle Cartridge

Western Shooting Journal has published an article on choosing a field rifle cartridge

Now that we know we don’t want a recoil monster that toasts barrels while firing expensive ammo out of low capacity magazines how do we find what is a good choice? Many long range competitors at these field matches have come to the conclusion that a .308 sized case is a good compromise. The .243 Winchester, .260 Remington, and a number of other cartridges are based off the dimensions of the .308 case. These cartridges, and ones of similar dimensions like the 6.5 Creedmoor and many others, can fire their calibers’ high BC bullets at appropriate speeds.

My preference is the 7mm-08 Remington. It has been promoted by many big names, including Jeff Cooper and David E. Petzal, but I feel it is not nearly as popular as it shoot be. With a suppressor it has hardly any recoil. I personally think the .243 Win. is an awful cartridge, I perceive its recoil as having a lot of bite, more than it should on paper, but I can’t quantify or explain my perception.

Steve Johnson

Founder and Dictator-In-Chief of TFB. A passionate gun owner, a shooting enthusiast and totally tacti-uncool. Favorite first date location: any gun range. Steve can be contacted here.


  • ChielScape

    I personally like the traditional .308. It’s underestimated.

    • Nater

      It is, but it really isn’t going to get the sky high ballistic coefficients of the 6.5mm cartridges. However, with a 155gr Scenar or 175gr SMK you can get supersonic performance out to 1000m albeit with more recoil.

    • FormerSFMedic

      The .308 is a ballistic pig. Sure, we can take it out to 1000m with 175gr SMK’s on a warm day, but the BC is not fun to deal with in competition. I don’t think it’s underestimated, it’s just not very efficient. Don’t get me wrong, I love the. 308/7.62 cartridge but it’s not a great field cartridge at all.

      I’m surprised no one mentioned the 6.5×47. The 6.5 has dominated precision shooting competition and the 6.5×47 is the clear cut favorite of the winners of those competitions. Running a 139gr Scenar at 2750 will ring steel at 1000m with ease. IMO, the x47 is the most efficient field cartridge in heavy use.

      • Mike

        Agreed. I’ve got two guns chambered in 6.5×47 Lapua (one with 22″ and one with a 30″ barrels), they are the most accurate guns I own. The case is very efficient, and the small primer/small flash hole combination apparently does the same magic it does on the 6mm PPC. For the same barrel length, I could get the longer barreled one to within 50fps of my .260 Rem. but with 4 grains less powder. Only downside to me is the high upfront cost in brass.

  • Bill

    Personally, I’m a fan of 6.5×55 SE. It has reasonably light recoil, great ballistics (~.530 BC!), and – while there is a good variety of factory loads on the market – can be made even more versatile if handloaded.

    • G

      Norma’s 130 gr Diamondline bullet has a G1 BC of 0.548 according to Norma.

  • Nathaniel

    .260 has my vote. It’s sort of a Goldilocksian assessment, but it shoots light bullets that have high ballistic coefficients with modest barrel wear.

  • Marc

    Also a fan of 7mm-08 and all the various 6.5mm-08s. 1000 or more meters supersonic range with match bullets, moderate recoil, suitable for most game.

  • While I am admittedly a big fan of the 6.5mm calibers, in truth there is very little that any of the newer calibers can do that cannot be done by the old standbys such as the .308 and 30-06.

    If I had to pick one of the newfangled calibers it would be the 6.5mmx284. Short enough to fit in a .308 length action, AND use the 140 grain bullets (Remington screwed up on the .260 there – if the .260 could reliably use 140 grain bullets the Creedmore would not exist)

    The 6.5×55 is highly underrated, so is the 25-06, for that matter so is the 7mm Mauser.

    Regardless, the top 4 hunting cartridges decade over decade are the 30-06, 308, .270, and 30-30.

    • Vitor

      You should have said that is very little that any of old 7.62 calibers can do that a 6.5 can’t. The higher expectation should be on bigger and heavier recoils.

  • armed_partisan

    I’m a huge fan of the 7mm-08, and non-magnum 7mm cartridges generally, but destiny and economics have thrust the much under-appreciated .30-06 into my hands, and my safe, and I have not found it wanting. I use it for everything for plinking to mostly informal target shooting. I personally love cast bullets, and it’s really hard to beat a .30 caliber for the legions of bullet designs that exist as easily found molds. They don’t make modern VLD designs blush, but they’re plenty accurate for my needs. Light loads with IMR Trailboss in .30-06 makes shooting .22’s in the backyard look boring by comparison.

    But if I was gonna buy a new bolt action, I’d probably get a 7mm-08 for the improved BC’s, since I already have a few .30’s.

  • Sanjuancb

    Somewhere, pigs are flying. The .243 Winchester produces painful recoil?

    Frankly, you can use any .308 or .30-06 based cartridge and can do most of the hunting in North America. All the high b.c. bullets and moose-juicer magnums in the world won’t make you a better hunter. Shooting and spending time in the outdoors does that…

  • John Doe

    Are there any bolt guns running 6.5 Grendel?

    Looking at the 6.5x55mm, but I’d really like it in a modern rifle like the Remington 700. We need a movement to bring back the 6.5!

    • Nater

      Not that I am aware of, you could always do a custom though. That said, I don’t really see the point when you have 6.5x47mm Lapua and .260 Remington.

    • G

      Tikka T3 Varmint is a nice rifle and it is available in 6.5×55. But you’re out of luck if you live in the USA because Beretta USA doesn’t import any T3 Varmints in that caliber.

      (Well, actually I have read that they will import them if you order something 250 rifles.)

      However Tikka T3 Sporter, in 6.5×55, is available in the USA:×55-swede-jrtn551.aspx

  • Scott

    I think the .243 is an awesome cartridge, kills a lot of animals here in Oregon and across the country.

  • El Gato

    7×57 and 8×57 JS are my favorites. Handloading really brings out their potential.

  • ThomasD

    While I hardly think of the .243 as hard recoiling, it does seem to have recoil disproportionate to it’s terminal performance. I’ve used it on eastern whitetails, mule deer, pronghorn, coyotes, prairie dogs, and even ground squirrels, but think it marginal for the larger critters. Yes, I’m sure somewhere there are people using them on elk and moose, but much like the 25-06 shot placement simply must be perfect every time.

    The 7-08 is a much better big game round, but a tad much for coyotes and truly silly for burrow rats.

  • StrykerCav

    I for one have to disagree about the comments on the 243. I may be slightly biased, as it was the first centerfire cartridge I ever fired, I was 6 when I got my first deer with one. I’ve never thought it had any “bite” to it’s recoil, more of a hard shove than a kick. Even still, having had years of experience with it and seeing how devastating it is on medium sized game, I could tolerate even a harsh amount of recoil.

    • JamesD

      .243 was the first deer capable round I fired… at age 5. I didn’t think it had much recoil then and I certainly don’t now. It does have a very sharp report though. I had a .243 Remington 700 BDL that was probably the most accurate rifle I’ve ever fired so I certainly can’t complain about accuracy of the round.

  • Henry

    I have a 7-08 700 BDL since they came out in the early 80s. It shoots one hole groups at 100M with 139 Hornady BTSP or even 140 Partitions. It has killed a groundhog at 700 measured paces with a 100gr bullet at 3340 fps ( a hot but accurate load). It has less recoil than a 150 gr 30-06 and better ballistics over 200 yards. My XP-100 in 7-08 has won me many an IHMSA win as well as killing a good number of big animals even a Corsican Ram at over 230 yards! It is a very versatile caliber. I have used a 6.5 Swedish but prefer the 7-08. I would like to rebarrel one of my M14 to 7-08 to increase accuracy and other potentials. BTW, the scope is a time prooven Leopold 8.5×20 target! I have put the crosshair in between the ribs of a deer at 125 yards and killed it in between the ribs!