For several years now, my obsession with ballistics has pushed me to venture into a subject which has been arduously debated within the hunting community since the onset of smokeless powder. It’s the holy grail of campfire conundrums, “What’s the best all-around big-game cartridge?”
In addition to fully striking a chord with my inner nerd, there’s a practical application to spending gobs of time mulling over ballistics charts and online forums. I needed a new rifle, one that’s ideally suited for whitetail deer, pronghorn, and elk. So over the past year, I’ve been on a quest to make it happen.
Budget was the main limiter, and my willing spend in total, was $1,500. It had to be accurate, which to me means 3 shots inside 1.5″ at 100 yards. Other things which were considered: Long action or short? Magnum or standard cartridge? Light and fast, or heavy with more frontal diameter? Everyone knows the 30-06 fits the criteria nicely, then again, so does the .270 – and the 7mm mag, and .300 win mag, and so goes the conversation. Recoil matters greatly, as I must be able to shoot 40 rounds per session comfortably. It must be in a common caliber, offering a variety of bullet options. Ideally, it would weigh around 8 lbs, scoped and slung. The final criteria: it must look good, too.
I’ve already owned a .300 Win Mag, a Ruger 77 with one of those black paddle stocks. It bucked so hard I immediately found a boyd’s replacement stock to add some weight. After glass bedding the action, free floating the barrel and adjusting the trigger pull, I still couldn’t beg that rifle to behave, and 3″ groups were common. It had to be sold. I’ve owned and sold a number of other rifles too, because nothing fit the bill. They either kicked too hard, weighed too much, or showed underwhelming performance on paper. It seemed everyone was talking about the 6.5 Creedmoor, but I eventually landed on 7mm-08, and I’m happy I did.
The decidedly perfect rifle for this cartridge was the Remington 700 Mountain LSS, with a 22″ sporter barrel – It’s rather handy, not too long, and with the right 7mm projectile, should carry impressive oomph, enough to cleanly take any of the aforementioned game at distances within 300 yards, beyond which I’ll not be shooting. I topped it with a Vortex Diamondback 3-9x40mm. After working the x-trigger to a crisp 2.5 pounds and bore sighting the scope, I headed to the range to see what it would do.
A 1.8″ 5-shot grouping at 100 yards was achieved with factory 139gr Hornady interlocks. After working a few different handloads, I landed on this one from Barnes – and it’s a dandy. Thus far, I’ve only fired three of these max loads, and they produced one 3-round cluster just under an inch. This is just the kind of performance I was looking for. (From the link, go to the .284 data and look a the *recommended load, as shown on page 3).
I’m shooting 140 grain barnes ttsx bullets over 49 grains of Big Game powder at 2.84 COAL. This published load shows 2910 f.p.s. at the muzzle.*
It’s tempting to saw-zaw back and forth when it comes down settling on one cartridge, but I’ve never been one to back off from a good debate. I’ll go ahead and commit.
The 7mm-08, it’s the best all-around cartridge. It’s practical, efficient and capable. It feeds reliably in short action rifles, includes a variety of high b.c. bullet options, and it’s a joy to shoot. In the field, when it comes time to switch off the safety, any rifleman knows the invaluable advantage of having shot many times beforehand, and this is a cartridge you can truly practice with.
Another review may come over the course of a few years, but for now I’ll stake my claim right here on this handy little seven.
*Adventure Deficit Co. LLC assumes no liability for recommend loads. Always refer to factory load data.