Big Game Rifle: Is There Really a
“Best Elk Rifle”?


The debate about the best big game rifle, particularly rifles for elk hunting, will never end. (Share your opinion below.) Elk are bigger than deer and big elk can get very big! Elk are very strong animals with a strong drive to survive. They are known for running after a lethal hit. Regardless of the size of the game or caliber of the gun, shot placement is critical. A good lung shot is the most preferred and deadly, regardless of the caliber of the elk rifle.

Whatever elk rifle you choose,make sure you sight it in properlyand that you do good rifle practice with it each year. (Click on those links for our discussion of those topics.)




One Size Fits All?

Many people, if they could only own one big game rifle, would choose the 30.06. There is a wide variety of ammunition available for it. Premium, high power bullets make it effective as an elk rifle. As a deer hunting rifle, it has a long history of being the most popular caliber.

Another rifle that has wide acceptance as a good caliber for elk hunting is the 300 Winchester Magnum. Among elk hunting rifles, the 300 Win Mag holds its own. I see less elk travel distance with my 300 Win Mag than a 30.06, but there are bigger guns that may be even more suitable for elk and other big game. Potential penetration from 30 caliber rifles will be less than the .338 or 8 mm calibers, for instance.

People do hunt elk with smaller caliber rifles. I know a guy whose only big game rifle is a .243, including for elk. That would not be my choice and he gets a lot of ribbing for it, but he has killed a number of elk with it and has never lost one. I would feel irresponsible recommending a .243 or .270 as an elk rifle, since a bull can weigh a thousand pounds and don’t die easily.

Take Your Best Shot,
Then Take Another One!

Big bulls often need a follow up shot, regardless of the caliber chosen. The second shot doesn’t always present itself but, if it does, take it! An old elk hunter once told me “three quarters are better than none”, meaning, take the second shot even if it is in a meaty leg area. A little meat loss is better than losing an elk that travels and disappears after the first shot.

Unless you’re into only very close up hunting, choose a big caliber for elk hunting that you can shoot well and can operate quickly for a second shot, if one is presented. With practice, bolt actions are plenty fast enough and are the most popular because of their accuracy.

Other excellent calibers for elk hunting rifles are the 8mm Rem Mag, 308, .338 Win Mag, 300 and 338 Remington Ultra Mags, 340 Weatherby Mag, .375 H & H and others in between. Bullet weights from 165 to 240 grain can all be acceptable for killing elk, depending on the caliber.

Since I only have experience with a few big game rifle calibers, I want toopen up the discussion below to anyone who wants to chime in, disagree or fill in the gaps.

Stock and Barrel Composition

A big game rifle that is light in heft weight (not necessarily caliber) will have a more memorable kick. Once you “remember” it, you might never shoot the light gun with accurate consistency again. A lighter gun is nice for carrying in rough elk terrain, but a little bit more heft might make a more accurate shooting gun for many, because of the more manageable recoil. (Take a look at the Safari Sling to make carrying your elk rifle easier in the ready position. I have chosen never to carry my big game rifle on my back again.)

Elk hunting is rough on a rifle. Put it on your backpack, mountain bike, four-wheeler or horse and it takes a beating. Weather can take its toll on big game rifles while elk hunting, too. Many hunters still prefer blue metal and wood stocks, but stainless steel and synthetic stands up to the bumps, snow and rubbing of traveling to, from and in elk habitat. All of my guns are ugly, so I don’t have to worry about it too much. Buying a good used gun that has taken a cosmetic beating takes the stress out of protecting it, as well as the bank account.

Choosing a big game rifle caliber for elk hunting should involve some research into the widely varying opinions, tried and true knowledge, experience as well as scientific data. What works for you and what hasn't? Please share your experience, opinions and knowledge about big game rifles below.


Other Rifle Hunting Topics on This Site:

Sighting In a Rifle 

Rifle Practice 

Free Paper Targets

Other Forum Topics

See more Forum Topics here. 



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Do you have a favorite elk rifle?

In your opinion, what is the best North American big game rifle? What is your favorite elk rifle or rifle caliber for elk hunting? There are many opinions about rifles for elk hunting and other big game. Please share yours! Our visitors are very interested in reading about this topic.

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What Other Visitors Have Said

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Kimber Montana .325 WSM (295 yard kill) 
I started Elk hunting in Wyoming and my personal choice is a Kimber Montana .325 WSM. Hunted 2009 and harvested a 5x5 Elk at 200 yards. Hunted 2012 …

Sighting in for elk hunting 
I would like to know if sighting in a elk rifle; 300 win mag. using a target at 25 yards is accurate out to 300 yards. I was taught that if my rifle was …

,325 WSM is worth considering 
I've killed elk with a .30-06, and I know that accuracy and shot placement are far and away the most important factors, at least once you've found them …

Is a 308 rifle enough for elk hunting? 
I recently bought a Mossberg in 308 caliber. I am wondering if that caliber is ok for elk hunting using 168 grain bullets. Thoughts? and thanks. Hope you …

Acceptable Elk Rifle Calibers 
I've been reading what people have been writing about rifle calibers and here is what 16 years of guiding elk has tought me. Use a rifle that fits you …

First Elk Hunt 
I am going on my first elk hnt in wyoming this fall and plan to use a Browning 300 Mag. What would be the best ammunition for this rifle for elk hunting …

Follow up shot.! 
I have to say I agree with this one. Most Elk are Big and have a great strong will to live! Last year I shot 6x7 coming right at me. No time to wait for …

Guns I like for elk! 
I think the gun you shoot Elk with should be one you shoot a lot with. It feels comfy in your hands. I do like the .308 clan a lot! I guess I shot a 300 …

.35 Remington 
One shot from my 1962 Sears Roebuck model 45 in .35 Rem (Marlin 336) struck at the point of the shoulder and the buck went down instantly. Another Elk …

6.5x55 
6.5x55in 156gr Oryx up to 300yd,or 156 Alaska to 250yd. Unbeatable punching power. 156 Vulkan lung shots are also conclusive. One shot kills every time. …

My rifle 
The rifle I use for all of my big game hunting is an old Mauser bolt action single shot chambered for 30-40 x.315 Ackley Improved. I can load this round …

Best Elk Rifle 
IMO the rifle one uses for elk should be the one that puts the bullet in the right place. Elk don't require a cannon. The most important thing about …

300 Remington Ultra Mag 
I'll throw in the 300 Remington Ultra Mag. I used to hunt with a .308, (Remington 800 VLS, heavy barrel, all the goodies) but at just shy of 15 pounds …

.338 Best Elk Caliber 
I shoot a rebarreled win. mod. 88 in .338 Federal with a 22" barrel. I use Federal 200 gr. trophy bonded tip. This fast handling quick on target is ideal …

7mm Mag for Elk hunting 
I purchased a Browning 7mm Rem Mag A-Bolt Stalker 2, will this be a capable elk gun?I also equipped it with talley rings & mounts and the Zeiss Conquest …

300 Weatherby 
I shoot the Weatherby vanguard model of the 300 wby' with its synthetic stock and weighing about 8 1/2 lbs it shoots a little smoother than shooting my …

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Is a 308 rifle enough for elk hunting?I recently bought a Mossberg in 308 caliber. I am wondering if that caliber is ok..., by Skip (Tucson, AZ)

295 yard kill with a Kimber Montana 325 WSM, by Don from Dallas: My ELk did not even twitch once. He was dead when he hit the ground.

325 WSM is worth considering, Palmer Lake,CO: I believe that the .325 WSM is the ultimate elk caliber...

30-30 for Elk? : I have a 30 30 with 170 grain round nose bullet. Will this work to shoot an elk ?

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