Hunting Tips (from a girl): Is there such a thing as a do-it-all round?

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One of the common questions seen in hunting groups on social media is some variation on asking what caliber is best for X animal. It pops up everywhere and instantly results in dozens of opinions, all backed by the commenter’s claim of extensive knowledge and unbelievable experiencing bagging Boone and Crockett deer or Bigfoot. Here’s the thing about the perfect round: it doesn’t exist. Now, before you race to the comments section to explain how I’m wrong and clearly don’t know which end of the gun goes “boom,” allow me to explain.

There is one rule of hunting that surpasses all others, and that is the rule of the clean kill. It is the responsibility of every hunter to get a clean kill. Hunters should do whatever it takes to make that happen, even if it means passing on the biggest buck or bear of your life. If they aren’t in the right position to give you a clear shot at a vital area, do not shoot. That also means you do not shoot if an animal’s location doesn’t line up with your skill level. Be honest about your abilities, and shoot accordingly. Now, take all that into consideration for the next point.

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In order to get that clean kill, you need to be capable of handling your gun. This is something hunting has in common with self-defense: use the gun you are both comfortable and proficient with. A gun with more felt recoil than you’re used to could easily result in a miss or, worse, wounding an animal. That means you not only must choose carefully but you also must practice with your hunting rifle (or pistol). One of the biggest mistakes made by would-be hunters is locking up their guns outside of their chosen season. Don’t be that guy.

So, the perfect caliber – or lack thereof. There are a number of important factors to consider when choosing what caliber hunting rifle or pistol to use. If you’re hunting for meat, you need to at least attempt not to destroy more meat than necessary. This applies to hooved, clawed, and winged game. If you’re hunting for predator control such as calling coyotes, you don’t need to worry about meat but do need to consider just how far a bullet might travel after hitting said predator (hence knowing your target and what is beyond it). Of course, I do know people who eat coyotes, but I digress.

Personally I do not believe in overkill. Dead is dead whether you make it happen with a .223 or a .50 BMG. It’s all about shot placement. Of course, if you use a truly large caliber weapon to drop squirrels or rabbits, all that will be left is a little fur and a grease spot (I speak from experience). The upside there is that although placement always matters, precision isn’t quite as big a concern with bigger caliber guns. If you’re using a .223 on hogs, there is no room for margin of error. But the reality is you can kill almost anything with almost any gun. For example, in 1953 a woman by the name of Bella Twin dropped a record-breaking grizzly using her trusty single-shot .22. It isn’t something I suggest you try but it does prove a point.

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I do admit to having a favorite caliber – and gun – for hunting. But when it comes right down to it, you’re going to end up with a number of game-specific guns. Even if all you hunt is deer you’re likely to want more than one caliber. Maybe you want one for close-range and one for long-range or maybe you want one AR and one bolt-action. Maybe you want a pistol for those times you want the challenge of a closer shot but with a gun rather than a bow. Or maybe, just maybe, you enjoy a little firearms variety. It’s nice being able to choose a gun according to your mood on any given day.

It’s simple, really: Using smaller calibers on smaller game preserves more meat and/or fur – you might be surprised what a quality coyote hide goes for – while using larger calibers on bigger game ensures the aforementioned clean kill.

The issue of perfect hunting calibers is hotly debated throughout the industry just as the issue of AR-versus-bolt is argued. We argue about what camo pattern is best for which terrain, which boots are ideal for what hunt and where, what bullet is best for what game (and at what range)…the list goes on. And while fact comes into play at times these things are heavily weighted by opinion.

This post could have been written in just a few sentences, so here they are. There is no such thing as a perfect, do-it-all caliber or gun. It depends on what game you’re after, what distance you’re hunting at, and what your personal skill level is. Use the caliber you are most comfortable and accurate with. Above all, use the caliber you can get a clean kill with on your chosen game. And hey, don’t hesitate to collect a wide array of hunting rifles and pistols. It’s both useful and fun.

Now camo up and hit the woods. It’s always time to hunt something, somewhere.



katie.ainsworth

Katie is an avid shooter, hunter, military journalist, and Southern girl. Firearms are her passion whether at the range or on a spot-and-stalk after a big buck. She’s a staff writer at The Firearm Blog and writes about guns, hunting, and the military for various publications both online and in print such as Outdoor Life, Handguns, and Shooting Illustrated. Shoot her a message at ainsworth.kat@usa.com


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  • Tassiebush

    I am delighted to hear of folk who eat coyote.
    As for the elusive do everything round it’s well erm elusive. so many trade offs and you really have to work out what you can do without or put up with and what you need. I lean towards mild and economical because I don’t shoot anything bigger than a wallaby and mostly get close shots. I can get away with .22mag using normal loads on wallaby and subsonic for the smaller game.

  • Sarig

    The title is about a do-it all round, there are many, but the text is about the *perfect* round which is something completely different.

    I use 6.5×55 a lot, and it’s a fantastic all-rounder, with easy loads it does small game without making them explode, it’s flat-shooting, and powerful enough to drop elk (moose for you americans). Is it perfect? Of course not, but it *is* a do-it-all round.

    • 6.5x55Swedish

      6.5×55 is good for birds as well. Wouldn’t use it for bear or wild boars unless they force me to but for moose it is perfect. It is also the least costly ammunition that you can use for moose hunting and still find in every hunting store and a lot of outdoor stores as well.

      • T Rex

        6.5×55 Swedish for birds? Maybe for Ostrich. Only someone with absolutely zero knowledge about hunting and firearms would suggest such nonsense.

        • Gusto

          NO man You are wrong

          Fmj and our kind of treetop bird hunting it is very common
          Distances of over 150m isnt uncommon so rimfires are not really suitable

          • Anonymoose

            That’s why we have this thing called “birdshot” In America. A friend told me that you can hunt turkeys in Virigina with rifles, but I’d probably go with a PCC or a .223 at most.

          • gusto

            yes we have that to

            but our two kinds of grouse (black and wood) the males most often are to be found high up in threetops

            you can hunt them like pheasant and stuff but treetophunting is more common

            .222 and 223 are common to as is 22hornet

          • Nicks87

            In many parts of the US its illegal to shoot game birds out of a tree or while they are roosting as well as using center fire rifles. Maybe that’s where the confusion came from.

          • gusto

            yeah different laws/cultures, bans have been discussed here aswell because there have been some incidents of stray bullets hitting stuf 😛

            we Swedes/Europeans find your laws about not being able to hunt with dogs as we do very strange. I would probably not hunt if I couldn’t use dogs
            just sitting in a blind all day or hike up mountains just to glass it? no thanks. sure I do similar sometimes but hunting with a good dog is priceless

            hunting with dogs is almost magical, anybody can hunt from a blind,

          • Austin

            #6 lead or #7 steel and a full choke is more than enough

          • Tassiebush

            wouldn’t be reverse sizing for steel and lead?

          • Austin

            Well you’ll have more pellets for the same weight with steel but really anything #7.5 or bigger will do

          • Tassiebush

            Fair enough both are in acceptable range.
            Sorry I was just referring to the convention where folk using steel tend to go up in pellet size from lead due lower steel pellet weight and also go up in volume to ensure pattern is thick enough. I use lead shot though so am not totally up to speed on it.

          • Austin

            Well to me it depends on how big the bird is determines how I approach the shot sizing

          • Tassiebush

            What’s the approach as far as where the round comes down? I’ve shot crows (actually ravens) in trees with rimfires and a hill as backstop.

          • gusto

            treetop hunting is most common in the north of Sweden, and that is vast and not that populated, it is very popular to do it wintertime and going out several hours away from populated areas by skiis

            but it is an issue.

            it does break the rule about knowing what is behind.

            grouse are mostly found in fir and pine woods and they usually stretch a fair distance even where I live
            but a common myth is that the local plant has got a ton of bullet holes in its roof (:

            And I get that you find this strange but we find your kind of shotgun hunting strange where you are all surrounding a field (saw it on meateater) and ony have a 45 degree angle rule, we would never do that

          • Tassiebush

            i don’t really find it that strange. I’m from Tasmania, Australia and I could pretty much do the same thing where I hunt. my bullets would land in a forested mountain range that doesn’t get a lot of people in it. certainly no dwellings downrange.
            My main reason i wouldn’t use use something like 6.5×55 is noise. I’m a lot closer to houses than my bullets would end up so i’d use my .223.
            A pretty common type of shooting here is spotlighting and brushtail possums are shot in trees at night time. Same considerations. rimfires are most common for that.

          • Tassiebush

            i wonder if the use of full size cartridges for small game has something to do with the general trend of very accurate rifles generally coming from scandinavian countries. i recall reading about the Finns using fmj on Ida ducks too.

          • Tassiebush
          • Tassiebush
        • iksnilol

          Not uncommon to hunt bird with stuff like 308 and 6.5

          You use FMJ, and go for the head. takes the head off (that you wouldn’t eat anyway) and leaves the rest of the meat for eating.

          • Tassiebush

            My neighbour used to live in Queensland. He used to get a giggle out of shooting the heads off emus.

          • Tassiebush

            What type of rifle is most common for this? Is it just something like a tikka t3 sporter?

          • iksnilol

            Yup, run of the mill bolt action.

          • gusto

            yup but with the hardcore treetop hunters not much is run of the mill anymore.

            Most people use regular guns as you say but people who do the custom route have a task ahead of them. it is easy to build a custom gun that shoots 0,5moa. but it is not easy to build a gun that you can ski for miles with on your back to then later shoot a coldbore shot at 200m and hit a small bird heart or brain

            maybe not that much with the guns but the handloading is on another level. ammo that shoots well at regular summer heat might not do so good in subzero so they are meticuluse

      • Gusto

        The 6,5 keeps You honest (:

        I have hunted everything here in sweden with it

        Today i wouldnt bring it bear hunting or driven boar or when moose hunting with The dog but that is only because i have other options not because it isn’t capable

    • RadicalizedModerate

      I love my 6.5X55 (Est Texas deer and hogs hate it)

  • T Rex

    In bolt action rifles both the 270 Win or 308 Win are sure hard to beat as great all around calibers that provide versatility in bullet weight choice and cost per round affordability.

    In an AR platform the 308 Win is plenty potent, versatile, and hard to beat if you could only have one rifle for hunting and defense.

    Katie, just so you know, any centerfire cartridge is too much if you’re hunting squirrel for food, a 22 rimfire or quality pellet rifle will do the trick to make a shot on a stationary critter, but a .410 shotgun with #6 shot Is the best all around choice for squirrel hunting.

    • I’ve taken squirrels and cottontails with a .243 and .308 before and not lost any meat; I’m aimin’ for the head anyway with the small stuff regardless of gun or caliber, so a deerkiller round ain’t really overkill.

      Somewhere around here I have an old shooting mag from the ’80s with an article about a guy who was such a transcendently skilled hunter that his first whitetail kill was with a .410 loaded with #6, because that’s all his desperately poor family could afford, and that’s just how close he could get and how precise he was even as a teenager.

  • Austin

    I’ve heard the argument several times that the .375 H&H is the best all around rifle caliber in the world because it has taken everything from coyotes to elephants. Personally I think that the most universal chambering is 12ga 3.5″, it can kill anything with wings and most things on four legs if you want to get close enough.

    • Gary Kirk

      I love my .375 h&h, and it’s in a rifle that weighs about 7 1/2 lbs. total. But, really wouldn’t consider it to be a good round for medium or light game, if you want anything of it to eat. 300gr. Barnes triple shocks make a mess of whitetails..

      • Austin

        That’s why I suggested the 3.5″ 12ga chambering

      • Austin

        And I kinda assumed that anything smaller than a mule deer was a headshot only prospect for the .375

        • Gary Kirk

          That’ll work, Hell, all you’d really need is an upper neck shot

      • Koh

        How many have you shot with it? I’ve shot mule deer with my .375 Wby with 260gr Partitions and Ballistic Tips and they barely have time to expand before punching through. Much less damage that a 7mm Rem Mag leaves behind.

        • Gary Kirk

          My statement was with .300 gr Barnes triple shocks, out of a .375H&H, much slower moving than a .375 weatherby. And considerably different bullet structure. Am not saying it can’t be used with great success, just saying that my experience with whitetail deer and smaller, it’s just a bit overkill.. Now, mule deer/elk/black bear/ caribou at around 150-200, perfect.. And, moose/Brown/ Kodiak bear preferably inside 100.. Plus most African game, wouldn’t be my first choice for elephant, rhino, or cape buffalo.. But would rather have it than my 30-06, when something decides to hunt me back.. Because as the article states, I am completely comfortable using said rifle.. Have had bigger, have used many Weatherby chamberings.. Most notably a MkV in .460 Wby. couldn’t make a follow up shot to save your life with that thing.. So, to answer your question, I have taken many animals with all different kinds of weird hunting utensils, including my .375 H&H.
          Have seen the direct results of each, I cannot afford to have someone clean my game for me.

  • DIR911911 .

    (from a girl) . . . i keep seeing stuff like this. even my daughter who drives a semi tractor trailer put a sticker on the side of her truck that says “you just got passed by a female trucker”. why are women so quick to insult themselves? if you can make a shot at 1000 meters you have skill. pointing out that you’re a woman who can do it implies that being a woman was a handicap you had to overcome.

    • Patrick M.

      Thank you! That was the first thing I thought of when reading the title. Adding the caveat that you are a women before giving thoughtful advice/an opinion makes it seem like you are admitting that there is something less valuable about what you are saying.

      • JumpIf NotZero

        I have yet to be impressed with any of the author’s “now you discuss” articles. Only exist to drive clicks, shame. To be best of my knowledge she has never once actually replied to a comment here. “Talk amongst yourselves” is a known tactic, it works, but I personally find it… Lazy.

  • Michael A. Pickle

    Yes, the .30-06. Load it however you want and hunt anything from rabbits to bears.

    • gusto

      I’d say 9,3×62 (:
      too big for daisies and too small for T-rex but just right for everything else 😛

      IF I only had one centrefire round I would rather have it too powerful for the small stuff than too weak for the big stuff

      9,3×62 is african dangerous game legal in certain places, it is kinda like the german 375H&H

      • Mike

        I agree of all the calibers I own ( which is over 50 including the 375 H&H) this is my favorite. Not only very effective on any animal I have shot with it , also a pleasure to shoot ( more like a black powder “push” in recoil).

  • There may not be a do-everything round, but good ol’ fashioned 12ga is close enough for actual government work. A variable choke 12ga pump gun with a 20″ barrel is good for every game animal in North America from mourning dove to moose just by loading a different shell for the job, and has a fairly well documented track record of effectiveness on The Most Dangerous Game™ in the mean time. It wouldn’t be my first choice for half-pan critters like squirrels or cottontails, but a tight choke and a good aim can score head shots all day with a little practice; it’s likewise not quite as much gun as I’d prefer for for Toyota Class beasts like bears and meese, but shot placement still counts for more than caliber gauge, and sabot slugs are minute-of-bear-skull out to 100+ yards with a good gun and a good shooter.

    • Austin

      I would argue that 26″ is better overall because of how much better it is for birds and a little extra barrel can’t hurt with slugs

  • DwnRange

    When it comes to hunting the ONLY must have FACTOR in my rifles, no matter the caliber, has become the inclusion of a Barnes Triple-Shok bullet custom load for that rifle. As to the do it all caliber for myself that is the 30-06 loaded with a Barnes 165grn TS custom load, anything in North America, at any range (up to and including ranges far beyond what I consider ethical hunting) can be taken with this custom load in my custom Krieger barreled Rem 700 w/ a mil-dot Leupold. The nice 9 point taken last year though was a heart shot at 157 yrds using a CMMG 6.8mm SPC uppered AR15 build and my custom TS 110grn load and to be honest I was actually hog hunting at the time when this nice opportunity presented itself and I took it. He made it almost 15 yards.

    The only minor complaint I have with these bullets is that on several occasions (2 in the last 5 years) the bullets themselves have induced so much hydro-static shock on the lungs that they have literally sucked portions of obliterated lung into the exit hole and it’s rather disconcerting to get to the spot the deer was shot and not find any real definitive blood trail just traces of the red-mist – but these bullets have never yet failed to get a complete pass-thru on any animal shot with them, (hog, deer, coyote, turkey or bobcat) no matter the caliber used and I have used them since the Triple-Shok first came out in ’08, before that the Sierra GameKing bullet was my fav and most accurate in my rifles.

    • Nicks87

      Yeah I’m pretty much sold on Barnes Ammo. I shot a fairly large whitetail (200lbs+) a few years ago with my AR15 using Barnes TSX. Two shots did the job. First shot dropped him and the second finished him off. Both shots were from about 125 yds standing unsupported. One shot passed completely through both lungs, the second entered the left rump and was found in the right shoulder. Needless to say I was impressed.

    • Austin

      While I have no doubt that it is a good bullet, I want something bigger than a .30-06 for a grizzly

      • DwnRange

        “Anyone who says the .30-06 is not effective on brown bears or
        grizzlies either has never used one or is unwittingly commenting on
        their marksmanship.”
        —An Alaskan Bear Guide

        (very old comment here from 2008 Outdoor Life article and I would hope one had sense enough to step up to the 180 grn Barnes)

        • Austin

          I didn’t say it couldn’t kill them but the people that I have talked to that have hunted in Alaska if the bear could be up close a .45-70 or 12ga slug was preferred if it was farther out .300WM

          • Don Ward

            Certainly. 45-70 is preferred in Alaska for a lot of reasons for Brown bear or moose. Mainly it is because they come in “rugged” lever actions and 12 gauge in pumps and semi autos which offer faster follow up shots than your standard 30-06 bolt action hunting rifle which – usually now days – requires a scope as well.
            I am up commercial fishing on Bristol Bay and am watching a Brown bear come down the beach in my cabin. A 30-06 can drop it.

          • Duray

            Where in Bristol Bay? I grew up in Naknek/King Salmon.

          • Don Ward

            I’m on the South Naknek beach. My wife’s family has been fishing here for five decades at their setnet sites.

      • Don Ward

        30-06 is more than capable for Brown bear.

  • Don Ward

    The “do everything round”? Something like a .308 or 30-06 is good for every game animal in North America from ranges to 25 yards out to 800. Everything else is personal preference.

  • Blake

    The best cartridge is the one you have the most practice with in the gun you’re most comfortable you can shoot accurately 🙂

  • Marcus D.

    There are hunters who believe that nothing less than 300 WM is adequate, but why they want to punish themselves so is beyond me. I was in a LGS the other day, and this large man was buying a youth rifle for his, as he described it, small thirteen year old. I could not understand why he would opt for a .308 over a .243 for a small statured person. There is nothing in California that can’t be dropped cleanly with a .243, and nothing in North America that can’t be taken with a .270 or a .30-06, the former a round that has had over a century of practical and effective use, and the latter only a few years shy of the century mark. But I wouldn’t argue with a bush guide in Alaska who wants a .45-70 lever carbine for those times a grizzly comes charging out of the brush. (Haven’t been in that situation, don’t want to find out.)

    • Duray

      308 can be downloaded to whatever power level you want, and when the kids grows up he’ll have a perfect all around rifle.

  • Sid

    After an experience I had in the military, I no longer believe in adequate caliber. I only believe in adequate quantity.
    I was a member of a team sent into a jungle in Central America to rescue an ambassador. A previous team had already gone in but we lost contact with them. We picked up the trail and quickly the mission became a hunt. There was something in the jungle hunting us. It killed our heavy weapons sergeant. One of my team members picked up his minigun and fired off a full box of ammo and then capped off a belt of ammo on his M60E3. Along with the other members of our team, I helped form a wall of point-blank firing. We used 5.56mm, 9mm, 40mm grenades, and 12 gauge shotguns on it.
    All we did was wound it slightly. The battle raged back and forth with several more team members being killed before I disabled the creature with a tree.
    Caliber…. I don’t care.

    • Jar-Head

      Whatever Arnold… Preditor was a good movie, don’t ruin it for everyone else by dreaming you were Mack with the mini-gun. Stick to the subject. Geesh…

      • Sid

        It is a humorous comment. Switch to decaf.

        • Jar-Head

          Ok… If you promise to put the GI-Joe’s down for a second and be able to have a grown up talk like Mommy and Daddy… Ha Ha!!! Unless you happen to have Snake Eyes from the original 80s toys… Then we have something else to talk about. You did a good job of summarizing the movie in just a few words though! ;). You sound smart, so what’s you actual opinion on the subject? I for one agree with the author except for one thing… The title doesn’t need to say anything about women/men. I shoot in a lot of competitions, and I’ve handed it to men and women, and had my posterior handed to me by both as well. When it comes to guns, we are all on an equal playing field. Use the gun you have a lot of practice with that can cleanly kill the animal without making it suffer. Swinging a tree to smash it probably ruins the meet more that tenderizes it… 😉

  • RealitiCzech

    ‘The best’ depends on what your requirements are. When working mall security I often carry a Thompson Encore pistol in .416 Rigby in an SOB holster. When working supermarket security where CQB is de rigeur, I use a pair of Bren Tens.

  • jerry young

    I was going to do just what you said, skim through and then post how you were wrong and squawk about how shooting a squirrel with a 30-06 is dumb to say the least, so I agree with what you said, what I think would make a good all around gun for a survival weapon would be an over and under .22 WMR with a larger caliber like 45 long colt that could shoot shot shells also, while you may not want to hunt a moose with a .45 it would do for most hunting situations, of course there are the drawbacks of having a single shot so having multiple guns is the only true answer

  • Ambassador Vader

    50 bmg. Squirrels to bears. lol

  • DetroitMan

    Sorry to “run off to the comments section and disagree,” but anything in the .30-06 class or a 12 gauge will drop anything in North America. Will they do it all ranges? No. Will they do it with any old bullet? No. Are they good for rabbits? No. But nobody I know who makes single caliber for hunting arguments claims any of these things. The claim is simply that you can kill any game on this continent, humanely, with a weapon in this class. It’s understood that we need to work within the limits of the caliber.

    Here’s the thing that most gun writers seem to forget: us average hunter types don’t have companies lining up to give us expensive guns and ammo for free. We don’t have five white tail guns – one for forest, one for plains, one for swamp, one for sunny days, and one for rainy days – because it’s EXPENSIVE. Sure, it’s fun to collect guns, but how many do I really need to do the same job? If one gun covers the expected job adequately, then the next expensive gun can cover a different job. I don’t need a gun / cartridge / scope combo tailored to every individual situation I might encounter. With a little research I can figure out one that will adequately cover many scenarios. Then I can devote time to really learning how to shoot it so that I can make that humane kill.

  • Raginzerker

    12ga 870 is a good all rounder for me, it can take down anything in PA and it’s an excellent brush gun.

  • T Rex

    I got a few good laughs reading all the comments in this string that are obviously from virtual hunters/ballistic experts. From 6.5×55 for birds to 30.06 for rabbits, anyone who’s actually shot, cleaned, the cooked small game can easily spot the bull$#itters and pretend hunters. For those of you who are new to hunting, trust me, the result of taking small game animals or birds with any centerfire high power rifle is a big mangled mess that ruins most if not all the meat. Absolutely hilarious how none of the bull$#itters have ever experienced first hand what every 14 yr old deer hunter who ever shot a squirrel with a 243 or 30-30 learned the first time they did it.

  • AirborneSoldier

    308 does it all. Nice article.