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6 Classic Hunting Cartridges You Should Try Again

There's special satisfaction in using a classic old-timer. Here's a half-dozen worth your attention.

6 Classic Hunting Cartridges You Should Try Again

The author based his list of great old-school cartridges on a combination of availability, history, and utility. His final selection for six classic worth a new look, left to right: .257 Roberts, .270 Winchester, 7x57 Mauser, .30-30 Winchester, .30-06 Springfield, .45-70 Government. (Photo by Craig Boddington)

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This past season, Sam Vona dropped a Kansas buck with his 6.5x55. Now understanding the modest ranges on my place, he swore he’d come back and bring his father’s .32 Winchester Special. I hope he does. We haven't seen that old cartridge in our deer woods.

Hey, it’s fun to hunt with the latest, greatest new whiz-bangs, and maybe they will give you extra confidence. On the other hand, there’s special satisfaction in using classic old-timer ammo. Especially if, like me, you place value on history and tradition.

Now, I don’t want to go overboard. These days, we have to think about feeding the beast. I hand-load, but I wouldn’t want to try to find proper .323 bullets for Sam’s .32.


I’ve been having an affair with the .303 British, but ammo and bullets are almost unavailable now.

In developing my short list of classic cartridges worth trying, I thought about utility, availability and history. I love the 6.5x55 Swede, which is ballistically much the same as the 6.5 Creedmoor, but 6.5x55 ammo is currently scarce.


I’m looking for another .358 Winchester. I have cases, dies and bullets, but I wouldn’t want to try to find factory ammo right now.

So, with multiple sources of ammo, awesome track records, and usefulness, I boiled a longer list down to six:

6 Great Classic Hunting Cartridges

.257 ROBERTS

6 Classic Hunting Cartridges
The .257 Roberts is known for exceptional accuracy. This Dakota M76 responded immediately to a handload with IMR 4350 and Hornady SST bullets, producing a half-inch 100-yard group. (Photo by Craig Boddington)

Introduced by Remington in 1934, gunwriter Ned Roberts necked the 7x57 case down to take a .257-inch bullet, the same diameter as the .25-35 and .250 Savage, both popular at the time. The .257 Roberts took off quickly, and became the dominant .25-caliber cartridge until Remington introduced the .25-06 in 1969.

The old Roberts is not as fast as the .25-06. However, the .25-06 is slightly over-bore-capacity, so the Roberts is easier to load for and often more accurate. It is not slow — 100-grain bullets to over 3100 fps; 117-grain bullets to 2900. Recoil is negligible, and performance on deer-sized game is amazing.

6 Classic Hunting Cartridges
This Kansas cull buck is the first deer Boddington took with a .257 Roberts, using a 117-grain SST. The deer dropped so hard it seemed to bounce. (Photo by Craig Boddington)

Die-hard Roberts fans sometimes use it for black bear and elk. I think this is pushing it, but it is dramatically effective on deer and pronghorns, and fully adequate for the biggest hogs. All ammo is hard to come by right now, but everybody still loads the .257 Roberts, and cases can readily be made by full-length sizing 7x57 brass. With lighter bullets, it readily crosses over as a fine varmint rifle, with less recoil and longer barrel life than the .25-06.

.270 WINCHESTER

6 Classic Hunting Cartridges
This .270 Winchester was made by Joe Balickie nearly 40 years ago. Complete with vintage 2-7X Leupold, it routinely produces spectacular groups. So much for poor .270 accuracy. (Photo by Craig Boddington)

The .270 Winchester was developed in 1925 by necking down the .30-06 case to take a .277-inch bullet. The result was a faster cartridge that shot flatter and developed less recoil. Gunwriter Jack O’Connor became the .270’s champion. Some of its popularity is based on his writing, but much is pure merit.

With 130-grain bullets at 3100 fps, the .270 shoots flat enough for mountain hunting, and is powerful enough for the largest bucks that walk. With 150-grain bullets at 2900 fps, it is plenty powerful enough for elk.

6 Classic Hunting Cartridges
In January 2022, Boddington used his Joe Balickie .270 to take this desert mule deer in West Texas, one shot at 325 yards with a 136-grain Federal Terminal Ascent bullet. (Photo by Craig Boddington)

Today it is popular to claim that the .270 "isn’t very accurate." It was conceived as a hunting cartridge, and rarely considered a "target cartridge." Until recently, few match-grade or the new "low drag" bullets were offered in .277-inch.

That conceded, I have personally never encountered a .270 Winchester rifle that wouldn’t deliver all the hunting accuracy anyone needs, and some have been tack-drivers.

6 Classic Hunting Cartridges
Donna Boddington used her MGA "giraffe" .270 Winchester to take this ancient desert sheep in Mexico. Weighing 5.7 pounds with scope, this light .270 is easily her favorite hunting rifle.  (Photo by Craig Boddington)

My wife Donna and I have both taken elk, sheep, and numerous deer with .270s, and we have both used it on other continents for a wide variety of game.

Not as flashy as some of the bright new stars, the .270 Winchester remains popular and available, and still does the job.

7X57 MAUSER

6 Classic Hunting Cartridges
In Boddington’s experience the 7x57 is rarely a tack-driver, but this rifle made by Todd Ramirez is exceptional. Top right, 100-yard group with scope and 140-grain bullets; left, 50-yard group with iron sights and 175-grain bullets. (Photo by Craig Boddington)

Dating back to 1892, the 7x57 Mauser (aka 7mm Mauser and .275 Rigby) is the oldest smokeless-powder cartridge still in common use. Armed with .30-40 Krags, American troops faced it in Cuba in 1898. Half a world away, the Brits with their .303s faced it in the Second Boer War. Veterans of both nations came away with respect for the 7x57, and it quickly developed a sporting following.

The 7x57 has never been widely popular in the United States, but it retains a loyal following. With a 140-grain bullet at about 2700 fps, the 7x57 isn’t fast, but it’s one of those cartridges whose performance seems exceed paper ballistics. Its performance is duplicated by the 7mm-08 Remington (1980).

6 Classic Hunting Cartridges
The 7x57 is one of those cartridges with performance that appears to exceed its paper ballistics. This is the largest feral hog Boddington has ever taken, dropped on the spot with a 140-grain bullet from his 7x57. (Photo by Craig Boddington)

The contest isn’t fair, because the 7mm-08 is loaded to higher pressure standards than the 7x57. With greater case capacity, the 7x57 should be faster but, as loaded, it is not. Because its longer case requires a standard-length action, it does better with heavy bullets (which is what made its bones around the world).

Anything said about the 7x57 can be said about the 7mm-08, and vice versa. If you value tradition, you’ll prefer the 7x57. I haven’t been without a 7x57 for 40 years. I have three right now, and have used them all over the world. But, if you prefer a 7mm-08, I can’t argue. Either way, you’ll have a light-recoiling, hard-hitting medium-range cartridge effective up to elk.

.30-30 WINCHESTER

6 Classic Hunting Cartridges
Lever-action .30-30s vary in accuracy, but some are surprising. Boddington’s 1980-vintage top-eject Winchester 1894 is one of the anomalies, consistently producing near MOA groups at 100 yards…with aperture sight. (Photo by Craig Boddington)

The .30-30 Winchester and its companion .25-35 were America’s first smokeless-powder sporting cartridges, introduced in 1895 in the 1894 Winchester. At least 20 million .30-30 rifles have been produced (by Winchester, Marlin, Savage, Mossberg, Henry, and others). Many are still in use, but millions of .30-30s are gathering dust in corners of gun safes.

Maybe it’s time to take another new look at this American classic, and have some fun! Standard are 150-grain bullets at 2390 fps, and 170-grain bullets at 2200 fps. By today’s standards, these numbers are neither fast nor powerful. Range is limited, and limited further by the necessity to use blunt-nosed bullets (except Hornady’s FTX and MonoFlex bullets). Iron sights on older top-eject Winchester lever-actions also reduces range, although virtually all current .30-30s can be scoped.

6 Classic Hunting Cartridges
Boddington used his short-barrel Winchester 1894 Trapper .30-30 to take this excellent South Texas whitetail. He’s flanked by gunwriting greats Gary Sitton and John Wootters, both regrettably gone. (Photo by Craig Boddington)

Regardless of sights, the .30-30 is not a long-range cartridge. With iron sights, it’s a 100-yard gun. With optical sights and modern loads, maybe you could double that. For a lot of deer and hog hunting, how much reach do you need? At these ranges, the .30-30 is decisively effective on deer-sized game.

I used the .30-30 when I was young, and in recent years I’ve come back to it for whitetails and hogs. Not as a novelty, but because it works, with little recoil and certain effect. Maybe you should circle back and rediscover America’s all-time champion deer rifle.





.30-06 SPRINGFIELD

6 Classic Hunting Cartridges
The .30-06 is rarely praised for extreme accuracy, but it’s been used in High-Power competition since new. This Kimber Mountain Ascent in .30-06 produced MOA groups right out of the box…with factory ammo. (Photo by Craig Boddington)

My daughter Brittany does outdoor skills camps for women. One of the classes I teach is "Bullet Basics," arcane and inexplicable cartridge nomenclature. We’ve all heard of the great .30-06, but do we all remember that it’s short for: "ball cartridge, caliber .30, model of 1906?"

On their epic 1909-1910 safari, Kermit and Theodore Roosevelt were among the first to use the .30-06 as a sporting cartridge. It gained in popularity after WWI, and became America’s standard and most popular sporting cartridge. It remains popular, but after multiple magnum phases and today’s shorter, fatter cases, it’s no longer the darling it once was.

Remember this: The .30-06 is the most powerful cartridge ever adopted by a major military. With a 150-grain bullet over 3000 fps, 165-grain bullet over 2900, and 180-grain bullet at 2700, it is not slow, and it is still very powerful.

6 Classic Hunting Cartridges
Boddington used a Savage 110 .30-06 to take this Arctic Island caribou on a freezing October day. There are undoubtedly more perfect choices for caribou, but there’s very little that can’t be done with a .30-06. (Photo by Craig Boddington)

Truth is, although always effective, it is needlessly powerful for deer-sized game, and has more recoil than many are comfortable with. It is a better elk cartridge than deer cartridge. And, it can use extra-heavy bullets at meaningful velocity. With 220-grain bullets, it has been used effectively for the largest game, although we can probably agree there are better tools for big bears and pachyderms.

The great strength of the .30-06 is its versatility. I remain convinced it is one of the best choices for the full run of African plains game. Even Jack O’Connor, the .270 man, conceded the .30-06 was "more versatile." In the early 1950s, Grancel Fitz became the first person to take all varieties of North American big game. He did it all with his .30-06, including all the sheep and big bears.

6 Classic Hunting Cartridges
Grancel Fitz was the first person to take all varieties of North American big game…all with his Griffin & Howe Springfield .30-06, including all four sheep and the big bears. He took this excellent Dall ram in 1935, 15 years before he completed his quest.

Like most of my generation, my first centerfire rifle was a surplus 1903 Springfield, but I didn’t hunt with the cartridge until 1977. For some years I used the .30-06 for most of my hunting. I drifted away, but I have a trusty .30-06. Time to hunt with it again.

Recommended


.45-70 GOVERNMENT

6 Classic Hunting Cartridges
One of the first Ruger-manufactured Marlin 1895s. Big, modernized lever-actions like this have given both the .45-70 and the lever-action a new lease on life. These are 100-yard groups, exceptional accuracy from a lever-action .45-70. (Photo by Craig Boddington)

It’s amazing that the cartridge the Seventh Cavalry carried at Little Bighorn is not only still with us, but retains significant popularity. Introduced in 1873, the (originally) blackpowder .45-70 was among the first cartridges to use central-fire ("centerfire") priming. In the parlance of the day, its original nomenclature was ".45-70-405," with 70 denoting the blackpowder charge and 405 the weight of the original bullet. As America’s military cartridge, it was our dominant cartridge until the advent of smokeless powder.

Chambered to big lever-actions and sporting single-shots), it quickly made the transition to smokeless powder but, to this day, standard factory loads are held to low pressures safe for use in trapdoor Springfields. In the mid-20th Century, the .45-70 almost faded away. Current popularity is largely due to the popularity of the lever-action "guide gun."

6 Classic Hunting Cartridges
Boddington used the new Ruger-Marlin 1895 .45-70 to take this excellent Texas whitetail. Deer hit properly with the big .45-70 don’t go very far. (Photo by Craig Boddington)

Modern factory loads with lighter bullets are much faster, and shoot flatter, than original heavy-bullet loads. But, in strong modern actions (Marlin, Henry, new 1886) you can have it all—heavy bullets and higher velocity—with handloads and specialty loads.

Combining modern actions and loads, the .45-70 is plenty of gun for the largest bears, and is used for Cape buffalo. With standard loads, it’s awesome for hogs and black bear, and dramatic for anchoring deer "DRT" (Down Right There). No matter how loaded, it is not fast and does not shoot flat, but at moderate range effect is dramatic. And it’s a piece of history with every shot.

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