3 Best Calibers For Elk and Moose

The two largest hooved game animals on the North American continent are native elk and moose. These are two of the most sought-after horned game animals and most hunters have one or both of these animals on their bucket list.

Many hunters are eager to hunt these animals but wonder what caliber rifle is best for taking these huge animals.

How Big of a Caliber For Elk and Moose?

The question that arises is what is an adequate caliber for elk and moose? Just how big do you need to go to get the job done.

The answers may be surprising to some. The general prevailing idea among many hunters is to go as big as possible to ensure clean humane kills. This idea discounts caliber ballistics and shot placement over sheer size.

Making the Judgement

There are many variables that work together to ensure a successful hunt from the perspective of gun and caliber. Terrain and hunting style play a critical role in what caliber is the best choice.

These two factors can be further influenced by weather, distance, and the skill of the hunter. You must consider all of these factors when you choose your caliber for hunting elk and moose.

Calibers I Recommend for Elk and Moose and Why

These are my choices for the best calibers for hunting elk and moose in North America. Along with the choices, I will give you my reasons for putting these calibers on my list and why I think they are good choices.

Remember, that your choices are determined by your needs and expectations which should be the guide to your caliber choice.

.308 WINCHESTER

Lots of big game hunters look askance at the .308 Winchester when it comes to elk and moose.

However, I would wager that more elk and moose have been taken on the North American Continent using rifles chambered in .308 Winchester than any other caliber. Since its inception, the .308 Winchester has been a mainstay of hunters.

The Basic Ballistics

A good place to start when looking at calibers is the basic ballistics data. For my purposes, I like to compare three or four of the best factory loads for any caliber I am considering.

In this case, I chose the following factory loads to compare.

Remington Match King 168g BTHP

Muzzle100 yds200 yds300 yds400 yds
Velocity (fps)26802493231421431979
Energy (ft-lbs)26782318199817131460
Drop (inches)-1.5+2.20.0-8.6-24.7

Hornady Black  – AMAX 168g

Muzzle100 yds200 yds300 yds400 yds
Velocity (fps)27002513233321611996
Energy (ft-lbs)27192355203017421486
Drop (inches)-1.5+2.00.0-8.4-24.3

Barnes VOR-TX 168g TTSX

Muzzle100 yds200 yds300 yds400 yds
Velocity (fps)27002511233021561989
Energy (ft-lbs)27202352202517341477
Drop (inches)-1.5+2.00.0-8.4-24.4

The .308 Winchester is a capable cartridge, especially with new powders and when loaded with a bullet with a high ballistic coefficient.

You won’t get the range that you might get with larger cartridges, but you won’t take the punishment from the recoil. 

Will the .308 Reliably Take a Moose or Elk?

Without a doubt, the .308 Winchester is capable of making clean and humane kills on animals the size of elk and moose with a few provisions.

You should keep the maximum range between 200 and 300 yards. Choose a high-performance bullet that can deliver the best energy on target. 

.30-06 Springfield

The .30-06 Springfield is the granddaddy of the cartridges in our list. Even though this is an old cartridge it remains very popular with hunters.

New developments in powders and bullet design have given this cartridge a new lease on life. The .30-06 may be the old man of the bunch, but it can still deliver the goods when necessary.

The Basic Ballistics

Bullet and powder loads for the .30-06 have come a long way since the day of the black powder loads. New powders deliver higher velocities with compromising safety and bullet design has raised the ballistic coefficient of this cartridge to truly amazing levels.

These cartridges are my pick for hunting elk and Moose.

Hornady .30-06 165g SST Superformance

Muzzle100 yds200 yds300 yds400 yds
Velocity (fps)29602750254923572173
Energy (ft-lbs)32092769238020341729
Drop (inches)-1.5+1.60.0-6.9-20.1

Remington Core-Lokt 168 gr

Muzzle100 yds200 yds300 yds400 yds
Velocity (fps)28002534228320471825
Energy (ft-lbs)28722353191015351220
Drop (inches)-0.10.0-3.9-14.6N/A

Winchester 168 g Silvertip

Muzzle100 yds200 yds300 yds400 yds
Velocity (fps)29002687248322892103
Energy (ft-lbs)280124042054N/AN/A
Drop (inches)N/A0.0-3.3-12.3-27.9

Despite its age, the .30-06 continues to deliver where and when it counts. If you keep your distances below 400 yards and use a cartridge with a high ballistic coefficient bullet you can get all the delivered energy you want provided you put it on target.

Will the .30-06 Reliably Take a Moose or Elk?

The new cartridges being offered for the .30-06 Springfield provide more than enough to make a clean and ethical kill of a moose or elk.

My recommendations are to select factory-loaded ammo that uses a high ballistic coefficient bullet and produces muzzle velocities in the range of 2800 to 2900 feet per second.

Keep your range to less than 300 yards. If you use a little common sense, the .30-06 Springfield is an excellent moose and elk cartridge.

7mm Remington Mag

Some elk and moose hunts require more distance than either of my first two choices can deliver. Where your terrain demands more distance, I suggest you investigate the 7m Remington mag cartridge.

This is a big cartridge that delivers a lot of energy at a respectable distance. The downside is you must be willing to endure the recoil that this heavy load delivers.

The Basic Ballistics

By and large, a bigger cartridge case means a faster bullet with more delivered energy. On paper, the 7mm Remington Mag certainly fills those claims.

There is some tradeoff, but if your situation demands a few hundred extra yards while maintaining energy, the 7mm Remington Mag can deliver.

Winchester 190 gr Expedition 

Muzzle100 yds200 yds300 yds400 yds500 yds
Velocity (fps)275025992453231121742042
Energy (ft-lbs)319028902537225319941758
Drop (inches)0.0+1.80.0-7.6-21.7-43.2

Remington Core-Lokt 175 gr

Muzzle100 yds200 yds300 yds400 yds500 yds
Velocity (fps)286026452440224420571878
Energy (ft-lbs)317827182312195616441371
Drop (inches)N/A+1.70.0-7.6-22.2-44.7

Hornady 162 g Superformance

Muzzle100 yds200 yds300 yds400 yds500 yds
Velocity (fps)303028552688252523702219
Energy (ft-lbs)330229332598229520201772
Drop (inches)-1.5+1.40.0-6.2-17.9-35.7

I chose a range of bullet weights to illustrate how bullet weight and velocity can impact delivered energy. The Winchester 190 gr load delivers 1758 ft-lbs. of energy in a slower package with more drop.

The Hornady load delivers 1772 ft-lbs. of energy but at a higher velocity and less bullet drop. Again, conditions may be a factor in deciding which of these cartridges is a better choice.

Will the 7mm Remington Mag Reliably Take a Moose or Elk?

Without question. At closer ranges, the ballistics convince me that there is enough energy there to make up for a less than optimum shoot placement.

If you need to go over 300 yards without too much worry, then I would definitely opt for the 7mm Remington Mag over one of the other caliber choices on my list. 

In The End, What Would I Hunt With?

When it all boils down to the packing for the hunt, what caliber cartridge am I choosing for my elk or moose hunt. Hands down, I am choosing a .30-06.

I honestly think this cartridge is still an excellent cartridge for almost any animal you may encounter in North America.

This is a cartridge that is comfortable to shoot and gives excellent ballistic performance over a wider range of loads and bullet types.

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