How to choose a cartridge

Alex Wheeler

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jul 5, 2017
Messages
1,404
Location
Montana
I thought this could be a good thread since the "what cartridge" question comes up so often. Im just going to list the things that I consider when I choose one for myself or help a customer decide. Its going to be more down the lines of a custom rifle for a guy that reloads and will shoot long range. And is after top accuracy potential. Feel free to ad anything else you consider.

First you want to look at what bullet or class of bullets you want to shoot. Find something that has a good reputation for terminal performance and accuracy. For elk I feel the .30 200-230 grain is the sweet spot. They carry the energy, but recoil is mild enough that they shoot well in a 10lb rifle. Im a big fan of the .338 but I have been around enough to say they start really behaving around 14 pounds. If your hunting from a ridge top or other situation your not hiking too hard the .338 is great. 7mm 168-180 grain is my minimum choice and I will limit my range a little more with them, but they do a good job and are very easy to shoot well in lighter rifles. Other medium game really open things up for me in terms of bullet and bore choices. I know there are guys shooting elk with .243s so pick what your comfortable with. Keep in mind the more powder you push down a barrel, the faster it wears and generally the harder they are to keep tuned to peak levels.

I know everyone says they can handle recoil. Thats not what the problem is. The rifle is moving under recoil when the bullet is still traveling down the barrel. The bigger the bullet and faster you drive it the more that rifle is recoiling and twisting. Your position and follow through becomes more critical, and its a fact you wont shoot those rifles as well. All you can do to fight it is add mass to the rifle. Brakes do nothing for this issue. All the energy in the world is no use if your range is limited by the accuracy of the rifle. Just something to consider.

After I pick a bullet, I look at brass. I want to use the best brass. Lapua, ADG, and Alpha are my favorites. So I look to see what brass they offer in a case that will drive the bullet to the velocity I want. Im not a speed freak, I think the best shooting combos run under 3100 fps. Most of the time I want to be 2900-3100 for a long range rifle. The ballistic charts may look a little better with higher speeds, but in my experience the rifles are just very consistent if you keep velocities in that range. This does not apply to light or medium weight bullets we use for other applications. Also keep in mind some bullets can open too violently if driven too fast. This size of a case usually ends up in that H1000-Retumbo-N570 burn rate of powders which I have had a lot of luck with.

Next is mag length. Ideally I want to keep the bullet up in the neck to prevent any potential issue with a doughnut. There are ways around that if a doughnut does from but I prefer to avoid it. If a doughnut forms and you seat a bullet through it, you will not have an accurate rifle. So making up a dummy round to verify overall length and sending it to get a reamer made or for your smith to throat to will assure that. Some cases are just too long to fit in a magazine when throated this way. There is usually another case out there that shorter and even if you give up a slight bit of velocity, I feel your long term accuracy will be better. Accuracy is a higher priority than ballistics to me.

Wild cat vs standard case. There are some great wild cats out there. Many offer real world gains in case life, powder capacity, and accuracy. The only real down side I can see is resale. You may have a harder time finding a buyer, but maybe not. Custom dies should not be a hang up, the standard cases we use usually end up needing custom dies as the off the shelf stuff is so poor.

Be honest. Do you really need a 1000yd elk rifle? Are you really going to put in the time and 1000s of rounds to build the skill to make that shot? Most of the times thats a rare shot anyhow. 600-700 yards seems like a much more common occurrence. Those type of ranges allow for a smaller caliber and lighter rifle.

Thats just a very basic start off the top of my head. We can all add to this thread and hopefully it will help guys know WHY they are choosing a cartridge.
 

DSheetz

Well-Known Member
Joined
Aug 22, 2015
Messages
1,954
Very well stated Sir and I thought that I was kind of by myself in liking 2900 - 3100 FPS MV as I see so many that seem to try to drive a bullet as fast as they can . For me long range is the max distance that I myself feel comfortable shooting .
 

memtb

Well-Known Member
Joined
Dec 30, 2013
Messages
1,779
Location
Winchester, Wy.
Well stated! However, the type of game to be hunted and the type of terrain should also play into the equation!

Then, do we intend to have a rifle/cartridge for each specific situation.....or, do we attempt to get the best compromise?

If the one rifle/cartridge scenario is used from the smallest to the largest animal potentially encountered in varying terrains......then go heavy on cartridge, light on rifle (within reason) and limit your shots to the maximum range that the rifle/cartridge/shooter is capable of. Your 600 - 700 yard maximum ranges should be quite doable, with the aforementioned combination! 😉. memtb
 

Jud96

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jun 30, 2013
Messages
3,132
Location
Michigan
Great stuff as always Alex. I appreciate your knowledge and the effort you put forward to help others. I agree with you 100%.

On a side note, have you used Peterson brass? I have been using it for every cartridge I can and have found it to be excellent in my experience. So if they make brass for it, then I’ll consider that cartridge choice. Thanks
 

Bob Wright

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jan 23, 2018
Messages
1,724
Location
Litchfield Park, Az.
Personally, in 45 years I've never had to make a shot past 400, although I practice and set up my rifles for almost double that depending on which chambering I'm working with. There may be that record book class critter at longer distance and there is no way to close that gap.
All this effort comes at the cost of components, barrel life and lots of time back and forth to the range. It still is fun to me. My friends think I'm nuts.
I usually stay away from max pressure loads due to poor case life and all my rifles found accuracy off that redline anyway.
Most large game in Arizona is hard to get drawn for, so a lot of effort goes into loading, practice and serious scouting to be in the closest place to the critters for opening day, first light. Decades without a quality hunt unit for elk, pronghorn and deer is more the norm. Not so much if you're simply filling the freezer.
This is my experience and what I pass along to friends and family.
 

Alex Wheeler

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jul 5, 2017
Messages
1,404
Location
Montana
I have very little experience with Peterson. What I did use seemed to be good stuff, just not as tough as the others I mentioned. But that based only on one experience.

So far as building a dedicated rifle vs a all around rifle. Thats up to each person and the terrain they will hunt. In SW MT. where I hunt theres a lot of open country and high winds. It also depends on what you will hunt most, if your hunting elk 90% of the time like I am, build an elk rifle. If your a deer hunter that will make a few elk hunts in a life time, then I would certainly be looking at a all around rifle. Something like a 7 Rsaum would be an ideal all around rifle, but you will have to pass more shots up. Not that theres anything wrong with that.
 
Last edited:

Coyote Shadow Tracker

Well-Known Member
LRH Team Member
LRH Sponsor
Joined
Dec 9, 2020
Messages
1,935
Location
Social Circle, GA
We usually take quite a bit of time and research to decide on a cartridge and try to do that at least a year prior to using it. That way we have enough time to get all the components when the build is done and ready to shoot.
If you want to skip all the work and research to decide on what cartridge to use-
Just buy a Creedmoor! It will work on anything!
 

LeddSlinger

Well-Known Member
LRH Team Member
Joined
Feb 24, 2013
Messages
730
Location
Montana
Yeah the bigger 338s are great but they definitely need some weight to be tamed. I tried 3 different muzzle brakes on my 338-375 Ruger over the years trying to wrangle in the recoil after putting a 22 oz carbon fiber AG Composites CAT 700 stock on it. Even with a heavier Remington Sendero contour barrel, I just never could tame it enough where it was comfortable to shoot.

Finally changed out the ultralight CF stock for a 4.5 lb full aluminum skeleton stock (B&C Medalist I think?). Changed brakes again, but this time went with a 5 port rear clamshell design. Also changed over to ADG brass (necked up 300 PRC) Now with the added weight on the stock, the rifle is a dream to shoot and I am already seeing the benefits on paper as well.
 
Last edited:

dogz

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jan 11, 2006
Messages
1,165
Location
SWMT
Good stuff all and thanks Alex for kicking this off. It'll be interesting to see what others are thinking and liking and the why's of there thoughts and the how comes.

4 me, while I'll shoot steel farther than 700 for me that's my limit of range for game. I like Alex hunt SWMT quite a bit, big open country with plenty of opportunity to air it out. I hunt public land, and that brings a lot of people. For me, that's one more reason why I prefer to keep my shots sub 500. There's a lot of people (note I didn't say hunters) who will gladly tag your elk if you don't beat them to it. Sorry to say but ubetcha it's more than common!

I'm not a fan of brakes on a gun and I refuse to wear ear plugs/muffs while taking a shot at game. I want to be able to hear things, and this is just me. But, that leads to weight of my guns. I will not use one that's over 9 pounds all up (scope, rounds, sling) and I way prefer the gun be 8.25 or less "all up". This has lead me to the Big 7's (7 Mashburn Super is my choice) or less for my work. There was a time when I used a 700 in .340 Wby that was 8.25 lbs all up. Incredibly accurate but as I matured (got older) I have less and less fun getting bounced around while shooting off the deck. Lastly on this, I totally detest Lead Sleds and the like for practice. Get off the bench, get into field positions and be able to hit the turf and put 3 onto a pie plate in sub 10 seconds from whatever range you plan to hunt/shoot to.

I want the stock to weigh no more than 28 ounces and a scope that's no more than 14 ounces and lastly a barrel no more than 25". I love a weight forward feel and as such for my Big 7's and most all other rigs I like a muzzle diamater of .65" five or take a skosh. Oh and I positively dote on the Jewell I have in my old 700. I belive I'm on my 8th barrel on that old gun:)

For bullets I like two holes and as such I'm a huge fan of the 150 NBT. Plenty of BC, and to date I've never kept one in an elk and elk is what I judge my outfits by. Plenty of good bullets out there, pick one and get to it.

Intimacy with your outfit is key to being able to kill on demand.

Probably more to come,
 

LeddSlinger

Well-Known Member
LRH Team Member
Joined
Feb 24, 2013
Messages
730
Location
Montana
As far as choosing a round based on brass goes, I never considered that seriously for a lot of years. It wasn’t until I started shooting long range more regularly that it became quite clear rounds with brass available from Lapua was the only way to go. So I started basing my decisions on chambering new rounds where either the exact brass was made by Lapua or I could at least wildcat or form the round from brass made by Lapua.

I have also started using ADG brass in one cartridge and the initial results have been impressive on paper. Time will tell on toughness but from all other accounts around the shooting world, ADG is every bit as tough as Lapua. I have ADG brass for another round as well but still waiting on the reamer to be finished.

I have some Brass by Alpha Munitions sitting on the shelf as well but haven’t used it yet so no experience there.

I tried Peterson brass in 300 Norma Mag when it was first released and had a really bad experience. Brass was way out of spec in the body dimensions and primer pockets. Sidewalls cracking and heads separating after 3 to 4 firings. Worse than that was their customer service only agreed to replace half the brass so I was stuck with a bunch of cases that was only worth its weight in scrap metal. Swapped to Lapua 300 Norma brass and haven’t had any issues since. I know others have had good luck with Peterson brass and that’s great. I also know any company can make a bad batch of brass every once in a while, but if they won’t stand behind their product 100% to make it right then I will choose to take my business elsewhere. Just my personal experience and opinion on that matter.
 

DartonJager

Well-Known Member
Joined
Apr 1, 2016
Messages
805
Choosing a rifle cartridge is personal decision that should be based on that individuals needs based on what he/she plans on doing with it along with and just important thier abilities and IMO slightly more important in abilities they know they are unlikely to overcome.
The hunter who's hunting is for deer 90% or more from box blinds overlooking agricultural fields or similar open areas need not take into consideration the same factors in cartridge, rifle, and scope selection as does the hunter who hunts in the high elevations of mountainous terrain.
It does the hunter absolutely no good and likely will have considerable ill affects to buy a rifle and cartridge that is either to heavy for them or recoils to much for them, as one needs to shoot a goodly amount to become a proficient shot and ethical hunter
So for those who can not tolerate harsh recoil compromises must be made
If the same hunter chooses to not utilize a muzzle brake to reduce felt recoil to a tolerable level then thier options left to them are going to negate possibly to a serious degree the reasons they choose that caliber and that rifle to begin with.

It is utterly pointless to buy a light weight mountain rifle in a heavy recoiling caliber you choose because you needed as light a rifle as you could find for a strenuous physically demanding hunt in the mountainous terrain and associated thin air only to increase its wight to that of a standard hunting rifle, it makes additionally even less sence to down load the cartridges capabilities to additionally reduce felt recoil

IMO and it's strictly MY OPINION at this point the OP's best option is to buy Tikka T3 in a less harsh recoiling caliber in the class of 30/06 or less as his simplest solution to his problem. Then when he has time sell the other rifle to recoup his costs of the new one.

As regardless if he finds a way to negate the recoil and sight in the rifle and still keeps the rifles weight and performance of the cartridge unchanged he will not have overcome the fact he will KNOW that punishing recoil awaits him every shot he takes while hunting and it more likely than not will have a negative if not detrimental affect on his marksmanship and THE ONLY thing worse IMHO than not killing an animal on a major high $$$$ out of state hunt is wounding and not recovering an animal.
 

rustyshackleford

Well-Known Member
Joined
Dec 13, 2012
Messages
489
Location
North Alabama
Kind of how I arrived at my choice. I want to hunt elk and the rule of thumb is 1500 ft/lbs and from Scott Saterlee it sounds like 2k ft/sec makes sure you get near the full wounding potential of that energy. So now how much recoil can tolerate well enough to shoot on my worst day and how much rifle do I want to carry? I settled on a lightweight 30-06 with a 200 gr bullet. It gets to 500 yards meeting the earlier criteria so I have a nice light rifle that doesn’t kick to hard and is GTG out 500 in my mind. It would probably do the job further and it could probably be done with less or more but I’m pretty confident in that set up and those metrics
 

rustyshackleford

Well-Known Member
Joined
Dec 13, 2012
Messages
489
Location
North Alabama
Choosing a rifle cartridge is personal decision that should be based on that individuals needs based on what he/she plans on doing with it along with and just important thier abilities and IMO slightly more important in abilities they know they are unlikely to overcome.
The hunter who's hunting is for deer 90% or more from box blinds overlooking agricultural fields or similar open areas need not take into consideration the same factors in cartridge, rifle, and scope selection as does the hunter who hunts in the high elevations of mountainous terrain.
It does the hunter absolutely no good and likely will have considerable ill affects to buy a rifle and cartridge that is either to heavy for them or recoils to much for them, as one needs to shoot a goodly amount to become a proficient shot and ethical hunter
So for those who can not tolerate harsh recoil compromises must be made
If the same hunter chooses to not utilize a muzzle brake to reduce felt recoil to a tolerable level then thier options left to them are going to negate possibly to a serious degree the reasons they choose that caliber and that rifle to begin with.

It is utterly pointless to buy a light weight mountain rifle in a heavy recoiling caliber you choose because you needed as light a rifle as you could find for a strenuous physically demanding hunt in the mountainous terrain and associated thin air only to increase its wight to that of a standard hunting rifle, it makes additionally even less sence to down load the cartridges capabilities to additionally reduce felt recoil

IMO and it's strictly MY OPINION at this point the OP's best option is to buy Tikka T3 in a less harsh recoiling caliber in the class of 30/06 or less as his simplest solution to his problem. Then when he has time sell the other rifle to recoup his costs of the new one.

As regardless if he finds a way to negate the recoil and sight in the rifle and still keeps the rifles weight and performance of the cartridge unchanged he will not have overcome the fact he will KNOW that punishing recoil awaits him every shot he takes while hunting and it more likely than not will have a negative if not detrimental affect on his marksmanship and THE ONLY thing worse IMHO than not killing an animal on a major high $$$$ out of state hunt is wounding and not recovering an animal.
A Tikka SS light in 30-06 or 7 mag should probably be the standard by which all others are measured. Put a nice VX-5 or whatever you like on top and you’d be set for a lifetime in North America.
 
Top