I see many posts about choosing "the right" cartridge. Most of the evaluations grade cartridges based upon recoil vs. velocity, and sometimes recoil vs. energy. You see a lot of statements to the effect that 300 WM is always better than 30-06, or 308Win; and you see these in every caliber that has multiple cartridge choices. But in the field, a 30-06, placed closer to the target, hits harder than a 300 WM, placed farther from the target, firing the same bullet.

I'd like to offer a different way of comparing cartridges. It is not meant to be the end-all method for choosing a cartridge, but provides a different way of looking at the plethora of cartridges out there.

In the Army we used to talk about "setback" - that is, distance from the target. A 5.56 NATO does not have as much potential effective setback as a 7.62x54, for example.

Also, many outdoors writers have spoken of a minimum impact energy for various game, measured in ft-lbs of energy at impact. I have seen the minimum ft-lbs for elk quoted as 2000 ft-lbs. I will use that figure to determine a maximum engagement range.

I'll also use the "energy at range" numbers Hornady publishes for their ammo offerings, not because they are accurate (though they are usually pretty close), but because the data came from tests done by the same people with the same equipment and methodolgy, same barrel lengths, at similar temperatures and barometric pressures, and so will show relative numbers across all the tested cartridges. Of course, your actual numbers will vary from manufacturer's numbers.

The same bullet, fired from different cartridges, will have different setbacks to exceed this 2000 ft-lbs minimum energy. For example, using Hornady's numbers from their website, a 300 Win Mag shooting Hornady's 200 grain ELD-X cartridge will carry 2000 ft-lbs of energy to about 510 yards; Hornady's 30-06 in their 178 grain ELD-X carries 2000 ft-lbs to just past 300 yards. So going from a 30-06 to a 300 WM, shooting a very similar bullet, allows you almost 200 yards more setback to achieve the same impact energy with the same bullet. In other words, in this case, you have to be 190 yards closer with the 30-06 to achieve the same energy on target; and your max ethical range is 190 yards less with the 30-06, using the same bullet.

And of course sectional density plays a great part in killing effectively, so I have tried to go with the heaviest weight / highest sectional density bullets offered, and I left out the lighter deer and varmint loads.

Also, I am not suggesting that any particular bullet is wise for taking elk, I am just using the popular energy figure for an elk as a marker for comparison.

So here are some comparisons, by caliber, taken from the Hornady website. Note the ELD-X bullets are designed for long range hunting. I was surprised at how close many of these cartridges were to each other.

Max range while retaining at least 2000 ft-lbs of energy:

.257 cal. 117 grain SST

25-06 : 125 yds

.257 Rob +P: 90 yds

.257 cal. 110 gr. ELD-X

257 Weatherby: 175yds

25-06 Rem: 130 yds

6.5 mm 143 grain ELD-X

6.5 Creedmoor: 110 yards

6.5x55 Swede: 120 yards

6.5 PRC : 300 yards

.277 cal 145 gr. ELD-X

270 Win : 300 yds

270 WSM : 340 yds

.277 cal 130 gr. GMX (copper)

270 Win: 205 yds

270 WSM: 270 yds

.284 cal. 150 gr. ELD-X

7mm-08: 200 yds

280 Rem.: 300 yds

.284 cal. 150 gr. GMX (copper)

7mm WSM: 310 yds

7mm Rem Mag: 290 yds

.284 cal. 162 gr. ELD-X

280 AI: 300 yds

7mm WSM: 430 yds

7mm Rem. Mag: 400 yds

7mm STW: 480 yds

28 Nosler: 575 yds

.308 cal. 165 gr. Interbond Superformance

.308 Win: 250 yds

30-06 : 310 yds

.308 cal. 165 gr. GMX (copper) superformance

308 Win. : 210 yds

30-06 : 300 yds

300 RCM : 380 yds

300 WSM: 420 yds

300 WM : 440 yds

.308 cal. 178 gr. ELD-X

308 Win : 210 yds

30-06: 310 yds

300 RCM: 390 yds

.308 cal. 180 gr. Interbond Superformance

30-06: 310 yds

300 WM: 450 yds

.308 cal. 180 gr. GMX (copper) superformance

30-06: 330 yds

300 WSM : 380 yds (not superformance)

300 WM : 450 yds

.308 cal. 200 gr. ELD-X

300 WSM: 475 yds

300 WM: 510 yds

300 Wby: 550 yds

.308 cal. 212 grain ELD-X

300 PRC: 600+ yds

.308 cal. 220 grain ELD-X

300 RUM: 625 yds

.338 cal. 200 gr. SST

338 WM: 475 yds

338 RCM: 425 yds

.338 cal. 225 gr. SST

338 WM: 510 yds

338 RCM: 450 yds

.338 cal. 230 gr. ELD-X

338 WM: 580 yds