The Relationship of Hunting and Conservation in North America

February 12, 2017 Comments (0) Featured Content, Hunting

What Caliber and Bullet Weight Should I use?

Using a .22 caliber rifle to go monster Hog hunting is just wrong, and potentially dangerous. This is the speech I gave 2 young hunters on a tract of private land I frequent in South Central Florida. The owner asked me to check up on his nephews and what I found were two novice hunters with good skills but relatively little experience in applying that knowledge. I wanted them to know how their thought process should be adjusted and how ethics might also have a role in learning to match their ammo and technique to the prey they are targeting.

Just like the porridge in the story of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” some ammo might be too light, some might be too heavy and it’s your job to know which one is just right. You want to be able to bring down an animal sufficiently to ensure a quick and humane kill, this is where the ethical part of hunting is of the utmost importance. To accomplish this, the hunter needs to be proficient with his or her firearm and knowledgeable enough to choose the right ammo for the game and the hunting conditions.

I’m going talk a bit about common calibers, bullet weights and the prey that they may be suited for. There are exceptions to many rules, but since this is not written for “expert” hunters but more for the less-experienced hunter who wants to learn and improve, I’m going to keep it simple, yet informative.

What rifle is right for me?

Stores like Bass Pro Shops, Cabela’s and Gander Mountain are among the larger Outdoors Mega stores that have a large selection of guns and ammo to look at and ask questions about.


To make things simple, caliber is the size of the barrel a bullet comes out of. This internal diameter is generally thought of as the diameter of the bullet as well. It can be expressed in fractions of an inch or millimeters (.22 or 9mm etc.). The projectile or bullet for each caliber can come in different weights, these are typically measured in grains. On a box of ammo you will see a number followed by the letters gr, signifying grain. So 85 gr would signify a bullet weight of 85 grains. For comparison, 1 pound is equal to 7000 grains. A 30-06 cartridge could have bullets weighing possibly 150, 180 or even 220 grains. The point is that various conditions and targeted prey can and should dictate the weight of the ammo you use.

At this point we should mention one of the most important principles of hunting, which is: it is far more important to be accurate with shot placement than with choices of appropriate ammo. This does not mean you should hunt bear with a .22, but placement of a shot that ensures a quick and ethical kill with the incorrect ammo is preferable over a poorly placed shot that may merely wound an animal with the correct weight ammo and caliber. This means…Practice, practice, practice, in all conditions.

Now, let’s see what cartridges are recommended for some of the more common game animals. Various gun and ammo companies may have different means of distinguishing the class of ammo that is best suited for certain game, Winchester uses a CXP designation which stands “Controlled eXpansion Performance and breaks it down further into four categories.

Hunting Caliber Choices

This Bass ProShops guide to hunting with the right caliber is a great starting point. But conditions you typically hunt in may slightly affect your choices.


CXP1 – Small Game / Varmints – less than 50 pounds
These may include the small game animals such as squirrels and rabbits which are most commonly hunted with .22 long rifle ammo. This cartridge is best used for animals under 15 lbs in weight and can be accurate out to about 75 to 85 yds in non-extreme conditions. Commonly found as a 40 gr bullet, this is a common, popular and reasonably inexpensive caliber for most small game.

As your quarry gets a bit larger you can go to the .22 Magnum which will enhance the killing power while extending the range to about 125 yds in non-extreme conditions. Choosing expanding bullets is best for those animals that are intended for the freezer, while frangible ammo (it breaks into pieces on impact) is best for pest animals as it tends to damage the meat too much for the table.

CXP2 – Average sized animals 51 pounds to perhaps 300 pounds

The animals in this category may include Wild Pigs, Deer, Pronghorn Antelope and most of the species of larger (But not large) animals most commonly targeted by North American Hunters. These larger animals present hunters many choices of calibers and within those calibers, several bullet weights. Take some time at your local outdoors store’s ammo section and learn about the energy levels of the most common ammo. When taking distance and animal size into consideration, it can be like the difference of hitting someone with a pillow or a brick!

Ammo Information

The info on boxes of Ammo will tell you not only the Caliber and Bullet weight, but important information on enegry and tracjectory as well!


Many experts suggest that there is a minimum energy level at impact to penetrate the hide and vital organs of animals in the CXP2 category, and should be a minimum of 800-1000 ft. lbs. at impact for animals such as a deer. Keeping in mind that over distance that number drops significantly at impact. Again, the shot placement is often the critical factor in humanely killing an animal. A well placed shot with a smaller caliber rifle will make the animal just as dead, but are you that confident in getting that perfect placement every time? To an ethical hunter there is nothing worse than wounding an animal and not being able to find and dispatch it quickly.

When hunting medium sized game animals the caliber and size of bullet should also be in relation to distance, as we have stated previously that energy at impact drops as distance of the shot increases. So while a specific caliber rifle may be a great choice for deer in dense forests where the average shot might be under 75 yards, that caliber might not be suitable for deer or pronghorn antelope in open areas where the shot may be 200 or more yards.

So, what have we learned? We know that rifle calibers suitable for hunting at longer distances can also be used for hunting shorter distances as well, but those calibers used at closer targets may not be suitable for longer distance shooting. So then the question becomes, “Why not just buy a rifle that can be used at longer distances?” If all your hunting is done in dense woods and distance shots are not the norm, why take on the added recoil of a rifle and cost of slightly more expensive ammunition? Remember that you may only be taking a few shots during hunting season but possibly hundreds of shots at the range practicing. Getting comfortable with your rifle is paramount to shot placement.

A quick note about recoil: it basically comes town to the type of gun used, the amount of powder charge and the bullet weight that will determine the amount of recoil felt. Since this is being written for the novice, let’s again make it simple: with all other factors being equal, shooting a heavier grain bullet will produce more recoil. This is where what you are hunting and the terrain come into play when choosing a caliber and eventually a specific bullet weight (.gr). The energy at impact must be sufficient to humanely kill the animal. There are many choices of ammunition and calibers in the range of guns for hunting most of North America’s medium sized wild game. When you start hunting large animals you will be presented even more choices, but the basics still apply.

Ammo Aisles

Take a walk down the ammo aisle and read the information on the packages. They will tell you about the energy and trajectory as well as caliber and bullet weight.


The CXP3 animals found in North America range from 300 lbs. to around 1000 lbs., and include animals such as moose and elk, but let’s leave these animals for another time. If possible and depending upon your familiarity with the outdoors and experience level, I’d suggest a first trip with an expert guide or close friend who has the experience and personality to teach you those things that will make you not only a safe and ethical hunter, but one who can then pass on your knowledge to others who once asked the same questions that you did!

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail
Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestrssyoutube

Leave a Reply