Four Great Calibers for Elk 3

Feb 03, 2019 by Jason Brooks

by Jason Brooks

The Rocky Mountain Elk and Roosevelt Elk are two of the largest big game animal’s hunters can pursue with over-the-counter tags in the lower 48 states. Feeding on nutrient-rich grasses makes elk some of the best table fare and even a cow or young spike bull is prized by hunters

. They are known to be much harder to hunt than the numerous Whitetail deer or even open-country Mule deer as elk can cover a lot of ground when disturbed. They often live in steep and mountainous country in legendary places like Hells Canyon, the Missouri Breaks, Pikes Peak, Wind River, Eagle Caps Wilderness, and the Olympic Mountains. To pursue these wary ungulates a hunter needs to carry the right rifle afield that delivers enough “gun” to kill an elk quickly or the hunter will find themselves having to track an animal through steep and unforgiving country. Here are a few suggestions, some old, some new, and some you might not have considered when it comes to hunting the elk in the steep, unforgiving west. 

An Idaho bull the author took across a canyon using the right rifle-Jason Brooks

7mm Remington Magnum

This cartridge has been around since 1962 and continues to be one of the most popular elk rounds today. The fast shooting .284-inch bullet is offered in various weights and configurations and makes this rifle very versatile out west where the deer and elk live together. For hunters that pursue mule deer and elk on the same hunt it is hard to beat the 7mm Remington Magnum. I have hunted with a few variations of this rifle and favor my father’s Remington 700 BDL. Since this rifle has been in commercial production for such a long time there are dozens of ammunition companies making ammo for this caliber.

Jason Hornady with the new 300 PRC -Rob Endsley

300 PRC (Precision Rifle Cartridge)

New to the market as of last summer and now thanks to Hornady making commercial ammunition using the 212 grain ELD-X the 300 PRC is an elk round to be reckoned with. Based off of the Ruger 375 this round is a beltless magnum and Hornady came up with casing-configuration that makes for consistent velocities and accuracy. The ELD-X bullet is already a proven precision hunting bullet that uses the best technologies available for long range shooting. The high-BC bullets used in the 300 PRC are designed for flat shooting to deliver unwilling energy at long distances. And energy it has with nearly 4,000-foot pounds at the muzzle and carrying that energy to canyon crossing distances with over 2,500 pounds at 400 yards. An elk hunters dream cartridge that will anchor that bull across the canyon. Currently the 300 PRC is offered in custom rifles and a few rifle shops that are making commercial offerings.

Kimber Mountain Ascent Subalpine in 300 WSM makes for a lightweight backcountry elk rifle-Jason Brooks

300 WSM (Winchester Short Magnum)

Developed in the early 2000’s this nearly 20-year old cartridge is still fairly “new” to most hunters. Based on the .404 Jeffery case the 300 Winchester Short Magnum delivers nearly identical ballistics as the famed 300 Winchester Magnum that has been around since 1962 but being a short round it can be used in short action rifles. This means you can find a backcountry rifle under 6 pounds chambered in the 300 WSM and have the “knock down” power of a standard magnum. Again, thanks to the ammunition company Hornady the 300 WSM is offered in a commercial round that launches a 200 grain ELD-X out of the barrel at 2,820 fps with an astonishing 3,531 pounds of energy! At 200 yards that heavy bullet is still going 2,500 feet per second and delivering over 2,800 ft/lbs of energy. Since this cartridge has been around for a bit of time there are plenty of rifles on the market for the hunter to choose from. New this year is the Subalpine in the Kimber Mountain Ascent offering the 300 WSM sporting a 26-inch barrel and weighs around 5 pounds. The rifle comes with a muzzle brake to help with recoil and is guaranteed sub-MOA right out of the box. The Kimber is the lightest production rifle on the market today. 

Even a cow elk is considered a “trophy” as they are one of the best eating big game animals-Jason Brooks

338 Winchester Magnum

One of the most popular elk cartridges for the past 60 years is the 338 Win Mag. First developed in 1958 based off of the 375 H&H the 338 Win Mag shoots a 8.6mm bullet in heavy weights which is why it is such a great elk cartridge. The caliber is so popular that you can find several production rifles today-as well as some classics such as a pre-64 Model 70-and find ammo at most sporting goods stores. This means if you are planning an out of state hunt and run out of ammo then more than likely you can stop by any store that sells ammo and find some sitting on a shelf. The idea of the cartridge was based on the popular hunting rifles of Europe which at that time was the .333 or 8.5mm and bullets were plentiful to test in the new cartridge with standard bullets chambered up to 300 grains. Today, several ammunition companies make the 338 Winchester Magnum including Nosler that offers a 225 grain Partition. The Partition carries its energy downrange and creates a large wound channel. Hornady has a commercial load using the 225 grain SST which has a muzzle velocity of 2840 fps and an amazing 4029-foot pound of energy! Even at 500 yards the Hornady 225 SST is traveling over 2,000 fps and carrying over 2,000 ft/lbs of energy. The vast offerings of ammo and rifles on the market today is why the 338 Winchester Magnum is probably one of the best elk cartridges a hunter can carry.

Elk are big animals and deserve to be hunted with big guns made for clean, quick kills-Jason Brooks

When it comes to elk hunting the old saying, “You can’t have too much gun” rings true as a large bodied old bull crosses the canyon heading for dark timber. Some of the best eating big game animals in the lower 48 that you can chase each fall on public land deserve a rifle of their own. Elk are hunted and killed each year with “deer” rifles but those that are serious about pursuing the Wapiti often carry one that isn’t designed for a Whitetail but instead is field proven to anchor that bull in it’s tracks for a quick, ethical kill. 

Jason Brooks 

The Outdoor Line Blog Writer

Jason Brooks Photography

3 comments

Don on Feb 04, 2019 at 1:32 am said:

This is why it's hard to get women and kids into it. Yup, let's best the hell out of them in the name of ignorance. Cave man rhetoric here, "ug need big stick" BS! Shoot what you're comfortable shooting. If you need a bigger hole then you're not worried about mechanics and shot placement!

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Shelbey on Nov 13, 2020 at 5:13 am said:

I agree will all who have expressed their thought n feelings about this issue. Now the question at hand was "why do people choose to use a smaller caliber to hunt with regardless if the big game that's being hunted hunted is elk." Well my thoughts on this r that those who choose to use a large caliber vs. small caliber r looking for velocity,impact,and distance. Do to certain places being hunted n what type of game being hunted a larger caliber is what is ethical to use do to the terrain. Now I know that as a kid my uncle would prefer to use a .22 n even now well into his 70s he uses a .17cal n he has got 2 cows a 5x5 bull n a lil spike bull so far this season n he always says he will out hunt me any day with his small caliber as to my 30-06. I tend to like the longer distance shots myself but then my uncle always tells me its because I'm to heavy on my feet n stink "even though I use scent off" n that they can hear n smell me that's why I got to shoot from far away as to him being 270 plus pounds n smells like winter cedars. he says its his secret to getting close enough to get his 1 shot in the neck or head which drops them every time."shot placement" he is always telling me. I would bring him my hide to tan n his was always nicer n I asked him 1 day why his was nicer than mine n he said because his dont have a big hole in the chest or shoulder or through n through shot that leaves 2 holes instead of 1 because I like to use 180 grain n ensure that my hit is effective. Then he says look at all these mounts n hides I got,I dont waste nothing the creator provides for me.i shoot it where no damage can be noticed as a mount n no hole in my hide n all my meat is good because it dont have the adrenaline going through it from running. Now before the war my uncle hunted with his own homemade fashioned bows n upon arrival home with his injuries he could no longer draw his bows back to get enough velocity to actually do any major damage so he uses smaller caliber because he can still get up close n personal as he says.its a spiritual connection to be able to still hunt up close even after being wounded in war he says.he said when u kill something u should be close enough to feel it spirit when u take its life weather is a human or an animal.(made me think of high lander when he said this) I myself believe that u should use what u are comfortable with n what type of hunting n terrain ur hunting in. To up my uncles anti next year I am getting me a new .44 Taurus big game hunter n I'm gonna pistol hunt the whole season so I can show him I can get close just as well n even though he has a smaller caliber I will have less distance but more velocity upon impact. I'm good at 100 yards with my .357 in the vitals with a vortex scope on the range so afte I'm done this season with my cannon as he calls it I'm going to start practicing for next season. I asked him why he calls it a cannon when his riffle was an M1 grand while in the service n is in his safe n he said "son this is the gun that won the war n the best gun to cause maximum destruction if a fast hurry. Why u think the fed's made chopping down the barrel a federal offense because Bonnie&Clyde tore the F.B.I. up with a 30-06 B.A.R. that had been modified n became the real first hand cannon he said. I'm not saying I'm right n ur all wrong or anything of the nature.im just stating my opinion n view on the subject from a few different perspectives. Have a blessed rest of ur week n happy hunting.....

Daniel on Sep 29, 2020 at 1:05 am said:

Don, this is a post explaining the author’s pick for “4 great calibers for elk” not a gender studies course on which gun is best for women. Also, why do you feel a woman or child isn’t able to shoot these rifles? My 9yr daughter shoots my .300 WSM (which is on this list) and does well with it. Seems like you have some issues to work through but you shouldn’t discount the author and say he’s using caveman redirect just because you’re having a harder time with a rifle than a 9yr girl. Maybe workout more? Learn to shoulder the stock better? Not sure why you think women and kids can’t shoot these rifles but you’re ignorant to reality.

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