How To Choose The Right Load For Your Rifle

by Mike Moen

A few years ago, an old-timer I know was cleaning out his garage and came across a couple of boxes of old Field and Stream and American Rifleman magazines that he had earmarked for the trash. Since, it seems, that I am always looking to add more clutter to my life, I told him I would take them off his hands. He agreed and I was the proud owner of a hundred or so periodicals that were decades out of date. After convincing my wife that it is not technically dumpster diving until the objects are actually in the dumpster, I set off to page through my “new” resources. I think it’s interesting to read about guns and hunting tales from long ago, and compare it to the way things are today. After a few magazines, I noticed that the idea of what is a “powerful” rifle has changed over the years. One article on elk hunting stated that the 30-06 is about perfect but the stiff recoil may be too much for some, and suggested something along the lines of a 270 would be more appropriate for most people. By contrast, today many people consider the ‘06 a starting point for elk rounds and one famous gun writer came under fire recently by implying that the 270 may not be an appropriate choice for elk in many instances.

Under the right circumstances the last three can be enough gun for most North American game, however these are not popular Magnumitis choices

left to right 30-30 Win, 308 Win, 270 Win, 30-06

So what gives? Has our quarry developed armor over the years, or were previous generations just plain wrong. Of course the answer is neither and next season more animals will fall to the old ‘06 than any other round. But, flipping through a gun magazine today, it doesn’t take long to realize that the idea of what is “powerful” and “the perfect round” has changed. While there are few people who would call the 30-06 inadequate for elk, the image of the perfect elk round has evolved into the .30 to .338 caliber magnum class. I believe that many writers and hunters, whether they know it or not, suffer from at least a small case of what I will unscientifically call Magnumitis. The main symptom of Magnumitis is the belief that somehow a magnum round is always needed to perform a task that a standard round is very capable of. In some rare cases the less attractive symptoms of puffing up one’s chest while bragging about the big guns they shoot, and looking down their noses at little folk who only use weak standard rounds, can also be observed.

It shouldn’t be surprising that many of us suffer from this ailment to some extent or another. Over the last few years gun and ammunition manufacturers have flooded the market with new products that have the word magnum attached to them. Whether it’s an ultra, short, standard or whatever, magnums are definitely the talk of the town. Now don’t get me wrong, I‘m not here to bash magnums. A few call my gun safe home, and there are definitely times when a magnum outshines a more standard round. The interest and variety that has been pumped into the shooting industry over the last few years by the new magnums has been wonderful and the large pool of new rounds to choose from benefits everyone. No matter what you think of the large gun manufacturers, there is no denying that they are very effective in promoting their products. Gallons of ink have been spilled on advertising and articles in magazines, and the new wiz bang magnums have been the special guests on many hunting shows. This has had the effect of creating a large group of hunters who believe that the only way to truly kill an animal is to do it with some type of magnum.

The truth is that most people don’t have either the skill or the necessity to take advantage of what magnum rounds offer. Remington likes to boast about how their 300 Ultra Mag matches the tight string trajectory of the legendarily flat shooting 22-250, but does so with a bullet three times heavier. While this is true, the advantage of this round over the standard 30-06 with the same bullet is not realized until shots over 250 yards are required. Even when hunting in most areas of the west, well over 75% of shooting opportunities at game will be under 250 yards. When the really long shots do present themselves, a flat shooting magnum in the hands of a skilled shooter can definitely be an advantage, but most hunters don’t practice enough to truly squeeze out all of the potential. The other benefit a magnum round provides is higher down range energy or as some people say “more punch”. The question is though, how much more “punch” does a hunter need? I am fairly certain that there is not a whitetail deer alive that could tell the difference in a shoulder shot from a 7mm-08 at 300 yards over a shot from a 7mm Remington Magnum with the same bullet. The result would be same, a freezer full of venison, even though the 08 shows up with 25% less energy. The extra just isn’t needed.

Pictured to the right are rounds for the 300 Winchester Mag and the 7 mm Rem Mag. This is about where big game rounds start for someone with Magnumitis

I should probably pause here and say that I believe being infected with Magnumitis is not necessarily a bad thing. Just last fall I shot a little six point whitetail at 15 yards with a 7mm Magnum. This was clearly more gun than needed, and an obvious sign of Magnumitis. The outcome, however was perfect, the buck never knew what hit him, and my family got to enjoy grilled backstraps for Easter dinner. Magnum rounds carry extra baggage with them. The ammunition is more expensive, magnum guns generally have longer actions, increased recoil can range from slight to down right painful, and ammunition availability and selection, especially for the newer magnums, may not be as good as for some of the more tried and true standard rounds. Perhaps the biggest drawback, though, is that some hunters believe that a magnum can somehow compensate for poor shooting skills or bad shot placement. This of course is not true. A poorly hit deer with a magnum is a lot like a poorly hit deer with a standard round. As with everything else, misguided confidence can get us in trouble.

So what should we do about Magnumitis? As a whole, I guess it’s not really that bad of a problem. It’s definitely not as bad as the opposite, or so-called Reverse Magnumitis. This is where hunters use rounds that are not enough gun for a situation. In some instances this affliction can border on unethical. Fortunately for Magnumitis sufferers, this is never a problem. Their search for more power with guns that would get a good grunt from Tim Allen make it certain that they will always show up with more gun than is needed. Magnums do definitely get the job done, and there are many situations where they outperform the more meat and potatoes rounds. Long range shots, and hunts after large or mean critters is what they were designed for and where they shine. In the hands of a well practice shooter, they can also breed confidence to try different hunting situations such as a trip out west or maybe Alaska.

There is a reason that standard rounds like the 30-06 and 270 Winchester have been popular for decades – simply put, they work. When this latest magnum craze dies down they will still be two of our most popular rounds. This is of little concern to the hardcore Magnumitis sufferer. Each fall he will take to the woods touting his 338 Ultra Mag, waiting for a whitetail doe to walk past his stand, hoping that his magnum will be enough gun to get the job done.

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