My favorite cartridge has changed over the years
At the age of 12 I started hunting with a low-budget rifle, the Savage Model 340. It was chambered in .222 Remington. Today few rifles of that caliber are found in the deer woods, but back then it was a popular choice in the woodchuck fields and for many young hunters just starting out. I killed a couple of bucks with it, but the second one took a marginal hit and my dad, my uncle and I spent some time recovering the deer. I decided the rifle the grownups carried would do a better job, so I graduated to a .30-06.
Countless gun writers have used the word “venerable” to describe the .30-06, and the word fits no cartridge better. It has everyone’s respect, it has been around for well over 100 years, and it has seen plenty of action from military to target shooting to hunting. When it comes to any North American game animal, it can do anything you ask of it. Virtually no one criticizes the .30-06. It’s probably the all-time favorite of most hunters, and if you run into a hunter who is a one-gun guy, odds are good that his one gun is a .30-06.
Mine is a Winchester Model 70 Featherweight—pre-’64 for those who are interested in its lineage. It served me very well in the deer woods but I got tired of the beating the lightweight rifle gave me when testing handloads. I still have it, but I haven’t shot it in more than 20 years.
Next I discovered the .243 Winchester. It has remained popular since its birth in the 1950s. It’s equally at home in the woodchuck fields as it is in the deer woods, and equally comfortable in the hands of a seasoned hunter or a rookie. It has only one drawback—the bullets it shoots are relatively light. Yes, 100 grains is heavy enough to kill a deer, and the Nosler Partition bullets I handloaded for it seemed to dump all their energy inside the deer. But a new cartridge caught my eye—the 7mm-08 Remington.
Both the .243 and the 7mm-08 are children of the .308 Winchester, a cartridge with a similar history to the .30-06, but in a shorter package. The 7mm-08 (a .308 necked down to 7mm, or .284 caliber) is the same size case as the .243 and the .308, with a neck size at a happy medium between the two. Its advantage over the .243 is that it shoots heavier bullets. Its advantage over the .308 is that when bullets are a similar weight, the 7mm bullets are longer and slenderer—carrying their velocity and therefore their energy a little farther down range than the .308.
My first 7mm-08 was a Remington Model Seven with an 18½-inch barrel and a walnut stock—the same exact package my .243 had come in. I loved the weight, the accuracy and the styling. After a few years I “upgraded,” trading it away for another Model Seven, this one in stainless steel with a 20-inch barrel and a synthetic stock, and that’s where I am today.
I’ve shot a variety of Federal, Winchester and Remington factory cartridges, as well as handloads that print on the target tightly inside a 1-inch diameter group. My favorite homebrew is a 139 grain Hornady flat base pushed by 48 grains of W760 powder.
Is the 7mm-08 the best deer cartridge? Is the Model Seven the best rifle? That’s not important. What matters is it’s the best combination for most of the hunting I do. I like carrying a light rifle because I hunt a lot on the ground. I like a short rifle because it handles well when you’re elbow-to-elbow in trees. I like a short action because it cycles more quickly for a follow-up shot. And I like a rifle I can shoot well, and that kills quickly, which always comes down to bullet placement. No matter what rifle and cartridge you think is best, bullet placement is all-important.
Now we have some newcomers, and they’re eyecatching—the 6.5 Creedmoor, the .260 Remington, some of the so-called short magnums—but I still favor the 7mm-08. It has made some terrific shots for me, and every deer I’ve hit with it died quickly. If your deer rifle does that, stick with it.
When “The Everyday Hunter” isn’t hunting, he’s thinking about hunting, writing about hunting, talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. Contact him at EverydayHunter@gmail.com, and read more of his thoughts about hunting at www.jamestowngazette.com.