June 27, 2012
A Conversation Around the Campfire: What's the Best Elk Cartridge?
By David E. Petzal
This actually did occur at a campfire. As I was staring into the flames, waiting for the wind to shift and blow the smoke into my face, I was approached by a young man who wanted my advice on what kind of rifle to take on his first elk hunt.
“What kind of rifle do you have?” I asked.
“An Ultra Light Arms .280.”
“What kind of scope?”
“A Swarovski 2X-10X.”
“Bless your heart,” I said, “you don’t need a new rifle. You couldn’t get a better outfit if you had Mitt Romney’s money.”
“But will a .280 kill an elk?”
“Listen,” I said, “bullets are so good these days that the cartridge is pretty much meaningless. You shoot it in the right place with anything and it’ll fall over deader than transparency in the Obama Administration. I killed an elk last year with a 6.5/284 and it dropped just as fast as the elk I’ve killed with .338s.”
“But I was looking at the ballistics of the .280 at 400 yards and...”
“The elk won’t know if you’re 300 yards away or 400 yards away or 425 yards away. Hit him in the right place with a good bullet and he’ll have no more chance than a 60-ounce Coke in New York City. Ballistic tables are fun to study, and they give gun writers something to write about, but don’t confuse them with real life.”
“But what if I want a dedicated elk gun?”
“Get a .338 Win Mag. It’ll be heavier, and it’ll kick, but if you want to show the elk the way things are, that’s your huckleberry.”
The young man went away to reflect on all this, and the coot sitting next to me, who likes hunting with old rifles and has had tons of experience in Africa, said:
“What he’ll learn in the next 30 years is that you can hunt whatever you want with a 7x57, or 6.5x55, or .303, or .30/06. But let him have fun finding out.”
And at that point the smoke did shift into my face and I had to wander away.