By Ralph M. Lermayer
For very long shots or for max power, the .300 Rem Ultra Mag loaded with select 180-grain ammo is all you need.
Sometimes, amid the never-ending volley of new wonder cases and cartridges being thrown at us, we lose track of the realities of the hunt. It all boils down to a moment in time when we send a single chunk of copper and lead downrange with one objective - to accurately hit, penetrate and kill an animal stone dead. No matter what we have invested in our rifle, scope or other gear, once we pull the trigger, everything relies on that buck’s worth of bullet.
Picking a bullet amid the vast choices that are available should take more thought and care than choosing a cartridge or a caliber. For those who are fortunate enough to know precisely what the conditions will be at the moment of the shot, it’s easy. If you hunt from the same stand, watch the same trail and know about how far your shots will be, then you can select a rifle and bullet for that set of conditions.
For the majority of us, especially if we hunt multiple species, conditions can vary. We simply don’t know what we’ll encounter. Our shot could be long or up close. Game size might vary from under 100 to over 2,500 pounds, and terrain can be either wide open or in dense brush.
If we will be hunting multiple species under a wide array of conditions, we have two choices. First, fine-tune a variety of guns and loads, and try to choose one that will best fit each situation, or settle on a single caliber and bullet that can be relied on to do it all, including the really big stuff.
As I look back over the last two decades of extensively hunting both at home and worldwide, it looks like I’ve settled on the latter without even knowing I was doing it. In hunting on three continents for game ranging from 100 to 2,500 pounds, 90 percent of my kills, well over 100 head, were with a .30-caliber 180-grain bullet. Only one critter required a second shot, and that was a charging situation that didn’t allow much time for placing the first bullet.
While my varmint and predator choices run the gamut, it seems once I step into the big game arena, no matter how big, the .30-caliber 180 grain gets the nod. There are many, including some of my closest friends and fellow writers, who will loudly proclaim such a choice is somehow “overkill” for the lighter species and “undergunned” for the big stuff.
The author’s .300 WSM loaded with the new 180-grain XP3 from Winchester laid claim to a wide variety of game, including the caracal, buffalo and warthog.
I say “hogwash!” because once you clear the confusion and settle on the .30-caliber 180 grain, all you need to do is pick a bullet constructed to best handle anything from the small and tasty to the big and mean. In my opinion, today’s bullet technology and choices have pretty much eliminated the need for anything over a .30 caliber.
Within that choice, there is a bullet design that will reliably take anything in the world, under any conditions, excluding only the likes of elephant, rhino, hippo and such. And how many of us will ever get to hunt such critters? Another exclusion could be grizzly, but even there, I would not feel undergunned with a premium 180-grain bullet fired from a big .30 mag. From buff to bulls, bison and bear, a .30 is all you’ll ever need. I know it is so, because I have done it.
The launch vehicle for such a bullet can vary. On the low end, you’ll find the .30-06 or .308, and on the upper end, the .300 magnums. In my case, three rifles seem to cover all of the bases.
For the lighter stuff, regardless of range or conditions, I usually pick a lightweight (7-pound) custom .30-06 built on a Mauser action. For sheep, goat, antelope or high-mountain elk and muleys where lots of walking is involved, that rifle gets to go because it’s easy to carry. With its 24-inch barrel, I can drive a high-BC 180-grain bullet (normally one of the premium polymer-tipped offerings) at about 2,900 fps. With a ballistic coefficient of .500 or above, such bullets only drop about 10 inches at 400 yards, and that’s as far as I’ll ever shoot with it, especially at mountain game up to and including elk.
For everything else, and I don’t care how big or mean, it’s either the Browning A-Bolt in .300 WSM or a Remington Model 700 stainless in .300 Ultra Mag. In every case, I use a 180-grain bullet.The only thing that ever varies is the bullet construction. With the energy available in these bigger cases, even the factory fodder drives a wide choice of premium bullets like Swift Scirocco, Nosler AccuBond, Remington Core-Lokt Ultra, Winchester Fail Safe, the new XP3 or the Federal Fusion at velocities up to 3,100 fps. Oftentimes, factory ammo loaded with Swift A-Frame or Bear Claw Bonded is readily available for these calibers.
All of these bullets are built for deep penetration, controlled expansion and superb accuracy. Place them where they need to be, and they smash through hide, bone and muscle as well as the bigger bores without delivering punishing recoil. Without the heavy recoil, you’ll shoot them better, and that means good shot placement. Bigger bores? Who needs the abuse?
Of the two big .30s, the .300 WSM is about the same ballistically as the .300 Win Mag. My A-Bolt in .300 WSM has accounted for literally tons of game. Affectionately named “Gonzales,” it has become the most-used rifle in my big game battery. Its 24-inch barrel shoots a variety of 180-grain bullets in 1- to 1 1/2-inch groups. Stoked with Winchester factory Fail Safe or XP3 ammo, it has accounted for numerous elk, several tough nilgai, a charging buff in Australia, multiple oryx and nine separate species in Africa. The African game ran the gamut from whitetail-sized impala, elk-sized kudu and wildebeest, with a pile of muley-sized critters like hartebeest in between. Its longest poke was a bull elk at 380 yards, and its closest, a fast-incoming buff at 30 paces. That buffalo weighed over 2,000 pounds. With the 180-grain XP3, the rifle dropped a 2,500-pound eland at 120 yards. All, save the buff, were instant kills. Do we really need more gun? For what?
The Ultra Mag is the muscle gun, but again, all it ever sees is a 180-grain bullet of varying design. It is ported with a long 26-inch barrel. It wears a 4-12x scope and is reserved for the possibility of a very long shot or when a skosh more power may be needed. With factory-loaded Sciroccos, it nails antelope at 400-plus yards.
Do I need that much bullet weight for the little goats? No. Do I need the ultra-high BC and stability in the wind for long shots? Yes. Its claim to fame is that it delivers all the accuracy and velocity the premium 180s are capable of. It has accounted for several overly spooky and unreachable mule deer and more than a dozen pronghorn. With 180-grain Remington Core-Lokt Ultras, it thumped a 2,000-pound South Dakota bison through both shoulders at 210 yards. Like everything else, each hit with that rifle and bullet at any range is one-shot DOA.
I am very fortunate. Both my passion and my profession give me the opportunity to spend several months every year pursuing big and very big game. I guide for or personally shoot at least eight elk a year, and my recommendation to clients is always the same - a .30 caliber in any of the aforementioned cartridges matched to a well-made 180-grain bullet. Anywhere, any condition, you can count on it to get the job done.
I’m sure the big-bore boys will come screaming out of every corner when they read this, but with the exception of the few animals noted earlier, I see absolutely no need for a single case or cartridge over .30 caliber. The .338, .375 and .416? Maybe for Africa’s Big Five. But for anything else on the planet, leave ‘em at home and grab a .30.
Reprinted from the August 2006 issue of Buckmasters GunHunter Magazine