The Best Low-Recoil Elk Hunting Cartridges
Recoil is a physically necessary part of shooting a gun, and so it’s something that you’ve got to come to terms with if you’re going to hunt with a firearm.
That said, bigger isn’t always better. Recoil doesn’t have to be punishing in order to get the job done, even if you’re dealing with big game like elk. Part of this is due to huge advancements in bullet technology. There are so many new types of projectiles on the market to choose from that are designed to retain mass and transfer massive amounts of energy into an elk downrange. With the right bullet, even a low-recoil cartridge can put meat in the freezer and a trophy on the wall.
With that in mind, we put together a list of 10 low-recoil cartridges for you to consider taking into the field for your next elk hunt.
The 10 Best Low-Recoil Elk Hunting Cartridges
If you ask 10 elk hunters to choose the best low-recoil elk hunting cartridge, you’ll get 10 different answers – maybe more. As a result, this list is far from all-inclusive. Rest assured, though, that choosing from any one of these 10 cartridges will provide you with a low-recoil shooting experience that will result in a successful elk hunt so long as you put in the work on your end.
For hunters who want the utmost precision in their shot, it’s hard to beat the 6.5 Creedmoor. Since it was designed for competition shooting, it’s beyond capable of delivering an exacting blow to the vitals of an elk so long as the shooter behind the rifle is capable of making the shot. Another advantage for the 6.5 Creedmoor is its availability in a wide variety of firearms, including semi-auto, lever-action, bolt-action, single-shot, and more.
.338 Winchester Magnum
The .338 Win Mag cartridge was made for the challenges of big, tough game like elk, and it is capable of taking on that challenge and defeating it. With the right heavy-grain bullet, you can be confident that your projectile is traveling faster than most comparable loads on the market and will deliver the devastating punch needed for a quick and ethical harvest.
.338 Remington Ultra Magnum
The .338 Remington Ultra Magnum truly lives up to the “ultra” in its name. When loaded with a heavy bullet, the .338 RUM can send that beefy projectile a very long way at speeds of 2,800+ fps and still deliver a knock-out blow to an elk that won’t punish the shooter with recoil if you’ve got a well-built rifle that can handle the .338 RUM.
Two of the most respected old-school names in cartridges are Colonel Townsend Whelen and Elmer Keith. For the .35 Whelen, it was the former’s brainchild and the latter’s favorite elk cartridge – so that’s saying something. Essentially a necked-up .30-06 cartridge, the .35 Whelen spent most of its life as a wildcat and, with the exception of Remington’s production line, it remains as one. Still, it’s a solid choice for elk that won’t punish you with recoil.
7mm Remington Magnum
As we mentioned at the very beginning, sometimes it all comes down to the proper bullet selection, and that couldn’t be more true than with the reliable 7mm Remington Magnum. If you load a 7mm Rem Mag cartridge with a heavy bullet that is tough and designed to stay together, then it becomes a low-recoil caliber that is hard to beat when it comes to elk.
It has been said that there’s not a single big game animal in North America that cannot be felled by a .30-06 bullet, and that’s no exaggeration. The .30-06 was the caliber of choice for hunters of all kinds for most of the 20th century. Even though newer calibers have come on the market, the .30-06 has remained a faithful standby that is certainly more than capable of harvesting an elk.
6.5 cartridges are all the rage right now, and the 6.5 PRC is the perfect elk cartridge in that caliber. It combines a lot of the benefits found in other cartridges on this list – such as fast speed, great terminal velocity, and low recoil – and puts it all together in a short-action cartridge that has phenomenal range and very little recoil.
The .270 Winchester meets the three A’s: accurate, affordable, and available. Hunters have been using the well-rounded .270 Winchester to bring down all sorts of wild game for decades – and that includes plenty of elk. Therefore, there’s no reason that you can’t take your hunting rifle that you use for other pursuits and put it to good use on an elk. A .270 is right at home on an elk hunt as well as in pursuit of deer, hogs, sheep, and more.
.300 Weatherby Magnum
The two best words to describe the .300 Weatherby Magnum are “fast” and “heavy.” This cartridge is capable of pushing heavy bullets at blistering speeds to deliver serious energy into the elk on the receiving end. Best of all, it’s a very flat-shooting round that won’t absolutely kill your shoulder.
.300 Winchester Magnum
The .300 Winchester Magnum is something of a Goldilocks cartridge for elk. Whether you choose from one of the many factory loads available or you hand-load your own, the .300 Win Mag has proven itself time and time again as a more-than-capable elk cartridge with felt recoil that, while certainly noticeable, is more than manageable for most shooters.
Why Is Managing Recoil So Important for Hunting?
Recoil management is very important for a wide variety of reasons, but we’re going to focus on three of the main ones that are most pertinent to hunters.
Recoil makes people flinch, and flinching reduces accuracy. This is a problem because accuracy is essential to a humane harvest. If you can mitigate the recoil, make an accurate shot, and still deliver the maximum amount of energy from a lighter-shooting cartridge, then it’s a winning situation all the way around.
Heavier guns manage recoil better, but they’re also more cumbersome and tiring if you’re not just sitting in a tree stand or a blind and waiting for the animals to come to you. If you cut down on the gun’s weight, you increase your felt recoil – unless you pair that lighter gun with a lower-recoil cartridge. Then you get the best of both worlds.
Pulling the trigger once on a heavy-hitting rifle won’t make much of a difference, but over the course of a a full hunting career, that recoil can take its toll. Most hunters started out young and will continue as long as they are physically able, but that physical ability may be shortened due to prolonged abuse from shooting rifles with heavy recoil. Some hunters have had to have shoulder replacement surgery due to a lifetime of recoil absorption while others have had to stop completely. By managing your recoil early on in your hunting career by switching to a low-recoil cartridge, you can extend your personal health and prolong your hunting career.
Start Managing Recoil Today
If you’re looking to start managing recoil today and you’re in the market for a new rifle, the good news is that you can take your pick from any number of great guns being made today in all 10 of our choices for the best low-recoil elk hunting cartridges.
Another option for recoil management is opting to use a suppressor. This will help tame the recoil of heavy-hitting cartridges to bring them down to a more manageable level, but it will also bring the low-recoil options listed above into an even more pleasant shooting experience than they already are.
If that sounds like something you want to do, then give Silencer Central a call today. We’re the nation’s largest silencer dealer licensed to sell in all 42 states where suppressors are legal. Out of those 42 states, it’s legal to hunt with a suppressor in 41 of them.
We’ll handle all the paperwork for you and then mail your suppressor right to your door once everything has been approved. It doesn’t get any easier than that. This way, you can spend more time planning your next hunt and less time filling out government forms – aside from your next filled tag, that is!