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.
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.
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.