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 properly and that you do good rifle practice with it each year. (Click on those links for our discussion of those topics.)
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.
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 to open up the discussion below to anyone who wants to chime in, disagree or fill in the gaps.
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.
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Sighting In a Rifle
Free Paper Targets
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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.
Click below to see contributions from other visitors to this page...
Best Elk Rifle
I added 325wsm to my collection for elk,moose,eland,etc. I wanted more ft.lbs of energy and a flatter shooting caliber for shots at longer ranges(out to …
Acceptable Elk Rifle Calibers
To much for my whitetail so I want to sell or trade my 8mm rem mag can be contacted at 304-648-5095 ask for Adam With right load it shoots 3/4 inch 5 …
I guess one can hunt and kill elk with a 243, 308, 06, 7 Mag, 300 Mag and up. I watched a video of a woman shooting and dropping an elk, one shot at some …
7mm Mag for Elk hunting
I have Smith & Wesson 7mm Rem Mag that I would not trade for the most expensive gun on the market. I have shot many deer with it, 4 elk and every one was …
.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 …
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 …
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 …
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 …
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 …
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How often should I use my cow call?, I am new to the sport of bow hunting elk and my question is how often should I use my cow calls?
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 ?
(More comments about Best Elk Rifle below)
Unique Elk Talk by Idaho Steve (Hailey, Id ), In the middle of the night, a herd of elk came traveling through the drainage and right past my tent...
Smelly Elk Areas? by Jimmy (New Mexico), I've come across many areas that just stink of elk, literally. I have heard two somewhat contradictory stories...
DIY Gear List Must Have's! by Craig (Florida) "Here are some of the items I use on my DIY hunts in the CO backcountry..."
Elk and Deer Hunting and Mountain Bikes, by Skip Shepherd (Tucson, AZ)~ At 67 I am thinking a lot about investing in a mountain bike to get back into remote areas...
Solo archery hunting -- tips for calling/set up?, by Idaho Steve (Hailey, ID )~ I hunt by myself a lot...I'd love to hear your thoughts on strategic set-ups when solo hunting and calling.
Non- Lead Bullets for Elk?, by Dave, Elk Hunting Tips.Net (Garrison, MT)~ What do you ballistics guys think about the use of non-lead bullets for elk? According to this story...
Rage Broadheads by Chris, ...my buddy gave me a rage practice tip and when I shot it you could not pick out the broadhead from the field points. I was sold...
Finally filled the freezer..., Colorado Rockies~ "I was bummed when I got to the property and no elk, nor any hoof prints in the snow. ...I pulled each of the elk into shade then started gutting..."
Wounded Veteran Elk hunts, by Joshua FL), I am a disabled veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and have always dreamed of hunting elk. I am posting this to see if anyone would know of any elk hunts free to disabled vets....
First Elk with a Bow, by Ryan H. (Colorado), ...Finally after many years of hunting with a bow "I got er did"!
First Elk!, by Tater (Sheridan, Arkansas) I took the advice I received from this website and was successful…I wanted to Thank You and Your Forum and the folks that share on here for the knowledge and information that helped me find an elk I was quite happy with.
Any success in Unit 14?, by: Dave (MI), "I'm planning on doing a DIY in Unit 14 for 2012..."
Bugle in Herd bulls, by Swiltbank (Az) The key to calling in a herd bull is to get into his bedding grounds and threaten his herd. Start off sounding like…
Best Rifle Caliber?, by Buglemup (Superior, MT), "I've been reading what people have been writing about rifle calibers and here is what 16 years of guiding elk has taught me."
7mm Remington Magnum, by Dean (Helena, MT. USA) I use my Liberty Ruger M77, 7mm Rem. Mag. for antelope, deer, elk... Comment: "What do you guys think about the idea of hunting elk with a 270? I also know a guy who kills elk with a 243."
338 Marlin Express, "Light, fast shooting, hard hitting, manageable recoil, and for a lever gun - very accurate."
Guns I like for Elk, by Mountain Walker (Kootenays east B.C. Canada),"I think the gun you shoot Elk with should be one you shoot a lot with... "
.35 Remington, by Bill Smith "...my .35 Rem appears to have dropped a medium deer flawlessly, but I now have serious doubts as to its capability to take an elk."
Where to hunt in Az unit 3B?, by Cliffjumper (Tucson, Az) ~ I got a late bull muzzle loader hunt in Arizona unit 3b. Does anyone know how to hunt bulls in the late season?...
First time elk hunter hunting Arizona unit 6A , by Rob Marchio (Omaha, Ne)~ I'm a first time elk hunter hunting Arizona's unit 6A. I'm planning on staying in the Pine Grove campground...
Help needed for 1st DIY Hunt w/Son, by Patrick (Parker, CO), "I was looking for some advice on my 1st DIY hunt for 2014 in CO with my 13 yr old son. I have countless hrs going over stats, topo maps & Google Earth"
Elk Hunting Colorado in 2013, By William (Midland, TX) "I am planning an elk hunt next year in Colorado and I wanted to know if hunting Gunnison National Forest..."
Unit 60 Elk 4th Rifle Season Nov 13-17 Either Sex 2013, By Chester "...Any general advice about the unit would be appreciated!"
Elk Hunting Idaho Unit 8 8A 11, This is my first year seriously trying to track down some elk. Is there anyone that has hunted in any of these units and can give me some friendly advice? Mitchell, Moscow Idaho
Elk Hunting Pocatello by Cameron (Pocatello) Where is the best place to elk hunt around Pocatello, Idaho? I'm a student at ISU and I'm looking for somewhere around here to hunt next season.
How is the elk hunting in unit 30A in Idaho?, by Terry (Richland Center, WI) Has anyone archery elk hunted in unit 30A in Idaho? What can you tell me about the area?
Hunting in Western Montana, by Mike A. (Alabama)
I did not draw a tag for Missouri breaks where I have hunted in the past. Having to start over and try western Montana.
New Mexico Unit 49, by Silas (Los Alamos, NM)
If anyone has tips on areas to start scouting, I'd really appreciate it.
First Elk Hunt First Elk Hunt, by Big "R" (NM)
I finally got drawn for a late elk hunt in Unit 28, north of Road 506 and south of the boundary line of the Lincoln National Forest...
Cow elk in Nevada's unit 222:
"Any good places known in unit 222?"
Northeast Nevada Early Elk hunt, by John (Carson City,NV)
"Any suggestions on what areas I may see some signs of elk?"
Retired USMC MSgt Needs Advice, by Ken Wing USMCRET (Bealeton, Va)
Popcorn VenisonPopcorn Venison with Maple Syrup?
Elk or Venison Steaks Grilled to Perfection Here's how to turn them into steakhouse steaks!
Spice-Crusted Grilled Venison Roast Recipe This Spice-Crusted, Grilled Venison Roast recipe works great for any red meat roasts, including elk, deer or beef roast...
Corned Elk Recipe You can easily make corned venison and elk, moose or corned beef from these instructions...
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