Greatest Cartridges: A Debate with Plenty of Ammo

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Figuring out the greatest cartridges of all time has the benefit of having to test a ton of ammo.
Figuring out the greatest cartridges of all time has the benefit of having to test a ton of ammo.

When it comes to talking about the great cartridges of the world, there is plenty of ammo to support many arguments.

I'll ask the question for you esteemed reader, what divine proclamation anointed your humble scribe the guru of all the cartridges that exists? The answer is simple, there is no such anointment. Well, perhaps my publisher indicated such, but that certainly isn't divine providence.

I have, however, had a long and varied shooting and hunting career. I received my first firearm, a Winchester youth rifle (a Model 68 I believe it was), single-shot .22 RF, at the ripe old age of six years. If I make it to Mid-August this year, I'll turn seventy-six. Math has never been my strong suite, but I think that gives me seventy years of shooting experience.

In addition, for more than four decades, I have earned at least a part of my living writing about shooting, hunting, and firearms. I also spent twenty-six years wearing a US Army uniform as a professional soldier.

In that time, I've shot just about every commercially available cartridge at least a few times. Those that I've not personally fired, I've generally witnessed them in action, either on the range or in the field.

The smallest I've shot is the .17 rimfire, and the largest, a .600 Nitro Express. I have never known anyone that owned a .700 NE, and the last time I had any information on the subject a single round of .700 ammo was $100.00 or more. I'll leave that one to one of the youngsters in the business.

I have learned a few things in my seven-decade shooting career so far. One is that shooters are a finicky lot with a strong tendency to pick a lot of nits.

The truth be told, practically speaking that is, we have at least ten or fifteen times the number of cartridges available that any reasonably sane person could possibly justify needing. However, since when does NEED enter into the decision making process. The fact that one wants some off-the-wall, ten-times duplicated cartridge is enough justification. If need was the determining factor, most of the rifle and ammunition manufacturers would have gone out of business eons ago.

The average North American hunter, for example, could make it very nicely with only three or four rifles. Add a couple handguns and a couple shotguns, and he could handle anything in North America very handily. For the International hunter, add one more rifle and he'd be set for anything from a titmouse to a T-Rex.

One of the most experienced hunters that I knew, the late C. J. McElroy, took just about every animal on our earth with one rifle, a .300 Weatherby Mark V. He did, later in life, switch to a 7mm Weatherby Mark V with its softer recoil. He told me he couldn't tell any difference in killing power between the two. Another, the late Grancel Fitz, took all twenty-five legal species of North American game, using but one rifle, a Griffin & Howe .30-06. Those two examples should answer the NEED debate quite nicely.

I will add one thing, however, neither Mr. McElroy nor Mr. Fitz were gun nuts. Both were pragmatic men that viewed their rifle as a tool, and nothing more.

Truly we live in the golden age of ammo. There are more calibers and cartridges available now than at any other time in the history of firearms.
Truly we live in the golden age of ammo. There are more calibers and cartridges available now than at any other time in the history of firearms.

Mr. McElroy's rifle was a stock factory Weatherby Mark V .300, and when he retired it in favor of another, but chambered for the 7mm Weatherby, the .300 was the most dilapidated rifle I think I've ever seen. It looked as though Mac had used it for a boat anchor for at least a decade or two. At least, Mr. Fitz had Griffin & Howe make his rifle for him. He treated it a bit better than Mac did his, but nevertheless it was still a tool to him.

However, when rifle, handgun, or shotgun nuttiness enters the equation, all sanity and reason goes out the window.

Pragmatism gives way to silliness. The nits get smaller and smaller, but picking them gets more and more frequent. I can't condemn anyone for this malady, as I am one of the better examples of the genre. Even so, if forced to do so, I could eliminate most of my vault contents and pretty much be unaffected in a practical sense in the field, or on the range, or defending my Arizona pea patch.

What follows then is a listing of cartridges that I have found to be as good or better than most in their category, and why I've found them to be so.


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