I know I am not the first person to gripe about this, and I hope I’m not the last. When scanning the ammo shelf in big box stores like Dick’s and WalMart it becomes apparent that “magnumitis”, the trend among hunters to obsess over using magnum cartridges, is a full-blown epidemic that shows no signs of abating. Magnum rifles in the .27, .28 and .30 caliber range are becoming very common, and not for good reason.
The advantages of magnum cartridges can be distilled to flatter trajectory and longer range. These are both achieved by using more powder, which yields a higher velocity. And it is a well established reality that velocity sells. But what are the net advantages of magnum cartridges? For most of us, there aren’t many. Standard cartridges like the .308, 30-06, .270, .280, 7mm-08 and many others offer enough energy to kill deer and similar game well in excess of 200 yards. Not only that, but they offer trajectory plenty flat to make hold over/under nearly inconsequential, at least with the right bullets. The aforementioned magnums can kill at even greater ranges and shoot even flatter, but let’s be honest with ourselves: very few of us can actually make a shot past 200 yards, regardless of rifle/cartridge combination. I know many who are convinced they can, even though they’ve never tried 200, let alone further. But 200 yards is a formidable distance, especially the first time you see it measured out.
There are several down sides to magnum rifles. Ammo is more expensive, and recoil is greater. Neither of these characteristics lend themselves to putting in plenty of time at the shooting range. After all, no one likes getting the snot kicked out of them during a shooting session, and having to shell out $30-$50 dollars per box of ammo makes it even less appealing. And without plenty of practice shooting at 300 and 400 yards, the extra reach isn’t going to do you any good. But lots of range time has a disadvantage as well: shortened barrel life. The higher velocities of magnums are harder on a bore than standard cartridges. From what I understand, a standard barrel will shoot about 6,000 rounds before accuracy starts to deteriorate. A magnum gets about 3,000 to 4,000. Maybe this isn’t a big deal, but if you plan on having a gun for life, or pass it on to your kids, it’s something to think about.
If elk, moose or bear are possibilities, then the magnums make sense. But if deer are the overwhelming bulk of your big game hunting, and you never shoot past 300 yards, you really don’t need a magnum. Lots of hunters by 7mm and 300 magnums because they hunt fields and are convinced they are going to get many shot opportunities at long ranges, only to sling bullets all over the place and miss, or shoot most of there deer at 100 yards or less. So if you have something big to kill, or can shoot a good group at 300 yards, check out the magnums. Otherwise, stick with the standards.