Smokey Merkley

Smokey Merkley

If you could only pick one rifle and cartridge to hunt everything you like to hunt in North America, what cartridge would you choose?

Every few years this question is asked of some of the best-known American hunters, as well as some who are not so well known but spend a lot of time hunting big game.

I have always enjoyed reading the responses to this question by the hunting guides, professional hunters and gun writers that are asked to participate in the survey and studying their reasons for the cartridge they would choose.

You might think that there would be a consensus among people who do a lot of hunting in North America as to which caliber they would choose if they were limited to only one rifle and caliber for everything from deer and antelope to elk, moose and the largest bears in North America.

Well, yes and no. There does seem to be consensus among those who hunt professionally, those who guide hunts, those who hunt and write for various publications, those who hunt the lower United States and those who hunt Alaska.

Another factor that determines their choices is what they generally hunt and the range they generally have to shoot at. There are also some who don’t readily fit into the general leanings of the group of which you would think they are most representative.

Let’s examine a few of the many hunters we could choose to study, and see if you can understand their thinking based on their particular circumstances.

Hosea Sarber, a game warden and hunting guide out of Petersburg, Alaska, loved the Winchester .270 and carried it or a .30-06 Springfield when on patrol. However, he often carried a .375 H&H if he was guiding a hunt.

Jack O’Conner, a professional hunter and writer who lived in Lewiston, was an avid sheep hunter in Idaho and Alaska. Jack, through his writings, made the public aware of the virtues of the .270 Winchester and usually hunted sheep with it. However, he would carry a .30-06 if he was hunting the larger bears of Alaska, unless he was being paid to carry something else and write about it.

Colonel Charles Askins was for a time the Senior Field Editor of American Hunter/American Rifleman and one of the most interesting characters I have ever read about. Charles spent a great deal of time hunting Kenai moose and the large bears of Alaska.

Being a lot smarter than the average preservationist, he chose the .340 Weatherby Magnum with a 250-grain bullet as the one caliber he would want if limited to one rifle. And no, 43 foot-pounds of recoil didn’t bother him in the least. You were wondering, right?

Craig Boddinton, editor of Petersen’s Hunting Magazine, like most respondents didn’t like being limited to one rifle caliber only. But he was a good sport and chose the .338 Winchester Magnum as the one rifle caliber he would want. Craig felt the caliber was permissible on deer, elk and moose, although a bit more than required, but was just the right medicine for big bears.

Rick Jamison, who was the rifle editor for Shooting Times Magazine, preferred the .300 Weatherby Magnum, for hunting all species of North American big game because it is flat, fast and accurate, and it gave good expansion on long distance shots.

Bert Klineburger, world class hunting guide and booking agent, chose the 7mm Remington Magnum. He hunted and killed polar, Alaskan brown and grizzly bears with the caliber. He also took a 7mm to Texas and hunted deer, javelina, feral hogs and coyotes.

Bob Milek, who loved hunting pronghorn in Wyoming, wrote several articles extolling the .25-06 as a great cartridge for medium-sized game, but chose the old .30-06 as the caliber he would choose if limited to just one rifle. He felt that the .30-06 would be a better all-around cartridge when hunting elk, moose and bears.

So the guys that spend most of their time hunting elk, moose, sheep and bears, with a few exceptions, seem to prefer 7mm, .30 Magnums, .338 Winchester and .340 Weatherby Magnums. The .375 H&H Magnum is preferred by some, particularly guides.

Those who hunt deer and pronghorn, but nothing bigger, tend to shoot non-magnum calibers for the most part.

Nobody likes to be limited to just one so-called all-around caliber for everything. There really is no such caliber, just a lot of calibers that will do if you will do your part.

One other interesting note is that even those who hunt a lot enjoy non-magnum calibers when the extra power and range isn’t necessary.

Smokey Merkley was raised in Idaho and has been hunting since he was 10 years old. He was a member of the faculty of Texas A&M University for 25 years. There he taught orienteering, marksmanship, self-defense, fencing, scuba diving and boxing. He was among the first DPS-certified Texas Concealed Handgun Instructors. He can be contacted at