6 shots

In the early 90’s I was guiding Elk hunters in central Idaho and the topic of rifles and calibers came up concerning the appropriate caliber for hunting Elk. As you can imagine that topic is always hotly debated. There are those that prefer speed and lighter bullets and then those that prefer heavy bullets and less speed; both have their strong points and week points. Speed and lighter bullets normally come with a smaller bore such as 7mm and slower but heavier bullets come with the 30 caliber and 338 families.

One  of the guides had a Ruger M77 chambered in the 308, some of the clientele scoffed at it but ate there words after the hunt was over. The rifle was fitted with a Weaver solid 6 power scope, that brought a few more snickers.

I’ll leave names out as most would prefer their privacy but he was about my age, early forties and we had a certain amount in common. He was an Idaho country boy, same as me and he had served in the Marines during the Vietnam Era, same as me. I believe he made it to Vietnam but I didn’t; he joined a year before me and later when I was headed there only about half of the grunts ended up going. I was in the half that didn’t go. It was a crazy time and even on my second set of orders to Vietnam I only got as far as Okinawa.

When he got to camp, and camp being 12 miles on horseback from the end of the road, he checked the zero on his rifle and at 100 yards it was dead on for a 300 yard zero. Over the next 2 weeks he shot a cow elk, an nice 3 point Mule deer and 3 pine grouse. The pine grouse were all head shots at about 15 to 20 feet, all one shot kills. The 2 clients that were with him when he shot the grouse wouldn’t shut up about his shooting. Needless to say anyone in camp that wasn’t impressed by the 308 as the right caliber for Elk hunting didn’t have a lot to say after that.

As guides we shared the same tent so we chatted quite often about rifles, calibers and hunting clientele. We both agreed that there is a range of calibers best suited for big bodied game animals such as Elk, Moose and Bear. The 308 has a following that is very loyal, argue all you want about it but the 7.62 NATO, or 308 is a good round and if kept within the parameters it was designed for does the job. Ask any Vietnam Marine that packed an M14 what he thinks of the 7.62 NATO, 308. I’m sure that overall you will get a thumbs up from them.

As a tactical round it never gained the popularity of the M16, M16 being the Vietnam Era designation for the 223 or 5.56. You could carry more ammo for the M16 but the 7.62 NATO could do things that the 5.56 couldn’t.

A combat grunt friend of mine told me of an incident where they were pinned down by a sniper. He was over 400 yards away and no one was effective with the M16, 223. One of the squad team had an M14, 308 and zeroed in on the sniper and took him out, shooting with iron sights.

The first 2 years that I qualified on the range was with the M14. My first year I didn’t shoot as well as I wanted but the second year I took the range. There were 400 Marines qualifying that week so I was very pleased with my shooting. No trophy, no congratulations, just a job well done. My 3rd and last year qualifying was with the M16. I shot expert but I wasn’t a fan. Yes I understood the reason behind the switch to the M16 or M4 or whatever it is called today but I am still not a fan.

Getting back to Elk hunting, whats your favorite caliber to chase Elk with? I’ve seen them killed with anything and everything from a 243 Winchester to a 458 Winchester mag. If you can handle the recoil the 338 Winchester Mag is a great round. I’ve never made an exact count but I’d say roughly half of the Elk I have shot have been with the 338 and the other half with a 308. One I got with my 243, it’s plenty light for Elk but it did the job that day.

Regardless of the caliber where you place the shot has a lot to do with a clean kill or a one shot kill.

While guiding Elk hunters in southwest Montana I had 2 clients hit a spike in the left hip. Both were running shots through a small opening in the timber and both shots were with an inch of each other. One was a 264 Winchester Mag and the other a 300 Holland and Holland. Either round through the lungs or heart or a broken shoulder would have dropped the spike.

The left hind leg was broken but that spike went across a meadow and up a heart bursting ridge that the other guide and I followed him up. We could see where he laid down to stop the bleeding and even with his left rear leg broken  he was giving us a run for our money.

When we peaked out on the ridge I looped left and above him as fast as I could and the other guide shot him as the spike was looking at me. The other guide didn’t know that I was following the both of them. I didn’t want him to know that I was there as 2 trackers don’t make twice as much noise but quadruple the noise if you are not very quiet. I was glad that we didn’t chase the spike any farther than we did. We got him field dressed and skidded down off of the ridge where we could load him into a pickup.

My point is that the caliber didn’t matter as much as shot placement. A 308 through the lung or in the hip would have had the same results, but in heavy timber most hunters are inclined to shoot whatever they can see in hopes they can slow one down enough to track him to a finish.

So, 264 Winchester Mag, 308, 7mm Mag, 300 mag or bigger on up to a 458, shoot what you are comfortable with, and can hit with, but when you get to your hunting camp and the guide is packing an old weathered 308, save your laughing for later.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *