There is a lot of hype out there surrounding big game hunting, and which cartridges are the best for taking down big or even dangerous game. Based on the combined decades of experience between me and my most trusted hunting friends, I’ve compiled a short list of the top 5 best big game hunting cartridges.
Some of these are guaranteed to be hunting cartridges you’ve heard of, while others are a lot less popular. Some of them are capable of taking deer and nothing bigger, and others are absolutely devastating for most of what the earth has to offer, in terms of game animals.
For the purposes of this article, I describe big game as deer sized animals and up, but not all of the cartridges I list here are capable of the same thing.
For example, one of the cartridges can only take animals up to deer in size, while another one can take anything that can be hunted in Africa.
What are the top 5 best big game hunting cartridges?
- 30-06 Springfield
- 444 Marlin
- 6.5 Creedmoor
- 270 Winchester
- 375 Ruger
The above five have proven to be great hunting cartridges to us, but there are plenty of others out there that are also great. Let’s take a more in depth look at each.
30-06 needs no introduction. Known informally is the aught-six and thirty aught-six, if I had to choose one cartridge for a wide variety of big game from deer to bear and even moose, the 30-06 Springfield would be my primary choice.
It has been around for well over 100 years and has a long history of success in both hunting and tactical platforms. It’s still in wide use around the world with a lot of different options, bullet types, and grain weights. If there is a one-size fits all hunting cartridge, it has to be this one.
I’m a firm believer that every big game hunter should have a rifle chambered in this old, faithful cartridge.
Check out our 30-06 Springfield Ballistics chart, here.
444 Marlin is one of those cartridges that many folks have never heard of. If I had to explain it to you, I’d show you a 45-70 Gov, but then tell you that this one has better ballistics. The 444 Marlin is a straight walled, big bore cartridge with popular grain weights being 240 and 265.
If you have the desire (or need, based on any ancient hunting laws) to hunt with a straight walled, big bore cartridge, I’d say that your search is complete. While others have wrongly given the 350 Legend the title of “fastest straight walled cartridge,” the actual title goes to a few other cartridges, including the 444 Marlin.
These cartridges aren’t widely used because much of the world rightly thought that the 45-70 didn’t need to be replaced. While I agree, I also think it serves a different purpose as a much flatter shooting cartridge with better ballistics. The numbers are hard to argue with, considering that they’re moving up to 400 fps faster at the muzzle.
You can check out our 444 Marlin ballistic charts, here.
The 6.5 Creedmoor is a relative newcomer to the hunting world, and many hunters won’t consider it as a traditional big game hunting cartridge. It’s true that there are limits to its capabilities, at least in terms of how big of an animal you can take.
This cartridge was originally introduced in cooperation with Hornady as a precision, long range target and match round before hunters began to see it as a good hunting cartridge.
I can personally attest to its capability as a long distance cartridge, having joined the mile club with it myself.
The 6.5 Creedmoor has excellent wind-bucking abilities and shoots relatively flat. That said, many folks don’t consider this as a traditional “big game cartridge.” I guess to some degree I agree with that sentiment.
I personally wouldn’t hunt anything bigger than a north-eastern white tail (they get big up there) with this rifle cartridge, even though there are plenty of hunters who claim to have taken elk successfully with it.
Visit our 6.5 Creedmoor ballistics page, by pushing that link.
The 270 Winchester has been around the hunting world since 1925, originally released under a different name, the 270 Winchester Centerfire.
The 270 is a faithful cartridge that is an old standby in many gun safes around the world that has only moderate improvements over the 6.5 CM mentioned above.
That said, it does produce more energy and is faster at closer distances. Because of that fact alone, it is capable of taking much of the game that can be found in North America for a wider range of hunter ability (distance wise). However, I’m not sure I’d push the bigger bear or moose.
Animals like elk and black bear are well within its capability range, just as long as you do your part and don’t push the distance too far.
Check out our ballistic charts for 270 Winchester, next.
Another relatively new cartridge, that is utterly monstrous in terms of power delivered to target, is the 375 Ruger. It’s another one that many folks have never even heard of.
The 375 Ruger was developed as a dangerous game cartridge, with some delivering a devastating 4,700+ pounds of energy at the muzzle.
It is capable of taking just about any game animal that can be found around the world. I have not personally used a 375 Ruger to date, but have a close friend who has used it on a couple of hunts taking big African game and swears by it. I trust him, and that’s good enough for me.
The huge downside to the 375 Ruger is that there aren’t currently a lot of ammo manufacturers making it. In a supply and demand world, this means it’s expensive to shoot.
Stay tuned for our ballistics info on the 375 Ruger.
There are many big game hunting cartridges, and these are only our favorite 5. No matter which animal you’re after, it’s your duty to make sure you’ve got the right gear to be successful, and never push it past your capabilities. The last thing you want is to injure your target and for it to suffer while you figure out what to do next.