In my January 29th post, Best New Rifles of 2015, a reader named Kristan Hall accused me of telling people not to shoot elk and bear with a .243. She claimed that she did it and the cartridge worked fine, and that my advice was “inaccurate.” Well, it is inaccurate, but I had absolutely no recollection of writing something like that, so I looked up “Downsize Your Rifle Load,” which is what I assume Ms. Hall was referring to, and found that what I actually said was that once upon a time I looked on the .243 as a marginal cartridge for deer, but now, due to huge improvements in bullets, you could feel free to shoot a deer of any size with the round. I never mentioned bears and elk.
I’ve stopped writing about which species you can kill with which cartridge. This is because the animals themselves tend to ignore such advice. The last elk I killed fell to a 6.5/284. It behaved exactly like most of the elk I’ve shot with a .338—ran maybe 75 yards, then got very tired and lay down, never to rise again.
You can shoot hundreds of black bears and hundreds of elk with a .243, and if you choose your bullet wisely and place your shots judiciously, nearly all of them will drop either in their tracks or after a short run. Some will not. This is because wild animals—all species, not just elk and black bear—act unpredictably when hit by bullets. Almost all of them will at least flinch, but some don’t. I’ve heard that deer will never run uphill when shot, but I once hit a whitetail doe who bolted up a steep slope and ran right into a tree. I’ve seen a deer shot through the lungs with a .358 Winchester (250-grain Silvertip, if you must pry) who ignored the shot, dropped his head and continued feeding. Then, after a while, he keeled over. I’ve seen a puku, a tough African antelope about the weight of a big mule deer, hit smack in the shoulder with a 250-grain Nosler Partition from a .338 and stand there, absolutely unmoving, for probably five minutes, and then drop in his tracks.
I could go on and on in this vein, but the bottom line is, you can shoot damn near anything with damn near anything these days if you exercise sound judgment and can hit what you aim at.