Choosing a Rifle Caliber


A man aiming with a rifle

With so many options to choose from, picking the right rifle can be difficult. Along with this comes the challenge of choosing the correct caliber for your needs. A rifle’s caliber is a measurement of the diameter of its bore and determines which cartridges and types of ammo you’ll be able to shoot. First and foremost, you should choose a caliber that is well-suited to the shooting sports you plan to use the rifle for, such as hunting or target shooting. Once you’ve decided on the application, you can narrow down the caliber by considering three major factors: the cost of rounds, the recoil of rifles chambered in that caliber, and the efficiency of the bullets.

When choosing a rifle, you should consider how much it will cost to keep enough ammo on hand for long days at the range. Even cost-effective ammo can vary from around 75 cents per round to over two dollars per round depending on the caliber you choose. Along with cost, you should keep the availability of the ammo in mind. Popular rifle cartridges like the .30-.30 Winchester or .223 Remington will have significantly more options available and be easier to find than less common calibers.

Shooting for long periods of time can cause your shoulder to get tired. When choosing a caliber, you should consider the amount of recoil typically produced by rifles of that chambering. Generally, a rifle with a larger caliber will have more recoil than lower caliber rifles. If you plan to take your rifle out to the range for all-day shooting, you should go with a rifle that will reduce shoulder fatigue. If you’re mainly using the rifle for hunting, the recoil is not as important of a factor since you’ll typically only shoot a few rounds. Most importantly, choose a caliber with recoil you can manage and feel comfortable with.

Depending on the application, you’ll need to choose a caliber with the right ballistics to keep your shot on target. The Ballistic Coefficient, or BC, is a measure of how streamlined a bullet is and is a good indicator of how efficiently it will travel through the air. This is especially important if you plan to engage targets at distances greater than 200 yards since the bullet will spend significantly more time in the air than when shooting close-range targets. The closer the BC is to 1.0, the more drag-resistant the bullet is, meaning it will have a higher down-range velocity and a straighter trajectory.

If you want to start reloading your own ammunition or are already an avid reloader, this can also play a factor in which caliber you choose. Reloading supplies for popular rifle calibers like the .223 Remington or .30-06 Springfield are widely available and easier to find. Choosing a caliber with a lot of available components like cartridge casings and die sets will have more options for customization and fine-tuning. Despite popular calibers having more options, you can find components for most calibers. If you have a favorite caliber to shoot, you’ll still be able to find all the necessary supplies to reload and customize your ammo.


In the end, choosing the right caliber for you depends on which of the four factors—cost, recoil, efficiency, or ease of reloading—is most important to you. Whether you plan to go hunting or target shooting, choosing the correct caliber is just as important as the rifle and can determine your success in the field and at the range.


If you have questions about which caliber is best for you, stop in to your local SCHEELS and speak with one of our Firearms Experts.


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