Let me tell you a story about one of my first hunting adventures. I was out in the wilderness, hiding in my blind and patiently waiting for a whitetail deer to come out in the open. I could feel my heart rate accelerate as the animal was slowly approaching the perfect spot.
I fired my best shot and hit the deer just below its shoulders. The animal quickly ran to the thick woods, leaving a feeble blood trail that completely disappeared after a hundred yards or so. The .22 LR round proved to be ineffective for a killer shot from 80 yards distance, and I was left empty-handed.
On that day, I learned the hard way that one of the most challenging aspects of hunting is choosing the right ammo for the right game size. But you don’t have to. Here is a detailed guide for selecting the best rifle cartridges for all three game sizes:
1. Best rifle ammo for small game hunting
2. Best rifle ammo for medium-game hunting
3. Best rifle ammo for big game hunting
Let’s jump right in!
1. Best Rifle Ammo for Small-Game Hunting
The small game includes animals, such as rabbits, squirrels, prairie dogs, groundhogs, woodchucks, and more. You can kill any of these animals with any rifle cartridge. But if you hunt them for food or fur, you should use lighter ammo that won’t blow them to pieces.
The optimal rifle ammo for small-game hunting includes:
- .22 Magnum
Since it is an affordable, lightweight cartridge that produces low recoil, the .22LR is the number one choice of many small-game hunters. Some of the best .22LR rounds on the market are:
- CCI Meateater .22LR—36-grain, copper-plated, hollow-point ammo. It is great for hunting squirrels and similar-sized animals. But it might be too light for hunting slightly bigger prey like coyotes or foxes.
- Federal Game Shock .22LR—another copper-plated ammo with a round nose and a 40-grain bullet. It is an excellent round for long-range groundhog hunting.
- Winchester Subsonic 42 MAX .22LR—42-grain, rimfire ammo, capable of holding a consistent trajectory over longer periods. It is a heavier .22LR cartridge perfect for the long-range shooting of any type of small game animal.
.17 Hornady Magnum Rimfire (HMR) is a relatively new cartridge with an effective range of 250 yards. It is mostly used for medium-sized small game animals like rabbits or raccoons. The following three cartridges are some of the best ones available on the market today:
- Hornady 20-grain HP XTP .17HMR—hollow point ammo that can reach a maximum speed of 2375fps. Its stouter construction makes it perfectly capable of bringing down animals such as coyotes or a fox.
- CCI 20-grain FMJ .17HMR—it might be the only full metal jacket ammo option available. This feature comes in handy if you hunt for food, as FMJ rounds tend to cause less tissue damage.
- Winchester Varmint HV 17-grain V-Max .17HMR—it offers great accuracy and causes violent expansion. This makes it perfect for small varmints hunt. You shouldn’t use it for bigger animals like foxes or coyotes as they have very shallow penetration.
.22 Magnum has an effective range of 150 yards and possibly more, depending on your shooting skills. With almost nonexistent recoil, this cartridge excels in groundhog, raccoon, and rabbit hunting. Some of the most popular choices available on the market are:
- CCI Maxi-Mag .22 Magnum 40-grain FMJ—low-cost, accurate ammo without lead-exposed bullets. Because it does not expand upon hitting a target, it is best for neutralizing varmints.
- Federal premium V-Shock 30-grain speer TNT .22 Magnum—a devastating round with a lead core and thin jacket. It creates a relatively shallow but wide wound. All these characteristics make it a perfect round for hunting coyote-sized animals.
- Hornady 30-grain V-Max .22 Magnum—ammo with a polymer tip that ensures explosive expansion even at greater distances. It is one of the fastest and most accurate .22 Magnum options available and is perfect for long-range, small-game predator hunting.
2. Best Rifle Ammo for Medium-Game Hunting
Medium game animals include deer, wild sheep, antelope, feral hogs, impalas, and more. Hunting any of these animals requires heavier rounds such as:
- .30/30 Winchester
- .308 Winchester
- 6.5 Creedmoor
.30/30 Winchester is the king of whitetail hunting. It is the first small-bore smokeless cartridge that marked the beginning of the era of high-power cartridges in the U.S. Some of the best rounds available on the market today include:
- Federal 150-grain fusion 30/30 Win—a copper jacket round with a pre-programmed nose that ensures consistent expansion. Its effective range comes between 100 and 300 yards distance.
- Remington CORE-LOKT .30/30 Win—these rounds come with soft-point bullets and are available in 150 and 170-grain options. It is a great cartridge choice for hunting both deer and smaller bear species.
- Winchester Super-X Power Point .30/30 Win—brass-cased, boxer-primed ammo designed for maximum impact. It is one of the most commonly used cartridges for deer hunting.
.308 Win is a military-accepted cartridge built for short-action rifles and used for medium to big-game hunting. It has an effective range of 500 yards and produces great stopping power with pinpoint precision. Some of the most popular .308 win cartridges available are:
- Nosler Trophy Grade .308 Win—165-grain ammo with a lead core chemically bound to the jacket. This stops it from expanding too fast upon impact. It is an excellent choice for elk and deer hunting.
- Barnes VOR-TX .308 Win—150-grain ammo with copper Tipped Tripple Shock X (TTSX) bullets. It is designed for rapid extension and deep penetration. It is best for deer and pronghorn hunting, but you can also use it for smaller bear species.
- Hornady Precision Hunter .308 Win—178-grain ammo with an Extremely Low Drag eXpanding (ELD-X) bullet. It is a great choice for long-range shooting and is mostly used by western hunters for mule deer and pronghorn.
6.5 Creedmoor is a relatively new cartridge introduced by Hornady in 2007. It is known for its mild recoil, high efficiency, and versatility. This cartridge comes in many forms, but some of the most popular are:
- Sig Sauer 130-grain Elite Hunter Tipped 6.5 Creedmoor—mid-range ammo designed for flat trajectory. It is an all-around deer hunting load capable of double-diameter expansion and almost 80% weight retention.
- Hornady 143-grain Precision Hunter 6.5 Creedmoor—designed to deliver extreme accuracy and terminal performance from both short and long-range distances, this ammo is best used for hunting deer-sized animals and African plains game.
- Barnes VOR-TX LR 127-grain 6.5 Creedmoor—ammo with solid copper bullets that retain most of their weight and penetrate deeply with minimum tissue damage. It is a great choice for deer and smaller-sized predators hunting.
3. Best Rifle Ammo for Big-Game Hunting
The big game category includes animals such as bears, elk, reindeer, moose, African buffalo, and more. To bring one of these large animals to the ground, you’ll need powerful rounds such as:
- 7mm-08 Remington
- .375 H&H Magnum
- .416 Remington Magnum
7mm-08 Rem is highly effective, relatively light but powerful rifle ammo with mild recoil. It great for hunting for elk, moose, and other big game animals. There are many different types of this cartridge but some of the most popular choices available on the market include:
- Remington Core Lokt 7mm-08 Rem—140-grain, soft-point ammo. You can use this round for hunting almost any big game species in North America, including hog and black bear.
- Hornady Custom Lite 7mm-08 Rem—120-grain ammo with a lighter bullet and mild recoil. It is a great choice for smaller-framed hunters. It might not work well on elks or moose, but it is highly effective for hunting larger deer species from a maximum of 200 yards distance,
- Federal Premium trophy Copper 7mm-08 Rem—high-quality, 140-grain ammo that provides high-weight retention and rapid but controlled expansion. If you plan on going after larger animals like moose or elk, this might be the perfect round for the job.
.375 H&H Magnum
.375 H&H is old-school ammo, very effective for hunting almost any big game animals, including grizzly bears, moose, and, well, elephants. Some of the best .375 H&H rounds out there are:
- Remington .375 H&H 270-grain ammo
- Nosler Safari .375 H&H 300-grain ammo
- PPU .375 H&H 300-grain
All of the cartridges listed above are more than capable of killing any type of big game animal from 100 yard’s distance.
.416 Remington Magnum
.416 Rem Mag is another powerful cartridge, originally designed for dangerous animal hunting. Just like .375 H&H Magnum, .416 Rem Mag is also capable of bringing some of the largest animal species to the ground. Some of the most reliable options available are:
- Nosler Safari 400-grain .416 Rem Mag
- Federal 400-grain Woodleigh Hydro .416 Rem Mag
- Barnes VOR-TX Safari 400-grain .416 Rem Mag
These types of .416 Rem Mag ammo are very close in their performances, and they are all perfectly fit for big-game hunting.
What rifle ammo you should choose for hunting largely depends on the game size you are going after. By choosing the proper-sized cartridge for each game size, you will spear an animal of unnecessary pain and suffering.
I hope this article helped you align the ammo with your hunting preferences so that the next time you go on a hunting adventure, you come home with a remarkable catch. Good luck!