What caliber should I choose for precision rifle?

One of the biggest questions on peoples’ mind when they want to get into precision rifle shooting is; “what caliber should I choose?” Five years ago, the answer to this question was more or less a given, almost every shooter elected to start off with a .308 cal. That answer today is not so simple.

Largely due to the explosion in interest in precision rifle shooting and long range hunting over the last decade, may new calibers provide a viable option for both new shooters and skilled long range practitioners. Everyone has seen the new 6.5 mm’s and 6 mm’s Creedmor and 6mm Creedmoor. While these calibers do have substantial benefits when it comes to the long range game, they also have some drawbacks.

I always tell people “long range rifles are like golf clubs, you need a different caliber for different purposes.” This is true, and it’s also an excuse for you to buy more rifles! The same caliber you hunt, and likewise, the 300 Win Mag you plan to use on a hunt out west won’t be the best option for casual shooting or competitions- not unless you want to have your fillings pounded loose. The 6.5 mm Creedmor is quickly emerging as a well-rounded caliber for most long range purposes. This is also the caliber that I recommend to most new shooter. However, the 6.5 mm Creedmoor is somewhat of a jack of all trades, master of nothing caliber.

Ultimately, when a shooter elects a purpose driven caliber, they should take a number of factors into account; including (1) cost for factory ammo; (2) cost to reload; (3) barrel life; (4) max effective range for target shooting, dictated by transonic velocity; and (5) max effective range for hunting, dictated by kinetic energy. The chart below summarizes this information for many of today’s popular calibers. These are factors to take into account when selecting your next caliber.

.223 Cal .308 Cal 6mm CM 6.5mm CM 300 Win Mag
Bullets 75gr-80gr 115gr-168gr 105gr-115gr 120gr-147gr 190gr-230gr
Factory Ammo $1.05/$105 $1.30/$130 $1.40/$140 $1.30/$130 $2.25/$225
Hand Loads $.35/$35 $.56/$56 $.56/$56 $.56/$56 $.75/$75
Barrel Life 3000-8000+ 6000-8000+ 1200-1800 1800-3000 1200-1800
Transonic Max Effective Range 800 yards 1100 yards 1300 yards 1200 yards 1400 yards
Kinetic Energy Effective Range (1000ft/lbs) 100 yards 650 yards 600 yards 550 yards 900 yards