Who says bigger is necessarily better? Now, I am a firm believer in the old adage that there really is no such thing as “too much gun.” However. when it comes to rifle hunting, there’s no reason to shoot a large-caliber, hard-kicking rifle at an animal that doesn’t need it to be killed cleanly. Unless you want to, of course …
For decades I’ve been a fan of many cartridges that shoot bullets under .270-inch in diameter. Generally speaking, they’re a pleasure to shoot, are very accurate, and get the job done on deer-sized and smaller game just fine.
Of course there are some high-powered magnums that make a lot of noise and can send bullets off at super high velocities – one of my favorites of all time, the .257 Wby. Mag., is one of them. But most are as friendly as a new puppy. One of my first serious rifle/handload work-ups was an old Browning BBR bolt-action rifle chambered for the .25-06, purchased back in the 1980s and a rifle that accounted for untold numbers of mule deer, pronghorn and western whitetails.
Here, then, are my Top 10 all-time favorite under-.270-inch hunting cartridges.
10) .264 Win. Mag.
It was introduced in the late 1950s and early 1960s with the .338 and .458 Win. Mags as one of a family of short-cased 2.5-inch belted magnum cartridges developed by Winchester based on the .375 Holland & Holland parent case. It was officially introduced to the public by Winchester in 1959. After years of waning popularity, it enjoyed a mild resurgence in the mid-2000s among long range rifle enthusiasts and handloaders due to the high ballistic coefficient of the heavier 6.5mm. It pushes a140-grain bullet at about 3050 in factory loads, though handloaders can do better. However once the 7mm Rem. Mag. came along in 1962, its popularity declined rapidly. Today you can find it in scattered use in both long-range shooting competitions and western hunting.
9) .250 Savage
The .250-3000 Savage was created by Charles Newton in 1915 to fit the then-immensely popular Savage Model 99 lever action rifle. The name comes from its original manufacturer, Savage Arms, and the fact that the original load achieved a3000 fps muzzle velocity with an 87 grain bullet – screaming performance at the time. It can push a100-grain bullet at about 2800 fps, which is more sensible for deer-sized game. Performance is close to .257 Roberts. It’s not common in the deer woods today, but this mild-recoiling round can still get it done.
8) .260 Rem.
The .260 Remington began as a wildcat cartridge called the 6.5-08 and was eventually released as a commercial cartridge by Remington. However, it was not Remington who first attempted to standardize the cartridge. Lt. Col. Arthur Alphin – a man I knew fairly well back in the 1980’s when his company, A-Square, LLC, enjoyed some prominence in the business — submitted the first proposal and drawings to SAAMI for the standardization of the cartridge. Remington was to file similar papers with SAAMI to do the same a few months later. When the dust settled, it was found that the 6.5-08 would be called the .260 Remington instead of 6.5-08 A-Square. The cartridge was created simply by necking down the .308 Winchester to accept a .264 caliber bullet. Most deer hunters use bullets weighing 120- to 140-grains with corresponding muzzle velocities of 2890 fps and 2740 fps, respectively. For some reason this round never really achieved lasting popularity. Performance-wise it’s very similar to the newer 6.5 Creedmoor, which has proven much more popular.
The .22-250 Remington is a short action, .22 caliber rifle cartridge primarily used for varmint and small game hunting, though it finds occasional use on deer where .223 caliber bullets are legal. Developed in 1937, the .22-250 started life as a wildcat developed from a .250 Savage case necked down to accept a .223 caliber bullet. Typical factory-loaded .22-250 ammo will send a 55-grain spitzer bullet at near-3700 fps, while still having effective energy for use in hunting small game and medium-sized predators. Many other loads with lighter bullets are used to achieve velocities of over 4,000 fps. Example? How about a 35 grain Hornady NTX blasting off at 4450 fps? I personally love to have my hands on a .22-250 when I’m on a high-volume varmint shoot.
6) .257 Roberts
Designed by Ned Roberts in the 1920’s, this is basically a 7×57 Mauser case necked down to accept a .257-caliber bullet. Eventually in 1934 Remington Arms chose to introduce their own commercial version of such a cartridge, and although it wasn’t the exact dimensions of the wildcat made by Roberts, they called it the .257 Roberts. From its introduction until the appearance of more popular 6mm cartridges such as the .243 Win. And 6mm Rem., it was a very popular general purpose cartridge. Today, although overshadowed by other cartridges, it lives on with bolt-action rifles available from some major manufacturers. It can send a 100-grain bullet off at about 3020 fps with minimal recoil and very good accuracy, while the Hornady +P load sends a 117-grain SST bullet out at 2946 fps. Both are excellent choices for deer-sized game and for shooters who desire very manageable recoil.
5) .257 Wby. Mag.
This screamer is a belted bottlenecked cartridge and one of the original standard length magnums developed by shortening the .375 H&H Magnum case to approx. 2.5-inches. Of the cartridges created by Roy Weatherby, the .257 Wby. Mag. — developed in 1944 — was known to have been his favorite. The cartridge currently ranks third in Weatherby cartridge sales, after the .30-378 and .300 Weatherby Magnums. It is among one of the flattest shooting commercial cartridges, capable of firing a 115 gr. Nosler Ballistic Tip bullet at near 3,500 fps – though factory loadings come in a couple hundred fps slower. While you can use bullets as light as 80 grains, I prefer those weighing 110-115 grains for overall accuracy and performance on critters up to and including the largest deer.
4) .223 Rem.
First making an appearance in 1957 as an experimental cartridge for the Armalite AR-15 assault rifle, in 1964 it was officially adopted by the U.S. Army as the 5.56mm Ball cartridge M193. It remains the official U.S. and NATO military round. As a sporting round, it sends the standard 55-grain bullet out at around 3200 fps, depending on the manufacturer, with excellent accuracy. The .223 is a staple of varmint shooters and coyote hunters. And, with the proper bullets, can be used effectively on deer where legal. Today it’s most commonly chambered in Modern Sporting Rifle (MSM) rifles, though many serious varminters have bolt-action rifles chambered for the .223 as well. Hornady loads a 35-grain NTX bullet at 4000 fps, a 40-grain V-MAX bullet at 3800 fps, and several different bullets ranging from here all the way up to a 75-grain BHT bullet at 2930 fps. All serious shooters should have at least one rifle chambered for the .223 in their gun safe.
3) 6.5 Creedmoor
Developed by Horandy in 2007, this cartridge was designed to give competitive shooters a factory-loaded cartridge that would allow them to win in the highest levels of competitive shooting. Nowadays, the 6.5 Creedmoor is rapidly making its way into the hearts of deer and pronghorn hunters everywhere.
Big bonus: because of its overall length of 2.825 inches, it is capable of being chambered in short-action bolt action rifles and AR-10 semi-automatic rifles. Using bullets weighing 120- to 140 grains at velocities between 3050 and 2,700 fps, respectively, you’ll be hard-pressed to find anything more accurate than this light-recoiling, highly-efficient sweetheart.
Originally a wildcat cartridge dating back to the 1920s, Remington added it to its commercial line in 1969, and away it went. It’s basically just a .30-06 case necked down to accept a .257-inch bullet. I’ve taken untold numbers of deer and pronghorn with this cartridge with both handloads and factory ammo. Up to 400 yards it’s a great choice, as the cartridge is very accurate in most rifles and generates very manageable recoil. Deer hunters are well-served with bullets weighing between 90 and 120 grains – where factory ammo is loaded to around 3350 and 3000 fps, respectively, with varminters sometimes selecting bullets weighing 75-90 grains. My pet handload featured a 117-grain Sierra Boattail bullet at about 3100 fps.
1) .243 Win.
Introduced in 1955 by Winchester for their Model 70 bolt-action and Model 88 lever-action rifles, countless hunters shoot rifles chambered in .243 Win. Hunters have taken untold numbers of deer each fall, despite assertions from big-bore advocates that the .243 is marginal, at best, for deer-sized game. In truth, the .243 — based on the .308 Win. necked down — sends a 100-grain bullet out at about 2960 fps, while delivering just a tick over 10 ft./lbs. of recoil in an 8½-pound rifle. It’s accurate and deadly. It can also be loaded with lighter bullets for use on predators, varmints, and the like. Examples? How about the Hornady load featuring a 58-grain V-MAX at 3925 fps! All major rifle makers still chamber for this round, which remains hugely popular. Ammo sales for this cartridge have remained in the top 5 of all centerfire hunting rounds in America for decades.
There you have it. What’s your favorite under-.25 caliber hunting cartridge? Drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know.